Isabeau of Bavaria

Isabeau of Bavaria
Queen Isabeau receiving Christine de Pisan's Le Livre de la Cité des Dames, c 1410-14. Illumination on parchment, British Library
Queen consort of France
Tenure 17 July 1385 – 22 October 1422
Coronation 23 August 1389, Notre-Dame
Spouse Charles VI of France
Issue
House Wittelsbach
Father Stephen III, Duke of Bavaria
Mother Taddea Visconti
Born c. 1370
Died 24 September 1435 (aged 64–65)
Paris
Burial Basilica of St Denis
Religion Roman Catholicism

Isabeau of Bavaria (or Isabelle; also Elisabeth of Bavaria-Ingolstadt; c. 1370 – 24 September 1435) was born into the House of Wittelsbach as the eldest daughter of Duke Stephen III of Bavaria-Ingolstadt and Taddea Visconti of Milan. She became Queen of France when she married King Charles VI in 1385. At age 15 or 16, Isabeau was sent to France on approval to the young French king; the couple wed three days after their first meeting.

Isabeau was honored in 1389 with a lavish coronation ceremony and entry into Paris. In 1392 Charles suffered the first attack of what was to become a lifelong and progressive mental illness, resulting in periodic withdrawal from government. The episodes occurred with increasing frequency, leaving a court both 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 burning to death. Although the King demanded Isabeau's removal from his presence during his illness, he consistently allowed her to act on his behalf. In this way she became regent to the Dauphin of France (heir apparent), and sat on the regency council, allowing far more power than was usual for a medieval queen.

Reputation and legacy

Isabeau was dismissed by historians in the past 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. Gibbons writes that 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 one of the great villains of history.

Gibbons goes on to say that even her physical appearance is uncertain; depictions of her vary depending on whether she was to be portrayed as good or evil. She was very unpopular and the country was losing the Hundred Years' War during this time. Isabeau was popularly seen as a spendthrift and irresponsible philanderess. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries historians re-examined the extensive chronicles of her lifetime, concluding that many elements of her reputation were unearned and stemmed from factionalism and propaganda.

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

Images


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