Blanche of Castile: Mother of a Saint King

Blanche of Castile
March 4, 1188 – November 27, 1252

Early Life

Her support and guidance would help create one of the greatest French kings in history. Blanche was born in Castile on March 4, 1188, to King Alfonso VIII and Queen Eleanor. She descended from Castilian royalty and English royalty through her mother. As part of a marriage arrangement between Castile and France, the young Blanche was betrothed to King Philip II’s son, Prince Louis, at the age of 11. On May 23, 1200, the two were married. It was hoped that through this marriage a peace would be reached between England and France. Despite this, the war between both sides over control of French lands would continue regardless.

Invasion of England

As the conflict between both nations progressed, King John of England eventually died on October 19, 1216. Due to his immense unpopularity, Blanche attempted to claim the throne in her own right due to her English ancestry. During the First Baron’s War in England, her husband Louis pursued the claim on her behalf and was almost successful in doing so. However, the English barons would have a change in heart about having a French prince become their king. They instead sided with the deceased John’s son, Henry. With the ascension of the prince as Henry III, Louis was paid off by the English and departed for France.

Louis VIII

Louis VIII of France
Louis VIII of France

On July 14, 1223, King Philip II died, and Louis became Louis VIII of France. Blanche would encourage her husband to join the Albigensian Crusade, a military campaign to eradicate an unsanctioned Christian movement in southern France. When Louis returned in 1226, he was suffering from dysentery and died on November 8, 1226, at the age of 39. In his will, Louis entrusted Blanche as the regent for their son, Louis. Blanche would not disappoint.

Louis IX

Shortly after her husband’s death, Blanche would have her 12-year old son crowned as King Louis IX. Since her son was still young, some nobles viewed this situation as an opportunity to rebel. Blanche was aware of this. An illegitimate son of King Philip II, Philip Hurepel, did indeed rebel against Louis. He was supported by French nobles and King Henry III of England. However, Blanche was able to gather an army to counter the rebellion and forced them to submit to her son.

In addition to ending a rebellion, Blanche also focused on completing her late husband’s efforts in the south. In 1229, the Treaty of Paris was signed between Raymond VII of Toulouse and Louis IX. The treaty officially ended the Albigensian Crusade. Through Blanche’s actions, Raymond’s daughter Joan was married to Louis’ brother Alphonse. This would bring Raymond’s territory under the royal family’s control after his death. With the threats to the monarchy extinguished, France entered into a period of stability.

Blanche and Margaret’s Relationship

Margaret of Provence
Margaret of Provence

Despite Blanche’s success as regent, she wasn’t without personal flaws. Blanche arranged a marriage between Margaret of Provence and Louis IX in 1234. Blanche’s jealousy of her son’s new wife caused her to have a lousy relationship with Margaret. Louis’ focus on his wife over his mother made Blanche react in spite towards Margaret. When Margaret first arrived at the French court, Blanche promptly dismissed her family members and servants who accompanied her.

Over time, Blanche’s resentment grew as Margaret became known as the more beautiful of the two royals. The court’s focus gradually began shifting towards Margaret. Seeing her control slowly slip away from her, Blanche attempted to keep Louis and Margaret apart from each other. Despite her efforts though, the couple would still see each other enough to produce 11 children.

The Seventh Crusade

Regardless of her flaws, Louis IX still held his mother in high regard. Even though he had reached the age to rule by himself, Louis continued to keep Blanche as regent. In 1248, Louis decided to go on the Seventh Crusade in Egypt with his wife and children. He wisely knew better than to leave his mother and wife together in France.

Blanche opposed his desire to crusade but ultimately relented. During her second regency, Blanche learned that Louis had been defeated and captured at Al-Mansurah. She was able to successfully negotiate the terms of not only her son’s release but the surviving French noble’s as well. However, the high cost of the ransom drained France’s finances.

Later Life

After rescuing her son and his nobles from imprisonment, Blanche’s health began to decline. She continued with her responsibilities as regent despite suffering from heart issues. While traveling to Lys to visit an abbey, Blanche’s heart condition worsened. After slowly dying over the course of a few days, Blanche drew her last breath on November 27, 1252. She was 64-years old, and her body would be interred in the Maubuisson Abbey.

Conclusion

Louis IX was still abroad when he learned of Blanche’s passing. Louis grieved deeply for the loss of his mother and most staunch supporter.
After her death, Louis IX would never forget his mother or the impact that she had on his life. He would eventually become the most renown ruler in Europe during his lifetime for his commitment to justice, the Catholic church, and the strengthening of his kingdom. Decades after his death, Pope Boniface VIII would canonize Louis as a Catholic saint for his great deeds, making him the first and only saint king of France. Although better known than his mother, Louis would not have achieved such greatness during his life without the support and guidance of his wise mother, Blanche of Castile.

Sources

Bradbury, J. (2010). The Capetians: Kings of France 987-1328. London: Hambledon Continuum.

Jeandet, Y. (n.d.). Blanche of CastileRetrieved September 16, 2019, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Blanche-of-Castile-wife-of-Louis-VIII.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Andy Tree

I'm a European history enthusiast who seeks to share his passion with others. I hope to inform and inspire readers with my posts!

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