Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Monday, February 23, 2015

Isabelle of France, Saint and Princess

Isabelle of France (died 23 February 1270)

Another saint today, Isabelle, the daughter of Louis VIII of France and Blanche of Castile, a woman whom we will meet next month. Isabelle's brother was Louis IX, who would himself be named a saint, St. Louis.

A nineteenth-century copy
of an original sculpture,
Church of Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois, Paris
Born in 1224, Isabelle was a contemporary of the subject of yesterday's blog post, Margaret of Cortona (1247-97), though the circumstances of their birth could hardly have been more different. Margaret was the daughter of a farmer, Isabelle a princess, the only daughter of the French king. Her brothers were kings and counts.

Well educated, Isabelle refused to marry, even when pressed to do so, instead deciding to remain a virgin consecrated to God. Devoted to the Franciscans, she wanted to establish a monastery of the Order of Poor Ladies of St. Clare of Assisi, and construction was begun just outside Paris in 1256. When it was completed in 1259, it was known as the Monastery of the Humility of the Blessed Virgin, at Longchamp, for nuns to be known as "sisters of the humble order of servants of the most blessed virgin Mary."

But rather than following the Rule established by St. Clare, Isabelle had a special rule devised for the nuns of her community, and although she herself never lived within the cloister, she followed the rule within her own home in Longchamp.

Isabelle died on 23 February 1270 and was buried in the church of the monastery she founded. Isabelle was canonized in 1696. Her monastery was closed at the time of the French Revolution and remained empty until it was eventually torn down in 1857.

For an excellent biography and analysis, see Sean L. Field's Isabelle of France: Capetian Sanctity and Franciscan Identity in the Thirteenth Century. A biography of Isabelle was written by Agnes of Harcourt, abbess of Longchamp, in the 1280s; Field's edition, The Writings Of Agnes Of Harcourt: The Life of Isabelle of France and the Letter on Louis IX and Longchamp, makes available "what is probably the first biography of one woman by another in French."