Isabella of Valois Was Just Six When She Married King Richard II
In what may be one of the creepiest images on record, Isabella of Valois was just six years old when she was married off to Richard II, the widowed 29-year-old king of England, in 1396. Daughter of the King of France, the supposedly mad Charles VI, hers was a political union, designed to forge peace between England and France with the signing of a 28-year-truce.
Though these days such reasoning would be deemed sinister, at the time, King Richard described her young age as advantageous, since it would allow him to mold her into his ideal English queen. Nevertheless, the negotiations specified that the marriage was not to be consummated until her twelfth birthday. Even in the 14th century, there were certain standards to be upheld.
Isabella of Valois was the second woman to marry Richard II. He had enjoyed a happy, though childless, marriage to his first wife, Anne of Bohemia, who died of the plague in 1394 and was given the moniker “Good Queen Anne.” Just two years later, Richard and Isabella were married on the 31 October 1396 in Calais.
Richard had himself experienced the perils of rising to power at a young age, having taken the English throne at just ten. Isabella is recorded to have enjoyed a friendly relationship with the king. Handed over with a large dowry, and a trousseau filled with dolls, Isabella was crowned Queen of England in January 1397 and lived much of her short reign at Windsor Castle.
The marriage of Richard II, the King of England, to his child bride Isabella of Valois, depicted as far older than her actual six years. (Public domain)
As part of a rebellion to replace the king, Richard was deposed by Henry Bolingbroke, a.k.a. King Henry IV, and imprisoned in September 1399. This put Isabella in an unfortunate predicament and she was placed under house arrest in Berkshire. Her situation became more desperate when Richard was pronounced dead, presumably of starvation, on 14 February 1400 at Pontefract Castle.
Ever the useful pawn in the ongoing political struggle between England and France, Henry IV made clear his plans to have her marry his heir. Isabella was resolute in her loyalty to her dead husband and refused. Nevertheless, it was not until August 1401 that she was allowed to return to France without her dowry, her royal marriage unconsummated.
In the end, her sister, Catherine of Valois, was married to Henry V in 1420, while Isabella of Valois was married to Charles, Duke of Orléans, in 1407 at the age of 16. Isabella died during childbirth just two years later. In a bizarre twist of fate, her second husband was taken hostage by the English after the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. He remained in captivity for 24 years, spending time composing poetry at various locations, including Pontefract Castle where Richard II was said to have died.
Top image: Detail from miniature depicting Richard II, King of England from 1377 to 1399, receiving his child bride Isabella of Valois from her father Charles VI, the King of France. Source: Public domain
By Cecilia Bogaard