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the romance of real life has been seldom better exemplified than in her history.
Beautiful as an Eastern houri, and living in an age when women were worshipped by the knightly and the noble, Isabella had been brought up to the anticipation of a bright fortune and a brilliant fate. The glittering knight, in arms of proof, had scarcely dared to cast “a far-off look” towards one so elevated. The feast, the tourney, and the lighted hall, had been the sphere in which she had moved from childhood's hour— cradled in ermined luxury, lulled to sleep by the soft strains of minstrelsy, which were wafted from “the perfumed chambers of the great,” up to the fifteenth year of her age she scarcely knew adversity by name. The “ill-weaned ambition" of her parents, and her own wayward disposition, however, made shipwreck of all her fair prospects, and she lived to find that misery may be the portion of those even who attain the highest station existing in this sublunary world.
Her fate, indeed, might well serve as a warning to all parents who seek the aggrandisement of their offspring at the expense of every feeling of truth and honour. Isabella, as we have before said, was the only child of the Count of Angoulême; her mother, Alice de Courtenay, being the daughter of the fifth son of Louis the Sixth, king of France, and her inheritance was that lovely province named the Angoumois, in Aquitaine.?
In infancy her parents had contracted this fair and rich heiress to Hugh de Lusignan, a noble gentleman, brave and handsome as he was powerful, and who, through his influence as eldest son of the reigning Count de la Marche, governor of those provinces forming the northern boundary of the Aquitanian dominions, then called French Poitou,
" These domains were bounded by Périgord on the south, Poitou on the north, Saintonge on the west, and Limousin on the east. In the language of the time, fair and excelling was the province, and radiant and exquisite was its heiress.
could at any time raise the ban and arrière-ban, and pour the chivalry of a large portion of France on the southern provinces.
This match was, at the time of its contraction, considered an eligible one for the heiress, and she was accordingly, after the custom of the period, with all ceremonious observance, delivered over by her parents to the care and custody of her betrothed, and placed by him in one of his strong fortresses, where she remained strongly guarded, and with a brilliant retinue, up to the age of fifteen.
At this period of her life, however, it would appear that her parents suddenly conceived a project of advancing her to higher honours than her connexion with the family of Lusignan promised, and, taking into consideration the effect her beauty was likely to make upon a royal lover, to introduce her to “ the majesty of England,” just at that time about to receive their homage for the province of the Angoumois. They accordingly, in the absence of Lusignan, sent for the fair Isabella ; and the brother of the count, in whose charge she had been left, deceived by their message, and hardly knowing how to deny the visit of the heiress to her own parents, suffered her to depart from his custody.
The first time of John's casting his evil eye upon this fair creature was at a festival soon afterwards held on occasion of the English monarch being recognised as sovereign of Aquitaine; and that glance was decisive of the fate of Isabella. The fierce king saw, and was instantly struck by her wondrous beauty; and, ever impetuous in all his motions, he suddenly-although he knew of her betrothment, and was himself married to Avisa, the grandaughter of Robert of Gloucester, 1 — offered her his hand.
' Avisa was the youngest of the three daughters of John's uncle, Robert, earl of Gloucester; but the Church forbade the pair to live together. She was never either crowned or acknowledged queen.
There can be but little doubt that Isabella was attached to her affianced husband; but urged by her parents in John's favour, she was unable to withstand the dazzling splendour of the crown. The island monarch, with the Lion of England emblazoned from seam to seam upon his surcoat, knelt at her feet, and, as he was then untainted by the horrible crimes which afterwards stained his name, she forgot her former vows.
John at this time was thirty-two, and Isabella just turned fifteen; and as the lady's parents managed matters so as to evade her return to the custody of her betrothed, she was married to her royal lover at Bordeaux in the month of August 1200. The Archbishop of Bordeaux and the Bishop of Poitou, who both assisted at the ceremony, declaring that no impediment existed to the union.
The ire of the gallant Lusignan on being informed of this marriage was great. Dearly had he loved the fair creature whose infancy he had so affectionately guarded ; and her being thus dishonourably ravished from his custody, and bestowed upon one he knew to be unscrupulous and diabolical in disposition, rendered his feelings doubly acute. In his rage he at first sent a cartel to the English king, and defied him to mortal combat. John, however, affected to laugh at the message, and, whilst he sheltered himself beneath his crown, forgot his knightly spurs. “If," said he, “ the Count of Lusignan wishes the combat, I will find and appoint a champion to do battle for me, but I decline in my own person to oppose him ;” and so, as the valiant Marcher found it impossible for his sword to reach his more powerful rival, he wisely sheathed it, and resolved to bide his time. “A champion appointed by the unscrupulous king,” he said, “would be either some mercenary ruffian or a common stabber, unworthy of my weapon."
Meantime, whilst the bereaved knight lamented over
his fate, John, with a brilliant retinue of knights and ladies fair, in triumph carried off the fair bride to England,
“Bloody England ! into England gone, o'erbearing opposition.”
The coronation of John and Isabella took place at Westminster on the 8th of October, 1201, and, until “grimvisaged War” roused them from their voluptuous pleasures, they spent their hours in continued feasting and revelry. Perhaps this brief interval of pleasure was in reality the only period of comparative happiness the consort of John was fated to enjoy, as, after that, the thick-coming events which disturbed his uneasy throne, and his own villanous acts, kept the royal pair in a continual state of warfare and discomfort.
Arthur Plantagenet, supported by Sir Guy of Thouars, who had married the Duchess Constance of Brittany, just then asserted his claim to the crown; and whilst this startling piece of news disturbed the joys of the royal pair came further intelligence, that the wrathful Lusignan, together with his brother, the powerful Count of Eu, were raising Poitou.
Under these circumstances John and his bride, in all haste, embarked for Normandy, and establishing their court at Rouen (a town which afterwards obtained a dreadful notoriety for its being the place where Prince Arthur was murdered), resolved to grapple with the coming dangers.
The pleasures of the world, however, and the companionship of his lovely wife, so beguiled the time, that the king neglected after his arrival all necessary preparation, and, as was his wont, spent the hours, which should have been dedicated to sterner matters, in feasts and lighted halls. His days were, for the most part, passed in bed his nights in riot, drunkenness, and debauchery. From these fierce vanities he was again suddenly aroused by news