Isabeau of Bavaria (also Isabella of Bavaria-Ingolstadt; c. 1370 – 24 September 1435) was Queen consort of France (1385-1422) as spouse of King Charles VI of France, a member of the Valois Dynasty. She assumed a prominent role in public affairs during the disastrous later years of her husband's reign.
Isabeau of Bavaria was the daughter of Stephen III of Bavaria-Ingolstadt and Taddea Visconti.
Her paternal grandparents were Stephen II, Duke of Bavaria (a son of Emperor Louis IV) and Elisabeth of Sicily (whose name Isabella received), daughter of king Frederick III of Sicily and his wife Eleanor of Anjou.
Eleanor was herself a daughter of Charles II of Naples and Maria Arpad of Hungary. Maria was a daughter of Stephen V of Hungary and Elizabeth of the Cumans (whose namesake her great-granddaughter, and through that, ultimately Queen Isabella became). Elizabeth was daughter of Kuthen of the Cumans, a chieftain apparently descending from the Kipchaks and lord of the clan of Kun which had settled to Hungary after Mongol pressure drove them westwards.
Her maternal grandparents were Barnabò Visconti, Lord of Milan and Regina-Beatrice della Scala. Regina was daughter of Mastino II della Scala, Lord of Verona from 1329 to 1351 and his wife Taddea di Carrara.
The role of Isabeau of Bavaria in French history has caused her to be the subject of barbed attacks from the pens of a variety of historians through the centuries. These attacks stem from skewed interpretations of her important role in the negotiations with England that resulted in the Treaty of Troyes (1420) and from simple acceptance of the rumors of her marital infidelity that were started in Paris 1422-1429 during the English occupation. These rumors were started in an attempt to throw doubt on the paternity of Isabeau's son Charles VII, who was then fighting to expel the English and to be accepted throughout the kingdom as the rightful king of France. The rumors found expression in a poem called the Pastoralet, that was circulated at the time.
Isabeau was put in the position of having to assume an unusually powerful role in government to fill the gap left by her husband's frequent bouts of mental illness. Several months after the onset of the king's illness, his doctors recommended a program of amusements for him, and this inspired a member of the court to suggest that the king surprise the queen and the other ladies as a member of a group of courtiers disguised as wild men who were to make a sudden appearance at the ball given to celebrate the marriage of one of the queen's ladies-in-waiting. It was at this festivity, the Bal des Ardents, or 'Ball of the Burning Men', that Isabeau witnessed the horrible accident with the torch that could have cost the king his life.
Isabeau was thrust to the forefront of the political arena not only due to her husband's mental illness, which is now believed to have been schizophrenia, but also because of the rivalries that developed between various members of the royal family. 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 during those times, Odette de Champdivers. Odette probably assumed her role by 1405, but during his remissions the king still had relations with Isabeau, whose last pregnancy was in 1407. On 11 October 1418 a letter of the king ordered that Isabeau be given 2,000 livres tournois to help her buy back a bejeweled clasp (fermail) that Charles had given her on their wedding day. It had been taken and sold without her permission, apparently during the time she was in exile in Tours in 1417. It is not clear, however, that the royal letter in question was actually issued by the king himself.
Among those who sought to control the government while the king was incapacitated or to influence the king when he was "well" were the King's brother Louis of Valois, Duke of Orléans, and their cousin John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy. Orléans' bitter feud with Burgundy reached a crisis point when the former was assassinated in 1407. Bitter resentment and periodic civil war ensued. The late Duke's supporters became known as the Armagnacs.
Henry V of England took advantage of French internal strife and invaded the northwest coast. He delivered a crushing defeat to the French at Agincourt. Nearly an entire generation of military leaders died or fell prisoner in a single day. John the Fearless, still feuding with the royal family and the Armagnacs, remained neutral as Henry V conquered towns in northern France.
Most of Isabeau's twelve children did not survive to adulthood. Shortly after her fifth and final son assumed the title of dauphin as Heir to the Throne, the sixteen-year-old future Charles VII of France negotiated a truce with John the Fearless in 1419. Officers of the Dauphin's household partisans murdered John while the two met on a bridge under Charles's guarantee of protection.
The new Duke of Burgundy Philip the Good entered an active alliance with the English. With most of northern France under foreign domination, Isabeau agreed to the Treaty of Troyes in 1420. This arranged the marriage of her daughter Catherine of Valois to Henry V and assigned the French Royal Succession to Henry V and their children. Charles VI approved the treaty and disinherited the Dauphin for committing treason. The Dauphin had disobeyed his father's order to return to the fold of royal family; he had usurped royal authority by taking the title of regent; and he had excused and lied about the murder of the duke of Burgundy.
Charles VI died in October 1422, and since Henry V had died earlier that year, it was Henry's infant son, Henry VI, who was declared successor to Charles VI and king of France, as per the terms of the Treaty of Troyes. The disinherited Dauphin, Charles VII, nineteen when his father died, claimed that the Treaty of Troyes was illegal and assumed leadership of the Armagnac party, ruling the regions of France that were not under English or Burgundian control.
Charles VII's predicament was caused by his disobedience to his parents, and he was to face a similar relationship with his own son Louis XI. Charles' principal female mentor was his mother-in-law Yolande of Aragon, who refused to let him to go to Court when his mother summoned him.
Isabeau remained in English-controlled territory and exerted no further influence over public affairs. She died in Paris in 1435 and is interred in the Saint Denis Basilica.
Posterity has not been kind to Isabeau of Bavaria. A popular saying late in her life was that France had been lost by a woman and would be recovered by a girl. Many took this to be a prediction of Joan of Arc.
In fairness to Isabeau it must be noted that her leadership confronted double prejudice as a woman and a foreigner. There are a few bright spots in her reign, such as her artistic patronage. Isabeau aided the era's most significant French author Christine de Pizan and sponsored artisans who developed innovative techniques in decorative arts.
In fiction, her life was the inspiration for the Marquis de Sade's unpublished 1813 novel Histoire secrete d'Isabelle de Baviere, reine de France.
- Charles, Dauphin of Viennois (1386-1386)
- Joan (1388-1390)
- Isabella (1389-1409); m.1 Richard II of England; m.2 Charles, Duke of Orléans
- Joan (1391-1433); m. John VI, Duke of Brittany
- Charles, Dauphin of Viennois, Duke of Guyenne (1392-1401)
- Marie, Prioress of Poissy (1393-1438)
- Michelle (1395-1422); m. Philip III, Duke of Burgundy
- Louis, Dauphin of Viennois (1397-1415); m. Marguerite of Burgundy the Dauphin in Shakespeare's Henry V
- John, Dauphin of Viennois, Duke of Touraine (1398-1417); m. Jacqueline, Countess of Hainault and Holland
- Catherine, Queen of England, (1401-1438); m.1 Henry V of England; m.2 Sir Owen Tudor
- Charles VII of France, King of France, (1403-1461) m. Marie of Anjou - the Dauphin in Shakespeare's Henry VI
- Philip (1407-1407)
- R.C. Famiglietti, Tales of the Marriage Bed from Medieval France (1300-1500), p. 194.
- R.C. Famiglietti, Tales, p. 89.
- B. Pocquet du Haut-Jussé, La France gouvernée par Jean sans Peur, Paris, 1959, p. 70, no. 54
- See the discussion of the irregularities in form of the royal letters ordering payment from 1418 to 1420 in B. Pocquet du Haut-Jussé, "Le compte de Pierre de Gorremont," Bibliothèque de l'Ecole des chartes, XCVIII (1937), pp. 55-56.
- New York Metropolitan Museum of Art page on Valois French art patronage.
- The Tudor lineage
- A tour of Isabeau's residence in Paris
- Worldwide Guide to Women in Leadership
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