Isabella, England’s Second Holy Roman Empress

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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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.

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Coming in November!

Tracing 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 UK,  Amberley Publishing and Book Depository. It is scheduled for release in the US on 1 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

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elling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Sanchia of Provence, Queen of the Romans

One of 4 sisters, all of whom became queens, Sanchia of Provence was born in Aix-en-Provence in about 1228. She was the 3rd daughter of Raymond Berengar V, Count of Provence, and his wife Beatrice of Savoy.

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Sanchie de Provence

Sanchia was 7 years younger than her oldest sister, Marguerite, who married Louis IX of France in 1234. Her 2nd oldest sister, Eleanor, was 5 years older her senior and married Henry III of England in 1236. Sanchia probably spent most of her childhood with Beatrice, who, as the youngest of the 4 sisters, was 3 years younger than Sanchia and didn’t marry until 1246; she would become Queen of Naples in 1266.

I could find no information on Sanchia’s childhood, beyond the fact that the sisters were all close, and remained so throughout their lives; thus helping to forge international relations through their exceptional familial bond.

The one description I could find of Sanchia was that she was ‘of incomparable beauty’.

Sanchia had originally been married, by proxy, to Raymond VII of Toulouse; however Raymond had failed to obtain an annulment of his previous marriage and the arrangement was declared void. In the mean time Richard, Earl of Cornwall and brother of Henry III of England visited Provence in 1241; he saw in Sanchia the chance to ally himself more closely with his brother’s interests, whilst at the same time strengthening his family’s position on the continent.

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Richard Earl of Cornwall

Richard and Sanchia were betrothed by proxy in July 1242, following negotiations at Tarascon, led by Sanchia’s uncle, Peter of Savoy, and the Savoyard bishop of Hereford, Peter d’Aigueblanche.

Richard was the 2nd and youngest son of King John of England and Isabella of Angoulême. Born in 1209, he was just 7 years old when his father died. A renowned soldier, Crusader, negotiator and administrator, Richard was one of the wealthiest men in Europe. He already had a son, Henry of Almain by his 1st wife, Isabella Marshal, daughter of the great William Marshal Earl of Pembroke, who had died in childbirth in January 1240, after delivering a stillborn son.

In August-September 1242, following a failed campaign against Louis IX with his step-father, Hugh de Lusignan, Richard had planned to visit his future bride in Provence, before returning to England. However a falling-out with his brother, Henry III, and a fear of kidnapping forced Richard to change his plans and head straight for home, thus delaying a reunion with his bride-to-be.

Sanchia arrived in England in 1243. She and Richard were married in Westminster Abbey on 23rd November 1243. Sanchia was a girl of about 15, while Richard was 34. On his marriage, Richard confirmed in his possession of Cornwall and the honours of Wallingford and Eye. He was also given £2000 in cash by the king, and a promise of 1000 marks a year, in return for a renunciation of all claims to lands in Gascony and Ireland.

Richard’s marriage to Sanchia greatly improved his relations with the Savoyards, a powerful contingent of the queen’s relatives living in England. Following the marriage Richard served Peter of Savoy, titular earl of Richmond, as a banker and political ally.

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Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall

Richard and Sanchia had only 2 children. Their eldest son, Richard, was born at Wallingford in July 1246 and died there the following month; the little baby was buried at Grove Mill. Another son, Edmund, was born at Berkhamsted on 26 December 1249 and was baptised by his mother’s uncle, Boniface of Savoy, Archbishop of Canterbury. He would be knighted at the age of 22 and married Margaret, the daughter of Richard de Clare.

However, the marriage was childless and the couple officially separated in February 1294. Edmund had departed on crusade with the king’s son and heir, Edward (the future Edward I) when he heard of the murder of his older brother, Henry of Almain (son of Richard and his 1st wife, Isabella Marshal), who was murdered in Viterbo by the sons of Simon de Montfort. Edmund returned home to his father, who died the following year, leaving Edmund as the 2nd Earl of Cornwall. With no heir to succeed him, the earldom reverted to the crown on Edmund’s death in 1300.

In 1246 Sanchia’s father, Raymond Berengar V, died, leaving Provence to the youngest of his daughters; Beatrice was the only daughter still unmarried. Several suitors now set out to ‘win’ the heiress and her mother appealed to the pope for protection. The pope and Louis IX together decided that the most appropriate husband for Beatrice was Louis’ brother, Charles of Anjou. Beatrice’s mother offered no objection; however Henry III and Richard sought – unsuccessfully – to oppose the marriage, unsurprising when you consider their wives were denied their share of their father’s inheritance.

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Raymond Berengar V, Count of Provence

Sanchia and her sister, Eleanor, were not as cut off from their family as most royal brides of the period appear to have been. Their mother, Beatrice of Savoy, arrived in England in 1248 with her brother, Thomas, to visit both her daughters.

Sanchia also accompanied her husband on an embassy to the French court in 1250, taking the opportunity to meet with her big sister, Marguerite; and possibly her little sister Beatrice, who was by then married to Charles of Anjou. Sanchia also joined the family gathering in Chartres and Paris in 1254, when Louis IX and queen Marguerite received Henry III and queen Eleanor; Her mother Countess Beatrice and youngest sister Beatrice were also present.

Sanchia and her sister Eleanor seem to have been in close contact ever since Sanchia arrived in England. Henry III officially recognised Sanchia as a voice in family dynastic matters. In the 1253 Calendar of Patent Rolls, she is included in a grant to her uncle, Peter of Savoy:

Grant to Peter de Sabaudia that if he have an heir male of his wife, he may assign or bequeath the lordship of his lands and heir to whom he will. The king also wills that the said heir shall not be married to anyone without the consent of Queen Eleanor and Sanchia, countess of Cornwall, and the brothers of the said Peter.”

Sanchia seem to have had some influence in pleading for others. The Patent Rolls of 1255 record her achieving a pardon for a man who received an outlaw and again, in 1256, they record her gaining a licence to a man to enclose a wood.

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Beatrice of Savoy, Countess of Provence

Henry III had made attempts to gain his brother a crown; he had accepted the crown of Sicily, offered by the pope, on his brother’s behalf, but the enterprise to recover the kingdom from the Hohenstaufens proved beyond the king’s means. In 1256, however, another opportunity arose with the death of William of Holland, papal candidate to be Holy Roman Emperor. With the support of his brother and his considerable wealth, diplomatic skills and imperial connections, Richard set about earning his election to the Empire.

On 26 December 1256 the crown of Germany was offered to Richard by the archbishop of Cologne. with his rival, King Alfonso of Castile, too busy with troubles at home to travel to Germany to claim the crown; Richard and Sanchia, with a large entourage including their son Edmund, but only half of the electors on their side, made their way to Aachen.

Sanchia and Richard were crowned as king and queen of Germany on 17 May 1257, by the archbishop of Cologne; being styled as the king and queen of the Romans, Richard still needed papal ratification to become Holy Roman Emperor. The coronation was followed by a splendid feast for Richard’ supporters before the new king and queen departed on progress around their new kingdom. Richard held his 1st royal parliament, or diet, in Mainz in September, and another progress in the spring of 1258 was spent confirming imperial privileges and issuing charters.

However, papal confirmation of Richard’s titles were not forthcoming and in the winter of 1258/9 Richard and Sanchia returned home to an England riven by baronial rebellion. Richard acted as mediator between his brother the king and his brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort, leader of the baronial opposition.

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Hailes Abbey, final resting place of Sanchia, her husband, Richard, and son, Edmund.

The political situation was still unresolved when Sanchia died at Berkhamsted on 9th November 1261 and was buried at Hailes Abbey 6 days later; her husband was absent from her death-bed and funeral.

After Sanchia’s death a grant in the Patent Rolls of Henry III:

for the saving of the king’s soul and of Sanchia, queen of Almain [Germany], to the master and brethren of the hospital of St Katharine without the Tower London of 50s a year at the Exchequer for the maintenance of a chaplain celebrating divine service daily in the chapel of St John within the Tower for her soul”.

Although she was only about 33 at her death, Sanchia’s legacy came from the close relationship with her sisters. All 4 sisters, and their mother, took part in the negotiations which led to the 1259 Treaty of Paris, improving relations between the French and English kings.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources:  The Plantagenet Chronicles edited by Elizabeth Hallam;  The Story of Britain by Roy Strong; The Plantagenets, the Kings Who Made England by Dan Jones; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings  by Robert Bartlett; oxforddnb.com;  Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; epistolae.ccnmtl.columbia.edu

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My books

Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest

Tracing 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 is available from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

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Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly