Sunday, December 23, 2012

Queen Lionheart

Let us look at a classic "political marriage."

Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of Henry II of England and  mother of Richard called Lionheart, wanted the best possible match for her son. He was originally betrothed to Princess Alys, the sister of King Philip II of France, but she saw other opportunities for him.

In 1190, while Richard was on the Third Crusade, Eleanor met with King Sancho VI of Navarre, who hosted a banquet for her in Pamplona. It is likely that Eleanor negotiated the marriage of her son to Berengaria, the daughter of Sancho and his Queen, Sancha of Castile. Berengaria had been given the fief of Monreal in 1185; that, and an alliance between Richard and Navarre, would give protection to the southern border of the Aquitaine, the province in southern France that Eleanor had given to Richard. Berengaria had other fine qualities: commentators of the time say she was both attractive and intelligent.

Eleanor decided there was no time to waste, and she (now in her 60s!) and Berengaria undertook the long journey to meet with Richard. They caught up with him in Messina on the Island of Sicily. This was possibly the first time Richard and Beregaria ever met, although some believe there was an earlier occasion when they saw each other.

Richard ended his betrothal to Alys that year (after all, there were rumors that his father was having an affair with her). Unfortunately, it was Lent during their time in Sicily, so a marriage ceremony was not appropriate. Richard embarked on the next leg of the Third Crusade, and Berengaria took ship with Richard's sister, Joan of England, the widowed Queen of Sicily.* The ladies' ship foundered off the coast of Cyprus, where Isaac Comnenus opportunistically took them prisoner. When Richard learned of this, he brought part of his army to Cyprus, defeated and captured Comnenus, and took control of Cyprus. Berengaria and Richard were married on 12 May 1191, then left Cyprus for Palestine.

Abbey crypt and tomb of Berengaria
Once arriving in the Holy Land, Berengaria left for Poitou. It is likely that she never saw her husband again. When Richard was going home in 1194, he was captured in Germany. Berengaria and Eleanor separately raised ransom money. Richard spent little time in England as king, and Berengaria never went there, preferring her own southern lands. She did not attend his funeral at Fontevrault.

After Richard's death, his brother John refused to pay Berengaria's pension, despite intervention by Eleanor and Pope Innocent III. John's son, Henry III, finally paid the debt of £4000. She used some of the money to found a Cistercian monastery, the Pietas Dei at L’Épau. When she died, on 23 December 1230, she was buried there, rather than at Fontevrault next to her husband.

*Richard's diversion to Sicily was to free his sister from imprisonment by the usurper, Tancredi.

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