Berengaria is going to be my last royal for a little while. I’ve got so many good ideas for this topic and I want to engage everybody not just those fanatics of English and French history.
Berengaria was the seemingly unfortunate wife of Richard I of England. She is famous for never setting foot in England whilst her husband was rule of England, although he very rarely set foot in England either; preferring to be in France or on Crusade.
Berengaria was born between 1165 and 1170. The records aren’t entirely clear. She was the eldest daughter of Sancho VI of Navarre and Sancha of Castile.
There isn’t a lot known about her childhood, she was betrothed to Richard in a fit of revenge by the English Monarchy against the French. She followed Richard on his Third Crusade, travelling with Eleanor and staying in their French possessions where possible. She met Joan (Richard’s sister) in Sicily and was left in her care. During this time, the two became firm friends and it is said they often wrote to each other.
When travelling to the Holy Land to catch up with Richard, their ship ran aground off the Cyprus coast and they were captured by the island’s ruler Comneus. Richard sailed to the rescue, captured the island and overthrew Comneus. He and Berengaria were reunited briefly and then married on the 12th May 1191 in the Chapel of St George at Limassol. It was said that when they first met, there was definite chemistry and they got on famously. However, years away can change things and by the time they married, it was not the same and it seems things were a bit cooler. I’m guessing having to leave his position and rescue his mother and betrothed from a ruthless tyrant did not help things either!
After another unsuccessful crusade, Richard was himself captured on the way home and Berengaria raised the money for his ransom. He went back to England when released and Berengaria….didn’t. It’s therefore no surprise that there were no children from this marriage. You can’t really conceive an heir if you don’t ever see your husband. There is still speculation that their marriage was actually ever consummated as there aren’t many, if any, rumours of affairs that I could find.
Richard died in 1199, Berengaria was apparently extremely distressed by this. Some say because she genuinely loved and cared for him and lamented the fact that they had little time together. Others, the more cynical around court and in history writing have claimed that she was upset at not being recognised as his queen during official engagements after his death.
This also wasn’t helped by the fact that Richard’s heir and brother John, was rubbish. He didn’t pass on any of the pension money that was due to her as Richard’s widow and she spent years appealing to the courts to get it. Even Eleanor and the Pope got involved and tried to help her get the money owed. By the time John died, she was owed over £4000 in pension money. Henry III paid her on time but I couldn’t find any evidence that she had the backpay.
She eventually settled in Le Mans and entered convent life at L’Epau Abbey. Many who knew her stated that she was a strong independent widow who was always courageous and reliable. She was also incredibly strong-willed and it was surprising to most that underneath her quiet exterior she was quite determined to get her own way. She died on the 23rd December 1230 and was buried in the Abbey. Her remains were found in an excavation mission in the 1960’s and she was moved to the chapter-house.
Berengaria was made of the same stuff that Eleanor and Isabelle were made of. They were all incredibly strong women born in a time when that just wasn’t accepted. However, they all survived incredibly well and did exactly what they wanted. Berengaria was not interested in courtly rituals or the monarchy once Richard died and she was perfectly happy devoting her remaining years to charity, prayer and good works.
Even though there is not much about Berengaria, I like to think that she shunned courtly life as it shunned her once Richard died. She moved on with her life and became a better woman for it and for that she certainly is courageous!
Sources: Wikipedia and englishmonarchs.co.uk
The next woman in history is Elena Cornaro Piscopia – the first woman to receive a doctorate!