You know, I think I like homeschooling.
Earlier this week, my daughter-in-law asked me if we descend from Blanche of Castile, because my 11-year-old granddaughter, Miss Sylvia, was working on a Medieval history assignment.
Yes, Sylvia, as a matter of fact, we are!
Of course, knowing she is descended from Blanche made the assignment much more personal and interesting.
Blanche, also known as Blanca, is Sylvia’s 25th great-grandmother. Sylvia is also related to Blanche in multiple ways as well.
Of course, a 25th great grandmother means that Blanche is 27 generations back in Sylvia’s tree. That’s hard to imagine, but the good news is that once you connect with your “gateway ancestor,” royal pedigrees branching upstream of those gateway ancestors are well researched and publicly available for the compiling. Wikitree has a gateway ancestor list here, an Ancestry search here, and Geni, here.
I had this beautiful pedigree chart created years ago. While this abbreviated pedigree doesn’t actually show Blanche herself, you can see the tiny black box around King Louis VIII, Blanche’s husband. As it turns out, Blanche ruled longer and had a more enduring effect on history that King Louis.
I’m not sure how Miss Sylvia selected Blanche for her report, but I can see Blanche’s likeness in Princess Sylvia.
Blanche was born on March 4th, 1188 in variously named castles located in Palencia and Valencia, Castile, to Alfonso VIII, King of Castile, and Eleanor Plantagenet of England. Truth be told, I don’t think anyone knows exactly where she was born, other than Castile.
This fortified Sagunto Castle complex in Valencia, drawn in 1563, would be a good candidate for where a queen might bear a child, safe from invaders and protected.
Just like Sylvia, Blanche was born a princess.
The San Francisco Church in Palencia was built in the 1200s, possible in Blanche’s lifetime, and certainly reflecting the architectural styles that she would have found familiar.
Blanche’s likeness is recorded in a stunningly beautiful illuminated manuscript created in Paris between 1227 and 1234.
The woman depicted in the manuscript may actually have been created to resemble Blanche, at least somewhat. Blanche’s husband, King Louis, died in 1226 and this manuscript, begun in 1227, may have been created to honor Blanche. Note that she appears beside a much younger monarch, likely her son, only a boy of age 13 in 1227, but the King nonetheless.
These illuminated pages, in residence at the Morgan Library and Museum, are bound in a brown, stamped leather case from about 1500, lettered: The Apocalypse: Illuminated Manuscript – 13th Century.
The provenance of these illuminated pages is listed as:
Executed in France, ca. 1227-1234 for Blanche of Castille and her son St. Louis, possibly as a gift to the Cathedral of Toledo, where the main portion of the manuscript now is; M.240 was removed from the Toledo portion by ca. 1400; binding dates from ca. 1500.
Blanche ruled the kingdom beginning in 1226, as regent, a noble who rules on behalf of the rightful monarch who cannot due to their age, absence, or other incapacity. In 1226, Blanche ruled on behalf of her son who was crowned as king at age 12 upon the death of his father.
This image, probably of Blanche, is part of a larger painting on the upper half of a manuscript page.
Crowned queen, possibly Blanche of Castile, veiled in white, wearing vair-lined mantle, seated on throne of foliate type, raises hands toward crowned king, possibly Louis IX of France, beardless, holding bird surmounting fleur-de-lis scepter in right hand and round object, possibly seal matrix, in left hand, seated on throne.
Blanche’s husband, King Louis VIII, of France, died in 1226 when their son, Louis IX, the heir apparent, was but 12 years old. Blanche had him crowned as king within a month of Louis’s death, forced reluctant barons to swear allegiance, served as regent of the kingdom, ruling during her son’s minority, and exerting significant influence throughout her life. At the age of 38, Blanche was ruling the kingdom and would continue to do so for the next decade.
Blanche was no hands-off monarch. She raised an army, orchestrated surprise attacks, riding into battle herself shortly after her husband’s death, leading the army, literally. Blanche gathered wood to help keep her soldiers warm, building immense loyalty among the men. She was no ordinary woman, made of unflinching mettle, pardon the pun.
She simply figured out how to do what needed to be done, and did it.
The Life of an Astute Matriarch
Miss Sylvia’s titled her report about Blanche for Mrs. Peterson’s class, The Life of an Astute Matriarch.
Let’s let Sylvia tell Blanche’s story, with minor edits, hotlinks, and a couple of strategically placed comments by grandma.
“The question is not who’s going to let me, it’s who’s going to stop me,” – Marie Curie.
Yep, indeed, there’s certainly a lot of Blanche’s character in Sylvia!
Queen Blanche of Castile was honorably descended from a knowledgeable and regal European family. Blanche was headstrong, and religious. Blanche had an impenetrable bond with her husband, Louis VIII, and her son, Louis IX. One example is when Blanche died, her son was devastated. This Queen of Castile, continued controlling, capably till the day that she died.
Queen Blanche of Castile, who was born March 3, 1188, was born into Spanish, French, and English royalty. Bearing great responsibility, Blanche was the pious daughter of King Alphonso VIII of Castile and Princess Eleanor Plantagenet of England. Incredibly, her grandfather was (King) Henry II of England and her grandmother was the lovely Eleanor of Aquitaine. Also, her great-uncle was King John I of England. Because she was smart and strong willed, her grandmother favored Blanche over her older sister to be the future Queen of France. Around 11-12 years-old, Blanche was betrothed to Louis VIII of France, when he was 12-13 years-old. That was extremely young!
Don’t get any ideas, Sylvia!!!
After Blanche was unexpectantly affianced, her grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, visited Spain and swept her away to France to meet her future husband. Remarkably, after a short betrothal, Blanche married Louis. This marriage was arranged by King John I of England, although Blanche would cherish her husband. Their marriage set in place a truce between England and France over land.
Blanche of Castile endured heart ailments after many years of ruling as regent. Because she was committed, she continued presiding over the court, while her son the King was imprisoned in the Holy Land.
In November of 1252, while her son was still in the Holy Land, on her way to the Abbey of the Lys, she suffered a heart attack. Tragically, when she returned to the Palace of the Louvre, she died, leaving her dutiful son to rule. Mourning the loss of his mother, King Louis IX did not speak for two days. While Blanche was buried at Maubuisson Abbey, which she intelligently helped create, her heart was taken to the Abbey of the Lys. She never saw her son.
Queen Blanche of Castile, who was married very young, was a wise and respected queen. Blanche and her husband, King Louis VIII, adored one another and had an immensely happy life together. Together, they maintained a truce between England and France, and they had thirteen children, five of who survived.
Blanche co-ruled with one of these children, Louis IX, future king of France. When Queen Blanche died her son was heartbroken. He was despondent. He was bitter. He was left to rule alone. He reacted this way because they ruled collaboratively together for most of Blanche’s reign.
Queen Blanche was a proud and dedicated matriarch of her family and kingdom.
Indeed, Sylvia, she was, and is an ancestor we can be mighty proud of.
What do you think, Sylvia? Would you be ready to rule a kingdom at age 12? King Louis IX learned how to rule from his strong mother, Queen Blanche who, herself, had married at the same age he became king.
Arranged marriages in the Middle Ages were the norm, especially in Royal families. Children were married to spouses where political arrangements conferred benefits to the various royal families and kingdoms involved. For example, King John of England signed a treaty ceding the fiefs of Issoudun and Gracay along with other lands in exchange for his niece becoming the Queen of France.
Louis VIII and Blanche were married when she was 12 and he was 13 years old, On May 23, 1200. Their first child was born a few years later, in 1205, but died shortly thereafter.
While their marriage may have been happier than most arranged marriages of the time, Blanche suffered the grief of losing 7 of her 13 children, and not all as babies.
Louis and Blanche wouldn’t become king and queen until they were 36 and 35, respectively.
King Louis VIII and Queen Blanche’s coronation was held on August 6, 1223, in the cathedral in Reims, above, as depicted in the painting below.
Blanche’s five surviving children read like a who’s who of Catholic Sainthood and European nobility.
- Louis IX, King of France, 1214-1270, an extremely devout Catholic. Canonized in 1297 as Saint Louis, his feast day is celebrated on August 25th. Above, shown in the same illuminated manuscript as his mother. Louis IX sponsored France in both the disastrous 7th and 8th Crusades. Louis had 13 children, 4 of whom died as infants or children, before Blanche’s death.
- Robert I “The Good”, Count of Artois, 1216-1250, one of the Knights Templar who died in the 7th Crusade in Al Mansurah, Egypt is also our ancestor. He had two children, both of whom lived to adulthood.
- Alphonse, Count of Poitiers, 1220-1271, shown above, far left, taking an oath as Count of Toulouse. He served as regent of France after his mother’s death until his brother returned from the 7th Crusade. He took part in the 7th Crusade and died in the 8th. He had no heirs.
- Saint Isabelle, 1225-1270, whose statue is shown above, was two when her father died. She eventually founded a nunnery and although never actually becoming a nun, devoted her entire life to God, refusing to marry even after being betrothed. She was beatified in 1521 and canonized in 1696, her feast day celebrated February 26th.
Given that Isabelle never married nor had children, the mitochondrial DNA of Blanche of Castile did not descend to present-day through Blanche or any of her sisters.
- Charles of Naples, King of Sicily, also known as Charles of Anjou, 1226/27-1285. Charles may have been born after his father’s death in November of 1226 and was the first Capet to be named for Charlemagne, his 13th great-grandfather. Given that his mother was busy ruling the kingdom, as regent, he was primarily raised in the houses of his brothers. An unusual mixture, Charles was a politician, a strategist, a warrior, a King as well as an accomplished poet. Charles had 6 children, all of whom lived beyond Blanche’s death.
In total, Blanche had 21 grandchildren, 17 of whom outlived her.
Think, for just a minute, about Blanch in November of 1226 when Louis VIII died a miserable death of dysentery.
Blanche turned 38 years old that March. She and Louis had celebrated their 26th wedding anniversary in May.
She had born 12 children and was pregnant for her 13th.
- Blanche’s first child, Blanche, her namesake, was born in 1205 and died soon after. Blanche herself was only 17.
- Philip was born on September 9, 1209, betrothed in 1215, as was the custom, and died before July 1218, not even 9 years old.
- Alphonse and John were twins who were born and died on January 26, 1213.
- Louis IX was born on April 25, 1214, and was the first of Blanche’s children to live past childhood. The eldest, he would succeed his father as king and was 12 when his father died.
- Robert was born on September 25, 1216, and he too lived to adulthood.
- Philip was born on February 20, 1218, and died in 1220, a toddler.
- John was born on July 21, 1219, was betrothed in 1227 but died in 1232 at age 13, before his marriage. John would have been 7 years old when his father died in 1226.
- Alphonse was born on November 11, 1220, and died in 1271. He married but had no children.
- Philip Dagobert was born on February 20, 1222, and died in 1232. He would have been 4 years old when his father died.
- Isabelle born in March 1224 would have been two and a half when her father died. She lived to adulthood but never married.
- Etienne was born near the end of 1225 and died in early 1227, not long after Louis VIII died. I wonder if she died of dysentery too.
- Charles was born in 1226 or 1227. Based on Etienne’s birth at the end of 1225, it’s likely that Charles was born about 18 months later, so perhaps in the first few months of 1227.
In November 1226, Blanche had buried 5 children, had a 12-year-old, a 10-year-old, a 7-year-old, a 6-year-old, a 4-year-old, a two and a half-year-old, a 1-year-old and was pregnant. Her husband was deathly ill with highly infectious dysentery, and others in the court probably were too. Etienne, the baby, may have died of the same disease not long after Louis.
Within a month of Louis’s death and funeral, Blanche made immediate arrangements to have her oldest child crowned king in order to avoid a dangerous lapse of power into which others with aspirations of control would attempt to insert themselves. Very shortly thereafter, Blanche buried baby Etienne and gave birth to Charles.
That would have broken any normal woman. Blanche, however, persevered.
Blanche twice ruled France as a regent. The first time, beginning in 1226 when King Louis VIII died and her son, Louis IX, was too young to rule the kingdom. Blanche ruled a second time in 1248 when King Louis IX set out on the 7th Crusade, against his mother’s wishes. Perhaps more accurately stated, Blanche was dead set against that endeavor. Was she politically savvy, or did she possess a mother’s intuition that things would go disastrously wrong?
Blanche ruled until her death in 1252, with Louis IX not hearing of his mother’s death until in the spring of 1253 after his release from captivity, along with his brothers.
Suffice it to say that Blanche did not die in peace.
One letter from Blanche still exists, penned in 1240 to her subjects, as follows.
Blanche, by the grace of God queen of France, to her beloved citizens and the whole community of Béziers, greetings and love.
That you bear sincere faith towards our [beloved] son the king and have done so in the past and will do so in the future, as we understand from the tenor of your letters and because our beloved, G. des Ormes, seneschal of Carcassonne much extols you, we thank you for your fidelity, in whose constancy we have hope and faith. We ask and request that you so persevere in the constancy of said fidelity and act so faithfully and virilely and give counsel and help to the people of that king our [beloved] son that you deserve to have our help and favor and his.
Enacted at Chateauneuf, A.D.1240, in the month of October.
In 1236 Blanche funded and founded the Abbaye de Maubuisson, which is where she was buried 16 years later.
This drawing of Blanche’s tomb is found in the Louvre, in Paris.
Blanche’s marble sarcophagus is held, today, in the St. Denis Cathedral in Paris.
The Maubuisson Abbey was decommissioned in 1786 by Louis XVI after the French Revolution, claiming that it had lost its religious function, consigning the abbey commissioned by his 16 times great-grandmother, along with her resting place, to ruin.
Soon, the abbey was used as a military hospital, then a stone quarry and part of a textile mill in the 1800s before being abandoned altogether. I wonder if those people during those years had any idea that a queen rested among them, or if they would have cared if they did. Perhaps by then, her tomb had been destroyed and her bones returned to dust.
Excavations in 1907 unearthed many precious objects that disappeared without a trace, leading to speculation that Blanche’s royally appointed grave had been discovered, and looted.
In 1947, the abbey was classified as a historical monument and in the 1980s, additional archaeological excavations were undertaken. Today, the abbey houses a Centre of Contemporary Arts and a project incubator lab devoted to architectural heritage, contemporary works, and natural history.
As was the custom of the time, Blanche’s heart was removed and sent to the royal abbey Notre-Dame du Lys, founded in 1244 by Louis IX and Blanche, and also now lying in a state of ruin, having been looted and destroyed during the French Revolution. Still, these ruins are somberly beautiful, and I can envision Blanche walking peacefully here.
Blanche and Sylvia
As Sylvia said, Blanche was indeed an astute matriarch, excelling on her own merits, despite being born to wealth and privilege. Blanche’s life was anything but easy and her immense responsibility weighed heavily on her heart.
I’m so pleased that Sylvia is interested in history and that our family has royal ancestors for her to research. I would have been a lot more interested in history in school had I realized that it was actually relevant to me.
Not only are our royal ancestors’ lives interesting, but they were also recorded and have been extensively researched, making the details of their lives available to us today. We gain a peek into their lives behind the veil of time and perspective into the history of the time in which they lived, a history which they helped shape.
Who were they?
Are we anything like them today?
We probably carry little or no “royal blood” in our veins descended from Blanche today, but then again, you never know. Royalty intermarried a great deal, perhaps providing us with multiple “doses.” Even if we didn’t inherit their DNA, and that’s not necessarily an assumption I’m entirely willing to make – because let’s face it – we had to obtain our DNA from SOME ancient ancestors, we might inherit some characteristics passed down culturally, generation to generation, through the ages.
I see several of Blanche’s best characteristics in Sylvia. Not only that, but I think they even look a bit alike.
I’ve been saving the absolute best for last. In addition to researching a medieval individual, Sylvia was also to dress like that person would have dressed.
Behold, our very own Princess Sylvia, 25th great-granddaughter of Blanche of Castile, Queen of France.
I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.
Thank you so much.
DNA Purchases and Free Transfers
- FamilyTreeDNA – Y, mitochondrial and autosomal DNA testing
- MyHeritage DNA – ancestry autosomal DNA only, not health
- MyHeritage DNA plus Health
- MyHeritage FREE DNA file upload – transfer your results from other vendors free
- AncestryDNA – autosomal DNA only
- 23andMe Ancestry – autosomal DNA only, no Health
- 23andMe Ancestry Plus Health
Genealogy Products and Services
- MyHeritage FREE Tree Builder – genealogy software for your computer
- MyHeritage Subscription with Free Trial
- Legacy Family Tree Webinars – genealogy and DNA classes, subscription based, some free
- Legacy Family Tree Software – genealogy software for your computer
- Charting Companion – Charts and Reports to use with your genealogy software or FamilySearch
- Legacy Tree Genealogists – professional genealogy research
Fun DNA Stuff
- Celebrate DNA – customized DNA themed t-shirts, bags and other items