17 June, 2012

Blanche of Artois, Queen of Navarre

A post about Blanche of Artois, queen of Navarre and countess of Brie, Champagne and Lancaster, who was both Edward II's aunt by marriage and his queen Isabella of France's grandmother.

Blanche of Artois's date of birth is usually estimated as about 1248, though may have been some years earlier.  Her father was Robert, count of Artois, who was born in September 1216 as the second surviving son of King Louis VIII 'the Lion' of France and Blanche of Castile (granddaughter of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine) and was thus the brother closest to age to Louis IX, who was two years and five months Robert's senior.  Blanche's mother Matilda was the daughter of Duke Henry II of Brabant and Marie of Hohenstaufen, third daughter of Philip of Swabia, king of Germany and Eirene Angelina of Byzantium, dowager queen of Sicily.  (Marie's younger sister Elisabeth was the first queen of Edward II's grandfather Fernando III of Castile and the mother of Alfonso X.)  Blanche of Artois was thus the great-granddaughter of Philip Augustus, king of France, of Alfonso VIII, king of Castile, and of Philip of Swabia, king of Germany, and the great-great-granddaughter of Frederick Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor, of Isaac Angelos, emperor of Byzantium, and of Henry II, king of England.

Blanche's father Count Robert of Artois was killed at Mansurah in Egypt on 9 February 1250, during the crusade of his brother Louis IX.  He left as his heir his son Robert, born posthumously in September 1250; Blanche was his only other child.  Robert's widow Matilda of Brabant, who was born in 1224 and married Robert in 1237 when she was thirteen, married secondly Guy de Châtillon, count of Saint-Pol, and had another five children.  She died in 1288.  Her daughter Beatrice of Saint-Pol, Blanche's half-sister, was described in a chronicle of the late fourteenth century as la plus belle qui fust en France, 'the most beautiful (woman) who was in France'.  Blanche of Artois's brother Robert was killed at the battle of Courtrai in 1302, leaving his daughter Mahaut as his heir; his son Philippe had predeceased him, leaving a son, also Robert, born in 1287.  The long struggle between Blanche's niece Mahaut of Artois - the mother of Jeanne and Blanche of Burgundy, who married Philippe V and Charles IV of France - and Mahaut's nephew Robert over the rights to the county of Artois form a major part of Maurice Druon's The Accursed Kings/Les Rois Maudits series of novels.

In 1269, when she was in her early twenties, Blanche married Henri or Enrique, younger son of King Thibaut I of Navarre, who was known as le Chansonnier or the Troubadour.  Henri himself was known as 'the Fat', le Gros or el Gordo.  In December 1270, Henri - then about in his mid-twenties - succeeded his childless elder brother Thibaut II, who was married to Blanche's first cousin, Louis IX and Marguerite of Provence's eldest surviving child Isabelle, as king of Navarre and count of Champagne and Brie.  Blanche and Henri had a son, whose name I'm uncertain of (possibly Thibaut?), who suffered a terrible, tragic fate as a baby: his nurse dropped him from the battlements of Henri's castle at Estella.  Their only other child was a daughter named Jeanne or Joan, born in early 1273, who succeeded her father as Queen Jeanne I of Navarre as a baby when Henri died in July 1274, aged thirty or so.  The little girl was arguably the most desirable marriage prize in Europe, and although Edward I of England arranged a marriage between her and his second-born son Henry (born July 1268), with Henri, the latter's death in July 1274 put paid to that alliance, and young Henry himself died at the age of six in October that year.  Blanche of Artois was left as regent of Navarre for her daughter the baby queen, and faced down threats of civil war and invasion by the kings of Castile (Alfonso X, Edward II's uncle) and Aragon (Jaime I).  In the treaty of Orléans of May 1275, she accepted the aid of her first cousin, King Philippe III of France.  The young Queen Jeanne thus married Philippe's sixteen-year-old son and heir in August 1284, almost certainly in Paris* - he succeeded as Philippe IV of France a little over a year later - and became the mother of Louis X, Philippe V, Charles IV and Isabella, queen of Edward II, as well as two other daughters and a son who did not survive childhood.  Blanche of Artois was thus the grandmother of three kings of France and a queen of England.

[* Powicke's The Thirteenth Century 1216-1307 says they married at Estella, but my friend Elena looked up Philippe III's itinerary for August 1284, and he was in Paris, so it seems extremely likely that the wedding took place there.  Elena isn't sure if Jeanne or Philippe IV ever set foot in Navarre.]

The treaty of Orléans gave Philippe III control over the kingdom of Navarre, and it ultimately passed  to Jeanne and Philippe IV's eldest son Louis on Jeanne's death in the spring of 1305, and later to Louis's daughter Jeanne II.  Blanche herself kept control of the county of Champagne, which meant by the standards of the time that she needed a powerful husband.  A man was chosen, either by herself or others, who was also Philippe III's first cousin (their mothers were sisters) and was as royal as Blanche of Artois herself was: Edmund, earl of Lancaster, Leicester and Derby, fourth child of Henry III of England and Eleanor of Provence and thus Edward I's brother.  Blanche and Edmund married sometime between 18 December 1275 and 18 January 1276.  Edmund was born in January 1245, and had previously and briefly been married to the great heiress Aveline de Forz, daughter of the count of Aumale and the countess of Devon, who died aged fifteen in 1274.

Blanche and Edmund had three sons: Thomas, earl of Lancaster, born c. 1278, executed 1322; Henry, earl of Lancaster, born c. 1281, died 1345; John, who died childless in France in 1317 - Henry was his heir - and is very obscure.  Earl Henry had one son, the wonderful Henry of Grosmont, duke of Lancaster, and six daughters; five of his seven children had children of their own, so Blanche had numerous descendants in England in the fourteenth century, and also a few in France via the descendants of her grandsons Louis X and Philippe V.  Blanche of Artois was the great-grandmother of Edward III and the great-great-grandmother of Charles the Bad, king of Navarre.  Her great-granddaughter and namesake Blanche of Lancaster married Edward III's son John of Gaunt and carried the vast Lancastrian inheritance to him.  Her sons Thomas and Henry of Lancaster, when they were growing up, were brothers-in-law of the king of France and nephews of the king of England.  It is often missed that they were Isabella of France's (half-)uncles as well as Edward II's first cousins, and I can think of at least a couple of novels that portray Thomas as opposed to Edward at least in part because he is in love with Isabella.  Thomas and Henry of Lancaster's ancestry was remarkably illustrious, a fact which needless to say did not go unnoticed at the time: the Vita Edwardi Secundi remarks "Earl Thomas was related to the king in the second degree of kinship, for they were descended from two brothers...His mother was Queen of Navarre, his sister Queen of France, and his sister's daughter now Queen of England. As each parent was of royal birth he was clearly of nobler descent than the other earls."

Blanche of Artois, queen of Navarre, countess of Brie, Champagne and Lancaster, the wife, granddaughter, niece, mother-in-law and sister-in-law of kings, was widowed on 5 June 1296, when Earl Edmund died in Bayonne at the age of fifty-one.  He was buried in Westminster Abbey, where his elaborate tomb still exists, next to that of his brother Edward I; his first wife the teenaged Aveline de Forz is also buried nearby.   Blanche was the chief executor of his will.  [1]  Edmund and Blanche's eldest son Thomas succeeded to the considerable Lancastrian inheritance, augmented still further by his 1294 marriage to the wealthy heiress Alice de Lacy.  Queen Blanche herself died at Vincennes on 2 May 1302 and was apparently also buried in England, though not next to her husband but at the convent of the Minoresses without Aldgate, which Earl Edmund had founded in 1293.  I've also seen it stated, however, that she was buried at the Franciscan nunnery of Nogent l'Artaud near Paris, which she herself had founded; I'm not sure which is correct.  One of the executors of her will was her daughter Jeanne, queen of France and Navarre.  [2]  Blanche of Artois and Edmund of Lancaster feature as characters in Sharon Penman's novel The Reckoning, the final part of her Welsh trilogy.


1) Patent Rolls 1292-1301, p. 288; Close Rolls 1296-1302, pp. 174, 180, 387.
2) Patent Rolls 1301-1307, p. 117.

- J.R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster 1307-1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II
-  Maurice Powicke, The Thirteenth Century 1216-1307
- Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


Anerje said...

Another fascinating post! Maurice Powicke - now there's a blast from the past! I'm always a bit over-whelmed whenever I go to Westminster Abbey, and I miss lots of tombs - I shall look out for Edmund 'Crouchback' next time.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Anerje! Yes, it was great to pick up the Powicke again - I haven't looked it for absolutely ages!

It's a good few years since I was last in Westminster Abbey, and I can't actually remember if I've seen Edmund's tomb or not!

karacherith said...

Wow, with ancestors like this (and the illustrious Henry of Grosmont!), I can see why the Lancasters thought they were worthy of the English crown. It's interesting that her descendent from her first marriage, Richard II, was dethroned by a descendent from her second and first marriages, Henry IV.

Wikipedia seems to think that "Crouchback" was derived from the cross that Edmund wore on his back (?). Do you think that etymology makes sense? Was he particularly pious?

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi! Yes, the Lancasters certainly had some extremely illustrious ancestors!

I'm not sure what to make of the 'Crouchback' name, really. It doesn't make sense to me as 'Crossback', not least because I've never heard of another crusader called that, and Edward I and numerous others also went to the Holy Land and weren't given that name. On the other hand, no-one at the time mentions any physical deformity. Curious!


Lovely post on Blanche de Artois.

Our "Chateau Beaufort Noble Wines" was so named after the Castle she bought with her own Dowery money: 7000 'Livres Tournois'...

There the first Chardonnay was planted in Champagne. Countess of Champagne & Brie, and Rose of Lancaster.

Wine, Cheese & the Rose... what an achievement?!

Blanche, along with Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their Ancestress Melusine de Lusignan gave birth to our Western Civilization!

(We descend from her through Blanche of Lancaster, and Blanche of Castille, wives of John of Gaunt)

SJR said...

Very interesting article on Blanche d'Artois. I am doing a research on her life myself for a write-up in the future. Although I live in the United States, three of my immigrant ancestors: William Farrar, Col. Thomas Ligon, and Diana Dale(nee Skipwith), were English aristocrats and descendants of Blanche by both of her marriages to Henry I)of Navarre and Edmund 'Crouchback,' Earl of Lancaster. My parents both descend from these lines. Thank you for your post!

Steve Riggan