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  1. You might have noticed so far that although the unlucky princesses have generally been unhappy in their marriages, none of them have specifically been murdered on the orders of their unpleasant spouse.

    Step forward Blanche of Bourbon. Isabella-of-Valois

    Born in 1339 in France, Blanche was descended from the French royal family on both sides. Her father Peter Duke of Bourbon was a great-grandson of Louis IX, while her mother Isabella (depicted on the right, there are no surviving images of Blanche) was a granddaughter of Philip III. Her half-brother Philip became King Philip VI of France and the first King from the House of Valois after Charles IV died without a direct male heir. Philip's claim was contested by King Edward III of England, who claimed the French throne through his mother, triggering the start of the Hundred Years War.

    In 1353 Blanche was dispatched to the Kingdom of Castile in Spain to marry King Pedro. He had not had much luck with brides so far. His first betrothal had been to Joan of England, a daughter of Edward III. On her journey to her bridegroom she had caught the plague shortly after landing in Gascony and died before she even met her future husband. Pedro was reportedly controlled by his mother Maria of Portugal, and it was she who organised this second match as part of an alliance with France.

    Pedro's feelings about Joan of England aren't known, but it's generally accepted that before Blanche arrived he had already moved on and fallen in love with Maria de Padilla. He may even have married her before Blanche arrived, but if so his mother soon put paid to it. He was forced to renounce any promise he might have made to Padilla and instead marry the French princess. The marriage was celebrated on 3 June 1353, Blanche was just fourteen years old and had had to endure the usual problems of a foreign princess. Saying goodbye to her family, travelling a great distance in various uncomfortable modes of transport, and now an arrival in a foreign land.

    It quickly got worse. Three days after the marriage Pedro abandoned his new bride, declaring that she wasn't a virgin and the marriage should be dissolved. Blanche had been escorted from France by Pedro's illegitimate half brother Fadrique. They may have struck up a friendship on the journey or it may have been a plan by Pedro all along to get out of a marriage he didn't want. Either way he accused Blanche of having slept with Fadrique on the journey. Blanche was imprisoned and Pedro returned to Maria de Padilla.

    Poor unhappy Blanche was locked up in the castle of Arevalo. In theory a foreign princess had a certain amount of protection from her birth family but the French seemed relatively helpless to assist her. An appeal to the Pope to excommunicate Pedro failed, in the end the French allied with the neighbouring country of Aragon. Pedro was faced with battles on the borders as well as rebellion from his illegitimate half brothers. He had Fadrique murdered in 1358 after he assisted another brother, Enrique, in his rebellion against Pedro.

    In 1361 the Aragonese forces and their French allies were edging closer to Arevalo. Blanche, a valuable hostage, was moved to Medina Sidonia, where she suddenly died. Some accounts blame her death on an outbreak of plague, but many were quick to blame Pedro. He was accused of ordering her murder, by either poison or shot by a crossbow bolt. In some ways there was no point in killing her as it only served to anger the French more. On the other hand Pedro may have hoped that her death would leave him free to officially Maria de Padilla so he could have their four children legitimised.

    Pedro himself was murdered in 1369 by Enrique, leading to the start of the House of Trastamara. His death wasn't mourned, he had betrayed every ally who had helped him over the years. Blanche was just another name to add to the list.


    If you like the Unlucky Princess series you might like my eBook series - 30 Women in History.

    Last month's Unlucky Princess was Caroline Matilda of Great Britain.

  2. One of the most famous losses to the English throne, Edward the Black Prince was extremely popular for most of his life, but ended it a sick, bitter man.

    Born in 1330 Prince Edward was just what the royal family needed. His father, King Edward III, was a puppet king controlled by his mother Isabella of France and her lover Roger Mortimer. Baby Edward was barely four months old before his father led a daring plot, arrested Roger Mortimer and had Isabella put under house arrest. Mortimer was executed and King Edward III now ruled in his own right. Edward the Black Prince

    His family were very close, a fact that is primarily attributed to his mother. Queen Philippa had her children all raised in the same royal nursery together, along with a selection of children and infants from noble families. Other children raised alongside the Royal family included Blanche of Lancaster, who married Edward's brother John of Gaunt, and Joan of Kent.

    At the age of thirteen Edward was officially named as Prince of Wales, and acted as a "symbolic regent" in England while his father was off on military campaigns. He was granted extensive estates in Cornwall, Wales and Chester, which gave him an income suitable for the household of the heir to the throne. As a teenager his father also began to include him in the numerous battles that were fought in France. He helped win victory at the Battle of Crécy, and was part of the naval Battle of Winchelsea, which helped him gain fame as a great leader and future warrior-king. He developed a reputation as a brave prince, talented military commander and a model of chivalry, as well as an excellent jouster taking part in tournaments as an adult. To many at the time he was the epitome of what one expected from a king-in-waiting, and the bonus was that it came without any of the family troubles that Henry II had faced with his brood of sons.

    But in 1361 Edward caused a bit of a scandal by marrying Joan of Kent. Not only did they reportedly not ask King Edward's permission to marry, but Joan was a widow with several children. As the heir to the throne Prince Edward was expected to marry a foreign princess, not an English lady with four children to her name. After a more public wedding ceremony the couple moved to Gascony, where Joan gave birth to Edward of Angouleme and Richard of Bordeaux.

    Sadly for Prince Edward his later years saw the shine of glory wear off as England lost numerous military campaigns, and he developed more of a reputation for brutality. He was persuaded to help King Pedro of Castile regain his throne in 1366, and left Gascony at the head of an army in early 1367. Although they were successful, and Pedro was back on his throne by April 1367, the Prince was ultimately betrayed by his ally. Pedro consistently evaded repaying the English their share of the costs of the campaign (Pedro himself had paid for very little, most of the financial burden had been taken on by the Prince). While waiting in Valladolid for the promised money the English soldiers contracted dysentery. The Prince himself fell dangerously ill and never fully recovered. Eventually they returned to Gascony and Aquitaine, having never been repaid by Pedro. Prince Edward had to raise taxes in Aquitaine as he was now facing serious financial problems. This led to problems in the area as the people saw no reason why they should pay the cost of Pedro's broken promises.

    Naturally the problems in Aquitaine meant that the French could take advantage of English weakness in the region, and they pressed their advantage. When the town of Limoges surrendered to the French after a siege, the Prince was furious. The English retook the town, and on Prince Edward's orders the people of Limoges were slaughtered. Although Edward had taken part in similar actions in the past, it was this in particular that permanently tainted the memory of him.

    Now a sick man who was unable to sit on a horse, Edward's shining reputation for chivalry and an unblemished military record was quickly being forgotten. The prince was in no fit state to try and bring Aquitaine back under control, and so he and Joan arranged to return to England. Their son and heir Edward of Angouleme died shortly before they left, there wasn't even time for the grieving parents to bury their own child.

    On his return to England the Black Prince was largely confined to his bed, occasionally being carried to parliament in a litter. He eventually died on 8 June 1376, a year before his own father, leaving his second son Richard of Bordeaux to become King Richard II in 1377.


    Last month's Almost King was Eustace of Boulogne!

  3. Caroline Matilda was born into a court in mourning. Her father Frederick, Prince of Wales, had died four months earlier leaving his wife Princess Augusta a widow with nine children. The family had long been estranged from Frederick's father, King George II of England, but the Princes' death led to a cooling of tensions. Although George didn't like Augusta, and didn't like her reluctance to take part in court activities, she was generally left to raise her children as she saw fit.

    For Caroline Matilda this meant a more secluded life than her father might have encouraged. Augusta hated what she felt was the corruption of the English court under her father in law, and was determined to keep her children innocent of the ways of the world. Caroline was clever enough to make the most of her education, and left her schoolroom with three languages under her belt, and the family's talent for music (her eldest brother George played several instruments).

    In January 1765 Caroline Matilda was officially engaged to Crown Prince Christian of Denmark. Christian's mother was Frederick's youngest sister, making the betrothed couple first cousins. They were married in 1766, by which point Christian's father had died and he had gone from Crown Prince to King Christian VII of Denmark. In 1 May 1767 Caroline Matilda had her coronation in Copenhagen. Caroline Matilda

    The marriage was unhappy from the start. Christian, who was already showing signs of mental illness, was resentful that he had been “forced” to marry by his court, and refused to consummate the marriage for months. Instead he took multiple mistresses, until he was finally convinced of the need to have an heir to the throne. Crown Prince Frederick was born in January 1768, and Christian returned his attention to other women. Caroline on the other hand now had a reason to fight for her place at court. She was disliked by her husband's courtiers and favourites, the Danish court was far stricter than the English one and her behaviour had scandalised the nobles. Like her brother George, Caroline was fond of walking and could be spotted strolling through the streets of Copenhagen, rather than taking the carriage that was traditionally used by Queens.

    Christian's favourites did not endear themselves to her. Her favourite Lady in Waiting was dismissed, and although she rejected the first replacement she eventually had to accept the second choice. She was also rumoured to have had an affair with an actor in late 1768, but it's believed he was the lover of another of her Ladies in Waiting. Christian had embarked on a tour of Europe, and had the actor exiled on his return. Several other Ladies in the court were believed to be having affairs, and were accused of encouraging the Queen's “immoral” behaviour.

    In reality it appears that Caroline's first and only affair was with the Royal Physician, Johann Struensee. Christian returned to Copenhagen in 1769 with Struensee in tow. Although Christian's mental health was getting worse, Struensee was generally able to placate him and keep him relatively calm.

    Caroline originally disliked him. He encouraged the King to take a new mistress, but after this failed he turned to trying to improve the relationship between the King and Queen. He also helped treat the Queen when she suffered from dropsy, and successfully innoculated the Crown Prince against smallpox. Caroline and Struensee are believed to have been lovers from early 1770, although some in the court claimed they believed it started in late 1769. Wherever the King and Queen went, the Royal Physcian went with them. Working together Caroline and Struensee were able to have the King's malicious favourites banished from court. In December 1770 Struensee was a privy counsellor, and by the summer of 1771 he was given the same power as the King.

    In the following months Caroline's unpopularity increased as she supported her lover's attempts to reform the country. It wasn't helped by her behaviour, she reportedly made little attempt to hide her adoration for Struensee. She also caused further scandal by riding horseback dressed in men's clothing, and had a portrait made of her dressed in the uniform of her regiment. Her mother-in-law, King Christian's step-mother, led the opposition party at court, while Caroline formed her own group of followers.

    On 7 July 1771 Caroline gave birth to her second child. The baby girl was named Louise Augusta, and was named a Princess of Norway and Denmark. But the belief at court was that the baby should be called Louise Augusta Struensee. Despite the question of her paternity baby Louise would grow up close to her older brother Frederick, and was an accepted part of the Danish court.

    The baby's birth seems to have been the last straw for the Dowager Queen. Rumours circulated at Caroline and her lover wanted to remove Christian from power and rule the country themselves. After another courtier gave the Dowager Queen evidence (now believed to be fraudulent) that the couple were plotting against the King she decided to act. In January 1772 Struensee and his supporters were arrested. The same night Caroline Matilda was captured with her daughter and removed to Kronborg Castle, where they were kept under close guard.

    On 6 April 1772 the marriage of Caroline Matilda and King Christian was dissolved. Both she and Struensee had admitted their affair after weeks of pressure. Struensee was executed on 28 April, while Caroline Matilda's brother King George III of Great Britain had already begun negotiations with the Danish court for his sister. It was agreed that Denmark would return her dowry and provide a pension, and she would be able to retain her title. On 3 May she left Kronborg Castle, her final destination was Celle Castle in Hanover. Her children had to be left behind in Denmark and never saw her again.

    Caroline Matilda led a life of retirement in Celle. She was visited by friends and family, including her sister Augusta. She had a library and a small theatre, and regularly donated to charities relating to orphans and children from poor families. She died suddenly from scarlet fever on 10 May 1775 aged just 23. At the time of her death she was involved in a plot to return her to Denmark to act as Regent for her young son, but her untimely death put a stop to it. She was buried near her great-grandmother, Sophia Dorothea, another woman exiled from her court and children.

    Her son became King Frederick VI of Denmark, getting his revenge on his grandmother by siezing power and dimissing her ministers when he came of age. He was close to his sister, despite the questions about her paternity, and kept her as one of his most trusted advisers for the rest of his life.

     


    Last month's Unlucky Princess was a double; Eleanor of Woodstock and Joan of the Tower!

     

  4. At his birth Eustace of Boulogne couldn't have hoped to become anything more than a nobleman, like his father and grandfather. He was due to inherit his mother's county of Boulogne, Stephen himself was a younger brother who had married the heiress Matilda of Boulogne, and had taken title Count of Boulogne through her. As the eldest son Eustace could look forward to becoming Count Eustace of Boulogne in the future. But in infancy he gained a new title and new future – Prince Eustace, heir to the English throne. King Stephen

    On the death of King Henry I of England, Eustace's father Stephen (pictured right) rushed to claim the vacant throne. There had been many years of confusion over whether Henry would name his nephew Stephen (Stephen's mother was Henry's sister Adela), or his daughter Empress Matilda. But when he died Matilda was in Normandy, heavily pregnant and unable to travel far. Stephen seized the opportunity, in much the same way that Henry had many years ago, and secured the treasury and the throne within weeks of the King's death.

    What followed was a period of civil war known as The Anarchy, and as he grew up Eustace had a role to play helping his father. He attended his mother's coronation in 1136 and settled with the court in England, where two of his younger siblings died in relatively quick succession. In 1137 he was in France, where he paid homage to King Louis for his father's lands in Normandy, on King Stephen's behalf. He was back in France again in 1140, this time with his mother, for his betrothal to Louis' daughter Constance. Queen Matilda had played a role in negotiating the marriage, it was only right that she attend the ceremony.

    In 1147 Eustace was officially knighted by his father, and began to play a greater role in the civil war, taking part in battles and sieges around the country. When his rival, Henry Plantagenet, arrived to campaign in England in 1149 Eustace was ready. The pair and their forces were engaged in several small skirmishes around the south west of England, and Eustace reportedly even came close to capturing his rival, but Henry managed to elude him. People were looking to Henry as the next king, as the son of Empress Matilda and grandson of Henry I it was felt that he had a stronger claim than Eustace. They didn't want a woman ruling, but they didn't mind her son.

    To shore up support and legitimacy for their son, Stephen and Matilda tried to arrange for him to be crowned as King while Stephen was alive. This was common in France, but not in England. Even then it might have been possible were it not for the Pope forbidding the Archbishop of Canterbury from carrying out the ceremony. The best Eustace could get an oath swearing ceremony in 1152, during which a number of nobles gave their allegiance to their future king. Several weeks later Queen Matilda died suddenly at Headingham Castle, and Stephen and Eustace both lost their greatest supporter.

    Eustace himself didn't have long to live either. In August 1153 he led a small party on a raid at Bury St Edmunds, where they stole a selection of treasure and other goods from the churches. On the journey home Eustace suddenly took ill and died. It was considered by some at the time to be divine vengeance for his attack on the churches, others claimed that he died of rage after being consistently refused his own coronation. Whatever the cause his death led to King Stephen effectively giving up. Although he had another son still living he came to an agreement with Henry that he would now be his heir.

    Eustace was buried near his mother in Faversham in Kent. The family tomb was desecrated during the Reformation, and his remains were lost.

     


    Last month's Almost King was Arthur of Brittany!

     

  5. If you want to look at an unhappy Royal family in history, then you don’t have to look much further than King Edward II and Queen Isabella. A marriage that was supposed to seal peace between England and France eventually led to a rebellion against the King. While their son Edward III certainly had a happy marriage, the same cannot be said for his two sisters.

    Eleanor of Woodstock Eleanor-of-Woodstock

    The elder of the two princesses, Eleanor of Woodstock was born in June 1318. Eleanor’s childhood featured growing estrangement between her parents, followed by her mother leading a rebellion against her father. She was nine years old when her brother was formally crowned and became part of their mother’s puppet government, and she spent a number of years in the care of various noble families in England. 

    Eleanor’s future was the subject of a lot of negotiation as the years went by. The kingdoms of Castile and France were both interested in the possibility of her as a Royal bride. Negotiations with Castile floundered over the dowry negotiations, Prince Alfonso ended up making an unhappy marriage with a Portuguese princess. For the French an English princess would have been a suitable wife for the heir to the throne, Prince John. But Eleanor was pipped at the post by the kingdom of Bohemia, who offered a princess in return for a military alliance.

    Instead Eleanor had to settle for an older widower. Count Reinoud II of Guelders had been widowed in 1329, his wife Sophia had left him with four daughters but no sons. Eleanor’s marriage was arranged by her brother’s mother-in-law, who was helping expand English influence beyond the normal spheres. Eleanor was given a magnificent trousseau and was dispatched overseas. The marriage took place in May 1332 in the town of Nijmegen (part of modern Netherlands).

    Sadly for the young princess it was not a happy marriage. Eleanor gave birth to the required heir and spare; Reinoud was born in 1333, and Edward in 1336. But she was much younger than her husband, barely two years older than her eldest stepdaughter. Coming from an unstable family and unhappy childhood Eleanor reportedly clung to her husband, who eventually grew bored and dismissed her from court. He even tried to have the marriage annulled by declaring she had leprosy, but in a rare show of spirit Eleanor reportedly returned to court wearing nothing by a thin shift. With no signs of leprosy the annulment was never going to be successful.

    Reinoud died suddenly in 1343 after falling from his horse. His and Eleanor’s eldest son was only nine years old at the time. Eleanor made a bid to become Regent in her son’s name, but ultimately failed in 1344. After falling out with her son her lands were confiscated and she eventually died in poverty in a convent. She was only 36 years old.

    Joan of the Tower Joan-of-the-Tower

    Unlike her older sister, there was very little debate in Joan’s future marriage. Her name comes from her place of birth, political insecurities at the time meant that Isabella had to have her confinement in the secure walls of the Tower of London. Political considerations would dominate her life, her marriage was arranged as part of the Treaty of Northampton between England and Scotland in 1328. Joan was promptly sent north in the summer, on 17 July 1328 the seven year old princess married the four year old heir to the Scottish throne - Prince David. 

    The two children were raised together in the Scottish court. David’s early reign was marked by the passing of various regents, before he was forced to flee to France in 1334 after a rebellion led by Edward Balliol (with the assistance of Joan’s brother, Edward III of England). David was only eleven, Joan was nearly thirteen. They were offered a home in Chateau Gaillard (which had been built by King Richard I) but very little is known about their time in France.

    The Royal couple were allowed to return to Scotland in 1341. Joan was now twenty years old and reportedly a beautiful young woman. But David returned to Scotland with his mistress in tow, leaving Joan somewhat sidelined in her own court. They lasted in Scotland for five years until David was captured by the English at the Battle of Neville's Cross. He was taken to London and imprisoned in the Tower of London and Joan followed. But while her husband was a captive, albeit one held in a certain amount of luxury, Joan was an honoured guest. She resided with her mother, was given a pension by her brother, and received frequent visits from her sister-in-law Queen Philippa and her nieces and nephews.

    In many ways Joan's story ends better than most unlucky princesses. Her marriage was a sham, and David had consistently shown his disdain for her. After his release and return to Scotland in 1357 he quickly took up another mistress. Joan by this point had had enough and returned to her brother's court where she was once again a beloved member of the family. She accompanied Isabella on her final pilgrimage and nursed her during her last illness. She didn't live for too many more years, dying in 1362 aged 41. She was buried at London's Greyfriars Church near her mother.

    David remarried after becoming a widower. His second wife also failed to conceive any children, and on his death the Scottish throne went to the Stuart line.


     

    Last month's Unlucky Princess was Maria Josepha of Bavaria.

    If you like the Unlucky Princess series you might like my eBook series - 30 Women in History.