Originally published in 1970, this is another Lewis “oldie but goodie.”
The story of the She-Wolf, Isabel of France, who is married as a star-struck young teen to Edward II, is one of legend. How Isabel evolves from the lovely young girl to the methodical, perverse and scheming Isabel who loses the love of her English citizenry and becomes the bane of English existence is fascinating.
Were we to believe Lewis, Isabel innocently and patiently remains focused on trying to be a good wife to Edward, whose only interest is his boy toys: first Piers Gaveston, later Hugh Despenser. She goes through—literally— years of being sexually rejected by Edward and of being tormented, demeaned and belittled by Gaveston. When Gaveston becomes a father, he realizes his folly, but it is too late. He has angered too many, taken too much and has destroyed any possibility that Edward would beget an heir. Isabel, still the innocent, lovely young thing, forgives him before his death.
What happens with the Despensers is even more vicious, and Isabel is driven to thoughts of great destruction. She becomes the obsessed lover of Mortimer, great warrior with no conscience and together, they orchestrate Despenser’s death, Edward’s imprisonment and demise, and the kingship of Edward III. By the end of the book, it is difficult not to hate Isabel for her stupidity and cupidity.
There is an interesting twist in Lewis’s version of this story. She takes the position that Edward II was not murdered and that he became a cleric. The ending is really quite lovely, with Isabel and Edward finding each other and making amends.
Sometimes a bit dry, but otherwise, Lewis captures the time, the characters and the politics to a tee.