In 1543 King Henry VIII signed the Treaty of Greenwich, which included the betrothal of the future King Edward VI of England to his cousin, Mary the future Queen of Scots. Such a marriage could potentially have united the two crowns through the birth of one son and heir. Ultimately it failed as Edward died and Mary married the French Dauphin. But it wasn’t the first time such a marriage had been mooted, and it had also ended with an early death.
The life of Margaret "the Maid of Norway" was brief and sad. Born in 1283, she was the only child of King Eric II of Norway and his wife Margaret of Scotland, whose father was King Alexander III of Scotland. When Margaret of Scotland married in 1281 the possibility that the Scottish throne might fall to her was being considered – she only had one younger brother still living. King Alexander was aware of the problems this could cause and set out several documents detailing who should inherit and when.
Margaret’s birth in 1283 was a mixture of joy and sadness for Alexander. It gave him another new heir but was followed by the death of her mother soon after she was born. Alexander was now reduced to a son and a baby granddaughter. He remarried in November 1285 to Yolande of Dreux. But King Alexander died in five months later in March 1286 after a riding accident. Out riding at night he appears to have missed the edge of a steep embankment. His body was found the next morning with a broken neck. Scotland held it’s breath as Queen Yolande was reportedly pregnant. The chronicles don’t mention what happened to her baby, leaving historians to presume she miscarried. When it became clear that Alexander’s only direct biological heir was three-year-old Margaret, the Bruce family rebelled.
Alexander had seen the problems that his death could cause, and had appointed a group of Guardians to rule until Margaret came of age. After the Bruce rebellion fizzled out the Guardians were reluctant to move to punish them. They seem to have been equally as reluctant to summon their toddler Queen. In the end King Eric appealed to King Edward I of England.
Edward I proposed the union of the two countries. His eldest son and heir, Edward of Carnarvon, would marry Margaret. Together they would be King and Queen of England and Scotland, and their future son would inherit both thrones. Having spent most of his reign battering the Welsh, the thought of adding the Scottish crown to the Plantagenet domains was just too tempting for the King. Especially since both Prince Edward and Princess Margaret were still children and therefore a long regency would be needed.
Margaret of course was being raised in the Norwegian court by her father. Eric wouldn’t remarry until ten years after his wife’s death. Actual records about Margaret’s life are scarce, but she would have been cared for in a nursery, albeit without the company of siblings.
In late August 1290 she was finally dispatched from Norway, bound for the island of Orkney. But on the journey over the North Sea the young princess fell ill. Her escort reached Orkney and disembarked for more comfortable quarters (and hopefully better care) but it was in vain. Margaret died on 26 September aged just 7 years old. She never saw Scotland or met her intended bridegroom. Her death plunged Scotland in to a constitutional crisis as two separate branches of the extended Royal family fought over the throne. Her body was taken back to Norway where her grieving father had her buried next to her mother in Christ Church cathedral, Bergen. Her grave, and that of her mother, was lost when the church was destroyed in 1531.
Edward I and his wife Eleanor of Castile are known for having a large brood of children. Eleanor is believed to have given birth to sixteen children. However many of these children died young, and it took a long time before they had a surviving male heir. Edward of Carnarvon was the youngest of the sixteen and the fourth boy born to the couple. Had they survived, any of his brothers would have been King of England instead of him.
Naming the eldest son after their paternal grandfather was very common, but it might have been best to skip it in the case of baby John. Edward’s grandfather King John had been disaster. But that doesn’t seem to have stopped Edward and Eleanor using the name, perhaps they thought they might be able to ensure that King John II would be a better monarch? When baby John was born on 13 July 1266 he was the fourth child and first boy. However his three sisters had all died by the time of his birth. Eleanor’s first daughter had been stillborn in 1255, Katherine had died in 1264 at just three years old, and Joanna had died in 1265 before her first birthday.
John seems to have been healthier than his sisters as he lived longer than any of them. But he died weeks after his fifth birth, in August 1271. At the time of his death his parents were on Crusade, John had been left in the care of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, the younger brother of Edward’s father King Henry III. The extended family arranged for John to be buried in Westminster Abbey.
Henry was born sometime in the spring of 1268 at Windsor Castle. At the time of his birth his older brother John was still alive, making Henry the “spare” to the heir. He was named for his English grandfather. The family don’t appear to have recycled first names but had John died before Henry then he may have taken his brother’s name as well as his place in line for the throne.
Henry’s parents left on crusade in 1270, leaving Henry also in the care of Great Uncle Richard. After John’s death in 1271 Henry became the new heir to the throne. John's death was followed by Richard in April 1272, at which point Henry seems to have been moved to live with his paternal grandmother Eleanor of Provence. This was followed by the death of King Henry III in November 1272, while Edward was still in the Middle East. Henry was now just one step away from the throne. Had Edward died in Crusade a long regency would have ensued before King Henry IV would have been of age. In 1273 he was betrothed to Joan of Navarre, who would have been Queen of England (she instead became Queen of France). Toys were provided for the growing boy including a small trumpet and a set of toy arrows.
Sadly Henry predeceased his father too. He fell sick in 1274 while residing at Guildford. Having spent several years in the care of his paternal grandmother Eleanor of Provence it was fitting that she looked after him in his final illness. Edward and Eleanor have come in for criticism for not making the short journey from London to Guildford to visit him. However they had been abroad for most of Henry's short life, his grandmother was the better person to be with him. His mother was also pregnant at the time and it may have been fear of infection that kept the Royal parents away from their son. Like his brother he was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Alphonso, Earl of Chester, has his own earlier blog post on this site. He was born in November 1273 while his parents were residing in Gascony. With big brother Henry still alive at the time there was nothing to suggest that Alphonso would one day be King, he was the spare to the heir. But Henry's death in October 1274 propelled the 11 month old forward in the line of succession.
Given that Alphonso was the last surviving son to be born in to the family for 11 years (a baby boy died shortly after birth sometime in 1280 or 1281, 5 daughters were born between Alphonso in 1273 and Edward in 1284), precautions must have been taken for his health. The Royal nursery appears to have been situated in the Tower of London while the Royal couple resided in Westminster. This gave the King and Queen easy access to their children while keeping them away from the crowds at court.
And like Henry with his toy arrows, Alphonso received his own set of playthings including a model castle and possibly some toy soldiers. As he grew older he was given more grown-up presents, including hawks and greyhounds for hunting. A wife was also proposed for him. Rather than pick up the dropped Joan of Navarre, Alphonso was betrothed to Margaret of Holland. A beautiful psalter was created as one of the wedding gifts for the future happy event.
Bad luck struck the family once more in August 1284, when Alphonso died suddenly while his parents were in Wales. The family were devastated, not only was Alphonso starting to reach the age when he could have been groomed for government, but his death left the only son as a tiny 4 month old boy, Edward. The psalter created for his wedding was instead gifted to his sister Margaret when she married John of Brabant, and now resides in the British Library.
Altogether there were three boys who could have been, between them, King John II, King Henry IV, or King Alphonso I. Instead England got King Edward II. It didn't work out well.
A Danish princess by birth and a Queen of France by marriage, Ingeborg of Denmark tends to be forgotten about. The great Royal marriage battle between King and Queen that most people remember, is the one between King Henry VIII of England and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. But Ingeborg's own battle was not only far more protracted, it was ultimately successful.
Ingeborg was born some time around 1174 although the exact date and place of her birth is unrecorded. Her father was King Valdemar “The Great” of Denmark, while her mother was Sofia of Minsk. Valdemar died in 1182 leaving Ingeborg's eldest brother Canute as King Canute VI.
In 1190 the Queen of France, Isabelle of Hainault, died leaving King Philip II a widower. It's unknown whether Philip made the original enquiries about Ingeborg, or whether Canute suggested his sister as a possible bride, but by 1193 a treaty had been negotiated and the marriage agreed. King Philip had requested support from the Danish fleet and the rights of the Danish royal family to the English throne. Canute instead gave ten thousand silver marks, a hefty dowry but not quite what Philip had wanted.
The marriage ceremony took place on 15 August 1193 with the coronation held the next day. But the festivities did not end happily. Philip reportedly started to feel ill on seeing his new wife at the coronation, and soon after the ceremony was complete he tried to persuade the Danes to take her back with them to the Danish court. He claimed that he hadn't consummated the marriage and wanted an annulment. Ingeborg, alone in a foreign country bar the Danes who had accompanied her, fled in to sanctuary in a convent at Soissons. From there she appealed to Pope Celestine III for help convincing Philip that she was his lawful wife.
Philip's response was to have a fraudulent genealogical map drawn up that showed that he and Ingeborg were too closely related for the marriage to be allowed. An ecclesiastical council, based in France and thus under Philip's control, agreed and declared the marriage void. The Pope refused to believe it, especially after the Danes presented their own family tree disproving the French version. Philip then claimed that the marriage hadn't been consummated as he had been made impotent through witchcraft on the wedding night. Ingeborg insisted that this wasn't true either.
Three years after Ingeborg had fled in to sanctuary Philip remarried to Agnes of Merania. They had two children, Marie and Philip, but successive Popes refused to validate the marriage or recognise the children as legitimate. Philip was repeatedly told to repudiate Agnes and return to Ingeborg, but he refused and spent years trying to prove that his second marriage wasn't valid. Ingeborg spent just as much time begging for help and support. Although she had gone to the convent “willingly” she was still at the mercy of Philip. She claimed she was refused proper spiritual guidance, she was not allowed to confess and rarely heard Mass. This was considered to be excessively cruel treatment of a pious woman, and did nothing to help Philip's reputation.
There is still some debate by historians over the real reason for Philip's sudden change of heart over the marriage. Chroniclers at the time claimed he had been struck down by an illness, others sought to place the blame on Ingeborg. She was accused of having bad breath, something wrong with her body, or not being a virgin (the first two excuses were also used by people to excuse Henry VIII's dislike of Anne of Cleves). Alternatively it could be that Philip realised the Danes were unlikely to be particularly useful allies. At best he'd probably bought their neutrality, what he wanted was active support and the use of their navy. Historian George Conklin has also suggested that Ingeborg showed very early on that she was an independent, intelligent woman, who was unlikely to be a silent partner in their marriage.
Whatever his reasons for trying to divorce Ingeborg, in 1213 Philip suddenly agreed that he and Ingeborg had been lawfully married after all. Agnes of Merania had died in 1201, reportedly of a broken heart after Philip dismissed her in an attempt to get the Pope on side. But Ingeborg was wife and Queen of France in name only. Philip continued to live apart from her and she does not appear to have created any kind of court environment of her own. Philip's death in 1223 finally freed Ingeborg. On his death bed Philip reportedly asked his son Louis to treat Ingeborg well, possibly through guilt that he had failed to do so. She spent the last years of her life living quietly in a convent that she had founded near Corbeil, granting generous support to various religious houses and groups such as the Cistercians. She died some time after 1237 and was buried at St John's church in Corbeil. Sadly the brass that covered her tomb was destroyed during the French Revolution, leaving only a drawing of how it looked.
Born on 5 August 1103 William Adelin would have been the first Anglo-Norman King, reflecting the changes in English society since the Conquest. While his father was King Henry I of England, the youngest son of William the Conqueror, his mother was Matilda (formerly Edith) of Scotland. Her mother had been a granddaughter of the old Anglo-Saxon kings, and had married King Malcolm III of Scotland in 1070. William Adelin might even have had a claim on the Scottish throne if he had survived.
William’s Anglo-Saxon credentials were further enhanced by his birthplace, the old capital of Winchester, and his epithet. “Adelin” was a Normanised version of the old Anglo-Saxon word “Aetheling”, the name given to the heir to the throne. However his first name still indicated his father’s Norman origins.
At the time of his birth William had one older sister, also called Matilda. While King Henry had a large brood of illegitimate children, William and his sister were the only two legitimate children from his marriage. Whether this was by choice (some chroniclers claimed that the Queen was so pious she requested a celibate marriage after the birth of an heir) or through bad luck is unknown. But William seems to have been a healthy child so there was no need for his parents to worry too much.
Queen Matilda had received an excellent education at the convents of Romsey and Wilton and led a cultured, sophisticated court with her husband. She would have ensured that both her children received a good education themselves, although Princess Matilda was sent off to Germany at the age of six to await the crown of Holy Roman Empress. Details on William’s education are unknown, but he would have been expected to learn Latin and French. One small glimpse of family life can be seen in 1114 when Queen Matilda took her son to visit the newly founded Merton Priory. When Henry left England to visit Normandy in 1116 he left his wife as Regent, and charters from this time were also witnessed by William, suggesting that Matilda was helping her son learn the ropes through her supervision.
William’s mother Queen Matilda died in 1118. As William was now fifteen Henry appointed him regent, albeit with a council of advisors, during his absences. He also had a political role to play in alliances. Normandy’s long-term dispute with neighbouring Anjou frequently broke in to periods of war. In an attempt to secure Anjou’s loyalty William had been betrothed to Matilda of Anjou, the daughter of the Count, in 1113. The pair married six years later in 1119. Little is recorded of their relationship, but presumably they were happy together as after William’s early death Matilda refused to remarry, and joined a convent instead.
Following his wedding William spent a year with his father, travelling around Normandy and learning how to keep the peace in a region known for discontent and rebellion. In 1120 he became the nominal Duke of Normandy in order to pay homage for the Duchy to King Louis VI of France (Henry felt that as King it was beneath him to pay homage for anything). However, he never formally wielded power in the Duchy. However he was starting to be named as “king designate”, suggesting that to the chroniclers at least he was being lined up for some kind of dual-kingship system similar to that in France. The French monarchy tended to crown the heir during the lifetime of the father, it might have been Henry's intention to do the same.
Having lived a relatively healthy life until that point there was no reason to think that William would not become King William III. However the “White Ship Disaster” led to the death of William and several of his illegitimate half-siblings. William had managed to make it to the safety of the medieval equivalent of a lifeboat. But an attempt to rescue his drowning half-sister led to his boat being capsized and the heir to the throne drowned with the rest. His wife had been in a different ship otherwise she probably would have died too.
William’s death left his father with no legitimate male heir. Henry married a second time, to Adeliza of Louvain, but they had no children together. When Henry I died in 1135 the country was up for grabs and was claimed by both William’s sister, Empress Matilda, and their cousin Stephen of Blois.
Although her early life can classify her as an “Unlucky Princess”, in many ways Margaret of Austria’s life was better than other such royal women. Betrothed and married several times, she was not only eventually allowed to manage her own destiny, but she became ruler of the Netherlands as Regent for her nephew. Through this she joined the ranks of other strong women who managed the region on behalf of their menfolk.
Born in 1480 Margaret was the daughter of Mary of Burgundy and Maximilian of Austria. Mary was the heiress to the wealthy Duchy of Burgundy while Maximilian was next in line to rule the Holy Roman Empire. Sadly Margaret’s mother died in a hunting accident when she was just two years old, leaving the little girl and her older brother Philip in the care of their father and their step-grandmother, Margaret of York (sister of King Edward IV of England).
Months after Margaret lost her mother her life was upended again as Maximilian completed a treaty that sealed her future. France and Burgundy had been at war for years and Maximilian moved to find peace with the French. The Treaty of Arras was signed in December 1482 and included the clause that Margaret would be married to the French Dauphin, Charles. Margaret was promptly sent off to France to grow up in the French court. Her education was supervised by the Regent, Anne of France, and she grew up with a selection of other French noble children.
But the French marriage, and the position of Queen of France, never went to Margaret. In 1491 Charles renounced the treaty and called off the betrothal so he could marry Anne, Duchess of Brittany. Anne herself was betrothed to Margaret’s father Maximilian, who failed to show up with an army to defend his would-be wife. Anne was forced to agree to marry Charles, and Margaret was left hanging at the French court. She was finally returned to Burgundy in 1493 where she resided with her step-grandmother and namesake.
Maximilian was quick to arrange a new marriage for his only daughter. Their Most Catholic Majesties, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, had one son and four daughters. Their eldest, Infanta Isabella, was due to marry the Portuguese heir. Maximilian picked their second daughter Juana to marry his son Philip, and in return Margaret was sent to marry Prince Juan, swapping the position of Queen of France for future Queen of Spain. At the end of 1496 Margaret left Burgundy once more, this time for Spain. She and Juan were married on 3 April 1497. The pair reportedly fell in love, Juan was entranced by his beautiful, witty bride. But six months later he was dead, probably from tuberculosis, leaving Margaret in the early stages of her first pregnancy. A baby girl was stillborn in April 1498.
Margaret remained at the Spanish court for over a year, finally leaving Spain in September 1499. By March 1500 she was taking part in Burgundian court life, Philip and Juana invited her to be the godmother of their son and heir Charles. Once again Maximilian arranged for her to marry, this time to Philibert the Duke of Savoy. They married in 1501 but Philibert died three years later after contracting pleurisy, he and Margaret had never had children. After three betrothals and two marriages to men who had died young she decided she was done. She vowed to never marry again and spent the rest of her life as a widow. At one point Maximilian and Philip suggested her as a potential bride for King Henry VII of England, after his wife Elizabeth of York died. But Margaret refused, despite pressure from her family. Although she spent the rest of her life dressed as a widow she eventually decided against taking religious vows.
In 1506 Margaret’s brother Philip died in Spain. He and his wife Juana had inherited the Kingdom of Castile, and Philip had fallen ill while visiting his new Kingdom. His death left a power vacuum, he and Juana were parents to two sons and four daughters (their youngest daughter was born after he died). Their oldest son, Charles, had been left in Burgundy but was still only a child. Maximilian appointed Margaret as the new Regent of the Netherlands, ruling on behalf of her little nephew and helping arrange his education.
In the time between Juan's death and her marriage to Philibert Margaret had lived with her step-grandmother. She had clearly learned a lot from the older woman. Her court, based at Malines, was modelled on that of the Dowager Duchess. She had inherited personal effects from the elder Margaret including tapestries and jewellery. She negotiated peace with France, negotiating the treaty that led to the League of Cambrai. Although she essentially worked to increase the power of her Habsburg family, keeping the peace allowed trade to flourish in the Low Countries. Her court gained a reputation for elegance and education, especially for young women. One of those women was Anne Boleyn, who spent several years living with Margaret before moving to the French court.
As he grew up Charles originally seems to have resented some of her influence, led by his closest advisor Guillaume de Croy. Working behind Margaret's back, de Croy persuaded Maximilian to let Charles declare himself of age to rule when he turned fifteen. Charles then dismissed his aunt as Regent and set up a council. She was a member but had no vote, essentially she was resigned to the position of advisor without being able to make any decisions. De Croy was a French sympathiser and led Charles down a path that saw him acknowledge that he held Burgundy with permission from the French. It was a mistake that Margaret would have never let him make.
When Charles' grandfather Ferdinand of Aragon died in 1516 Margaret saw her chance. Margaret helped negotiate Charles' accession to the Spanish throne and waved him off with De Croy in his train. Charles realised he would struggle to single-handedly rule both the Netherlands and Spain. Margaret was returned to her former role in 1518. Margaret worked hard for her nephew, even negotiating his becoming Holy Roman Emperor even before her father Maximilian had died. She also spent much of the 1520s helping gather money and men for Charles' various wars. She supported his attempts to stop the spread of Protestantism in the Netherlands. In 1529 she was one of the key figures in the “Ladies Peace”, a treaty between the Netherlands and France negotiated between Margaret and Louise of Savoy.
There are two stories of Margaret's death. The first is that she stepped on a shard of glass, which cut her foot and developed an infection. The second is that she suffered from an abcess on her leg for a number of years, which eventually became infected. Whatever the truth she does appear to have developed gangrene from an open wound. She died on 1 December 1530 having tried to fight the infection for nearly two weeks. She left all her possessions to Charles, who followed her wish that she be buried next to Philibert at Brou.
Although Margaret was an unlucky princess in her early life, in many ways she fared much better than other women in this series. She managed to carve out for herself a place as trusted advisor and beloved Aunt to Charles. She didn't die in povery or anonymity, but gained a reputation for diplomacy and education.