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History Illustrations: Queen Isabella

The queen who raised an army to topple the king

This illustration of Queen Isabella is a great one. It reminds me of Elizabeth I in the film, when she gave her speech to the army: I may have the body of a woman but I have the heart and stomach of a man.

Drawing of Queen Isabella on a horse

The two Despensers’ hold over King Edward II not only caused resentment among the barons and the court, but, understandably, with the queen. Isabella was the sister of the king of France, Charles IV. When a dispute arose between England and France over Gascony, Isabella managed to persuade the king to send her to her brother to make peace, and so escaped from court and from England.

Hugh le Despenser the Younger
Hugh le Despenser the Younger

The Despensers may have been good at scheming, but proved less skilled at administration. In May 1325 Queen Isabella negotiated that either the king or his son would go to France and pay homage to Charles IV for Gascony, and the Despensers, fearful of losing their hold over the king, agreed to send Prince Edward rather than his father. Once Isabella had her son with her, there was nothing to stop her working against the Despensers and the king. She wrote to the king that neither she nor her son would return to his court as long as the younger Despenser was there. She said that her marriage was broken and she would live as a widow until the Despensers were gone.

While in France, Isabella met, and fell in love with, Roger Mortimer, an English exile. Roger Mortimer was one of the barons who rebelled against Edward II, and when he surrendered he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He managed to escape by drugging his guards, and fled to France. Although for different reasons, they were both in opposition to the king, and both believed he was bad for England. They canvassed for support and gathered a growing band of men who were also disenchanted with the king and his administration. They began to raise an army to invade.

King Edward II of England
Edward II

In September 1326 Queen Isabella and Mortimer landed in the south of England with 700 mercenaries. Edward was amazed at the small size of their army and immediately attempted to raise a large force to crush them. To his surprise, many of the barons refused him. Many joined the queen. The invasion quickly had too much support and became too big to stop.

Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth book

You can read the full story in my book Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth. The end result was that the king agreed to abdicate in favour of his son, if the people would agree to accept him. The abdication was registered on 24th January 1327, and the following day was declared the first day of the reign of Edward III, even though he was only fourteen. Mortimer and Isabella were appointed as regents. Mortimer also took the title Earl of March. From rebel in exile, Roger Mortimer had become effectively the king of England, with Isabella by his side.

King Edward III of England
Edward III

When Edward III was seventeen he led a coup against Mortimer and began his personal reign. He was one of the most successful monarchs of the Middle Ages, and reigned for fifty years.

Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, and book two Alien Secrets, are out now. Follow her at