Edward II and Isabella of France
In England’s rich, often bloody history, perhaps no single royal marriage has been as so dramatic and violent as that of Edward II and his bride Isabella. While this was hardly the first – or indeed the last – marriage to be based on politics instead of love, it seemed doomed from the start. Edward was a ‘complicated’ sort, with complex issues, while Eleanor was as ambitious and ruthless as Lady Macbeth. That they were officially together for the best part of two decades was, in this respect, quite an achievement.
The young couple were set up in order to bring the kingdoms of England and France together. To outsiders, it must have seemed like the young Isabella was marrying well. After all, Edward was tall and ruggedly handsome. He was also, by all accounts, also weak-willed and cowardly. What’s more, it’s likely he was homosexual, turning to drink and gambling to deal with his general unhappiness. Famously, some of those lucky enough to be invited to Edward’s wedding to Isabella on January 25, 1308 gossiped that the king appeared to be more interested in his closest advisor, Piers Gaveston, than he was in his bride.
Despite Edward’s perceived (or indeed real) lack of sexual interest in his wife, the couple nevertheless had three children, the eldest a boy and the future Edward III. But Isabella was not content with staying at home and keeping out of the way. Seeing that her husband was being undermined by ambitious aristocrats, she grew to resent his lack of ruthlessness. Before long, she was plotting his removal too. By the early 1320s, she had taken Roger Mortimer of Wigmore as her lover, and the two started plotting to have Edward deposed.
In 1325, Isabella sensed her chance. When her husband sent her on a mission to France, she arranged for their eldest son, Prince Edward, to join her. Now she got him on the conspiracy, too. After months of careful planning, the coup went ahead in 1327, Isabella had Edward killed as he took refuge in Mortimer Castle. But whether she gave the explicit order for him to be gruesomely dispatched by a red-hot poker will never be known. She definitely did, however, request that Edward’s embalmed heart be sent to her, and she was sure to make a public show of mourning her dead husband.
For a short while, Isabella ruled England alongside her lover Mortimer. But her eldest son had inherited her ambitious ways. The prince declared himself King Edward III of England. Upon taking the throne, he immediately had Mortimer executed. His mother, however, was spared and allowed to live in comfort right until her death in 1358, her unhappy and twisted marriage by then a distant memory.