Eleanor of Provence: Interesting Facts and Stories

Born probably in 1223 in Provence, southern France, she married English king Henry III on 14 Jan 1236 and was crowned queen on 20 Jan 1236. After living an exciting life in support of her husband against the baronage and in her support of her own rule, and that of her son Edward I, she died on 24 June 1291.

Cool image:

Source

Image on Margret Howell’s biography

First, let’s start with genealogical tables to get the big picture.

GENEALOGICAL TABLES

Plantagenets

(Source)

The above table gives a good overview of the entire Plantagenet family. Henry III is on the left, grandson of Henry II.

Henry III

Source: Stephen Church

Henry III’s sisters: Joanna married Alexander, King of Scots; Isabella married Emperor Frederick II; and Eleanor married William II Marshall, earl of Pembroke.

Source: Michael Prestwich

Eleanor of Provence

Source for above two tables: Margaret Howell

Two genealogical tables about the Capetians, from Medieval France: An Encyclopedia:

Yes, the Capetians descend from Charlemagne. For the primary documents proving the link, click on Herbert I, Count of Vermandois, and scroll down to the Addendum.

Louis VII has his own post: Louis VII.

See Philip II’s own post: Philip II Augustus.

Louis VIII.

Louis IX

Louis X

BASIC FAMILY FACTS

1.. Edward: He was born on 17/18 June 1239, when his mother was sixteen years old. He was named after Edward the Confessor, because Henry saw himself as super-devout. Henry III was deeply gratified and gave thanks to God and granted Sybil Giffard an annual pension of ten pounds for her diligence towards the queen during her confinement.

He became ill in 1246, in Beaulieu, “France,” and rather than handing him off to doctors and then withdrawing, she insisted on taking care of him personally. This shows that she was a very good mother, hands-on, and not by proxy.

For more information about him go to his own post:

Edward I

2.. Margaret: She was born 29 Sep 1240 and named after Eleanor’s sister, the queen of France. She married Alexander III of Scotland at York, in December 1251, when she was eleven. The Scottish lords would not let her visit her parents after she was whisked away farther north. A messenger to Windsor said Margaret was unhappy. Her parents took action and went up there with an armed force, in 1255. Her mother comforted her. Margaret even visited them twice, one in 1256 and then in 1260, when she was heavily pregnant. She determined to have her baby in England. She may have deceived her husband and Scottish lords as to how far along she was. She intended to give birth at Windsor, “with her understanding and affectionate mother” (Howell p. 103). She died on 26 Feb 1275, predeceasing her mother, who mourned deeply for her. All this shows that Eleanor was a hands-on and not a distant mother, as so many queens were back in the Medieval Age, it seems.

3.. Beatrice: She was born on 25 June 1242, after her mother landed in Gascony on 13 May, so her mother was 8-9 months pregnant. Brave, strong. Beatrice was named after Eleanor’s sister. She married John of Brittany, when she was seventeen, so she had that age advantage over her sister of not marrying so young. Predeceasing her mother, she died 24 Mar 1275, at the age of thirty-two. She was buried in the Franciscan church in London, where her mother’s heart will be buried, later. Of course  her mother mourned her daughter.

4.. Edmund: He was born in 16 Jan 1245, while his mother was about twenty-one. He was titled Lord Edmund.

5.. Katherine: She was born on 25 Nov 1253 and died 3 May 1257.

One problem: She bossed around the English nobility by insisting too often that their sons marry noble girls of Savoy. This cut short local alliances by which the noblemen might enrich their land holdings. Foreigners. This is one reason among many why many nobles revolted against the royal family.

Nonetheless, here is Margaret Howell’s summary of Eleanor’s family care and personal friendships:

For Eleanor of Provence, personal relationships mattered more than abstract issues. She was normally on good terms with her husband, although there were occasional moments of sharp friction, and the tensions in her relations with her eldest son were at times politically damaging. Even so, a passionate loyalty to the well-being of her family was the strongest motive in her life. Her many friendships meant much to her. Some were close working relationships, as with her uncle Peter of Savoy, but her religious life was sustained by friendships too, notably that of the forthright Franciscan scholar Adam Marsh. (p. xviii)

For more information on these and more children, please see Henry III’s post:

Henry III

France

It is important to realize that France was divided into various counties ruled by counts and duchies ruled by dukes and a rather small kingdom, overseen by the French kings. Sometimes a duke or count could be more powerful or as powerful as the French king. Eleanor came from the southern county of Provence, bordering the Mediterranean Sea. In this post, “France” is used as shorthand for the area now known by that name, despite the divisions.

BASIC FACTS AND STORIES

Early Life and Education

  1. Her parents were Raymond-Berengar V of Provence, who married Beatrice of Savoy in 1219.
  2. Her siblings were as follows: Two boys came first, probably twins, but they were either stillborn or died very young. Then came Margaret in 1221 (m. Louis IX of France), Eleanor in 1223, and then Sanchia probably in 1228 and Beatrice, probably in 1229.
  3. Eleanor was well educated, particularly coming from the south of France, where the culture was top-rate and deep.
  4. She was put in clerical (clergy) care, which meant seclusion to protect her chastity and receive a moral training.
  5. She learned the discipline of prayer and the reading of Scripture.
  6. She learned to read, write, and speak well.
  7. She learned textile skills and household management.
  8. At twelve, when aristocratic boys and girls became marriageable, they had to learn social skills. They picked their tasteful clothes and jewels and wore them tastefully.
  9. She had to master horsemanship and hawking, a popular sport with women.
  10. She must know music and dancing and conversing with ease and how to play chess, a socially popular game.
  11. The girls who went through this system had to come out with two qualities: Beauty and articulateness. They went hand in hand with good breeding of women of high birth. Beauty and manners were closely associated.
  12. Eleanor learned all these things. She was graceful, charming and elegant.
  13. Belonging to Occitania, she learned Occitan French. Then they had to learn the dialect of north French, especially her sister Margaret, who was about to marry the King of France. Eleanor had to learn yet a third dialect, Anglo-Norman French. In those days French was still spoken at the English court, but it was fast absorbing the Germanic-Scandinavian languages.
  14. “In chivalric society the knight renowned for his prowess had a female counterpart. Good-birth, good breeding, and good looks combined to produce the chivalric ideal of the aristocratic woman, a powerful concept which had a prolonged influence on European culture.” (Howell 39).
  15. Her future husband “Henry III would have felt his own image enhanced by the beauty and elegance of his womenfolk” (39).

Marriage

  1. Eleanor delighted in Arthurian and other legends, especially when the rent-a-storyteller traveled around and told these stories. When she arrived in England in summer 1236, her husband took her to Glastonbury, where monks asserted Glastonbury was Avalon, the place of King Arthur’s sword Excalibur’s was forged.
  2. Her sister Margaret married Louis IX at Sens, on 27 May 1234, and was crowned queen the next day. The two days were filled with ritual splendor, feasting, and chivalric contests and displays.
  3. At the Provencal castle of Tarascon on 23 Nov 1235, Eleanor committed herself to Henry III by marriage contract (verba de presenti). Then it was confirmed on 15 Dec of that year.
  4. William of Savoy, her uncle, led the personal escort on the long journey from the very south of France to cold, rainy England. The retinue might have numbered 300 horsemen and her ladies-in-waiting and personal attendants.
  5. When she got to the French king’s territory (France was divided into many parts), her sister ensured she got the royal protection. Did they meet? Unclear.
  6. Finally, after arriving in England, they solemnized their marriage at Canterbury on 14 Jan 1236.

Coronation

1.. On 20 Jan 1236, she was crowned queen of England, at Westminster.

2.. Here is Margaret Howell’s description:

… The king and queen walked from the royal palace to the abbey church over the special blue ray-cloth … the king was preceded by three earls bearing the swords of state, followed by the treasurer in a dalmatic, carrying the paten which was to be sued at the coronation mass, and the chancellor in full pontificals carrying the special stone chalice of the king’s regalia. Two knights carried scepters ahead of the king … The king himself came in last, in his full coronation regalia, and there was held above him a canopy of purple silk, secured at the corners on four silver lances, with silver-gilt bell at each corner, the lances carried according to tradition by the barons of Cinque Ports.

3.. Howell continues with Eleanor’s part:

Behind the king’s procession came that of the … young royal wife … Eleanor too walked beneath a silk canopy with silver lances and silver gilt bells like that of the king, and hers too was borne by barons of Cinque Ports. Almost certainly she would have worn her hair loose, falling upon her shoulders and on her head a circlet of gold to keep her hair in order. Two bishops, chosen by the king, walked on each side of the queen to support her. It may be that her own regalia was carried in front of her, as was later the custom. Inside the church the congregation of clergy, magnates, and knights presented a colorful sight … And since at the age of twelve perceptions have not yet been blunted by experience, it is likely that the ceremony of her coronation never entirely faded from Eleanor’s memory.

At the church door the future queen paused while the archbishop recited the first prayer. Its theme was significant in setting the tone of the whole service. After reciting the names of those biblical women who had been blessed in bearing sons of the line of King David, Sara, Rebecca and Rachel, the prayer culminated in celebration of the Virgin Mary who had been uniquely blessed in the fruit of her own womb. The emphasis on child-bearing within the royal descent was crucial to what was about to be enacted.

Proceeding to the steps of the high altar, the future queen prostrated herself and the arch bishop recited a further prayer. She rose and knelt in preparation for the first and most potent ceremonial act, the anointing. The gold circlet was removed and the archbishop anointed her head with holy oil, an unction which exalted her to a new status and conferred spiritual gifts. Unction was followed by the blessing of the ring and by placing of the ring on her finger and then by the blessing of the heavy gold crown of lilies. The raising of this crown and the placing of it on the queen’s head was visually the high point of the ceremony. The new queen may have also been handed a scepter and virge, the attributes of authority …. (pp. 17-18)

Henry III

Her Personal Wealth

  1. She had her own household budget, and she spent the money as one would expect of a queen.
  2. Eleanor loved gardens and spent lavishly on them. In 1245 a walled garden was built outside her new chamber at Clarendon palace, just to cite one example among several others.
  3. As to clothing, she indulged in the latest and fashion of the highest quality and material.
  4. They were made not only for Eleanor but also for her ladies-in-waiting (it was a privilege for noblewomen to serve the queen).
  5. Gowns in russet, blue and green, trimmed with borders worked by gold and silver thread, decorated with pearl buttons; hoods and capets trimmed with fur, stout capes to keep her dry during rains; fine wool caps and hose; delicate chemises, veils, wimples and silk kerchiefs; shoes, little slippers for indoor wear and boots for outside wear, and one pair of boots was made of goatskin.
  6. Some silk were bought locally, but it also from Paris. Her various agents searched Europe for gold thread and beautiful tressures and other rich material. Colin the tailor masterminded her clothes. He oversaw the cutting of the cloth and its stitching with gold or silver thread.
  7. For 1252 to 1253 she spent money on jewels and plates, as follows:
  8. £200 on jewels: 61 rings, 91 brooches, and 33 belts; A brooch with emeralds and sapphires; 32 rings with rubies and emeralds; a very fine gold belt, made by Andrew the goldsmith, decorated with shields of small pearls, costing £8-12.
  9. Ten goblets from tours, “France,” some completely gilded, others partly gilded. She lengthened the silver chain on a cloak, which the queen had given to her sister Sanchia; copper for repairing one of the queen’s lecterns.
  10. Most of these jewels were purchased to give away.
  11. Of course she lived in a variety of palaces, as she and the king traveled around. The king refurbished or improved them in some way, just for his wife, on whom he doted.
  12. Once the civil war got up and running, she fell into heavy debt, not from clothes and jewelry, but just to survive, though surely she had to cut back on her household budget and personal purchases.

Devotional Life

  1. Her husband was extra-devout, especially honoring Edward the Confessor who achieved sainthood in 1161. He even named his oldest son after him.
  2. Eleanor followed her husband in that regard.
  3. She was especially devoted to the Virgin Mary.
  4. She collected various devotional books, like Psalters.
  5. She endowed abbeys, convents and other religious houses.
  6. She endorsed her husband’s proclamation of a crusade in 1250.
  7. After her husband died and things settled down for her son King Edward, she joined the convent at Amesbury on 7 July 1286.
  8. She insisted that two of her granddaughters and their young companions enter it too, two years earlier. Selfishness? Partly.
  9. But back then it was an act of deep piety in a noble family for at least some children to go into religious life. One bonus: At least she got to be near two of her granddaughters.

English Politics

  1. She and her husband were almost assassinated, in Sep 1238. Climbing through a window, a man sneaked into the king’s bedchamber, armed with a knife, and rushed to the bed. It was empty, for the king was sleeping with his wife.
  2. Her husband and eldest son, now called Lord Edward, got embroiled in civil war headed by their enemy Simon do Montfort.
  3. Henry was defeated at the Battle of Lewes in May 1264. Henry and Edward were captured. Montfort took Edward as hostage while Henry promised to do what the barons asked.
  4. However, Edward escaped in May 1265, and he and his father defeated the rebels in the Battle of Evesham in August of that year.
  5. For more information on her involvement in English politics, see these posts about her husband and eldest son and future king:

Henry III

Edward I

International Politics

1.. Again a summary by Margaret Howell:

Eleanor of Provence was a European. Familiar with the county of Provence in her childhood, she also came to know Gascony well, especially the great port of Bordeaux, and she bore the title of duchess of Aquitaine as well and that of queen of England. She knew Paris, too, which she visited on two glittering state occasions, and for brief periods in 1264/5. Fontevrault, Potigny, Chartres, and the northeastern towns of St. Omer, Amiens, and Boulogne were all part of her experience. The range of her social and diplomatic contacts stretched across the Continent; one of her uncles was the count of Savoy, another count of Flanders, another archbishop-elect of Lyon; her eldest sister was queen of France and a younger sister was married to Henry III’s brother and briefly became queen of Germany; her eldest daughter was queen of Scotland; she was in touch with them all, and her purpose was not simply to exchange courtesies but to move events. Politics and diplomacy were frequently intermingled with familial concerns. The court of Rome, of course, had its own matchless international network, and she knew her about that too. (p. xviii)

SUMMARY

1.. Eleanor lived a full life.

2.. Howell:

Queen of England at the age of twelve, she was a loyal partner for thirty-six years and proved a deeply affectionate but dominating mother. Having promoted her Savoyard kinsfolk and their policies at the English court in the 1240s and 1250s, she became a highly significant political figure in the struggle between the king and baronage; she encouraged the use of contingents of foreign knights to strengthen the royal power in England in moments of crisis; she gathered an army in the Low Countries, negotiated confidently with Louis IX of France and the papacy, and by her energy and commitment helped to bring about the overthrow of Simon de Montfort and the rescue of her husband and eldest son from his control. She was widowed in 1272, showed herself vigilant over her rights as a dowager, and in 1286 entered the Wiltshire nunnery of Amesbury in a well-managed withdrawal from the world. There she died in 1291. (pp. xvii-xviii)

3.. At the end of her biography, Howell writes:

The style of Eleanor’s queenship was made possible by her husband and probably deplored by her eldest son, but it is likely that both men would have agreed that her career and personality were touched by greatness. Politically she was one of the foremost protagonists of England monarchy in the thirteenth century. A loyal friend, a loving but possessive mother, a harsh property owner, she was blessed and cursed with a strongly active temperament. She had many triumphs, but it was in defeat that she showed her caliber. Face by disaster or by grief, she met adversity with a resilience of spirit which enabled her to reach the last years of her life without ultimate bitterness. “Generosa [of noble birth, well-bred, magnanimous] et religiosa [scrupulous about religious things] virago [man-like woman, female warrior, heroine]” was the verdict of the Westminster chronicler, and it would be hard to improve on that contemporary judgment. (p. 312)

PLANTAGENETS

Henry II

Eleanor of Aquitaine (duchess of Aquitaine, queen, and Henry II’s wife)

Richard I

King John

Henry III

Eleanor of Provence (wife of Henry III and mother of Edward I)

Edward I

Eleanor of Castile (married Edward I and mother of Edward II)

Edward II

Edward III

Richard II

RELATED

Matilda, Empress (Henry II’s mother). The post has links to her Norman ancestors!

William Longsword and Life in the Medieval Age and His American Descendants

Royal gateway ancestors of the Northeast

Royal gateway ancestors of the Middle Colonies

Royal gateway ancestors of Virginia

William Clopton and Our Royal Heritage (Our royal gateway ancestor)

SOURCES

Jim Bradbury, The Capetians: Kings of France (Continuum, 2007).

Stephen Church, Henry III: A Simple and God-Fearing King, Penguin Books, (UK: Penguin Random House and Allen Lane, 2017).

Ian Crofton, The Kings and Queens of England (New York: Metro Books, 2006).

Margaret Howell, Eleanor of Provence: Queenship in Thirteenth-Century England (Blackwell, 1998, 2001).

Dan Jones, The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England (New York: 2014).

Medieval France: An Encyclopedia, eds. William W. Kibler and Grover A. Zinn (New York: Garland, 1995).

Charles Philips, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain (New York: Metro Books, 2009).

The Plantagenet Encyclopedia: An Alphabetical Guide to 400 Years of English History, gen. ed. Elizabeth Hallam, (Crescent Books, 1996).

Michael Prestwich, Edward I, Yale English Monarchs (Yale UP, 1997, 1998).

Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families (Salt Lake: Published Privately, 2013).

Desmond Seward, The Demon’s Brood: A History of the Plantagenet Dynasty (Pegasus, 2014).

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