Henry, king of England, caused his son Henry to be married to Margaret, the daughter of the king of France, although they were as yet but little children, crying in their cradle (…) the marriage (…) was celebrated at Newbourg on the 2nd of November , with the sanction of Henry of Pisa and William of Pavia, cardinal-priests and legates of the apostolic see…
Marguerite of France (1158-1197) was the queen consort of Henry the Young King and Bela III of Hungary, respectively. The third daughter of King Louis VII of France, her arrival into this world must have been a great disappointment to her father. A few years prior to her birth, he divorced Eleanor of Aquitaine – ironically Marguerite’s future mother-in-law – because he had found her unable to produce a male heir. His second marriage, as it turned out, did not have a very auspicious beginning either, for in 1158 Donna Constanza of Castile had the cheek to give birth to yet another daughter, leaving Louis without the much-awaited male heir.
From his first marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, Louis had two daughters, Marie (b. 1145) and Alix (b.1151). By his second wife he had two more, Marguerite and Alys (b.1160). Constance of Castile died in childbirth, when Alys was born. Marguerite was just two years old at the time. As Ralph of Diceto noted in his usual matter-of-fact manner:
The queen of France, daughter of Alfonso emperor of Spain, died in giving birth to a daughter who fortunately survived. King Louis, however, did not observe the proper time of mourning but within two weeks had married Adela, daughter of Count Theobald of Blois.
One may find this a most unusual action taken by the admittedly monkish king, but by 1160, Louis was already forty and the father of four daughters. No wonder he was in a hurry. Adela was to give him a much-awaited son and heir, Marguerite’s half-brother, Philip Augustus.
Marguerite was still just a baby when she was betrothed to Henry II of England’s eldest surviving son and heir presumptive, Henry, and taken away to be raised with his new family. Her future husband was three years old. Their betrothal was the fruit of Henry II’s chancellor, Thomas Becket’s outstanding political skills. The princess brought the Norman Vexin – a bone of contention between England and France – back under Angevin rule through her dowry. Becket’s mission would long be remembered by the Parisians. His entourage far outshone that of Henry II’s himself – the king came some time afterward- and was a magnificent display of power and riches. For the details, read William Fitz Stephen’s vivid account of Becket’s arrival at Louis VII’s court. The actual wedding took place on 2 November 1160 when Marguerite and Henry were still very young as Roger Howden says in the quote above.
When we next hear about princess Marguerite, she is a girl of twelve or thirteen, left behind in Normandy while her fifteen-year-old husband was crowned king of England at Westminster on 14 June 1170, a coronation that would enrage Marguerite’s father and bring the Becket crisis to its tragic end. What was so disturbing about it that provoked Louis’ wrath? For reasons that remain obscure, Marguerite, his daughter, was not crowned alongside her husband. This was to be remedied two years later, in 1172.
To placate Louis VII and mend the rift between them, Henry II outdid himself in organizing the most elaborate and grand ceremony, which took place on 27 August 1172 at Winchester, with Rotrou, archbishop of Rouen officiating. The Princess’s father demanded the excommunicated bishops who performed the coronation of his son-in-law in 1170 be forbidden to participate. Henry the Young King was crowned for the second time (although for him it was more of a crown-wearing than actual coronation) together with Marguerite, in the first town in England governed by a mayor, in the cathedral that witnessed the most crucial events in the history of the kingdom. This is how Roger of Howden described the event in his annals
Rotrod, archbishop of Rouen, Gilles, bishop of Evreux, and Roger, bishop of Worcester crowned them [Henry and Marguerite] in the church of Saint Swithin, at Winchester, on the sixth day before the calends of September, being the Lord’s Day.
Marguerite was consecrated after the officiants placed the “diadema regni’ on her husband’s head.
Henry the Young King and Marguerite spent Christmas of 1172 in Normandy, whereas Henry II and Eleanor held their Christmas court at Chinon. Then there is a long gap before Marguerite emerges again. In January 1173, the Young King was summoned by his father, but it is difficult to determine whether Marguerite accompanied him or was left behind in Normandy. Perhaps she went with her husband after all, for when I found her again she is at Barfleur, ready to cross to England with her father-in-law, captive mother-in-law, her brother-in-law John, her-sister-in-law Joan, and other girls raised in the family. Upon the safe landing at Southampton on 8 July, the company crossed the Channel in a violent storm – she is sent to Devizes Castle. It would be there she learned about her young husband’s defeats, the capture of William I before the walls of Alnwick, the siege of Rouen and the end of the Great Revolt.
In 1177 the queen, aged nineteen or twenty, gave birth to her and Henry’s only child, William. The boy arrived before he was due, and died shortly afterwards. Interestingly enough, there are two different versions describing the event and apparently some controversy arose over it at the time. Roger of Howden noted:
… queen Margaret, the wife of the king, the son, being pregnant, went to her father [Louis VII], the king of France, and, on arriving at Paris, was delivered of a still-born son. The Franks, however, asserted that this son of the king was born alive and was baptized, and named William. (The Annals, Vol I, p.456)
I assume that in this case the Franks must have been right. After all they were there, receiving the information first-hand.
Some time between the end of 1182 and the beginning of 1183, Marguerite became the object of court gossip. The tongues were wagging that she had a love affair with her husband’s most loyal knight, friend and former tutor-in-arms, William Marshal. Whether they truly had a love affair is difficult to say. As Professor David Crouch points out: if the latter was indeed true, William escaped serious consequences suspiciously easily. He was forced to leave his young king’s court and seek his fortune elsewhere. He traveled as far as Cologne and its cathedral, where he prayed at the Shrine of Three Magi. And to the good effect, for shortly afterward he was recalled and reunited with his young lord.
Meanwhile the Young King, who was departing for Aquitaine and setting off to undertake what was to become his last journey, sent away his young wife to Paris, to the safety of her half-brother’s court. None of them could have known that they had seen each other for the last time. In mid-June Marguerite must have received the news of her husband’s death. We do not know how she reacted. The chronicles remained silent when it came to the young widow’s grief, focusing on the reaction of her father-in-law, the elder king.
What were Marguerite’s whereabouts after her husband’s untimely death? Her half-brother, Philip Augustus demanded the return of her dowry. To discuss the matter of the Norman Vexin which Marguerite had brought into the Angevin domains upon her marriage to the Young Henry, a conference was held between Gisors and Trie in 1183. Philip and Marguerite’s father-in-law came to terms and it was agreed that Marguerite should receive, for quitting claims to the Vexin and all the castles and fortresses given to her and her husband by her father Louis VII on their marriage, one thousand seven hundred and fifty pounds money Angevin, “each year at Paris from our lord the king of England and his heirs, as long as she lived” (Howden, Vol II, p.28). They also discussed the fate of Marguerite and Philip’s sister Alys, who had been betrothed to Richard and had lived with the Plantagenets for many years now. Henry promised that if she were not wedded to Richard, she should be married to John.
In 1184 Marguerite paid a visit to her half-sister Marie of Champagne and spent Christmas with Marie and queen mother Adele, a visit that lasted several months and one more in 1186 before her remarriage to Bela III of Hungary. Yes! Marguerite did not stay a widow for long. Some time in 1184, the news must have reached the French court that would change Marguerite’s future forever.
Agnes, the queen of Bela III of Hungary died. It is not certain when exactly Bela opened the negotiations with Philip Augustus, but it must have been some time in 1185. During this period, we find a detailed inventory (now in Bibliotheque Nationale at Paris) of Bela’s revenues, noting a payment worth the equivalent of almost 45 tons of pure silver per annum, probably sent to Philipe for the marriage negotiations. Marguerite left France in 1186 never to return. She also left behind her first husband’s tomb at Rouen, taking with her only the memory of her golden boy.
What she must have found the most striking feature of her new country was the great number of livestock, all wandering freely outdoors on the ‘flat and lush pastures’ and ‘incredible fertile land’. Famine, a frequent visitor to other parts of Europe throughout the Middle Ages, was almost unknown in Hungary. Similar to France and England, by far the most important animal was a horse. Not a sturdy warhorse, but rather a smaller one, of the tarpan type. Marguerite must have also marveled at the customs of her new realm, where the peasants, unlike in the countries she knew, were allowed to hunt.
The Hungarian forests were rich in bear and bison, but also- and here Marguerite must have been surprised indeed- in the strange animal described by Abu Hamid as ‘a cow that resembles an elephant’ which might have been the urus- the ancestor of the Hungarian cattle (the species died out in the early modern period). But the greatest surprise awaited her at the court itself, in the person of her new husband. She knew he was ten years her senior, but she did not know he was a real giant in his time, 190 cm tall (6’ 2”).
As she was soon to learn, he was a cultured man, raised at the sophisticated Byzantine court under the wing of emperor Manuel, who married him to his niece, Agnes (Anna), daughter of Reynald de Chatillon. At the Byzantine court Bela had acquired useful knowledge about written administrative procedures and ‘the advantages of diplomacy over force’. He had also become fluent in Greek. When his first wife Agnes died, Bela decided to seek alliance with the French king, Philip Augustus, Marguerite’s half-brother.
Three years after their wedding, in June 1189, Marguerite and Bela received the Emperor Frederick [Barbarossa] who was heading with his impressive army to the Holy Land to take part in the Third Crusade. The meeting took place in the palace at Esztergom (Gran) on the Hungarian frontier, which, shortly before, had been rebuilt by French masons. Marguerite must have had a hand in the renovation of what was to become known as one of the first major buildings in early Gothic style erected in central Europe.
In all probability, she was also responsible for the development of St, Thomas Becket’s cult in Hungary, for next to the aforementioned royal residence, a religious chapter dedicated to the martyr was established. The chapter house stood on a small hill dedicated to Thomas (Szent Tamas-hegy).The building must have been begun during the reign of Bela, and he and Marguerite must have been the founders. Also at the time we find the first mention of Hungarians studying at Paris. Many Hungarian intellectuals went there to study and later, after returning to their native land, used their knowledge to form the administrative agencies modeled on Western ones, especially the chancery.
In ‘The History of Hungary and the Magyars’ by E.L.Godkin, I came across something interesting. According to the author, after Bela’s death in 1196, Emperor Henry VI sent an army to aid the Crusade, and- here let me quote- “at the head of the quota furnished by Hungary, Margaret, a youthful widow, set out in person. What was her motive for this strange undertaking we know not, unless it were that weary longing for rest and consolation in another world, which finely-wrought natures then thought purchasable only by privation and toil in this.”
I always thought it was a pilgrimage that she set out for. I cannot tell whether we can rely on the highly romanticized portrait of the queen given by Mr Godkin, who, for instance, calls her a youthful widow, although she was thirty-nine or forty at the time. One thing we can be sure of: Marguerite died in the Holy Land, probably in August/September 1197. A wife throughout the greater part of her life, she was buried alone in the cathedral of Tyre, far from both Rouen and Szekesfehervar, the resting places of her husbands.
Photo courtesy of Daise on the Claise. Heads of a young king and queen, perhaps representing Henry the Young King and Marguerite, from the portal of the church of Candes-Saint-martin, Anjou, not far from the Fontevraud Abbey https://daysontheclaise.blogspot.com/2014/09/the-church-at-candes-saint-martin.html
Further reading: Images of History by Ralph of Diceto in The Plantagenet Chronicles, ed. by Dr Elizabeth Hallam, The Annals of Roger of Howden, Vol I., trans. by Henry T. Riley, Historical Dictionary of the British Monarchy by Kenneth J. Panton, Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings by Amy Kelly, Eleanor of Aquitaine by Marion Meade, William Marshal. Court, Career and Chivalry in the Angevin Empire 1147-1219 by David Crouch, The Capetians. Kings of France 987-1328 by Jim Bradbury, The Making of Romantic Love by William M. Reddy, The Realm of St Stephen by Pal Engel, Made in Hungary: Hungarian Contributions to Universal Culture by Andrew L.Simon, The History of Hungary and the Magyars by E.L.Godkin, God’s War: A New History of The Crusades by Christopher Tyerman, The A to Z of the Crusades by Corliss K. Slack, Liturgies in Honour of Thomas Becket by Kay Brainerd Slocum