Isabella of Angoulême

Photo of Isabella’s effigy at Fontevraud Abbey, France. Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Gabby Storey

Isabella (c.1186/1188-1246) was the sole heiress to Ademar, count of Angoulême, and Alice de Courtenay, granddaughter of Louis VI of France. Isabella was a prized heiress due to her familial connections and was betrothed to Hugh IX de Lusignan.

This betrothal was not to last, as John, king of England, arranged his own betrothal with Isabella and married her in August 1200, making her queen consort of England. Isabella faced competition with her mother-in-law and sister-in-law for access to revenues.

John’s control over her dower lands and finances leaves little trace of Isabella’s time as queen and countess during her first marriage. She produced five sons and daughters between 1207 and 1215, thus fulfilling her role to bear royal heirs.

Following John’s death in 1216, Isabella returned to France in 1217. Excluded from the regency council and Angevin politics, Isabella had little opportunity but to re-establish herself as countess. She married Hugh X of Lusignan in 1220, a marriage not without controversy.

From the 1220s onwards, Isabella and Hugh regularly petitioned the English crown for funds and lands, and changed alliances between the Plantagenets and Capetians to achieve these ends. Her and Hugh produced nine children.

This political rivalry continued into the 1240s. Isabella’s refusal to pay homage in 1241 to French king Louis IX’s brother Alfonso of Castile, amongst political tensions, led to rebellion, which resulted in Isabella being sidelined by all.

Isabella was undoubtedly more active in her dowager period, and exercised power more effectively as countess in her dowager period than as a consort. She retired to Fontevraud and died on 4 June 1246, and was later buried at the abbey alongside some of the other Plantagenet rulers.

Recommended Reading

Gabriel Biancotto, Robert Favreau and Piotr Skubiszewski, eds., Isabelle d’Angoulême: comtesse-reine et son temps (Poitiers: CESCM, 1999)

Louise J. Wilkinson, “Maternal Abandonment and Surrogate Caregivers: Isabella of Angoulême and Her Children by King John,” in Virtuous or Villainess? The Image of the Royal Mother from the Early Medieval to the Early Modern Era, eds., Carey Fleiner and Elena Woodacre, 101-124 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016)

Nicholas Vincent, “Isabella of Angoulême: John’s Jezebel,” in King John, New Interpretations, ed. S. D. Church, 165-219 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1999)

Sophie Fougère, Isabelle d’Angoulême, reine d’Angleterre (Paris: Edit-France, 1998).

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