Since before the Middle Ages, women have typically been barred from traditional positions of power, such as monarch or territorial ruler. The entire female sex was considered weaker and inferior beings that required control due to their hysterical and illogical nature; this was a theory developed by men, condoned by men and reinforced by men.[1] Due to this attitude, rulership and potential female successors, many territories had succession laws which favoured men at all times over any female claimant and others which denied their rights entirely. There were, however, a number of
women who did come into positions of power, more commonly as the consort to a male ruler, but on less frequent occasions, women have become the ruler in their own right or as the regent for their husband, son or brother.

This dissertation will focus on two queens in particular; Blanche of Castile who was the regent for her son, Louis IX, after the death of her husband, Louis VIII; and Margaret of Anjou who was the regent for her son, Edward, during incapacitation of her husband, Henry VI. Despite the similarities between these two queens, Blanche has emerged from contemporary and historical evaluation
with a positive reputation as a most virtuous example of a queen consort whereas Margaret has developed a negative reputation being slandered as an ambitious, power hungry she-wolf.[2]

Whilst Blanche and Margaret had similar examples of feminine authority during their childhoods, a marriage as a result of a peace treaty between France and England and defending their son’s inheritances and their own position of regent, Blanche was fortunate to be able to establish herself successfully within a regency whereas Margaret was not. Blanche’s stability gave her the ability,
time and resources to fund various commissions in art, architecture and monastic houses. Margaret, having lacked the same stability, was not able to commission such works due to her resources being devoted to the preservation of the House of Lancaster. Margaret was never able to preside over England from a stable position; in losing the civil war against the Yorkists, Margaret never rehabilitated her reputation. The House of York, in their effort to legitimise their dynasty, sullied all involved with the House of Lancaster, especially Margaret.

There has been much scholarly research within the decade which covers queens and queenship by Jennifer Carpenter, Marjorie Chibnall, Anne Duggan, Mary Erler, Mark Ormond, David Herlihy and Natalie Tomas. Jacqueline Murray’s chapter on ‘Thinking about Gender’ analyses the medieval attitude towards women in general where men and women were ‘contrasted and asymmetrically valued as intellect/body, active/passive, rational/irrational, reason/emotion, self-control/lust, judgement/mercy and order/disorder’[3]. Anne Duggan forthrightly asks ‘how far are we dealing with accounts of female power specifically constructed to channel and confine the feminine according to male centred ideas of what is right and proper conduct for a woman?’.[4] Marjorie Chibnall argues that ‘there was almost no place for reigning queens in twelfth century Western society’ and queens of that age were the ‘wives of kings or kings’ daughters transmitting an inheritance’[5]. Sarah Lambert even analyses the preferences between a queen consort and a queen regnant in regards to the succession of the kingdom of Jerusalem.[6] Jennifer Carpenter’s Power of the Weak and Mark Ormrod’s Medieval Petitions tends to focus on consorts and their ‘behind the scenes’ power they can have, if they act upon it. Erik Sjoqvist’s Queen or Goddess article analyses the emulation of divine goddess by ancient and medieval queen consorts.

However none of the aforementioned publications specifically examine consorts who take on the position of regent for their husband, son or brother. Nor do they analyse the duality of the masculine/feminine gender roles within the position of regent these queens faced whilst inhabiting a traditionally masculine role. Whilst queenship has been a popular topic for the past thirty years, there have not been many publications that focus especially on Blanche or Margaret, and certainly not together. Nor do they focus essentially on their roles as regents of their respective countries or the duality of their position, a female consort in a masculine position of authority where their very ‘virtues and natures’ are supposed to make them unsuitable for the role they inhabit

I believe this is a worthwhile topic in order to have a better understanding of the difficulty they faced as a woman taking on a position traditionally held only by men. There have been no comparisons of the lives of Blanche of Castile and Margaret of Anjou. The lives of these two queens are quite similar; they were both married as a result of peace treaties between France and England, they both bore children, they both used the marriages of their children for political purposes, they both were fiercely protective of their son’s inheritances and both were regents of their respective countries.

The analysis of Blanche and Margaret will demonstrate that despite having similar childhoods, marriage treaties and actions as regent, they are not remembered in the same way. Blanche was handed the regency whereas Margaret tried to take it; Blanche was well beloved of the French people before her time as regent whereas Margaret was distained and hated for the loss of English territory to the
French. Without the absence or allowance of men, queens were not able to successfully take and hold on to such a powerful position. Both Blanche and Margaret mustered arms and soldiers to defend their son’s rights and crown, but Blanche was successful where Margaret was not.

The key question is why? Why was Blanche successful where Margaret could only fail? The answer may lie in the fact that Blanche’s husband, Louis VIII, and father-in-law, Philip II, were respected and effective rulers; France was relatively stable in comparison to the England Margaret had arrived in. Margaret had no such luck; her husband, Henry VI, was a weak and ineffective king ruled by his uncles and favourite councillors and Henry V had died when her husband was less than a year old. When Margaret arrived in England, it was an unstable country, losing ground to their greatest enemy, the French, of whose royal family she was related. To some degree, it could be argued that Margaret was never going to overcome her French heritage and it was not helped that from the moment Margaret was married to their king, she began to cost England a large portion of French land without the compensation of a proper dowry.

The actions of Blanche and Margaret’s lives are immortalised through artistic and architectural commissions during their respective lifetimes, which they would have personally authorised, and most importantly after their deaths, where the queens have no control over how they are remembered and also what is and is not remembered. In contemporary chronicles, Blanche is revered as a pious and just queen who defended the realm against several rebel nobles and gave birth to France’s greatest king. Margaret on the other hand is remembered as losing her husband to madness, her son to death and her crown to the House of York. Whilst Margaret would have liked to have been remembered as queen who defended her son’s rights, many historical commissions portray her as the defeated queen who lost the Cousins’ War. Blanche wanted to be remembered through her patronage of several monastic houses and whilst none of those houses have remained in existence, this is still remembered due to other commissions within churches and basilicas.

In order to understand the context of this dissertation, there are a number of terms that must be specifically defined. Considering the heavy use of ‘queen’ within this dissertation, I though it appropriate to distinguish the differences; ‘queen consort’ is a female consort of a male monarch, ‘queen dowager’ is a female consort of a previous male monarch, but not the mother of the current monarch, ‘queen mother’ is a female consort whose husband was a male monarch and mother of the current monarch and ‘queen regnant’ is a female monarch in her own right of inheritance. There are a number of statuses a monarch can hold; for example ‘absent’ is a monarch who is not present within their own realm; ‘disabled’ a monarch who is unable to rule due to either physical or mental ill-health; a ‘young’ is a monarch under the agreed age of authority and consent.

When I use the phrase contemporary reputation means what an individual is known for during their lifetime and immediately after their death and historical representation can be interpreted as a unique version of historical events and individual reputation written by an author from a differing time period. A contemporary source is publication/source that was written at or around the same time as Blanche of Castile and Margaret of Anjou. A historical source is a publication/source that is written on the subject of history after the time as Blanche of Castile and Margaret of Anjou. Reign means the exercise of sovereign power or the period during which a monarch rules; power signifies an individual’s ability to control its environment, including the behaviour of other individuals; agency denotes the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices; and most importantly, a regent is one who rules in place of the monarch because the monarch is too young, absent or disabled.

This dissertation draws upon a number of primary texts have survived from their contemporary time period from both France and England which specifically mention and/or cover the events surrounding both Blanche and Margaret. There are several Chronicles of England by Capgrave, Doyle, Froissart, Paris, Wendover; Chronicles of France by Joinville and Chronicles of the Dukes of Burgundy. A number of official letters written between Blanche of Castile and Henry III of England, Pope Honorius III, Thibaut of Champagne, Pope Gregory IX, Louis IX of France, Raymond VII of Toulouse, Pope Innocent IV; Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI of England, Henry V of England, the Duke of Bedford, Cardinal Beaufort, Earl of Northumberland and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

There are some strengths and weaknesses in regards to these sources. Whilst there was a contemporary attitude towards women in positions of power that had a bias against the concept, these sources clearly demonstrate it in general and also specific attacks against Blanche and Margaret. Some of the letters that are available are from Blanche and Margaret themselves; however these letters are
of an official capacity and therefore do not reveal any personal insight of contemporary events and individuals. Another weakness in general is there are still a number of sources that have not been translated into English and nor have they been made available on the internet. This dissertation will analyse both contemporary and historical sources for any potential bias against women in positions of power in general by looking at how the source was written, who it was written by and why it was written. For example, if a ‘chronicle’ was commissioned by a territorial ruler who is later mentioned in that particular document, any praise lavished upon them would be called into question; conversely any criticism of other would be equally as doubtful.

This dissertation will explore this question through five chapters. The first will establish what the traditional actions and expectations were of queens as the wife of a ruler, as the mother of the next royal generation and as a consort of the realm. The second chapter will analyse the early lives of Blanche de Anscarids and Margaret de Valois and how they became the regents of France and England respectively. The third chapter will analyse specifically on the contemporary reputations of Blanche and Margaret through contemporary chronicles, art and architecture, official and personal
correspondence and contemporary literature. The fourth chapter will specifically examine the historical representations of Blanche and Margaret based on the above primary sources that have been interpreted and reinterpreted by historians over time in biographies, histories of France and England and art and literature.

[1] Andre Poulet. “Capetian Women and the Regency: The Genesis of a Vocation.” In Medieval Queenship, by Jon Carmi Parsons, 93-116. London: Sutton Publishing, 1994, p94

[2] William Shakespeare. Henry VI. London: First Folio, 1623, Part III, Act I, Scene IV, Lines 111-115

[3] Jacqueline Murray. “Thinking about Gender: The Diversity of Medieval Perspectives.”, In Power of the Weak, by Jennifer Carpenter, 1-27. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1995., p2

[4] Anne Duggan. Queens and Queenship in Medieval Europe. London: Boydell Press, 1995, p XV

[5] Marjorie Chibnall. The Empress Matilda – Queen Consort, Queen Mother and Lady of the English. Ibid., p1

[6] Sarah Lambert. “Queen or Consort: Rulership and Politics in the Latin East 1118-1228” in Queens and Queenship in Medieval Europe by Duggan, Anne, 153-169. London: Boydell Press, 1995, p153