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Alex de Campi @alexdecampi
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Buckle up for #AlexDrunkHistory: the Tour de Nesle Affair or, how epic pettiness and regifted handbags sank a 350 year old French dynasty and set up the Hundred Years War. First: meet Isabella, queen of England, daughter of France, wannabe Etsy store owner!
Depending on who you read, Isabella was either a total badass (invading England with her lover and 800 troops, AND WINNING) *or* a petty, calculating bitch. My opinion?
(for my money, tho, Empress Matilda was the biggest female badass in medieval England; she even ruled in her own name during the Anarchy, albeit briefly. We’ll talk about her another time.)
Anyway. Isabella. Only surviving daughter of King Philip the Fair, whose family ruled France since 986. Married at age 13 to King Edward II of England in 1308.

Friends, the next 20 years of Anglo-French history are beyond the wildest telenovela storyline imaginable. Here we go.
Edward II was G A Y

How gay was Edward? Well. At the wedding he sat next to his lover, historical hottie Piers Gaveston, not his teen wife. Later, he gives some of Isabella’s jewelry to Gaveston, who publicly swans around in it. Also the Duchy of Cornwall, he got that, too.
(I rrreally want to tell you about Edward’s second long-term boyfriend, Hugh Despenser the Younger, avaricious Marcher lord and part-time pirate in exile. Sigh.)
Isabella was Not Best Pleased. There were Meetings about all this. Angry letters were sent to King Daddy. Isabella should have been the most powerful, celebrated teen in Europe and instead Baby was put into a corner!
Apparently she channelled her frustrations into needlepoint, probably finding the repetitive stabbing motions quite therapeutic
What about England’s barons, you might ask. How were they with all this scandalous royal sodomy?

Surprisingly fine with the buttsex; not so fine with the way 100% of Edward’s patronage went to Piers.
There was a real concern that barons would get disinherited so their lands could be given to the royal favourite.

See, under feudal tenure, you occupied lands and got the lands’ income via the grace of the King, in exchange for moral and military support
The king could yank those lands back at any time and disinherit you. It wasn’t a good idea, but if a king was not seen as a reliable ruler, it was a big concern. Edward II was neither sensitive to his barons’ needs nor good on the battlefield (*cough*Bannockburn*cough*), SO.
Fast forward to 1313. Piers has been ejected from both the royal love truncheon and this mortal coil, thanks to near civil war and covert funding from King Daddy in France.
Things are looking good for Isabella, at last. Also, in 1312, she had given birth to an heir: the future Edward III

“Siri, when was the turkey baster invented?”
She and Edward III go on a victory tour to Paris, mostly to thank King Daddy. Izzy brings her embroidered Sadness Sacks, figuring she doesn’t need them any more, and gives them as gifts to her three royal brothers and their wives.
They then throw a welcome home party for themselves when they get back to London, and Isabella sees two of the handbags she gave to the sis-in-laws being carried by the d’Aunay brothers, hunky Norman knights. Isabella like
At this point you might be wondering if any royal person in the Middle Ages was monogamous and well (also boy I have some stuff to tell you about popes)
Anyway. Furious letters to King Daddy ensue. Is it because Isabella‘s a stickler for the sanctity of marriage? Is it because hell hath no fury like a woman whose handicrafts are scorned? Or is it because if she eliminates the competition, her kid rules France and she can GO HOME?
King Daddy puts EVERYONE under surveillance and finds out that YES, Izzy’s sis-in-laws Blanche and Margaret are sneaking across the Seine from the royal palace at Île de la Cité to play hide the saucisson with the hot knights at a guard tower on the Left Bank: the Tour de Nesle.
Joan, wife of brother #3 (Philip V, not to be confused with King Daddy, who is Philip IV) is also dragged into the scandal, despite having simply chucked her ugly-ass handbag into the back of a closet like a normal person
EVERYBODY gets arrested. King Daddy does not fuck about: the d’Aunays are castrated, hung, drawn and quartered. Blanche and Margaret are jailed for life. Joan is declared innocent, but is put under house arrest for sending work emails from her private phone. Massive scandal.
King Daddy dies of shame later that year (1314).

The Knights Templar, whose assets he’d seized and who he’d disbanded in France, claim it’s because they cursed him.
Louis (Margaret’s husband, and Izzy’s Brother #1) becomes King of France. Margaret dies in prison, Louis remarries, but dies due to over-exerting himself at Real Tennis in 1316. He’d literally been playing too much tennis to make an heir.
Philip V (Brother #2) becomes King then. He stuck with Joan; she had a son; the son died within days of birth. There were no more kids. Philip is only king for six years and dies without heir in 1322.
Up last in Capetian Royal Roulette is Brother #3, Charles, who everyone thinks was a bit of a stuck-up dick. He annuls his marriage to Blanche, who’s still in prison, and sends her to a nunnery. He remarries, but only lasts six years himself before dying without an heir.
So it turns out sidelining three royal wives during prime childbearing years was kind lf a bad thing for French royal succession.

But at least over in England, things were finally rosy for Isabella, right?


ahahaha hell no
By 1324, Edward II had taken up with Hugh Despenser the Younger, confiscated all Isabella’s English lands and income, and given them to what straight history swears was absolutely, positively not his boyfriend.

Because clearly gay men didn’t exist until Oscar Wilde invented them
(Again, less of an issue for the barons than the fact that Hugh was trying to take over the entire Welsh Marches for himself, and that resulted in some folks getting their lands taken away from them)

(moral: royal boyfriends shouldn’t get too greedy)
Ironically given how she destroyed her sisters-in-laws’ lives for the exact same thing, Isabella then takes a lover: Roger Mortimer, a displaced Marcher Lord
The Welsh Marches were the borderlands between England and the then still fiercely independent Wales. They were hugely profitable earldoms encompassing some of the best land in Britain and ruled by their earls “sicut regale”, eg as if kings themselves. A+, desireable.
Isabella and Roger the Marcher Boy depose Edward II in 1327; Edward II dies soon after, “mysteriously”, in captivity.
So that brings us back up to 1328 when Charles dies, and France is like OH SHIT WE’RE OUTTA CAPETS

And Isabella’s like
The French react exactly as you’d expect to the suggestion they put a teenage hunk of rosbif on the throne
And lo, the stage is set for the Hundred Years War.

Thank you and goodnight.
Oh derp almost forgot: hi I write books, this just came out last week, a noir thriller set in Cuba on New Year’s Eve 1958/59:…
I also have a patreon for my weird epistolary novel about fame and fandom and life in the arts, also robots:
If all that is too much, 😉
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