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The Life and Afterlife of Isabeau of Bavaria

Tracy Adams

Publication Year: 2010

The fascinating history of Isabeau of Bavaria is a tale of two queens. During her lifetime, Isabeau, the long-suffering wife of mad King Charles VI of France, was respected and revered. After her death, she was reviled as an incompetent regent, depraved adulteress, and betrayer of the throne. Asserting that there is no historical support for this posthumous reputation, Tracy Adams returns Isabeau to her rightful place in history. Adulteress and traitor—two charges long leveled against the queen—are the first subjects of Adam’s reinterpretation of medieval French history. Scholars have concluded that the myths of Isabeau’s scandalous past are just that: rumors that evolved after her death in the context of a political power struggle. Unfortunately, this has not prevented the lies from finding their way into respected studies on the period. Adams’s own work serves as a corrective, rehabilitating the reputation of the good queen and exploring the larger topic of memory and the creation of myth. Adams next challenges the general perception that the queen lacked political acumen. With her husband incapacitated by insanity, Isabeau was forced to rule a country ripped apart by feuding, power-hungry factions. Adams argues that Isabeau handled her role astutely in such a contentious environment, preserving the monarchy from the incursions of the king’s powerful male relatives. Taking issue with history’s harsh treatment of a woman who ruled under difficult circumstances, Adams convincingly recasts Isabeau as a respected and competent queen.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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p. ix

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pp. xi-xii

I would like first of all to thank Karen Green, who invited me in 2003 to take part in a colloquium on Christine de Pizan’s political thought. This study has its origins in the essay that I presented there, and I am very grateful to Karen for her continued support as the project developed. Thanks also to Constant Mews for his aid...

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pp. xiii-xxvi

I first encountered Queen of France Isabeau of Bavaria (1371–1435) in Christine de Pizan scholarship. The queen in this context is frequently deployed as a foil, her greed and turpitude contrasted with the moralizing Christine’s righteousness.1 Because the queen is a peripheral figure in studies of Christine’s work, I did not question the depiction initially...

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1. Isabeau of Bavaria: Her Life

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pp. 1-37

Because the career of Isabeau of Bavaria is not well known, I begin this study by recounting the most important events of her life. No narrative is unbiased, of course. What I attempt to offer, however, is one that conforms to the information available in contemporary sources. As we have seen, Isabeau continues to suffer from a negative reputation in modern histories, although her promiscuity has been shown to be a myth...

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2. Isabeau of Bavaria: Her Afterlife

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pp. 38-72

The Isabeau whose story I have just recounted appears above all to have been circumspect. During her lifetime, she was at best respected, at worst ignored. Even regarding the now infamous Treaty of Troyes, her contemporaries were not uniformly critical of her attempt to put an end to a conflict between implacable enemies...

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3. Isabeau Mediatrix: Defining the Mediator Queen

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pp. 73-112

Historians reading the same documents have drawn widely differing conclusions about the nature of Isabeau’s queenship. For some she is a powerful figure, while for others she is essentially superfluous. But the documents only appear to offer conflicting information, I argue in this chapter, becoming coherent when we reassess...

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4. Isabeau’s Contemporary Reputation

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pp. 113-148

The assumption that isabeau was detested by her contemporaries, especially the Parisians, is so firmly established that even her recent champions assume that long before her involvement in the Treaty of Troyes she was intensely disliked by the “people,” or at least that around 1405 her good name was seriously impugned because of her association with Louis of...

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5. Isabeau of Bavaria and the Cour amoureuse

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pp. 149-165

Philibert-Bernard Moreau de Mautour, who in 1727 unearthed the founding charter of the institution known today as the Cour amoureuse, assumed Isabeau to have been instrumental in the institution’s founding. The queen is not mentioned in the charter. Why then did the erudite antiquarian, member of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres,and author of numerous scholarly mémoires on a wide variety of subjects.....

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6. Reinterpreting the Enl

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pp. 166-192

As Geraldine Heng makes clear in the passage above, feminine narratives require their own tellings. In the following chapter, I try to coax Isabeau’s narrative from contemporary accounts of an incident that has come to be known as the enlèvement du dauphin, the “kidnapping of the dauphin.” The queen’s actions throughout the incident have been considered negligible or capricious...

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7. Revisiting the Treaty of Troyes

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pp. 193-221

Isabeau’s involvement in the Treaty of Troyes is a principal reason, or perhaps the principal reason, for her infamy. A recent biography of Joan of Arc reveals how the Treaty has served as a nexus in the popular imagination for different elements of Isabeau’s black legend, a point at which the charges of corpulence, greed, promiscuity, treachery, and maternal...

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8. Wife, Mother, Friend

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pp. 222-248

Historians of the past have waged personal attacks against the queen: that she was scheming, promiscuous, greedy, neglectful of her children, hungry for power, lacking in intelligence. She has been treated as an allegorical figure of luxuria, fleshly and obese. While no one can offer substantive information about the character of a woman who lived over six hundred years ago, I hope in this final chapter to at least mitigate some of these...

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pp. 249-253

The rehabilitation of Isabeau of Bavaria has been under way for decades. Despite the fact that scholars focusing upon her have unanimously concluded that she acquired the reputation she bears today only after her death and then within a specific political context, many working in tangential areas like the Hundred Years War, Joan of Arc, Charles VII, and queenship...

Appendix: Families and Allies of Isabeau and Charles VI

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pp. 255-256


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pp. 257-301


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pp. 303-329


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pp. 331-338

E-ISBN-13: 9780801899263
E-ISBN-10: 0801899265
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801896255
Print-ISBN-10: 0801896258

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 794700420
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Life and Afterlife of Isabeau of Bavaria

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Subject Headings

  • Isabella, Queen, consort of Charles VI, King of France, 1370-1435.
  • Mediators (Persons) -- France -- Biography.
  • Queens -- France -- Biography.
  • France -- History -- Charles VI, 1380-1422.
  • Isabella, Queen, consort of Charles VI, King of France, 1370-1435 -- Public opinion.
  • Women -- Political activity -- France -- History -- To 1500.
  • Charles VI, King of France, 1368-1422.
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