Military Wiki
Isabeau of Bavaria
15th-century miniature showing Queen's Isabeau's 1435 funeral cortege on the Seine, from the chronicle of Martial d'Auvergne
Personal details
Born c. 1370
Died 1435 (aged 64–65)
Spouse(s) Charles VI of France
Religion Roman Catholicism

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 or 16, on approval to the young French king who liked her enough to marry her three days after meeting her.

In 1389, Isabeau 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 was forced to temporarily withdraw from government. These episodes occurred with increasing frequency thereafter, leaving a court divided by political factions and steeped in social extravagances. A 1393 masque for one of Isabeau's 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 of France (heir apparent), giving her a seat on the regency council, far more power than was usual for a medieval queen.

Charles' illness created a power vacuum that eventually led to the Armagnac–Burgundian Civil War between the supporters of Charles' brother, Louis of Orléans, and the royal dukes of Burgundy. Isabeau shifted allegiances 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, sparking hostilities between the factions. The war ended soon after her eldest son Charles assassinated John the Fearless in 1419—an act that caused him to be disinherited. Isabeau was present at the signing of the Treaty of Troyes in 1421, at which France ceded control to the English. Isabeau lived in English-occupied Paris until her death in 1435.

Although championed by contemporary author Christine de Pizan, 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 negative reputation was unearned and most likely the result of political propaganda written by contemporary chroniclers.

Lineage and marriage[]

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 as Elisabeth[note 1] at the Church of Our Lady.[1] Hers was the ancient and well-established Wittelsbach family, descended from Charlemagne, and she was great-granddaughter to the Wittelsbach Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV.[2][note 2] At that period Bavaria was the most powerful of the German states and divided between members of the House of Wittelsbach,[1] who confusingly all used the title Duke of Bavaria.

Isabeau's uncle, Duke Frederick of Bavaria-Landshut, 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-Straubing respectively. Charles, then 17, rode in the tourneys at the wedding. He was an attractive, physically fit young man, who enjoyed jousting and hunting and was excited to be married.[3]

Miniature showing King Charles VI at the hunt. Queen Isabeau and her retinue are shown riding palfreys. From Enguerrand de Monstrelet's Chronique.

Charles VI's uncle, Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, thought the proposed marriage ideal to build an alliance with the Holy Roman Empire and against the English.[4] Isabeau's father reluctantly agreed to the proposal and sent her with his brother to France on the pretext that she was to go on pilgrimage to Amiens with her uncle,[2] 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.[4] He refused permission for Isabeau to be examined in the nude, customary at the time.[1] According to the contemporary 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.[2]

Before her presentation to Charles, Isabeau visited Hainaut for about a month, staying with her granduncle Duke Albert I, ruler of some of Bavaria-Straubing and Count of Holland. Albert's wife, Margaret of Brieg, replaced Isabeau's Bavarian style of dress, considered unsuitable for French courtly attire, and taught her etiquette suitable to the French court. She learned quickly, suggestive of an intelligent and quick-witted character.[5] On 13 July 1385 she then traveled to Amiens to be presented to Charles.[6] 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".[7] She did not yet speak French and may not have reflected the idealized beauty of the period, perhaps inheriting her mother's dark Italian features, then unfashionable, but Charles most certainly approved of her because the couple were married three days later.[6] Froissart documented the royal wedding, joking about the lascivious guests at the feast and the "hot young couple".[8]

Charles seemingly loved his young wife, lavishing gifts on her. 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.[6] The uncles too, apparently, were pleased with the match, which contemporary chroniclers, notably Froissart and Michel Pintoin (the Monk of St. Denis), describe similarly as a match rooted in desire and based on her beauty. The day after the wedding, Charles went on a military campaign against the English and Isabeau went to Creil to live with his great-aunt Blanche, Duchess of Orléans, who taught her courtly traditions. In September, Isabeau took up residence at the Château de Vincennes, where in the early years of their marriage Charles frequently joined her, and which became her favorite home.[5]


Isabeau's coronation was celebrated on 23 August 1389 with a lavish ceremonial entry into Paris. Her second cousin and 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.[9] The noblewomen 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.[9]

Miniature from Froissart's Chronicles, showing entertainers and acrobats at Isabeau's coronation
Miniature showing Isabeau's entry in Paris on 23 August 1389

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, wound into the Rue Saint-Denis before arriving at the Notre Dame for the coronation ceremony.[9] As Tuchman describes 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."[10]

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-lis, which covered the bridge, and put a crown on her head." The angel was then pulled back up into the church.[11] An acrobat carrying two candles walked along a rope suspended from the spires of the cathedral to the tallest house in the city.[9]

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 narrative pageants, complete with a depiction of the Fall of Troy. Isabeau, who was seven months pregnant, nearly fainted from heat on the first of the five days of festivities. To pay for the extravagant event, taxes were raised in Paris two months later.[9]

Charles' illness[]

Charles suffered the first of what was to become a lifelong series of bouts of insanity in 1392 when on a hot August day outside Le Mans, he attacked his household knights, including his brother Orléans, killing four men,[12] after which he fell into a coma that lasted for four days. Few believed he would recover; his uncles, the dukes of Burgundy and Berry, took advantage of the King's illness and quickly seized power, re-established themselves as regents, and dissolved the Marmouset council.[13] 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 magic;[13] modern historians speculate he may have suffered from the onset of paranoid schizophrenia.[14] The comatose king was returned to Le Mans, where Guillaume de Harsigny—a venerated and well-educated 92-year-old physician—was summoned to treat him. After Charles regained consciousness, and his fever subsided, he was gradually returned to Paris in September.[13]

In his first bout of illness, Charles VI attacked his knights in 1392, shown in a miniature from Froissart's Chronicles

His physician 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 invading the masquerade 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, ignited by a spark from a torch brought by Orléans that lit the flammable costume of one of the dancers. The disaster came to be known as the Bal des Ardents. It 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.[15]

The following June, Charles suffered a second and more prolonged attack, removing him for about six months, and setting a pattern which would hold for the next three decades as his condition deteriorated and he went through continued bouts of insanity.[16] Froissart described the King's bouts of illness as so severe that he was "far out of the way; no medicine could help him",[17] although he had recovered from the first attack of illness within months.[18] 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.[18] 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.[16]

The Bal des Ardents in a miniature from Froissart's Chronicles: Charles VI huddling under the Duchess of Berry's skirt at middle left, and burning dancers in the center

When Charles became ill in the 1390s, Isabeau was a 22-year-old woman with three children, and had already lost two infants.[19] During the worst of his illness Charles was unable to recognize Isabeau, causing her great distress by demanding her removal when she entered his chamber.[6] The Monk of St Denis 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.'"[20] As his illness worsened at the turn of the century, she was accused of abandoning him, particularly when she moved her residence 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."[21]

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".[22] Odette had probably assumed this role by 1405 with Isabeau's consent,[23] but during his remissions the King still had sexual relations with his wife, whose last pregnancy occurred in 1407. Records show she was in the King's chamber on 23 November 1407, the night of Orléans' assassination, and again in 1408.[24]

Charles' bouts of illness continued unabated until his death. The two may have still felt mutual affection, and Isabeau exchanged gifts and letters with him during his periods of lucidity, but distanced herself during the prolonged attacks of insanity. Adams writes Isabeau's attachment and loyalty is evident in the great efforts she made to retain the crown for his heirs in the ensuing decades.[25]

Political factions and early diplomatic efforts[]

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 historians even disagree about her appearance. She is variously described as "small and brunette", or as "tall and blonde". Contemporary evidence is contradictory; chroniclers said of her either she was "beautiful and hypnotic, or so obese through dropsy that she was crippled."[19][note 3] Despite living in France after her marriage, she spoke with a heavy German accent that never diminished, which Tuchman describes as giving her an "alien" cast at the French court.[22]

Isabeau shown in brocade court dress with ladies-in-waiting carrying the ermine-lined train, gouache on parchment, c. late 1600s to early 1700s

Historian Tracy Adams describes Isabeau as a talented diplomat who navigated court politics with ease, grace and charisma.[26] Charles had been 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 so-called Marmousets—a group of 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. Forced to assume a greater role in maintaining peace amidst the growing power struggle, which was to persist for many years, Isabeau succeeded in her role as peacekeeper among the various court factions.[26] As early as the late 1380s and early 1390s, Isabeau demonstrated she possessed diplomatic influence when the Florentine delegation requested her political intervention in the Gian Galeazzo Visconti affair.[note 4] Orléans and the Duke of Burgundy were in the pro-Visconti faction while the anti-Visconti faction included Isabeau, her brother, Louis VII, Duke of Bavaria, and John III, Count of Armagnac. At that time Isabeau lacked the political power to effect change. Some years later, however, at the 1396 wedding of her seven-year-old daughter, Isabella, to Richard II of England (an event at which Charles attacked a herald for wearing Galeazzo's livery), Isabeau successfully negotiated an alliance between France and Florence with Florentine ambassador Buonaccorso Pitti.[note 5][27]

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 and Roman popes 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.[26]

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.[19] Charles appointed 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.[28] In appointing Isabeau, Charles acted under laws enacted by his father, Charles V, which gave the Queen full power to protect and educate the heir to the throne.[29] These appointments separated power between Orléans and the royal uncles, increasing ill-will among the factions.[28] The following year, as Charles' 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, while at the same time making her vulnerable to attack from various court factions.[19]

Orléans became financially powerful during Charles' illness as the official tax collector,[30] and in the following decade Isabeau and Orléans agreed to raise the level of taxation.[24] In 1401, during one of the King's absences, Orléans installed his own men to collect royal revenues, 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 intervened between Orléans and Burgundy, preventing bloodshed and the outbreak of civil war.[30]

File:Isabeau of Bavaria with court attendants.jpg

Isabeau with court attendants shown in a 19th-century print

Charles trusted Isabeau enough by 1402 to allow her to arbitrate the growing dispute between the Orléanists and Burgundians, and he turned control of the treasury over to her.[19][31] After Philip the Bold died in 1404 and his son John the Fearless became 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.[31]

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.[6][24] 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.[32] 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.[33] 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.[32]

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;[34] an estimated half of Philip the Bold's revenues had come from the French treasury.[16] John raised a force of 1,000 knights, and entered Paris in 1405. Orléans hastily retreated with Isabeau to the fortified castle of 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 the Dauphin, and returned him to Paris under control of Burgundian forces; however, the boy'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.[34] The incident, that came to be known as the enlèvement of the dauphin, almost caused full scale war, but it was averted at that time.[35] 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.[36]

Orléans' assassination and aftermath[]

John the Fearless ordered the assassination of Isabeau's political ally Louis of Orléans in 1407; a 15th-century miniature is shown.

In 1407, John the Fearless ordered Orléans' assassination.[37] On 23 November,[38] hired killers attacked the duke as he returned to his Paris residence, cut off his hand holding the horse's reins, and "hacked [him] to death with swords, axes, and wooden clubs". His body was left in a gutter.[39] John first denied involvement in the assassination,[37] but quickly admitted that the act was done for the Queen's honor, claiming he acted to "avenge" the monarchy of the alleged adultery between Isabeau and Orléans.[40] His royal uncles, shocked at his confession, forced him to leave Paris while the Royal Council attempted a reconciliation between the Houses of Burgundy and Orléans.[37] In March 1408, Jean Petit presented a lengthy and well-attended justification, at the royal palace before a large courtly audience.[41] Petit argued convincingly that in the King's absence Orléans became a tyrant,[42] practiced sorcery and necromancy, was driven by greed, and planned, while almost succeeding, in committing fratricide at the Bal des Ardents. John should be exonerated because, as Petit argued, he defended the King and monarchy by assassinating Orléans.[43] Charles, "insane during the oration", was convinced by Petit's argument, pardoned John the Fearless, only to rescind the pardon in September.[41]

Violence again broke out after the assassination; Isabeau had troops patrol Paris and, to protect the Dauphin Louis, Duke of Guyenne, she again left the city for Melun. In August, Isabeau staged an entry to Paris for Dauphin Louis. 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.[41] 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 sides, for which she was criticized and called unstable.[19] She joined the Burgundians from 1409 to 1413, and switched sides to form an alliance with the Orléanists from 1413 to 1415.[41]

At the Peace of Chartre in March 1409, John the Fearless was reinstated to the Royal Council after a public reconciliation with Orléans' son, Charles, Duke of Orléans, at Chartres Cathedral, although the feuding continued. In December of that year, Isabeau bestowed the tutelle (guardianship of the Dauphin)[37] upon John the Fearless, made him the master of Paris, and allowed him to mentor the Dauphin Louis,[44] 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 of his opposition to taxes levied by Isabeau and Orléans.[45] Isabeau's actions with respect to John the Fearless angered the Armagnacs, 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, proposed that all feuding members of the Royal Council step down and be immediately removed from power.[44]

To defuse tension with the Burgundians a second double marriage was arranged in 1409. Isabeau's daughter Michelle married John the Fearless' son Philip the Good; Isabeau's son, Dauphin Louis, married John's daughter Margaret. 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.[31][note 6]

Civil war[]

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 against John the Fearless' actions, Charles of Orléans denied funds from the royal treasury to all 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.[41] 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.[46] In his chronicles Pintoin wrote Isabeau was firmly allied with the Orléanists and the 60,000 Armagnacs who invaded Paris and Picardy.[47]

Miniature showing John the Fearless' assassination, painted by Master of the Prayer Books

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.[48] 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.[48]

In December of 1415, Dauphin Louis died suddenly at age 18 of illness, leaving Isabeau's political status unclear. Her 17-year-old fourth-born son, John of Touraine, who was now the Dauphin, had been raised since childhood 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 Paris.[49]

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, age 14, 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.[49] Isabeau maintained her alliance with Burgundy from that period until the Treaty of Troyes.[19]

Isabeau at first assumed the role of sole regent but in January 1418 yielded her position to John the Fearless. 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 28 May 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 14 July.[50]

Shortly after he assumed the title of Dauphin, Charles negotiated a truce with John in Pouilly. Charles then requested a private meeting with John, on 10 September 1419 at a bridge in Montereau, promising his personal guarantee of protection. The meeting, however, was a ploy to assassinate John the Fearless, whom Charles had "hacked to death" on the bridge. His father, King Charles, immediately disinherited his son for killing the Duke of Burgundy. The civil war ended after Fearless' assassination.[51] The Dauphin's actions fueled more rumor about his legitimacy, and his disinheritance set the stage for Treaty of Troyes.[19]

Treaty of Troyes and later years[]

By 1419, Henry V occupied much of Normandy and demanded an oath of allegiance from the residents. The new Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good, allied with the English, putting enormous pressure on France and Isabeau, who remained loyal to the King. In 1420, Henry V sent an emissary to confer with the Queen, after which according to Adams, Isabeau "ceded to what must have been a persuasively posed argument by Henry V's messenger".[52] France effectively was without an heir to the throne, even before the Treaty of Troyes. Charles VI had disinherited the Dauphin, whom he considered responsible for "breaking the peace for his involvement in the assassination of the duke of Burgundy". He wrote in 1420 of Charles that he had "rendered himself unworthy to succeed to the throne or any other title".[53] Charles of Orléans, next in line as heir under salic law, had been taken prisoner at the Battle of Agincourt and was kept in captivity in London.[48][54]

Isabeau and Charles VI shown at the Treaty of Troyes in a miniature from Froissart's Chronicles

In absence of an official heir to the throne, Isabeau accompanied King Charles to sign the Treaty of Troyes in May 1420, and Gibbons writes the treaty "only confirmed [the Dauphin's] outlaw status".[53] The King's malady prevented him from appearing at the signing of the treaty, forcing Isabeau to stand in for him, which according to Gibbons gave her "perpetual responsibility in having sworn away France".[53] For many centuries, Isabeau stood accused of relinquishing the crown because of the Treaty.[19] 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.[55] Isabeau was to live in English-controlled Paris.[52]

Isabeau's youngest son, Charles VII of France, shown in a miniature by Jean Fouquet

Charles VI died in October 1422. As Henry V had died earlier the same year, his infant son by Catherine, Henry VI, was proclaimed King of France, according to the terms of the Treaty of Troyes, with the Duke of Bedford acting as regent.[55] Rumors circulated about Isabeau again; some chronicles describe her living in a "degraded state".[52] According to Tuchman, Isabeau had a farmhouse built in St. Ouen where she looked after livestock, and in her later years, during a lucid episode, Charles arrested one of her lovers whom he tortured and then drowned in the Seine.[56] However, historian Desmond Seward attributes this same episode to the disinherited Dauphin, who went on to become Charles VII. He kept at his own court as a favorite the "poisoner and wife-murderer" and former lover whom he eventually had drowned.[57]

At that period rumors about Isabeau's promiscuity flourished, which Adams attributes to English propaganda, 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 and Orleans as lovers.[58] At about the same period Isabeau was contrasted with Joan of Arc, considered virginally pure, in the allegedly popular saying "Even as France had been lost by a woman it would be saved by a woman". Adams writes Joan of Arc has been attributed with the words "France. having been lost by a woman, would be restored by a virgin", but neither saying can be substantiated by contemporary documentation or chronicles.[59]

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 claim. Furthermore, gossip spread that Joan of Arc was Isabeau and Orleans' illegitimate daughter—a rumor Gibbons finds improbable because Joan of Arc almost certainly was not born for some years after Orléans' assassination. Stories circulated that the dauphins were murdered, and attempts were made to poison the other children, all of which added to Isabeau's reputation of one of history's great villains.[54]

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 had stayed with her as dame d'honneur since 1409. Isabeau died there in 1435.[52] Her death and funeral were documented by Jean Chartier (member of St Denis Abbey) who may well have been an eyewitness.[54]

Reputation and legacy[]

Isabeau was dismissed by historians as a wanton, weak and indecisive leader. Modern historians now see her as taking an unusually active leadership role for a queen of her period, 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.[60] 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.[6] Gibbons goes on to say that even her physical appearance is uncertain and depictions of her vary depending on whether she was to be portrayed as good or evil.[61]

Rumored to be a bad mother, she was accused of "incest, moral corruption, treason, avarice and profligacy ... political aspirations and involvements".[62] 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, and in particular from Pintoin's pro-Burgundian writing.[63]

After the onset of the King's illness, a common belief was that Charles' mental illness and inability to rule were due to her witchcraft; 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.[64] The court of the "mad king" attracted magicians with promises of cures who often were used as political tools by the various factions. Lists of people accused of bewitching Charles were compiled with Isabeau and Orléans both listed.[65]

File:Isabeau of Bavaria1.jpg

19th-century depiction of Isabeau

The accusations of adultery were 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".[66] Pintoin said of the Queen and Orléans that they neglected Charles, behaved scandalously and "lived on the delights of the flesh";[67] spending large amounts of money on court entertainment.[24] The alleged affair, however, is based on a single paragraph from Pintoin's chronicles according to Adams, and is now no longer considered proof.[68]

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.[69] In 1406 a pro-Burgundian satirical pamphlet in verse allegory listed Isabeau's supposed lovers.[32] 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.[66]

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."[70] 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".[71] 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."[72] She goes on to say that de Sade knew the charges against Isabeau to be groundless, admitting to "being perfectly aware that the charges against the queen are without ground."[73]


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. Documentation suggests she commissioned several fine pieces of tableaux d'or from Parisian goldsmiths.[74]

Miniature showing Christine de Pizan giving Queen Isabeau a book as a New Year's gift in the queen's closet with her ladies[75]

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.[note 7] Contemporary documents identify the statuette as a New Year's gift—an étrennes—a Roman custom Charles revived to establish 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 (12 kg) 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.[76][77] Isabeau also exchanged New Year's gifts with the Duke of Berry; one extant piece is the ronde-bosse statuette Saint Catherine.[74]

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 exclaiming "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 again in 1411, Pizan solicited the Queen, presenting her in 1414 an illuminated copy of her works.[78] In The Book of the City of Ladies, Pizan praised Isabeau lavishly, and again in the illuminated collection, The Letter of Othea, which scholar Karen Green believes for de Pizan is "the culmination of fifteen years of service during which Christine formulated an ideology that supported Isabeau's right to rule as regent in this time of crisis."[79]

Isabeau showed great piety, essential for a queen of her period. During her lifetime, and in her will, she bequeathed property and personal possessions to Notre Dame, St. Denis, and the convent in Poissy.[80]


The birth of each of Isabeau's 12 children is well chronicled;[19] even the decoration schemes of the rooms in which she gave birth are described.[80] She had six sons and six daughters. The first son, born in 1386, died as an infant and the last, Philip, born in 1407, lived a single day. Three others died young with only her youngest son, Charles VII, living 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.[80]

Her first son, Charles (b. 1386) died in infancy. A daughter, Joan, born two years later lived until 1390. The second daughter, Isabella, born in 1389, was married at age seven to Richard II of England and after his death to Charles, Duke of Orléans. The third daughter, Joan (1391–1433), who lived to age 42, married John VI, Duke of Brittany. The fifth daughter, Michelle (1395–1422), first wife to Philip the Good, died childless at age 27. The youngest, Catherine (1401–1438), married Henry V of England; on his death she took Sir Owen Tudor as her second husband.[80] Of her sons, the first to survive infancy and become Dauphin, Charles, (1392–1401), died at age eight of a "wasting illness".[81] Louis, Dauphin of France (1397–1415), and Duke of Guyenne, married to Margaret of Burgundy, died at age 19. John, Dauphin of France (1398–1417), and Duke of Touraine, first husband to Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut, died without issue. Charles VII (1403–1461) married Marie of Anjou.[80]

According to modern historians Isabeau stayed in close proximity to the children 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 resisted separation and reacted against having her sons sent to other households to live (as was the custom at the time). Pintoin records she was dismayed at the marriage contract that stipulated her third surviving son, John, be sent to live in Hainaut. She maintained relationships with her daughters after their marriages, writing letters to them frequently.[80] She sent them out of Paris during an outbreak of plague, staying behind herself with the youngest infant, John, too young to travel. The Celestines allowed "whenever and as often as she liked, she and her could enter the monastery and church ... their vineyards and gardens, both for devotion and for entertainment and pleasure of herself and her children."[82]



  1. Called Elisabeth until her marriage, Gibbons says she started using the name Isabeau probably soon after becoming queen of France. See Gibbons, 53. Famligietti writes that she signed letters in French as "Ysabel", transformed first to "Ysabeau" and then "Isabeau" in the 15th century. See Familigietti, 190
  2. Gibbons writes of Isabeau, "she was not quite the 'nobody' that had been suggested ... it is clear that Charles V himself saw the Wittelsbach clan as useful potential allies in the continuing war with England." See Gibbons, 52
  3. Historian Tracy Adams speculates that the depiction obesity might stem from a mistranslation saying the Queen bore a heavy burden, which Adams believes refers to the heavy burden Isabeau assumed because of Charles' illness. See Adams, 224
  4. He had deposed and murdered Isabeau's maternal uncle Bernabò Visconti of Milan, and his active aggression toward other Italian states caused factionalism in France, affecting in particular relations with the Avignon Pope Clement VII, whose Papal dispensation allowed the marriage between Visconti's daughter Valentina to her first cousin Orléans, Charles' brother. See Adams, 8
  5. Ratified on 26 September 1396. See Adams (2010), 8
  6. The day before the wedding, Isabeau signed a treaty clearly spelling out that John the Fearless was cousin to the King (son of his uncle Philip the Bold), and thus of a lower rank than Louis of Orléans, the King's brother. See Adams, 17–18
  7. In the same year the piece was pawned to pay for Louis of Bavaria's wedding to Anne of Bourbon. See Buettner (2001), 607


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Tuchman (1978), 416
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Gibbons (1996), 52–53
  3. Tuchman (1978), 419
  4. 4.0 4.1 Adams (2010), 3–4
  5. 5.0 5.1 Adams (2010), 225–227
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Gibbons (1996), 57–59
  7. Adams (2010), 223
  8. Tuchman (1978), 420
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Tuchman (1978), 455–457
  10. Tuchman (1978), 547
  11. Huizinga (2009 edition), 236
  12. Henneman (1991), 173–175
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Tuchman (1978), 496
  14. Knecht (2007), 42–47
  15. Tuchman (1978), 502–504
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Veenstra (1997), 45
  17. Qtd. in Seward (1987), 144
  18. 18.0 18.1 Hedeman (1991), 137
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 19.4 19.5 19.6 19.7 19.8 19.9 Gibbons (1996), 54
  20. Qtd. in Gibbons (1996), 61
  21. Gibbons (1996), 61
  22. 22.0 22.1 Tuchman (1978), 515
  23. Famiglietti (1992), 89
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 Gibbons (1996), 62
  25. Adams (2010), 228
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 Adams (2010), 8–9
  27. Adams (2010), 6–8
  28. 28.0 28.1 Adams (2010), 16–17
  29. Hedeman (1991), 172
  30. 30.0 30.1 Adams (2010), 13–15
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 Adams (2010), 17–18
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 Gibbons (1996), 65–66
  33. Solterer (2007), 214
  34. 34.0 34.1 Adams (2010), 168–174
  35. Veenstra (1997), 46
  36. Adams (2010), 175
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 37.3 Adams (2010), 19
  38. Knecht (2007), 52
  39. Tuchman (1978), 582
  40. Huizinga (2009 edition), 214
  41. 41.0 41.1 41.2 41.3 41.4 Adams (2010), 21–23
  42. Veenstra (1997), 36
  43. Huizinga (2009 edition), 208–209
  44. 44.0 44.1 Adams (2010), 25–26
  45. Veenstra (1997), 37
  46. Solterer (2007), 203
  47. Veenstra (1997), 38
  48. 48.0 48.1 48.2 Adams (2010), 27–30
  49. 49.0 49.1 Adams (2010), 30–32
  50. Adams (2010), 33–34
  51. Adams (2010), 35
  52. 52.0 52.1 52.2 52.3 Adams (2010), 36
  53. 53.0 53.1 53.2 Gibbons (1996), 70–71
  54. 54.0 54.1 54.2 Gibbons (1996), 68–69
  55. 55.0 55.1 Tuchman (1978), 586–587
  56. Tuchman (1978), 516
  57. Seward (1978), 214
  58. Adams (2010), 40–44
  59. Adams (2010), 47
  60. Famiglietti (1992), 194
  61. Gibbons (1996), 56
  62. Gibbons (1996), 55
  63. Adams (2010), xviii, xiii–xv
  64. Adams (2010), 7
  65. Veenstra (1997), 45, 81–82
  66. 66.0 66.1 Adams (2010), xiii–xiv
  67. Qtd. in Veenstra (1997), 46
  68. Adams (2010), xvi
  69. Tuchman (1978), 504
  70. Adams (2010), 58–59
  71. Qtd. in Adams (2010), 60
  72. Qtd. in Adams (2010), 61
  73. Adams (2010), 61
  74. 74.0 74.1 Chapuis, Julien. New York Metropolitan Museum of Art "Patronage at the Early Valois Courts (1328–1461)". Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 10 November 2012
  75. Buettner (2001), 609
  76. Young, Bonne. (1968). "A Jewel of St. Catherine". The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Volume 26, 316–324
  77. Husband (2008), 21–22
  78. Allen (2006), 590
  79. Green (2006), 256–258
  80. 80.0 80.1 80.2 80.3 80.4 80.5 Adams (2010), 230–233
  81. Adams (2010), 154
  82. Qtd. in Adams (2010), 251–252


  • Adams, Tracy. (2010). The Life and Afterlife of Isabeau of Bavaria. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-9625-5
  • Allen, Prudence. (2006). The Concept of Woman: The Early Humanist Reformation, 1250–1500, Part 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8028-3347-1
  • Buettner, Brigitte. (2001). "Past Presents: New Year's Gifts at the Valois Courts, ca. 1400". The Art Bulletin, Volume 83, pp. 598–625
  • Famiglietti, R.C. (1992). Tales of the Marriage Bed from Medieval France (1300–1500). Providence, RI: Picardy Press. ISBN 978-0-9633494-2-2
  • Green, Karen. (2006). "Isabeau de Bavière and the Political Philosophy of Christine de Pizan". Historical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques, Volume 32, 247–272
  • Gibbons, Rachel. (1996). "Isabeau of Bavaria, Queen of France (1385–1422). The Creation of a Historical Villainess". Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Volume 6, 51–73
  • Hedeman, Anne D. (1991). The Royal File: Illustrations of the Grandes Chroniques de France, 1274–1422. Berkeley, CA: UC Press E-Books Collection.
  • Henneman, John Bell. (1996). Olivier de Clisson and Political Society in France under Charles V and Charles VI. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-3353-7
  • Husband, Timothy. (2008). The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean Berry. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-13671-5
  • Huizinga, Johan. (1924, 2009 edition). The Waning of the Middle Ages. Oxford: Benediction. ISBN 978-1-84902-895-0
  • Knecht, Robert. (2007). The Valois: Kings of France 1328–1589. London: Hambledon Continuum. ISBN 978-1-85285-522-2
  • Seward, Desmond. (1978). The Hundred Years War: The English in France 1337–1453. New York, NY: Penguin. ISBN 978-1-101-17377-0
  • Solterer, Helen. (2007). "Making Names, Breaking Lives: Women and Injurious Language at the Court of Isabeau of Bavaria and Charles VI". In Cultural Performances in Medieval France. ed. Eglat Doss-Quimby, et al. Cambridge: DS Brewer. ISBN 978-1-84384-112-8
  • Tuchman, Barbara. (1978). A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. New York, NY: Ballantine. ISBN 978-0-345-34957-6
  • Veenstra, Jan R.and Laurens Pignon. (1997). Magic and Divination at the Courts of Burgundy and France. New York, NY: Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-10925-4
French royalty
Title last held by
Joanna of Bourbon
Queen consort of France
Succeeded by
Marie of Anjou

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).