The Four Queens of Provence

Written by on January 14, 2019 in Guest Blogs

Ancient paintings and drawing of 4 women in queenly attire, wearing crowns

There have been many famous families in history. Take the Curies, for example: Marie Curie won two Nobel Prizes and her husband, daughter and grandson each won one. Quite the talented family! And then there are the Wright brothers and the Brontë sisters. And let’s not forget those comic masters, the Marx brothers.

But imagine a family where not one, not two, but four sisters become queens, each heading a great European power. It’s hard to believe, but it actually happened in the 13th century. It’s a tale of Pride and Prejudice meets Game of Thrones…

When your Mum is great at PR

Their father was Ramon Berenguer, the powerful Count of Provence, who married Beatrice of Savoy. She was from a family both powerful and highly skilled in the art of diplomacy—very helpful for arranging marriages. Ramon and Beatrice had four daughters, all known for their beauty and elegance.

The first to become a queen was the eldest daughter, Margaret, who married Louis IX of France in 1234. More important than her beauty was her religious zeal, because Louis was extremely devout—so much so that he was later canonized. We know him today as Saint Louis.

King Louis led the Seventh Crusade and, during the fighting, was captured and imprisoned until his ransom could be raised. This left Margaret in charge for a time, making her the only woman to lead a Crusade.

The next daughter was Eleanor, known for her beauty and sense of fashion, who married King Henry III of England in 1236. She brought many family members with her— “the Savoyards”—who took over key government positions and pushed out the English nobility. This made her very unpopular! She remained in constant communication with her sister Margaret and the two of them helped bring their husbands closer, even spending Christmas together one year. This rapprochement helped lead to the Treaty of Paris, which ended a century-long conflict between England and France.

The third daughter was Sanchia (“of incomparable beauty”) who married Richard, Earl of Cornwall, in 1242. Now, you might think that an Earl doesn’t really cut the mustard when you’re looking to become queen, but Richard was the son of King John of England so he was no slouch. And he later got himself elected King of Germany, with the help of Savoyard diplomacy and some well-placed bribes. Now it was three queens down and one to go.

The last daughter, Beatrice, was still unmarried when her father died and left his estate to her. This made her the most eligible bachelorette in Europe and suitors fought for her hand in marriage (literally fought—armies were raised and hostilities threatened). A deal was finally cut between the Pope and the King of France and Beatrice married the King’s brother Charles, the Count of Anjou, in 1246. Now there were three queens in the family and one Countess, which wasn’t very satisfying for Beatrice, but luckily the throne of Sicily soon became vacant. After some clever diplomacy and serious fighting, Charles became King of Sicily (which included most of present-day Italy and Albania) and Beatrice was his queen.

So finally it was four queens—definitely a winning hand!

Keith Van Sickle splits his time between Silicon Valley and Provence.  He is the author of One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence and Are We French Yet? Keith & Val’s Adventures in ProvenceRead more at Life in Provence.

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