Isabella: Queen Without a Conscience
"She worshipped power, throve on controversy and was willing to dare all in order to be and be seen as a queen."
Isabella's life parallels the life-and-death struggle of England and France in the turbulent thirteenth century. A woman of strong ambitions and surpassing loveliness, she became a key player in the intrigues and shifting alliances of the era. In this meticulously researched novel, you'll encounter kings and queens, popes and prelates, warriors and courtiers who were the power elite of their day. And you'll become intimately acquainted with this French beauty, one of history's most fascinating and enigmatic queens.
The story in brief:
Isabella, the beautiful fourteen-year-old daughter of the Count of Angoulême, is betrothed in 1200 to Hugh le Brun, Count of Lusignan. She looks forward to a life of ease and luxury as the wife of one of the most powerful nobles of France. Then she marries King John of England instead. Did she jilt Hugh because she was more dazzled by the prospect of being Queen of England than that of becoming a mere countess, as the historians surmise? In this book Bard offers a different explanation.
Once crowned, Isabella is supremely happy. She and John are infatuated with each other and she glories in the trappings of queenship. But their marriage becomes stormy, with accusations of adultery and betrayal. As John fails in his efforts to regain territories claimed by King Philip of France, his English subjects accuse Isabella of being a Jezebel and a sorceress. After John's death she is banished to her native France and forced to leave her children behind.
Still a beauty at thirty, Isabella marries Count Hugh X de Lusignan—the son of the man she'd been betrothed to twenty years before. She is determined to cement her position as a force to be reckoned with in strife-ridden thirteenth-century France. Though the marriage is politically motivated, the couple prove as compatible in the bedchamber as they are in their struggle for power. Thanks to the vastness of their combined realms, they need fear neither the King of France nor the King of England—Isabella's son Henry III. They take sides with anyone who will support their territorial claims. But their fortunes decline into disaster and ignominy. Isabella blames Hugh and they agree to part. Isabella retires to an abbey, where at last she finds a measure of peace.
Like her mother-in-law, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella demanded to be called Queen of England to the end of her days, though other queens had followed her on the throne. In death she is accorded the honor and recognition she had sought all her life: she is buried at Fontevraud Abbey near her royal in-laws, and her effigy bears the crown of a Queen of England.
The story is told from the viewpoints of the major characters, who take turns as narrators. They are, in order of appearance:
Isabella, only daughter of Count Aymer of Angoulême
Anne Beaufort, Isabella's lady-in-waiting and confidante
Hugh le Brun, ninth Count of Lusignan
King John of England, son of Henry and Eleanor
Eleanor of Aquitaine, widow of King Henry II of England
Henry III, son of Isabella and John, successor to John as King of England
Hugh, son of Hugh le Brun, tenth Count of Lusignan
With this new novel, Isabella joins Berengaria, heroine of "Queen Without a Country," in Rachel Bard's projected trilogy devoted to medieval queens. "Isabella," like its predecessor, is based on the author's research in libraries and archives and on her tracing of her heroine's journeys through medieval France and England.
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Learn more about Queen Isabella of Angoulême:
Isabelle d'Angoulême, Comtesse-Reine, by Jean Francois Castaigne. Angoulême, 1836.
The Marriage and Coronation of Isabelle of Angoulême, by H. G. Richardson, in The English Historical Review, September 1946.
The Lusignans in England, 1247-1258, by Harold S. Snellgrove, in University of New Mexico Publications in History, #2, 1950.
Isabelle d'Angoulême, Reine d'Angleterre, by Sophie Fougère. Edit-France, Payré, 1998.
About the Author
After a career as a writer of advertising, travel promotion and eight nonfiction books, Rachel Bard took up fiction. "Isabella" is her second historical novel. She became interested in Isabella of Angoulême while researching her first novel, "Queen Without a Country," in which Isabella plays a cameo appearance as the young wife of King John. Digging deeper into Isabella's life, Bard found she had been renowned for her seductive beauty, and had been reviled as a Jezebel, an adulteress, a sorceress and even a murderer. What novelist could resist? The search was on: in Winchester and London in England; in Paris, Angoulême and Lusignan in France, as well as the abbeys and palaces where Isabella spent time.
Rachel Bard lives and writes on Vashon Island, an island in Puget Sound near Seattle. She is well into the third book of her series on medieval queens. "A Reed in the Wind" is based on the life of Joanna, sister of King Richard and King John and wife of William II, King of Sicily. Readers of "Queen Without a Country" will remember Joanna as the companion and friend of Queen Berengaria when they accompanied Richard to the Holy Land on the Third Crusade.