Alexander III, King of Scots was married to Margaret of England from 1251 until her death in 1275. Alexander did not appear to be in a hurry to marry again. He had two sons and a daughter with Margaret so heirs were not an issue. But by the early 1280’s, everything changed. His younger son David died in June of 1281 and within two more years, the other two children died. His daughter Margaret had married King Eric II of Norway and died after giving birth to a daughter named Margaret, best known as the Maid of Norway. At this point, Alexander’s granddaughter was his only heir.
Alexander had Margaret declared his heir and then went looking for a new bride. His mother, the dowager Queen Marie de Coucy, had married Jean de Brienne, an officer of France. Jean had a stepdaughter named Yolande de Dreux and Marie may have considered her an eligible candidate to marry Alexander. In February of 1285, an embassy was sent from Scotland to France and they returned with Yolande who was accompanied by her brother John.
Born c. 1267, Yolande was the daughter of Robert IV, Comte de Dreux and his wife Beatrix, the only child of count Jean de Montfort-l’Amaury and Jeanne de Châteaudun. They were a cadet family of the French monarchy and she was a descendant of King Louis VI. Dreux was located about forty miles west of Paris and the family was influential, well-connected vassals of the French monarchy. Alexander and Yolande were married on October 14, 1285 at Jedburgh Abbey, attended by a great many nobles of France and Scotland. The marriage was not destined to be long.
Five months later, on March 19, Alexander was holding a council meeting in Edinburgh Castle and was anxious to return to Yolande at Kinghorn in Fife. It was late in the afternoon by the time he left with three esquires accompanying him and two local guides. He may have wanted to celebrate her birthday and she may have been pregnant. The ferryman advised him not to cross the Forth as it was getting dark and a storm was brewing. At Inverkeithing, the bailie unsuccessfully argued with Alexander, asking him to stay the night in his house. There was only eight miles left and Alexander insisted on continuing. He rode off into the dark and soon became separated from his followers. It was the last time he was seen alive.
The next day, Alexander’s body was found on the foreshore of Pettycur, less than one mile from Yolande at Kinghorn. He had been galloping along the shore when his horse stumbled in the sand, throwing Alexander off and breaking his neck. Yolande and Alexander had been married for four months and fourteen days, one of the shortest royal marriages on record.
Yolande moved to Stirling Castle and declared she was pregnant. The nobles met to discuss the succession crisis on April 28 and swore fealty to Alexander’s granddaughter Margaret and vowed to rule until she arrived. There was a caveat. They swore that if Yolande had a son, the throne would go to him. Either Yolande miscarried or the baby was stillborn or died shortly after birth. Tradition says the baby was buried at Cambuskenneth. The council now made arrangements for Alexander’s granddaughter Margaret to come to Scotland.
After her recovery, Yolande lived in Scotland with revenues from her dower provisions. She may have lived in Stirling Castle, with an annual income of £200 from Berwick, estates in the sheriffdom of Stirling and a horse stud at Jedworth. In 1288, the Scottish exchequer was still paying her revenues from her jointure lands. She eventually returned to France. Eight years later, in May 1294 she married Arthur II, Duke of Brittany and earl of Richmond, a wealthy and influential French nobleman. He may have coveted the Montfort territories Yolande inherited from her mother. Together they had at least six children.
She had a son John in 1294 and a daughter Beatrice in 1295. Her daughter Joan, born c. 1296 married the son of the Count of Flanders. Alice, born c. 1297 married Bouchard VI of Vendôme. A daughter Blanche died young and her youngest daughter Marie entered a convent.
Yolande’s husband Arthur died in 1312. His eldest son by his first wife became John III, Duke of Brittany. Yolande’s country of Montfort passed to her son John who would later fight for his claim to his father’s duchy in the Breton War of Succession. Yolande continued to manage and maintain her Scottish interests. In October of 1323, safe conduct was obtained for a French knight to go to Scotland to attend to business regarding Yolande’s Scottish dower. There is mention of her making arrangements for the support of her daughter Marie in the convent. After that, she disappears from the record.
Further reading: “Scottish Queens 1034-1714” by Rosalind K. Marshall, “British Kings and Queens” by Mike Ashley, entry on Yolande de Dreux in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography by Janet Nelson