This is more or less an update of this post on Edward II's betrothals and the women he might have married. New information has come to light (which is just a pompous way of saying that I've done more research. ;)
Warning! :) This post is full of men called Alfonso (or Afonso in Portuguese, without the l). I've written a post on the Iberian kings of the age, below this one, to help with identification.
Edward's first fiancée was Margaret, the Maid of Norway - they were officially betrothed in July 1290 when he was six and she was seven. However, it's likely that an alliance between the two youngsters had been planned for most of their lives. Margaret's grandfather Alexander III of Scotland, in a letter to his brother-in-law Edward I in April 1284, made it clear that a marriage alliance between his granddaughter and Edward's son would be acceptable to him. [April 1284 was the month the future Edward II was born, although the news can't have reached Alexander when he wrote the letter, and Edward's brother Alfonso was still alive anyway.]
King Alexander wrote "...in the providence of God, much good may yet come to pass through your kinswoman, the daughter of your niece, the daughter too of our beloved, the late Queen of Norway of happy memory [all that just means the Maid of Norway], who is now our heir apparent, who [two or three illegible words] indissoluble bond created between you and us..."
Alexander died in an accident less than two years later, having failed to father a son by his second marriage, so that the Maid was his only heir. Alexander was well aware that his little granddaughter, were she to become Queen, would need English support, and an English marriage was the best way to achieve that. He and Edward I presumably had Edward's son Alfonso in mind, but Alfonso's sudden death in August 1284 meant that little Edward of Caernarfon took his place as the Maid's future husband. Sadly, the young Queen died in the Orkneys at the age of seven, on 26 September 1290.
And now some new information. I've recently learned that, on 31 July 1291 when he was seven, Edward of Caernarfon was betrothed to Blanche of France. Blanche was the daughter of the late King Philip III by his second wife Marie of Brabant, and thus the half-sister of Philip IV, full sister of Marguerite (second wife of Edward I and stepmother of Edward II) and aunt of Edward II's Queen Isabella.
Blanche's date of birth is unknown, but she was several years older than little Edward. Her parents married on 21 August 1274, and her brother Louis, Count of Évreux, was born on 3 May 1276. Louis was on very close terms with Edward II, and it was to him that Edward sent his famous 1305 letter about trotting palfreys and wild Welshmen. Louis travelled to England in 1312 to mediate between Edward and the barons after Gaveston's murder, and was one of Edward III's godfathers.
Blanche and her sister Marguerite, Queen of England, were born sometime between 1278 and 1282. It's unclear which sister was the elder. Thomas Costain in his The Three Edwards relates a story that Edward I wished to marry Blanche, who was far more beautiful than her sister, even showing a willingness to give up Gascony (also known as Aquitaine) in exchange, but was tricked into marrying Marguerite instead. This story, repeated on Marguerite's Wikipedia page, seems incredibly unlikely, especially given that Blanche had been betrothed to Edward I's son, and besides, the notion that Edward I would have given up Gascony to marry Blanche is laughable.
In May 1294, Blanche's half-brother Philip IV confiscated Gascony, and her betrothal to Edward was broken off. Edward was ten when his second betrothal fell through, Blanche somewhere between twelve and sixteen. She was offered instead to John of Hainault, Count of Ostrevant (killed at the battle of Courtrai in 1302), who was the elder brother of Count William of Hainault, father of Edward III's wife Queen Philippa. This alliance also faltered, and she finally married, in Paris on 29 May 1300, Rudolf III, Duke of Austria, later King of Bohemia and titular King of Poland. Her sister Marguerite, now Queen of England, gave birth to her first child Thomas of Brotherton three days after Blanche's wedding.
Queen/Duchess Blanche died on 19 March 1306, and was buried in the Minoritenkirche in Vienna. She had given birth to a daughter, who died in infancy. Duke Rudolf married secondly Ryksa Elźbieta of Poland, but died childless on 4 July 1307 (three days before Edward I).
On 31 August 1294, a betrothal between the future Edward II and Philippa, daughter of Guy de Dampierre, Count of Flanders, was first put forward; Count Guy was an ally of Edward I against Philip IV. In early 1297, King Edward and Guy swore to uphold the marriage of their children, now with Philippa's sister Isabella mentioned as a substitute, because poor Philippa was being held as a hostage in Paris by Philip IV.
Philippa of Flanders' date of birth is not known, but she was also older than Edward, perhaps considerably older. Her parents married in March 1265, one of her brothers was born in 1267, and the eldest of her four sisters (not half-sisters) married as early as November 1282, before Edward II was even born.
Unfortunately for the Flanders sisters, they lost the chance for one of them to become Queen of England when Edward I and Philip IV made peace, sealed with a marriage alliance. On 8 September 1299, the sixty-year-old Edward married Philip's half-sister Marguerite, who was aged somewhere between seventeen and twenty-one, and sister of the woman formerly betrothed to Edward's son. Edward of Caernarfon himself was betrothed to three-year-old Isabella, Philip IV's only surviving daughter. As I pointed out in my previous post, Isabella had two older sisters, Marguerite and Blanche (those names again!), who had died young in or around 1294. The younger Marguerite, born in 1288 or 1290, was suggested as a bride for the future Fernando IV of Castile in 1294, but evidently died soon afterwards. Fernando IV married Constança of Portugal instead.
And that, I always thought, was that. However, I've just discovered that yet another woman was suggested as a wife for Edward II! In 1302, don Enrique, Regent of Castile, put forward his great-niece doña Isabel de Castilla y León, and opened negotiations with Edward I.
Don Enrique was the uncle of Edward II, one of the half-brothers of Eleanor of Castile who I've written about before. He may have been the lover of his stepmother Jeanne de Dammartin, Edward II's grandmother, fought as a mercenary in Africa, and spent three decades in an Italian prison, but by 1302 had finally achieved respectability as Regent for his young great-nephew King Fernando IV.
Doña Isabel de Castilla y León, Señora de Guadalajara, was Fernando IV's sister. She was born in Toro in 1283 as the eldest of the seven children of King Sancho IV and María de Molina, was the granddaughter of Alfonso X and the great-granddaughter of Fernando III, and was thus Edward II's first cousin once removed [as was Margaret, the Maid of Norway]. Isabel had four brothers in addition to Fernando IV; her only sister and the youngest sibling, doña Beatriz, born in 1293, married King Afonso IV of Portugal. Isabel's mother doña María de Molina, Queen of Castile (c. 1265-1321), was herself a close relative of both her husband Sancho IV and Edward II, being the niece of Fernando III, Edward's grandfather. (Her father don Alfonso, younger brother of Fernando III, was over sixty when she was born.) Doña María was a politically astute and extremely intelligent and courageous woman, who served as Regent both for her son Fernando IV and her grandson Alfonso XI.
On 1 December 1291, at the age of eight, doña Isabel of Castile married the twenty-four-year-old King Jaime II of Aragón in Soria. However, her father Sancho IV died suddenly on 25 April 1295, aged not quite thirty-seven, and Jaime switched alliances, dissolving his marriage to Isabel in order to marry Blanche of Anjou. Isabel was still only eleven or twelve, and the marriage was never consummated.
She didn't remarry until the age of twenty-seven, in 1310, when she took Duke John III of Brittany as her second husband. He was three years her junior, widowed from Isabelle de Valois, and was yet another first cousin once removed of Edward II, as the great-grandson of Henry III of England. Isabel was created Vicomtesse de Limoges by her husband, and died childless on 24 July 1328, in her mid-forties; Duke John lived until 30 April 1341. He had no children by any of his three wives, but may have had an illegitimate son. Doña Isabel was buried at the Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Prière in Morbihan, Brittany.
King Edward I may have been keen to make a Spanish marriage alliance for his son. Castile was a growing power, rich and influential, and a very useful ally on the borders of Gascony. The king was definitely very keen to wriggle out of his treaty with Philip IV, but it proved impossible because of the Gascon situation. So, on 20 May 1303, nineteen-year-old Edward of Caernarfon and little Isabella, probably only seven, solemnly pledged in front of witnesses that they would marry each other (Edward in England, Isabella in Paris; they didn't meet until their wedding day in January 1308). The potential English alliance was a brave move on the part of Castile, however, as a marriage between doña Isabel and Edward of Caernarfon would have resulted in enormous hostility on the part of France.
I'm certain that Edward II would have vastly preferred a Spanish wife to a French one. He was well aware of his own Spanish heritage, was on friendly terms with the Iberian kings, and certainly he was very keen to arrange Spanish alliances for his own children. He spent much of 1325 and 1326 in negotiations with Castile, for the young king Alfonso XI (born 1311), his first cousin twice removed, to marry his daughter Eleanor of Woodstock, and for Alfonso's sister doña Leonor to marry the future Edward III. These marriages never took place, of course, because of Edward's deposition.
The letters and treaties related to these negotiations refer to Alfonso XI, somewhat confusingly, as the 'king of Spain' [le roi Despaigne]. In April 1326, King Afonso IV of Portugal wrote to Edward II, offering his daughter Maria as a possible bride for the young Edward. Edward II wrote back, informing Alfonso that while he would be happy to make an alliance with Portugal, the Castilian marriages were still under negotiation and took priority. [Afonso's IV's wife Beatriz of Castile was the sister of Isabel, who might have married Edward II. Maria, Afonso and Beatriz's daughter suggested as a bride for Edward III, was born in 1313 and was married in 1328...to Alfonso XI of Castile. Leonor of Castile, also put forward as a wife for the future Edward III, eventually married Alfonso IV of Aragón, son of Jaime II and Blanche of Anjou.]
I'm also sure that Edward II did not want to marry Isabella of France. He didn't want a French alliance. He detested her father. He had no interest in Isabella; in his letters to her uncle Louis, he never even mentioned her, and he never sent her presents or letters. The only reason he went through with the marriage was because he had no way of getting out of it without forfeiting Gascony, and probably going to war with Philip IV and France. And in the long run, his instincts were right!
I find it very interesting that Queen Isabella was more than a decade younger than Edward II, while all the other women he might have married were older than he was. Obviously Isabella's extreme youth was in no way her fault, but I feel that Edward would have been much happier with an older wife, or at least one of roughly the same age, as doña Isabel of Castile and the Maid of Norway were. And an older wife may have been more helpful to Edward early on in his reign than Isabella was able to be.
How might English history be different if Edward II's wife had been Isabel of Castile instead of Isabella of France? Or Philippa of Flanders or even Blanche of France? Of course there's no way of knowing if Edward's marriage would have been more successful on a personal level, but it could hardly have been worse. On a political level, Edward II's marriage to Isabella of France wasn't stunningly successful either - it was intended to promote peace between England and France, but in fact the two countries went to war in 1234/25. [This was pretty much entirely Edward II's own fault, but still.] And of course, the main long-term consequence of their marriage was the Hundred Years War.
I wonder who Queen Isabella might have married, if not Edward II? Perhaps Philip IV would have arranged an Iberian marriage for her too, to counteract the Anglo-Castilian alliance of Edward and doña Isabel. Afonso IV of Portugal maybe, who was born in 1291, or Alfonso IV of Aragón, born in 1299. Perhaps even doña Isabel's brother Fernando IV of Castile, who was born in 1285 and had once been betrothed to Isabella's sister Marguerite.
Alternate history is so endlessly fascinating....;)