I’m going to interrupt my series of posts on the six wives of Henry VIII, or “King Henry teh 8” as he is known to Googlers. I must write about Queen Isabella, because the necklaces I named for her have just been finished.
Isabella, a daughter of Philip the Fair of France, was born in 1292. She has become known as “Isabella, the She-Wolf of France.” Shakespeare invented the She-Wolf title for Margaret of Anjou, but in the 18th century an English poet used it for Isabella and she’s been stuck with it ever since. I feel the sobriquet is unfair, yet I couldn’t resist the image. I’d seen necklaces where a wolf etched into a wolf’s claw. I thought a fang was sexier. A big giant fang that didn’t have to be pried from a real wolf (they hate that)! So with apologies to the queen, I present the Isabella Wolf-Fang Necklace in 18K gold.
Photo by SquareMoose
Besides She-Wolf, Isabella has been called (by men, of course) a Jezebel, a harridan, “unnatural,” “evil,” “inconstant,” yada yada yada, for betraying her supposedly saintly husband.
Isabella got into this mess when she married King Edward II of England. While the couple had four children, Edward was notorious for directing most of his romantic energy, much of the treasury and a big chunk of English land to his male favorites. Isabella remained faithful through years of neglect, abuse and outright abandonment. She eventually became convinced that her husband planned to murder her. At that point, she wangled a trip back home to France to visit her brother, King Charles IV.
“My, what a big, pointy hat you have!”
Image from Hereford-Heritage.com
Ah, Paris. It’s so romantic. Isabella fell for Roger Mortimer, a disgruntled Welsh noble (and one of the few people ever to escape from the Tower of London). The relationship was hot and heavy and all the other nobles were walking around thinking, “Get a room, please!” Okay, I made that up. But it is true that the relationship was obvious. It was also scandalous because kings get a free pass on adultery and queens do not. The sexy couple became the Rogerbella of the French court. At home in England, Edward, egged on by his man-friend, Hugh le Despenser, refused to cooperate with Parliament. The fact that he had lost expensive and humiliating battles with England’s longtime enemy, Scotland, didn’t do much for his popularity either (Braveheart is about the earlier days of that ongoing war.). Civil war threatened.
Isabella Necklace © Wendy Brandes 2007-2008
Photos by SquareMoose
Rogerbella ultimately led an invasion of England, overthrew and jailed Edward, and set themselves up as regents for Isabella’s son (another Edward). They executed Hugh le Despenser in a perfectly acceptable 14th century way: they dragged him through the streets, stripped him, hanged him, cut him down before he died, chopped off his penis and testicles, threw his manhood in a fire, cut him open, threw his heart and entrails in the fire, and cut him into four pieces. Then they had a party. Good times! Here’s a delightful rendering of the event.
Hugh le Despenser was the son AND the father of men named Hugh le Despenser. Confusing!
This was considered appropriate justice as well as quality entertainment, and the populace loved Rogerbella. But, as Lord Acton said centuries later, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Roger became as greedy and murderous as Despenser, if not worse, and Isabella deferred to him. When the imprisoned Edward II died, the rumors flew that he was murdered (and years later, the story was embellished to an unseemly murder with a red-hot poker). With his death, Edward’s reputation improved and Rogerbella’s declined, until the latter were overthrown by Isabella’s son in 1330. Roger was dragged through the streets, stripped and hanged. Legend says Edward III locked his mother up until she lost her sanity, but in reality he was a doting son. Blaming everything on her bad boyfriend, Edward graciously kept Isabella in the lifestyle to which she’d become accustomed. She had plenty of palaces, visitors, clothes and, most importantly, jewels until she died in her 60s. Her son threw her a wonderful funeral.
If you’ve gotten to this point in the post, you’re probably thinking there is nothing more to say about Isabella. Wrong! There is so much more … more books, films and television series than I can list here. These are just a few reading recommendations:
- Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England by Alison Weir. This non-fiction book is fascinating. There are colorful quotes from the important players, including the hilariously self-pitying letters that Edward sent in the medieval equivalent of a blast email as he tried to lure Isabella back from France. I was convinced by Weir’s arguments against the iconic murder-by-poker story. I am not persuaded by Weir’s theory that Edward could have escaped and lived out the rest of his life as a humble monk in Europe. Edward had many good qualities that I couldn’t fit in this post. You’ll learn about them here.
- I love Isabel the Fair by Margaret Campbell Barnes. The novel is sympathetic to Isabella. Historical fiction is ruined for me when the author tries to make the protagonist lovable when the real person was no saint, but this book gets inside her head without losing touch with reality.
- The Traitor’s Wife by Susan Higginbotham was a great idea that didn’t work for me. Eleanor de Clare is the wife of the title and she thinks Hugh le Despenser is the perfect husband and father. Yes, it is possible for the wicked to come home from a hard day of torturing people and roll around on the floor with the kids. But I felt this book was too kind to a man whose misbehavior is well-documented. He even stole land from his wife’s family. When Eleanor spies on Isabella (as she did in real life), it’s justified because Isabella is a shrew who deserves it. Humph. On the plus side: homoeroticism!
- The Accursed Kings by Maurice Druon is a series of seven books. It is very difficult to buy a complete set in English but I got one on eBay. The books start with the reign of Isabella’s father, Philip IV, and continue through John II. The fifth book is “The She-Wolf of France,” but Isabella appears as a major troublemaker from the start of the series. Ironically, she exposes her sisters-in-law’s adultery, which later has a major impact on the succession. A lot of the action is set in motion by a nobleman, Robert of Artois, who thinks he was cheated out of his inheritance. The books abound with torture and poisonings. Even I was disgusted! You’ll have new appreciation for your own family after reading about these lunatics.
- I haven’t read The Greatest Traitor, a biography of Roger Mortimer by Ian Mortimer. It’s gotten great reviews, and I will definitely read it in the near future, after I finish dealing with some Chinese empresses. Teh interweb tells me that the author is a descendant of Roger Mortimer … and also that he is not. I will have to get the book to find out.
There will be a test on this next week. Please bring a No. 2 pencil.
Kira Fashion says
that jewelery is amazing!
I absolutely love the Accursed Kings by Druon. Have you seen the French TV series based on the books with Gerard Depardieu in one of the main roles?
Yeah, Rogerbella were the Brangelina of their time 😉
BTW she was cheating on her hubby years after accusing her sisters in law for cheating on her bothers, sending the women to imprisonment for life (the older sister in law was killed in prison, apparently by Robert of Artois), and their lovers were executed in the same manner as Despenser. She’d given her sisters in law expensive bejeweled purses, and later the purses were the main evidence against them, because they gave them to their lovers, and the guys, of course, were caught wearing the cool accessories.
What a soap opera! LOL
PS: Maybe you’ll base your next piece on those purses?
That necklace is fangtastic!
Thanks for the history lessons, too! I will be checking out some of these books!
@ Olga, I was wondering if I should try to squeeze the irony of Isabella’s being involved in that adultery case into the Druon section. I was worried it was getting too long but maybe I will go back and try to mention it tersely, because as you point out, it’s quite delicious. I am also thinking that I must do a future post on Marguerite of Burgundy and her naughty sisters-in-law, so I’ll have to revisit the Druon books. There’s so much in them! BTW, I’ve never seen the TV series. I tend to be bad about seeing movies and TV shows. @Deirdre, “fangtastic” made my day! Thanks!
Vintage Bunny says
They are beautiful!
You make history fun
I wish I had history teachers who made it this fun! Am curious, how do you get to be fascinated with/by medieval characters?
Unique pendant! Looks like a pearly substance it hangs on to – in between the fangs. Another curiosity too shy to ask the jewelers here personally, how do you achive the blackened etchings on gold or any other metals for the matter?
Sorry I got carried away by history a bit. Of course, the necklace is fantastic! So creative!
Just don’t wear it with fish shoes!!!
If you ever find them that is.
PS: Are you going to base your next piece on the naughty sisters?
wendy, you are way more smart than me. i really love the wolf necklaces…
If Brangelina played Rogerbella, who would play Edward? And who would play Despenser? I just assume Peter Jackson would direct.
@ Lynn, there’s a little diamond on the metal doodad in the wolf’s jaws. Other than that you’re just seeing through to the other side…there’s a space between the teeth. There are chemicals you can use to blacken gold. One seems to oxidize it and another seems to function more like paint, if I’m understanding my guy correctly (he’s not a native English speaker). @ Olga, I was delighted with your post. I loved that aspect of the Kings series. It’s so hard to fit everything in! I didn’t get to tell the tale of the carefully punctuated letter that authorized Edward’s murder, and that’s a great story. But I squeezed in a little line on the adultery brouhaha, check it out. Believe it or not, I was going to save Marguerite for when I had a piece of jewelry in her honor! But now that you mention it, I don’t even have a design in mind and why wait. I’ll write her up next week. Thanks for the inspiration!
@Paul, hmm, this is a very good question indeed. It may require a second post. If Peter Jackson does it, he’ll do one move for each book and we’ll have to watch 10 movies!
WOW that necklace is so so beautiful!
Lady N says
Wow, I learned a lot from this post! Very cool.
Can you sell this to Masterpiece Theater of something?? : )
Miss Woo says
Wolf Claw necklace! I love how you get your inspiration from history.
I’ve been eyeing a similar piece to the first gold one on ebay I hope I get it, fantastic post as always!
In Yr Fshn says
Wendy, what a wonderful post. I’ve been straying from my historical fiction lately (maybe I’ve mentioned this before, but sometimes I get these devious royals confused). Anyhow, you’ve sucked me back in. I just printed your post and shall be bringing it to the library this afternoon. Awesome necklaces too! That glint of diamond at the jaw…
Thanks, IYF! You’ve been listing a lot of great books too, and I’m feeling like, “So many books, so little time!”
what a great story — and i love the wolf. is it terrible that i now have duran duran’s “hungry like the wolf” stuck in my head?
Enchant and Doom says
Oh my gosh. This pendent is amazing! And thank you for the history lesson. I’ll be keeping an eye on your jewelery..
Love the post and the necklace! I’ll be checking out those books on Isabella, what little I know of her comes from my history classes at University which glossed over that period of time.