The Mitela women of Roma Nova are not the only women warriors to go armoured into battle. Sometimes we glimpse one from time to time in the real historical record. In celebration of the publication of Under the Approaching Dark, historical fiction writer Anna Belfrage introduces us to a(n in)famous one.
Women in medieval times were not expected to go to war. Well, at least not to actually fight, albeit that there would always be females among the servants that accompanied a larger force. After all, someone had to do the laundry, someone had to offer a welcoming embrace to the men who spent weeks, months, away from their homes and wives.
Obviously, some women went to war anyway. Women like Joan of Arc—and Isabella of France. Now, Joan took up arms to defend her homeland against the ravaging English in the later stages of the Hundred Years’ War. Isabella took up arms to invade her husband’s kingdom and claim it for her son. Not, perhaps, as noble a cause, although I think Isabella would disagree. She had to act to safeguard son’s future. Said son, the future Edward III, would be the one who initiated the hostilities known as the Hundred Years’ War by claiming the French crown through his mother. Isabella surely applauded such audacity. The French most certainly did not.
When Isabella landed in England in 1326 at the head of an army, she was not in actual command of it. She left that to Roger Mortimer, the man who would be her companion through thick and thin until November of 1330. Unlike Joan, she did not don armour and brandish a sword—that time.
Invading a country is generally not a simple thing. But the English were sick and tired of Edward II and his greedy favourite Hugh Despenser, so rather than defend their king, they joined their queen. In a matter of months, England had been conquered, with Hugh Despenser very dead and Edward II under lock and key at Kenilworth. The age of Isabella (and Roger) had dawned, with the young Edward III little more than a puppet—at least initially.
Not everyone was delighted by this turn of events. While there was a broad consensus among the powerful barons that a dead Hugh Despenser was a good Hugh Despenser, they were not entirely as thrilled at having their queen and her favourite baron lording it over them. Some barons in particular disliked the way things were going, notably Henry of Lancaster, brother to Edward II’s cousin Thomas who’d been executed in 1322. Henry demanded a voice in how things were run. Well, as per dear Henry, things would be much better if he ran them, rather than this upstart Marcher lord and a foreign queen. Obviously, Isabella and Mortimer disagreed.
In 1328, things came to a head. Henry tried to snatch the young king but failed. Instead, he and several other barons (including, at least for a while, Edward III’s two paternal uncles) rebelled. The fragile peace which Isabella and Roger had forged in the aftermath of their invasion was now a thing of the past, and soon enough two armies were marching towards each other, one of them led by Henry, the other by Mortimer. (As an aside, marching towards each other was difficult in a time without GPS and the like, but in general the combatants had a rough idea of where the other party might be.)
Roger Mortimer did not ride alone. By his side rode the young king—and Isabella. After wreaking total destruction on Leicester (the town lay within Henry’s earldom), the royal army took a breather in early January. While encamped in Northampton, they received news that Henry was in Bedford, a good day’s ride away.
Roger suggested they ride through the night to surprise the rebellious earl. The young king agreed, and soon enough the royal army was on the move. And this time, Isabella rode beside her man in armour, determined to fight should it be necessary. I suspect neither Roger Mortimer or the young king would ever have let her join it had it been necessary. I also suspect Isabella knew that. But as a grand gesture, it was pretty impressive!
You can read more about these events in Anna’s recently released ‘Under the Approaching Dark‘, the third in The King’s Greatest Enemy series.
Thank you, Anna. Brava to Isabella. She was not universally loved, I think, but nobody could say she lacked courage and determination! I thoroughly recommend Under the Approaching Dark. A good read and Anna’s best in series to date.
Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. Instead, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time-slip series The Graham Saga, winner of multiple awards, including the HNS Indie Award 2015.
Her new series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, is set in the 1320s and features Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures during Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The third book, Under the Approaching Dark, is now out!
So what’s Under the Approaching Dark about?
Adam de Guirande has cause to believe the turbulent times are behind him: Hugh Despenser is dead and Edward II is forced to abdicate in favour of his young son. It is time to look forward, to a bright new world in which the young king, guided by his council, heals his kingdom and restores its greatness. But the turmoil is far from over.
England in the early months of 1327 is a country in need of stability, and many turn with hope towards the new young king, Edward III. But Edward is too young to rule, so instead it is his mother, Queen Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, who do the actual governing, much to the dislike of barons such as Henry of Lancaster.
When it is announced that Edward II has died in September of 1327, what has so far been a grumble grows into voluble protests against Mortimer. Yet again, the spectre of rebellion haunts the land, and things are further complicated by the reappearance of one of Adam’s personal enemies. Soon enough, he and his beloved wife Kit are fighting for their survival – even more so when Adam is given a task that puts them both in the gravest of dangers.
Under the Approaching Dark is the third in Anna Belfrage’s series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, the story of a man torn apart by his loyalties to his lord, his king, and his wife.
Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and INSURRECTIO. The sixth, RETALIO, will be published in Spring 2017. Audiobooks now available for the first four of the series