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Isabella of Hainault (April 5, 1170 – March 15, 1190) was a Queen of France as the first wife of King Philippe II Augusté of France She was also formally ruling Countess of Artois de jure between 1180 and 1190.

Early life

Isabella was born in Valenciennes on April 5, 1170, the daughter of Baldwin V, Count of Hainaut, and Margaret I, Countess of Flanders. When she was just one year old, her father had her betrothed to Henri, the future Count of Champagne. He was the nephew of Adèle of Champagne, the Queen of the Franks the third wife of King Louis VII of the Franks. She was regent of France from 1190 to 1191 while her son Philippe II Augusté participated in the Third Crusade.

Princess Isabella of Hainault, Queen of France

In 1179, both their fathers swore that they would proceed with the marriage, to Henri of Champagne but her father later agreed to her marrying King Philippe II Augusté.

Queen of France

King Louis VII intended to make Philippe co-ruler with him as soon as possible, in accordance with the traditions of the House of Capet, but these plans were delayed when Philippe became ill after a hunting trip. His father went on pilgrimage to the Shrine of Thomas Becket to pray for Philippe’s recovery and was told that his son had indeed recovered. However, on his way back to Paris, the king suffered a stroke.

In declining health, King Louis VII had his 14-year-old son crowned and anointed as king at Reims on November 1, 1179 by Archbishop William of the White Hands.

The ten year old Isabella married Philippe Augusté on April 28, 1180 at Bapaume, and brought as her dowry the County of Artois. The marriage was arranged by her maternal uncle Philippe, Count of Flanders, who was advisor to the King. The wedding did not please the queen dowager, for it meant the rejection of her nephew and the lessening of her brothers’ influence.

From the time of his coronation, all real power was transferred to Philippe, as his father’s health slowly declined. The great nobles were discontented with Philip’s advantageous marriage. His mother and four uncles, all of whom exercised enormous influence over Louis, were extremely unhappy with his attainment of the throne since Philip had taken the royal seal from his father. King Louis VII died on September 18, 1180.

Isabelle was crowned Queen of France at Saint Denis on May 28, 1180. As Baldwin V rightly claimed his daughter to be a descendant of Charlemagne, the chroniclers of the time saw in this marriage a union of the Carolingian and Capetian dynasties.

King Philippe II Augusté of France

Though Isabella received extravagant praise from certain annalists, she initially failed to win Philippe Augusté’s affections owing to her inability to provide him with an heir, although she was only 14 years old at the time. Meanwhile, in 1184, Philippe II Augusté was waging war against Flanders; angered at seeing his wife’s father Baldwin support his enemies, he called a council at Sens for the purpose of repudiating her.

According to Gislebert of Mons, Isabella then appeared barefooted and dressed as a penitent in the town’s churches, thus gaining the sympathy of the people. Her appeals angered them so much that they went to the palace and started shouting loud enough to be heard inside. Robert, the king’s uncle, successfully interposed; no repudiation followed, for repudiating her would also have meant the loss of Artois.

Finally, on September 5, 1187, she gave birth to the desired son, Louis.


Isabella’s second pregnancy was extremely difficult. On March 14, 1190, she gave birth to twin boys named Robért (who died the same day) and Philippe (who died 3 days afterwards, on March 17). Owing to complications in childbirth, she died in Paris the next day (March 15), aged not quite 20, and was buried in the cathedral of Notre-Dame.

She was mourned greatly in the capital, having been a popular queen. Her husband was not with her when she died, nor did he attend the funeral, as he was away in Normandy campaigning against King Richard I of the English. When Philippe II Augusté learnt of her death, he hastily signed a truce with Richard and returned to Paris, where he confirmed the placement of her tomb and spent several days in mourning before returning to Normandy the following week. In a letter to Pope Clement III, he wrote that he greatly missed his late wife.

Isabella’s son Louis succeeded her as Count of Artois. Her dowry of Artois eventually returned to the French crown following the death of her husband, when her son Louis became king.


“Queen Isabelle, she of noble form and lovely eyes.” In 1858, Isabelle’s body was exhumed and measured at the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. At 90 cm from pelvis to feet, she would have stood about 1.72-1.75 m, (5’8″-5’9″) tall. It was during this exhumation that a silver seal (now in the British Museum) was discovered in the queen’s coffin. Little used during her lifetime, it is one of the few medieval seals with a royal connection to survive from the Middle Ages.