The awe-inspiring Castle Rising Castle was built in the 12th century at Norfolk in east England. The castle oozing with opulence was constructed in 1140 and is popular as the residence of Queen Isabella, the wife of Edward II. The fortress is surrounded by earthworks and the castle had a chapel and a garden rich in medicinal plants. The castle is standing tall due to the sturdiness of the stones that were brought from far-off places, which were used for building this magnificent structure. The historians say that the castle was not built for fortification but for luxurious living.
The castle boasts of expansive hall, beautiful stairway, large and airy kitchen, three spacious basement storage spaces and capacious rooms to accommodate guests. It is noteworthy that visitors are barred from entering certain rooms. But the historical records suggest that Queen Isabella’s room and library, which were situated in a building next to the castle, were destroyed. But who is Queen Isabella? Why did England slight Queen Isabella by calling her the she-wolf of France?
Isabelle was the sixth daughter of King Philip IV of France. History has it that Isabella had the regal splendour of a king and the intellect of a queen and was also a ravishing beauty. At the age of 12, she got married to Edward II who was twice her age. Like most of the weddings that were solemnized during the medieval period, the marriage of Isabella too was a means to iron out political differences. Pope Boniface took the initiative to solemnize the marriage between Edward II and Isabella to ease the diplomatic tensions between France and England. Isabella reached France after a lavish wedding but fate had something bitter in store for her as she became an object of scorn and disdain.
The irresponsibility of Edward II, who was the next in throne, was a cause of concern for his father Edward I. Edward II was not interested in war and hunting, which were the traditional areas of interest of kings and rulers, and the king appointed warrior Gaveston to put his son on the right track. But things didn’t turn out according to expectations as Edward II and Gaveston became too friendly and the latter was exiled.
After the death of the king, Edward II recalled Gaveston to the kingdom, and interestingly, Gaveston occupied the queen’s throne during the coronation of Edward II. When Isabella moved to England, she brought with her exhaustive sets of gems and pearls, number of crowns and jewellery of different designs that she got as wedding gifts. But Edward II, who was now the king, gave all the valuables to Gaveston, and Isabella spotted Gaveston flaunting them while attending various ceremonial functions.
There were many personalities in England who vehemently opposed the excessive freedom and liberty given to Gaveston by the king, and finally the barons kidnapped and executed Gaveston. But the death of Gaveston didn’t bring any cheer to Isabella as Edward II found another favourite friend by the name of Hugh Despenser.
Despenser usurped the property of Isabella, blocked her allowance and even physically assaulted her. He also separated Isabella’s children from her. The saddest part is that the king gave tacit nod to all these atrocities of Despenser. Though four children were born out of Isabella-Edward II wedlock, Despenser was the apple of the king’s eye. As homosexuality was considered a great sin during the medieval period, Edward II was not referred to as a gay person in history.
The king decided to send Isabella as an emissary to settle the diplomatic differences between France and England. The king accepted Isabella’s request that their eldest son Edward III should also accompany her to France, which was then ruled by Isabella’s brother.
Though there was a thaw in relations between France and England after the visit of Isabella, she categorically stated that she was not returning to England. Isabella made it clear that she would stay in France along with her son, the heir apparent to the throne, and would return only if Despenser was banished from England. But the king outrightly rejected her demand. Meanwhile, Isabella got acquainted with Englishman Roger Mortimer, who was the arch enemy of Edward II. Now both Isabella and Roger Mortimer had a common enemy – Edward II, the ruler of England.
Isabella and Roger Mortimer were even able to build an army. Though the armed force were not that powerful, the army got implicit and explicit support in the war against the England King, and finally Edward II was incarcerated and Despenser was killed. Later, Edward III was crowned the king. But the move raised a few eyebrows as everyone was asking how a new king can be crowned when Edward II was still alive. Without much delay, the problem had been solved as the king passed away. There are tales that the king was killed following the request of Isabella. The new king made his mother a regent and unbridled power gave a new cloak to Isabella.
Edward III was more worried about the indifferent behaviour of Isabella’s friend Roger Mortimer than her insatiable yearning for wealth. Eventually, the king killed Roger Mortimer though Isabella begged her son to spare him. Moreover, Edward III locked up his mother in Castle Rising Castle. During her incarceration in the castle, Isabella became a new person. She emerged as a person interested in reading and music and had a great time with her children and grandchildren.
History has been unkind to Isabella who led an ascetic life at the Norfolk castle. And it seems that history has only lied about Isabella. The historians were seemingly blind to the atrocities meted out to Isabella and her tenacity to resist and saw only her shortcomings and termed her she-wolf.