Isabella "The She Wolf" Was A Force To Be Reckoned With, But Braveheart Erased Her From History

Princess Isabella is one of many Braveheart characters that are based on historical figures. Like the character in the film, the historical Queen Isabella was the daughter-in-law of Edward I, the brutal English king who set his sights on Scotland. But the similarities stop there: Braveheart's Princess Isabella barely resembles the historical Queen Isabella. Worse, Braveheart completely strips her of all her glorious complexity and power by reducing her to William Wallace’s love interest. The historical Isabella's wild life was a lot more interesting than Braveheart lets on.

Who was the real Queen Isabella of France? Intelligent, beautiful, and strong, she was the leading lady of one of the most dramatic chapters in 14th century English history. Born a French princess in the late 13th century, 12-year-old Isabella became Queen of England when she married 23-year-old King Edward II in 1308. But she never intended to be a royal consort that sat on the sidelines, especially as she saw her husband's popularity sink. She soon earned the nickname “the She Wolf” when she engineered a daring rebellion against Edward.

The tale of Isabella of France the rebel queen has all the ingredients of a Hollywood epic. Of all the terrible inaccuracies in Braveheart, the erasure of Queen Isabella’s story of romance, murder, and rebellion is the most unforgivable.


  • She Overthrew Her Husband With The Help Of Her Lover

    Isabella hooked up with Roger Mortimer - a powerful Welsh lord - in more ways than one. They both despised the influence that the Despenser family had over Isabella's husband, Edward II. Indeed, Edward's unpopularity grew with the Despensers' influence.

     So, united in their desire to see an end to the hated Despensers, the queen and the lord joined forces and successfully deposed Edward II in late 1326. Mortimer remained at Isabella's side for the next few years while she ruled as regent on behalf of her son, Edward III.

    But their relationship was apparently deeper than a political alliance. Isabella and Mortimer were more than likely lovers, too, though she never publicly acknowledged their romantic relationship. When Edward III exerted his own royal authority and ousted Mortimer from power, he actually showed respect for the man who had meant so much to his mother by only hanging him and not giving him the full, gruesome traitor's death. 

  • Reports Of Isabella Killing Her Husband By Sticking A Red-Hot Poker Up His Butt Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
    Photo: Braveheart / Paramount Pictures

    Reports Of Isabella Killing Her Husband By Sticking A Red-Hot Poker Up His Butt Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

    After forcing her husband's abdication in early 1327, Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer imprisoned Edward in a series of castles until his death in September 1327. No one really knows how King Edward II died - or if he even really died in 1327 at all. 

    One story says that under Isabella and Roger Mortimer's orders, Edward got a ridiculous brutal death that seemed to mirror allegations of his gay liaisons: he was supposedly assassinated by having a red-hot poker shoved up his rear to scorch his insides.

    Historians typically dismiss this as simply an urban legend, and other rumors abound. There is still no consensus over what exactly happened to Edward II or even if Isabella had anything to do with it. 

  • She Led A Successful Invasion Of England
    Photo: Jean de Wavrin/British Library / via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    She Led A Successful Invasion Of England

    In the 1320s, Isabella was becoming increasingly frustrated with her husband's behavior and dependence on his favorite, Hugh Despenser. The problem was that he wasn't just alienating her - he was also alienating plenty of nobles and commoners who loathed Hugh Depenser's influence and family. So, with the help of her lover Roger Mortimer, Queen Isabella took matters into her own hands.

    In September 1326, Isabella and Roger launched an invasion of England from France. As they proceeded across England, it was clear that theirs was the popular cause, as they attracted tons of supporters who joined them in an effort to end Edward II's reign. By the end of the year, Edward was deposed. 

  • She Was Such A Powerhouse That Her Own Son Had To Keep Her Under House Arrest
    Photo: James William/Edmund Doyle / via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    She Was Such A Powerhouse That Her Own Son Had To Keep Her Under House Arrest

    After deposing her husband, Isabella ruled as regent for four years on behalf of her son, Edward III. By 1330, her son was an ambitious 17-year-old who was chomping at the bit to get full rein of his kingdom. He decided to launch his own coup against his mother and Roger Mortimer. Though he quickly disposed of Mortimer, he had to keep Isabella under house arrest for two years at Windsor Castle.

    Mother and son apparently let bygones be bygones and quickly made up - the two even spent Christmas together less than a month after Roger Mortimer's execution. Isabella remained a popular, colorful member of Edward's family and kingdom until her death in 1358. 

  • She Definitely Did Not Have An Affair Or A Love Child With William Wallace
    Photo: Braveheart / Paramount Pictures

    She Definitely Did Not Have An Affair Or A Love Child With William Wallace

    Braveheart tells many historical falsehoods, but probably the most egregious, laughable lie is that Queen Isabella had an affair with William Wallace and bore him a child. The two historical figures never met - she didn't arrive on the island of Great Britain until 1308, three long years after Wallace received a sickening traitor's death.

    Moreover, she was 12 at the time of his death. The film unfairly refashions Queen Isabella's story and reduces her - a woman of immense courage, complexity, and charisma - to William Wallace's love interest, a neglected wife who blossoms under the romantic attention of a rugged Scottish warrior. 

    Moreover, the film suggests that King Edward III was actually the love child between Queen Isabella and William Wallace. Since Wallace was long dead when Isabella conceived the future king in the late winter of 1312, this is simply impossible.

  • She Dramatically Wore Widow's Clothes To Denounce Her Husband's Relationship With His "Favorite"
    Photo: Braveheart / Paramount Pictures

    She Dramatically Wore Widow's Clothes To Denounce Her Husband's Relationship With His "Favorite"

    When Isabella and Edward married in January 1308, he was already close with Piers Gaveston. Historians still debate whether or not the relationship was sexual; at the very least it was personally and politically close. Many felt that Gaveston had undue influence over the king, and the relationship alienated many in court, including Queen Isabella.

    In 1308, at Edward's coronation banquet, Isabella's family actually left the festivities because they were so insulted that the king lavished more attention on Gaveston than his young bride. Though Edward was bereft when Gaveston was executed 1312, it is easy to imagine that Isabella didn't shed many tears.

    But yet another so-called "favorite" began to enter Edward's orbit several years later. Hugh Despenser was even worse than Piers Gaveston. Despenser had become so influential and alienated Queen Isabella so much, that she blamed him for creating an irreparable rift in her marriage. She even went so far as to wear widow's clothes that, according to historian Kathryn Warner, "publicly portrayed [her] as a woman in mourning for the loss of her husband and the death of her marriage."