Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Life and Afterlife of Isabeau of Bavaria

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Life and Afterlife of Isabeau of Bavaria

Article excerpt

Tracy Adams, The Ufe and Afterlife of Isabeau of Bavaria (Baltimore, Md: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010). xxvi +338 pp. ISBN 0-8018-9625-8. £28.50.

By her own admission, Tracy Adams approaches Isabeau of Bavaria, Queen of France (1371-1435), from Christine de Pízan studies. Isabeau famously commissioned from Christine the so-called Queen's Manuscript (BL, Harl. MS 443 1) of her works. It is surprising, then, that this manuscript hardly features in Adams's book. Rather, Adams proposes to challenge Isabeau's misogynistic 'black legend', in which the queen is characterized as a greedy, debauched, and overweight adultress, a foil to Christine, a primary cause of the factional strife that plagued the reign of her mentally fragile husband, Charles VI, an anti-Joan of Arc, and a proto-Marie Antoinette. Adams argues that historians have not understood Isabeau's role, and have therefore been too willing to blame her: she was a 'mediator queen', a 'facilitator, both central and marginal . . . both powerful and dependent' (p. 74). In this light, Adams revisits a number of significant events in the period's history and attempts to redefine Isabeau's contribution to them: the foundation of the Cour amoureuse (1400); the 'kidnapping' of the dauphin Louis of Guyenne by John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy (1405); and the Treaty of Troyes (1420), which recognized Henry V of England as heir to the French throne.

Adams charts Isabeau's black legend as it developed in fifteenth-century English propaganda, ancien régime legal theories concerning female regency, and nineteenth-century republican and nationalist discourse, and this section (chapter 2) is the strongest in the book. Yet Adams's own contribution to Isabeau's rehabilitation is not unproblematic. Her argument for Isabeau's contemporary reputation as a political mediator dangerously relies on an absence of evidence for proof: because she is a mediator queen, she is 'generally invisible' (p. 148). It is striking that the evidence that does exist often comes from prescriptive royal ordinances: in Adams's claim that we should see Isabeau as a pious intercessor (like Esther, or the Virgin Mary), is she not asking us to swap certain familiar queenly topoí for others? …

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