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Berengaria of Navarre

Berengaria Tomb - Effigy

Tomb of Berengaria

Berengaria of Navarre, the daughter of Sancho VI, King of Navarre and Sancha of Castille was born in 1165.  She had three brothers; Sancho, Ferdinand and Ramiro along with two sisters; Constance and Blanche.

Richard I of England – Richard the Lionheart had been betrothed to Princess Alice, the sister of King Philip IV of France, since his infancy.  King Henry II, Richard’s father, took Alice as his mistress.  Richard rejected Alice as his wife, on the grounds of being his father’s mistress, she being second-hand goods, and the church ruled in his favour.

Eleanor of Aquitaine, mother to Richard I of England, and Dowager Queen, stepped in, and selected Berengaria of Navarre, as an appropriate wife for his son.  Marriage to Berengaria had its benefits; it would bring a sizeable dowry, which would aid Richard’s finances in the Third Crusade in the Holy Land.

Richard and Sancho, brother of Berengaria were great friends, and had fought each other in tournaments.

As Richard was on route to the Holy Land, it fell to Eleanor of Aquitaine, to collect Berengaria of Navarre, and escort her to Sicily.  They arrived at the end of March 1191, a time in the Christian calendar which coincided with Lent, when marriages were prohibited according to Canon Law.

Richard captured the city of Messina, forcing Tancredi to release Joanna, Dowager Queen of Sicily and Richard’s sister, from her prison in Palermo.

As Richard and Berengaria, were as yet not married, they did not sail together.  The crusading convoy of 219 ships departed during Holy Week of 1191.  Berengaria and Joanna travelled together, whilst Eleanor returned to England, to oversee Richard’s government.  Part of the fleet which included the ship carrying Berengaria and Joanna, was struck by storms, and limped its way to Cyprus, for shelter.  Isaac Komnenos ruler of Cyprus, should have offered assistance, instead took them prisoner, and demanded a large ransom from Richard for their return.

Richard was outraged at their capture and seizure of treasure bound for the Holy Land.  He showed his displeasure, as his Plantagenet army attacked Cyprus, resulting in Isaac Komnenos being arrested and thrown in prison.  Berengaria, Joanna and his captives were released unharmed.

King Richard I of England married Berengaria of Navarre on the 12th May 1191, at the Chapel of St.George at Limassol on Cyprus.  On the very same day, she was crowned Queen of England by the Archbishop of Bordeaux and Bishops of Evreux and Bayonne.

The Third Crusade was by and large successful in shoring up Christian dominance of Palestine.  However, it failed to gain its ultimate objective, the re-conquest of Jerusalem.  By the summer of 1192, the war had reached a no win situation, and King Richard had to admit there was no viable way to break the Islamic control over Jerusalem.  Richard came to admire his opponent; Saladin, both evenly matched in military skill.

In the September of 1192, Berengaria, Joanna and the former Cypriot princess set sail from Acre, bound for Poitou in France.

Richard chose to remain behind, and negotiate a treaty, ending the Third Crusade, putting in place guarantees for the continued existence of a Christian Kingdom in Palestine, which allowed Saladin to retain Jerusalem.  Christian pilgrims would be allowed to access Jerusalem and its holy places.

Duke Leopold of Austria, captured King Richard I of England, just outside Vienna, handing him over to his former allies – turned enemies, the Holy Roman Emperor, supported by Philip Augustus of France, and held prisoner in Germany.

On one hand Richard’s brother, Prince John wanted nothing more than to see his brother remain in prison, so he could claim the English throne.

It fell to Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard’s mother, who was overseeing Richard’s government to raise the ransom money.  She resorted to fair and foul means to raise the 100,000 marks required, leading to Richard’s release in 1194.

Upon his release in 1194, Richard made little attempt to send for Berengaria to join him.  It fell upon Pope Celestine III to order Richard to reunite with his wife.  Richard and Berengaria spent Christmas of 1196 together in Poiters.

In the March of 1199, Richard’s forces were besieging “Chateau de Chalus-Chabrol” in Chalus, France.  On the 25th March, walked the castle’s perimeter and was struck down by a crossbow bolt, from the castle’s battlements.  The wound became infected and turned gangrene.

King Richard I of England died in his mother’s arms, on the 6th April 1199.  Richard’s neglected wife; Berengaria of Navarre was not even summoned.  To add insult to injury, she was not invited to Richard’s funeral at Fontevrault Abbey.

With the death of King Richard, the English crown passed to Prince John, Richard’s brother, as Richard and Berengaria had no children.

Berengaria of Navarre, wife of King Richard I of England, became Dowager Queen, and as such received revenues of Devon, and Cornwall tin mines along with the city of LeMans.

From the beginning of his reign, King John cheated Berengaria out of what was hers by law.  He seized what was hers and she lived much of her remaining years in poverty.  Eleanor and Pope Innocent intervened, calling upon John to pay pension owed.

With no money coming from England, and forced into a life of poverty.  She threw herself at the mercy of the French Monarchy.  She abandoned her title of Dowager Queen and became “regina quondam Anglorum” – “former queen of the English.”

The French Monarchy gave her the city of LeMans.  She was able to collect rents, take part in local politics, and appoint overseers, knights, priests, ladies-in-waiting, clerks and lawyers.

In 1228, Berengaria founded the Cistercian Abbey of L’Epau, and retired their after its completion in 1229.  On the 23rd December 1230 she died at the Abbey, and was buried in her tomb according to her wishes.

In 1960, during the restoration of the Abbey, Pierre Terouanne uncovered a skeleton of a woman who died in her sixties, which one believed to be those of Berengaria of Navarre.  The remains have been preserved beneath the stone effigy of the queen, which is now located in the Chapter House of the Abbey.

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