Three French Hens – Queens of England from France

isabella of franceI 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.

 

 

Christmas with Henry II and his sons.

feastChristmas at the court of Henry II probably became increasingly fraught as his sons grew to adulthood. They revolted at various times against their father and feuded with one another. Vincent and Harper-Bill reference in particular the Christmas of 1182.  Eleanor of Aquitaine was not in attendance having been kept a prisoner since she’d sided with her three elder sons in their first revolt against Henry in 1173.  The one thing that Christmas 1182 wasn’t, was the season of peace and goodwill to all men.

 

The Young King had semi-revolted against his father by waging war with brother Richard over Poitou. In the spring of the following year his brother Geoffrey of Brittany would join up with Young Henry against their father and brother as well. William Marshall, widely accepted as the hero of the age and all round trustworthy chap on account of his loyalty to a succession of Plantagenets, was facing accusations of adultery with none other than the Young King’s wife, Princess Margaret of France. And, just because things come in threes rather like buses, William de Tancarville was insisting on his right to wash the king’s hands.

 

The great and the good were summoned to Caen for the celebrations. More than a thousand knights attended. William Marshall took the opportunity to challenge the Young King to bring out Marshall’s accusers – the non-too-subtle implication being that Marshall would then proceed to thrash them soundly. He volunteered to fight three accusers on three successive days and if he lost any of the knightly bouts then he would be deemed guilty of adultery through trial by combat. Young Henry did not accept the challenge. So Marshall then suggested that if no one would fight him they could cut off one of his fingers and then have the fight. Unsurprisingly this resulted in a stunned silence. Now, what should have happened is that Marshall should have been declared innocent of the crime that no one was naming on the spot because quite clearly his accusers weren’t prepared to put themselves in dangers way. However, the Young King didn’t do what protocol required, it should also be added that some historians believe that Marshall’s biography makes much of the accusation because he was actually guilty of being ambitious and greedy and he was trying to make the adultery smear into a scandalous smokescreen for his real activities (think more along the lines of Game of Thrones than Sir Walter Scott). Marshall announced that he was being denied justice. Henry II gave the knight safe conduct and Marshall left in what can only be described as a bit of a righteous huff…it also gave him an excuse to leave his lord…yes, that’s right…the same lord who was just about to rebel against his father. Marshall did not rejoin the Young King until he was dying of dysentery and he’d sought permission not only from Henry II but also Philip of France.  Make of it what you will.

 

Meanwhile William de Tancarville, who was a hereditary chamberlain, insisted on his hand washing rights. Apparently the king was just about to have his hands washed when Tancarville pushed his way to the front and grabbed at the silver basin that the chamberlain was using. The person who had been about to wash Henry’s hands kept hold of the basin and I suspect that much sloshing about ensued until Henry told the bloke with the basin to hand it over to Tancarville who then made a great show of ensuring that Henry had clean hands – ceremonially speaking of course. And then he proceeded to pocket the basin that had held the water for the king’s clean up as well as the basins employed for the handwashing of the princes. It turns out that the silver basins were a perk of the job, which would perhaps account for why the first handwasher-in-chief wasn’t keen on letting go of it in the first place.

 

Good will at the Christmas Court at Caen in 1182 seems noticeable only by its absence. By January the king and his sons were heartily fed up of one another and took themselves off for a spot of perennial Plantagenet family fisticuffs – de Tancarville siding with the Young King.

Click on the image of the festive feast to open up a new tab and a post about the Young King at Christmas including 1182.

Christopher Harper-Bill, Nicholas Vincent Henry II: New Interpretations

William M. Reddy  The Making of Romantic Love: Longing and Sexuality in Europe, South Asia and Japan 900-1200 CE