Friday, 31 March 2023

Medieval Queens in the Family Tree - Isabella of France

Isabella of France (1295-1358)

Isabella of France married King Edward II

Isabella was born in Paris, probaby in 1295. Her parents were King Philip IV of France and Queen Joan I of Navarre and her brothers Louis, Philip and Charles became kings of France. Isabella was brought up in and around the Louvre Palace and the Palais de la Cité in Paris. She received a good education and developed a love of books. 

All of Philip's children were married young for political benefit to France. When she was ten years old Isabella was promised in marriage by her father to Edward, the son of King Edward I of England, in the hope of resolving the conflicts between France and England over England's possession of Gascony and claims to Anjou, Normandy and Aquitaine. Isabella and Edward II were married at Boulogne-sur-Mer on 25 January 1308 when Isabella was twelve and Henry II was twenty-three.

Isabella was considered to be very beautiful. She came from a wealthy family and loved beautiful objects. This included elaborate clothes and her wardrobe around the time of her marriage included dresses of silk, velvet, taffeta and other cloth, along with numerous furs. She had more than 72 head-dresses and coifs and she took to England two gold crowns, gold and silver dinnerware and 419 yards of linen.

Edward II had become King of England on 7 July 1307 when his father, Edward I, died. The coronation of Edward and Isabella was held at Westminster Abbey on 25 February 1308.

Isabella and Edward II had four children - the future Edward III, was born in 1312,  John in 1316, Eleanor in 1318 and Joan in 1321.

The relationship between Isabella and Edward II was not a close one. Isabella faced numerous challenges during their marriage. 

Edward was a handsome man, but he was unconventional as he appeared to form close romantic attachments to men: first to Piers Gaveston and then to Hugh Despenser the Younger. On the political front Edward often disagreed with the barons, in particular his first cousin Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster. He also continued the war against the Scots that he had inherited from Edward I. 

Using her own supporters at court and the patronage of her French family, Isabella attempted to find a political path through these challenges. She successfully formed an alliance with Gaveston, but after his death at the hands of the barons, her position grew increasingly precarious. Edward then began to take revenge on his enemies, forming a strong alliance with the Despenser family, in particular his new favourite, Hugh Despenser the Younger. 

When Isabella had accompanied the English troops in a battle against Scottish forces in 1322, Isabella and her supporters were separated from the main army and had to escape by ship. During this time Edward cut Isabella's allowances and, from 1324, when tensions with France increased, her lands were confiscated and she was denied access to her younger children. Unsurprisingly this resulted in further animosity between Isabella and Edward. By 1326 Isabella finally made her own bid for power including an invasion of England. 

In 1325 Isabella had returned to France to negotiate a peace treaty with the French king. However many of the nobles opposed Edward's reign and Isabella was able to form an army to challenge Edward, in alliance with Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March. Isabella and Mortimer may have been in a relationship by this time.

Isabella and Mortimer returned to England with a mercenary army and gained control of the country in a lightning campaign. Members of the Despenser family were executed and King Edward II was forced to abdicate in favour of his son, King Edward III.  Edward II was initially imprisoned in a castle overseen by the Duke of Lancaster. Isabella strengthened her control, particularly in London, by taking over the Tower of London. A council of nobles and church leaders in January 1327 decreed that Edward II should remain in prison for the rest of his life. 

Due to fear that those opposed to the new government might make plans to free Edward II it was decided to move him to the more secure location of Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire from approximately 5 April 1327.  How well he was cared for is in dispute. As a result of threats to rescue the former king, Edward was moved to other locations in secret before returning to permanent custody at the castle in late summer 1327. The political situation remained unstable. New plots appear to have been planned to free him. On 23 September Edward III was informed that his father had died at Berkeley Castle during the night of 21 September 1327. There are many stories about how Edward II might have died. There are even stories that he escaped. However the accepted story is that Edward II's body was buried at Gloucester Cathedral. Isabella continued to rule as regent until 1330, when her son, Edward III ruled in his own right.

During the four years when Isabella and Mortimer were regents, Isabella acquired huge sums of money and land. In 1330 Edward III deposed Mortimer in a coup, taking royal authority for himself. However Isabella survived the transition of power and remained a wealthy and influential member of the English court, though she was not directly involved in active politics.

For some time Isabella was transferred to Berkhamsted Castle,and then held under house arrest at Windsor Castle until 1332, when she then moved back to her own Castle Rising in Norfolk. After losing power in 1331, Isabella remained extremely wealthy despite having to surrender most of her lands.  She was reassigned an annual income of £3000, which increased to £4000 by 1337. 

Isabella lived an expensive lifestyle in Norfolk, including minstrels, huntsmen, grooms and other luxuries, and was soon travelling around England again. In 1348, there were plans for her to visit Paris in order to take part in peace negotiations, but this plan did not eventuate. However she was involved in the talks with Charles II of Navarre in 1358. Isabella became a nun at the Order of St Clare before she died on 22 August 1358 at Hertford Castle. Her body was taken to London for burial at the Franciscan church at Newgate.  

In her final years Isabella became closer to members of her immediate family. When she died Isabella left most of her property, including Castle Rising, to her favourite grandson, the Black Prince, with some personal effects being granted to her daughter Joan.

In later life, Isabella remained interested in Arthurian legends and jewellery and she continued to wear lavish costumes when making public appearances. For example, in 1358 she appeared at the St George's Day celebrations at Windsor wearing a dress made of silk, silver, 300 rubies, 1800 pearls and a circlet of gold.

Isabella was Queen of England for eighteen years, then served four years as Regent. She was a complex queen who was not afraid to use her power when she thought that change, such as removing her husband from the throne, was required. However Isabella was not univerially liked by her English subjects, especially when she became involved with Roger Mortimer. After her son, Edward III, was king she remained in the background of royal life for another twenty-eight years.

Monday, 27 March 2023

Medieval Queens in the Family Tree - Eleanor of Castile

Eleanor of Castile (1241-1290)

Eleanor of Castile married King Edward I

Eleanor was born in 1241, the daughter of Ferdinand III of Castile and Joan, Countess of Ponthieu. Her Castilian name, Leonor, became Alienor or Alianor (later Eleanor) in England. 

In November 1254 Eleanor married King Henry III's son, Edward, in Burgos in Spain. She would have been 13 and Edward was 15. This was a marriage arranged by their parents to ensure political security of Gascony in southern France claimed by the English. However over the years their marriage developed into a close relationship.

Eleanor and Edward had sixteen children but only six grew to be adults including a son who became King Edward II.

Edward spent much time travelling around his kingdom and Eleanor normally accompanied him. She also went with Edward when in 1270 he travelled to Acre in Palestine for the Eighth Crusade. 

On 16 November 1272 King Henry III died.Edward and Eleanor were in Sicily when they received news of the King's death some months later. Edward had been wounded during the crusade and although the actual wound was not serious he developed health problems slowing down their journey back to England. When in Gascony Edward had to suppress another uprising. A son, Alfonso, was also born in Gascony.

Therefore it was two years into his reign when Edward and Eleanor returned to England on 18 August 1274. On 19 August Edward and Eleanor were crowned King and Queen of England at Westminster Abbey.

Eleanor was not actively involved in public life to the extent that Eleanor of Provence had been but she no doubt influenced some of the King's decisions in private. Eleanor was well educated and exerted a strong cultural influence on England. She was a keen patron of literature and introduced the use of tapestries, carpets and tableware in the Spanish style. Eleanor also had innovative garden designs created. She was a successful businesswoman, endowed with her own fortune as Countess of Ponthieu, but she also acquired many English properties, making her unpopular with some of the population. 

On 28 November 1290 Eleanor died while she and Edward were on one of their journeys around England. Eleanor died at Harby in Nottinghamshire, near Lincoln. She was 49 years old and had been married to Edward for 36 years. She had been queen for sixteen years. Eleanor's body was buried at Westminster Abbey.

Edward later ordered that a series of memorial crosses should be erected at each overnight stop the procession carrying Eleanor's body back to London made. Twelve monuments known as Eleanor Crosses were erected. Three remain almost intact today including the Northampton Eleanor Cross at Geddington.

Eleanor Cross, Geddington

Wednesday, 22 March 2023

Medieval Queens in the Family Tree - Eleanor of Provence

Eleanor of Provence (1223-1291)

Eleanor of Provence was the wife of King Henry III.

Born in the city of Aix-en-Provence in southern France, Eleanor (or Alienor) was the second daughter of Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Provence (1198–1245) and Beatrice of Savoy (1198–1267). After her elder sister Margaret married Louis IX of France, their uncle William of Savoy persuaded Henry III of England to marry Eleanor. 

Eleanor and Henry were married at Canterbury Cathedral on 14 January 1236. This was the first time that Eleanor had met Henry. They then travelled to London where Eleanor was crowned Queen Consort at Westminster Abbey.

Eleanor and Henry had five children - Edward I of England, Margaret who married Alexander III of Scotland, Beatrice, Edmund and Katherine. 

In 1253 Eleanor was regent of England when Henry III when Henry was in France. On a number of other occasions she travelled back to France with him.

During Henry's reign, Eleanor remained loyal to her husband but she was not popular with many of the English people as Eleanor had brought people from Provence to England to serve her, some being given positions of power in England. In 1263 there was a dispute in London when Eleanor demanded the back payment of queen gold - a ten percent tax on fines in London which was to be paid to the queen. She had to be rescued by the Mayor of London.

When King Henry died in 1272, Henry and Eleanor's eldest son became King Edward I. Eleanor remained in England as Queen Dowager and raised several of her grandchildren.

In 1286 Eleanor retired to Amesbury Priory in Wiltshire, eight miles north of Salisbury. Two of her granddaughters – Mary of Woodstock and Eleanor of Brittany – were already nuns there, each having entered the priory when they were seven years old. Eleanor died at the priory in June 1291 and was buried there.

Eleanor was known for her learning, cleverness, and skill at writing poetry, as well as her beauty. She loved the songs of the troubadours. She enjoyed reading  romantic and historical books that included stories from ancient times to thirteenth century contemporary romances.

Eleanor was also known as a leader of fashion, especially clothes imported from France. Her favourite clothes were made from red silk damask and she often wore parti-coloured  tunics, gold or silver girdles and gilt decorations on her clothes. She favoured jaunty pillbox caps worn with a wimple. 

Saturday, 4 March 2023

Medieval Queens in the Family Tree - Isabella of Angoulême

Isabella of Angoulême (c1186 -1246)

Isabella was the wife of King John.
On 8 October 1200, Isabella of Angoulême was crowned Queen of England at Westminster Abbey. On 8 August 1200 Isabella had married King John of England in Angoulême. Isabella was born around 1188 making her twelve years old (or fourteen if another possible date for her birth is correct). Isabella was the only daughter and heir of Aymer Taillefer, Count of Angoulême, and Alice of Courtenay. Alice was a grandchild of King Louis VI of France. Isabella became Countess of Angoulême in her own right on 16 June 1202.

King John had previously been married to Isabella, Countess of Gloucester. The marriage was annulled in 1199. At the time of the marriage Isabella was already engaged to Hugh IX le Brun of Lusignan. 

John took Isabella back to England in October, after a tour of Normandy, where she accompanied him on many of his travels around the country. However Isabella never engaged in positions of power in England in her own right.  John continued, from time to time, to follow the advice of his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine until her death in 1204.

Before the marriage there had been unrest in a number of French provences, especially between the English and the French who both wanted power in the region. During the remainder of King John's reign the unrest magnified. In 1206 John and Isabella returned to France as John attempted to strengthen contol of Poitou. Angoulême and Aquitaine remained loyal to England at that stage.

Another threat to John's power was that his nephew, Arthur, also claimed the English throne and Arthur's claim was generally supported by the French. Consequently there were many battles over part of territory claimed by England in France. Back in England John's popularilty decreased as land claimed by England in France was reclaimed by the French.

Isabella was renowned for her beauty. She was also said to have a temper which she was not afraid to use.

During her marriage to King John, Isabella and John had five children - Henry (later King Henry III), Richard, Joan, Isabella and Eleanor.

After John died in 1216, Isabella returned to France and in 1220 married Hugh X of Lusignan and they had nine children.

Isabella died on 6 June 1246 and was buried at Fontevraud Abbey.

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

Medieval Queens in the Family Tree - Eleanor of Aquitaine

 Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204)

Eleanor of Aquitaine was initially the wife of Louis VII of France. She later married King Henry II of England.

Eleanor of Aquitaine was probably born around 1122 - no definite information has been found. Her father was William X, Duke of Aquitaine, the area south of Normandy and the largest province in France. Her mother was Aénor de Châtellerault.

Eleanor's mother and brother died in 1130. Her father ensured that she had the best possible education including  learning arithmetic, the constellations, and history as well as domestic skills such as household management plus embroidery, needlepoint, sewing, spinning, and weaving.  Eleanor also developed skills in conversation, dancing, games such as backgammon, checkers, and chess, playing the harp, singing and literature. Eleanor was also taught to read and speak Latin and was taught the skills of riding, hawking, and hunting. Not surprisingly, Eleanor was said to be extroverted, lively, intelligent, and strong-willed.

When Eleanor's father died in April 1137, Eleanor became Duchess of Aquitaine. Louis VI became her guardian and three months later married the the young girl to his son. This meant that Aquitaine came under control of the French King. Later that year the French king died and his son became King Louis VII while Eleanor became Queen of France. Eleanor and Louis VII had two daughters during their marriage.


The Crusades were a series of wars between Christians and Muslims to gain control of religious sites considered important to both groups. Between the years 1096 and 1291 there were eight crusade expeditions. European leaders often felt it was their duty to become involved in a crusade.

On Christmas Day 1145, Louis VII announced his intention to go on a crusade to the Middle East. Eleanor of Aquitaine announced that she would go too with soldiers under her command from the duchy of Aquitaine. They left in June 1147. Louis VII proved to be an ineffectual military leader with little discipline over his troops. Eleanor and Louis spent three weeks in Constantinople where Eleanor was compared with a mythical Queen of the Amazons. As a military exercise the French involvement in the Second Crusade was not particularly successful. The French army was divided and although they reached the outskirts of Jerusalem and then went on to Damascus, little was to be achieved. The French army was disheartened and Louis returned to Jerusalem and back to France via Rome.

While on crusade, Eleanor observed and learned about maritime conventions that later became admiralty law. She introduced these conventions on islands in Aquitaine and later in England when she became Queen of that country.

Anulment of the marriage

Before they left for the Crusade the relationship between Eleanor and Louis was fractured and the relationship worsened in the years they were absent from France. On the return journey they travelled in different ships which became separated during a storm and it was several months before they met again.

Back in France in 1152 Louis agreed that the marriage should be annulled as he needed a male heir and he and Eleanor had only produced two daughters. On 21 March 1152 four bishops met and agreed to anul the marriage as it was decided that Louis and Eleanor should not have married as they were distant cousins with a common ancestor in Robert II of France. King Louis kept custody of his daughters while Eleanor was once again sole ruler of Aquitaine. Eleanor had been Queen of France for 15 years. She was now probably 30 years old.

Marriage to Henry II

On 18 May 1852 Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry, the son of Empress Matilda and Geoffrey of Anjou. Henry was eleven years younger than his wife. It was definitely a marriage of convenience as Eleanor needed a husband and Henry needed a wife to produce male heirs. Those arranging the marriage ignored the fact that Eleanor and Henry also shared common ancestors.

Eleanor and Henry had eight children - William, Henry, Matilda, Richard, Geoffrey, Leonora, Joan and John.   Henry also had other children outside the marriage.

On 25 October 1854 Henry was crowned Henry II of England. Eleanor was crowned Queen of England on 19 December 1154.

Henry hoped to take over Aquitaine but the nobles there supported only his wife as ruler of the duchy. Meanwhile the relationship between Henry and his wife deteriorated and in 1167 Eleanor decided to return to Aquitaine via Argentan in Normandy. Henry escorted her for part of the journey so did not appear to be worried about her departure. Eleanor remained in Poitiers, Aquitaine, from 1168 to 1173. While in Poitiers Eleanor is said to have refined the behaviour of palace life with the introduction of troubadors, chivalry and courtly love.

Between 1173 and 1174 Henry and Eleanor's son, Henry, staged a revolt against his father and Richard and Geofrey, two of his younger brothers who had been living with their mother, were encouraged to join him. Eleanor did not discourage her sons in this venture and probably asisted them.

Around April 1174, Eleanor was arrested by Henry's soldiers and taken to her husband who was at Rouen. On 8 July they left France on a ship to England where Eleanor was imprisoned in various castles throughout the country for the next 16 years. She was allowed out for special occasions such as Christmas.

In 1183 King Henry's son, Henry, led a revolt against his father in Normanby but was unsuccessful. In June 1183 the young Henry caught dysentry. Before he died he begged his father to release his mother from imprisonment. After the death of the prince there was a dispute about Normandy which King Henry decided belonged to his wife. Eleanor was allowed supervised release to spend time in Normandy.

After returning to England in ealry 1184 Eleanor often accompanied her husband when he travelled around England and sometimes assisted him with government business. However she remained closely supervised making it clear to her that she was not free.

After the death of Henry II

Then on 6 July 1189 Henry II died. Eleanor's son Richard became King Richard I. Richard ordered that his mother should be released from imprisonment and Eleanor initially ruled England in the name of her son. On 13 August 1189 Richard I left France to visit England. 

Richard I was absent from England between 1190 and 1194, with the Third Crusade followed by two years as a prisoner until a huge ransom could be paid to Henry VI, Emperor of Germany. The money for the release of King Richard was raised from English funds.

During King Richard's absence, a Council of Regency with a Chief Justciar ruled England though Eleanor worked behind the scenes to raise the ranson money. She still exercised much influence over the affairs of England. She also wrote numerous letters to the Pope about Richard's imprisonment. King Richard returned to France where he died on 6 April 1199.

When her yougest son, John, became King of England, Eleanor remained in the background of royal politics including travelling to France to select from family members a future wife for the son of Philip II of France. This proved to be a dangerous journey for Eleanor who faced ambush  and spent a short time in captivity until a ransom was paid.  In 1201 Eleanor supported King John when war broke out between England and the French.

Eleanor returned to Fontevraud to join the abbey as a nun. She died at Fontevraud Abbey 1 April 1204 and was buried in the abbey next to her husband (King Henry II) and her son (KIng Richard I). Eleanor was probably 82 when she died.

Tomb effigies of Eleanor and Henry II at Fontevraud Abbey
  Tomb effigies of Eleanor and Henry II at Fontevraud Abbey