It’s well known that following Edward III’s execution of Queen Isabella’s lover, Roger Mortimer, Queen Isabella spent the next twenty-eight years living mostly on her own estates, occasionally visiting court and going on pilgrimages within England. What is less known is that she often found herself being applied to by other women for advice, which she seems to have dispensed freely and with a remarkable, characteristic frankness. What follows is a sampling:
My husband is a good man, and a very handsome one at that! More and more lately, though, he has become obsessed with gaining the crown of France. From morning to night, that’s all I hear—France, France, France! Sometimes, I swear, I even hear him going through the French coronation ceremony in his sleep! What can I do to rid him of this all-consuming ambition?
P. in Windsor
France is a far richer and more prestigious country than England, so it is of little surprise that your husband should wish to take its crown—assuming, of course, that he has a reasonable claim to it. If he does, you should stand back as a good wife should and let him give his ambition free rein, while thanking the Lord that he is concerned with kingly pursuits such as taking over other countries and not with ignoble activities such as hedging, ditching, and rowing.
Incidentally, I wonder if you properly appreciate your husband and the trouble your elders took to procure the marriage between the two of you. I suggest you speak to your confessor about this obvious shortcoming.
Years ago, my late father made a great lady very, very angry, and as a result, I was forced to take the veil even though I was but a child at the time. I have no intention of renouncing my vows, as to do so would be wicked, not to mention difficult, but I sometimes feel very angry at this lady who punished me for another’s deeds in which I took no part. Do you have advice for me?
E. in Sempringham
Stop feeling pity for yourself and be realistic. As a nun, you’ll never die of childbed fever. You’ll never know the disappointment of having a husband who turns out to be something very different than you expected. And you’ll never know the heartache of doing all you could for your son, only to have him turn against you in the end and take away your dearest friend and all of your best lands.
You need to concentrate more on your prayers, especially for your scoundrel of a father, who could use all of them he can get.
I am a young married lady with a big problem. You see, I am beautiful. Not just pretty, but stunningly beautiful—much like they say you were as a girl. So I think you can identify with my dilemma.
My beauty landed me in an awkward situation when I was but a child of twelve, for that year I married not one, but two men. Ultimately, the Pope decreed that I was to stay with my first husband, which suited me well.
I just can’t seem to stay out of the public eye, though. When I lost my garter at a feast recently, it caused a great deal of fuss, and just when that was beginning to die down, a man of very high estate began casting his eyes in my direction. Though I shall remain faithful to my husband, I cannot help thinking of the future should I suddenly be left free. (With the constant war in France, this is something I must consider, after all.) You see, though I have long been friendly with this man’s parents, I doubt they have ever envisioned me as their daughter-in-law. I believe that they consider me rather flighty, and of course they would probably prefer that their son marry a lady from a foreign court. But I think that if I flutter my eyelashes in the proper way, dear Ned (an assumed name, of course) would happily forget all about marrying someone else and wait for me, however long it takes.
Do you think I am doing the right thing?
It is quite wicked to be concerned with the possibility of marrying a third husband when you are still married to the second. You sound completely unworthy of this man to whom you refer, which means, of course, that everything will turn out just as you hope and that you and he will soon be free to marry. But don’t expect his parents to give you a warm welcome.
And do secure your garter more tightly in the future.
Many, many years ago I was a happily married woman, who had given my husband a dozen children, including several sons. Life was perfect until my husband rebelled against the king and was put into the Tower, after which he escaped to France. You may be able to guess what happened after that. He took up with another woman and left me alone at his great castles, all by myself.
Unfortunately, this woman was the cause of my husband’s downfall, and he was executed. The woman, however, was never punished at all for her and his misdeeds, and lives in great comfort and splendor today.
I have been avoiding going off my estates for fear that I might see this woman someday and give her a piece of my mind. What advice do you have for me?
J. in Wigmore
Instead of blaming this woman for your husband’s straying, you should remember that when a man is unfaithful, it is because his wife is not satisfying his needs. Children, loyalty, and faithfulness are not enough. Were you giving this man power, wealth, and more land than he could keep track of?
Of course you weren’t. So quit whinging and stay on your estates where you belong.
As a mere child, I was forced to go far from my home and marry as part of a peace treaty. Though I expected such a match, for such was my rank in life, I cannot help but be dissatisfied with my husband. Mind you, I have given no cause for complaint, but he has never shown me the respect due a wife, and flaunts his many mistresses in front of my face.
Not only is my lord a poor husband, he is also lacking as a leader. Though his father was a great soldier, he is nothing of the kind, and indeed has spent much of his life as a prisoner because of his military blunders.
All might be different if we had children, but alas, this appears not to be God’s will.
J. in Scotland
I am sorry that marriage did not work out (believe me, I know whereof I speak), but it was all meant for the best by your loving mother, I am sure.
I suggest that you come to your mother’s residence for a nice long visit. That will make both of you feel better.
I am a woman of rather humble origins who has been offered a chance to come to court. I am writing to ask, how can I make the best of my opportunities? I see that the queen is growing rather too fat and dull after years of childbearing, and it occurs to me that the king might want some more lively (not to mention considerably more slender) company. Do you think I would be aiming too high if I were to try flirting with him a bit, to see if that led to more?
Dear Alice P.,
You are a shameless hussy and a deeply immoral woman, and you ought to be ashamed of yourself. The king has been a faithful husband for years upon years, and you would wreck that? When he is married to such a nice, sweet woman, who every time she turns around is begging mercy for someone, being the perfect wife and mother, and basking in the love of the English people?
Well—nothing ventured, nothing gained, I always say. Give it a try, dearie.