|Isabeau of Bavaria|
|19th-century depiction of Isabeau of Bavaria|
|Coronation||23 August 1389|
|Spouse||Charles VI of France|
|Isabella, Queen of England
Joan, Duchess of Brittany
Marie, Prioress of Poissy
Michelle, Duchess of Burgundy
Louis, Dauphin of France
John, Dauphin of France
Catherine, Queen of England
Charles VII, King of France
|House||House of Wittelsbach|
|Father||Stephen III, Duke of Bavaria|
|Died||1435 (aged 64–65)
Isabeau of Bavaria (also Elisabeth of Bavaria-Ingolstadt; c. 1370 – 24 September 1435) was Queen of France as the wife of King Charles VI, whom she married in 1385. She was born into the old and prestigious House of Wittelsbach, the eldest daughter of Duke Stephen III of Bavaria-Ingolstadt and Taddea Visconti of Milan. Isabeau was sent to France when she was around 15, on approval to the young French King who liked her enough to marry her three days later.
In 1389, she was honored with a lavish coronation ceremony and entry into Paris. Charles suffered the first attack of his lifelong progressive mental illness in 1392, and at that time was forced to temporarily withdraw from government, which occur with greater frequency during his reign. His illness left a court divided by political factions and steeped in social extravagances. A 1393 masque for one of her ladies-in-waiting—an event later known as Bal des Ardents—ended in disaster with the King almost burned to death. Although the King demanded Isabeau's removal from his presence during his attacks of illness, he consistently allowed her the authority to act on his behalf and granted her role of regent to the Dauphin (heir to the throne), giving her a seat on the regency council, far more power than was the usual for a medieval queen.
Charles' illness created a vacancy that eventually lead to civil war between the royal dukes of Burgundy and supporters of Charles' brother, Louis of Orléans, fed by the increased factionalism and rivalry from the early 1400s. Isabeau vacillated between the factions, choosing courses she believed most favorable for the heir to the throne. When she chose to follow the Armagnacs, the Burgundians accused her of adultery with Louis of Orléans; when she sided with the Burgundians, the Armagnacs removed her from Paris and had her imprisoned. In 1407, John the Fearless assassinated Orléans, after which the Queen lost political influence.
For many centuries, Queen Isabeau was perceived as a spendthrift and irresponsible adulteress. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries historians re-examined the extensive chronicles written during her lifetime, concluding that much of her reputation was unearned and most likely the result of factional political propaganda written by contemporary chroniclers.
Isabeau's parents were Duke Stephen III of Bavaria-Ingolstadt and Taddea Visconti, whom he married for a 100,000 ducat dowry. She was most likely born in Munich where she was baptized[note 1] at the Church of Our Lady. Hers was the ancient and well-established Merovingian Wittelsbach family, descended from Charlemagne, and she was great-granddaughter to Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor. At that period Bavaria was the most powerful of the German states and the Wittelsbachs the wealthiest of the Bavarian families.
Isabeau's uncle, Duke Frederick of Bavaria, suggested in 1383 that she be considered as a bride to King Charles VI of France. The match was proposed again at the lavish Burgundian double wedding in Cambrai in April 1385—John the Fearless and his sister Margaret of Burgundy married Margaret and William of Bavaria respectively. Charles, then 17, rode in the tourneys at the wedding and historian Barbara Tuchman describes him as attractive, physically fit, enjoyed jousting and hunting, and was ready for a wife.
Charles VI's uncle, Philip the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy, thought the proposed marriage ideal to build an alliance with the Holy Roman Empire and against the English. Isabeau's father reluctantly agreed to the proposal and sent her with his brother to France on the pretext that she was go to on pilgrimage to Amiens with her uncle, but he was adamant that she not be told the reason for the visit to France, which was to be examined as a prospective bride for Charles. He refused permission for Isabeau to be examined in the nude, customary at the time. According to contemporary medieval chronicler Jean Froissart she was 13 or 14 when the match was proposed and about 16 at the time of the marriage in 1385, suggesting a birth date of around 1370.
Before her presentation to Charles, Isabeau visited Hainaut for about a month, staying with Albert I, Duke of Bavaria. Albert's wife, Margaret of Brieg replaced Isabeau's Bavarian style of dress, considered unsuitable for French courtly attire; and taught etiquette suitable to the French court. She learned quickly, suggestive of an intelligent and quick witted character. On 13 July 1385 she then traveled to Amiens to be presented to Charles. Jean Froissart writes of the meeting in his Chronicles, saying that she stood motionless while being inspected, exhibiting perfect behavior by the standards of her time. Arrangements were made for the two to be married in Arras, but on the first meeting Charles felt "happiness and love enter his heart, for he saw that she was beautiful and young, and thus he greatly desired to gaze at her and possess her". She did not yet speak French and may not have reflected the idealized beauty of the period, perhaps inheriting her mother's dark Italian and then unfashionable features, but Charles most certainly approved of her because the couple were married three days later. Froissart documented the royal wedding, joking about the lascivious guests at the feast and the "hot young couple".
Charles seemingly loved his young wife, lavishing her with gifts. In 1386 on the occasion of their first New Year, he gave her a red velvet palfrey saddle, trimmed with copper and decorated with an intertwined K and E (for Karol and Elisabeth), and he continued to give her gifts of rings, tableware and clothing. The uncles too apparently were pleased with the match, which contemporary chroniclers, notably Froissart and Michel Pintoin, describe similarly as a match rooted in desire and based on her beauty. A day after the two were married, Charles went on a military campaign against the English and Isabeau went to Creil to live with Blanche, Duchess of Orléans, who taught her courtly traditions. In September, Isabeau took up residence at a chateau in Vincennes, which would become her favorite residence for much of her lifetime and where in the early years of their marriage Charles frequently joined her.
Isabeau's coronation was celebrated on August 23, 1389 with a lavish entry into Paris. Her sister-in-law Valentina Visconti, who had married her own cousin Louis of Orléans, (Charles' younger brother), two years earlier by proxy and papal dispensation, arrived in style escorted across the Alps from Milan by 1,300 knights carrying personal luxuries such as books and a harp. The noble women in the coronation procession were dressed in lavish costumes with thread-of-gold embroidery and rode in litters escorted by knights. Philip the Bold wore a doublet embroidered with 40 sheep and 40 swans, each decorated with a bell made of pearls.
The procession lasted from morning to night. The streets were lined with tableaux vivants displaying scenes from the Crusades, Deësis and the Gates of Paradise. More than a thousand burghers stood along the procession route; those on one side were dressed in green facing those on the opposite side in red. The procession began at the Porte de St. Denis, passing under a canopy of sky blue cloth beneath which children dressed as angels sang, entered the Rue de St. Denis before arriving at the Notre Dame for the coronation ceremony.
Tuchman writes of the event, "So many wonders were to be seen and admired that it was evening before the procession crossed the bridge leading to Notre Dame and the climactic display." As Isabeau crossed the Grand Pont to Notre Dame a person dressed as an angel descended from the church by mechanical means and "passed through an opening of the blue taffeta with golden fleurs-des-lys, which covered the bridge, and put a crown on her head." The angel was then pulled back up into the church. An acrobat carrying two candles walked along a rope suspended from the spires of the cathedral to the tallest house in the city.
After Isabeau's crowning, the procession made its way back from the cathedral along a route lit by 500 candles. They were greeted by a royal feast where they were presented with a progression of pageants, complete with a depiction of the Fall of Troy. Isabeau, who was seven months pregnant, nearly fainted of heat on the first of the five days of festivities. To pay for the extravagant event, taxes were raised in Paris two months later.
Charles suffered the first of what was to become a lifelong series of bouts of insanity in 1392. On a hot August day outside Le Mans, he attacked his household knights, including his brother Orléans, eventually killing four men. His uncles, the dukes of Burgundy and Berry, took advantage of the King's illness and quickly seized power and established themselves as regents. The King's sudden onset of insanity was seen by some as a sign of divine anger and punishment and by others as the result of sorcery; modern historians speculate he may have suffered from the onset of paranoid schizophrenia.
Froissart described the King's next illness as so severe that he was "far out of the way; no medicine could help him", although recovered from the first attack of illness within months. His physician, Guillaume de Harsigny, recommended a program of amusements, which prompted a member of the court to suggest Charles surprise Isabeau and the other ladies as a member of a group of courtiers disguised as wild men who were to make a sudden appearance at the ball given to celebrate the remarriage of Isabeau's lady-in-waiting, Catherine de Fastaverin. Charles was almost killed and four of the dancers burned to death in a fire, caused by a spark from a torch brought in by Orléans that lit one of dancer's flammable costume. The disaster came to a known as the Bal des Ardents. The night undermined confidence in Charles' capacity to rule; Parisians considered it proof of courtly decadence and threatened to rebel against the more powerful members of the nobility. The public's outrage forced the King and Orléans, whom a contemporary chronicler accused of attempted regicide and sorcery, into offering penance for the event.
The following June, Charles suffered a longer attack, removing him for about six months. Over the next three decades his condition deteriorated and he went through continued bouts of insanity. For the first 20 years of his illness he sustained periods of lucidity, enough that he continued to rule. Suggestions were made to replace him with a regent, although there was uncertainty and debate as to whether a regency could assume the full role of a living monarch. When he was incapable of ruling because of illness, his brother Orléans, and their cousin, the new Duke of Burgundy, John the Fearless, were chief among those who sought to take control of the government.
When Charles became ill in the 1390s, Isabeau was a 22-year old woman with three children, and had already lost two infants to early deaths. During the worst of his illness Charles was unable to recognize Isabeau, demanding her removal whenever she entered his chamber, which distressed her greatly. The Monk of St Denis, Michel Pintoin, wrote in his chronicle, "What distressed her above all was to see how on all occasions ... the king repulsed her, whispering to his people, 'Who is this woman obstructing my view? Find out what she wants and stop her from annoying and bothering me.'" As his illness worsened at the turn of the century, she was accused of abandoning him, particularly when she moved away to the Hôtel Barbette. Historian Rachel Gibbons speculates Isabeau wanted to distance herself from her husband and his illness, writing "it would be unjust to blame her if she did not want to live with a madman."
Since the king often did not recognize her during his psychotic episodes and was upset by her presence, it was eventually deemed advisable to provide him with a mistress, Odette de Champdivers, the daughter of a horse-dealer, who according to Tuchman is said to have resembled Isabeau and was called "the Little queen". Odette had probably assumed this role by 1405 with Isabeau's consent, but during his remissions the king still had relations with his wife, whose last pregnancy occurred in 1407. Records show she was in the king's chamber on November 23, 1407, the night of Orléans' assassination and again in 1408.
Isabeau's life is well documented, most likely because Charles's illness placed her in an unusual position of power. Nevertheless, not much is known about her personal characteristics and the many contemporary and historical description of the queen vary greatly. She was described as "small and brunette, or tall and blonde". Contemporary evidence is contradictory with chroniclers writing either she was "beautiful and hypnotic, or so obese through dropsy that she was crippled.". She spoke with a heavy German accent that never diminished despite living in France since her marriage, which Tuchman writes gave her an "alien" cast at Charles' court.
Historian Tracy Adams describes her as a talented diplomat who navigated court politics with ease, grace and charisma. She succeeded in her role as peacekeeper among the various court factions for many years. Her first venture into international diplomacy occured when she was newly married. A delegation from Florence approached her hoping she would use her political influence for them in the Gian Galeazzo Visconti affair.[note 2] At that time, Orléans and the Duke of Burgundy joined the pro-Visconti faction while the less influential anti-Visconti faction included Isabeau, her brother, Louis VII, Duke of Bavaria, and John III, Count of Armagnac. At that early period as Queen, Isabeau lacked the political power to effect change. Years later, however, at the 1396 wedding of her daughter, Isabella, to Richard II of England (an event at which Charles attacked a herald for wearing Galeazzo livery), Isabeau successfully negotiated an alliance between France and Florence with Florentine ambassador Buonaccorso Pitti.
Charles was crowned in 1387, aged 20, attaining sole control of the monarchy. His first acts included the dismissal of his uncles and the reinstatement of the Marmousets—traditional councilors to his father, Charles V—and he gave Orléans more responsibility. Some years later, after Charles' first attack of illness, tensions mounted between Orléans and the royal uncles—Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, John, Duke of Berry, and Louis II, Duke of Bourbon. Isabeau was then forced to assume a greater role in maintaining peace amidst a growing power struggle, which persisted for many years.
In the 1390s, Jean Gerson of the University of Paris formed a council to eliminate the Western Schism and in recognition of her negotiating skills, he placed Isabeau on the council. The French wanted both the Avignon pope and the Roman pope to abdicate in favor of a single papacy in Rome; Clement VII in Avignon welcomed Isabeau's presence given her record as an effective mediator. However the effort faded when Clement VII died.
During his short lived recovery in the 1390s, Charles made arrangements for Isabeau to be "principal guardian of the dauphin", their son, until he reached 13 years of age, giving her additional political power on the regency council. Charles anointed Isabeau co-guardian of their children in 1393, a position shared with the royal dukes and her brother, Louis of Bavaria, while he gave Orléans full power of the regency. This was done on the basis of laws established by the King's father, Charles V, which gave to the queen full power to protect and educate the heir to the throne. These appointments however split the power between Orléans and his royal uncles, increasing ill-will among the factions. The following year, as his bouts of illness became more severe and prolonged, Isabeau became the leader of the regency council giving her power over the royal dukes and the Constable of France, which simultaneously made her vulnerable to attack from various court factions.
Orléans was far more financially privileged as he was now the official tax-collector, and in the following decade Isabeau and Orléans agreed to raise the level of taxation. In 1401, during one of the King's absences, Orléans installed his own tax collectors, angering Philip the Bold who in retaliation raised an army, threatening to enter Paris with 600 men-at-arms and 60 knights. At that time Isabeau's intervention between Orléans and Burgundy prevented bloodshed and the outbreak of civil war.
Charles trusted Isabeau enough by 1402 to allow her arbitrate the growing tension between the Orléanist and Burgundians, giving her full authority to mediate between the dukes of Burgundy and Orléans, and control of the treasury. After Philip the Bold died in 1404 and his son John the Fearless took the title of Duke of Burgundy, the new duke continued the political strife in an attempt to gain access to the royal treasury for Burgundian interests. Orléans and the royal dukes thought John was usurping power for his own interests and Isabeau, at that time, aligned herself with Orléans to protect the interests of the crown and her children. Furthermore, she distrusted John the Fearless who she thought overstepped himself in rank—he was cousin to the king whereas Orléans was Charles' brother.
Rumors that Isabeau and Orléans were lovers began to circulate, a relationship that was considered incestuous. Whether the two were intimate has been questioned by contemporary historians, including Gibbons who believes the rumor may have been planted as propaganda against Isabeau as retaliation against tax increases she and Orléans ordered in 1405. An Augustinian friar, Jacques Legrand, preached a long sermon to the court denouncing excess and depravity, in particular mentioning Isabeau and her fashions—with exposed necks, shoulders and décolletage. The monk presented his sermon as allegory so as not to offend Isabeau overtly, but he cast her and her ladies-in-waiting as "furious, vengeful characters". He said to Isabeau, "If you don't believe me, go out into the city disguised as a poor woman, and you will hear what everyone is saying." Thus he accused Isabeau as having lost touch with the commoners and the court with its subjects. At about the same time a satirical political pamphlet, Songe Veritable, now considered by historians to be pro-Burgundian propaganda, was released and widely distributed in Paris. The pamphlet hinted at the Queen's relations with Orléans.
John the Fearless accused Isabeau and Orléans of fiscal mismanagement and again demanded money for himself, in recompense for the loss of royal revenues after his father's death. He raised a force of 1,000 knights, and entered Paris in 1405. Orléans hastily retreated with Isabeau to a fortified castle in Melun, with her household and children a day or so behind. John immediately left in pursuit, intercepting the party of chaperones and royal children. He took possession of Jean, the dauphin, and returned him to Paris under control of Burgundian forces; however, the dauphin's uncle, the duke of Berry, quickly took control of the child at the orders of the Royal Council. At that time Charles was lucid for about a month and able to help with the crisis. The incident, that came to known as the enlèvement of the dauphin, almost caused full scale war, but it was averted at that time. Orléans quickly raised an army while John encouraged Parisians to revolt; they refused claiming loyalty to the king and his son; Berry was made captain general of Paris and the city's gates were locked. In October, Isabeau became active in mediating the dispute, in response to a letter from Christine de Pizan and an ordinance from the Royal Council.
In 1407, Orléans was assassinated at the order of John the Fearless, who claimed that he wanted to "avenge" the monarchy of the alleged adultery between Isabeau and Orléans. He at first denied ordering the assassination, but quickly admitted that the act was for the Queen's honor. His royal uncles, shocked by the confession, forced him to leave Paris while the royal council attempted a reconciliation between the Houses of Burgundy and Orléans. In 1408, Charles pardoned John the Fearless after Jean Petit's lengthy and well-attended justification, presented at the royal palace before a large courtly audience. Petit argued convincingly that in the King's absence Orléans became a tyrant, practiced sorcery and necromancy, was driven by greed, and planned and almost succeeded in committing fratricide at the Bal des Ardents. He was exonerated because, as Petit argued, he defended the King and monarchy by assassinating Orléans.
Violence again broke out after the assassination; Isabeau had troops patrol Paris and, to protect the Dauphin, she left the city for Melun. Some months later, Charles rescinded the pardon. In August, Isabeau staged an entry to Paris for the Dauphin. Early in the new year, Charles signed an ordinance giving the 13-year-old Dauphin the power to rule in the Queen's absence. During these years, Isabeau's greatest concern was the Dauphin's safety as she prepared him to take up the duties of the king; she formed alliances to further those aims. At this point, the Queen and her influence were still crucial to the power struggle. Physical control of Isabeau and her children became important to both parties and she was forced to frequently change alliances, for which she was criticized and called unstable. She allied herself with the Burgundians from 1409 to 1413, and switched sides to form an alliance with the Orléanists from 1413 to 1415.
At the Peace of Chartre in 1409, John the Fearless was reinstated to the royal council after Orléans' son (Charles, Duke of Orléans) publicly reconciled, although the feuding continued. That December, Isabeau bestowed the tutelle (guardianship of the Dauphin) upon John the Fearless, made him the master of Paris, and allowed him to mentor the Dauphin, after he had Jehan de Montagu, Grand Master of the King's household executed. At that point the Duke essentially controlled Paris and the Dauphin, and was popular in Paris because he opposed the taxes levied by Isabeau and Orléans. Isabeau's actions with respect to John the Fearless angered the Armagnacs, however, who in the fall of 1410 marched to Paris to "rescue" the Dauphin from the Duke's influence. At that time members of the University of Paris, Jean Gerson in particular, proclaimed that all feuding members of the royal council step down and immediately be removed from power.
To defuse tension with the Burgundians a second double marriage was arranged in 1409. Isabeau's daughter Michelle married Philip the Good, son of John the Fearless, while his daughter Margaret was married off to Dauphin Louis, Duke of Guyenne. Before the wedding, Isabeau negotiated a treaty with John the Fearless in which she clearly defined family hierarchy and her position in relation to the throne.
Despite Isabeau's efforts to keep the peace, the Armagnac–Burgundian Civil War broke out in 1411. John gained the upper hand during the first year but the Dauphin began to build a power base; Christine de Pizan wrote of him that he was the savior of France. Still only 15, he lacked the power or backing to defeat John, who fomented revolt in Paris. In retaliation Charles of Orléans denied funds from the royal treasury to members of the royal family. In 1414, instead of allowing her son, then 17, to lead, Isabeau allied herself with Charles of Orléans. The Dauphin, in return, then changed allegiance and joined John, which Isabeau considered unwise and dangerous. The result was continued civil war in Paris. Parisian commoners joined forces with John the Fearless in the Cabochien Revolt, and at the height of the revolt a group of butchers entered Isabeau's home in search of traitors, arresting and taking away up to 15 of her ladies-in-waiting. After 1415, both factions tried to gain control of the 17-year-old Dauphin but had to get past the Queen. In his chronicles Pintoin wrote Isabeau was firmly allied with the Orléanists and the 60,000 Armagnacs who invaded Paris and Picardy.
King Henry V of England took advantage of the internal strife in France, invading the northwest coast and in 1415 he delivered a crushing defeat to the French at Agincourt. Nearly an entire generation of military leaders died or were taken prisoner in a single day. John, still feuding with the royal family and the Armagnacs, remained neutral as Henry V went on to conquer towns in northern France.
In December of 1415, Dauphin Louis died at age 18 of an illness, leaving Isabeau's political status unclear. Her fourth-born son, John of Touraine, who was now dauphin, had been raised in the household of Duke William II of Bavaria in Hainaut. Married to Countess Jacqueline of Hainaut, Touraine was a Burgundian sympathizer. William of Bavaria refused to send Touraine to Paris during a period of upheaval as Burgundians plundered the city and the Parisians revolted against another wave of tax increases initiated by Count Bernard VII of Armagnac whom, in a period of lucidity, Charles had raised to be the Constable of France. Isabeau attempted to intervene by arranging a meeting with Jacqueline in 1416, but Armagnac refused to allow Isabeau to reconcile with the House of Burgundy, while William II continued to prevent the young Dauphin from entering the city.
In 1417, Henry V invaded Normandy with 40,000 men. In April that year Dauphin John died and another shift in power occurred when Isabeau's fifth and last son Charles became Dauphin. He was married to Armagnac's daughter Marie of Anjou and favored the Armagnacs. At that time, Armagnac imprisoned Isabeau in Tours, confiscating her personal property (clothing, jewels and money), dismantling her household, and separating her from the younger children as well as her ladies-in-waiting. She secured her freedom in November through the help of the Duke of Burgundy. Accounts of her release vary: Monstrelet writes Burgundy "delivered" her to Troyes, and Pintoin writes the Duke negotiated Isabeau's release so as to gain control of her authority. Isabeau maintained her alliance with Burgundy from that period until the Treaty of Troyes.
Isabeau at first assumed the role of sole regent but in January 1418 yielded her position to John. Together Isabeau and John abolished parliament (Chambre des comptes) and turned to securing control of Paris and the King. John took control of Paris by force on May 28, 1418, slaughtering Armagnacs. The Dauphin fled the city. According to Pintoin's chronicle, the Dauphin refused Isabeau's invitation to join her in an entry to Paris. She entered the city with John on July 14.
Shortly after he assumed the title of Dauphin, Charles negotiated a truce with John in Pouilly. Charles then requested a private meeting with John at a bridge in Montereau promising a personal guarantee of protection. The meeting was a ploy to assassinate John the Fearless who was "hacked to death" on the bridge. The King disinherited his son for killing the Duke of Burgundy, bringing an end to the civil war, fueling the rumor of the Dauphin's illegitimacy—the purported son of an alleged affair between Isabeau and Orléans—and setting the stage for the Treaty of Troyes.
By 1419, Henry V occupied much of Normandy. The new Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good, allied with the English and pressured Isabeau to join him. She, however, remained loyal to the King and to France. In 1420, Henry V sent Louis de Robersart to Paris to confer with Isabeau because his ties to Bavaria were meant to put the Queen at ease in negotiating a truce. The two met alone, and Isabeau accepted the terms of Treaty of Troyes.
France effectively was without an heir to the throne because the King had disinherited the Dauphin, writing in 1420 about Charles VII that he had "rendered himself unworthy to succeed to the throne or any other title", because his actions destroyed any possibility for truce with the Burgundians. Charles of Orléans, next in line as heir, had been taken prisoner at the Battle of Agincourt and was imprisoned in London.
In absence of an official heir to the throne, Isabeau accompanied Charles to sign the Treaty of Troyes in May 1420. Her presence lent credence to future allegations that she gave away France to the English. For many centuries, Isabeau stood accused of relinquishing the crown because of the Treaty. Under the terms of the Treaty, Charles remained as King of France but Henry V, who married Charles' and Isabeau's daughter, Catherine, kept control of the territories he conquered in Normandy, would govern France with the Duke of Burgundy, and was to be Charles' successor. Isabeau was to live in English-controlled Paris.
Charles VI died in October 1422. As Henry V had passed earlier the same year, his infant son by Catherine, Henry VI, was proclaimed King of France, per the terms of the Treaty of Troyes, with the Duke of Bedford acting as regent. Rumors circulated about her again; some chronicles describe Isabeau living in a "degraded state". Tuchman writes she had a farmhouse built in St. Ouen where she looked after livestock, and that during her later years, during a lucid episode, Charles arrested one of her lovers whom he tortured and then drowned in the Seine. However, Seward attributes this same episode to Charles VII who had kept at his own court as a favorite, the "poisoner and wife-murderer" and former lover whom he eventually had drowned. At that period rumors about Isabeau's promiscuity flourished, which Adams attributes to propaganda by the English who may have felt a need to secure their grasp on the throne. An allegorical pamphlet, called Pastorelet, was published in the mid-1420s painting Isabeau in an unfavorable light. At about the same period, it was said "Even as France had been lost by a woman it would be saved by a woman"—referring to Isabeau and Joan of Arc.
In 1429, when Isabeau lived in English-occupied Paris, the accusation was again put forth that Charles VII was not the son of Charles VI. At that time, with two contenders for the French throne—the young Henry VI and disinherited Charles—this could have been propaganda to prop up the English position. Furthermore, gossip spread that Joan of Arc was Isabeau and Orleans' illegitimate daughter—a rumor Gibbons finds incredible because Joan of Arc may have been born later than Orléans' assassination. Allegations were made the earlier dauphins perhaps died of unnatural causes, that daughters had been poisoned, all of which added to Isabeau's reputation of one of history's great villains.
Isabeau was removed from political influence and retired to live in the Hôtel Saint-Pol with her brother's second wife, Catherine of Alençon. She was accompanied by her ladies-in-waiting Amelie von Orthenburg and Madame de Moy, the latter of whom had travelled from Germany and stayed with her as dame d'honneur since 1409. Isabeau died there in 1435. Her death and funeral were documented by Jean Chartier (member of St Denis Abbey) who may well have been an eyewitness.
Isabeau was often dismissed by historians as a wanton and weak and indecisive leader, a viewpoint that shifted during the 20th century. She is today more likely to be seen as to have assumed an unusually active leadership role for a queen of her period, albeit that she was forced to take responsibility as a direct result of Charles' illness. Her critics accepted skewed interpretations of her role in the negotiations with England, resulting in the Treaty of Troyes, and in the rumors of her marital infidelity with Orléans. Gibbons writes a queen's duty was to secure the succession to the crown and look after her husband; historians described Isabeau as having failed in both respects and she came to be seen as a one of the great villains in history. Gibbons goes on to say that even her physical appearance is uncertain and has been subverted depending on whether she was depicted as good or evil.
Rumored to be a bad mother, she was accused of "incest, moral corruption, treason, avarice and profligacy ... political aspirations and involvements". Adams writes that historians reassessed her reputation in the late 20th century, exonerating her of many of the accusations, seen particularly in Gibbons' scholarship. Furthermore, Adams admits she believed the allegations against Isabeau until she delved into contemporary chronicles: there she found little evidence against the Queen except that many of the rumors came from only a few passages in the chronicles, and in particular from Pintoin's pro-Burgundian writing.
After the onset of the King's illness, a common belief was that Charles' mental illness and inability to rule were due to her sorcery and spells; as early as the 1380s rumors spread that the court was steeped in sorcery. In 1397, Orléans' wife, Valentina Visconti was forced to leave Paris because she was accused of using magic. Magicians were attracted to the court of the "mad king" with promises of cures and often were used as a political tool by the various factions. Lists of people accused of bewitching Charles were compiled with Isabeau and Orléans were both listed.
The accusations of adultery was rampant. According to Pintoin's chronicle, "[Orléans] clung a bit too closely to his sister-in-law, the young and pretty Isabeau of Bavaria, the queen. This ardent brunette was twenty-two; her husband was insane and her seductive brother-in-law loved to dance, beyond that we can imagine all sorts of things". Pintoin said of the Queen and Orléans that they neglected Charles, behaved scandalously and "lived on the delights of the flesh"; spending large amounts of money on court entertainment. The alleged affair, however, is based on a single paragraph from Pintoin's chronicles according to Adams, and now no longer considered proof.
Isabeau was accused of indulging in extravagant and expensive fashions, jewel-laden dresses and elaborate braided hairstyles coiled into tall shells, covered with wide double hennins that, reportedly, required widened doorways to pass through. In 1406 a pro-Burgundian satirical pamphlet in verse allegory listed Isabeau's supposed lovers. She was accused of leading France into a civil war because of her inability to support a single faction; she was described as an "empty headed" German; of her children it was said that she "took pleasure in a new pregnancy only insofar as it offered her new gifts"; and her political mistakes were said to be caused because she was fat.
In the 18th and 19th centuries historians characterized Isabeau as "an adulterous, luxurious, meddlesome, scheming, and spendthrift queen", overlooking her political achievements and influence. A popular book written by Louise de Karalio (1758–1822) about the "bad" French queens prior to Marie Antoinette is, according to Adams, where "Isabeau's black legend attains its full expression in a violent attack on the French royalty in general and queens in particular." Karalio wrote: "Isabeau was raised by the furies to bring about the ruin of the state and to sell it to its enemies; Isabeau of Bavaria appeared, and her marriage, celebrated in Amiens on July 17, 1385, would be regarded as the most horrifying moment in our history". Furthermore, Isabeau was painted as Orléans' passionate lover. She was the inspiration for the Marquis de Sade's unpublished 1813 novel Histoire secrete d'Isabelle de Baviere, reine de France about which Adams writes, "who, submitting the queen to his ideology of gallantry, gives her rapaciousness a cold and calculating violence ... a woman who carefully manages her greed for maximum gratification." She goes on the say that de Sade knew the charges against Isabeau to be groundless because "he scolds the 15th century chroniclers for failing to report the [full] story of the adulterous queen".
Like many of the Valois, Isabeau was an appreciative art collector. She loved jewels and was responsible for the commissions of particularly lavish pieces of ronde-bosse—a newly developed technique of making enamel-covered gold pieces. She exchanged New Year's gifts with the Duke of Berry; one extant piece is the ronde-bosse statuette Saint Catherine. Documentation suggests she commissioned several fine pieces of tableaux d'or from Parisian goldsmiths.
In 1404, Isabeau gave Charles a spectacular ronde-bosse, known as the Little Golden Horse Shrine, (or Goldenes Rössli), now held in a convent church in Altötting, Bavaria. Contemporary documents identify the statuette as a New Year's gift—an étrennes—a Roman custom he revived as a means of establishing rank and alliances during the period of factionalism and war. With the exception of manuscripts, the Little Golden Horse is the single surviving documented étrennes of the period. Weighing 26 pounds, the gold piece is encrusted with rubies, sapphires and pearls. It depicts Charles kneeling on a platform above a double set of stairs, presenting himself to the Virgin Mary and child Jesus, who are attended by John the Evangelist and John the Baptist. A jewel encrusted trellis or bower is above; beneath stands a squire holding the golden horse.
Medieval author Christine de Pizan solicited the Queen's patronage at least three times. In 1402 she sent a compilation of her literary argument Querelle du Roman de la Rose—in which she questions the concept of courtly love—with a letter in which she exclaimed, "I am firmly convinced the feminine cause is worthy of defense. This I do here and have done with my other works." In 1410 and then again in 1411, Pizan solicited the Queen, presenting her in 1411 an illuminated copy of her works.
The birth of each of Isabeau's 12 children is well chronicled. She had six sons and six daughters; the first was born in 1386 and the last, Philip, born in 1407, but he only lived a single day. Of her six sons, three died young with her last living son, Charles VII, surviving to adulthood. Five of the six daughters survived; four were married and one, Marie (1393–1438), was sent at age four to be raised in a convent, where she became prioress.
In 1386, at age 16 she bore her first son, Charles (b. 1386), but he died in infancy. A daughter, Joan, born two years, later lived to 1390. Her second daughter, Isabella (b. 1389), born in 1389, was married at seven; first to Richard II of England and later to Charles, Duke of Orléans. The third daughter, Joan (1391–1433), who lived to age 42, married John VI, Duke of Brittany. The fourth daughter, Michelle (1395–1422), first wife to Philip the Good, died childless at age 27. Catherine of Valois, Queen of England, (1401–1438) married Henry V of England, taking Sir Owen Tudor as her second husband. Charles VII, (1403–1461) married Marie of Anjou.
Of her sons, Charles, Dauphin of Viennois, Duke of Guyenne (1392–1401), had no issue. Louis, Dauphin of Viennois (1397–1415), married Margaret of Burgundy, was depicted as the Dauphin in Shakespeare's Henry V; he died at age 19. John, Dauphin of France (1398–1417), Dauphin of Viennois, Duke of Touraine (1398–1417) was first husband to Jacqueline, Countess of Hainault. Charles VII, (1403–1461) married Marie of Anjou.
According to modern historians Isabeau stayed close during their childhood, had them travel with her, bought them gifts, wrote letters, bought devotional texts, and arranged for her daughters to be educated. She disliked when her sons were sent to other households to live (as was the custom at the time), and was dismayed at the marriage contract that stipulated her third surviving son, John, be sent to Hainault. She maintained relationships with her daughters after their marriages, writing letters to them frequently.
|Ancestors of Isabeau of Bavaria|
Title last held byJoanna of Bourbon
|Queen consort of France
Marie of Anjou
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