Queen Isabella, the infamous "She-Wolf of France", was born in 1295 in... well, France. The daughter of the French King Philip le Bel and descended from the great Norman asskicker William the Conqueror, Isabella's destiny was to be far more exciting and bloody than that of most Medieval noblewomen – her crazy, insane life smashing peoples' asses across the British countryside would include giant booze-laden parties, face-crushing vengeance, and wild monkey sex, and by the time she was done she would be forever remembered as the only Queen of England to ever order the execution of the English King.
Life started out innocuously enough for the young woman known as Isabella of France (or, alternately, Isabella the Fair). At the age of fourteen she was set-up in an arranged marriage with the twenty-three year old King Edward II of England, who by all accounts he was considered to be the handsomest man in Europe. So she could have done worse. They were married in an opulent ceremony in Boulogne, France, and everybody was totally pumped up because she was a totally smoking-hot babe and everybody thought these royal newlyweds were like the Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston of fourteenth-century Europe.
However, things didn't work out that great for the happy couple. You see, it turns out that in this particular real-life soap opera, the role of Angelina Jolie was actually played by some dude named Piers Gaveston. No sooner had the joyful newlyweds arrived in England than Eddie went out and gave Gaveston a bunch of jewels and shit that he received as part of Isabella's dowry, and told him how much better he was than his annoying wife. This was a serious slap in the face to the young Queen, but insult was soon added to injury, and before long Gaveston actually held a higher position of honor in the King's court than that of Queen Isabella.
That shit would not fly, and as we will see, Queen Isabella wasn't the sort of chick you wanted to step to. It didn't take long for the vengeful monarch to associate herself with a bunch of jealous-ass nobles who completely hated Gaveston's guts (the dude was kind of an arrogant prick, and pretty much all nobles are inherently jealous of anybody with more influence over the king than themselves), and when Edward II didn't have the good sense to banish Gaveston from the realm for his heinous douchebaggery, Isabella and her homedogs snatched the dude up, dragged him screaming from his castle, chopped off his dome, and paraded his headless corpse around town strapped to a ladder for some reason. When the King got super-pissed and wanted to have the barons executed for treason, Isabella worked her magic and made sure he pardoned them instead.
With Gaveston out of the way, there was a period of general marital peace in England that lasted roughly ten years. The couple drank a bunch of mead, wore some awesome-looking hats, fought a couple wars against the Scottish, and partied hardier than an Andrew W.K. album. Eventually Isabella had a kid (the future King Edward III), who would go on to be a super-badass war hero who would lead the English to epic victories in the Hundred Years' War, and everybody thought that this was totally sweet to the max because, as we all know, Queens in the Middle Ages were typically measured solely based on their abilities to successfully produce human male children. We're pretty sure that Edward was the dad, but the 1990s Hollywood blockbuster Braveheart seems to think that William Wallace might need Maury Povitch to come out and give him a paternity test. If there were any truth to that hypothesis (which there isn't), that could only count as serious bonus points for Queen Izzy.
Anyways, despite the fact that she popped out a future heir to the English throne, it wasn't long before Isabella once again had to compete for her own husband's attention. This time, her chief opponent was a dude named Hugh Despenser - a guy who nowadays is pretty much hatefully remembered by all Britons as a complete fucking bastard - and his father, also named Hugh Despenser, who was also utterly douchey. Between all of the King Edwards and all of the Hugh Despensers, you kind of get the impression that Medieval Englishmen weren't really very creative in their naming conventions, but I guess that's really beside the point.
Anyways, the Hugh Despensers were basically little more than opportunistic dillholes who enjoyed using their elevated positions of power to confiscate money and land from the less fortunate and then take a dump on their heads for no reason at all. These guys were wardens of the forests, and they loved to arrest innocent people for "poaching", kill them, imprison their children, and steal all of their land. They also extorted funds from the Church, pimp-slapped Gandhi, kicked puppies, and left the toilet seat up in the Royal Washroom like ALL THE FUCKING TIME. Isabella thought that all of this was pretty horrible shit, but every time she tried to talk smack to them, the King responded with some variation of the time-honored slogan "Bros before hos".
Frustrated that her protests were going nowhere, Isabella just decided to deal with the situation in the same manner in which badasses handle shit. She was the fucking Queen, and wasn't going to be blown off for some nutsack aristocrat jackasses who thought they could front on the goddamned She-Wolf of France. She rounded up the afore-mentioned disgruntled nobility (who really had nothing better to do), chased the Despensers from England, confiscated their funds, torched all of their castles to embers, auctioned off their possessions, and had their closest associates brutally tortured until they died painfully from it.
That's just how Queen Isabella rolled. She didn't tolerate people trying to dick her over, and anyone who wanted a piece ended up getting their faces stamped into giant puddles of liquid pwned. Like this one time Isabella was on a pilgrimage to visit the shrine of St. Thomas of Canterbury, and some bitch known as the Lady Badlesmere denied our Queen access to the castle at Leeds. Isabella got pissed, chucked Lady Badlesmere in the Tower of London, and had eleven of her closest advisors publicly hanged outside the gates of their castle.
Despite being a vengeful, hate-filled asskicker, it should be noted that Isabella was actually pretty well-liked by the general populace, and was known for helping the poor and donating money to support institutions that cared for the sick and the needy. So yeah, basically anybody who wasn't in the process of having their shit wrecked by her pretty much thought she was alright.
Well the King eventually had enough of the disgruntled Barons beating up on his best buddies, and the two factions finally decided to duke it out old-school with swords and catapults and ninja stars and shit. So Isabella, not being a gigantic axe-hurling dominatrix capable of single-handedly slaughtering an entire army with little more than a broken-off corset bone, took refuge in the Tower of London, which, while a formidable dungeon, was also pretty much the safest place you could be when every able-bodied man within a two hundred mile radius is stabbing each other in the eye socket with a longsword. While she was there, she met a handsome, dashing young prisoner named Roger Mortimer. Mortimer had been jailed for crotch-punching Hugh Despenser on a dare, and was currently serving a sentence of death by starvation. Isabella brought him some food, spoke some French with him, and their mutual hatred of the Despensers made them close friends… and eventually, friends with benefits.
King Edward won the war against the nobles, and immediately brought Hugh Despenser back to England. Big surprise. Hugh, being the arrogant jackass that he was, started flexing his nuts and doing everything he could to place himself above the queen. He fired all of Isabella's staff, bad-mouthed her to the King, publicly insulted her, and started stealing all of her money and property. Well the Queen was sick of King Eddie's weak sauce bullshit, and she wasn't going to let anybody treat her like that. She busted Roger Mortimer out of prison, and had her agents secretly ferry him across the Channel to France. Then she asked the King for permission to take their son to France to meet his grandpa, and the King said, "Sure, what the hell." Once safely in France, Isabella basically came out and called Edward a sackless doofus, told him she had no intention of going back to her bullshit life in England. She and Mortimer raised an army, and in 1327 she headed back across the Channel William the Conqueror-style for the explicit purpose of ripping the King's face off with her bare hands and barfing into his brain pan.
The people of England were also sick of Hugh Despenser's bullshit, and they quickly responded to the battle-cry of their omega-furious, badass queen. The nobility and the peasantry alike flocked to her banner as soon as she landed her invasion force, and at the head of a huge army, Isabella and Mortimer chased Edward out of London. Edward wasn't done though – he threatened that he would be the one to personally slay the She-Wolf of France, and told all of his buddies he would choke her out with his bare hands if he had to. Well, that's not really how shit played out for our boy Ed. He never got his a chance to show off his mad domestic violence skills, because Mortimer and Isabella beat the crap out of the King's army and captured him and the Despensers in 1327. Despenser Senior was drawn apart, hanged, and then beheaded, and he was the one who got off easy – the Younger Despenser was led through the streets in a mock parade while peasants threw food and trash at him, and then he was publicly executed in a really horrific manner so brutal that it would make the fucking Terminator cringe:
| "Hugh, you have been judged a traitor since you have threatened all the good people of the realm, great and small, rich and poor, and by common assent you are also a thief. As a thief you will hang, and as a traitor you will be drawn and quartered, and your quarters will be sent throughout the realm. And because you prevailed upon our lord the king, and by common assent you returned to the court without warrant, you will be beheaded. And because you were always disloyal and procured discord between our lord the king and our very honourable lady the queen, and between other people of the realm, you will be disemboweled, and then your entrails will be burnt. Go to meet you fate, traitor, tyrant, renegade; go to your own justice, traitor, evil man, criminal!"
Hugh Despenser: d00d WTF OW
So… yeah. Don’t fuck with Queen Isabella. The King, for what it's worth, was imprisoned, stripped of his regalia, and forcibly coerced to pass the crown to his and Isabella's son, who was coronated King Edward III.
That was all well and good, but once Isabella got in control she kind of turned into a crazy, bloodthirsty bitch-o-rama. Ruling as regents for the fourteen year-old Edward III, she and Mortimer first executed a bunch of high-ranking nobles for no good reason, and then had the King dragged out into a field and burned to death with red-hot pokers. Eventually, everybody basically had enough of it. Edward III grew a pair, imprisoned his mom, had Mortimer whacked, and called it a day. Isabella lived under house arrest in her lavish resort of a castle for twenty-seven more years. When she died, she asked to be entombed with Mortimer's heart placed in her casket, which is morbid as all shit but still kind of romantic if you really think about it.
Isabella, seen here trying not to act crazy.
Fines, John. Who's Who in the Middle Ages. Barnes & Noble Publishing, 1995.
Howitt, Mary Botham. Biographical Sketches of the Queens of Great Britain. Bohn, 1862.
Jones, Michael. The Cambridge Medieval History. Cambridge University Press, 2005.
Mortimer, Ian. The Greatest Traitor. Macmillan, 2006.