Isabella, England’s Second Holy Roman Empress

Isabella_of_England,_Holy_Roman_Empress
Isabella of England, Holy Roman Empress

Nearly everyone knows that Henry I’s daughter Matilda, Lady of the English, was Holy Roman Empress as the wife of Holy Roman Emperor Henry V. What is less well-known is that, almost 70 years after Matilda’s death, her great-granddaughter followed in her footsteps.

Isabella of England was born in 1214; she was the 4th of 5 children born to King John and his 2nd wife Isabella of Angouleme. She had 3 older siblings, Henry, Richard and Joan, and a baby sister Eleanor. Born at a time when her father’s strife with his barons was at its height, her early childhood was turbulent, to say the least. John died just 2 years later, in October 1216, leaving 9-year-old Henry as king of a country in the midst of civil war while fighting off an occupying French army.

Even before her father’s death, Isabella’s older sister Joan (born in 1210) had left England, to be raised by the family of her intended husband, Hugh de Lusignan. However, by 1220, amidst great scandal, Hugh had repudiated Joan and married her mother in her stead, whilst still holding Joan as hostage in order to gain Queen Isabella’s dower.

Whilst Joan was still in the hands of the Lusignans, her marriage to Alexander II of Scotland was negotiated, with an added clause that Isabella could be substituted for her older sister, should Joan not make it back to England in time. In the event Joan returned in time and Henry III looked elsewhere for a husband for Isabella.

330px-Frederick_II_and_eagle
Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor

Becoming part of his policy of continental diplomacy, Henry looked at several possible husbands, such as Henry VII, king of the Romans and Louis IX of France. After some prompting by Pope Gregory IX, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (father of Henry VII) sent an embassy to England to pursue his own suit for the English princess to become his 3rd wife.

Within 3 days of the Sicilian embassy’s arrival Henry was agreeable to the match, which complimented his keen interest in the Holy Roman Empire. He had Isabella brought from the Tower of London to Westminster to be interviewed by the ambassadors. They were so impressed with her that they hailed Isabella “Vivat imperatrix! Vivat!”

The marriage contract was signed on 22nd February 1235, with Henry giving Isabella a dowry of 30,000 marks. Although Isabella already had her own fine chapel silver, Henry gave her a magnificent trousseau, which included a service of gold and silver plate. The English people were irritated by Henry’s demand for a substantial marriage aid, but Henry saw the marriage as adding to his personal prestige, and a possible alliance against Louis IX of France.

On 11th May 1235 Isabella set sail from Sandwich, escorted by the bishop of Exeter, the archbishop of Cologne and the duke of Brabant; she arrived at Antwerp 4 days later. With a substantial escort, to guard against kidnap threats from Frederick II’s enemies, Isabella arrived in Cologne on 24th May. She made a processional entry into the city, to the cheers of a 10,00 strong crowd, endearing herself to the noble ladies by throwing her veil back.

She was to spend 6 weeks in Cologne waiting for Frederick, who was dealing with a rebellion by his oldest son, Henry VII.

375px-BritLibRoyal14CVIIFol123FredIIAndIsabellaWed
The marriage of Frederick II and Isabella of England

By July 1235, however, they were together in Worms where, on Sunday the 15th, they were married in the cathedral by the archbishop of Mainz. Isabella was crowned Holy Roman Empress at the same time. Four days of wedding festivities followed, with guests including – according to Matthew Paris – 4 kings, 11 dukes and 30 counts and marquesses.

Frederick, it seems, put great store by astrology; in 1228 Michael Scot had completed his encyclopedia of astrology while at Frederick’s court. And it was on the advice of the emperor’s court astrologers that the marriage was not consummated until the 2nd night.

Isabella was the emperor’s 3rd wife; his 1st, Constance of Aragon, had died of malaria in 1222 and his 2nd wife, Queen Isabella-Yolanda of Jerusalem had died in childbirth in 1228. Frederick was 20 years Isabella’s senior and expended all his energy on war, travelling and ceremonials in order to maintain his authority throughout his vast empire.

Frederick was delighted with his bride; she was beautiful and popular. He sent 3 leopards to Henry III in England as a sign of his appreciation. However, following the celebrations he also dismissed the majority of Isabella’s English attendants; she was allowed to retain only her nurse, Margaret Biset – who and been with her  since her early childhood – and a maid, called Kathrein.

300px-St._Peter's_Cathedral_Worms_south_side
St Peter’s Cathedrals, Worms, where Isabella was married and crowned Holy Roman Empress

Isabella travelled with Frederick’s slaves to his palace at Hagenau, where Frederick spent the winter with his new empress. Their first child was probably born around 1237/8, although there does seem to be some confusion over how many children there were, and when they were born. What is certain is 2 children survived childhood; Henry, King of Jerusalem, died unmarried in his teens in 1254 and Margaret married Albert I, Margrave of Meissen and Langrave of Thuringia and Misnes, in 1256.

Isabella travelled extensively through her husband’s lands, residing in Apulia, Lombardy, Noventa between 1238 and 1239. Frederick was always close by, despite his battles with  the papacy, and arrived in southern Italy shortly after his wife’s arrival in February 1240.

Isabella was expected to live in some magnificence, but Henry III was irritated that she was only rarely allowed to appear in public. There were rumours that Frederick kept his wives in a harem, although these were probably unfounded and arose from the seclusion that firstly Isabella-Yolanda and then Isabella lived in.

When Richard Earl of Cornwall visited the Emperor in 1241, he didn’t immediately see his sister, although this was probably down to court protocol, as the Empress was pregnant at the time. When they did meet the brother and sister were treated to a lavish court entertainment, being delighted by a magnificent display of jugglers and Muslim dancers.

330px-Cattedrale0558_1_copia
Andria cathedral, Isabella’s final resting-place

Following Richard’s visit, Frederick II returned to war. He was besieging Faenza in northern Italy when his wife died in childbirth on 1st December 1241; the baby died with her. Before his departure  on campaign, Isabella had urged Frederick to stay on good terms with her brother Henry III, who was leaning more and more towards the papacy.

She was buried at Andria, Sicily, alongside the emperor’s 2nd wife, Isabella-Yolanda. Isabella had been married for just over 6 years and was only  27 years of age.

Through her daughter Margaret, Isabella is the ancestor of Queen Victoria’s beloved husband, Prince Albert.

*

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

*

Sources: The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Plantagenets, the Kings who Made England by Dan Jones; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Plantagenet Chronicles Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens by Mike Ashley; The Plantagenets, the Kings that made Britain by Derek Wilson; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings  by Robert Bartlett; http://www.britannica.com; oxforddnb.com.

*

My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

23593407_1968209250117704_6252461679001074025_oa

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

English Princess, Exiled Duchess

Matylda_Anglicka
Matilda of England

Matilda of England was the eldest daughter and third child of, arguably, Medieval Europe’s most glamorous couple. Born in London in June 1156, the daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II was baptised by Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the Priory Church of the Holy Trinity, Aldgate.

As her parents ruled an empire, that stretched from the Scottish borders to the Pyrenees, travel was a constant part of Matilda’s childhood. She took her first sea-voyage across the English Channel at just 2 months old with her mother and older brother, Henry, to join her father in Anjou; before travelling to Aquitaine in October.

Throughout her childhood, Matilda is often seen accompanying her mother throughout the vast Angevin domains. She and Henry would be joined in the nursery by 3 younger brothers – Richard, Geoffrey and John – and 2 younger sisters – Eleanor and Joan – who survived into adulthood.

Negotiations began for Matilda’s marriage in February 1165, as part of an alliance with the German Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, in opposition to Louis VII of France and the Pope, Alexander III. It was one of a series of dynastic marriages, which included her younger sisters, aimed at strengthening their father’s position in Europe.

The first of her parents’ daughters to be married, her dowry and send-off cost around £4,500 (about a quarter of England’s annual revenue). The money was raised by taxes specifically levied for the occasion. The 12-year-old princess was given a trousseau worth £63 , including saddles with gilt fittings, ‘two large silken cloths, and two tapestries and one cloth of samite and twelve sable skins’. 34 packhorses were needed to transport all her belongings.

Heinrich_der_Löwe_und_Mathilde_von_England
Coronation of Henry V and Matilda

In July 1166 the emperor’s envoys arrived in England, to escort Matilda to Germany. Her mother accompanied her to Dover, where she embarked on a German ship; and the wedding to Henry V ‘the Lion’, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, finally took place in Minden Cathedral, Germany, on 1st february 1168.

Henry the Lion was 27 years Matilda’s senior, his first marriage, to Klementia of Zahringen, had been annulled in 1162. The marriage appears to have been successful and produced 10 children, although the fates of some seem to be in question, and several did not survive childhood. Their eldest daughter, Richenza (her name was later changed to Matilda), born around 1172, was married firstly to Geoffrey III, Count of Perche, and secondly to Enguerrand III, Lord of Coucy.

Of their sons Henry, born in 1173, would succeed to the Duchies of Saxony and Bavaria on his father’s death in 1195. Born around 1175, their second son, Otto, Earl of York and Count of Ponthieu, would become Holy Roman Emperor as Otto IV in 1209; Otto was briefly considered as heir to the English throne, by his uncle Richard I, before King John claimed the crown. A third son, William, Duke of Luneberg and Brunswick, was born in England in 1184 and would be ancestor, in the direct male line, of the House of Hanover, Kings of Great Britain in the 18th Century.

220px-JindraLev
Henry V ‘the Lion’

In 1180 Henry V quarrelled with the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, who held him responsible for the failure of a campaign in Italy. Henry, it seems, had grown very powerful in his own domains and Barbarossa, after the quarrel, deprived him of his fiefs and sent the Duke of Saxony and Bavaria into exile for 7 years.

Henry, Matilda and their children left Germany and sought refuge at the Angevin court in Autumn 1181. Henry II welcomed his daughter to his court in Normandy and, whilst energetically lobbying the German emperor on his son-in-law’s behalf, gave his daughter the palace of Argentin as a family residence.

Matilda was heavily pregnant and remained with her father whilst her husband left on pilgrimage to Compostela. The family was together again by Christmas 1182, spending the festive period with Matilda’s siblings at Henry II’s court in Caen.

Matilda and her family spent 1183 in the Angevin lands on the Continent; a pregnant Matilda accompanied her father to England in 1184, where she gave birth to her son, William, at Winchester in mid-June. While at the Angevin court Matilda was instrumental in getting the restrictions eased on her mother’s imprisonment; Eleanor of Aquitaine had been held at Old Sarum, following her complicity in a failed rebellion by her sons in 1173-4.

Although she was still in the custody of guards, Eleanor was allowed to reside with Matilda at various locations in England, including Windsor and Berkhamsted. When Eleanor was allowed to cross the Channel to take possession of the Vexin Castles, Matilda accompanied her.

In early 1185, having asked the Pope to intervene with the Emperor, Henry II finally secured agreement for his son-in-law to return to his German domains; although Henry would not be restored to Imperial favour until 1190, when he made peace with the new Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VI.

170px-Braunschweig_Brunswick_Heinrich_der_Loewe_(Dom_2005)
Henry V ‘the Lion’

Matilda and Henry arrived back in Germany in October 1185, although their children, Otto, William and Matilda had been left at Henry’s court, to be raised by their grandparents.

Henry the Lion would be exiled from Germany again, when Frederick Barbarossa left on Crusade, but this time, Matilda remained to oversee their German domains.

Matilda died at Brunswick on 28th June 1189 and was buried there, in the Cathedral of St Blasius, of which she was co-foundress. Henry II died just 8 days later, probably before the news of his daughter’s death could reach him. Matilda’s husband would be buried alongside her, following his death on 6th August 1195.

There seems to be no surviving description of Matilda; however, Bertran de Born, troubadour to Matilda’s brother Richard (the Lionheart) composed a song about her and compared Matilda’s beauty to that of Helen of Troy.

*

Sources: Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings, 1075-1225; Alison Weir, Britain’s Royal Families; Mike Ashley The Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens; David Williamson Brewer’s British Royalty; Douglas Boyd Eleanor, April Queen of Aquitaine; Alison Weir Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Pictures taken from Wikipedia.

*

My books

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. It is available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository.

23593407_1968209250117704_6252461679001074025_oa

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Aethelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmberley Publishing and Book Depository.

51PUe8rZWgL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly