A recent article has detailed the wedding of an English princess in the fourteenth century, showing how lavish the Middle Ages could be.
In her article, “Isabella da Coucy, Daughter of Edward III: The Exception who proves the rule,” Jessica Lutkin examines the life of the eldest daughter of the famous English monarch. Isabella was born in 1332 and lived through many of the important events that shaped England in the fourteenth century.
She has been described as “an over-indulged, wilful and wildly extravagant princess,” by the historian Barbara Tuchman, who was raised in a pampered lifestyle and had her own large staff of attendants as a child. Later, she earned a reputation for spending on luxurious items. Lutkin disagrees with these perceptions, and sees Isabella as someone devoted to her father and other family members.
Although a daughter of an English king would have been a valuable asset in cementing political relations, Isabella did not get married until she was 33, an unusually late age for a princess. This was not for a lack of trying on Edward III’s part – five betrothals were arranged for her, including one to the Pedro the Cruel, future king of Castile. But these plans ultimately failed as a result of the ever-shifting political fortunes associated with the Hundred Years War.
When Isabella did get married, it seems she did it for love – it was to Enguerrand VII, Lord of Coucy, a wealthy French lord who had been kept in England as a hostage for the ransom payment of the King of France. Lutkin points out that while the young and handsome Enguerrand may have captured Isabella’s heart, he would have also been appealed to her father, who saw in the Lord of Coucy another important ally in his quest to rule France.
Lutkin reveals some of the extravagant expenses for the wedding, which was held on 27 July 1365, at Windsor Castle. This included a payment of £100 for a group of minstrels. The gifts for the bride and groom were lavish – each received a crown, with Isabella’s costing more than a 1000 marks and decorated with sapphires and diamonds. She also received other expensive gifts from her family, including two brooches, four diamonds, four sapphires and four clusters of pearls with a diamond in each cluster. Lutkin notes that at least £4,505 2s 4d. were spent just on work by goldsmiths for the wedding, a fortune during the fourteenth century and much more than was spent at the weddings of Edward’s other daughters.
Although Isabella and Enguerrand had two daughters, their marriage did not endure, as the Lord of Coucy ultimately decided to back the King of France after Edward III died in 1377. Isabella returned to England and died in 1382.
Lutkin concludes that Isabella’s “life as a princess can be used as model by which to judge other princesses, showing the greater extent to which the role could be stretched under unusual circumstances.”
The article “Isabella da Coucy, Daughter of Edward III: The Exception who proves the rule,” appears in Fourteenth-Century England VI, edited by Chris Given-Wilson.