Isabeau & Cersei Sleep With Their Brothers, Part 2


This article is continued from here. Like Cersei, Isabeau was extremely close to her brother Louis of Bavaria (c. 1368-1447). Isabeau continuously promoted his career and arranged excellent marriages for him. Isabeau was also accused of sleeping with her brother-in-law, Louis of Orleans — a proximity the Church considered incestuous.

Maybe the rumored relationship between Isabeau and Louis and the blatantly false accusation that Anne Boleyn slept with her brother George inspired George RR Martin to create Jaime and Cersei’s incestuous relationship.


The assassination of Louis of Orleans – note the hand lying on the ground.

Like Jaime, Louis of Orleans had a hand chopped off. In Louis’ case, however, he did not survive the incident. When Burgundian duke John the Fearless’ masked thugs ambushed Louis as he rode away from Isabeau’s residence, they chopped off his hand and then stabbed him to death.


The funeral of Louis of Orleans. From Vigiles du roi Charles VII.

If Isabeau and Louis weren’t lovers, contemporaries would have found it very hard to believe they weren’t given Isabeau’s predicament and Louis’ scandalous reputation.


Charles VI

Isabeau’s husband, Charles VI, had thirty-five periods of insanity – many lasting for weeks or months – by Autumn 1407.1 During these times, he would race up and down the halls of his palace howling like a wolf or sit perfectly still for hours lest he crack like glass. He could be violent, smashing furniture, striking courtiers, and even hitting Isabeau. While Charles was insane, his brother Louis would rule on his behalf.


Louis of Orleans

Louis, courtly and erudite, was also a great seducer of women with a scurrilous reputation. Despite massive wealth, he spent extravagantly to wage territory-winning wars, drained the royal treasury, and levied many taxes as a result.

Louis’ taxes caused great hardship and outrage – and so did the ruffians who collected them: “The most pitiless men were picked for the job, and they used the most severe methods. All those who resisted or hesitated to pay were thrown into prison. The poorest people were forced to sell all of their furniture, even the straw in their beds, and they still didn’t have enough to pay even half the tax.2

Louis’ cousins and uncles resented his spend-thrift ways and his hold on power. Moreover, Louis’ numerous conquests and mean humor made many outraged husbands hate him.

The French painter Delacroix immortalized one of Louis’ most notorious jokes in his painting Louis d’Orléans Showing His Mistress.


The besotted Mariette not only agreed to this little bit of theater, but she also continued to love Louis so much she left her husband to become his mistress.

After Louis seduced an exceptionally lovely woman named Mariette, he summoned her husband, Albert de Chauny, to his palace.

When Albert arrived, Louis’ servants escorted him into a private chamber in which a ravishing woman, with a veiled face, lay naked on the bed. Louis then asked Albert to judge the woman’s beauty. Much to his great fury, Albert immediately recognized the “odalisque” (concubine) was his own wife.3


When Jaime first sees Cersei after losing his hand. (c) HBO.

Around 1405, Isabeau moved out of the palace, leaving her dopelganger the “little Queen” (Odette de Champdivers) to look after the king. Isabeau moved into her own residence at Hôtel Barbette where she supposedly held dazzling, debauched parties where she and her ladies danced lewdly in outrageously low-cut gowns late into the night. Allegedly, Louis loved attending these parties.4

Both Isabeau and Louis allied against John the Fearless of Burgundy, who aggressively took up his father’s feud with Louis and strove to get his hands on the royal treasury – hoping to use it to fund his military ambitions in the Lowlands. John’s aggressive behavior made the other dukes, including Louis of Orleans, and Queen Isabeau nervous.


John of Burgundy adopted the sigil of the carpenter’s plane in response to Louis of Orlean’s sigil of the wooden club. John is even wearing the plane on his clothing.

Furthermore, there were significant differences between Isabeau and Louis’ politics, so it is possible  they were not as close as people assumed5 .

Whether the Isabeau and Louis were actually lovers is unclear. Accusing queens – especially ones with absent or infirm husbands – of adultery was a classic propaganda tactic in the fifteenth century.

Some modern historians (like Rachel Gibbons) argue that propagandists angry over tax hikes started the rumor that Isabeau and Louis were lovers  ((Not all historians agree that Isabeau and Louis were lovers. One source of the rumors was a pro-Burgundian political pamphlet, “Songe Veritable,” passed around Paris during 1405.)) Other historians, such as Tracy Adams, believe that contemporaries respected Isabeau during her lifetime, and her reputation was only vilified after her death.

Later, however, damning accusations similar to the ones levelled against Cersei – about the legitimacy of Isabeau’s children – would emerge. These accusations would have damning long-term effects up into the period of Joan of Arc.

One of the worst moments of Isabel’s life may have come at the humiliating treaty of Troyes in May 1420. Finally, forced to admit defeat at the hands of the English, Isabeau had to sign that Dauphin Charles was not only illegitimate but also a murderer and a rebel.

The scurrilous rumors about Isabel and her lovers were credible enough they shook the confidence of the one person who mattered, the dauphin himself. Once Charles VII became king, he considered abdicating out of fear others would see him as a bastard.6 But, then again, Charles VII was a poor judge of character, gullible, and plagued by a little of his father’s mental shakiness.


All Game of Thrones images copyright HBO.

  1. Eric Jagger Blood Royal: A True Tale of Crime and Detection in Medieval Paris (p. 35). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition. []
  2. From Religieux de Saint-Denis, Chronique in Blood Royal (p. 53). []
  3. Jager, Eric (2014-02-25). Blood Royal: A True Tale of Crime and Detection in Medieval Paris (p. 37). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition. []
  4. Jager, Eric (2014-02-25). Blood Royal: A True Tale of Crime and Detection in Medieval Paris (p. 57). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition. []
  5. Adams p. 9 []
  6. D. Seward Kindle Loc 2890 []

Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."


  • Reply November 12, 2014

    Jun Yan

    The ambush on Louis d’Orleans is just too much like Jaime Lannister’s ambush on Ned Stark. I wish someone would ambush GRRM and ask him whether he based the scene on this historical event. GRRM just reversed the roles between the attackers and the attacked. And the hand, the hand!

  • Reply November 12, 2014

    Jamie Adair

    Lol. I know! I can’t get over the hand. The similarity with Jaime is way too striking for it just to be a coincidence. I wrote another article somewhere on this site back in the spring where I talk about Jaime’s ambush of Ned. I think a) GRRM must look at a lot of the art or images associated with historical events while he is writing and b) he must have shared those with showrunners at some point. The color palette of the ambush by the brothel is too similar to the miniature of Louis’ assassination for it just to be a coincidence.

    Whenever I find a visual similarity between the show and art, I’m kind of fascinated by it because it doubly confirms my suspicions. E.g., It is a subtle confirmation — maybe! 🙂 — that I’m right about a historical parallel.

  • Reply November 12, 2014

    Jamie Adair

    By the way, for anyone reading this, there is a new *excellent* easy-to-read popular history book by UCLA literature professor Eric Jagger about Louis’ assassination — it’s called “Blood Royal” and you can get it on Amazon, etc. Eric does a great job of bringing medieval Paris to life. Really vivid. Reads like a novel.

  • Reply November 13, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    I had a fairly religious schooling and recall that one of the “four sins calling to Heaven for vengeance” was oppression of the poor and another was defrauding labourers of their wages [the others were wilful murder and “the sin of Sodom”, though I have a bit of a problem with the last in that people cannot help being gay]. I wonder how religious some of the powerful people were in times past – surely if they really took their religion seriously they would have treated the “small folk” better. Louis (the brother-in-law) certainly didn’t treat the poor awfully well if they were forced to sell the very straw from their mattresses; surely that was oppression of the poor.

    I agree with Jun that there are some striking similarities to scenarios in “GoT” in some of the events related above. I would probably only have latched on to the obvious one about the loss of the hand though and have missed the similarity between the picture of the Duke of Orleans’ assassination and the Jaime -v- Ned skirmish in the book/show if Jun had not mentioned it.

    • Reply November 13, 2014


      Watcher — the similarity with Jaime’s ambush on Ned was first noted in a previous post some months ago in the series on the Armagnac–Burgundian War. If you click on the link above this article, you’ll get all the articles in this series. It’s really fascinating and what actually got me hooked on this Web site.

  • Reply November 19, 2014


    Marriages and inheritance were such a major part of keeping the nobility system working that I wonder what social institutions there were trying to keep individuals to be on their best behavior. Church I suppose, other informal ones? It also asks what societies were the most likely to not punish those breaches in behavior.

    • Reply November 24, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      The Church repeatedly tried to reign in noble behavior. In eleven hundreds, chivalry was an attempt to instill a warrior code to reduce private wars. But they still continued well into the fifteenth century.

      Why societies had structures that led them to not punish bad behavior (e.g., private wars, assassinating rivals) is an interesting question. Before chivalry, there was a pact – the Pax Dei – the Church tried to encourage nobles to take to reduce noble violence. But, nobles could buy their way out when they violated it. Why this was allowed to occur is an interesting question if you pause to consider it. Thinking aloud…

      In some ways, the Church and King were legal rivals. The Church tried to enforce its own laws authority across territories (for example, the Inquisition) — in a way forming a body or behavior of an international law. Admittedly, this is somewhat imprecise structurally, but I’m trying to think about the big picture.

      Nobles were rarely prosecuted for crimes. Because the kings didn’t have a standing army or police force, they initially relied on the nobles and their retinues for man power.

      I remember watching HBO’s Rome and being shocked to see the Romans just dump the corpses of murder victims in back alleys or sewers. The characters weren’t particularly afraid of prosecution. Naturally I had to do a little research on how accurate this was. If I recall correctly, while Rome had superb armies, it did not have a standing police force. Consequently, the punishment for crimes was haphazardly enforced.

      Rome and medieval Europe were moderately similar in that they had different classes of people/roles in society and were both military cultures. In Rome, however, you did not have to be a military leader to be a senator. I believe – and I can’t recall off-hand – that you just needed to be from an aristocratic family.
      In medieval N. Europe, you had to be from the warrior class to have political power. All of society’s rulers were warriors (except arguably the Church).

      If you look at some Norse societies (Icelandic c. 800-1100? IIRC), they had a legal system that *required* the families of murder victims to avenge a family member’s murder. The killer’s family could buy their way out of vengeance by paying a specific number of silver rings to the murder victim’s family.

      It is interesting because the Norse had codified a legal system of self-policing. Their way of keeping order was to legally require vengeance.

      I don’t know if all Norse men of eligible age were warriors or if they had non-warrior castes or groups (that weren’t slaves). (I know some Norse were farmers but I don’t know if the same farmers also got in the longboats during raiding season. I believe I’ve read that Vikings were like pirates and a subset of people.) Assuming you weren’t a thrall (slave), were the Norse more egalitarian? Is that why they didn’t have a legally protected warrior elite (like the medieval European nobles)? Did the Romans simply not care about anyone not rich enough to live with lots of guards? Did they not care if there was disorder among the hoi poloi as long as their property (including slaves) was not violated?

      I’m not sure what the common thread is – if there is one – but you raise a really interesting question Grant. What you think ? What do others think?

  • Reply November 24, 2014

    Jamie Adair

    re: the Roman senators
    I just checked Wikipedia and I believe most senators were typically from noble families (in practice). While being a member of the aristocracy was initially a requirement, it quickly faded and plebs were soon admitted.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.