Monday, January 28, 2013

Four Queens: the Provence sisters who ruled Europe

Nancy Goldstone recounts the story of the four daughters of  Beatrice of Savoy and Raymond V Berenger, Count of Provence - Marguerite who married Louis IX of France, Eleanor who married Henry III of England, Sanchia who married Henry III's brother, Richard of Cornwall who later became King of the Romans and Beatrice who married Louis IX's brother, Charles Count of Anjou who later became King of Sicily.

The stories of the lives of the four women are told in chapters interwoven throughout the book and combined tell the story of a large section of Europe between the years 1221 and 1296. Much of the story involves the politics / territorial disputes between England and France, the politics within the counties and territories that made up England and France as well as politics / territorial disputes with bordering countries. Religion was also a main player with the the role of the Pope prominent in determining many of the policies adopted by the various countries.

This was the age of the Crusades where leaders were encouraged to take up the cross, raise money by any means, recruit soldiers and spend several years fighting for and often dying for the holy cause. In 1247 Marguerite and Beatrice accompanied their husbands and Louis' army on a Crusade which led to the capture of Louis and many of his men by the Egyptians, resulting in a hugh ransom to be raised for their release. The army was decimated from fighting and from disease and most of those who survived returned to France in 1250, however Marguerite and Louis did not return until 1254.

In England Eleanor and Henry III had problems with the barons resulting in a civil war in 1263 and it took several years before the monarchy and its succession were once again secure.

The desire of younger brothers of the kings of England and France is shown in the stories of Sanchia and Beatrice and the determination of their husbands to extend their territories and power, particularly in becoming kings of foreign realms where they were not generally welcomed.

The book provides useful insight not just into the lives of the four women and their role in supporting their husbands and family but also into the power struggles of Europe in the thirteenth century.

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