First, however, we have a new term that needs defining:
- Dowager — A term reserved almost exclusively for females, a dowager is the spouse of a deceased monarch, and thereby a widow, who technically has no inherent powers.
|Isabella of France, Dowager Queen of England|
Within months, Isabella and Roger were ready with a small army of mercenaries and ships, having reached agreements with France and Scotland to not get involved in the ensuing conflict. As soon as Isabella touched land in England, the barons began rallying to her. Isabella wore widow's clothing to imply to the country that she was no longer Edward's queen. The campaign was fairly swift and saw the death or execution of the majority of Edward's followers. Edward, meanwhile, was captured and surrendered the Great Seal to Isabella. Soon after, in 1327, Isabella convinced Parliament to elevate her son to the throne as Edward III. Edward II was moved to the Welsh border to be imprisoned for life, but died mysteriously within a few months. Isabella and Roger ruled England together for four years until 1330 when Edward III violently removed Mortimer and took the throne by force. During that time, Isabella personally wore armor and fought against insurgent forced led by the Duke of Lancaster, her former ally. However, Isabella and Roger ruled an unstable realm and it was inevitable that the rightful king would claim his heritage at last. Isabella ended her time as dowager as first a family matron and then a nun, following the pattern of many dowager queens before her.
|Catherine de' Medicis, Dowager Queen of France|
Charles IX became king soon after and Catherine was his regent. Unfortunately for Catherine, France was in no position to listen to any ruler, be it king or regent. Guise continued his war against the Huguenots while Catherine tried to mend the rift between the two sides. Ultimately, it was not to be and an international conflict ensued. Catherine took on the leadership of the Royalist army while Guise fought against both Huguenots and Royalists. His death in 1563 did little to stop the conflict. When Charles IX came of age later that year, few noticed including the Dowager. Catherine and Charles toured across France until the Huguenots finally became the enemy of the royalists through deception and backstabbing. Catherine did manage to marry her daughter off to Henry III of Navarre, the senior Bourbon heir and leader of the Huguenots, but the death of Henry III's mother in Paris suggested foul play. In August 1572, the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre occurred and it has stained Catherine's reputation ever since, despite the fact that she may or may not have been involved. The slaughter of Huguenots throughout France lasted for months and Henry III of Navarre converted to Catholicism to end the bloodshed.
Charles died in 1574 unexpectedly, and he named his mother regent for Henry III, since Henry was currently the elected king of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Henry returned three months later, having given up his eastern throne. Unlike his predecessors, he was an adult and did not need Catherine to rule in his stead. In the succeeding years, Catherine became the chief political broker for her family, negotiating marriages and scolding her children for their bad family decisions. Her eldest son, Francis, caused a near collapse of royal power, forcing Henry to sign a treaty with the Huguenots. Francis' death in 1584 signalled the end of any good fortunes for the family as Henry III had as yet failed to produce a son. Catherine also acted as a diplomat and roamed France forming alliances and treaties. In 1588, facing renewed warfare and an occupation of Paris by the Duke of Guise, Henry III gave into Catholic demands, dissolved the parliament and fled the city. Catherine was effectively removed from power and she didn't even know it. Henry III murdered in cold blood the Duke of Guise a few months later and it is partially due to this that Catherine died on 5 January 1589.
And so I have presented for you just three cases of Dowager Queens who made a significant difference in royal politics. Their desires for power and stability, often in spite of incompetent or underage children, led the course of their nations for many years. There are many MANY more Dowager Queens in history and I wish I could present more of them today, but alas I have run out of time. Until again...