Isabella was the daughter of the Count of Angoulême and was a great niece of Louis VII of France. She was only thirteen when she attracted the attention of King John of England, and was married to him on 24 August, 1200. She was crowned on 8 October 1200 at Westmionster Abbey.
Isabella had previously been betrothed to marry Hugh X de Lusignan, Count of La Marche, but when John made her parents aware of his interest, they were quick to break the betrothal. Isabella was not unwilling, despite her groom being twenty years her senior, and the wedding was speedily arranged.
Shortly after the wedding John had to rush to the aid of his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine who had been besieged by her grandson Arthur (John’s rival for the throne) at the Castle of Mirebeau. The redoubtable woman held out until John was able to come to her rescue, marching over 80 miles in roughly 48 hours.
Queen of England
Isabella spent a relaxing Christmas at Caen, and spent long mornings in bed together, leading people to believe that Isabella had ensnared him with witchcraft. The pair seemed happy enough together although John remained unfaithful to his wife, and she had a volatile temper to match his own. She has been called the Helen of the Middle Ages due to her incredible beauty.
In 1202 Isabella inherited her father’s duchy in Angoulême, and a year later John allegedly murdered his nephew Arthur, and while trying to weather this storm, Philip II of France invaded Normandy and reclaimed virtually all of John’s French lands.
In 1207 a happier event occurred – Isabella gave birth to their first son Henry (III) at Winchester. He would be the first king to consider himself wholly English. She also bore John another son, Richard of Cornwall, and three daughters all of whom made prestigious marriages.
When John died in 1216, having lost the Crown Jewels in The Wash in East Anglia, Isabella speedily had her nine year old son Henry crowned with her own royal coronet. Denied regency, a year later she left Henry in the hands of William the Marshall and returned to Angoulême.
Countess of La Marche
Four years later she married her old betrothed, Hugh de Lusignan, and settled down to have nine more children with him. Isabella’s daughter Joan had been betrothed to Hugh, but Isabella had pushed her daughter aside and married her to Scotland instead.
Isabella flouted the decree requiring a dowager queen to request permission to remarry, and so was denied her dower lands in Normandy. After quarrels in which the Pope got involved, Isabella was granted a pension, and revenues from several estates in England.
She also now had to resign herself to her loss of status, she was now merely the Countess of La Marche and Angoulême. She had a deep hatred for the Queen Dowager of France Blanche (who had encouraged the French invasion of England in Johns time), and this hatred led her to conspire against Louis IX of France.
Isabella, her husband and other discontented nobles banded together and attempted to wrest control of the south of France from the French King. The conspiracy failed in 1224 and the Count made amends to the king. Unfortunately for Isabella, two cooks were later arrested for trying to poison Louis, on questioning they confessed to being in Isabella’s pay.
She fled to Fontrevrault where she took sanctuary, and later died. At her request she was buried in the churchyard, until her son Henry III visited her grave and insisted she be reinterred alongside his grandparents.