18 June, 2017

My Very Sweet Heart: A Letter from Queen Isabella to Edward II, 31 March 1325

Edward II sent his queen Isabella of France to her homeland on 9 March 1325 in order to negotiate peace with her brother Charles IV, with whom Edward had been at war since the previous summer. Just over three weeks later on 31 March, Isabella sent a husband a very long and informative letter about how matters had been progressing since her arrival in France. Edward had also sent her as an envoy to her father Philip IV in 1314, and Philip granted all Isabella's (and Edward's) wishes, but Charles IV was a very different proposition, and Isabella admitted to Edward in the letter that she was finding her brother hard to deal with (lui trovoi deur). I've translated the last few sentences of this long letter to give a flavour of how Isabella addressed her husband:

"My very sweet heart [Mon tresdoutz cuer], with the assent of your council I will remain in these parts as long as I have your permission, and with me remain the bishop of Norwich and my cousin [the earl] of Richmond. By the advice of the pope's messages and of all of us, the bishop of Winchester and Master William Airmyn will come to you to inform you more fully of the said affairs; and also by advice of the pope's said messages and with the assent of my said brother, the lord of Sully and the said [sic] bishop of Orange will also come to you, and the archbishop of Vienne will remain in the parts of Paris until you have written your wishes.

My very sweet heart, I beg you and request of you as humbly as I may that you may please excuse me and the others who by your command are here with me that we did not write to you sooner that I had come to my said brother, but because of the uncertainty and inconstancy we have found, we could not write to you sooner with an exact record, and we did not dare to write of anything else until we had written to you on this matter. My very sweet heart, may the Holy Spirit by his grace save and protect you always. Written at Poissy the last day of March [1325]."

(The letter is printed in the original French in Pierre Chaplais's The War of Saint-Sardos: Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents; the translation is mine.)

'My very sweet heart', from a woman who we're supposed to believe loathed her husband and spent years plotting with her lover and others to bring him down. Colour me unconvinced. It's interesting, when Edward and Isabella's grandson Edward of Woodstock addresses his wife Joan of Kent in a letter as 'very dear and very loyal heart', this is proof of how much he loved her and how successful their marriage was, but when Isabella addresses her husband as 'very sweet heart', and as 'our very dear and very sweet lord and friend' in another letter, she was just pretending and this doesn't mean anything. Edward of Woodstock and Joan of Kent's son Richard II spent almost all his time with his wife Anne of Bohemia, which proves how much he loved her and what a great marriage they had, but when Edward II spent almost all his time with his wife Isabella of France (at least until 1322), somehow this doesn't mean anything and they hated each other really. French chronicler Geoffrey of Paris stated several times in 1313 that Edward and Isabella loved each other and could barely keep their hands off each other and were sleeping together naked and Edward saved his wife's life from a fire, but oh, Geoffrey was just sucking up to the royal family and so his eyewitness testimony is worthless and this doesn't mean anything. Isabella wrote a letter to the archbishop of Canterbury in early 1326 saying that more than anything she wanted to return to her husband but dared not because she thought Hugh Despenser would kill her, but she was just pretending and this doesn't mean anything. Isabella was still trying to reconcile with her husband even after his capture on 16 November 1326 and knelt in front of him, but obviously she was just pretending and this doesn't mean anything. She told the French court that she felt like a widow because a third person had violated her marriage and that she would only return to Edward once he sent Hugh Despenser away from him and they could resume their previous relationship, but this doesn't mean anything. In fact, it means that she hated Edward and was defying him and was declaring that she was in love with Roger Mortimer. Because obviously. Even though there isn't a shred of evidence that Isabella fell passionately in love with Roger in late 1325, somehow everyone just knows she did. Even though there isn't a shred of evidence that Isabella hated her husband or felt 'revulsion' for him, somehow everyone just knows she did. No matter how much evidence stacks up that Edward II and Isabella of France's marriage was a very long way from being an unhappy tragic disaster, and that Isabella loved her husband and did not, in the slightest, hate or despise him or wish him ill, somehow none of it means anything because everyone just 'knows' that their marriage actually was a tragic disaster from start to finish and that Isabella was an unhappy tragic abused victim.


sami parkkonen said...

Very good stuff!

I have always wondered what goes on in peoples minds when they dismiss the evidence of Isabella's love for Edward. One has only to take a look at her own funeral arrangements and I think even the dumbest can see how she felt to the end.

Also, she had no problem with Piers Gaveston. Why on earth when it is more than likely that Piers had a very special place in Edwards heart?? How come she did not hate Gaveston with a zealous passion?? Why it was Hugh she feared and loathed and hated but not the absolute favorite of her husband?? Why she was not jealous towards this knight and seemed to even work together with Piers for Edwards good?

People somehow seem to forget that this marriage lasted for a long time and yes, they really slept together in the nude, got kids etc. It does not fit into their own Terrible Gay King fiction so they must dismiss all this, make it go away somehow, and yet: there it is for all to see.

Also one very funny thing: Mortimer. Isabella was a royal, semi-divine lady, she was a queen with royal blood line of her own, and she was married to a king, anointed by the holy church into her office and status. Are we really to believe that this knight somehow wiped all that away and charmed her out of her socks, and that she was just another damsel in distress to be saved by this mythical masculine straight guy from the dumb fumbling evil gay king?

I think Isabella's and Edward's relationship was much more complex and way more grown up and adult than some people are able or willing to admit. It was a relationship between two exceptional individuals who grew up together in very demanding surroundings and circumstances and it evolved trough years and years. It was not a one night stand gone bad or high school romance gone sour. It was a real love story of real people and I bet it lasted to the very end of their lives.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for another great post addressing actual evidence! I'm still trying to figure out why people think Isabella didn't care about Edward (when there is plenty of evidence -- in things she actually did and letters she actually wrote -- that she did so) but that she did care about Mortimer (when there is no evidence from anything she actually did) of this great love affair.