You married King Who?

On August 24 of 1200, Bad King John married his second wife, Isabella of Angoulême. You have to feel sorry for anyone to whom such a thing would happen, especially if she was 12 at the time (she was). When reading about someone as wicked and inept as John I always wonder about the poor woman stuck with him, whether she’s secretly giving him good advice he won’t take, giving him bad advice and egging him on, or just trying to go about her own life and avoid him insofar as possible. But in Isabella’s case she seems to have made the worst of it.

John’s first wife was also an Isabella, a.k.a. Countess of Gloucester. And if you think it’s confusing that they’re both called Isabella try the fact that the Gloucester one was also known as Isabelle, Hawise, Joan, and Eleanor and sure, who among us wouldn’t greet an Isabella with “Howdy, Hawise”? She and John were both great-grandchildren of Henry I, in her case via one of his literally dozens of illegitimate children. As a result, though they were married in 1189, the Archbishop of Canterbury declared the marriage null because they were too closely related, but Pope Clement III said they could marry, just not do sex relations.

John being John, he busied himself bothering other women (yes, despite being a creepy loser he was apparently forever bedding barons’ wives and others) and shortly after becoming king in 1199 had the marriage annulled but kept Isabella’s lands. He would. And apparently she did not contest the annulment, probably thinking herself lucky.

So on to Isabella 2. John married her less than a year later despite the fact that she was betrothed to Hugh IX, Count of Lusignan, infuriating French King Philip II who confiscated all John’s and Isabella’s French lands leading to another war John “Lackland” a.k.a. “Softsword” lost. Apparently the king was genuinely infatuated with his dazzling if very young bride, who in turn seemed well-matched in the sense of having the same sort of explosive temper and propensity for malevolent scheming.

She bore John five children once she was old enough to do so including the future Henry III. And when John croaked she swiftly had him crowned, using her own golden circlet as the hapless John had recently lost the royal crown and the rest of his treasure in the Wash (it’s a river, not the laundry). Then she dumped him on the regent, the outstanding William Marshal, and went back to France to grab Angoulême back.

Trouble promptly ensued. Isabella and John’s daughter Joan had been meant to marry Hugh X of Lusignan, son of Isabella’s former fiancée and now Count of La Marche. But Isabella began batting her dazzling blue eyes at Hugh and before you knew it he’d married his fiancée’s mother and dad’s old flame.

This caused outrage in England, where they had a thing about people marrying into the royal line without approval of the king’s council. So they seized all her dower lands and stopped her pension. So she and Hugh threatened to keep Joan, now promised to King Alexander II of Scotland, prisoner in France. Henry III wrote scathingly to the Pope asking that his own mother be excommunicated (or at least signed a scathing letter drafted by his council) along with her beau. But eventually geopolitically cooler heads prevailed and to avoid trouble with Scotland the council compensated her for her confiscated lands and pension.

Isabella went on to have nine more children, with Hugh X. So I guess that sort of worked out. But Isabella couldn’t cope with being less socially prominent in France as a Countess than a Queen mother and after been snubbed by the French Queen mother who Isabella already hated for some small matter of having tried to put her own son Louis on the English throne instead of Isabella’s Henry (the one who wanted her excommunicated), she started conspiring against Louis, now King Louis IX of France, even persuading Henry III to invade Normandy then not showing up with the promised help. After Hugh X reconciled with the French king, two royal cooks were arrested and under “interrogation” admitted Isabella had paid them to poison Louis. So she fled to Fontevraud Abbey and conveniently died.

Eventually Henry III at least managed to get her body moved indoors, next to his grandfather Henry II and his dazzling if scary wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. Most of her other kids decided they’d live longer in England and sought refuge with Henry III.

Now I do not know for sure what might have become of Isabella if she hadn’t become John’s wife, especially at such a young age. But she gives a rather strong impression of having been a suitable wife for that wretched monarch.

I don’t mean that in even remotely a good way.