Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Isabella of France meets her husband, Richard II, king of England
  • Creator: Master of the London Wavrin
  • Description:

    In this illustration, King Richard II of England and King Charles VI of France meet at Ardres near Calais. Their purpose: the ceremonial handing over of Charles’s daughter Isabella of France, then only six, to her new husband, Richard, a widower at the age of 29. The occasion is marked with a full display of royal pageantry. Grand pavilions and tents with their respective sigils surround the two kings, and both are extravagantly garbed with crowns atop their heads. They stand opposite each other, Richard wearing a crimson gown while Charles is distinguished by the royal fleur-de-lis on a blue field. Between them is Isabella. Her father sternly gestures her forward, but she seems to shy away as Richard bends down towards her, suggesting she is uncomfortable with her new role.

    The source of this image is a late 15th century manuscript copy of Jean Froissart’s Chroniques, a vernacular history of the Hundred Years War. Froissart’s work was one of the most popular of the late Middle Ages, with over 150 volumes surviving. Composed in the late 14th century, the Chroniques covers only the first part of the war, and is famous for its emphasis on pageantry and its idealization of chivalry. By the second half of the 15th century, the Chroniques enjoyed a revived popularity in the Burgundian Netherlands, and this particular copy, consisting of five volumes ( D ii-vi ), was produced in Bruges for Thomas Thwaytes, Chancellor of the Exchequer under King Edward IV.

    The meeting of Richard and Isabella which the manuscript depicts was the culmination of a long negotiating process between France and England in the late 14th century. Having been at war for decades, both countries were financially depleted and desired peace. However, conflict over the status of Aquitaine, ruled by the English King yet technically under the suzerainty of the King of France, prevented a conclusive agreement. No formal settlement was reached, but a 28-year truce was confirmed. As part of this agreement, Richard was to marry Charles’s daughter, Isabella, who came with a dowry of 800,000 francs. The disposition of this considerable sum was subject to a number of clauses such as what would happen if Richard should die before Isabella reached the age of 12, girls’ official age for consummation according to canon law. During the negotiations, Philippe de Mézières wrote, on behalf of Charles, urging Richard to see Isabella’s young age as an advantage, arguing that it was easier to train horses, camels and elephants when very young. Moreover, the princess could be raised in England so that Richard could mould her and she "will always feel in her heart filial obedience and reverence as to a father towards her lord and husband..."

    The betrothal of children, especially aristocratic children, was not uncommon in the Middle Ages. Officially the Church placed a number of limitations on the practice including that children could only be betrothed once they reached the age of 7 and only married at the age of 12, if a girl, and 14, if a boy. In practice however, these regulations were rarely enforced, and nobles faced few restrictions when it came to marrying off their children for economic or political gain. Papal dispensations could trump limitations on marriages of close kin by blood (consanguinity) or sexual contact (affinity). Furthermore, while the Church had prohibitions against non-consensual marriages, children, especially girls, were often forced into marriage at a young age. This was especially true in cases where children were wards of individuals who were outside the family but still had control of them. In these cases, children could be placed in betrothals advantageous to their guardian with little to no recourse.

    Despite the practice of child betrothals, however, some openly voiced opposition to the potential dangers of placing children in sexual relationships. Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, was married at the age of 12 and was immediately impregnated by Edmund Tudor in order to affirm her husband’s life interest in her estates. She had a very difficult childbirth and never conceived another child despite her three marriages. As a family matriarch, she opposed a potential husband for a grand-daughter on the grounds that he would not wait to consummate the marriage. This, along with works like Chaucer’s The Merchant’s Tale which ridiculed child/older adult marriages, suggests that, while child betrothals did take place, sexual relationships between a young girl and an older man were not accepted as entirely normal.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Ages at Consent Betrothal Child Marriages Diplomacy Isabella of France, Wife of Richard II, King of England Marriage Queens Richard II, King of England Sexuality
  • Geographic Area: Low Countries
  • Century: 15
  • Date: ca 1475-1499
  • Related Work: Robert de Namur and Jean de Froissart (writing in the lower left corner), British Library, Royal 14 D II, fol. 8. Frontispiece from vol. 1 of Froissart's Chroniques.
    Other representations of Isabella and Richard II
    Isabella meeting Richard, British Library, Harley 4380, fol. 89, Froissart, Chroniques, Vol. IV, part 2, ca. 1470-1472.
    Isabella meeting Richard, British Library, Royal 18 E II, fol. 293v, Froissart, Chroniques, probably volume 4 of a set, before 1484.
  • Current Location: London, British Library, Royal 14 D VI, fol. 268v
  • Original Location: Southern Netherlands
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Parchment; Paint; Gold;
  • Donor: Layman; Thomas Thwaytes (d.1503), chancellor of the Exchequer, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster under Edward IV, member of the royal council in 1482, and treasurer of Calais until 1490.
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 43/30.5/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Delogu, Daisy. “Public Displays of Affection: Love and Kinship in Philippe de Mézières's Epistre au roi Richart.” New Medieval Literatures, 8. Edited by Rita Copeland, David Lawton and Wendy Scase. Brepols, 2006. Pages 99-123;
    Jones, Michael K. and Malcolm G. Underwood. The King’s Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby. Cambridge University Press, 1992;
    Mézières, Philippe de. Letter to King Richard II: A Plea Made in 1395 for Peace between England and France . Translated by G. W. Coopland. Liverpool University Press, 1975;
    Parker, Heather. "’At thair perfect age’: Elite Child Betrothal and Parental Control, 1430-1560.” Children and Youth in Premodern Scotland. Edited by Janay Nugent and Elizabeth Ewan. Boydell Press, 2015. Pages 173-186;
    Philips, Kim M. Medieval Maidens: Young Women and Gender in England, C.1270-c.1540. Manchester University Press, 2003.