Isabella of Angoulême and the Lusignans
The Lusignans could not keep away from Isabella of Angoulême. After her initial betrothal to Hugh IX and subsequent jilting of him for King John of England, one would think they would stay away. In a previous post we discussed how the jilting of Hugh led to the loss of the Angevin Empire. However, the Lusignans and England were not done yet.
As part of a peace offering, John and Isabella’s daughter, Joan, was betrothed to Hugh IX’s heir, also confusingly named Hugh. Joan was sent to La Marche to be raised in her future husband’s court. During this time, John died leaving the throne to his young son, who became Henry III of England. Isabella saw her son crowned and left him in the capable hands of William Marshall, then returned to rule Angoulême. Here is where things get twisted. Hugh X saw Isabella and understood why his father wanted her. She was thirty, but still ravishing. Hugh jilted Joan and married her mother, his father’s former fiancee. Confusing, no?
Back in England, no one was happy with their princess being ditched, especially for her own mother. Isabella was not supposed to marry unless she had permission from the Council, which she ignored. They confiscated Isabella’s dower lands and stopped her pension as the Dowager Queen of England. Isabella and Hugh were livid, and held Joan hostage until her pension was reinstated. Poor Joan was eventually sent home and married Alexander II of Scotland. Hopefully, she was treated better by her husband than her mother and ex-fiancee.
Isabella and Hugh had nine children together, but she never lost her taste for grandeur. Described as vain, capricious, and troublesome” by a contemporary, Isabella hated being “wife of a man who had to kneel to another”. This was brought home when she and Hugh travelled to Paris in 1241 to swear fealty to Louis IX of France’s brother, Alphonse, who was made Count of Poitou. Isabella hated giving precedence to other ladies of the court, especially Louis’ wife Blanche, due to her active support of the French invasion of England in May 1216. Something had to be done.
Isabella began scheming for her husband to rebel against the French king with her son-in-law Raymond VII of Toulouse. In 1244, two royal cooks were arrested for attempting to poison Louis. They confessed to being in Isabella’s pay. She fled to Fontevraud Abbey invoked sanctuary in a secret room. Isabella spent two years in Fontevraud and eventually came to regret her past actions. As penance, Isabella requested to be laid in a pauper’s grave outside the Abbey. She remained there until her son, Henry III of England, had a tomb built for her next to his uncle King Richard the Lionheart and his grandparents King Henry II and Queen Eleanor. Hugh died three years later on crusade.
Isabella’s Lusignan children fled to England where they were welcomed by their half brother, Henry. A little too much welcome as they nearly cost him his throne, but that is another post.
Sources available on request