Beatrice: “A Greater Queen Than Your Sisters”
Imagine being the baby in a family of girls, and your three older sisters are powerful queens. Talk about sibling rivalry!
The funny thing is, Beatrice of Provence could have been nothing more than Countess of Provence and, chances are, enjoyed herself immensely. A true Daddy’s Girl, she must have spent a lot of time by her father’s side while he administered the county and, for much of her life, defended it against attacks from a neighboring count. The knowledge she gained of military strategy would benefit her greatly later on.
A woman’s rule in Provence – allowed by custom and law — was, apparently, an untenable proposition for the men in Beatrice’s world. No sooner had her father died, leaving her the county, than did Beatrice find her authority, and her status as a single woman, challenged. Like Penelope, the courageous wife of the legendary hero Odysseus, she fended off attempts by princes and barons to force her into marriage. Many of them brought armies, and besieged her castle. It must have been a truly frightening time for the fourteen-year-old Beatrice.
Knights and warriors from her own county kept the aggressive suitors at bay, but they were not match for the Catholic Church. At the request of the French King Louis IX and his mother, the Dowager Queen Blanche de Castille, the pope gave Charles of Anjou, Louis’s youngest brother, permission to marry the young countess. Immediately he rode to Aix-en-Provence, made his way into the castle there, and carried Beatrice off on his horse to Paris, where he made her his wife and himself the Count of Provence.
Theirs was a match made in heaven, it turned out. Charles, also the youngest brother of a king — and Beatrice’s brother-in-law, since King Louis was married to her eldest sister, Marguerite — had as much to prove as she. Their ambitions knew no bounds: “We are unstoppable, Beatrice!” he says to her in FOUR SISTERS, ALL QUEENS. “Do not doubt it. Someday, I will make you an empress. You will be a greater queen than any of your sisters — greater than any woman in the world.”
Truth be told, Charles didn’t “make” Beatrice anything. If not for her, in fact, he would never have become King of Sicily. The death of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, in 1250 had left Germany and Sicily in disarray, for the pope was determined to keep Frederick’s sons from succeeding him. At first, he named Beatrice’s nephew, Edmund — son of her sister Queen Eléonore of England — as King of Sicily. To claim the throne for him, though, his parents had to finance a winning battle against Frederick’s heirs. Lacking the support of their barons, they were not able to do so.
The next thing you know, Beatrice is going all over what is now France and recruiting troops so that she and Charles can claim the Sicilian Crown. Not only gorgeous but also a skilled politician — she didn’t spend all those years with Papa for nothing — she mustered twenty-six thousand troops for the cause, then led them over the Alps in November to Rome, where Charles waited. Once in Rome, she acted as general, commanding troops and planning military strategy while Charles won Sicily for them. Theirs was a true partnership.
Charles was, admittedly, a cruel and ruthless tyrant, both as Sicily’s king and as Count of Provence. Did Beatrice approve of his tactics? History doesn’t tell us how she felt. And what did she think of his refusal to grant her eldest sister, Marguerite, lands and castles in Provence promised by their father as her marriage dowry? Again, we just don’t know.
As a Sister of Savoy, admonished by their mother to always consider family first, she might have advocated for her sister. I like to think she did so. After all, Charles’s mother was Blanche de Castille, the ruthless and power-hungry “White Queen” of France. Beatrice’s mother was Beatrice of Savoy, daughter of the prestigious House of Savoy, who not only educated her girls as if they were sons, but who taught them that family came first. That’s not a lesson that Beatrice was likely to forget.