Isabelle de France (1225-1270)

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Entry by Anne-Hélène Allirot, 2004

Born in March 1225, Isabelle of France was the daughter of king Louis VIII of France and queen Blanche of Castile, and the younger sister of the future Louis IX (St. Louis). She was supposed to marry Hugues de la Manche in 1230, but he instead married Yolande, the count of Brittany's daughter. Another marriage was arranged with Conrad of Hohenstaufen, the son of Frederick II, but in 1243 Isabelle refused the match. A papal letter finally gave official approbation to her intention to live a life of virginity without having to take holy orders. The princess decided to use her marital dowry to establish a Poor Clares convent, the Clarisses in Longchamp. Following the example of Clare of Assisi, who wrote the rule of her order between 1247 and 1252, Isabelle developed the rule for Longchamp in 1255, after consulting the most important Franciscan luminaries in Paris at the time, particularly Bonaventure, whose stance was moderate in relation to the vows of poverty. Her rule, less rigid than Clare of Assisi's, allowed the nuns to inherit and own property collectively. It was approved by Alexander IV in 1259, and then revised by Urban IV in 1263. In the wake of Clare of Assisi, Isabelle of France was thus one of the first women authors of a monastic rule. The construction of the abbey, which cost thirty thousand livres, was finished in 1259. Isabelle then went to live with the nuns but never joined their order. She died there on 23 February 1270.

Isabelle of France exercised a considerable influence over her entourage. One of her nieces, Blanche, daughter of St. Louis, stayed at the convent prior to her marriage. Another, Isabelle of Navarre, founded a Franciscan monastery in Troyes in 1270, based on the rule of Longchamp. Other princesses joined the abbey as nuns: Blanche, daughter of Philip V (known as the Tall) took her vows in 1318, as did Jeanne, daughter of Jeanne of France, queen of Navarre, in 1337. Philip V even retired there to die in 1322. For many years, numerous members of the royal family visited or made bequests to the nuns. Isabelle's rule was successfully applied throughout the Clarissian Order. It was adopted by many "wealthy Clarisse" convents with links to the royal family: for example those in Troyes, Provins and Toulouse. St. Louis' biographers had little to say about Isabelle: Guilliaume de Saint-Pathus noted that she, like her brothers, received religious training from Blanche of Castile. Jean de Joinville, mentioned her briefly as the founder of the Abbey of Longchamp. It is only through The Life of Isabelle of France, the hagiographic account written around 1279-1281 by her former lady-in-waiting, Agnes d'Harcourt, at the request of Charles d'Anjou, the king's brother, that we discover the essential role she played in St. Louis' entourage. This text presents Isabelle of France as being worthy of canonization, borrowing at the same time from a saintly, feminine model close to that of Clare of Assisi and a royal, masculine one, that of St. Louis. An account of forty miracles follows the story of the princess' life. Unlike her brother, though, Isabelle of France was never canonized. She was beatified in 1521 by a papal bull of Leo X, Piis omnium. A service celebrated in the XVIth century shows that a cult did grow up around her, at least in the Abbey of Longchamp. Today historians are rediscovering her importance.

(translated by Michelle Sommers)


- 1259 : Ci encommence l'exempsion des sereurs meneurs [«relevant d'un ordre mineur»] encloses, Paris, AN, LL 1601, f.63-72, in [J. H. Sbaraleae], Bullarium franciscanum, III, Rome, 1765, p.64-68, n.b.
- 1263 : Regle des sereurs meneurs encloses, Paris, AN, LL 1601, f.1-45, in [J. H. Sbaraleae], Bullarium franciscanum, II, Rome, 1761, p.477-486.

Selected bibliography

- Allirot, Anne-Hélène, «Isabelle de France, soeur de saint Louis: la vierge savante. Étude de la Vie d'Isabelle de France écrite par Agnès d'Harcourt», Médiévales, 48, 2005, p. 55-75.
- Field, Sean Linscott, The Princess, the Abbess, and the Friars: Isabelle of France (1225-1270) and the Course of Thirteenth-century Religion History, Ph.D., Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, 2002.
- Harcourt, Agnès d', Vie d'Isabelle de France, in Charles Du Fresne, sieur Du Cange, Histoire de saint Louys IX roy de France écrite par Jean sire de Joinville sénéchal de Champagne, Paris, 1668, p.169-181, éd. Anne-Hélène Allirot, Médiévales, 48, 2005, p. 76-98.
- Harcourt, Agnès d', The Writings (The Life of Isabelle de France and the Letters on Louis IX and Longchamp), éd. Sean L. Field. Notre-Dame (Indiana), Univ. of Notre-Dame Press, 2003.
- Mlynarczyk, Gertrud, Ein Franziskannerinnenkloster im 15. Jahrhundert. Edition und Analyse von Besitzinventaren aus der Abtei Longchamp, Bonn, L. Röhrscheid, 1987.

Selected bibliography of images

- Portrait présumé d'Isabelle de France, détail d'une clef de voûte de la chapelle du château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye (XIIIe siècle). Musée des Antiquités nationales de Saint-Germain-en-Laye -- Christian Van Dijk, «Isabelle de France, soeur unique de saint Louis», Chronos, 31, printemps 1995, p.15-19.


- «En sa jeunesse elle estoit moult gracieuse et de grande beauté, et jaçoit ce qu'elle fust si noble de lignage, encore fust elle plus haute et plus noble de moeurs. Elle sçavoit bien que icelle seule est la vraye noblesse qui est ornement de l'ame par bonté de l'ame et par saincte vie, si comme il appaira cy après» (Agnès d'Harcourt, Vie d'Isabelle de France, in Charles Du Fresne, voir supra, «choix bibliogr.»).
- «Que venons-nous donc dire, après tous ceux-là? Rien, sinon ce que nous avons vu et éprouvé, ce que nous demandons à la bienheureuse Isabelle et ce qu'elle nous apporte: la douceur sans faiblesse, la force sans grimaces, la sainteté familière, souriante, d'une grande soeur qu'elle demeure pour nous, si déchus que nous soyons» (Albert Garreau, Bienheureuse Isabelle de France, soeur de saint Louis, Paris, Éditions franciscaines, 1955, avant-propos, p.13).

Isabelle de France (1225-1270)
Also known as Blessed Isabelle of France
Birth date 1225
Death 1270
Biographical entries in old dictionaries
Dictionnaire Pierre-Joseph Boudier de Villemert
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