Blanche of Castile (Castilian: Blanca) was born on 4 March 1188 in Palencia, the third daughter of Alfonso VIII of Castile and his wife Leonor Plantagenet. She was Queen of France as the wife of Louis VIII. She acted as regent twice during the reign of her son, Louis IX the Saint. She was one of the granddaughters of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine.
In her youth, she visited the Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas, founded by her father, several times. In consequence of the Treaty of Le Goulet between Philip Augustus and John of England, Blanche’s sister, Urraca, was betrothed to Philip’s son, Louis. Their grandmother Eleanor of Aquitaine, upon getting acquainted with the two sisters, judged that Blanche’s personality was more fit for a queen consort of France. In the spring of 1200 Eleanor crossed the Pyrenees with her and brought her to France instead (historical rumour has it the French thought the sound of “Urraca” was hideous).
On 22 May 1200 the treaty was finally signed, King John ceding with his niece the fiefs of Issoudun and Graçay, together with those that André de Chauvigny, lord of Châteauroux, held in Berry, of the English crown. The marriage was celebrated the next day, at Port-Mort on the right bank of the Seine, in John’s domains, as those of Philip lay under an interdict. The marriage was only consummated after a few years, and Blanche bore her first child in 1205.
During the English barons’ rebellion of 1215-16 against King John, it was Blanche’s English ancestry as granddaughter to Henry II that led to Louis being offered the throne of England as Louis I. However, with the death of John in October 1216, the barons changed their allegiance to John’s son, the nine-year-old Henry. Louis continued to claim the English crown in her right, only to find a united nation against him. Philip Augustus refused to help his son, and Blanche was his sole support. She established herself at Calais and organized two fleets, one of which was commanded by Eustace the Monk, and an army under Robert of Courtenay. Eventually Louis’ claim faded.
Upon Louis’ death in November 1226, he left Blanche, by then 38, regent and guardian of his children. Of her twelve or thirteen children, six had died, and Louis, the heir — afterwards the sainted Louis IX — was but twelve years old. She had him crowned within a month of his father’s death in Reims and forced reluctant barons to swear allegiance to him. The situation was critical, since Louis VIII had died without having completely subdued his southern nobles. A minority made the Capetian domains even more vulnerable. To gain support, she released Ferdinand, Count of Flanders, who had been in captivity since the Battle of Bouvines. She ceded land and castles to Philip Hurepel, son of Philip II and his controversial wife Agnes of Merania. She had to break up a league of the barons in 1226. Helped by Theobald IV of Champagne and the papal legate to France, Romano Bonaventura, she organized an army. Its sudden appearance brought the nobles momentarily to a halt. Twice more did Blanche have to muster an army to protect Capetian interests against rebellious nobles and Henry III of England.
In 1229, she was responsible for the Treaty of Paris, in which Raymond VII, Count of Toulouse, submitted to Louis. By it his daughter and heir Joan was forced to marry Blanche’s son, Alfonso. He gave up all the lands conquered by Simon de Montfort to the crown of France. It also meant the end of the Albigensian Crusade.
At the cost of some of the crown’s influence in Poitou, Blanche managed to keep the English Queen mother Isabelle, Countess of Angoulême and her second husband, Hugh X of Lusignan, from supporting the English side. Pierre Mauclerc did support the English and Brittany rebelled against the crown in 1230. Blanche organized a surprise attack in the winter. She accompanied the army herself and helped collect wood to keep the soldiers warm. The rebellion was put down, which added to the growing prestige of Blanche and Louis.
Saint Louis owed his realm to his mother and remained under her influence for the duration of her life. After Louis came of age, in 1234, aged 20, her influence upon him may still be traced. The same year, he was married, and Blanche became Queen mother. Louis married Margaret of Provence, who was the eldest of the four daughters of Ramon, count of Provence, and Beatrice of Savoy.
In 1239, Blanche insisted on a fair hearing for the Jews, who were under threat by increasing Antisemitism in France. She presided over a formal disputation in the king’s court. Louis insisted on the burning of the Talmud and other Jewish books, but Blanche promised Rabbi Rehiel of Paris, who spoke for the Jews, that he and his goods were under her protection.
In 1248, Blanche again became regent, during Louis IX’s absence on the Crusade, a project which she had strongly opposed. In the disasters which followed she maintained peace, while draining the land of men and money to aid her son in the East. She fell ill at Melun in November 1252, and taken to Paris, but lived only a few days and died on 27 November 1252. She was buried at Maubuisson Abbey, which she had founded herself. Louis heard of her death in the following spring and reportedly did not speak to anyone for two days afterwards.
I always think Eleanor of Aquitaine’s female descendants need some more love. What a wonderful book trilogy would be: a book about Leonor Plantagenet and Alfonso VIII, and then two about their daughters: Queen Berenguela and her son Fernando the Saint and Queen Blanche and her son Louis the Saint. Awww!