I did consider titling this post “three foul french fowl”but decided it was an alliteration too far.
Richard I, a.k.a. the Lionheart, should have married Alys of France – the dispensation for that marriage would have been interesting given that Richard’s mother Eleanor of Aquitaine and Alys’ father, Louis VII of France had once been married. Alys arrived in England aged eight as Henry II’s ward following a treaty agreed in 1169. However, the marriage never progressed which didn’t help Richard’s relationship with fellow monarch Philip II of France who was Alys’ brother.
In 1175 Henry II began to seek an annulment from his marriage to Eleanor. It has been suggested that rather than marrying Alys to his son Richard, that he intended to marry her himself. Certainly it is thought that he began an affair with her after the death of Fair Rosamund in 1177. All things considered it is relatively easy to see why Alys didn’t become one of England’s French hens.
On the other hand, Alys’ sister Margaret should be on the list of French hens because she married Henry II’s oldest son also named Henry in 1162. Technically she became a royal consort when the Young King as he became known was crowned in 1172. Henry II and his son being the only occasion when there have been two official monarchs on the English throne (excluding the Wars of the Roses and the joys of the Anarchy when Stephen and Matilda both claimed the Crown – and Matilda never had a coronation.)
I am not including women who would be defined as French by today’s geography but were daughters of independent or semi-independent realms in their own times: Matilda of Boulogne who was King Stephen’s wife or even Eleanor of Aquitaine who was Henry II’s wife come under this category of consort.
Which brings us to our first indisputable French hen – Margaret of France who was the second wife of Edward I. She was swiftly followed by Isabella of France who is better known as a “she-wolf” on the grounds that she and her lover Roger Mortimer deposed Isabella’s husband Edward II and according to official histories arranged for his dispatch – purportedly with a red hot poker.
French consort number three was Isabella of Valois who was married to Richard II after his first wife Anne of Bohemia died. She was married to Richard at the age of seven in 1396. Four years later Richard was deposed by his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke. Richard was fond of his young wife and she returned the feeling. She refused to marry Henry IV’s son and went into mourning. She died aged nineteen in childbirth following her return to France and second marriage to Charles of Orleans.
Henry V ultimately married Catherine of Valois in 1420 following his victory at Agincourt. After Henry’s death Catherine went on to be associated with Edmund Beaufort but when the laws changed specifying that if the dowager queen married without her son’s consent that the new husband would loose his lands, Beaufort swiftly lost interest. Catherine went on to make an unequal marriage with Owen Tudor.
In 1445 Catherine’s son, Henry VI, married Margaret of Anjou as part of a policy to bring the Hundred Years War to an end. Margaret had no dowry and was plunged into a difficult political situation which resulted in her ultimate vilification by the winning Yorkists. Her hopes for the Lancaster Crown ended on 4 May 1471 when her son, Prince Edward, was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury. Henry VI was killed in the Tower shortly afterwards. She eventually returned to France.
Isabella of France and Margaret of Anjou are the two consorts that popular history remembers most clearly. The third of English history’s three foul French fowl arrived in 1625. Henrietta Maria married Charles I shortly after he became king. Initially she had to contend with Charles’ reliance upon the Duke of Buckingham. Her Catholicism made her an unpopular choice in England despite Charles’ insistence that she be known as Queen Mary, as did her ability to buy armaments and mercenary forces on her husband’s behalf during the English Civil War. She also decided on a new title for herself – Her She-Majesty, Generalissima.
Henrietta Maria was the daughter of Henry the Fourth of France by his second wife, Marie di Medici. She refused to be crowned Queen of England because it was being done in the way of the Church of England. And Richard the First should not have married Alys of France. He was wise to choose Berengaria of Navarre. Berengaria of Navarre was kinder. Henry the Sixth should not have married Margaret of Anjou, even though he needed a strong woman. It is mindboggling that the English gave up Anjou and Maine. Henry the Fifth, King of France and his brothers, John, Duke of Bedford and Humphrey, Duke of Glouster would turn in their graves.
The Duke of York wasn’t exactly delighted with the loss of Anjou and Maine – neither for that matter were the ordinary English. It was one of the reasons that Margaret of Anjou was unpopular with her subjects from the moment she arrived in England – along with her association with the Beaufort brood.