Blanche of Castille

A study, even casually, provides us with a rich panoply of characters, both noble and peasant. I present another today, Blanche of Castille, the mother of St Louis IX, King and St Isabelle, Princess of France.

It was on this day in 1188 that Blanche de Castille the future wife of Louis VIII is born. She was born in Palencia, Spain, the third daughter of Alfonso VIII, king of Castile, and of Eleanor of England. Eleanor was the daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose issue also included two kings of England, Richard known as the Lionhearted and John.

In May 1200 a treaty between the kings of France and England, Phillip II Augustus and John, Blanche's sister Urraca was matched to Phillip II son Louis, the future Louis VIII, however Eleanor of Aquitaine their grandmother, one of the most powerful women in the middle ages, deemed that match unsound and the personality of Blanche as more suited to that of Prince Louis,* and therefore better suited to be a Queen of France. Indeed, the name Urraca means Magpie in Spanish and it is probably for this reason that Elenore objected. For what ever reason Blanche was married on the 22 May 1200 on the right bank of the Seine in the territories of John of England.

In 1216, John of England died, and Prince Louis (VIII) claimed England in his mother's name and actually invaded England. He found the the island opposed to him however, even though the majority of the English barons** had invited to replace John on the throne and had him proclaimed king in London in May 1216. Blanche (his wife) moved to Calais and built two fleets and an army. It all ended in failure as she could not fight for her husband against the English and her husband's temperate character. His father Philip II Augustus adamantly refused to support Prince Louis (even though it would have made the kingdom of France at least as large a territory as the Holy Roman Empire). John actually defeated the rebelious forces although Louis still claimed the title until 1217.***

At the death of Louis VII after a short reign of only 3 years death on 8 November 1226, she assumed the role of regent and guardian of their children, of the 13 she bore only 5 survived.

Blanche was an adroit regent and avoided conflict with the nobles by careful diplomacy and preparation for war defending the kingdom against invasion by England. Any idea that the nobles had of an alliance against her, dissipated when faced with her energy and firmness.

Blanche's primary concern for her son Louis IX was to implant in him a deep regard and awe for everything related to the Catholic faith. She used often to say to him as he was growing up, "I love you my dear son, as much as a mother can love her child; but I would rather see you dead at my feet than that you should commit a mortal sin." but as good as her relationship with her son was her relationship with Louis IX consort was a different matter. Blanche's strong relationship with her son coupled with an already noted firmness, and energy must have been hard on the couple. As Marguerite was a strong woman in her own right, conflict was not only predicable, it was common place. It has been said that the only time she wanted the Queen Marguerite to be with Louis was when they were in bed. There can be no doubt as to why Queen Marguerite, in direct opposition to Blanche, chose to accompany Louis on his first crusade (the 7th) where it appears she was as strong willed as her mother-in-law as she led that crusade while her husband was sick.

During Louis IX's absence in 1248, Blanche again became regent. She maintained peace, and continued to assist her son by continually sending reenforcements to the Outremer. At last her strength failed her. She fell ill at Melun in November 1252, and was taken to Paris, but lived only a few days. She was buried at Maubuisson.

This woman of nobilty, the mother of 13, who mourned 8, was the mother of two of the greatest Saints of France St Louis IX and St Isabelle.

More on St Louis may be found here, and here, and here, or by going to the far left column and clicking on an article about St Louis.

More about St Isabelle, here.

Marguerite of Provence, wife of Saint Louis here.


* Urraca (1186/28 May 1187 – 3 November 1220) did marry a King, Afonso II of Portugal, they had 5 children 2 of which became Kings of Portugal. If the dates of her birth look strange it is because the new year started during May in those days.

** The First Barons War

*** The Treaty of Lambeth, which was signed and ratified on 22 Sept 1217 in which Louis renounced all claims to England from then.

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