Isabeau of Bavaria

Christine de Pizan presenting her book to Queen Isabeau of Bavaria (1410-1414), BL Harley 4431. Image Credit: British Library/WikiCommons

By Gabby Storey

Likely born in Munich in 1370 to Duke Stephen III of Bavaria-Ingolstadt and Taddea Visconti, Isabeau was proposed as a bride for the king Charles VI of France as early as 1383 by her uncle.

Both families saw the advantage of shoring up an alliance with the Holy Roman Empire and against the English in the midst of the Hundred Years War. She was presented to Charles at Amiens on 13 July 1385 and they were married three days later.

Her coronation was celebrated on 23 August 1389 with an extravagant procession. The young couple appeared well-suited and happy together, with their first child, Isabella, born on 9 November 1389. They were to have 12 children in total.

Charles had his first onset of mental illness in August 1392. The cause was widely speculated, and Charles’ family were quick to seize power and establish themselves as regents, though Charles recovered by September. These bouts of illness were to become regular.

During his fits of illness, Charles was unable to recognise Isabeau at several points, and Isabeau withdrew from court on occasion. However, during his periods of lucidity the couple remained harmonious, with further pregnancies occurring and gifts exchanged.

Evidence supports Isabeau as a successful diplomat and ruler during Charles’ periods of incapacitation. In the 1390s, Charles made arrangements for Isabeau to be principal guardian of their son until he was 13 and gave her additional political power on the regency council.

Isabeau eventually assumed control of the regency council and worked closely with Charles’ brother, Orléans. Factions emerged and rumours of Isabeau and Orléans’ affair began to circulate. Isabeau navigated through civil war and foreign invasion, but was lambasted for her role in the 1420 Treaty of Troyes.

Charles died in 1422, and Isabeau continued to live in Paris, retiring to the Hôtel Saint-Pol until her death in 1435. Famed for being a spendthrift and sexually improper queen, much recent work has demonstrated that her reputation was ill-earned and due to propaganda.

Recommended Reading

Philippe Delorme, Isabeau de Bavière: épouse de Charles VI, mère de Charles VII (Paris: Pygmalion, 2003)

Rachel Gibbons, “Isabeau of Bavaria, Queen of France (1385–1422). The Creation of a Historical Villainess,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6 (1996): 51–73

Rachel Gibbons, “Isabeau of Bavaria, Queen of France: Queenship and Political Authority as “Lieutenante-Général” of the Realm,” in Queenship, Gender, and Reputation in the Medieval and Early Modern West 1060-1600, eds., Zita Eva Rohr and Lisa Benz, 143-160 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016)

Tracy Adams, “Christine de Pizan, Isabeau of Bavaria, and Female Regency,” French Historical Studies 32.1 (2009): 1–32.

Tracy Adams, The Life and Afterlife of Isabeau of Bavaria (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010).

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