The Much Detested Eleanor of Provence

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Eleanor of Provence came in the middle of a string of unpopular queen consorts. Her mother-in-law, Isabelle of Angouleme, deserted her English children after King John’s death and married her daughter’s betrothed, Hugh X of Lusignan. Her daughter-in-law, Eleanor of Castile, married the future Edward I as a young teenager but never bothered to learn English and despised interacting with her husband’s subjects. Back a generation further and you have Eleanor of Aquitaine who never believed the English were as sophisticated or interesting as the French, and a generation down you have Isabelle of France who staged a coup against Edward II with her lover.

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The Child Queen, Isabelle of Valois

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Isabelle of Valois was born on November 9, 1389 to Charles VI of France and Isabeau of Bavaria. Though she would eventually become the eldest of her parents’ children to reach adulthood, at the time of her birth she joined an older sister, Jeanne, and followed a son, Charles, who died as an infant. Jeanne died in 1390 and was followed by another Jeanne in 1391, Charles in 1392, Marie in 1393 and Michelle in 1395. These would make up the siblings that Isabelle grew up with before her first marriage.

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Margaret Plantagenet, Queen of Scotland

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Before Margaret Tudor married James IV of Scotland in 1503, there was another English Margaret who married a king of Scotland. And while this marriage didn’t bring about Great Britain, it did put the wheels in motion that would lead to the wars between England and Scotland during the reign of Margaret’s brother, Edward I, solidifying tension between the two countries that would last for centuries.

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The First Princess of Wales

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If there ever was a case study for a Medieval woman’s life taking the shape of a romance novel plot, it would be Joan of Kent, England’s first Princess of Wales. Born “royal adjacent,” she grew up close to the throne, married three times (though not all of them were legal), delivered seven children and constantly found herself going up against the power brokers of court and the Vatican.

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Edward I’s Second Wife, Marguerite of France

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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.

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The Elder Daughters Who Could Have Ruled

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Recently we discussed changes to the succession laws in 2013 that allow the eldest child, not just the eldest male, to inherit the crown. Because the rules aren’t retroactive, Princess Charlotte is the female member of the British Royal Family to directly benefit from the rule change, meaning that even if she is followed up by a younger brother, he won’t trump her in the line of succession.

So, in honor of that, we’re going to go back and look at the elder daughters who could have ruled if absolute primogeniture had been in place from the get-go – well, from the Norman Conquest.

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The Much-Beloved Eleanor of Castile

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One item on the itinerary for the state visit of King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia is a visit to Westminster Abbey that will include a stop at the tomb of Eleanor Castile, wife of Edward I and queen of England from 1272 to 1290. Eleanor’s memory is actually commemorated well outside the Abbey – “Charing Cross” is no doubt familiar to most; the location is one of the more famous spots in London, if for no other reason than it’s a Tube stop. Just south of Trafalgar Square, it’s unofficially noted as the very center of London and its site is now marked by a large statue of Charles I on a horse.

The statue has been there since 1675 courtesy of his son, Charles II, the very location that one of the “Eleanor crosses” used to stand. In fact, it was ninth in a series of 12 lavish monuments built in her memory by Edward I after her death. Three of the memorials still survive today, marking the procession her body took when it was transported to London for burial.

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Isabella, the Second English Holy Roman Empress

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There have been two English Holy Roman Empresses in history. The first was the more famous one, Henry I’s daughter, Matilda, who would end up in a struggle for the English throne with her cousin, King Stephen, during the Anarchy (1135-1154). And then there was Princess Isabella, daughter of King John and younger sister of Henry III.

Isabella had the great misfortune of being born the daughter of one of the worst kings of England and, in my opinion, one of the least sympathetic women of the Middle Ages, Isabella of Angouleme. Their marriage was ill-advised from the get-go, though the future Empress, born at the tail end of her father’s life, in 1214, missed most of the drama. She joined two older brothers, Henry and Richard, in the royal nursery, as well as a sister, Joan. The following year, as their father was forced to sign the Magna Carta, a final child, Eleanor, was born.

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The Good Parliament & The Death of Edward III

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One of the most pivotal Plantagenet reigns was that of Edward III between 1327 and 1377. Part of that is due to its sheer length – 50 years would be a remarkable reign today, so imagine how that felt in the 14th century. Another facet is everything that was accomplished during that time, not least of which were strategic victories against the French at Crecy and Poitiers. But its greatest legacy was the dynasty that Edward left behind, one which in some respects was night and day from the England which he inherited as an adolescent, and in others was an eerie mirror image of it.

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