Isabella of Angoulême (1186–1246)

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Isabella of Angoulême (1186–1246)

Queen of England. Name variations: Isabelle d'Angoulême or Angouleme; Isabel of Angoulême. Born in 1186 (some sources cite 1187) in Angoulême; died in 1246 at abbey of Fontevrault, France; daughter of Aymer Taillefer, count of Angoulême, and Alice de Courtenay (d. 1211); married John I Lackland (1166–1216), king of England (r. 1199–1216), in 1200; married Hugh X, count of Lusignan, about 1218; children: (first marriage) Henry III (1206–1272), king of England (r. 1216–1272); Richard (1209–1272), earl of Cornwall, king of the Romans; Joan, queen of Scotland (1210–1238, who married Alexander II of Scotland); Isabella of England (1214–1241, who married Frederick II, Holy Roman emperor); Eleanor of Montfort, countess of Leicester (1215–1275, who married the earl of Pembroke and then Simon de Montfort, founder of the English Parliament); (second marriage)Alice le Brun (d. 1255); Margaret le Brun (d. 1283); Guy Lusignan; William de Valence, 1st earl of Pembroke (d. 1296).

Alice le Brun (d. 1255)

Countess of Warrenne and Surrey. Name variations: Alice de Lusignan. Died on February 9, 1255; daughter of Isabella of Angoulême and her second husband Hugh de Lusignan (Isabella's first husband was King John I Lackland); half-sister of Henry III, king of England; married John de Warrenne (1231–1304), 7th earl of Warrenne and Surrey (r. 1240–1304), in August 1247; children: Isabel de Warrenne (b. 1253, married John Balliol, king of Scots); Eleanor de Warrenne (who married Henry Percy, the 7th baron Percy); William de Warrenne (d. 1286).

Alice de Courtenay (d. 1211)

Countess of Angoulême. Name variations: Alice de Courteney. Died around September 14, 1211; daughter of Peter I de Courtenay (c. 1126–1180) and Elizabeth of Courtenay (d.1205); married Aymer Taillefer, count of Angoulême; children: Isabella of Angoulême (second wife of King John I Lackland).

Avisa of Gloucester (c. 1167–1217)

Queen of England. Name variations: Avice of Gloucester; Hadwisa; Isabella or Isabelle of Gloucester; Isabelle de Clare. Born around 1167; died in 1217; daughter of William Fitzrobert (d. 1183), 2nd earl of Gloucester, and Hawise Beaumont (d. 1197); sister of Amicia Fitzrobert (d. 1225); married Prince John (1166–1216), later John I Lackland, king of England (r. 1199–1216), in 1189 (divorced 1200); married Geoffrey de Mandville, earl of Essex; children: none.

In 1189, John I Lackland, the future king of England, married his cousin Avisa of Gloucester, to whom he had been betrothed since his tenth year. A decade later, during a royal tour through his southwestern French dominions, however, he decided to marry Isabelle of Angoulême , the 12-year-old daughter of the turbulent count of Angoulême. For this purpose, John coolly arranged for a papal dissolution of his first marriage on grounds that he and Avisa of Gloucester were too closely related. Legend has it that lust got the better of his diplomatic instincts when he made this match—it certainly worsened his relations with Philip II Augustus of France with whom he had been discussing marriage-alliance possibilities.

Isabella of Angoulême, a French noblewoman, became queen of England. She was born in Angoulême in 1186, the daughter of Aymer Taillefer, count of Angoulême, and Alice de Courtenay , French aristocrats who supported the English kings in their struggles against the French monarchy. In 1200, their loyalty was rewarded by the marriage of their 14-year-old daughter Isabella to King John I Lackland, even though Isabella had been previously betrothed to the nobleman Hugh de Lusignan. She was John's second wife; his first was Avisa of Gloucester . Isabella had five children with John, who was an intelligent but cruel man; their eldest son became Henry III, and her youngest daughter became Eleanor of Montfort , countess of Leicester. Isabella was, like her husband, ambitious and rather power-hungry. She aided John with his various struggles to maintain English lands on the Continent and with his own rebellious barons during his troubled reign. Despite the 20 years difference in their ages, John and Isabella seem to have become a close couple, and John usually preferred spending time with his wife to battling his many enemies.

In 1216, John died with the dubious distinction of being England's most unpopular king. He was little mourned except by his children and Isabella, who was devastated by his death. She saw to it that young Henry was put on the throne safely and was surrounded by capable advisors, then returned to her native France. Her daughter Joan had been betrothed to the French noble Hugh de Lusignan, the same man whom Isabella had intended to marry 17 years earlier. Isabella, who seems to have fallen in love with Hugh, quickly broke off his engagement to her daughter. Within a few months, the former queen married her fiancé of childhood.

Although the couple were happy together, this marriage caused problems for the two both in France and England, for former queens were not supposed to remarry without permission of the Parliament. However, the marriage stood, and they remained together for almost 30 years. During the last years of her life, Isabella was caught up in several scandals involving conspiracy against the French king, including allegations that she had paid two cooks to try to poison him. Isabella fled for safety to the abbey of Fontevrault, where she remained in isolation for about a year, dying there at age 60.


Echols, Anne, and Marty Williams. An Annotated Index of Medieval Women. NY: Markus Wiener, 1992.

Kelly, Amy. Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950.

LaBarge, Margaret. A Small Sound of the Trumpet: Women in Medieval Life. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986.

Laura York , Riverside, California

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Isabella of Angoulême (1186–1246)

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Isabella of Angoulême (1186–1246)