In 13th century Provence there lived four sisters.
Daughters of Count Raymond Berengar V of Provence and his wife Beatrice of Savoy, all would rise to greatness becoming Queens of France, England, Germany and Sicily respectively.
These sisters had a huge impact on Western Christendom, and this month we’ll explore how the personal affected the political.
Before we proceed in exploring this family saga, today I’m going to introduce you to the four sisters of Provence: Marguerite, Eleanor, Sanchia and Beatrice.
Born in 1221, Marguerite was the eldest of the four sisters. She was married at an early age to Louis IX of France (later canonized St Louis). They had 11 children, three of whom were born on crusade. Louis and Marguerite were on crusade for six years, and when he was captured, Marguerite had to keep control over their forces from her childbed. At home, Marguerite was often called upon to mediate disputes, for instance between Renaud de Pons and Marguerites brother-in-law Henry III of England, “Marguerite, by the grace of God queen of France, who have full and free power from said parties to dispose and arrange in said dispute…”. She outlived Louis, with their son Philip inheriting his father’s throne. Marguerite died aged 74 in Paris and was buried in the Basilica of St-Denis.
Eleanor (1223 – 1291)
Eleanor married Henry III of England in 1236, two years after her sister’s impressive marriage. The elder sisters were close and would remain so throughout their lives, with their familial bond helping ease political tensions between England and France. Eleanor and Henry developed a strong relationship and had 5 children. Despite the tight family relationships Eleanor cultivated, she was not popular in her adopted country. During the rebellion led by Simon de Montfort, she was pelted with stones and verbal abuse from Londoners whilst trying to reach her son Prince Edward. Formidable even when the chips were down, Eleanor was a resilient and capable queen. She died during the reign of her son Edward I, having taken the veil* in 1286.
Sanchia (1225 – 1261)
Sanchia married Henry III of England’s brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall in 1243. The match was one Eleanor helped arrange. Sanchia was Richard’s second wife, his first wife Isabel Marshal (daughter of the great knight William Marshal) having died in 1240. Sanchia and Richard had two sons, with only one Edmund surviving to adulthood. Although married to an Earl, her title got an upgrade when her husband was elected King of the Romans in 1256 (the German crown being elective rather than hereditary). Sanchia was crowned alongside Richard at Aachen Cathedral the next year becoming Queen of the Romans. She sadly died of illness a few years later in 1261.
Beatrice (1229 – 1267)
The youngest sister Beatrice married Marguerite’s brother-in-law Charles of Anjou in 1246. The marriage was a good choice for Beatrice, who had solely inherited her father’s territories on his death the year before and for her own protection as a wealthy single heiress needed a good match quickly. Her father’s will was incredibly controversial, as his choices in distribution of lands, money etc were not what was expected. Beatrice’s relations with her mother and sisters rapidly declined following this, with Marguerite and Eleanor never letting go of their inheritance claims. It would become a continual source of discontent in the family. Beatrice also became a queen, being crowned Queen of Sicily in 1266 alongside her husband after being granted the kingdom by Pope Clement IV. Sadly, like Sanchia, she also died young, just a year into her queenship.
This is just a quick overview of these fascinating sisters and queens. We’ll be exploring their individual stories more throughout February so stay tuned!
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*In other words, she became a nun which wasn’t unusual for elderly royal widows.
England’s Queens: From Boudica to Elizabeth of York by Elizbeth Norton
Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe by Nancy Goldstone.
The Family Trees of the Kings of France by Jean-Charles Volkmann
ODNB: Eleanor of Provence by Margaret Howell
Epistolæ: Medieval Women’s Latin Letters: Marguerite, Eleanor and Sanchia.
Wikipedia: Marguerite of Provence, Eleanor of Provence, Sanchia of Provence, Beatrice of Provence, Treaty of Paris.
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