The spectacular ruins of twelfth-century Castle Rising, dominated by massive earthworks, are said to be haunted by Queen Isabella, the ‘She-Wolf of France’. An old tradition that appears to have started with the French chronicler Froissart (c.1333–c.1405) says that she was imprisoned there by her son, Edward III, after the execution of her lover Mortimer, for consenting to the murder of her husband, Edward II, at BERKELEY Castle, Gloucestershire. Some claim that she lived there in obscurity for twenty-seven years, and according to the eighteenth-century Norfolk historian Francis Blomefield she finally died there. Local tradition asserted that she was buried in Norfolk, and in the mid nineteenth century a stone in Rising church bearing the words ‘Isabella regina’ was pointed out as marking the site of her grave. In the twentieth century, if not earlier, it was said that she went mad from loneliness and that her shrieks could still be heard ringing out from the Norman keep.
The tradition is a fine example of folk justice at work, rewriting history the way it should have been. While Isabella certainly lived at Castle Rising at intervals from the death of Edward II in 1327 to her own death in 1358, this was probably because it was one of her own properties. Her son, Edward III, visited her there (tradition said by underground passage from the Red Mount chapel at Lynn), and in 1344 she celebrated his birthday with him at Norwich. She was allowed to travel and cannot have been lonely: as Dowager Queen, she lived in state at the castle, Edward allowing her £3,000, later £4,000, for expenses, which implies a large household. Her death actually took place in Hertford Castle, where she had been in continuous residence since October 1357. She is said to have chosen to be buried at Greyfriars, London, where Mortimer had been buried twenty-eight years earlier, but – duplicitous to the end – with the heart of her murdered husband on her breast.