Queen Consort of England
Countess of Gloucester (1183-1217)
Also known as Isabella and Isabelle or Hadwiga, Hawise or Avis. (Note that for some reason some sources also refer to her under the name of 'Isabella de Clare' which is of course, quite wrong. This Isabel was not in any way, shape or form, a de Clare.)
Isabel was the youngest of the three daughters of William Fitz Robert, 2nd Earl of Gloucester and Hawise de Beaumont and due to the lack of any brothers stood to gain a third share of the vast Gloucester estates.
At the time king Henry II was seeking to make provision for his youngest son John, nicknamed 'Lackland' precisely due to the lack of any such provision. Henry therefore cast his eyes on the inheritance of his great-uncle Robert de Caen. Since Isabel's older sisters were already married (Mabel to Amaury, Count of Evreux, and Amice to Richard de Clare, Earl of Hertford) Henry II decided to marry Isabel to John and fixed matters by agreeing to buy out the sisters' claims so that the title and estates of Gloucester would pass to Isabel and thus his son John.
Although the betrothal was agreed in 1176, the marriage itself did not take place until August 1189. Since we do not know for certain when Isabel was born it seems very likely that she was only very young, no more than two or three years olf at at the time. In any event the marriage was delayed until after Richard I's coronation in July 1189 after which John was made Count of Mortain, confirmed as Lord of Ireland and Earl of Gloucester, with the wedding celebrated at Marlborough in Wiltshire on the 29th August 1189.
Now Isabel's grandfather Robert de Caen was an illegitimate son of Henry I, and therefore both Isabel and John were cousins and fell within the prohibited degrees as established at the time. Baldwin, Archbishop of Canterbury made a formal protest that the marriage was invalid on the ground of consanguinity but no one took a blind bit of notice, and the wedding proceeded as planned.
There does not appear to be no indication of how Isabel and John actually got on together and little in the way of information regarding their relationship. It is quite possible that they had little to do with one another once John had got his hands on her estates. But circumstances changed
on the 6th April 1199 Richard I died of wounds received in battle. In the brief hiatus that followed, brother John managed to gain the succession (over his rival Arthur of Brittany) and was crowned at Westminster on the 27th May 1199.
His sudden elevation to the throne may have given John reason to reconsider his marital position. Ten years of marriage to Isabel had produced no children, there was the succession to consider and besides John was more interested in the attractions of the twelve year old Isabella of Angouleme.
No doubt recalling the protestations of the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1189, John approached the Archbishop of Bordeaux who called a synod whcih obligingly issued a formal annullment of the marriage on the ground of consanguinity.
Isabel's tenure as Queen Consort was therefore brief and she was never crowned as queen, but although John had put aside his first wife he was reluctant to put aside her not inconsiderable wealth and he therefore kept most of the Gloucester estates for himself. John retained control of the Gloucester estates by the simple expedient of keeping Isabel single. Eventually however Isabel was permitted to remarry, and on 20th January 1214 she took Geoffrey de Mandeville, 5th Earl of Essex for her second husband making him the richest peer in England in the process.
This second marriage was however cut short by Geoffrey's death early in the year 1217, but as Isabel remained a valuable heiress she was fairly rapidly married off for the third time in September 1217, this time to Hubert de Burgh, 1st Earl of Kent. This union turned out to be the shortest of all three as Isabel herself died on the 14th October 1217.
- Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
- A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at www.thepeerage.com
- General Notes: Countess Isabel Mortain GLOUCESTER