Guest Post: Why was Ailenor of Provence called a She Wolf Queen? by Carol McGrath

Alienor of Provence

Given my recent articles on She Wolves, it is a distinct pleasure to welcome Carol McGrath to History…the Interesting Bits with an article about Eleanor of Provence, another queen labelled a ‘she-wolf’.

Why was Ailenor of Provence called a She Wolf Queen?

The first novel, in The She Wolf Queens Trilogy, The Silken Rose was published as an ebook on Thursday 2nd April. The Silken Rose features Ailenor of Provence, who married Henry III in 1236 at only twelve or thirteen years of age. He was already old at twenty-nine years old. The term She Wolf Queen was initially used for Margaret of Anjou by William Shakespeare.

Later, the Victorian Historian, Agnes Strickland, used it for Ailenor of Provence, although Ailenor had, without doubt, made enemies during own her life time. Why label Ailenor of Provence a she wolf queen. Did she deserve this sobriquet?

Alms dish (photograph courtesy of Carol McGrath)

In many ways beautiful Ailenor was the perfect queen who generously gave alms to the poor, was devoted to her husband and endowed abbeys. She was a good mother, protective of her children. Exemplary you might think. However, Ailenor was foreign at a time when English Continental territories had been reduced to Gascony and Aquitaine and ‘Englishness’ was becoming a national identity.

Ailenor of Provence never brought Henry a dowry. She was not even from the top-drawer of European nobility. After her marriage, she introduced a collection of penniless Savoyard and Provençal relatives to England.  The English barons who had become inward looking, after the loss of estates in Normandy during the previous reign, were furious. They disliked top positions being parcelled out to the queen’s relatives, particularly to her uncles from Savoy.

Opus Anglicanum

It probably seemed natural to Ailenor to advance her own relatives. Uncle William of Savoy who had accompanied Ailenor to England became one of King Henry’s chief counsellors. Henry even attempted to make him Bishop of Winchester.

Uncle Peter, reportedly charming and clever, became an advisor and received the Honour of Richmond, in Yorkshire. Peter built the Savoy Palace in London. Thomas of Savoy acted as an envoy when Ailenor attempted to buy the Sicilian crown for her second son, Edmund. An unpopular foolish move. It was costly and fell apart when Thomas was captured and imprisoned in Turin and Ailenor had to raise a ransom. The handsome, reforming Uncle Boniface became Archbishop of Canterbury.

Peter of Savoy

In addition, talented clerks came to England from Provence and Savoy. They took over running the treasury as well as other areas of government. This did not please the English barons who felt such jobs were theirs to distribute and control. Henry loved pageants and parties. He spent money on magnificent, expensive building works such as Westminster Abbey. She adored fashion and rich embroidery.  I off set her point of view in the novel with that of a court embroiderer. Extravagant spending and nepotism would lead to conflict between King and Barons. She was blamed as a bad influence on the King.

English marriages were arranged for her relations, including that of Ailenor’s younger sister, Sanchia, to Henry’s brother, Richard of Cornwall. This limited English heirs and heiresses available for English barons’ own sons and daughters. After the disgrace and death of Henry’s mother, his hated Lusignan half-brothers arrived in England seeking patronage. Incensed,

Coat of arms of Alienor of Provence

Ailenor’s opposition to the unpopular Lusignans gave her momentarily a stronger political position at court. However, she recognised she would have to tolerate them if she was to preserve good will within her marriage. Henry made her joint regent when he campaigned in Gascony during the 1250s but she levied new taxes, an unpopular move.

At the outbreak of the Baron’s war in 1263, Ailenor was pelted with offal from London Bridge as she attempted to take a boat from The Tower upriver. After that, she sailed for France to raise mercenaries for the royalist cause.

Ailenor was a force to be reckoned with. No wonder during the Victorian era she earned the title of she wolf queen. Nowadays, I suspect, we admire her loyalty, intelligence, love of culture and personal strength.

I would like to extend huge thanks to Carol for a fabulous post and wish her every success with The Silken Rose.

About the author:

Carol McGrath

Following her first degree in English and History, Carol McGrath completed an MA in Creative Writing at The Seamus Heaney Centre, Belfast, followed by an MPhil from University of London. Her fifth historical novel, The Silken Rose, first in The Rose Trilogy, published by the Headline Group, is set during the High Middle Ages. It features Ailenor of Provence and will be published on April 2nd 2020. Carol was the co-ordinator of the Historical Novels’ Society Conference, Oxford in September 2016. Visit her website:

Carol’s latest novel, The Silken Rose, telling the remarkable story of Alienor of Provence is available now. To purchase The Silken Rose ebook click here

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My Books

Coming soon! 

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England will be released in the UK on 30 May 2020 and is now available for pre-order from Pen & SwordAmazon UK and from Book Depository worldwide. It will be released in the US on 2 September and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, Amazon US and Book Depository.


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©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Carol McGrath

Isabella, England’s Second 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.

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.

The marriage of Frederick II and Isabella of England

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

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.

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.

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;;


Isabella’s story features in greater detail in my book, Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England .

My Books

Coming 31st May:

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

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.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.


You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016