Two Houses, Two Kingdoms by Catherine Hanley: an extract

Two Houses, Two Kingdoms is an exhilarating, accessible chronicle of the ruling families of France and England, showing how two dynasties formed one extraordinary story

In this lively, engaging history, Catherine Hanley traces the great clashes, and occasional friendships, of the two dynasties. Along the way, she emphasizes the fascinating and influential women of the houses—including Eleanor of Aquitaine and Blanche of Castille—and shows how personalities and familial bonds shaped the fate of two countries. This is a tale of two intertwined dynasties that shaped the present and the future of England and France, told through the stories of the people involved.

In this extract from Two Houses, Two Kingdoms, Catherine Hanley concludes the extraordinary story of the Capetians of France and the Angevins of England with the royal wedding of Edward II and Isabella, the She-Wolf of France.

Happily ever after…

On 25 January 1308, a lavish wedding took place in Boulogne.

The groom was the king of England: the tall, handsome, twenty-two-year-old Edward II. He had succeeded his father some six months previously and had resolved to fulfil the terms of the treaties with France. His bride was Isabelle, the only surviving daughter of Philip IV, now twelve years old and of an age, canonically at least, to be married. 

It was a glittering occasion. King Philip was present, as were two of his sons: his heir, Louis, king of Navarre since his mother’s death, and third son Charles, together with their wives Margaret of Burgundy and Blanche of Burgundy.1 Also in attendance were the dowager queens of France and England, Marie of Brabant and Margaret of France; King Philip’s brother Charles of Valois; Charles II, king of Naples, the son of Charles of Anjou; and Albert of Habsburg, king of the Romans. A plethora of dukes, counts and earls from England, France and the Empire were also in attendance, and sumptuous wedding gifts of jewels, plate and furs had been offered to the young couple. The guests exemplified the way in which the two dynasties of France and England were already woven together: Earl Thomas of Lancaster, for example, was both the groom’s cousin and the bride’s uncle, while Philip IV was the bride’s father and the groom’s second cousin. The hope was that the intertwining would continue. At some point in the future, it was assumed, there would once more be kings of France and England who were first cousins. The future looked bright.

The marriage, planned a decade previously, was meant to symbolise peace, but it would not be long before all went disastrously awry. Little Isabelle did not, as the ring was placed on her finger, know that her husband would snub her for his male favourites, and that he and they would become her political enemies. Edward was equally unaware that his young wife would later take her revenge for this by overthrowing him and ruling England together with her lover. None of the guests was aware that in the years to come, various among them would be accused, betrayed, deposed, imprisoned or executed. And nobody could possibly have predicted that within two decades the centuries-old edifice of the Capetian royal house, safe and secure in its direct father–son succession since before the turn of the millennium, would come crashing down. The consequences of this wedding would be far-reaching, leading to renewed conflict between the two dynasties in the form of a war that would last for over a hundred years. 

Catherine Hanley is a writer and researcher specializing in the Middle Ages. She is the author of MatildaLouis, and War and Combat 1150–1270, and is a contributor to the Oxford Encyclopaedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology.

You can follow Catherine on twitter @CathHanley.

You might also like to read Matilda: Empress, Warrior, Queen, The Forgotten King of England: Louis VIII, or browse the Staff Pick for Medieval History.

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