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Archive for the tag “France”

The White Queen of France

In medieval times, the Castilian royals had a preference for naming their daughters Urraca or Berenguela, now and then adding a Sancha or a Leonor to the mix. Alfonso VIII was no different, which is why he named his eldest daughter Berenguela and his second Urraca. A third daughter was given the name Blanca after which followed a Mafalda, a Leonor and then a Constanza. Yes, he had a Sancha too, but this little girl died in infancy before Urraca was born.

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All these girls were destined for great things. Not only was their father a forceful and competent king, but their mother was Eleanor of England, daughter to Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the medieval equivalent of the Kardashians—although in difference to this soap family, Henry II and his queen actually achieved stuff, prior to tearing each other to pieces during years of conflict. Neither here nor there, as this post is not about these two fascinating peeps.

Back to our Castilian princesses: Berenguela, as the eldest daughter, was kept relatively close to home, seeing as her various brothers had a tendency to die young, thereby making Berenguela a potential heiress to the Castilian crown. (In the fullness of time she did inherit it, but that’s another story). The other sisters were to make grand marriages and in spring of 1200 Urraca was informed she was to wed the dauphin of France ASAP.

This Castilian-French marriage was part of the Treaty of Le Goulet, whereby Philippe Augustus of France and John of England made peace with each other, exchanged a lot of air-kisses and promised to be friends forever while crossing their fingers behind their back.  One of the movers and shakers behind this treaty was Eleanor of Aquitaine who was determined to salvage what was left of the Angevin empire for John’s future heirs.

At the time, Eleanor was pushing eighty. Despite her age, she undertook the strenuous journey to Burgos in Castile, there to collect the future French queen. What Urraca may have looked like I don’t know, but based on descriptions of other members of the Castilian royal family I believe she was pleasing to the eye, definitely as pretty as any of her sisters. And yet Eleanor of Aquitaine decided to swap brides. Urraca was left behind and her younger sister, Blanca, rode off in her stead. Why? Because Eleanor believed Blanca’s personality would be a better fit with that of Louis of France. Plus, Blanca in French became the rather pleasing Blanche, while Urraca…No, such an odd name would not work in France.

Did Urraca resent her younger sister? Had she already started dreaming of a rosy future with Prince Louis? No idea. As a consolation prize, Urraca would some years later marry the future Portuguese king, have a number of babies and die young. Okay: not much of a consolation prize…

Blanca—oops, Blanche—was married to Louis in May of 1200. She was twelve, he was thirteen, and as was customary when the bride was so young consummation was postponed for a couple of years. Instead, the young couple lived together, studied together and in general got to know each other.

In 1205, Blanche gave birth to her first child. A little girl who did not live long. Four years later, a son named Philippe was born. He would die aged seven. Twins were born and died in 1213. By now, I imagine Blanche was beginning to feel substantial pressure to produce a healthy spare (little Philippe was still alive). Fortunately, in 1214 baby Louis was born—and he thrived! Phew! Even better, in 1216 Blanche had yet another healthy son, Robert, to be followed by six sons and one daughter. Only five of all these children would survive to adulthood of which four would outlive their mother.



Blanche’s life was not all about having babies. Some of you will know that the treaty between John and Philippe Augustus was broken already back in 1202, and by 1204 John had lost almost all his French lands, retreating to England there to lick his wounds. As most of you also know, John wasn’t exactly the most successful of kings, and come 1214 or so, civil war raged with John determined to hold on to his crown while his disgruntled barons were just as determined to oust him and replace him with Louis of France. Louis had no right to the English crown, but Blanche was descended from Henry II and this was all the excuse the anti-John party needed to proclaim Louis their king.

Initially, Philippe Augustus supported his son’s bid for the English crown. After all, John was an excommunicated king, and any Christian monarch could thereby insist he was just doing his duty by invading John’s realm. However, John was not a fool and when he offered to make England a vassal state to the Pope, his excommunication was no more. In fact, any Christian monarch who now attempted to conquer England would likely end up excommunicated instead.

Philippe Augustus had no desire to end up an enemy of the Church—he’d had his quarrels with this powerful institution over his terrible treatment of his Danish queen Ingeborg. After the French lost at Lincoln in 1217 and had to flee south, Philippe Augustus withdrew his support of his son’s venture. The dauphin and his men were now hounded by the English who, after John’s death, rallied round their boy-king, Henry III. All those power-hungry, disgruntled English barons saw a major opportunity to feather their own nests with a child on the throne, and so any support for Louis melted away as fast as a snowdrift in the Sahara.

Blanche, however, had taken to the idea of being queen of England, and was determined to stand by her husband. When Philippe Augustus refused assistance, she threatened to use her children as hostages to raise the money required to help hubby Louis out. Apparently Philippe Augustus was too fond of his little grandchildren to countenance such a scheme, and with the means he handed over to Blanche, our forceful young lady pulled together an army and vessels to transport them over to England and her waiting main.

The weather conspired against her. Plus, the English now presented a strong united front. Louis was far too experienced a leader of men to not read the writing on the wall, and so he returned home to his wife (and somewhat disgruntled daddy, I imagine)

Blanche Coronation_of_Louis_VIII_and_Blanche_of_Castille_1223In 1223, Philippe Augustus died. Louis became king of France with Blanche as his queen. Some years later, Louis died. It is said Blanche was so devastated she tried to kill herself to follow her beloved husband into the hereafter, but either her suicidal attempt was not in serious or someone managed to stop her. Truth be told, Blanche did not have the luxury to wallow in grief. With a twelve-year-old son to protect against the ambitious French nobles, she was soon fighting tooth and nail to preserve his kingdom. Plus, further to the south the count of Toulouse was still holding his own against the French, proudly refusing to kneel before the Capet king. (As an aside, Blanche’s hubby, Louis, had on purpose stirred the dying embers of the Albigensian crusade into flames again so as to give him an excuse to trounce the southern counts and demand their homage)

Well-educated and as competent and forceful as her grandmother, Blanche wasn’t about to sit around passively and allow her son’s (her) powers to be usurped. Nope. To the surprise of her rebellious nobles, Blanche assembled an army and rode out to fight them. And then she turned her attention south, hammering out a treaty with the cornered Count of Toulouse whereby his only daughter was married to Blanche’s third surviving son. By 1229, she had managed to secure her hold on the entire French kingdom—and hold off dear cousin Henry III who had hoped to capitalise on the fact that a mere woman was ruling France to regain some of the territories lost by King John.

Henry III quickly realised that he’d never gain a foothold in France through use of armed men. Instead, he decided to marry into lands, and in 1226 he negotiated a betrothal with little Yolande of Brittany, at the time seven years old. Well, Blanche was having none of that. She forced Yolande’s father to break off the engagement and instead little Yolande was betrothed to another of Blanche’s sons.

Henry III was not so easily discouraged. Soon enough, he’d found a new potential bride, Joan de Dammartin. With this lady came a lot of strategically important land, and once again Blanche had to step in and forbid the marriage. This did not please the bride’s family—after all, through Blanche’s meddling, little Joan was deprived of a crown. Blanche promised to compensate them and an opportunity to do arose when Blanche’s nephew, Fernando III of Castile, became a widower. Berenguela was anxious to see her son wed ASAP—the Castilian kings were a virile lot and she preferred it if her son did not spill his seed right, left and centre. The two sisters hatched a plan and Joan was dispatched to Castile, married Fernando and went on to have several children, one of whom was destined to become the queen of England.

Blanche MarketaProv


Meanwhile in France, Louis IX was now old enough to rule on his own and by his side stood his wife, Margaret of Provence. It was Blanche who’d negotiated the marriage—Margaret and her three sisters came with impeccable bloodlines—but she wasn’t exactly fond of her daughter-in-law. In fact, she resented her, and did her best to keep Louis and Margaret apart. Margaret was too popular, too pretty, and where previously troubadours had written songs lauding Blanche’s beauty, now they sang about the fair Margaret.

Fortunately (at least from Blanche’s point of view) her son continued to turn to dear mama for counsel rather than to his wife. In fact, for as long as Blanche lived, she was her son’s go-to person so when he set off on a crusade in 1248 he named Blanche his regent. (He took his wife with him, and Margaret would prove herself to be much more than a pretty face during the years that followed)

Blanche wholly supported her son’s desire to go on a crusade. She was extremely devout and passed this on to her children, saying things like “I love you, my dear son, as much as a mother can love her child; but I would rather see you dead at my feet than that you should ever commit a mortal sin.” To her—and her son—the duty to God came first and involved such things as helping the sick and the weak, doing severe penance for any sins and combating heresy wherever it arose.

Louis’ crusade was a disaster. He ended up a prisoner and it fell to Blanche to somehow collect the means required to buy her son’s freedom. As always, formidable Blanche came through, and soon enough Louis was a free man again. By now, Blanche was some years over sixty and late in 1252 she fell ill. Some days later, she was dead. It is said that when Louis heard the news, he was struck mute for two days.

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St Louis

In the fullness of time, Louis would be canonised (as would his surviving sister) I dare say Blanche would have been thrilled at having birthed two saints. Even more so as big sister Berenguela “only” gave birth to one, namely San Fernando (Yes, the virile king Berenguela was so anxious to see wed again).

In conclusion, I’d say Eleanor of Aquitaine made a wise choice that day in 1200 when she decided to take Blanca, not Urraca, with her to France. Blanca—Blanche—would live up to all her grandmother’s expectations and become not only a fertile queen consort but also a wise and pragmatic ruler, a lady who did not hesitate to use force when so required but who also excelled at playing the political game.

Avesnes vs Dampierre – a 13th century family feud

drottning_blanka_malning_av_albert_edelfelt_fran_1877In a previous post—quite some time ago—I wrote about Blanka of Namur, Swedish queen who was immortalised by a nursery rhyme. I must admit that I knew very little about Blanka—there isn’t much to find, and other than concluding her father’s name was Jean and that she had ten siblings, I concentrated mostly on Blanka’s life in Sweden.

Now Blanka (or Blanche, as her name was spelled in French) came from a relatively illustrious family that had had the misfortune of antagonising Philippe IV of France. Antagonising this gentleman was generally a bad idea. Although Philippe had the face of an angel—hence his nickname, le Bel—he comes across as a ruthless ruler—hence his nickname the Iron King—more than willing to do whatever it took to advance his interests.


Baldwin, setting off on Crusade

If we start at the beginning, allow me to introduce you to Guy de Dampierre. No, wait: we need to start with Guy’s formidable mother, Margaret of Flanders, born around 1202. Margaret had an unfortunate childhood in that her father, Baldwin of Hainault, took the cross and rode off to join the Fourth Crusade before she was born, and no sooner had Margaret’s mother, Marie de Champagne, recovered from the ordeal of birth but she followed her husband, leaving her two little girls in the care of their paternal uncle. Soon enough, both Baldwin and Marie were dead, and Margaret’s big sister, Jeanne, was effectively the heiress to Hainault and Flanders.

When big sister Jeanne married Fernando of Portugal (a.k.a. Ferrand of Flanders) there were plans to marry Margaret to the Earl of Salisbury, but Margaret’s guardian, Bouchard de Avesnes, put a stop to this. Instead, in 1212 Bouchard married Margaret himself, this despite the bride being only ten, twenty years younger than Bouchard. At this point, things could have taken a turn for the HEA. By all accounts, Margaret was very fond of her husband—and he of her. But Bouchard was a bellicose person, who was constantly involved in one war or another. At times, he was fighting his brother, at others, he made common cause with the English against the French. Like at the Battle of Bouvines in 1214. Big mistake, seeing as the then French king Philippe Augustus emerged victorious and wasn’t exactly known for his clemency towards those he defeated.


It was suggested to Philippe Augustus that the best way to get to Bouchard was to have the pope declare his marriage invalid. The pope did so in 1215, but Margaret and Bouchard refused to accept his ruling and fled to Luxemburg where they settled down to do some serious begetting—three sons in three years, even if their firstborn died after a year or so.

Things conspired against Bouchard who was captured and locked up in Ghent. Pressure was brought to bear on Margaret—big sister Jeanne seems to have detested Bouchard—and according to some sources she reluctantly agreed to having her marriage annulled so that Bouchard could regain his freedom. Bouchard, just as reluctantly, agreed to the separation. The idea, apparently, was for Bouchard to ride to Rome and plead their case before the pope. Sister Jeanne, however, took the opportunity to marry Margaret off to another man, a William de Dampierre.

To say things were complicated is putting it mildly: Margaret had two sons by her first marriage, and to make matters even worse, Bouchard was still very much alive and kicking, making this second marriage borderline bigamous. (How on earth did she tell him? “Hi honey, I know we have sworn to love each other for ever, no matter what popes and kings may think, but I think I may just have made a teensy-weensy mistake. I’ve married someone else. I hope you won’t mind.” )

One wonders just why William de Dampierre was willing to marry Margaret, and given the circumstances, I’m not about to put it down to passionate love. I rather think he was gambling on Margaret becoming the next Countess of Flanders, seeing as Joan’s husband was languishing in prison after the Battle of Bouvines, thereby hindered from siring any children with his wife.

For some odd reason, Margaret quickly decided her sons from her second marriage were much more dear to her than those from her first. Maybe she was just trying to forget she had once been married to Bouchard. Maybe she genuinely preferred both her second husband and her second brood of children. Maybe it was as simple as her being aware of the fact that in the eyes of the church, her Avesnes sons were illegitimate. Whatever the case, she and William had five children before William died in 1231. Margaret chose not to remarry. Perhaps because Bouchard was still alive…


Margaret’s seal

In 1244, several things happened. Bouchard died – some say he was executed on Countess Jeanne’s orders. Margaret was now definitely a widow, both her husbands dead and buried. That same year, Jeanne died and Margaret became Countess of Flanders, making her eldest Dampierre son, William, her co-ruler.

This did not go down well with her Avesnes sons (Duh!) Soon enough, there was major strife in Flanders and Hainault. In 1246, the French king, Louis IX, ruled that Hainault was to go to the Avesnes sons, Flanders to the Dampierre sons. Margaret refused to turn over Hainault to her son John de Avesnes, war exploded. Things came to a head in 1251 when the Avesnes sons had William assassinated. And this dear peeps, is when Guy de Dampierre, Margaret’s second Dampierre son and grandfather of the future Swedish queen, Blanche of Namur, finally steps into the limelight.

Now Guy may have been a charming gentleman, but he wasn’t the most effective of men. Or maybe his Avesnes half-brother, John, was simply a better warrior. Whatever the case, in 1253 Guy was defeated by John in battle and taken prisoner. He kicked his heels for three years before he was ransomed in 1256. Yet again, Louis of France decided that Hainault should go to the Avesnes family, Flanders to the de Dampierres. Yet again, Margaret was reluctant, but when John de Avesnes died in 1257 she agreed to have her young grandson, also a John, named as Count of Hainault—with her as his regent.

I have no idea what Guy thought of all this. His domineering mother had no intention of relinquishing control anywhere, so for the coming two decades, he was co-ruler of Flanders, which probably meant he had little say in anything. Maybe he liked it that way. After all, the man sired sixteen legitimate children with two consecutive wives, so maybe he preferred spending time with his family.


Guy himself

In 1278, Margaret decided it was time to step down. At last Guy came into his own. But in France, King Philippe IV wanted to make life difficult for the English, who traded extensively with Flanders. Obviously, the Flemish merchants—or Guy—did not share Philippe’s goal. Philippe decided to up the pressure. Did not go down well, but Guy couldn’t exactly challenge Philippe on his own. Which was why, in 1294, Guy came up with the brilliant idea of entering into an alliance with Edward I of England. How? By offering the hand of his daughter Philippa as a wife to Edward, Prince of Wales.

Philippe was having none of it. He was presently negotiating with the English king, attempting to take advantage of the difficult situation with Scotland. So he abducted Philippa and locked her up. The poor child would never regain her freedom, dying twelve years later, still a prisoner of the French king. Very sad, isn’t it? And as to Guy, Philippe decided some coercion was required to make the Count of Flanders realise just how dangerous it was to rile him. Which was why Guy and two of his sons also ended up as prisoners.

Once he’d promised never, ever to marry one of his daughters to an English prince, Guy and his sons were released. In 1297, Guy yet again allied himself with Edward I, which gave Philippe the excuse he needed to invade Flanders. And as to Edward, he made his own peace with Philippe in 1298, leaving poor Guy in the lurch. Once again, Guy was imprisoned, and this time, except for a brief period in 1302, he would not regain his freedom. In 1305, Guy died, still a prisoner of the French king.

I’m thinking many, many Flemish people heaved sighs of relief when Philippe died in 1314 – some say due to being cursed by Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Templars. (Different story: see more here) Too late for Guy, too late for Philippa, but Guy had many, many children, and his sixth son, Jean, was made Marquis of Namur.

At the advanced age of forty-three this Jean married the nineteen-year-old Marie d’Artois and over the coming twenty years she would give him eleven children—one of which was little Blanche, destined to be queen of Sweden. I’m thinking Margaret of Flanders would have liked that. Just as she would have liked that her great-great-granddaughter, Philippa of Hainault, would one day become Queen of England—even if Philippa was an Avesnes, not a Dampierre.

Weep, Ingeborg, weep

In 1237, Ingeborg, Dowager Queen of France, died. At the time of her death, she was approximately sixty years old, and had lived more than forty years in France, having arrived as a young and pretty bride-to be in 1193. Her intended was Philip II, King of France, a.k.a. Philip Augustus. At the time, he was pushing thirty, ten years or so older than his Danish wife. The fact that Ingeborg is described as being “sweet, wise and pretty” was not enough to endear her to him – but we have no idea why the groom exited the bridal chamber so distraught he never touched his wife again.


Valdemar with best buddy Archbishop Absalon, toppling the heathen god of the Wends

If we start at the beginning, Ingeborg was the youngest of the eight surviving children born to Valdemar the Great of Denmark and his wife, Sofia of Minsk. Seeing as Valdemar’s mother was a princess from Kiev, I suspect he was now and then called Vladimir both by her and by his wife. Valdemar had not had the easiest of lives, born the posthumous son of Knut Lavard, who was one of Sven Estridsen’s grandsons. Valdemar is famous as the Danish king who crushed the Wends, a ferocious race who plagued the Danes with continuous raids, but before he got to that point, Valdemar had to fight for his throne. By 1157 he was safe on the Danish throne which was when he married Sofia.

Sofia of Minsk was reputedly very beautiful, but according to the legends, she was also cruel and vindictive. Supposedly, she rid herself of the competition for her future husband by burning the poor woman alive. At a distance of 900 years, we’ll never know the truth in the matter, so maybe we should give the woman the benefit of the doubt. After all, she was a foreigner in Denmark, and maybe a jilted Danish lady with her eye on Valdemar chose to get her own back by spreading these lurid rumours.


Philip at his coronation

Ingeborg was born around 1176, and six years or so later, her father died. Instead, her eldest brother, Knut, became king, and it was Knut who was involved in arranging her marriage – with the French king! Paris beckoned, but I imagine Ingeborg was somewhat torn: at the time, it was a long ride from Denmark to Paris, and chances were she’d never see her homeland again. Plus, she didn’t speak French.

Philip had political reasons for pursuing an alliance with Denmark. First of all, the Danish fleet was feared throughout Europe, and Philip wanted to make sure the fleet would not attack his lands or his budding navy. Secondly, since the time of Knut the Great (a.k.a. Canute), the Danish kings insisted they had a claim on the English throne. A tenuous claim, but still: Philip must have chortled at the thought of presenting the English with an alternative to those Angevin bastards who presently wore the English crown – and controlled a sizeable chunk of Philip’s France.

Thirdly, both Denmark and France were eager to thumb their nose at the Holy Roman Empire. By entering into an alliance, they sent a not-so-subtle message to the Holy Roman Emperor that they didn’t like him much – and would like it even less if he tried to expand his empire at their expense.


Isabella of Hainault

Philip also had personal reasons for finding a new wife: his first wife, Isabella of Hainault, had died in childbed in 1190. As her twin boys died with her, this left Philip with only one child, little Louis. Not enough, as per Philip, and Ingeborg came with the benefit of having a fertile mother. By alla ccounts, Philip was not particularly nice to his first wife, even going as far as threatening to divorce her because she hadn’t given him a son. The poor bride was fifteen or so…

On August 14, 1193, Ingeborg was wed to Philip. After the usual celebrations, the couple retired to their chamber. And there, dear peeps, something happened. Whatever it was, we don’t know, but already the next day, Philip was insisting Ingeborg be sent home – far, far away from him. He wanted the marriage annulled, no matter if it cost him the Dano-French alliance.

All of seventeen, this must have been terribly humiliating for the recently married and crowned Ingeborg – who, to add further injury, had been stripped of her own name and re-named Isambour. I imagine her lonely and frightened – unless, of course, she did have a streak of black magic in her, inherited from her mama. Philip would later claim that she’d put a spell on him, making it impossible for him to consummate the marriage. Ingeborg vigorously denied both the spell and the non-consummation.

One can’t help but wonder what transpired between the two on that long-gone August night. Did she giggle at the size of his member? Was she somehow malformed? (although there is nothing on record to indicate that was the case) Did she smell? Or was she so shocked by her new husband’s attempt at making l’amour she kneed him where it really, really hurts? After all, she didn’t even speak the language, so maybe she misunderstood what he was trying to say.

Philip immediately demanded an annulation. He seems to have assumed Ingeborg – oops, Isambour – would go along with this, but she refused. As per Ingeborg, she was now a happily (hmm) married woman, and, even better, the queen of France. No way was she letting that go without a fight. Given just how stubbornly she refused to give into Philip’s demands that they part ways, I get the feeling that whatever transpired between them had left her hurting badly. So maybe it was him who laughed…

Anyway: Philip decided to force Ingeborg’s hand by placing her under house arrest. In distant Denmark, Ingeborg’s brother raised his voice in loud protest, and when Philip tried to argue the marriage was invalid due to consanguinity, this was repudiated by the Danish diplomats, who produced a genealogy chart that showed the Capet king had very little blood in common with his fair wife.


A page from Ingeborg’s psalter

The pope became involved. Philip refused to reconcile. Ingeborg refused to accept an annulment. The pope ruled in favour of Ingeborg, and in retaliation, Philip ensured Ingeborg’s captivity was made even more uncomfortable. She found solace in her faith – there’s a beautiful psalter still in existence she commissioned in 1200 – and in the firm belief she was in the right. Even more so, when Philip did a one-sided annulment and married Agnes of Merain.
“Bigamy!” yelled Ingeborg and her supporters.
“Get a life,” Philip growled. “Just sign the documents and get over it.”
“No way.” Ingeborg set her jaw. “You may sleep with your whore, but you’re married to me.”

The pope totally agreed with Ingeborg. He urged Philip to set Agnes aside and return to his loyal wife. Philip wasn’t having it. In fact, it seems that he was genuinely in love with Agnes – like for the first and last time in his life – and he stubbornly insisted his marriage to Ingeborg was invalid – or annulled, depending on how he had to argue the case.

The pope had had it. Either Philip set aside Agnes, or he’d place France under interdict. Still Philip refused to give up on Agnes, whom he treated as if she were his crowned queen. Where Ingeborg had never shown her face at court, never sat side by side with her husband, Agnes was a fixture in Philip’s court, and delighted him further by presenting him with two children. Illegitimate children as per the Church.

While Agnes was enjoying the good life, Ingeborg languished in captivity, deprived of sufficient food, of companionship. She toyed with the idea of suicide, and wrote as much to the pope, who was horrified and made good on his threat of placing France under interdict. This time, he also excommunicated Philip.

Late in 1200, Philip relented, officially sending Agnes away from court. Not that anything changed for Ingeborg, still locked up in her tower. Agnes, however, was heartbroken at being sent off, stripped of her status as wife. In 1201, she died. I can’t imagine this evoked any pity from Ingeborg.


Love and affection – not to be, in the Philip and Ingeborg union

One would have thought that with Agnes dead, Philip might have given things a go with Ingeborg. Nope. Instead he appealed yet again to the pope for annulment, stating he’d been subjected to witchcraft on his wedding night with Ingeborg. Pope Innocent snorted – loudly, I imagine.

For the coming decade or so, Philip went on with his life, while poor Ingeborg remained locked up. Her life was slipping through her fingers, any dreams she may have had of babies and a position in court denied her. Maybe she should have agreed to an annulment and attempted to find contentment elsewhere, but by now she’d gone down the road of obstinate refusal for too long to change her mind.

In 1213, Philip had a change of heart. With his eyes very firmly set on England and the potentials offered by the turmoil there, he needed peace with Denmark – an assurance the Danish fleet would not sneak up and demolish the French ships should France attempt an invasion. So, out of nowhere, more or less, he decided to reconcile with Ingeborg – Isambour.

After twenty years of captivity, Ingeborg was at last accorded the respect she deserved, recognised as Philip’s queen at court. Suddenly, her food was rich and plentiful, she was swathed in precious fabrics and adorned with glittering jewels. But her husband never touched her – he didn’t have to, seeing as his eldest son had recently fathered a son, thereby ensuring the Capet dynasty would thrive.

In 1223, Philip died. Supposedly, he asked his son, the future Louis VIII to treat Ingeborg well – a volte-face versus how he himself had treated this once so young Danish princess. Louis VIII would, in fact, always show Ingeborg the respect she deserved as his father’s widow. This was probably politically motivated, as by recognising that Ingeborg had been queen since 1193, Louis was also indirectly reminding everyone that his young half-brother, Philip, was nothing but a royal bastard, no matter that the pope had legitimised him after Agnes’ death.



Ingeborg paid for various masses to be said for Philip’s soul. She took to the role as a pious widow as a fish takes to water, and maybe all those masses were her way of letting the world know she’d forgiven Philip. Maybe she had. Maybe she was just playing to the audience.

After Philip’s death, Ingeborg retired to live out the remainder of her life mostly at the priory of Saint Jean de l’Ile, which she had founded. Fourteen years after Philip, Ingeborg departed this world and was buried in a church in Corbeil. A sad life, in many ways, twenty years spent in solitude as the prisoner of the man who’d married you. And as to what really happened on their wedding night, well only two people know – and they’re both very, very dead. I guess we can safely conclude that whatever it was, it sure didn’t make the earth move for them – at least not in a good way.

Tough times, tough lady- meet Mahaut!

Those who regularly read my blog will know I have a fascination with strong historical characters – and especially women. I suppose this reflects on my belief that I am a strong woman – and would have made a great ruling queen back when ruling queens and kings wielded real power. Of course, had I been around back then, chances are I’d have been a very strong woman stuck in some sort of menial role. My genes do not include much of the royal or noble blue – as far as I know, I am descended from hard-working farmers and miners.

Neither here nor there – but I do daydream about being a medieval mover and shaker. Seeing as daydreams rarely come true, I indulge myself by writing about women who did leave a mark on the world, despite living in times when gender equality was an unknown concept and women (in general) had a weaker legal status than men.

EHFA Philip_iv_and_family

Handsome Philippe with his handsome kids

Today, I’d like us to spend some time with Mahaut d’Artois, a contemporary to Philippe IV of France, usually nicknamed le Bel because he was such a handsome dude. If we’re to believe Maurice Druon (and Mr Druon is a compelling writer, so it is difficult to fully wipe his description of Mahaut out of my head) this was a lady who would stop at nothing to get her genes on the French throne. Murder was not an issue, blackmail was a walk in the park. Calumny and false accusations – pah! – a mother does what she has to do to ensure her daughters get ahead. Ultimately, it didn’t help, but one cannot fault Mahaut’s determination for trying – and trying really hard – to make her unborn grandchild a king. Assuming we believe Maurice Druon, of course…

If we start at the beginning, we must conclude we’re not quite sure when things began. Some sources cite Mahaut was born in 1268. Some offer a date closer to 1275. So let us compromise and say she was born in 1270 or thereabouts. Her father, Robert II, Count of Artois, was a nephew of St Louis, and accordingly Mahaut could claim close kinship to the ruling Capet dynasty, albeit that her great-uncle’s saintliness seems to have passed her by.

Mahaut Ota4Burgundy


I assume Mahaut was educated in accordance with her status – i.e. she was taught to administer substantial landholdings, to read and write and manage her accounts. We have no idea what she looked like, but the Capets in general were a handsome lot, so reasonably Mahaut was pleasing enough on the eye. In 1291, she married Otto of Burgundy, a man at least two decades her senior. Otto had been married before but had no children, something which was quickly remedied as Mahaut presented him with two girls in the first few years of their marriage. I’d guess there were other, unrecorded, babies, before the birth of a precious son in 1300.

Maybe more sons would have followed, but in 1302 Otto died, and Mahaut was suddenly the rich – and powerful – dowager Countess of Burgundy. Some months later, she would also become the countess of Artois.

Mahaut was not the only child of Robert, Count of Artois. In fact, she had two brothers, one of whom died very young, but the other grew up to be a healthy man. This Philippe married and had a son, named Robert after his grandfather. It would seem the succession to the County of Artois through the male line was assured (at the time, male heirs took precedence over female heirs). Phew. Except that in 1298, Philippe died of his wounds after the battle of Furnes. At the time, his son was eleven.

Whether Robert Sr raged and tore his hair at the loss of his only son, we don’t know – but it seems a fair bet to assume he did, finding some comfort in his young namesake. And had Robert Sr lived until his grandson was an adult, things might have gone very differently. Instead, Robert Sr followed his son into the afterlife in 1302 – killed on the battlefield. And this is when Mahaut surged forward and claimed Artois for herself, citing local customs. Effectively, she claimed she was closer by blood to the deceased count than her nephew, ergo she had the right to inherit.

Mahaut Seance_solennelle_terminant_le_proces_de_Robert_d'Artois_le_6_aout_1332.BNF-fr18437-fol2

Philippe IV ruling in Mahaut’s favour

Even from a distance of 700 years, Mahaut comes across as a grasping and callous lady, coolly using archaic customs to disinherit her nephew. It wasn’t as if she was destitute – rather the reverse. Robert Jr was too young to forcibly push his own claim, and besides, King Philippe le Bel had an interest in keeping Mahaut happy – Burgundy was important to France. And so, to the surprise of many of their contemporaries, Philippe upheld Mahaut’s claim.

I imagine our lady of the day rubbed her hands together in glee. Even more so, when some years later she ensured that both her daughters married royalty: Jean, the oldest, became the wife of Philippe, second son of Philippe le Bel, and Blanche married Philippe’s baby brother Charles. Suddenly, she could start dreaming of seeing her grandsons on the French throne – well, assuming Philippe’s and Charles’ older brother Louis did not leave any heirs.

This is where the story about the manipulative poisoner Mahaut starts to take shape: undoubtedly, she had a vested interest in clearing the path for her son-in-law(s). Seeing as she’d already proven herself to be singularly ruthless – poor Robert made sure no one forgot how his detested tante had cheated him of his patrimony – such rumours found fertile ground. But such things were as yet in the future, and instead Mahaut had a number of years in which she could bask in the reflected glory of her daughters.

But not all good things last for ever – not even if you’re named Mahaut. In 1314, France was rocked by the biggest scandal in French medieval history – the Tour de Nesle affair. Through the testimony of Isabella of France, Queen of England, it came to light that her three sisters-in-law were slipping off to enjoy carnal intimacies with men other than their husbands, thereby cuckolding the Capetian princes. Did not go down well, putting it mildly. Mahaut’s precious daughters were revealed as simple adulteresses, the two young men who’d had the temerity of dallying with the princesses were cruelly executed, and everyone assumed the three princesses would be locked up for life in Chateau de Gaillard or in a similar nasty environment.

“Ahem,” said Jeanne, Mahaut’s eldest daughter. “I didn’t do anything wrong! I never cheated on my husband, my dear, handsome Philippe.”
To his everlasting credit, Philippe not only believed her, he defended her, insisting he had no doubts as to his wife’s fidelity or the paternity of their various daughters. So instead of being judged an adulteress, Jeanne got off with the somewhat milder “complicit to adultery”, in that she hadn’t stopped her sister Blanche and her cousin Marguerite from fornicating with their handsome lovers. While Marguerite and Blanche suffered the ignominy of having their heads shorn before the parliament before being cast in prison, Jeanne was exiled from court, spending a number of months begging to be allowed to return to her husband’s side.

Behind her back, the entire court laughed at Mahaut. Her youngest daughter a whore, her eldest selectively blind – no, it did not reflect well on the haughty countess. Things went from bad to worse when her son died in 1315. The riches and lands Mahaut had amassed would not pass to her precious boy (yet another Robert). I dare say nephew Robert felt this was God doing some adequate punishment – he definitely took the opportunity of attempting to wrest Artois by force from Mahaut, fanning the flames of a rebellion that roared into life before spluttering and dying just as quickly. The people of Artois were happy with their countess, who was an able and fair administrator, a generous benefactress of religious orders, and in general much respected – even loved.

In the aftermath of the Tour de Nesle, Philippe le Bel died. His eldest, Louis, became king. Unfortunately for Louis, his wife was sitting in a dark and damp dungeon in Chateau de Gaillard, the daughter he had with her was tainted with the suspicion of bastardy, and there was no pope around to grant him an annulment (the papacy was living through its own little crisis).

Mahaut Clemence

Clemence (?)

Mahaut perked up. If Louis remained fettered to Marguerite, chances were his little daughter would be passed over in the succession, the crown thereby ending up with Mahaut’s dear son-in-law Philippe. So when Marguerite died in captivity, we can safely assume this was not Mahaut’s doing. Nope. Instead, we must point the finger very firmly at Louis, but truth be told, no one seemed all that eager to investigate the disgraced Marguerite’s death, and soon enough Louis had a new bride by his side, Clemence of Hungary.

This Hungarian princess (except she wasn’t all that Hungarian: she was as French as they came) was a major, major monkey-wrench in Mahaut’s plans. Even more so when she became pregnant. Louis was ecstatic – soon he’d have a precious heir, a child untainted by the scandal of Tour de Nesle. And then Louis upped and died – supposedly because he’d drunk too much cold water after a singularly heated and extended tennis game. (Yes: Louis was an avid tennis player – an early adopter of the sport). Or maybe he’d been poisoned…A young and healthy king to drop dead like that? Hmm. More than one glanced at Mahaut – and Philippe.

Poor Clemence was now the equivalent of a defenceless lamb, surrounded by wolves. Philippe was named regent, and took the opportunity to re-affirm the Salic Laws whereby the throne of France could not be passed down through the female line. Should Clemence be delivered of a girl, the crown would pass to Philippe. Should she present the joyous French with a son, Philippe – and I dare say he bared his teeth in a singularly icy smile – would act as regent for his dear nephew.

Mahaut Jean_Ier_Bier

Baby Jean’s burial

Clemence gave birth to a boy. Shouts of joy quickly transformed into hiccups of grief when the little baby, Jean I, died after five days. Yet again, there were rumours of poison. Yet again, the main beneficiary was Philippe, with impressive kick-ass mother-in-law Mahaut holding his back.

Leaving aside Maurice Druon’s elegantly woven tale of intrigue and dark mischief (and seriously, if you haven’t read his books about the Capet kings, The Accursed Kings, do so. Now!) one could still argue that Mahaut could have poisoned Louis – and little Jean. On the other hand, so could very many others. Or maybe both Louis and Jean did die natural deaths – albeit this was a novel situation in France, where for four centuries every Capet king had been succeeded by a Capet son.

Whatever the case, Philippe was now king. Only problem was, he had no sons. None. A boy was born and died in 1316 – the year Philippe became king – and after that there were no more babies. At most, his daughters could aspire to inherit grandma Mahaut’s combined title Countess of Burgundy and Artois – and marry well. Unless Philippe had sons, his crown would pass to brother Charles, also Mahaut’s son-in-law. The problem in this case was that Charles had no desire to reconcile with his wife, Blanche. Mahaut’s youngest daughter had been locked away in 1314, had given birth while imprisoned (with serious doubts cast on the child’s paternity), and Charles wanted nothing to do with her – he wanted an annulment and a new wife.

Mahaut John XXII annulling C & B

Pope John XXII annulling the marriage between Charles and Blanche

In 1322, Philippe died. Charles became king and wasted no time in forcing through an annulment. The children he’d had by Blanche were both dead, and Charles needed heirs – fast! For the first time in remembered history, the Capet dynasty had no male heirs. None. By now, Blanche was in a bad way – her eight years locked away had marked her for life. Once her marriage had been declared null and void, she was allowed to take the veil and was to die in a convent some years later. With her died Mahaut’s hopes of seeing a grandchild ascend France’s throne. By then, the pragmatic and hard-nosed Mahaut had probably given up on that particular dream. After years at the centre of things, she chose to pass her last years with her eldest daughter, widowed Queen Jeanne, and capably managing her estates.

So, who was Mahaut? A cold-hearted and manipulative bitch who stopped at nothing – not even murder – to reach her goals? A capable, if greedy, woman maligned by her contemporaries for being just that – competent? Well, Mahaut isn’t telling – ladies who’ve been buried for close to seven centuries rarely do. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between: ambition and power does  strange things to people, and Mahaut comes across as being somewhat addicted to this particular drug combo. But from there to murder it’s a loooong step!

In 1329, Mahaut fell ill. Some days later, she died. Ironically, some say she was poisoned…

Ana – Spanish princess, French queen

Ana Juan_Pantoja_de_la_Cruz_018

Ana María Mauricia, Infanta of Spain

It’s some time since I wrote anything about a Spanish Hapsburg, and by now I am suffering such severe withdrawal symptoms I’ve decided there’s nothing to it but to throw myself headlong into the story of Ana María Mauricia, Spanish Infanta and future French Queen.

Choosing Ana is rather apt, as here in Sweden December 9th is Anna’s nameday – once a saint’s day commemorating the Virgin’s mother, these days merely a cause of celebration for those who share that name. Like me.

Well, neither here nor there – at least not from a Hapsburg persepctive. So let’s return to my chosen protagonist instead. Ana was born in 1601, the eldest daughter of Felipe III and his wife (and cousin). Felipe was the son of Felipe II, at the time of his birth discarded as being puny and weak – and hopefully nothing but a spare, seeing as he had two older brothers – but soon enough the elder brothers had died, and so it was that the runt of the litter ascended the throne after that illustrous king, Felipe II.

Felipe III was very pious – as was his wife – and little Ana grew up just as pious, happily accompanying her parents when they went to visit monasteries or the like. She was close to her parents and siblings, and when her mother tragically died when Ana was eleven, she did her best to mother her sisters and brothers – obviously with some success, as they were all very fond of her.

At the time, Spain and France were the largest and most powerful Catholic realms in Europe. Well, the Spanish would argue Spain was a teensy, weensy bit richer and more important and more religious and bigger – definitely bigger – given all those colonies they had. Spain was an Empire. France was a mere kingdom. As per the Spanish.

Ana Louis-XIII_by-Franz-II-Pourbus

Louis XIII, Ana’s bridegroom

For the last hundred years or so, France and Spain had been in constant conflict with each other, every such period of conflict ending with a treaty solemnised by a marriage. So Felipe II married Elizabeth Valois in 1559, thereby ushering in a period of (relative) peace between France and Spain. So Ana was to marry the very young French king, Louis XIII, while her brother, the future Felipe IV, was to marry Louis’ younger sister, yet another Elizabeth. (Yet another of Louis XIII’s sisters was to marry Charles I of England)

Being a princess and raised to be obedient and pious and in everything do as was best for Spain, Ana probably had no objections to the match. Besides, she’d end up a queen, even if France was viewed with some suspicion by the devout Spanish. A nest of sin and vanity, people muttered, not at all as morally upright as Spain.

At fourteen, Ana was sent off to France, where she was quickly renamed Anne and presented to her husband. Pressure was on for the newlywed to consummate their marriage ASAP, but Louis was not all that interested in his young wife, and she stuck out like a wart among the French courtiers, being predisposed to dress sedately and spend more time on her knees praying than playing.

Ana LouisXIII

Louis XIII

To be fair to Louis, he didn’t have it easy. He’d become king at nine, following his father’s assassination. Since then, France had danced to the tunes of the Dowager Queen’s pipe. Maria d’Medici antagonised the French repeatedly, and in 1617 Louis ousted his mother’s favourite, forced Maria into exile and took control of his kingdom. He was sixteen at the time, prone to being suspicious of everyone and everything and afflicted by a severe stutter.

One could have thought the young king would have looked to his equally young wife for support. Instead, he gravitated to the young men at court, and Anne, on her part, was lonely and isolated – even more so when her Spanish household was sent home, new French ladies chosen for her.

To say Anne and Louis had an unhappy start to their marriage is an understatement – after all, there’s a reason why Dumas had this particular queen entering into liasons dangereuses with the Duke of Buckingham, the ever so dashing George Villiers. Not, I might add, something one should take as historical fact.

Ana Anna_of_Austria_by_Rubens_(1622-1625,_Norton_Simon_Museum)

Anyway, around 1619, the king finally acquiesced to consummating his marriage – the pressure was on to produce an heir. For a time, it seemed the king and his queen would bond, but a number of stillbirths drove them even further apart. The king did his thing – principally fighting the Protestants – the queen did her thing – mostly spending times visiting religious establishments – and as time passed, it seemed unlikely there would ever be an heir.

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Things weren’t exactly helped by Cardinal Richelieu, since 1624 effective ruler of France and Louis XIII’s go-to person in all matters, be they great or small. I’m guessing that a cardinal had little advice to dispense when it came to marriage – and besides, the cardinal did not mind that the Hapsburg queen was relegated to the sidelines.

Richelieu was very anti-Hapsburg. Not so strange, seeing as France was effectively surrounded by Hapsburg dominions, but for Anne this meant that she was defined as the enemy, and as tensions rose between France and Spain, so did the cardinal’s (and the king’s) distrust of Anne. It probably didn’t help that Anne still retained a lot of that stiff formality imbued in her since childhood. The Spanish court was a solemn affair – contemporaries often remarked about the lack of gaiety in a court dominated by religious fervour and a protocol so stifling no one was allowed to touch the queen – or the king.

In 1635, war between France and Spain was a fact. Anne was caught firmly in the middle, but her loyalty – and her heart – remained with Spain. She maintained a secret correspondence with her brother Felipe IV, keeping him appraised of events at the French court. Borderline treason, Richelieu would have argued, and things came to a head in 1637, when Anne was obliged by Richelieu to allow all her letters to be read before they were sent off.  This plunged the Anne – Louis relationship into something resembling a minor ice-age, both of them doing their best to avoid spending time with each other.

Ana LouisXIV-child

Louis Dieudonné, the miracle boy

And yet…In this period of documented estrangement, things finally happened. In September of 1638, Anne gave birth to a son. A miracle, some people said – the consequence of a night of very bad weather forcing the king to spend the night with his wife, said others. Whatever the case, two years later she presented her husband with yet another son – not that either of these births seem to have done much to mend the rift between them.

Anne, however, could relax. She had done her duty, presenting France with two male heirs. The Bourbon dynasty remained secure, and from Anne’s perspective things took a turn for the better when Richelieu died in 1642. Some months later, Louis XIII died as well. Anne finally came into her own as Regent for her four-year-old son, the young Louis XIV – this despite Louis XIII wishes that his wife be kept well away from managing the kingdom.

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Anne with her sons

Anne chose a certain Cardinal Mazarin as her chief minister – somewhat ironic, as Mazarin had been a close associate to richelieu. In difference to Richelieu, who mostly ignored the queen, Mazarin had been savvy enough to cultivate her. There is a little story of how Mazarin – who was an excellent card player – once won a fortune at the card tables, claimed it was because of the queen’s presence and gave her his winnings, a staggeringly high sum. The queen, some days later, reciprocated. And some years later, she rewarded Mazarin by making him the most powerful man in France.

Ana Mazarin-mignard


This was not popular with the French. A Spanish queen and an Italian cardinal ruling on behalf of their little French prince. Tensions grew, rumours flew about Anne and Mazarin – several people insisted they were more than co-regents, Anne acting very out of character in Mazarin’s presence. With him, she was intimate, leaning close together as they whispered and laughed. IMO, Anne had found a friend rather than a lover, and furthermore a friend who shared most of her opinions on such things as royal prerogative and the divine right of kings.

In 1648, all the building tension exploded into what is known as the Fronde (so named because the rioters resorted to using sling-shots, in French frondes). The rebellion had as its original cause Mazarin’s attempt to tax all those who built new houses outside Paris’ ancient city walls, but was really a general outcry against years of excessive taxation – war is a costly business – and Mazarin’s attempt to coerce Parlement into accepting certain of his measures. Plus there was an outcry demanding that the people be given a voice in how they were ruled.

So violent was the uproar that Anne saw herself forced to flee the capital with her sons, and even after some sort of treaty had been reached in 1649, she refused to return. Wisely, as it turned out, as the revolt had attracted the attention of certain cadet members of the Bourbon family, notably Louis, Prince de Condé.

Ana Louis,_Grand_Condé

Louis, Prince Condé

Condé wanted to rid France of Mazarin and took the opportunity offered by the Fronde to foment further unrest. In 1650, Anne and Mazarin arrested Condé and various of his supporters. Half of France exploded in rage – Condé was popular, Mazarin was not, neither was the Spanish queen – and in 1651 Anne saw no other option but to release Condé who went on to immediately rebel, his victorious and brutal troops entering Paris in late 1651. Mazarin fled abroad.

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Louis XIV, the victor(?) of the Fronde

Not good, putting it mildly. But Mazarin was nothing if not tenacious, and succeeded in contracting a certain Turenne to lead the counterattack. Soon enough, Condé was fleeing the country while a triumphant Mazarin could return to serve Louis XIV, by now old enough (at fifteen) to do without regents. Or much in the way of councellors – as we all know, Louis XIV was the ultimate proponent of absolutist monarchy.

So what of Anne? Her eldest son was now king in fact as well as name, and one could think her relegated to the fringes of things. Not at all. Louis was fond of his mother, and appreciated her counsel. Anne’s influence – and Mazarin’s – remained strong.

Ana Maria Theresa Diego_Velázquez_030b

María Teresa

In 1659, the war with Spain was finally brought to an end, and to celebrate this joyous occasion Louis XIV was to wed his first cousin (twice over, seeing as his bride’s mother was Louis’ paternal aunt, her father his maternal uncle) Maria Teresa of Spain. I dare say Anne did some little skips of joy at the thought.

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Louis XIV in 1660

In 1660, Louis and Maria Teresa were married. Anne could relax. Her beloved Spain and the France she’d lived in for 45 years were at last at peace, the union cemented further when the recently married couple were blessed by a little male heir, Louis, Dauphin of France. Sadly, there would be no more children that lived beyond childhood, despite little Louis having five siblings.

Anne retired to a convent in 1661. She spent her last five years in – I presume – spriritual contemplation. Things coming full circle, one could say, the once so pious little princess of Spain returning to spend her days in devotion of the Lord.

Other posts about the Hapsburgs:

What is in a name – of Don Carlos in various incarnations

My dearest cousin and husband – of a Spanish Queen

Niece, cousin adnwife rolled into one – meet Mariana

Of inbreeding, royal marriages and their ultimate consequence



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