Isabella of France (1295 – 22 August 1358), sometimes described as the She-wolf of France, was Queen of England as the wife of Edward II. She was the youngest surviving child and only surviving daughter of Phillip IV of France and Joan I of Navarre. Queen Isabella was notable at the time for her beauty, diplomatic skills, and intelligence.
Isabella arrived in England at the age of 12 during a period of growing conflict between the king and the powerful baronial factions. Her new husband was notorious for the patronage he lavished on his favourite, Piers Gaveston, but the queen supported Edward during these early years, forming a working relationship with Piers and using her relationship with the French monarchy to bolster her own authority and power. After the death of Gaveston at the hands of the barons in 1312, however, Edward later turned to a new favourite, Hugh Despenser the younger, and attempted to take revenge on the barons, resulting in the Despenser War and a period of internal repression across England. Isabella could not tolerate Hugh Despenser and by 1325 her marriage to Edward was at a breaking point.
Travelling to France under the guise of a diplomatic mission, Isabella began an affair with Roger Mortimer, and the two agreed to depose Edward and oust the Despenser family. The Queen returned to England with a small mercenary army in 1326, moving rapidly across England. The King’s forces deserted him. Isabella deposed Edward, becoming regent on behalf of her son, Edward III. Many have believed that Isabella then arranged the murder of Edward II. Isabella and Mortimer’s regime began to crumble, partly because of her lavish spending, but also because the Queen successfully, but unpopularly, resolved long-running problems such as the wars with Scotland.
In 1330, Isabella’s son Edward III deposed Mortimer in turn, taking back his authority and executing Isabella’s lover. The Queen was not punished, however, and lived for many years in considerable style—although not at Edward III’s court—until her death in 1358. Isabella became a popular “femme fatale” figure in plays and literature over the years, usually portrayed as a beautiful but cruel, manipulative figure.