Marguerite of Provence like another Queen of France before her, the famous Eleanor of Aquitaine, joined her husband Louis IX on a crusade to the Holy Land. The crusades are described by historian Dan Jones as “a series of interconnected Christian ‘holy wars’ fought against a wide variety of foes”, with the motivations for these wars stemming from successive Popes believing “it was their duty to protect Christian people and lands from non-believers” and ordinary people seeing it as a way to be forgiven for their sins and granted swift passage to heaven.
Louis IX* later became a saint, so it goes without saying he was pretty devout. In 1248 he led his first crusade to the Holy Land, with Marguerite by his side. It was known as the Seventh Crusade and the royal couple were to remain overseas for six years from 1248 – 1254. They were joined by Louis’ brothers Alfonse of Poitiers, Robert of Artois and Charles of Anjou. Charles was married to Marguerite’s sister Beatrice**, who also joined them – so it really was a family affair.
Marguerite was around 27 years old when the crusading party set out, and gave birth to three of her children during this period: Jean-Tristan, Pierre and Blanche. Embarking on this journey meant leaving her children Isabella, Louis and Philip at home. Not seeing her children for six years must have been immensely painful, especially having lost her children Blanche and John within the previous 5 years.
It would be interesting to know Marguerite’s motivations for joining Louis, knowing as she did, that she was unlikely to be home again anytime soon. It’s no secret that she didn’t get on well with her mother-in-law Blanche of Castile, who was left as regent of France during this time. With no Louis there, it would have made the court of France an unbearable place to be, stuck with the hostile Blanche. Whatever her motivations though, go she did.
Marguerite proved her mettle during this hazardous time, as shown in 1250 when Louis was captured after a battle went sideways. As the chronicler Joinville (who was there too) recalled “the queen (who was then in Damietta) did not…escape from tribulations herself”. Beatrice had given birth to a daughter called Blanche, and Marguerite was not long away from giving birth herself, when they received the news of the king’s loss and capture. Enemy forces began to surround Damietta, a siege due to unfold.
Marguerite kept a knight with her as she went into labour, asking him to kill her and her child should the enemy take the city, she also learned that some of the Italian forces were preparing to leave Damietta, due to lack of food among other reasons. This would have spelled complete disaster for the French. After the successful delivery of her baby Jean-Tristan, the exhausted and bed-ridden Marguerite called those who planned to leave to her childbed. It was her one shot to stay off the likely destruction that would result if their allies began to abandon them. In the end she got them to stay, with a hefty 360,000 livres bribe. As her biographer Nancy Goldstone writes “with this one act, the queen saved what was left of her husband’s crusade”.
You would think this trying time would have bonded Marguerite and her younger sister Beatrice together, especially as the family were known to be close. All four sisters and their spouses, plus their mother, met together in Paris in December 1254, which was highly unusual for most families of this stature. This meeting was after Louis and Marguerite’s return to France from crusade, Beatrice and Charles having come home earlier in 1251. Yet fractures were forming between the sisters, which we’ll explore in another blog post.
What do you make of Marguerite? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
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*Fun fact: his sister Isabella also became a saint!
**She wasn’t Queen of Sicily yet at this stage.
Four Queens of Provence by Nancy Goldstone
Epistolae: Marguerite of Provence https://epistolae.ctl.columbia.edu/woman/73.html
History Extra: Crusaders: did they fight for God or gold? By Dan Jones
Moving Women Moving Objects (400–1500) edited by Mariah Proctor-Tiffany, Tracy Chapman Hamilton – Female networks and the circulation of a late medieval illustrated health guide by Jennifer Borland.
Wikipedia: Marguerite of Provence, Louis IX of France, Seventh Crusade, Blanche of Castile, Beatrice of Provence.
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