Despite last week’s olive branch, Cersei does not like Margaery, and the reasons Cersei dislikes her mirror some events in Isabeau of Bavaria’s life. Cersei perceives Margaery as a “doe-eyed whore,” an older “sexually knowing” girl who manipulates her younger husband through her sexuality, which is also how historians have traditionally described Isabeau of Bavaria. This view of Isabeau is now disputed, but historians could just as easily been describing Cersei’s perspective on Margaery Tyrell.
George RR Martin appears to spread some of the personality traits and life events from Isabeau of Bavaria between Cersei, Margaery, and possibly other characters. (Conversely, Anne Boleyn, Queen Elfrida of England (as History Behind Game of Thrones reader Connie pointed out), and possibly others may have inspired Margaery.)
Queen Isabeau of France (c.1370 to 1435) was the wife of King Charles VI (the mad), mother of Henry V’s wife (Catherine of Valois), and grandmother of Henry VI of England. Isabeau was also became infamous for her decadence, immorality, and allegedly loose ways — a reputation not helped when the English strong-armed her into signing an agreement her son and heir was illegitimate.
In a A Storm of Swords, Margaery is a sixteen-year old girl, not the significantly older woman Natalie Dormer portrays. As discussed in this article, presumably HBO cast Dormer due to the intertextuality with her role as Anne Boleyn in The Tudors.
HBO might have chosen an actress reminiscent of Anne Boleyn “look” because of Margaery’s physical description in A Storm of Swords: “brown-haired and brown-eyed, slender and beautiful”1 As a result, Margaery might not look like Isabeau at all — in fact, historians are unsure if Isabeau was blonde and tall or “small and brunette.”
What may be true, is that a German duke’s teenage daughter — whom her uncle had billed as extremely beautiful — arrived in France in 1385 to marry dauphin Charles, whom historian Robin Neillands has described as her junior.2 Like Isabeau, Margaery was destined to marry a younger king: in the books, Margaery is sixteen to Joffrey’s thirteen.
While the teenage Isabeau may have been a naive virgin, historians have depicted her as being slightly scandalous — even from her earliest days in France.
The regent Philip the Bold arranged for the dauphin marry “an older, sensual German princess” to keep him occupied.3 Historian Robin Neillands writes, Philip of Burgundy “calculated Isabella would reduce the King to swift obedience by her sexual demands, and act as a surrogate in the royal household.”4 Desmond Seward characterizes Isabeau as “beautiful” and “sluttish”5 .
Like Margaery, there is no evidence that Isabeau was anything other than an innocent nobleman’s daughter. While there is significant debate about whether Margaery is a virgin, she is portrayed as being somewhat knowing. On the show, when Sansa bemoans her fate of marrying Tyrion, we catch a glimpse of Margaery’s knowing quality:
“Most women don’t know what they like until they’ve tried it. And, sadly, so many of us get to try to so little before we’re old and gray. Tyrion may surprise you. From what I’ve heard, he’s quite experienced.” — Margaery.
“And that’s a good thing?”– Sansa.
“It can be. We’re very complicated you know. Pleasing us takes practice.”
“How do you know all of this? Did your mother teach you?”
“Yes, sweet girl,” Margaery replies with a wry smirk. “My mother taught me6 .”
If there is any truth to the traditional accounts of the less-than-virginal Isabeau — and her revisionist biographer Tracy Adams disputes them as misogynist character assassination — it’s interesting that her father managed to avoid letting the French verify she was a virgin before she married Charles. When the French proposed a marriage alliance with Bavaria, they tried to stipulate that the ladies of the court must examine Isabeau in the nude to determine if she were “properly formed for child bearing.”7 Isabeau’s father stomped down this humiliating condition, which presumably might have implied checking for her maidenhead. This is not meant to imply Isabeau wasn’t a virgin — how would her father have known she wasn’t? — but it is an unusual coincidence.
Isabeau’s wardrobe may not have helped her reputation. While few images exist of Isabeau, she may have been a “sexy” dresser. In 1405 sermon, an Augustinian friar named Jacques LeGrand lambasted Isabeau for her free-spending and immoral ways, symbolized through low-cut gowns that exposed her cleavage, shoulders, and neck8 While it might be best to take the friar’s words with a grain of salt, Isabeau’s clothing may have been in k they contribute to a reputation that parallels with Margaery’s wardrobe in the show.
Bare arms, low-cut necklines, tight, cleavage, backless — words not often used to describe the noble woman’s attire in King’s Landing — but these are all words you could use to describe how Margaery dresses. As this WinterisComing.net article notes, if it wasn’t for the soft baby blues of Margaery’s gowns, they would have a definite “harlot feel.”
TV Margaery’s flesh-baring wardrobe is not consistent with the attire of book Margaery. In fact, according to this The Rainbow Hub article, George RR Martin has stated that the gowns TV Margaery Tyrell wears are how book Margaery would dress in ten years’ time.
Taken as symbols, Margaery’s clothes with their low-cut necklines and epaulet-type shoulders indicate that she is willing to use her sexuality to obtain power: her beauty is her offense and defense. The WinterisComing.net article describes Margaery’s clothing as having an “armored” look to it.
The last parallel between Margaery and Isabeau is that their husbands are mentally ill. Charles had numerous breaks from reality throughout their marriage and suffered from a delusion he was made of glass. In Charles’ case, however, the mental illness does not emerge for several years after he wed and never has the same sadistic quality as that of Joffrey, the now-dead animal abuser. Joffrey’s own family has characterized him as “mad” (Cersei is the “mother of madness.”)
Isabeau’s life did not end happily — and history has not treated her kindly. Despite having twelve children, many died in childhood, including two dauphins. The third dauphin had an acrimonious relationship with Isabel. Rumors she was licentious and adulterous ran rampant throughout her life. After she lost political influence, she retired to the Hotel St-Pol palace in Paris. She died, largely disgraced, when she was sixty-five. Beginning in the late sixteenth century, Isabeau became so notorious for her licentious ways that, over 300 years later, the dissolute Marquis de Sade chose her as the subject of an unpublished novel, “Histoire secrete d’Isabelle de Baviere, reine de France.”9 Perhaps, one of the differences between Margaery and Isabeau is that Margaery appears to be much shrewder about image management. If so, maybe Margaery’s life will turn out to be happier than that of Isabeau.
- A Storm of Swords, Kindle Loc 1485 [↩]
- According to my research, Charles was two years Isabeau’s senior. [↩]
- This is how Robin Neillands characterizes Isabeau in The Hundred Years War Kindle Loc 2758, and it makes a great, albeit possibly sexist, sound bite. [↩]
- R. Neillands The Hundred Years War Kindle Loc 2758 [↩]
- D. Seward A Brief History of the Hundred Years War Kindle Loc 1818 [↩]
- “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” ~14:00 [↩]
- B. Tuchman A Distant Mirror Kindle Loc 8301. [↩]
- Rachel Gibbons. “Isabeau of Bavaria, Queen of France (1385–1422): The Creation of a Historical Villainess” from Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 1996 Vol 6, p. 65-6 [↩]
- For information about Isabeau’s character assassination, see Tracy Adams p.39 Kindle ed. [↩]