Tuesday, October 9, 2012

....................................The eighth Crusade subsided

Isabella was born into a royal family that ruled the most powerful state in Western Europe. Her father, King Philip, known as "le Bel" (the Fair) because of his good looks, was a strangely unemotional man; contemporaries described him as "neither a man nor a beast, but a statue"; modern historians have noted that he "cultivated a reputation for Christian kingship and showed few weaknesses of the flesh". Philip built up centralised royal power in France, engaging in a sequence of conflicts to expand or consolidate French authority across the region, but remained chronically short of money throughout his reign. Indeed, he appeared almost obsessed about building up wealth and lands, something that his daughter was also accused of in later life. Isabella's mother died when Isabella was still quite young; some contemporaries suspected Philip IV of her murder, albeit probably incorrectly. Isabella was brought up in and around the Château du Louvre and the Palais de la Cité in Paris. Isabella was cared for by Théophania de Saint-Pierre, her nurse, given a good education and taught to read, developing a love of books. As was customary for the period, all of Philip's children were married young for political benefit. Isabella was promised in marriage by her father to King Edward II of England whilst she was still an infant, with the intention to resolve the conflicts between France and England over the latter's continental possession of Gascony and claims to Anjou, Normandy and Aquitaine. Pope Boniface VIII had urged the marriage as early as 1298 but was delayed by wrangling over the terms of the marriage contract. The English king, Edward I attempted to break the engagement several times for political advantage, and only after he died in 1307 did the wedding proceed. Isabella and Edward were finally married at Boulogne-sur-Mer on 25 January 1308. Isabella's wardrobe gives some indications of her wealth and style – she had gowns of baudekyn, velvet, taffeta and cloth, along with numerous furs; she had over 72 headdresses and coifs; she brought with her two gold crowns, gold and silver dinnerware and 419 yards of linen. At the time of her marriage, Isabella was probably about twelve and was described by Geoffrey of Paris as "the beauty of beauties... in the kingdom if not in all Europe." This description was probably not simply flattery by a chronicler, since both Isabella's father and brothers were considered very handsome men by contemporaries, and her husband was to nickname her "Isabella the Fair". Isabella was said to resemble her father, and not her mother, queen regnant of Navarre, a plump, plain woman. This indicates that Isabella was slender and pale-skinned, although the fashion at the time was for blonde, slightly full-faced women, and Isabella may well have followed this stereotype instead. Throughout her career, Isabella was noted as charming and diplomatic, with a particular skill at convincing people to follow her courses of action. Unusual for the medieval period, contemporaries also commented on her high intelligence.

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