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Queen Isabella: A Gothic Tale

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Derek Wilson looks at the life of a French princess, who married and helped depose an English king during a tumultuous period of Anglo-French relations that was to end in the Hundred Years War.

Edward II marries Isabella of France in Boulogne on January 25th, 1308. A detail from a Flemish illuminated manuscript of Jean de Wavrin's Chronique d'Anglaterre, c. 1470-80. AKG Images/British Library"Mother, you are suspected for his death,
And, therefore, we commit you to the Tower
Till further trial be made thereof.
If you be guilty, though I be your son,
Think not to find me slack or pitiful."

- The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward II, King of England, with the Tragical Fall of Proud Mortimer, Act V, Scene 6.

So, at the end of his play, Christopher Marlowe dramatised the rejection of the adulterous murderess, Queen Isabella, with the strong hint that she was about to pay for her appalling crimes. In fact the widow of Edward II (r. 1307-27) lived for almost another 28 years after the confrontation in 1330 with her son, Edward III (r. 1327-77), represented in this scene and spent those years in honourable and comfortable retirement. However the lack of a suitably melodramatic end to her tumultuous story does not rob it of romance and horror.


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