The Age of the Queen Regnant
The twelfth century is notable for the number of women who inherited the throne in their own right, exercising this right with varying degrees of success. Most would find male support necessary to establish their rule, but just as often these women were forced to take up arms against such men, whether they be husband, son, or cousin. Frightening, unprecedented, and remarkable, this age of formidable queens would not find its counterpart until the 16th century.
Urraca of Leon (1109-1126): the first queen regnant of a major Western power, Urraca inherited the kingdoms of Leon, Castile, and Galicia from her father, Alfonso VI. According to her father’s wishes, the widowed heiress married Alfonso I “The Battler” of Aragon, a marriage which would prove a bane to Urraca’s subjects and soon Urraca herself as the Aragonese king sought to assert himself in her kingdoms at the expense of Urraca’s power. In addition to her husband, Urraca’s rule was likewise challenged by her half-sister, Teresa of Portugal, and the supporters of her son, Alfonso Raimundez, in Galicia. Against such odds, Urraca prevailed, skillfully playing each side against another, and passed a kingdom peaceful and intact onto her son at her death.
Melisende of Jerusalem (1131-1153): the first queen of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, which she inherited jointly with her husband, Fulk of Anjou, and infant son, Baldwin, on the death of her father, Baldwin II. Melisende would champion the native nobility against Fulk and his personal retainers, asserting her personal power following a rebellion and garnering her husband’s respect and fear. Following Fulk’s sudden death, Melisende ruled on her own, continuing to do so even after her son had reached his majority, welcoming the Western armies on the Second Crusade. Her determination to maintain her personal power against her son’s encroachment would lead to armed conflict between them in her last years, resulting in a temporary partition of the kingdom.
Petronilla of Aragon (1137-1164): the first queen of Aragon, Petronilla was the only child of Ramiro II, known as “The Monk” who despite being a bishop was chosen as king following the death of his childless brother, Alfonso I. Ramiro abdicated in 1137, having concluded Petronilla’s betrothal to Ramon Berenguer IV of Barcelona, leaving his two-year-old daughter and her twenty-five year-old husband rulers of Aragon. Petronilla ruled alongside her husband until his death in 1162, abdicating two years later in favor of her seven-year-old son, Alfonso II. Her marriage brought about the union of the Crown of Aragon, over which her son would rule. The extent of Petronilla’s own power is unclear, frustratingly hidden beneath that of her husband’s and her son’s.
Empress Matilda (1141-1148): the only legitimate child of Henry I of England following her brother’s death, Matilda was recognized by her father as his heir. To bolster her claim, she was remarried to Geoffrey of Anjou, a distasteful union to both, but one that served their mutual political interests. After her father’s death, Matilda’s claim was usurped by her cousin, Stephen. What followed was roughly a decade of civil war, known as the “Anarchy” with both side jockeying for the throne. Matilda achieved a brief triumph, having captured Stephen, and was acclaimed “Lady of the English”. Her fortunes soon changed and Stephen regained his throne. The struggle dragging on, Matilda began to champion the claims of her son, Henry FitzEmpress, instead of her own. Her efforts paid off and Henry came to the throne as Henry II following Stephen’s death. Matilda would spend the remainder of her life a valued adviser to her son.
Constance of Sicily (1194-1198): married to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI in her early thirties, Constance was recognized as heiress in Sicily by her childless nephew, William III. However upon his death, his bastard cousin, Tancred, seized the throne, supported by many who feared Hohenstaufen influence. Henry and Constance led several campaigns into Sicily, one of which resulted in Constance’s capture. Following Tancred’s death, they ascended the throne. Having given birth to a son, Constance turned against Henry, joining with the native nobility in resisting Hohenstaufen domination. Upon his unexpected death, she had her son, Frederick, crowned king and placed him under the guardianship of the pope shortly prior to her own death in 1198.