Eleanor of Provence (1223-1291)

Relation to me: 21st Great Grandmother

Eleanor became Queen Consort of England when she married the English king, Henry III. She would serve as such while her husband was absent from his kingdom in 1253. Together, Eleanor and Henry had five children, including King Edward I of England. Even though she was completely devoted to her husband, and would staunchly defend him against the rebel Simon de Montfort, she was strongly hated by Londoners. This happened when she brought a large number of her relatives with her to England during her retinue. Her relatives would be known as “the Savoyards” and were given influential positions in the government and the realm. On one occasion, Eleanor’s barge was attacked by angry citizens who had pelted her with stones, mud, pieces of paving, rotten eggs and vegetables. Even though she was hated, she was also well known for her cleverness, skills in writing poetry and as a leader of fashion.

Eleanor’s Family

Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Provence was Eleanor’s father, and her mother was Beatrice of Savoy. Beatrice was the daughter of Thomas I of Savoy and his second wife, Margaret of Geneva. Eleanor was born in Aix-en-Provence and as a child she was well educated and developed a strong love for reading.

Eleanor also had three sisters, who would grow up to marry kings as well. After her elder sister, Margaret, married Louis IX of France, their uncle William talked with Henry III of England about him marrying his niece, Eleanor. To persuade him to marry her, Henry wanted a dowry of up to twenty thousand silver marks to help offset the dowry that he had just paid for his sister Isabella. Eleanor’s father was able to negotiate this down to no dowry, but just a promise to leave her ten thousand when he died.

Like her mother, grandmother and sisters, Eleanor was known for her beauty. She was a dark-haired brunette with “fine” eyes. Piers Langtoft speaks of her as “The erle’s daughter, the fairest may of life”. On the 22nd of June 1235, Eleanor was betrothed to King Henry III. Matthew Paris describes her as being “jamque duodennem” (already twelve) when she arrived in England for her marriage to the king.

king-henry-iii
Henry III

On the 14th of January 1236, Eleanor married King Henry III of England. She had never seen him before the wedding, which took place at Canterbury Cathedral. She had also never set foot in his kingdom before then either. Edmund Rich, the Archbishop of Canterbury officiated. Eleanor was dressed in a shimmering golden gown, tightly fitted to the waist, then flared out in wide pleats to her feet. The sleeves of her gown were long and lined with ermine. After the wedding, the couple rode to London that same day, where a procession of citizens greeted the pair. Eleanor was crowned queen consort of England in a ceremony at Westminster Abbey. Both ceremonies were followed by a magnificent banquet, with the entire nobility in full attendance.

Henry and Eleanor would have five children. Their son, Edward I, had married Eleanor of Castile in 1254. They would have children together, including Edward’s heir, Edward II. The elder Edward would marry a second time to Margaret of France, they too would have children together. Henry and Eleanor’s first daughter was Margaret, who married King Alexander III of Scotland, they too had children. Beatrice was their third child, and she married John II, Duke of Brittany. Their marriage produced children too. These three children had two younger siblings, Katherine we don’t know much about, and Edmund would come to be known as “Crouchback” and would be named the 1st Earl of Lancaster. He married first to Aveline de Forz in 1269, she would pass away just four years later and they had no children. His second wife was Blanche of Artois and took place in 1276. This relationship would produce children. Henry and Eleanor did have fou

edward-i
Edward I

r other children that aren’t listed here, but their existence is doubtful as there are no contemporary records of them. Their names though are Richard, John, William and Henry.

Eleanor does seem to have been especially devoted to her eldest son, Edward. When he fell deathly sick in 1246, she stayed by his side at the abbey at Beaulieu in Hampshire for three weeks. Due to her influence, her husband would grant the duchy of Gascony to Edward in 1249. Her youngest child, Katherine, seems to have had a degenerative disease and was rendered as deaf. When the young girl died at the age of three, both of her royal parents suffered overwhelming grief. This displays that even though Edward seemed to have been the favorite of the couple’s children, they did love all of their children deeply.

Eleanor’s Unpopularity

As stated before, Eleanor was unpopular among England’s Londoners. She was loyal and faithful to her husband, but had brought in her retinue a large number of her uncles and cousins, who would be known as “the Savoyards”. Her influence with the King and her unpopularity with the English barons made for friction during Henry’s reign. Her uncle William of Savoy became a close adviser to Henry, displacing and displeasing the barons.

Though her and her husband supported different factions from time to time, Eleanor was made regent of England when he left for Normandy in 1253. She was devoted to his cause, stoutly contested Simon de Montfort, and raised troops in France for Henry’s cause.

On the 13th of July 1263, Eleanor was sailing down the River Thames when her barge was attacked by the citizens of London. She stoutly hated the Londoners, who also returned her hatred, in revenge for their dislike she demanded from the city all back payments that were due on the monetary tribute known as queen-gold. She received a tenth of all fines which came to the Crown, in addition to this their were other fines that were levied on citizens by the Queen on pretexts. In fear for her life, as she was pelted with stones, loose pieces of paving, dried mud, rotten eggs and vegetables, Eleanor was rescued by Thomas Fitzthomas, the Mayor of London. She would take her revenge at the bishop of London’s home.

Her Later Life

During 1272, Eleanor’s husband, Henry, died. Her son, Edward was thirty-three years old at the time and became Edward I, King of England. Eleanor would remain in England as the queen dowager, and raised several of her grandchildren, including Edward’s son Henry and his daughter Eleanor, as well as her own daughter Beatrice’s son John. When Eleanor’s grandson died while in her care in 1274, Eleanor went into mourning. She gave orders for his heart to be buried at the priory at Guildford, of which she founded in his memory.

A year after Henry’s death, Eleanor’s two remaining daughters died. Margaret passed on the 26th of February and Beatrice on the 24th of March. Eleanor went into retirement at a convent after, but did remain in contact with her son, King Edward and his sister, Queen Margaret of France. Eleanor too would die on the 24th of 25th of June 1291 in Amesbury, just eight miles north of Salisbury, England.

Eleanor was buried on the 11th of September 1291 in the Abbey of St. Mary and St. Melor in Amesbury. The exact spot of her grave at the abbey is not known, which makes her the only English queen without a marked grave. Her heart was taken to London, and buried at Franciscan priory.

st-mary-and-st-melor-abbey
St. Mary and St. Melor Abbey in Amesbury, England

Eleanor’s Cultural Legacy

Eleanor was well-known for her learning, cleverness and skill at writing poetry, as well as for her beauty. She was also known as a leader of fashion. She continuously imported clothing from France and often wore parti-colored cottes. This was a type of tunic. She also wore gold or silver girdles, into which a dagger was casually thrust. She favored red silk damask and decorations of gilt quatrefoil. So as to cover her dark hair she would wear jaunty pillbox caps. As a leader in fashion at her time she introduced a new type of wimple to England. It was high, “into which the head receded until the face seemed like a flower in an enveloping spathe”.

She also developed a love for songs of the troubadours as a child and continued this interest into adulthood. Eleanor also bought many romantic and historical books, covering stories from ancient times to modern romances.

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3 thoughts on “Eleanor of Provence (1223-1291)”

    1. I don’t know, lately historians of some sort, not sure who, have been updating a lot of the old photos or remapping the faces of people through history and releasing them to the public to have a better image of what people from long ago looked like then.

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