Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II
By Paul Doherty
(Basic Books, Hardcover, 9780786711932, 256pp.)
Publication Date: March 2003
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For good reason, the queen in chess inherits its fearsome power on the game board from the reputedly murderous maneuvers of the fourteenth-century Queen Isabella of England, as historian and biographer Paul Doherty shows in his engaging account of a savage chapter in medieval English history. What begins with a peace matchthe marriage of the twelve-year-old daughter of France’s Philip IV to the dissolute Edward II in 1308ends in bloody conflict, a possible regicide, the usurpation of royal power, execution, and exile. In a lively narrative that brings a fresh perspective to the history of Isabella’s catastrophic marriage, Doherty illuminates the people, passions, and politics that prompted the young queen, after thirteen years, to flee the feckless, ineffectual king who had sacrificed the English army to ignominious and unnecessary defeat at Bannockburn and to escape court intrigues and her personal persecution by men like the sinister Hugh Despenser. At Isabella’s command, though, Despenser eventually met a gruesome death, when she returned to England with the exiled Roger Mortimer and a mercenary army that deposed Edward and enthroned the conquering queen in the name of her young son, Edward III.