Lately, I've been getting really fascinated by Edward II's Castilian forebears. I sometimes wonder how aware Edward was of his Spanish heritage, what he thought of Spain and his ancestors (and his scandalous uncles). This post looks at some of the women of his Castilian family.
The story begins in Burgos, Northern Spain, in September 1177, with the marriage of two of Edward II's great-great-grandparents: Alfonso VIII of Castile and Eleanor of England (their wedding is also said to have taken place in 1170; this was presumably a marriage by proxy). Alfonso was born in Soria on 11 November 1155, the son of King Sancho III of Castile and Blanca of Navarre, the daughter of García VII of Navarre. Alfonso VIII succeeded his father as King of Castile on 31 August 1158, not yet three years old.
Eleanor was the second daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine, born in Domfront, Normandy, on 13 October 1162. At the time of their wedding, Alfonso and Eleanor were almost twenty-two and almost fifteen respectively. Their marriage was to prove extremely successful. Alfonso's reign is beyond the scope of this post, but he was one of the great Spanish kings, and Queen Eleanor was her husband's chief counsellor. She bore him twelve children, of whom five (Sancho, Sancha, Mafalda, Enrique and Constanza) died young. Their eldest surviving son and heir, infante don Fernando, died of a fever on 14 October 1211, aged not quite twenty-two, which plunged Castile into deep mourning and must have been a terrible blow to his parents.
Alfonso VIII died at Gutiérre Múñoz on 6 October 1214, in his late fifties, succeeded by his youngest child and only surviving son, Enrique I. Enrique was born on 14 April 1204, so was only ten when he became King of Castile. Alfonso had left instructions that Queen Eleanor was to act as Regent for their son, but she was so devastated by grief that she became ill and only outlived him by several weeks. Instead, their daughter Berenguela acted as Regent.
Doña Berenguela (or Berengaria), the eldest child of Alfonso VIII and Queen Eleanor, and Edward II's great-grandmother, was probably born in the summer of 1180, in Segovia. In 1188, she was betrothed to Konrad von Hohenstaufen, Duke of Swabia and Rothenburg, the fifth of the six sons of Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa and Beatrice, Countess of Burgundy. Konrad was born in 1173, and was murdered in Durlach near Karlsruhe on 15 August 1196, before his marriage to Berenguela could take place; there's a story that the murderer was the husband of a woman Konrad had raped. He was said to be "thoroughly given to adultery, fornication, defilement, and every foulness; nevertheless, he was vigorous and brave in battle and generous to his friends." Possibly Berenguela had a lucky escape.
Instead, she was married in December 1197 to her first cousin once removed Alfonso IX, King of León, who was born on 15 August 1171 in Zamora and succeeded his father Fernando II in January 1188. Alfonso was known as 'the Slobberer', apparently because he foamed at the mouth during his frequent fits of rage (not such a lucky escape for Berenguela, then). Alfonso had previously been married to Teresa (Tarasia), daughter of Sancho I of Portugal, who gave him a son and two daughters, and had at least a dozen illegitimate children. The Pope was furious at the match, as no dispensation had been sought; he excommunicated Berenguela and Alfonso, placed Castile and León under an Interdict, and later annulled their marriage. However, he allowed their children to remain legitimate.
Alfonso returned to his first wife Teresa of Portugal, and eventually left León in his will to his two daughters by her (their son died in 1214). In 1214, Berenguela returned to Castile to preside over her father's funeral (her mother being too grief-stricken to do so) and soon afterwards began to act as Regent for her young brother Enrique I.
Enrique died aged thirteen in Palencia on 6 June 1217, when a falling tile hit him on the head. Berenguela thus became Queen of Castile in her own right, but immediately abdicated in favour of her eldest son, Edward II's grandfather, who became Fernando III. Fernando was sixteen, three years older than his uncle Enrique. Again, Berenguela acted as Regent. In 1230, her former husband Alfonso IX died, and Fernando inherited his kingdom of León; Fernando and Berenguela set aside the claims of his elder half-sisters, Alfonso IX's daughters by Teresa of Portugal. In 1219, Berenguela arranged her son's marriage to Elisabeth (Beatriz) of Swabia, the niece of her former fiancé Konrad, and the granddaughter of two emperors.
Queen Berenguela finally retired from public life in 1230, having acted as her son's chief counsellor for many years, and died on 8 November 1246, in her mid sixties. She was buried, as were her parents, at the monastery of Santa María la Real at Las Huelgas, in Burgos, which they had founded. In 1254, Berenguela's granddaughter Leonor (Eleanor) was married there to the future Edward I of England. She is sometimes called Berenguela the Great.
Doña Urruca, the second surviving daughter, was born in 1186 or early 1187, and married the future Afonso II of Portugal in 1206. Afonso, known as 'the Fat' (o Gordo), was born on 23 April 1185, and succeeded his father Sancho I on 26 March 1212. He was the brother of Teresa of Portugal, first wife of Alfonso IX of León. Queen Urraca bore her husband four sons, including two kings of Portugal, Sancho II and Afonso III, and a daughter Leonor, who was Queen of Denmark. She died in 1220. Her son Sancho II was forced to abdicate by his brother Afonso III in 1247, and died in exile in Toledo; Afonso III lived until 1279. Urraca's husband King Afonso II died on 25 March 1223 at Coimbra, his birthplace.
Doña Blanca. The most famous of the children of Alfonso VIII and Eleanor of England, known to history as Blanche of Castile. Blanca was born at Palencia shortly before 4 March 1188, and married the future Louis VIII of France on 23 May 1200. He had previously been betrothed to her sister Urraca, but the story goes that their grandmother Eleanor of Aquitaine, sent to Castile to fetch Urraca, judged that Blanca's character was better suited to be Queen of France.
Louis was born on 5 September 1187, exactly six months older than Blanca. He succeeded his father Philip Augustus on 14 July 1223, having previously taken part (with Blanca's support) in an invasion of England, invited by some of the English barons who were fed-up with King John, Edward II's great-grandfather. There's a strong case that Louis should be included in the list of English monarchs, as he was proclaimed King in London in May 1216. However, King John fortuitously died five months later, and Louis gave up all claims to the English throne in the Treaty of Lambeth the following year.
Louis, who gave Blanca twelve or thirteen children, died of dysentery on 8 November 1226, aged thirty-nine. He was succeeded by his eldest son Saint Louis IX, born 25 April 1214, and it was now that Queen Blanca/Blanche really came into her own. She ruled France as Regent until about 1234, though exactly when Louis took control of government is not clear. Blanca proved to be an enormously effective Regent.
Blanca died on 26 November 1252, in her mid sixties, a few days after she fell into a bale of hay (?!) at Melun, and was buried at Maubuisson. She had remained in close contact with her sister Berenguela until Berenguela's death. Like their mother Eleanor of England and their grandmother Eleanor of Aquitaine, both were powerful, intelligent and extremely capable women.
Doña Constanza, the fourth or fifth daughter, was born sometime between 1195 and 1203. She became Abbess of the monastery of Santa María la Real, Las Huelgas, which was founded by her parents. Her niece doña Constanza, daughter of Berenguela, was also a nun at Las Huelgas, as were many other women of the Castilian royal family. Abbess Constanza died in 1243.
Doña Leonor, the fourth or fifth daughter, was born around 1200 or 1202. On 6 February 1221, she married Jaime I of Aragón, el Conquistador, who was much Leonor's junior, born on 1 or 2 February 1208 (so he married Leonor a few days before his thirteenth birthday). In April 1229, Jaime had their marriage annulled on the grounds of consanguinity, although their child don Alfonso, who was born before February 1228, remained legitimate. Alfonso married the countess of Bigorre, Constance de Béarn, on 23 March 1260, and died three days later. Constance de Béarn then married Henry of Almain, son of Richard of Cornwall and nephew of Henry III of England.
After her separation from Jaime, Queen Leonor became a nun at Las Huelgas, and died in 1244. Jaime subsequently married Yolande, daughter of Andras II of Hungary, by whom he had numerous children, including his heir Pedro III, Isabella, queen of Philip III of France, and Violante, queen of Alfonso X of Castile.
Of the five daughters of Alfonso VIII and Eleanor of England, four were queens, and one was an abbess.
And finally, another of Edward II's great-great-grandmothers, another one with a Castilian connection: Alais (Alys, Alix, Alice, Adele etc - the poor woman's name isn't even known for certain) of France. Alais was born on 4 October 1160, the younger daughter of Louis VII of France and his second wife Constanza of Castile, who died giving birth to Alais.
Alais was the first cousin of Alfonso VIII of Castile and of Alfonso IX of León, above, and was betrothed to Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine's second son Richard (the Lionheart) in January 1169, when she was eight and Richard eleven. Her elder sister Marguerite married Richard's elder brother Henry the Young King in 1177. Henry died in 1183, and Marguerite married King Béla III of Hungary (by his first wife, the four greats-grandfather of Edward III of England).
Alais' marriage to Richard never took place, and she was said to be the mistress of her would-be father-in-law, Henry II - whose wife Eleanor of Aquitaine was the first wife of Alais' father Louis VII, and the mother of her two half-sisters Alix and Marie, who were also her fiancé Richard's half-sisters. (Complicated doesn't begin to cover it.)
Richard , having succeeded to the English throne in July 1189, repudiated Alais in March 1191, on the grounds that she had borne a child to his father. On 12 May 1191, Richard married Berengaria of Navarre, daughter of Sancho VI; she was Alais' first cousin (their mothers Constanza and Sancha were sisters). Alais continued to live in England in disgrace until Richard sent her back to France in 1195.
Her half-brother King Philip Augustus promptly married her off to Guillaume, Count of Ponthieu. The wedding took place on 20 August 1195, a few weeks before Alais' thirty-fifth birthday; Guillaume was probably sixteen. Despite the age gap, Alais and Guillaume had a daughter, Marie, born in April 1199; it's possible that they also had a son, Jean, who was killed at the Battle of Bouvines in 1214, and another daughter who died young.
Alais died sometime after 28 July 1218. Count Guillaume died on 4 October 1221, and Ponthieu passed to their daughter Marie. She married Simon, Count of Aumale, and was the mother of Jeanne, also Countess of Ponthieu in her own right. Jeanne married the widowed Fernando III of Castile in 1237, and they were the parents of Eleanor of Castile, Edward II's mother.
Alais is the protagonist of Judith Koll Healey's entertaining but wildly inaccurate novel The Canterbury Papers (also called The Lost Letters of Aquitaine).