She was the second child and firstborn daughter of young King Edward III and his bride, Philippa of Hainault. The new baby was adored by her loving parents, who were unusually devoted to each other and their children for a fourteenth century royal family. They named her after her paternal grandmother, Isabella of France, and pampered her with both affection and material goods.
Isabella seems to have resembled her mother’s side of the family, since she was reportedly a brunette with an olive complexion. Her mother (or possibly her mother’s sister) was described as having, “not uncomely hair, betwixt blue-black and brown … Her eyes are blackish-brown and deep … [and] she is brown of skin all over”. Notwithstanding her physical likeness to her mother, Isabella was more her father’s child; her temperament was more closely aligned with the head-strong and determined Edward.
Her parents were indulgent and loving, thus Isabella’s independence and spirit were not crushed out of her and she never became a properly mild-mannered medieval maiden. The princess’s freedom confounded many of her contemporaries, who considered her willful and spoiled because she wanted the final say in the course of her own destiny. Certainly, Isabella got away with many things other royal daughters would have not have been allowed to do. For example, a diplomatic betrothal between herself and the second eldest son of Bernard Ezi IV, Lord of Albret, was arranged in 1351, but when her would-be husband’s ships arrived to take her to Gascony, the 19 year old Isabella changed her mind. Rather than forcing her to fulfill the marriage contract, her doting father called off the wedding – much to the surprise and chagrin of Albret and the king’s own courtiers.
By 1351 it became apparent that Isabella had no wish to marry anyone. Why should she leave home, where she was free and knew she was loved, to become a dutiful wife to a man who may or may not care about her? Her parents, happy to keep her with them, gave her lands and settled a thousand marks a year on her to provide for her upkeep as a single woman.
Cupid was harder to escape than a formal marriage, and at age 33 the resolutely unwed Isabella fell in love with Enguerrand VII, Lord of Coucy, a wealthy French nobleman seven years younger than she was who had been sent to her father’s court as part of a hostage exchange. Since he was the heir of Enguerrand VI, Lord of Coucy and Catherine of Austria, and thus a worthy suitor for a princess, Edward allowed Isabella to marry him in 1365. Edward also made Enguerrand the Count of Bedford in 1366, possibly in gratitude that de Coucy allowed Isabella to return to England to visit her parents with relative frequency.
Isabella and de Coucy were happy together and had two daughters, Marie and Philippa. It is through Marie, who married Henry of Bar and whose granddaughter was Jeanne of Bar, the great-great grandmother of Mary, Queen of Scots.