On November 28, 1290, Eleanor of Castile, Queen of England and wife of Edward I died at the age of 49. Her widower erected 12 statues to mark the procession of her body from Nottingham where she died to Westminster Abbey in London where she was buried. Edward’s marriage to Eleanor was arranged, but over the years it solidified into a love match and when she died, he genuinely mourned her. Had he not been king, he likely wouldn’t have married again.
As it was, despite 16 pregnancies over the course of their marriage, Eleanor only produced one son who reached maturity, Prince Edward. Given the mortality rate, particularly for children (Prince Edward was only six when his mother died), it was in the national interest that Edward take a second wife. He did just that nine years later when he married Marguerite of France, sister to King Philip IV of France.
Marguerite was born in Paris between 1279 and 1282 to Philip III and his wife, Marie of Brabant. Her father died in 1285, leaving the throne to her older half-brother, Philip, a product of her father’s first marriage. She was brought up under the close supervision of her mother and her sister-in-law, Jeanne of Navarre, at court. Peace with England became attractive in 1296 after France invaded Gascony, an English-held territory. England, eager to recover its land but in no position to do so after King Edward’s wars against Scotland, accepted a diplomatic settlement handed down from the Vatican in 1298: Edward I and his heir, Prince Edward, would both take French brides.
For Prince Edward, Philip IV chose his toddler-aged daughter, Isabelle, while he selected his adolescent sister, Marguerite, for the King. English envoys arrived in Paris to inspect the princess – reportedly, Edward’s inquiries into his future bride included the measurements of her waist and feet, however it’s unclear whether or not the French obliged.
There’s little information as to what Marguerite thought of England when she arrived, but she and Edward were married on September 10, 1299 in Canterbury. It’s similarly unclear what Marguerite thought of her new husband, but one can hazard that her favorite thing about him wasn’t his 60 years of age to her less than 20. Marguerite, on the other hand, was likely a beauty. Her brother was considered the most handsome man in Christendom and her niece, Isabelle, was famously beautiful in her day.
Regardless, the marriage was successful enough that Marguerite gave birth to a son, Thomas, nine months later. During her pregnancy we get our first glimpse of her personality – despite her condition she eagerly joined Edward on his military campaigns in the north and she hunted right up until her confinement. Edward, delighted by the easy birth of a second son, produced two cradles draped in sumptuous blue and red cloth.
Marguerite produced a second son, Edmund, 14 months later at Woodstock in Oxford. A third child, a daughter christened Eleanor in honor of Edward’s first wife, was born a few years later but died in childhood.
Edward and Marguerite bonded over their mutual interest in their children and their two sons were spoiled by Medieval standards, provided with a lavish household, a sense of domesticity and plenty of attention from their parents. Musically inclined, Marguerite hired minstrels specifically to play for her sons, to instill in them an appropriate, courtly appreciation of music.
The happiness of their small family appears to have spread to the marriage itself over the years. There are no signs that Edward was unfaithful and Marguerite often accompanied him on his military campaigns and progresses throughout the country. From the constant warfare and the strict hold Edward kept over his subjects and government, there was also plenty of opportunity for Marguerite to play the classic role of a consort in the Middle Ages: peacemaker. In one case, she successfully interceded on behalf of the city of Winchester.
As for her stepchildren, most her stepdaughters were older than Marguerite, but she appears to have established an older sister-like relationship with her stepson, Prince Edward. Her affection was necessary, because his relationship with his father grew increasingly tense as he grew older, occasionally mirroring that of Edward I with his own father, Henry III. Indeed, when Edward grew disgusted by the relationship of his son with his “favorite” Piers Gaveston, it was to Marguerite that the younger man turned to restore his friend in 1305. Whatever she tried, she was successful and Gaveston returned to the Prince’s household the following year.
It didn’t take, though, and in February of the following year, Gaveston was banished once more. This time however, it was the younger Edward who would restore him. Edward I died on July 7, 1307 in Cumberland, likely of dysentery.
Less than a month later, the new Edward II not only ordered the return of his favorite, but gave him the title “Earl of Cornwall,” angering both his court and his stepmother, who believed it had been earmarked for one of her sons. Relations soured, particularly as the new king continued to disregard his father’s legacy, Marguerite still turned up for the wedding of her stepson and her niece in January 1308.
Widowed in her mid-20s and still sister of the king of France, Marguerite was well-positioned to marry again herself. Instead, she chose to remain single and in England, likely so as to remain close to her sons, though it could also be read as a sign of genuine affection for her late husband.
Shortly after this, rumors spread that the magnates upset over Gaveston’s rise were allying with Marguerite and that she was funding an uprising that would remove the King’s favorite. It’s unlikely this was the case and no legal action was ever taken against her.
On February 14, 1312, less than five years after Edward’s death, Marguerite died at her home in Wiltshire. She is buried in Newgate.