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Berengaria of Navarre

Berengaria (Spanish: Berenguela) (~1163-1230), daughter of Sancho VI of Navarre[?], married Richard I of England on May 12, 1191. Like so many of England's medieval queen consorts, relatively little is known of her life. It seems that she and Richard had met once, years before their marriage, and contemporary writers liked to claim that there was an attraction between them at that time. Richard was already betrothed to Princess Alice, sister of King Philip II of France. Alice, however, had become the mistress of Richard's own father, King Henry II, and a marriage between Richard and Alice was therefore technically impossible for religious reasons.

Richard agreed to marry Berengaria to get her father to provide provisions for the Crusades -- when he said he would sell London itself to get the money he needed, he was not kidding. He had Berengaria brought to him by his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Since Richard was already on crusade, having wasted no time in setting off after his coronation, the two women had a long and difficult journey to catch up with him. They arrived in Sicily during Lent (when they could not marry) in 1191 and were joined by Richard's sister, the widowed Joanna. En route to the Holy Land, the ship carrying Berengaria and Joanna went aground off the coast of Cyprus, and they were threatened by the island's ruler, Isaac Comnenus[?]. Richard came to their rescue, captured the island, overthrew Comnenus, and married Berengaria in the Chapel of St. George at Limassol.

Whether the marriage was ever even consummated is a matter for conjecture. Richard had a terrible reputation with women (and had a bastard son, Philip (d. ~1211)), but he took his new wife with him for the first part of the crusade. They returned separately, but Richard was captured and imprisoned. Berengaria remained in Europe, attempting to raise money for his ransom. Although, after his release, Richard returned to England and showed some degree of regret for his earlier conduct, he was not joined by his wife. The fact that the marriage was childless is inconclusive, but it is certainly true that Richard had to be ordered by a priest to reunite with Berengaria and to show fidelity to her in future, and the language he used is the main evidence cited for the proposition that Richard had been engaged in homosexual activities. Nevertheless, when he died in 1199, she was greatly distressed, perhaps more so at being deliberately overlooked in the general rush to get to his death-bed.

Berengaria had never visited England during King Richard's lifetime, but there is evidence that she may have done so in the years following his death. The traditional description of her as "the only English queen never to set foot in the country" would still be literally true, as she did not visit England during the time she was Richard's consort. However, she certainly sent envoys to England several times, mainly to inquire about the pension she was due as dowager queen and Richard's widow that King John was not paying her. Although Queen Eleanor intervened, and Pope Innocent III threatened him with an interdict if he did not pay Berengaria what was due, King John owed her more than 4000 when he died, but during his son's reign her payments were made as they were supposed to be.

Berengaria eventually settled in Le Mans, one of her dower properties. She was a benefactress of the abbey of L'Epau[?], entered the conventual life, and was buried in the abbey when she died on 23 December 1230, but her remains were later moved to the Cathedral of St. Julien in Le Mans.

The story of Richard and Berengaria's marriage is fictionalized in the 1935 film The Crusades starring Loretta Young and Henry Wilcoxon, and was a prominent feature of the 1960s British television series, Richard the Lionheart, but both versions were highly romanticised and are not reliable sources of information about the queen.

The definitive biography is the 1999 Berengaria: In Search of Richard's Queen (ISBN 1851824340) by Ann Trindade.

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