Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Isabella of Angoulême

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1040748Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 29 — Isabella of Angoulême1892William Hunt

ISABELLA of Angoulême (d. 1246), queen of John [q. v.], daughter and heiress of Aymer, count of Angoulême, by Alicia, daughter of Peter of Courtenay, a younger son of Louis VI of France, was by the advice of Richard of England solemnly espoused to Hugh of Lusignan, called 'le Brun,' eldest son of Hugh IX, 'le Brun,' count of La Marche, and lived under the care of her betrothed husband's family, though the marriage was not completed on account of her youth. When John was in France in 1200 he agreed to marry her, and, her father having obtained the custody of her by craft, she was married to the king at Angoulême by the Archbishop of Bordeaux on or about 26 Aug. John's marriage with her led to the loss of nearly all his continental possessions [see under John]. She accompanied her husband to England, and was crowned with him by Archbishop Hubert at Westminster on 8 Oct. The crown was again placed on her head at the court held at Canterbury at Easter, 25 March 1201. In May she went with her husband to Normandy, where she shared his idle, luxurious life, his carelessness about the loss of his dominions being in some measure ascribed to his fondness for her (Wendover, iii. 171, 181). She bore her first-born son, afterwards Henry III [q. v.], on 1 Oct. 1207. In 1213 she inherited Angoumois, and early in the next year sailed with her husband to Rochelle and visited her city of Angoulême. John was an extremely unfaithful husband, but it is said that she also was guilty of infidelities, and that the king put her lovers to death. In December 1214 John ordered that she should be kept in confinement at Gloucester, and she was probably there at the time of his death. In 1217 she returned to her own country, and wrote several letters asking for help from England against the French king. In May 1220 she married her old lover Hugh, who had succeeded his father as count of La Marche, and was betrothed to her daughter Joanna. She demanded her dowry and especially Niort, the castles of Exeter and Rockingham, and 3,500 marks. Her demands not being granted, she stirred up her husband and his house to acts of hostility against her son's subjects in Poitou, for which she was threatened with excommunication by Honorius III, and she seems to have been disposed to detain Joanna, who was to marry Alexander of Scotland; but Honorius wrote decidedly to Hugh on the matter, and a severe illness caused him to send Joanna back to her brother in November. Relying on help from England, Isabella, in December 1241, persuaded her husband to refuse to do homage to Alfonso, brother of Louis IX, as count of Poitou; she was present at the count's court at Christmas, when Hugh defied Alfonso, and rode off with her husband and his men-at-arms through the midst of Alfonso's troops. Henry made alliance with Hugh and his mother as countess of Angoulême, and when Louis and Alfonso invaded La Marche brought an army over to help them. Hugh played him false at Taillebourg, and declared that his change of conduct was entirely due to his wife's intrigues. They both submitted unreservedly to Louis and were pardoned. Isabella is said to have sent two servants to poison the French king and his brother, and when the attempt was discovered to have tried to stab herself in a rage, and to have fallen in a severe sickness from mortification (William de Nangis; Chron. de St.-Denys). The attempt probably belongs to the time when the king and his brother were overrunning La Marche, and its discovery may be connected with the charge brought against Hugh in 1243 by a French knight who challenged him to combat. Alfonso spoke bitterly of Hugh's misdeeds, and on hearing this Isabella fled to Fontevraud and dwelt with the nuns there (Matt. Paris). She died at Fontevraud in 1246, hated both by English and Poitevins, and was buried in the cemetery of the house. In 1254 Henry III visited her grave, caused her body to be moved into the church, and placed a tomb over it. The effigy on her tomb is still to be seen at Foutevraud; an engraving of it by Stothard has been partly reproduced for Miss Strickland's 'Queens of England.'

Isabella was a beautiful and mischievous woman. By John she had two sons and three daughters [see under John], and by Hugh le Brun five sons (Hugh of Lusignan who succeeded his father; Guy, lord of Cognac; William of Valence; Geoffrey of Lusignan, lord of Châteauneuf; and Aymer of Valence, bishop of Winchester [see Aymer]; the four younger were of note in England) and probably three daughters, of whom Margaret married Raymond VII, count of Toulouse, and Alicia married John, earl of Warren.

[Hoveden, iv. 119, 139, 140 (Rolls Ser.); Wendover, iii. 148, 165, 166. 171, 181 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Matt, Paria. ii. 563, iv. 178, 211, 253, 563, v. 475 (Rolls Ser); Coggeshall, p. 168 (Rolls Ser.); Royal Letters, Hen. III. i. 10. 22, 114, 302, 536, ii. 25 (Rolls Ser.); Hardy's Patent Rolls, Introd. pp. 46-50; Rigord, De Gestis Philippi, and W. of Armorica, De Gestis and Philippidos, ap. Recueil des Hist. xvii. 55, 75, 185. The editors of Recueil xviii. have made a perplexing confusion between Hugh, the husband of Isabella, and his father, see p. 799 and references p. 783. Isabella could not have been betrothed to the father of her future husband in 1200, for his wife Matilda was then alive, comp. L'Art do Vérifier, x. 231; W. de Nangis and Chron. de St.-Denys, Recueil, xx. 337-9, xxi. 113; Strickland's Queens, i. 328 sq.]

W. H.