Born in 1295 in the cultural centre of Europe, the youngest child and only daughter of the King of France was married Edward II of England in 1308, at the age of twelve. The newlyweds proved a good pair: Isabella was known as “the beauty of beauties…in the kingdom if not in all Europe,” bringing with her to England a fortune’s worth of French fashions. Edward was handsome, athletic and popular; the heir to the Plantagenet dynasty. He was, however, completely uninterested in his new queen. Upon the couples’ return to England from their wedding on the French coast, he promptly re-gifted all of Isabella’s fine wedding to the favourite he had made regent in his absence—a Gascon knight named Piers Gaveston—rushing off the boat to meet him at Dover, and “giving him kisses and repeated embraces, which fuelled his barons’ jealousy”.
Edward II was arguably bisexual (he fathered five children with two women), if not homosexual. That his relationship with Gaveston was a romantic one is something only suggested by contemporary chronicles; what is clear, however, is that the king doted on the other man, “uniquely” and “beyond measure”. Prior to his ascension, Edward’s father had even exiled Gaveston for a short time in order to forcibly separate the two. Piers, who was said to be handsome, headstrong and ambitious, was brought back to England and made earl of Cornwall in 1307: it was one of Edward’s first commands as newly crowned king.
After Isabella’s father and brothers grew displeased at Edward’s misplaced affections, Gaveston was forced back into exile for a few months in 1308, affording the queen time to cultivate respect and friendships in court and foster cooperation with her husband. She became an extremely popular in this time, earning admiration from her king and her people. Upon Gaveston’s return, the three of them, king, queen, and knight, appeared to co-exist in relative harmony, Isabella and Piers united by Edward’s attentions and in sharing common enemies.
When Gaveston was brutally murdered at the hands of Edward’s jealous barons, that delicate balance of power was irreparably shattered. England stood to be ravaged by civil war and Edward found a new favourite in Hugh Despenser, a man hated by the queen. In this political theatre, Isabella, now seventeen and a mother to Edward’s heir, had more power to wield and opportunity to become a different sort of queen altogether.