“Six Degrees” from Eleanor of Aquitaine: Isabella of France

“Six Degrees” from Eleanor of Aquitaine: Isabella of France

Everything begins with Eleanor of Aquitaine! She is fascinating both for her life and her “life after life.” Eleanor had a bevy of children – two daughters with Louis VII of France, and three daughters and five sons with Henry II of England. Of those ten children, six had children of their own. Through these grandchildren, Eleanor became the ancestor to the expected (the monarchs of England) and the unexpected!

Our featured “Eleanor descendant” is Isabella of France, the wife of King Edward II. The relationship between Isabella and Edward was “tumultuous” at best. Their marriage ended with Isabella and her lover taking control of England, in the name of Isabella’s young son Edward. That move resulted, first in the abdication, and then in the murder of Isabella’s imprisoned husband Edward II. (It should be noted that Edward II was far from a blameless innocent!)

Isabella and her husband Edward were cousins. Edward had his own line of descent from Eleanor of Aquitaine through his father Edward I, his grandfather Henry III, and his great-grandfather John, who was the son of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II.

Both Isabella and Edward II were descendants of another of Eleanor and Henry II’s children, their daughter Eleanor (John’s older sister). Eleanor married Alfonso VIII of Castile. Their daughter Berengia was the grandmother of Eleanor of Castile, who was the wife of Edward I and mother of Edward II. Another of Eleanor and Alfonso’s daughters was Blanche of Castile, who married Louis VIII of France and became the mother of King (and Saint!) Louis IX.

An illumination from a Bible commissioned by Blanche of Castile. Courtesy of the British Library Illuminated Manuscripts Collection.

An illumination from a Bible commissioned by Blanche of Castile. Courtesy of the British Library Illuminated Manuscripts Collection.

Through the marriage of Blanche and Louis, Eleanor of Aquitaine became ancestor to the monarchs of France, from Louis IX, to Philip III, to Philip IV, who was the father of Isabella of France.

Eleanor of Aquitaine was the “grand mother” of both the English and the French monarchies! Courtesy of the British Library Illuminated Manuscripts Collection.

Eleanor of Aquitaine was the “grand mother” of both the English and the French monarchies! Courtesy of the British Library Illuminated Manuscripts Collection.

Isabella of France had another, more unusual line of descent from Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was not only descended from a child of Eleanor’s marriage to Henry II of England, she was also descended from a child of Eleanor’s first, unhappy marriage to Louis VII of France.

When Louis and Eleanor had divorced in 1152, their two daughters were left in their father’s care. Marie, born in 1145, was 7 years old and Alice, born in 1150, was not yet 2. As was usual with royal daughters (and this was true, even when they were deeply loved!), their marriages were diplomatic and not personal. Louis VII wanted to tighten his alliances with his powerful and semi-independent French barons. He betrothed his two daughters to two brothers. Alice was promised to Thibault, Count of Blois, and Marie to Henry, heir to the Count of Champagne.

Henry “the Liberal” (a descriptor that referred to his generosity, not his brand of politics) was some 17 or 18 years older than Marie. He had joined Louis and Eleanor on Crusade, where his prowess had impressed the French king mightily. Soon after her parents’ divorce, Marie was sent (at Henry’s behest) to live in an abbey of nuns in Champagne. She remained there, gaining an excellent education as well as an insider’s knowledge of the land over which she would preside, until she was in her late teens and of marriageable age.

Marie and Henry were married in 1164. The couple had four children, Scholastica, Henry II of Champagne, Marie and Thibault. Henry and Marie ruled over one of the richest and most cultured territories in France.

Marie had not known her mother Eleanor of Aquitaine well. Even before the divorce they had been separated for at least two years while Eleanor was on Crusade. There is no evidence that Marie and her mother established contact when Marie had grown to adulthood. Once Marie was presiding over her own court at Troyes, however, her tastes proved to be very similar to Eleanor’s. An enthusiastic patron of the arts – particularly romance literature and secular music, it is reported that the troubadour Rigaut called her “the gay and joyous countess.”

A French “chanson” as recorded in a 13th century manuscript. Courtesy of the British Library Illuminated Manuscripts Collection.

A French “chanson” as recorded in a 13th century manuscript. Courtesy of the British Library Illuminated Manuscripts Collection.

Henry I was succeeded by his oldest son, another Henry. When Henry II of Champagne was offered (and accepted!) the throne of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, his younger brother Thibault became Count of Champagne in his stead. Thanks to Thibault’s marriage to Blanche of Navarre, their son became King Thibault I of Navarre. Thibault’s son, the unfortunately named Henry “the Fat,” was King of Navarre in turn. His daughter Joan married King Philip IV of France.

The marriage of Philip IV, descended from the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England, and Joan of Navarre, descended from the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII of France, gave their daughter Isabella of France a “double dose” of Eleanor. Certainly, in the course of her dramatically troubled life, Isabella could use every inherited bit of intelligence, courage and audacity.