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Isabella of Cleves (German: Ysabel von Cleve) (16 April 1538 - 19 May 1602) was Queen of England as the wife of Edward VI (14 November 1555 - 27 November 1590). She was the first daughter of William, Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg and his first wife Sophia, Duchess of Guelders She outlived her husband by 12 years and remained influential during the early reign of her son Alexander I.
Isabella was born in the duchy of Cleves to Sophia, heiress to the Duchy of Guelders and William. At the age of three, Sophia died after falling off of her horse and Isabella was sent to live with her aunt, the former Queen of England, Anne. She grew up in Bletchley Palace and formed close relationships with her attendant, Ruth and the Princess Elizabeth. She was highly intelligent and learned to speak Latin, Greek, Spanish, French, and German fluently. She was known to be very generous and kind. However, she was also known to have a violent temper when crossed. She was also very fond of hunting, archery and riding; passions that followed her into her adult years.
Queen of England
In 1555, Edward VI was looking for a bride and had rejected various proposals made by his close adviser, Lord Dudley. When Elizabeth suggested Isabella of Cleves, Edward became interested after being shown her portrait. Unlike his father's reaction her aunt fifteen years earlier, Edward was pleased with her when he saw her in person and they were married on 14 November 1555. Her coronation took place on 20 November 1555 and became pregnant soon afterward. She miscarried of a son on 6 April 1556 but went on to have another fifteen pregnancies, producing three miscarriages and sixteen children, thirteen of whom lived long enough to marry and produce issue. She sanctioned marriages of the nobility and was also allowed the arrange her children's marriages. She was a useful negotiator during the creation of Aquitaine and Brittany as independent states. Her emphasis lay with education of the poor and maintaining peace with other countries, often through marriage negotiations.
After her husband died in 1590, she remained at court and performed the same duties as she did when she was Queen. She rarely deferred to her daughter-in-law Catherine Michelle of Spain feeling that she was too young and immature to perform her duties. She was fond of all of her daughters-in-law except the new Queen, a detail that most courtiers didn't miss. Some believed it was because the Spanish born Queen was a closeted Catholic, and others believed that while Catherine Michelle was Princess of Wales she had offended Isabella. However, when her son wished to divorce the queen she was willing to overthrow her son and place her son Edmund on the throne. The plot failed and while Alexander confronted his brother she revealed that she was the one who led the rebellion. She demanded that he release his brother from the tower because he was loyal and to execute her instead. When questioned, she maintained that the dignity of England would be lost if the king divorced his wife for a lowborn concubine. Before more could be done, the mistress died. Many suspected poison, but a physician claimed tuberculosis had killed the young woman. She was released two months later and reconciled with her son. Only months later, Catherine Michelle also died of tuberculosis. Alexander remarried to Elizabeth Howard, the daughter of her close friend Ruth and after celebrating the marriage Isabella retired to Richmond Palace.
In early 1602, Isabella was suffering from dropsy [now known as edema] and she soon died in May of the year, aged 64. Her son gave her a lavish funeral and marked her grave with an effigy. She was buried beside her husband. Her claim to Guelders passed to her son, Alexander I, but he did not press the claim until the death of her half brother. He gave the title to his second eldest grandson.
The Marie de Meluen Affair
Although her husband was very faithful to her, one of her ladies-in-waiting caught his attention. Marie de Meluen was raised in France and was brought to England to serve as a lady-in-waiting although in France she created a terrible reputation for herself. She took several lovers before she became the king's mistress, although Isabella was oblivious to these affairs. Even after Marie had become the king's mistress in 1560, Isabella was unaware until she discovered them together in 1562. She immediately fled to Hever Castle, a wedding present from the Lady Anne, until a valet revealed her whereabouts. It was here that the queen gave birth to her daughter, Philippa Rose. She was persuaded to return to court and her husband continued to keep his mistress. However, in 1564, she employed Elizabeth Howard to bring Marie wine. Later that evening, the French mistress was found dead in her rooms. Although she was the only suspect, she was not detained and Marie was buried without pomp. She then took in her husband's five illegitimate daughters and found husbands for them. She miscarried of a daughter soon afterward.
- stillborn son
- Jane Margaret, Queen of France and Navarre; married Henry IV of France; had issue (twin of Arthur)
- Arthur, Prince of Wales (died aged 7) (twin of Jane)
- Alexander I, King of England; married firstly Catherine Michelle of Spain; had issue. Married second, Elizabeth Howard; had issue
- Anne Amelia (Anna Amalia), Queen of Portugal; married Sebastian of Portugal; had issue.
- George, Duke of Richmond (died young)
- Constance Sybille, Holy Roman Empress; married Rudolph II; had issue
- Philippa Rose, Duchess of Alencon; married Francis, Duke of Alencon; had no surviving issue
- Edmund, Duke of York; married Madeleine de Bourbon; had issue
- William, Duke of Gloucester; married Sybilla of Anhalt; had issue (twin of Edward)
- Edward, Duke of Clarence; married Christina of Lorraine; had issue (twin of William)
- miscarried daughter
- James, Duke of Kent; married Marie Elisabeth of Valois; had issue
- Sophia Magdalene, Queen of Scotland; married James VI of Scotland' had issue
- Catherine Sophia, Queen of Poland; married Sigismund III Vasa; had issue
- Cecily Elizabeth (died aged 8)
- Elizabeth Mary, Electress of Saxony; married Christian I of Saxony; had issue
- Victoria Adeliza (died aged 2) (twin of Matilda Adela)
- Matilda Adela (died aged 7) (twin of Victoria Adeliza)
- Suzanne Beatrice, Queen of Spain. Married Philip III of Spain; had issue (twin of Henry)
- Henry, Duke of Lancaster; married Gregoria Maximilliana of Austria; had issue (twin of Joanna)
- Adelaide Charlotte; Electress Palatine; married Frederick IV; had issue