A regent is “a person appointed to administer a state because the monarch is a minor, is absent or is incapacitated.”
Isabeau of Bavaria was born circa 1370 as the daughter of Duke Stephen III of Bavaria-Ingolstadt and Taddea Visconti. She was first proposed as a bride for Charles VI of France in 1383. She was to be presented before Charles in 1385, though her father objected to her being naked during the inspection, as was customary. Charles certainly approved of her as they were married three days later. Charles lavished gifts on her during their first New Year together. While Charles went on military campaigns against the English, Isabeau first at Creil with Blanche, Duchess of Orléans and later at the Château de Vincennes.
She received her own coronation as Queen of France, which was celebrated on 23 August 1389 at Notre Dame. By then they had already had two children (who both died young), and she was seven months pregnant with Isabella, who became Queen of England as the wife of Richard II. They would have a total of twelve children, including the future Charles VII.
Her husband began to suffer from bouts of insanity around 1392. He first attacked his household knights and ended up killing four men. Afterwards, he fell into a coma that lasted four days. He returned to court with a grand celebration that became known as the Bal des Ardents, where Charles was almost killed, and four dancers burned to death after a spark from a torch lit the dancer’s costumes on fire. The following June he suffered a more prolonged attack of insanity. His condition deteriorated over the next 30 years of his reign. He would often not recognise his wife and demanded that she be removed from his sight, causing her much distress.
The Monk of St Denis wrote in his chronicle, “What distressed her above all was to see how on all occasions … the king repulsed her, whispering to his people, ‘Who is this woman obstructing my view? Find out what she wants and stop her from annoying and bothering me.'”
As he was often incapable of ruling, a regency would need to put in place. His brother, Louis, Duke of Orléans and their cousin John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy sought to become regent. During a brief moment of lucidity Charles made arrangements for Isabeau to be “Principal guardian of the Dauphin” until he turned 13. She was appointed co-guardian of the children together with the Duke of Orléans and her own brother Louis VII, Duke of Bavaria. However, the full power of the regency was handed to the Duke of Orléans. Rumours of a love affair between Isabeau and the Duke of Orléans began to circulate.
By 1407, the situation had deteriorated and John the Fearless ordered the assassination of the Duke of Orléans. He was hacked to death by hired killers. John the Fearless was connected to the assassination, and he was ordered to leave Paris. Isabeau began to fear for the safety of her son, the Dauphin Louis. At the Peace of Chartres in 1409 John the Fearless publicly reconciled with the new Duke of Orléans, and he was given the guardianship of the Dauphin by Isabeau. To appease the Burgundians, a double marriage was arranged between Isabeau’s daughter Michelle and John the Fearless’ son Philip the Good and between Dauphin Louis and John the Fearless’ daughter Margaret.
In 1415, Dauphin Louis died suddenly at the age of 18. Her younger son John of Touraine was now the new Dauphin. In 1406, he had married Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut but they had no children. He died just two years after becoming Dauphin, leaving Jacqueline, a widow at 16. The new Dauphin was Charles, Isabeau’s last surviving son. Isabeau was briefly imprisoned in Tours, but she managed to secure her freedom, after which she briefly sole regent of France. She yielded her position to John the Fearless in 1418. Together they abolished parliament and took control of the city of Paris, causing the new Dauphin to flee the city. John the Fearless was eventually assassinated by the Dauphin. King Charles responded by disinheriting his son.
By 1419, much of Normandy was occupied by King Henry V of England and he demanded an oath of allegiance from its inhabitants. With no official heir to the throne, Isabeau had no choice but to sign the Treaty of Troyes in 1420. Under the Treaty of Troyes, Charles remained King of France, but his successor was to be Henry V, who had married Charles’ daughter Catherine. Isabeau was widowed in 1422, but Henry V had also died earlier in the same year. The new King of France, under the Treaty of Troyes, was Catherine’s infant son Henry VI.
Isabeau lived in Paris, which was under the control of the English. She lived in retirement with her brother’s second wife, Catherine of Alençon. She died at the Hôtel Saint-Pol in 1435. Her reputation was particularly poor, but in the 20th century, she was exonerated of much the accusations.