Margaery and Isabeau of Bavaria Marry the Younger Man

margaery-wedding-dress

(c) HBO

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.)

Isabeau_of_Bavaria_with_court_attendants

Isabeau of Bavaria with her court attendants.

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 .

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Margaery imparts her knowledge to Sansa. (c) HBO

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.

 

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Alexander McQueen dress for Bjork inspired Natalie Dormer in Margaery’s cone dress. (c) HBO

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.

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Isabeau of Bavaria’s clothing appears decadent in this image but not scandalous.

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.

  1. A Storm of Swords, Kindle Loc 1485 []
  2. According to my research, Charles was two years Isabeau’s senior. []
  3. 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. []
  4. R. Neillands The Hundred Years War Kindle Loc 2758 []
  5. D. Seward A Brief History of the Hundred Years War Kindle Loc 1818 []
  6. “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” ~14:00 []
  7. B. Tuchman A Distant Mirror Kindle Loc 8301. []
  8. 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 []
  9. For information about Isabeau’s character assassination, see Tracy Adams p.39 Kindle ed. []

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."

7 Comments

  • Reply May 18, 2014

    Jun

    Interesting! Imagine the French court being appalled by the scandalous sexuality of a German woman. Rather ironic through today’s lens, isn’t it?

    The question of virginity not only plagued Margaery Tyrell but also Elizabeth I.

    • Reply May 19, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Ah, very good point about Elizabeth.

  • Reply May 19, 2014

    Anne

    Hello Jamie,

    This is the first time I post on your blog and I would like to congratulate you on the really excellent blog you have written. Also, I really admire your lady-like and sweet responses to everybody, is rare to find so much politeness over Internet and I can’t avoid wishing more people to imitate you on that respect.
    With that said, I would like to ask you where did you obtain the information on Isabeau of Bavaria been older than Charles VI in the ”traditional view”. I’m an aficionado to French history and this is the first time I read the statement. I would thank you very much if you could point out the source (s).

    Best regards, Anne.

    Note: please forgive my English, is not my first language.

    • Reply May 19, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Hello Anne,
      What a lovely comment. Your English is excellent. Honestly, I would have never known it wasn’t your first language. Also, thank you for your kind words about this blog and for reading.

      The reference to Charles and Isabeau’s age difference is from Robin Neillands’ “The Hundred Years War” – Kindle Loc 2758 – describes Isabeau as being an “older sensual German princess”. Neillands follows this immediately with the claim that “Burgundy calculated that Isabeau would reduce the King to swift obedience with her sexual demands,” (To me, this implied he meant that Isabeau was older than the prince and not “over the hill” (an old woman, past her prime).)

      I assumed that Robin Neillands had a fairly “traditional” (non-feminist, non-revisionist) perspective on Isabeau based on his “sexual demands” statement. Unfortunately, Neillands does not indicate the basis for his remarks about her age or sexual knowledge. He does not use footnotes. I assumed that since he mentioned Burgundy, his statement was based on a traditionally view of Isabeau. But perhaps he made an error. I will try to research this some more.

      I am not sure where I got the three-year age difference. I wrote this article about a month ago, but I only published it yesterday (possibly too hastily). It is possible that I read that age difference somewhere and didn’t cite it, or conflated it with the age difference between Joffrey and Margaery. I have read that Isabeau’s age was anywhere from 14 to 16. I also read that marriage talks began when she was roughly 13 (according to Froissart). At any rate, I removed the statement with the age difference because I can’t verify it quickly. Thank you for pointing it out so politely.

      Perhaps, I shouldn’t have assumed Neillands’ statement – which conveniently tied into the idea of Margaery having some basis in Isabeau – was a widely held view point amongst the historians who describe her as “sluttish.” I’m going to try to read through the various research materials I used and see what I can find.

      Many thanks for pointing out this issue!

      Best regards,

      Jaime

      In

  • Reply May 20, 2014

    Anne

    Hello Jaime,

    Thank you very much for your very kind response and for the trouble you took in answering me with so much useful information.

    Well, I was a little surprise about Isabeau of Bavaria seniority over Charles VI since this was the first time I red about it, but I’m not familiarized with Robin Neilland’s work. However, it seems to me that you were entirely right in your assumption about Robin Neilland’s statement representing the “traditional view” on Isabeau. And to be honest now that I think about it I’m not sure what’s the real primary source on Isabeau’s age (maybe all the posterior estimates come from Jean Froissart).

    The links you point out between Game of Thrones and history are always very enjoyable to read.

    Thanks again,
    Anne.

  • Reply June 3, 2016

    Hilda Dohogn

    I have an Isabeau of Bavaria Queen of France porcelain Figurine and I wonder
    if you know where I can find the value

    • Reply June 5, 2016

      Jamie Adair

      Hi Hilda,
      Unfortunately, I know very little about porcelain figurines or antiques. You could try your yellow pages for “antique appraisers” or something like that. Another idea might be to try to search for appraisers on the internet in the country where the figurine was made or even ebay.
      Good luck!
      Jamie

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