Category: Chapter II – Blanche of Castile and Margaret of Anjou


Source: Mahiet. “Miniature of the coronation of Louis VIII and Blanche of Castile, with an illuminated initial 'E'.” British Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts - Royal 16 G VI. Chroniques de France ou de St Denis. Paris, 1332-1350

Whilst Blanche and Margaret have emerged from history with differing contemporary reputations and historical representations, they are in fact quite similar when one compares their upbringing, their familial influences and the circumstances regarding their marriage. Both were well educated and part of a large family with multiple siblings. They were both the daughters of kings and had
influential mothers and grandmothers. They married young as a result of a peace treaty between France and England. However whilst Blanche was handed the regency by her husband upon his deathbed, Margaret petitioned parliament to assume the regency and was subsequently rejected; Margaret would only technically become to regent long after the illness of her husband.

Blanche and Margaret had several challenges to their right in assuming the regency due to their status as a woman and both were the mother to the heir of the throne. Whilst Blanche was able to successfully defend her position as the regent of France, Margaret had to fight for the recognition of her right to the regency in the first instance and only inherited the position due to the lack of other
suitable male candidates. This biographical chapter is to explore the historical circumstance of the early lives of Blanche and Margaret, from their birth, marriage negotiations, wedding ceremonies, coronations and children to the time they became regent.

Blanche de Anscarids (1188-1252) was a Castilian princess who married a French prince as a consequence of an English peace treaty at the beginning of the thirteenth century. In her role as the crown princess and queen of France, Blanche would set a new benchmark of how a royal consort should behave. She was the fertile consort, giving birth to thirteen children; she was the non-political consort,
never actively intervening in state affairs; and she was the supportive consort, encouraging her husband and his conquests when no other person would. This was how Blanche spent her married life; for twenty six years she devoted herself to her husband with his ambitions, setbacks and triumphs becoming hers.

Blanche and Louis VIII were expected to rule France for decades, marry their children to forge alliances throughout Europe and grow old together. It was never conceived that Louis would die at the young age of thirty-nine, leaving his eldest son king at twelve. It is in this role as regent of France that earned Blanche the positive contemporary reputation and subsequent historical representations
since the thirteenth century. Once Blanche inhabited her new role, she was able to earn herself praise for her actions as the regent of France during the minority of her son, Louis IX, from 1226 to 1234 and during the latter’s absence on crusade from 1248 to 1252. Despite having no previous training or experience in the workings of government, I will argue that Blanche excelled as the queen regent of France and is a good example of a queen consort with a ‘positive’ reputation.

Blanche was born in Palencia, Castile, Spain on 4th March 1188, the daughter of Alfonso VIII of Castile and his wife, Eleanor Plantagenet, Princess of England (for genealogical table, see Appendix I.). During her youth in Castile, Steadham argues that Blanche was able to personally witness the strength of a female regent in her mother who cultivated the love of the people by ensuring the construction of public buildings such as hospitals, monasteries and universities. Such acts demonstrated Queen Eleanor’s devotion for her people by erecting these municipal places which allowed for the betterment of her people. The cleric Rada argues that Eleanor established her courage and fortitude by accompanying her husband on the battlefields of Palencia and Burgos, showing that not only did she support her husband’s military endeavours, she was not afraid of the consequences and therefore her people should follow her example.[1]

Blanche was married to Louis of France, the eldest son of Philip II as a result of the Treaty of Vernon (or le Goulet), which was signed in May 1200.[2] Her grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, made the journey to escort the future bride to France. The trip to Bordeaux would have taken several weeks during which Marion Meade argues Eleanor would have delivered an oral history that ‘pass[ed] from one generation to the next, as well as the whole chronology of hatred between Plantagenet and Capet’.[3] This was the most opportune time for Eleanor to impart her knowledge and wisdom from her own experiences in dealing with the French court in a number of different capacities.

Upon her marriage in May 1200, Blanche was now the crown princess of France, wife to the heir of the throne and future queen; her life now belonged to France itself and she would serve its interests above all others. For now, Blanche’s time was divided between education and leisure activities such as horse riding, surrounded by a number of noble children which included Arthur and Eleanor of Brittany, Theobald of Champagne and Margaret of Flanders.[4] Pernoud accurately sums up the task ahead of Blanche; she ‘was to be a Queen and at that time being a queen was no mere decorative function. It meant a lifelong dedication to an exacting task. It meant assuming an important part of the government of the country, sometimes the entire responsibility.’[5]

On 6th August 1223 in Rheims Cathedral, both Louis and Blanche were crowned king and queen of France respectively (for illuminated manuscript of coronation, see Appendix II.). Pernoud outlines the contemporary expectations of this golden couple: ‘Louis and Blanche were full of high hopes as they came to the throne. They were thirty five, the age of sober and fruitful enterprises, the age of maturity. The power they held in their hands, which they could use to do great things, was more than any of their forebears had possessed. Everything argued a splendid reign for Louis’.[6] It was not meant to be, for Louis VIII died on 8th November 1226. Blanche was devastated and France was in shock; now the crown passed to the hands of a twelve year old boy.

Margaret de Valois (1429-1482) was an Angevin princess who married an English king as a consequence of a French peace treaty in the middle of the fifteenth century. In her role as the queen of England, Margaret would set a new benchmark of how a royal consort should not behave. She was not a largely fertile consort, giving birth to just one son; she was a very politically active consort, intervening in state affairs; but she was the supportive consort, encouraging her husband to rule on his own accord and a fierce defender of her son’s right to the English throne. She devoted herself to her husband’s cause against the Yorkist rebels until the death of her husband and son in 1471 robbed her of her will to fight.

For Henry and Margaret there were no great expectations of a long and prosperous rule, as Henry would have preferred ‘becoming a monk, contentedly copying and illuminating religious works’ proving himself a stark difference to his warrior father, Henry V.[7] Not only did Henry make peace with France, he directly and knowingly acquiesced to a reduced price for English pride and gave up many territories that had been soaked with English blood to secure. In addition to his incompetence as a monarch, Henry VI suffered from mental breakdowns and for months would be completely unresponsive. It was during these circumstances that Margaret put herself forward to be regent. To her, it made perfect sense; not only was she the wife of the king, she was the mother of the heir of the throne. It is in this role as regent of England that earned Margaret the negative contemporary reputation and subsequent historical representations since the thirteenth century. Before Margaret even inhabited her new role, she was dismissed as an interfering woman who had no business involving herself into English politics. Once Margaret had installed herself as regent, the Lancastrian cause went from bad to worse, culminating in the capture, deposition and murder of her husband in 1461.

Margaret was born in Pont-a-Mousson, Lorraine, France on 23rd March 1429, the daughter of Rene I of Anjou and Isabella I of Lorraine (for genealogical table, see Appendix III.). As a young child, Margaret was considered to have ‘inherited the excellence and talents of her father… [with the]…added beauty and grace of her mother’.[8] Hookman argues that Margaret ‘gave proofs of those virtues which win the affections, and of such great abilities as seldom fail to command the notice of the world’.[9] Margaret’s education is believed to have been thorough, but it is not specified in what
areas she excelled; for ‘she was carefully instructed, and gave early promise of the talents and beauty which afterwards so much distinguished her’.[10]

Throughout her entire childhood, Margaret had personally witnessed her mother and grandmother governing due to the forced imprisonment of her father. Yolande of Aragon and Isabella of Lorraine were praised for their actions in the capacity as regent or lieutenant-general; both publically by the populace with cheering crowds and privately by their servants and courtiers with their unquestioning
obedience. It is possible that thinking herself just as capable, Margaret would have seen no obstacle when the right moment came for her to step forward in the absence of her eventual husband. It is worth noting that Margaret was born during the time of Jeanne d’Arc, the Maid of Orleans who eventually restored Charles VII to his rightful inheritance. Therefore Margaret grew up surrounded
by women in charge, both domestically within her family and nationally with Jeanne d’Arc, and they not only ruled but ruled well.

Margaret’s marriage to Henry was not to cement a lasting peace, but a mere truce of only two years. Henry wanted peace and the French sensed his desperation to avoid further conflict; however Margaret was a substitute offer as Charles VII was not prepared to sacrifice one of his own daughters; to do so would have only strengthened the English claim to the French throne, as Henry’s own parents’ marriage had done.[11] The marriage contract did not win Margaret any favours with the English population, for not only did Henry waive the necessity of a dowry, but he also conceded Anjou and Maine to the French.[12] The only kind of dowry that accompanied Margaret was the weak claim to the kingdom of Majorca, descended from Yolande to Rene.[13] The blame was placed upon Margaret, despite her lack of direct involvement.

Before Margaret had even set foot in England, she had cost the English the counties of Anjou and Maine, the city of Le Mans and the alliance with the Count of Armagnac, whose daughter Henry had cast aside.[14] However she set foot on English soil in April 1445 to praise and admiration with chroniclers describing her as ‘well in beauty and favour, as in wit and policy and was of stomach and courage more like a man than a woman’.[15] Margaret soon realised who really ruled in England and it was not her husband; according the Holinshed’s chronicles she was ‘disdained that her husband should be ruled rather than rule [and] could not abide that the duke of Gloucester should do all things concerning the order to weighty affairs, least it might be said, that she had neither wit or stomach which would permit and suffer her husband, being of most perfect age, like a young pupil to be governed by the direction of another man’.[16] By dismissing the Duke of Gloucester and encouraging her husband to rule himself, Margaret rocked a political boat that had been peacefully sailing since Henry was an infant; who was this teenage French woman to question or change it?

After the death of Gloucester in 1447, the next in line to the throne was Richard, the Duke of York (for genealogical table, see Appendix IV.). As Gloucester before him, York believed he should be heavily involved in the governing of the kingdom, much to Margaret’s incensement.[17] A feud developed between Margaret and York, both vying for position and influence with the King, for whoever held the person and favour of the king ruled the realm. Margaret made every attempt to remove York from court with him digging in his heels at every turn. The grudge came to a very public head upon
the onset of Henry’s illness in August 1453 for the king suffered a ‘shock’, rendering him catatonic and unresponsive; Margaret was in a unique position at this time as she was seven months pregnant.[18] Until the birth of the child, she was unable by custom to involve herself in politics, as the lying-in and churching ceremonies would confine her for the three months. If Margaret was able to give birth to a boy, there would be no question to her right as regent; all she needed was time.

Margaret managed to hide Henry away in Windsor for months until after the birth of her son, Edward, in October 1453 [19]; however word still managed to escape in a letter sent to the Duke of Norfolk in January 1454.[20] With Somerset arrested in December 1453[21], it was during this time that Margaret made an official play for the regency, outlining her ‘desires to have the whole rule of the land and the same powers and privileges as her husband, such as the appointments of key court positions, bishoprics and sheriffs’.[22] Parliament stalled in making a decision; however their hand was forced with the death of the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Kempe, on 22nd March 1454 who had been the unofficial ‘Head of State’. On 3rd April 1454 York was appointed the ‘Protector and Defender of the Realm and Church and Principal Councillor of the King’.[23] For the moment, Margaret had lost the battle, but not the war; Margaret knew that unless she fought for the rights of her son, he would never become the king of England.

The regency allowed York to demonstrate his abilities in statesmanship and when his regency was brought to an end in February 1455 with the recovery of Henry’s senses, there were many nobles prepared to supplant Henry with York in the hope of better governance.[24] Margaret would never stand for it; her husband was the anointed king and her son the heir to the throne. What was initially a private squabble between the Queen and York spilled into the remainder of English society, sparking the outbreak of civil war. The First Battle of St Albans on 22nd May 1455[25] marks the beginning of the Cousins’ War, as it was known during its time, which would not completely cease until the Battle of Bosworth on 22nd August 1485, , costing the lives of three kings, three princes, six dukes,
eight earls and the extinction of up to twenty-five noble lines.[26]

Margaret had known that her son’s future as king of England was threatened with the increasing power of the Duke of York, however she could not believe that her son would ever be disinherited. Such a deal was brokered between Henry VI and York, ensuring that Henry would continue to rule until his death; at that time, it would be York and not Margaret’s son who would succeed as king.[27]
It was the same kind of agreement between Henry V of England and Charles VI of France in the Treaty of Troyes (1420)[28] and between Stephen I of England and Empress Matilda in the Treaty of
Winchester (1153)[29]. At this stage, the English commons were desperate for peace, for the war was draining England of its resources and its men; they no longer cared who wore the crown as long as the fighting ceased. Margaret was shocked and surprised that her husband would have relinquished her son’s rights to the crown; York had won and had won through legal channels with the agreement being ratified by parliament.[30] It was at this stage when Margaret took control, realising her own husband had betrayed her and her son and she would be the only one willing to fight for her son’s rights.

In conclusion, Blanche and Margaret had very different paths towards their position of regent, which they assumed to fiercely defend their son’s rights of inheritance, through diplomatic and militaristic channels. Blanche would have personally witnessed the prime examples of queenship in her mother, Queen Leonor of Castile, and her grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine; Margaret had her own mother, Isabella of Lorraine, and grandmother, Yolande of Aragon, as examples of how a woman could successfully inhabit a position of power and authority.

During their regencies, Blanche and Margaret would oversee the education of their sons, procure diplomatic advantageous marriages to strengthen their net of allies and assemble armies to defend their cause. The main challenge that both Blanche and Margaret faced was against their position as regent; however Blanche was successful in fending off such challenges whereas Margaret would not even be considered as regent. Margaret had the added obstacle of having her son’s rights stripped from him and failing to retake them whilst there was never any question of Blanche’s son succeeding to the throne. Blanche’s son, Louis IX, would have a long and fruitful reign which would see the king lead two crusades in the Holy Land and later be canonised a saint.[31] Margaret’s son, Edward, would be married to the daughter of his father’s treacherous former ally and would remain disinherited, murdered at the age of seventeen during the Battle of Tewkesbury.[32]

Had Blanche been ousted from her position as regent, it could be argued that her successors would have irreparably tarnished her reputation and she would not have had the opportunities to patron monastic houses, commission stained glass windows or even had a say in the marriage of her son. Had Margaret successfully defeated the Yorkists and ensured the succession of her son to the throne of England, it could be argued that she would have been able to rehabilitate her image through the patronage of arts, architecture and literature, the design and location of her grave and tomb and
welcome grandchildren into the world.


[1] Rodericus Ximenius de Rada. Opera Tomus Teritus. Valencia: Textos Medievales, 1793, p172-3

[2] Raphael Holinshed. Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. Vol. II. VI vols. London: J Johnson, 1807, p279

[3] Marion Meade. Eleanor of Aquitaine. London: Phoenix Press, 1977 p416

[4] Regine Pernoud. Blanche of Castile. London: Collins, 1975, p25

[5] Ibid., p11

[6] Ibid., p92

[7] Jock Haswell. Ibid., p51

[8] Mary Ann Hookham. The Life and Times of Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England and France; Vol I. London: Tinsley Brothers, 1872, p133

[9] Ibid., p133

[10] Ibid., p154

[11] Raphael Holinshed,. Ibid., p208

[12] Ibid., p206

[13] Edgcumbe Staley. King Rene d’Anjou and His Seven Queens. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912, p263

[14] Holinshed, Raphael. Ibid., p208

[15] Ibid., p207

[16] Ibid., p210

[17] Ibid., p212

[18] Ibid., p236

[19] Ibid., p236

[20] A. R. Myers. English Historical Documents 1327-1485. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1969, p272

[21] Holinshed, Raphael. Ibid., p238

[22] Myers, A. R. Ibid., p272

[23] Holinshed, Raphael. Ibid., p238

[24] Ibid., p238

[25] Ibid., p240

[26] Terrance Wise: E.A. Embleton. “The Wars of the Roses.” In The Nobility of Later Medieval England, by Kenneth Bruce MacFarlane. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997, p4

[27] Holinshed, Raphael. Ibid., p268

[28] Ibid., p113

[29] Holinshed, Raphael. Vol. II, Ibid., p105

[30] Holinshed, Raphael. Vol. III, Ibid., p272

[31] Holinshed, Raphael. Vol. II, Ibid., p474

[32] Holinshed, Raphael. Vol. III, Ibid., p320

The greatest threat to Blanche of Castile during the minority of her son, Louis IX Capet King of France, was the young king’s male relatives. Philip of France, Robert of Dreux and Peter of Brittany were constant antagonists during Blanche’s regency. Despite the fact that one was an uncle from a disputed marriage and the other two were second cousins, they were the only remaining male line descendants of the House of Capet; and therefore in the line of succession for the throne, should Louis IX fail to produce an heir. This was a contributing factor was to why it was Blanche who was entrusted with the regency. The family tree below outlines the descent of Philip, Robert and Peter.

Having spent the majority of the day researching the tale of Margaret de Valois, Queen of England, I started to wonder what her reputation would have been if her cause had won the English War of the Roses. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the topic, at a very basic level, the war was between two rival factions of the English royal family, the Lancasters and the Yorks. The Lancasters instigated the initial part of the war in 1399 by deposing Richard II Plantagenet for his incompotence and placed themselves upon the throne. They were descended from John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster and third son of Edward III Plantagenet whereas Richard II was descended from the first son, Edward, the Black Prince of Wales, who had unfortunately predeceased his father. This dynasty ruled England until an equally unworthy monarch inherited the throne, Henry VI Lancaster. The Yorks, on the other hand, were twice descended from Edward III; through the male line from Edward’s fourth son, Edmund, the Duke of York; through the female line from Edward’s second son, Lionel, the Duke of Clarence. When Henry VI began having catatonic episodes during the 1450’s, there was much political infighting in regards to who should rule the regency during the king’s incapacity; it was between Henry’s own uncles, the dukes of Gloucester and Suffolk, his wife, Queen Margaret, and his cousin, the Duke of York. When it became clear that regardless of his mental capacity, Henry VI was never going to be an effectual monarch; the Yorks used the same reasonings the House of Lancaster had used in their successful rebellion of 1399. The House of York ultimately won during the Battle of Tewkesbury when Henry and Margaret’s son, Edward, was killed and Henry himself was captured.

My question is what would have happened if Prince Edward had not been killed during the heat of battle and Henry had not been captured? Would Margaret have been able to lead the Lancastrian dynasty back to its former glory? How differently would she be remembered now? Equally with Blanche of Castile; there were numerous attempts to remove Blanche from the regency and even a plot to kidnap the young king in order to remove him from Blanche’s sphere of influence. How would Blanche be remembered now if those plots had succeeded? Would Blanche be ‘the She-Wolf’ instead of Margaret and would Margaret now be the prime example of queenship instead of Blanche?

Blanche de Anscarids was a Castilian princess who married a French prince as a consequence of an English peace treaty at the beginning of the thirteenth century. In her role as the crown princess and queen of France, Blanche would set a new benchmark of how a royal consort should behave and would become a prime example subsequent queens would hope to emulate. She was the fertile consort, giving birth to thirteen children; she was the non-political consort, never actively intervening in state affairs; and she was the supportive consort, encouraging her husband and his conquests when no other person would. This was how Blanche spent her married life, for twenty six years she devoted herself to her husband with his ambitions, setbacks and triumphs becoming hers. They grew up together, observing the court of Philip II of France, learning the art of statesmanship and they raised a large family which would include two kings and two Catholic saints.

Blanche and Louis VIII were meant to rule France for decades, marry their children to worthy spouses that forged alliances throughout Europe and grow old together. It was never expected that Louis would die at the young age of thirty-nine, leaving his eldest son king at twelve; nor was it expected that Louis would designate Blanche as regent for their son’s minority. It is this role as the regent of France that earned Blanche a favourable and positive contemporary reputation which has continued throughout history in her numerous historical representations. Blanche was a consort who did not actively seek power during the reigns of Philip II or Louis VIII; only when circumstance coerced her into accepting the highly political position of regent did she officially enter politics. Once Blanche inhabited her new role, she was able to earn herself well deserved praise for her actions as the regent of France during the minority of her son, Louis IX, from 1226 to 1234 and also during the latter’s absence on crusade from 1248 to 1252. Despite having no previous formal training or experience in the workings of government, Blanche excelled as the queen regent of France and is a magnificent example of a queen consort with a ‘positive’ reputation.

Blanca was born in Palencia, Castile, Spain on 4th March 1188, the daughter of Alfonso VIII of Castile and his wife, Eleanor Plantagenet, Princess of England. As a young child, Blanche was considered a beautiful, accomplished young princess who possessed a pleasant combination of ‘temperament and talent’ and she was fortunate to grow up in a court which Marion Meade describes as a place ‘where troubadours gathered and poets still composed verse for a queen-patroness, who, like her mother, knew the value of beautiful words’, illustrating the cultured and educated influence of her mother.Blanca was taught her Castilian and religion, but Pernoud makes special mention of her being taught of the many queens in history; ‘queens long dead and others still alive; haughty queens and frivolous; queens imprisoned or sent into exile; well-beloved queens and detested ones; happy queens and lonely queens’.It could be argued that throughout the remainder of her life, Blanca remembered her childhood instruction and heeded the warnings given; though it must be noted that the majority of her education was completed after her marriage and alongside her husband, the Prince Louis.

During her youth in Castile, Steadham argues that Blanca was able to personally witness the strength of a female regent in her mother who cultivated the love of the people by ensuring the construction of public buildings such as hospitals, monasteries and universities. Such acts demonstrated Queen Eleanor’s love and devotion for her people by erecting these municipal places which allowed for the betterment of her people. She also established her courage and fortitude by accompanying her husband on the battlefields of Palencia and Burgos, showing that not only did she support her husband’s military endeavours, she was not afraid of the consequences and therefore her people should follow her example. These actions inspired confidence in and affection for the royal family which was crucial in maintaining a firm hold upon the common population; this also demonstrates that both Alfonso and Eleanor were keenly aware of the power of popular opinion and were eager to ensure it stayed in their favour. Although the philosophy of the divine right of kings was not thoroughly established at this time, many monarchs were aware that if they incurred the wrath of their people, they risked rebellion and possible deposition in favour of another royal candidate who would only be too happy to ascend the throne to placate the masses. It would be a valuable lesson that Blanca would later draw upon when the time arose.

After tensions between England and France had reignited over a succession dispute to the English crown, a new peace, the Treaty of Vernon (or le Goulet), was signed in May 1200 and it was to be sealed with a marriage between the Count of Artois, the eldest son of Philip II of France, and a niece of King John of England; the candidates were the princesses Urraca and Blanca of Castile. The girls’ grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, made the journey from England to Castile to not only choose between them, but also to escort the future bride to France herself. The Castilian court in which Eleanor of Aquitaine spent two months getting to know her Castilian grandchildren reminded her so much of not only her own native court at Poitiers, but also of her own influence over both the French and English courts. Initially negotiations had Urraca betrothed to the French prince, but Eleanor kept turning to the younger sister, Blanca who is said to have had ‘a streak of energy and ambition… [a vein of female strength’ similar to her visiting grandmother.

Soon Blanca found herself travelling to the court of France under the watchful guidance of her grandmother, Eleanor; the official reason for the switching of the bride was that Urraca was too harsh and Spanish sounding whereas Blanca turned very nicely into Blanche. The trip to Bordeaux would have taken several weeks during which Marion Meade argues, Eleanor would have delivered an oral history that ‘pass[ed] from one generation to the next, as well as the whole chronology of hatred between Plantagenet and Capet’.This was the most opportune time for Eleanor to impart her knowledge and wisdom from her own experiences in dealing with the French court in a number of different capacities. Firstly as the sovereign duchess of Aquitaine after the death of her father in April 1137; then as its crown princess, having married another Prince Louis in July 1137 and within the month, Eleanor was the queen of France and over the following fifteen years, Eleanor ruled over the French court and had ‘stood up to the Emperor, defied the Pope, wrested her son from prison and evaded all the snares laid for her’.

For Blanche to have such a wealth of knowledge at her disposal for even a short time was invaluable. Upon her marriage in May 1200, Blanche was now the crown princess of France, wife to the heir of the throne and future queen; her life now belonged to France itself and with her life, she would serve its interests above all others. For now, Blanche’s time was divided between education and leisure activates such as horse riding, surrounded by a number of noble children which included Arthur and Eleanor of Brittany, Theobald of Champagne and Margaret of Flanders. The continuation of her education included literature, music, geometry, astronomy, scripture, Latin, law and poetry at which Blanche appeared to excel at whilst her young husband worked at his sword fighting and horse riding skills.Here Blanche would have specific instruction on what would be expected of her as the wife of the future king of France and the mother of the royal children and the next generation of Europe’s monarchs. Pernoud accurately sums up the task ahead of Blanche; she ‘was to be a Queen and at that time being a queen was no mere decorative function. It meant a lifelong dedication to an exacting task. It meant assuming an important part of the government of the country, sometimes the entire responsibility.’

Blanche spent the majority of her marriage politically in the background with her time taken up with the birthing and rearing of children, which was her main duty as the wife of the crown prince of France. Her absence in official court documentation and proclamations seem to support this theory; however it must be noted that her father-in-law was in good health for the majority of his reign and therefore did not require any assistance.If by chance, Philip II had fallen ill, it would have been his son, Louis, who would have been called in to assist; so during this time, Blanche was not even required to be political which allowed her the time and space to fulfil her main duty. In a time where childbirth was difficult and dangerous, Blanche gave birth to thirteen children over a space of twenty one years, including ten sons and three daughters. In this respect, it made Blanche a very successful wife and her good fortune in this area earned her affection and respect from both her husband and father-in-law; in fact, Blanche’s birthing record is more successful than any Capet queen before her.Shadis argues that Blanche saw motherhood as a ‘means to an end’ in regards to consolidating her position and laying the ground work for her official entrance into politics as the wife of the king, once her husband succeeded. Therefore Blanche was content enough to remain in the background during her father-in-law and husband’s reigns. It is interesting to note that Blanche’s singular role as a mother ended when her husband died, her son succeeded and Blanche took on the political role of regent. Upon becoming regent, Blanche does not cease to be a mother, indeed at the time of Louis VIII’s death, their youngest child was a mere five months old. But with her husband’s death, Blanche was now free from the constraint of producing children; pregnancy and birthing, activities which consumed a majority of her time. The political landscape had also changed and now, as the widow of the old king and mother of the new, Blanche was required to step into the political arena as regent for her young son, a position that was conferred upon her and not one that she sought out herself.

Blanche’s lack of political involvement during these years does not accurately reflect the consideration Louis had for his wife. It was not due to any misgivings between them; they were in fact devoted to each other and it must be mentioned that on 6th August 1223 in Rheims Cathedral, both of them were crowned king and queen of France respectively, standing in front of the same altar at which they were married twenty three years earlier. Pernoud outlines the contemporary expectations of this golden couple: ‘Louis and Blanche were full of high hopes as they came to the throne. They were thirty five, the age of sober and fruitful enterprises, the age of maturity. The power they held in their hands, which they could use to do great things, was more than any of their forebears had possessed. Everything argued a splendid reign for Louis’.It was not meant to be for Louis VIII died on 8th November 1226, a mere three years upon the throne. Blanche was devastated and France was in shock; how could a most promising king be cut down in his prime when a great and stable king upon the throne means a great and stable time for the kingdom. Now the crown passed to the hands of a twelve year old boy, not old enough to rule on his own; a regent was required, but whom?

Aside from Blanche, there were a few of other candidates for the position; the late king’s younger brother, Philip of Boulogne; or the king’s cousins, Robert of Dreux and Peter of Brittany. Unfortunately for them, Louis did not trust a single one. Philip’s parentage was never without scrutiny and this made him prone to rash acts, trying to prove his worth as a prince of France; such rashness made him unsuitable. Robert and Peter were the count of Dreux and the duke of Brittany respectively which constituted a large portion of western France and therefore in control of a large number of soldiers, castles and vassals. On top of this, Peter was only the duke of Brittany through his marriage and a second son at that. Apart from his marriage, there was no inheritance awaiting him, thus he had ambitions to amass an estate that did not rest upon his matrimony; such aspirations made Peter unworthy as well and to put his brother in the same position would only invite the same sort of trouble. To Louis, there was only one choice; that of his wife, Blanche.

It could be argued that Louis saw Blanche as the perfect consort who was able to bear his children and manage his affairs on his behalf in his absence; Blanche would be rewarded in turn both in the public and private sphere. In the private sphere, it was not uncommon for kings and princes to have mistresses, but with Louis there are no such insinuations that he ever loved anyone else than Blanche; faithfulness in a royal husband was never expected and must have been extra comforting to Blanche that her husband did not have such inclinations. The fact that Blanche continued to bear children right up until the death of her husband demonstrates that Louis never neglected Blanche for long, if he ever did; in fact, when Louis died, Blanche was nursing a five month old son. Now in the public sphere, Louis honoured and recognised Blanche by naming her regent. However Blanche may have had other plans, for as early as 1223 she had been given permission by Pope Honorius III to enter a Cistercian monastery; ‘dearest daughter of Christ, inclined to your honourable requests which we willing favour in their faithful and devout purpose to enter once in your life with ten honourable women into a Cistercian monastery at the time of a general chapter’, but a specific entry date was not mentioned. Did Blanche mean to use this privilege upon the death of her husband if he had been much older and their son capable of governing on his own? It would appear so and if this was her intention, it may have also meant she never wanted to become an official political power in the capacity of regent; Blanche surely would have offered advice when asked of her husband or son, but it would seem that she never took an active step towards such an ambition. It is interesting to note that Matthew Paris’ Chronica Majora mentions this privilege during the year 1244 of his chronology and therefore illustrates that others knew of the existence of this letter during Blanche’s life.Nevertheless, the age of her son at his succession commanded her presence and her capabilities as the new regent of France. Louis had trusted no other to the task and since her husband had given her this task, Blanche would have seen it as her duty to accept it. No other individual would have protected Louis IX’s interests in the same fashion that a mother would, for she would have no other agenda than that of her son’s and therefore, France’s.

However not all historians agree that Louis actually conferred the regency upon Blanche and they argue that she took measures to ensure the regency for herself. Le Goff highlights discrepancies in the legality of the documents that confirmed Blanche as regent. The first was the date signed upon his will; the year was 1226 but there was no mention of a month or a day.The lack of a specific date is curious, for if there was nothing to hide surely a full and correct date would have been attached to the king’s will; but what if the date of the will was after the death of the king and therefore not of his hand. It may have meant that Louis VIII did not give Blanche the regency and that she forged the will with the complicity of the archbishop of Sens and the bishops of Chartres and Beauvais. Le Goff also argues that Louis VIII ‘never indicated in his testament or in his solemn declaration made before the group of powerful figures assembled around him on November 3, 1226, whom he designated to rule or at least wished to exercise what we would now call regency’. The last discrepancy lies with the naming of only three of the bishops present at his deathbed than the full five as witnesses to the king’s death.The Archbishop of Sens and the Bishops of Chartres and Beauvais were named in the will, but there were two others also present. It may have been that these two unnamed bishops refused to be complicit in Blanche’s plans for the regency and this was the reasoning behind their absence in the official document. Bush goes even further to state that Louis VIII did not give Blanche the regency and that she ‘assembled all the most powerful barons who were attached to her’ and in front of those barons had the bishops ‘attested upon oath that in dying he had invested her with that dignity, and pronounced her the guardian of his children’.Once the regency was safely in Blanche’s hands, she knew that her would need to be crowned and quickly; this she managed to do within twenty-one days of Louis VIII’s death.

Those nobles who attended the coronation would be faithful vassals, ready to serve the crown; those who did not were nobles that harboured rebellious intentions. Sure enough, there were three lords who made such excuses, Peter of Brittany, Hugh of Lusignan and Theobald of Champagne. Their main gripe was the fact that Blanche, as a woman and a foreigner, had been awarded the regency and not a feudal lord of France. These three magnates did not like and/or trust Blanche, suspecting her of siphoning resources and money to her Castilian parents; however this particular argument would appear to be flawed as Blanche’s parents had been deceased for well over ten years, having died in 1214. With Blanche in the position of regent, the barons had expected she would be ‘obliged to lean heavily on the support of the young king’s relatives and the great barons of France’. As it became clear that Blanche would not be requiring such help, the barons felt that they had been slighted; therefore if they not could be given that they felt was owed, they would take it by force or be sufficiently compensated. With such numbers behind them, it would have been possible to convince Blanche to abandon the regency and place her son in the hands of the barons who did not ‘want to imprison or harm him, and they had no intention to dethrone him, but they wanted to separate him from his mother and his advisors, to take him hostage in order to govern in his name and claim power, land and wealth for themselves’. Blanche would have preferred to placate the barons without having to go to war, but if her hand was forced, she was more than willing to lead the royal army against the treacherous lords. Theobald of Champagne and Henry of Bar lead the first round of negotiations; however their partners, Peter of Brittany and Hugh of Lusignan, believed that the parley was proceeding far too well in Blanche’s favour. They planned to teach their former allies a lesson in loyalty; however Theobald and Henry caught wind of their plots and convinced them to merely switch sides to Blanche, thus weakening their own position. After months of having the location for the second round of negotiations changed on numerous occasions, Blanche issued a final ultimatum to Peter and Hugh; submit or face the royal army in battle.46

Hugh and Peter saw the wisdom in submitting and at Vendome on 16th March 1227 the rebellion ended with a number of betrothals; ‘Peter Marclerc’s daughter Yolande was now to wed a scion of France, Prince John, who was to inherit Maine and Anjou. His younger brother Alphonse would marry Isabella, daughter of Isabella of Angouleme and Count Hugh of Lusignan. Another Isabella, Blanche’s only daughter, would marry another Hugh, the son of Count Hugh. Thus three royal children were betrothed to three of the rebel barons’ children’.Blanche therefore was able to suppress the rebellion, achieve peace and secure the loyalty of the rebels through future marriages without spilling blood; few could have escaped such a predicament so unscathed. This was a mere glimpse of the political potential Blanche had at her command as regent, a position she would retain until the marriage of Louis IX to Marguerite of Provence on 27th May 1234. During this time Blanche’s actions earned her the love, trust and respect of the common people. When a plot was uncovered to kidnap the young king from her and was unable to summon any loyal vassals to her aid, Blanche appealed directly to the people of Paris and pleaded for their help. Their response made a great impression on all who witnessed it; ‘all the way from Montlhery to Paris, the road was thronged with people, armed and unarmed, all loudly praying Christ to give him [Louis IX] health and long life, and to defend and keep him from his enemies.’Blanche and Louis never forgot this gracious act and would later reward the city of Paris for its great public show of loyalty.

When Peter of Brittany refused the summons of his king during the Christmas of 1228, Blanche and Louis personally led a siege upon Peter’s lands; as the army fell upon Belleme, Blanche was wise enough to order the surrounding forests be cut down and burned in large fires, keeping the soldiers warm and less restless. This earned Blanche the respect and love of her soldiers, who knowing that their queen cared for each and every one of them, were more than happy to march for weeks and months on end and fight for her cause; in this case, the army led Blanche to another victory over Peter of Brittany. Taking advantage of Henry’s yearning to recapture the lands taken from the English, namely Normandy, Anjou and Maine, Peter went to England and invited Henry III to invade along with the support of the Counts of Burgundy, Bar, Boulogne and Nevers. The king of England landed at St Malo at Easter 1230, but found the majority of Peter’s allies had defected to Blanche’s side and quickly retreated back across the Channel.50  Blanche was able to win the support of the Catholic Church by putting an end to the Albigensian Crusade which had lasted close to twenty years. Raymond of Toulouse had earned the ire of Blanche during the battle of Castel-Sarazin by cutting off the hands of vanquished French soldiers, thus denying them entrance into Heaven according to Catholic dogmatic law.

This was an insult taken deeply by Blanche, but she did not resort to waging another battle, instead turned to more diplomatic avenues. The terms favoured the Capet dynasty heavily; Raymond’s only daughter, Jeanne, was betrothed to Blanche’s younger son, Alphonse, with their children inheriting, but should they fail to produce an heir, Toulouse would revert back to the French crown; Raymond was required to do public penance, being whipped on the steps of Notre Dame in front of the Queen, along with his solemn oath to seek out all Cathar heretics in his dominion and ‘dispose of them’. Blanche chose to diffuse her opponents through more diplomatic channels by binding them to her own family by marriage and oaths of fealty, instead of confiscating their lands, titles and privileges; she knew it was better to purchase their friendship than antagonise them further and risk a larger revolt. During her time as regent, Blanche had managed to please the common masses, the Catholic Church and placate the troublesome barons; it was a feat few had managed to do with so little bloodshed. Nevertheless Blanche still has her detractors in both her contemporary and our historical literature. Zoe Oldenbourg argues that Blanche had ‘more luck than ability’ because Blanche, as a woman, was able to ‘flaunt the conventions of chivalry whereas her opponents could not’.

Oldenbourg accuses Blanche of taking advantage of her sex, for as a woman how was she expected to know the rules of chivalry when she was never supposed to be in a position of power; Blanche could claim ignorance and use her feminine charms to induce forgiveness. Annie Forbes Bush accuses Blanche of being ungrateful towards Theobald of Champagne in the matter of the succession dispute with his niece, Alice queen of Cyprus.This dispute to the Champagne succession arose after Theobald had betrayed Blanche a number of times and whilst Bush calls this ‘ingratitude’, it was possible that Blanche was merely teaching her inconstant ally a lesson in loyalty; if he wanted his rights to be upheld, he would have to pay dearly for it. It was also possible that if Theobald’s loyalty threatened to waiver on a later date, he would stand to lose Champagne to his niece; or Blanche was ensuring that Theobald was kept close, but unable to raise another opposing force by taxing him out of his resources.

The Capgrave Chronicles of England mentions Blanche only in passing, describing the actions of her husband in his attempt to conquer England on behalf of Blanche’s claim during the demise of her uncle, King John, in 1216.56 The Life of St Hugh of Lincoln deals directly with Blanche, but only on one occasion immediately after her wedding in 1200 when a melancholy had overcome her; Prince Louis appeal to the Bishop of Lincoln personally and was rewarded with a visit that cheered up the young princess.Only the Memoirs of the Lord of Joinville feature Blanche heavily; the chronicle was by a Champagne nobleman, Jean de Joinville, the seneschal of Theobald of Champagne and the lifelong friend of Louis IX. The work was commissioned around 1305 by Jeanne de Blois (1273-1305), the queen regnant of Navarre, queen consort of France and Louis IX’s great-granddaughter; Joinville had personally witnessed Louis’ activities during the Eighth Crusade and had even testified for the papal inquiry into the canonisation of the French king. However considering the closeness of Joinville to the king himself and having been commissioned by Louis’ descendant who also happened to be the queen of France, there was little possibility that the work would reflect Louis’ life in a negative way; it was in Joinville’s interest and perhaps his personal wish to glorify the saintly king. Unfortunately for Queen Jeanne, she died four years before the work was completed in 1309 and Joinville dedicated his labour of love to the late queen’s son, Louis X (1289-1316), the new king of Navarre, Count of Champagne and Joinville’s liege lord.

Matthew Paris’ Chronica Majora contains several references to Blanche in allowing the safe and protected passage of other royals through France, her arranged privilege of entering a Cistercian order and in negotiations securing peace in France, but Paris still mainly identifies her as Louis VIII’s wife and/or Louis IX’s mother. This continual linking to the male members of her family in some ways detracts from Blanche’s efforts as the regent of France, but it also reinforced her right to the position in the first place; it would appear to be a double edged sword for although her efforts would be remembered it would only be due to who her husband and son were and little more than that. However Blanche appears to have earned the respect of Matthew Paris, for on Blanche’s death in 1252, he praised her abilities as a regent and ruler, despite the limitations of her gender, describing her ‘a woman in sex, but a man in counsels, one worthy to be compared with Semiramis’.Paris references Blanche’s piety on several occasions throughout his Chronicle describing her as ‘that venerable and well-beloved servant of the Lord’60 and labelling her as ‘a memorable example of humility for all ages to all nobles and especially to women’.

Matthew Paris was in fact an English monk from the St Albans Abbey who became the ‘official recorder of events’ filling the vacancy left by Roger of Wendover. Vaughan states that from the time he took his religious habit in 1217 to the beginnings of his Chronicle in 1247, it is known that he was present at the marriage of Henry III to Eleanor of Provence in 1236 and was at Westminster in late 1247 where it was noted that the king was aware of Paris’ recordings. Vaughan has compiled a list of ‘known friends and informants’ which includes Henry III, his wife Queen Eleanor and his brother Richard of Cornwall, amongst many other ecclesiastical, courtier and lay individuals; neither Blanche nor Louis IX appear on that list.Whilst Paris does make an official voyage to Haakon IV of Norway with correspondence from Louis IX of France, trying to persuade the Scandinavian king take the cross64, there does not appear to be any other contact, by sight or letter, between Paris and the French royal family.

However Vaughan states that throughout the Chronica Majora, Paris displays ‘much praise and sympathy for Hubert de Burgh; and he admired, among others, Edmund Rich and John Blund; Richard Fishacre and Robert Bacon; and Blanche, queen of France’; of all the kings, nobles and prelates who could have been on that list, Blanche is included as the only woman, the only queen and the only regent. It is worth noting that Vaughan places Henry III of England on Paris’ disliked list; which would indicate that although Paris was English, he would appear that he did not let any potential allegiance to his native culture have any influence his official recordings. Paris appears to give credit when credit was due, basing his opinions on their actions and not taking into account whether they were local or foreign, man or woman.