Marguerite of France, the Young Queen (c. 1157/1158-1197)

Marguerite of France, Henry the Young king's wife has been even more neglected by historians than her husband. Not much is known about the young queen, even the exact date of her birth remains unknown. Not very unusual, concerning the treatment of women in the Middle Ages, but in case of Marguerite there was more to that. Her arrival into this world must have been a great disappointment to her father, Louis VII of France. A few years before he had divorced Eleanor of Aquitaine- ironically Marguerite’s future mother-in-law- because he had found her unable to produce a male heir. His second marriage, as it turned out, did not have a very auspicious beginning either, for in 1158 Donna Constanza of Castile had a cheek to give birth to one more daughter and leave Louis without so much-awaited male heir. Marguerite was the third daughter of Louis, the first by his second wife. She was born when her father was already thirty-eight and despairing over lack of a son. From his first marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine Louis had two daughters, Marie (b. 1145) and Alix (b.1151). He had his marriage to Eleanor declared null on grounds of consanguinity, but it was only a cover. He yearned for a male heir and Eleanor, apparently, was unable to provide him with one. 

Marguerite the Dowager Young Queen, detail of a miniature in Chroniques de France ou de St Denis (source: British Library)

Marguerite was still just a baby when married to Henry II's eldest surviving son and heir presumptive, Henry. The wedding took place on 2 November 1160. 
… Henry, king of England, caused his son Henry to be married to Margaret, the daughter of the king of France, although they were as yet but little children, crying in their cradle…
… the marriage … was celebrated at Newbourg on the 2nd of November [1160], with the sanction of Henry of Pisa and William of Pavia, cardinal-priests and legates of the apostolic see...

The children had been betrothed in 1158, when Henry was three years old and Marguerite literally crying in her cradle, their engagement being the result of Henry II’s chancellor, Thomas Becket’s outstanding political skills*. The princess brought the Norman Vexin- a heated point of contention between England and France- back under Angevin rule through her dowry. Marguerite hardly knew her mother and could not have remembered her. In 1158, when taken away from her to be raised up with her future husband’s family, she was merely an infant. When two years later [on 4 October 1160] Constance died after giving birth to yet another daughter, Marguerite was two or three years old**.

Marguerite's father, King Louis VII of France (1120-1180), and his tomb effigy in Barbeau Abbey (via Wikipedia). Ironically Louis was the first husband of Marguerite's mother-in-law, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

When we next hear about the young queen she is a girl of twelve or thirteen, left behind in Normandy whereas her fifteen-year-old husband is crowned king of England at Westminster on 14 June 1170, the coronation that would enrage Marguerite’s father and little wonder, for she, for reasons that remain obscure, was not crowned with her husband. This was mended two years later, in 1172. To placate Louis VII and mend the rift between them, and because the first coronation of his son was considered invalid, Henry II outdid himself in organizing the most elaborate and grand ceremony, that took place on 27 August 1172 at Winchester, with Rotrou, archbishop of Rouen officiating. The Princess’s father had expressed the wish that the excommunicated bishops who performed the coronation of his son-in-law in 1170 had been forbidden to participate. Henry the Young King was crowned for a second time, together with Marguerite in the first town in England governed by a mayor, in the cathedral that witnessed the most crucial events in the history of the kingdom. This is how Roger of Howden described the event in his annals

Rotrod, archbishop of Rouen, Gilles, bishop of Evreux, and Roger, bishop of Worcester crowned them [Henry and Marguerite] in the church of Saint Swithin, at Winchester, on the sixth day before the calends of September, being the Lord’s Day.

However, it was only Marguerite who was consecrated after the officiants placed the “diadema regni’ on her husband’s head.

The first coronation of Marguerite's husband, Prince Henry, since then called "the Young King", in June 1170. Marguerite was not crowned with him then.

Henry the Young King and Marguerite spent Chrismas of 1172 in Normandy, whereas Henry II and Eelanor held their Christmas court at Chinon. Then there is a long gap before Marguerite emerges again***. In January 1173 the Young King was summoned by his father, but it is difficult to determine whether Marguerite accompanied him or was left behind in Normandy. Perhaps she went with her husband after all, for when I found her again she is at Barfleur, ready to cross to England with her father-in-law, captive mother-in-law, John, Joan, Alais [her sister] and Constance of Brittany (7 July 1174). Upon the safe landing at Southampton [8 July]- the company crossed the Channel in a violent storm- she is sent to Devizes Castle. It would be there where she would learn about her young husband's defeats, the capture of William I before the walls of Alnwick, the siege of Rouen and the end of the Great Revolt.

In 1177 the queen, aged nineteen or twenty, gave birth to her only child, William. The boy arrived before he was due, and died shortly afterwards. He was to be her only child. Interestingly enough, there are two different versions describing the event and apparently some controversy arose over it at the time. This I have learnt thanks to Roger of Howden, who noted:

… queen Margaret, the wife of the king, the son, being pregnant, went to her father [Louis VII], the king of France, and, on arriving at Paris, was delivered of a still-born son. The Franks, however, asserted that this son of the king was born alive and was baptized, and named William. (The Annals, Vol I, p.456)

I assume that in this case the Franks must have been right. After all they were there, receiving the first-hand information.

Some time between the end of 1182 and the beginning of 1183 Marguerite became the object of a court gossip. The tongues were wagging that she had a love affair with her husband's most loyal knight, friend and former tutor-in-arms, William Marshal. Whether they truly had a love affair is difficult to say. As Professor David Crouch points out: if the latter was indeed true, William escaped serious consequences suspiciously easily. He was forced to leave his young king's court and seek his fortune elsewhere. He traveled as far as Cologne and its cathedral, where he prayed at the Shrine of Three Magi. And to the good effect, for shortly afterward he was recalled and reunited with his young lord. Meanwhile the Young King, who was departing for Aquitaine and setting off to undertake what was to become his last journey, sent away his young wife to Paris, to the safety of her half-brother's court. None of them could have known that they saw each other for the last time. In mid-June Marguerite must have received the news of her husband's death. We do not know how she reacted. The chronicles remained silent when it came to young widow's grief, focusing on the reaction of her father-in-law, the elder king.

What were Marguerite's whereabouts after her husband's untimely death? Her half-brother, Philip Augustus demanded the return of her dowry. To discuss the matter of the Norman Vexin which Marguerite had brought into the Angevin domains upon her marriage to the Young Henry, a conferences was held between Gisors and Trie in 1183. Philip and Marguerite's father-in-law came to terms and it was agreed that Marguerite should receive, for quitting claims to the Vexin and all the castles and fortresses given to her and her husband by her father Louis VII on their marriage, one thousand seven hundred and fifty pounds money Angevin, "each year at Paris from our lord the king of England and his heirs, as long as she lived" (Howden, Vol II, p.28). They also discussed the fate of Marguerite and Philip’s sister Alais, who had been betrothed to Richard and stayed with the Plantagenets for many years now. Henry promised that if she were not wedded to Richard, she should be married to John.

In 1184 Marguerite paid a visit to her half-sister Marie of Champagne and spent Christmas with Marie and queen mother Adele, a visit that lasted several months and one more in 1186 before her remarriage to Bela III of Hungary. Yes! Marguerite did not stay a widow for long. 
Some time in 1184, the news must have reached the French court, the news that would change Marguerite’s future forever. Agnes, the queen of Bela III of Hungary died. It is not certain when exactly Bela opened the negotiations with Philip Augustus, Marguerite’s half-brother, but it must have been some time in 1185. To this period we can date back a detailed inventory (now in Bibliotheque Nationale at Paris) of Bela’s revenues, worth the equivalent of almost 45 tons of pure silver per annum, probably sent to Philipe for the marriage negotiations. Marguerite left France in 1186 never to return. She also left behind her first husband’s tomb at Rouen taking with her only the memory of her golden boy.

Detail of a miniature of Philip Augustus receiving an envoy, and Philip Augustus giving his sister Margaret in marriage to the king of Hungary (via Wikipedia)

What she must have found the most striking feature of her new country was the great number of livestock, all wandering freely outdoors on the ‘flat and lush pastures’ and ‘incredible fertile land’ (famine, a frequent visitor to other parts of Europe throughout Middle Ages, was almost unknown in Hungary). Similarly to France and England by far the most important animal was a horse, not a sturdy warhorse, but rather smaller one, of the tarpan type. Marguerite must have also marveled at the customs of her new realm, where the peasants, unlike in the countries she knew, were allowed to hunt. The Hungarian forests were rich in bear and bison, but also- and here Marguerite must have been surprised indeed- in the strange animal described by Abu Hamid as ‘a cow that resembles an elephant’ which might have been the urus- the ancestor of the Hungarian cattle (it was to die in the early modern period). But the greatest surprise awaited her at the court itself, in the person of her new husband. She knew he was ten years her senior, but she did not know he was a real giant in his time, 190 cm tall. As she was soon to learn he was a cultured man, raised at the sophisticated Byzantine court under the wing of emperor Manuel, who married him to his niece, Agnes (Anna), daughter of Reynald de Chatillon. At the Byzantine court Bela had acquired useful knowledge about written administrative procedures and ‘the advantages of diplomacy over force’. He had also become fluent in Greek. When his first wife Agnes died, Bela decided to seek alliance with the French king, Philip Augustus, Marguerite’s half-brother. 

                                       Manuscript illumiation, Esztergom.

Three years after their wedding, in June 1189, Marguerite and Bela received the Emperor Frederick [Barbarossa] who was heading with his impressive army to the Holy Land to take part in the Third Crusade. The meeting took place in the palace at Esztergom (Gran) on the Hungarian frontier, which, shortly before, had been rebuilt by French masons. Marguerite must have had a hand in the renovation of what was to become known as one of the first major building in early Gothic style erected in central Europe. With all probability she was also responsible for development of St Thomas Becket's cult in Hungary, for next to the aforementioned royal residence a religious chapter dedicated to the martyr was established. The chapter house stood on a small hill dedicated to Thomas (Szent Tamas-hegy).The building must have been begun during the reign of Bela and he and Marguerite must have been the founders. Also at the time we find the first mention of Hungarians studying at Paris. Many Hungarian intellectuals went there to study and later, after return to their native land, use their knowledge to form the administrative organs modeled on Western ones, especially a chancery. In the History of Hungary by E.L.Godkin I have come across a very interesting information. According to the author after Bela's death in 1196, emperor Henry VI sent an army to aid the Crusade, and- here let me quote- “at the head of the quota furnished by Hungary, Margaret, a youthful widow, set out in person. What was her motive for this strange undertaking we know not, unless it were that weary longing for rest and consolation in another world, which finely-wrought natures then thought purchasable only by privation and toil in this.”  I always thought it was a pilgrimage that she set out for. I cannot tell whether we can rely on the highly romanticized portrait of the queen given by Mr Godkin, who, for instance, calls her a youthful widow, although she was thirty-nine or forty at the time. One thing we can be sure of: Marguerite died in the Holy Land, probably in August/September 1197. A wife throughout the greater part of her life she was buried alone in the cathedral of Tyre, far from both Rouen and Szekesfehervar, the resting places of her husbands.

Written by Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik

* Becket's mission was long to be remembered by the Parisians. His entourage far outshone that of Henry II himself- the king came some time afterward- and was a magnificent display of power and riches. To learn the details, read William Fitz Stephen's vivid description of Becket's arrival at Louis VII's court.

** As Ralph of Diceto noted in his usual matter-of-fact manner:
The queen of France, daughter of Alfonso emperor of Spain, died in giving birth to a daughter who fortunately survived. King Louis, however, did not observe the proper time of mourning but within two weeks had married Adela, daughter of Count Theobald of Blois.
One may find it the most unusual action taken by usually monkish king, but in 1160 Louis was already forty and the father of four daughters. No wonder he was in a hurry and to the good effect. Five years later Adela gave him a much-awaited son, Philip.

According to Marion Meade, we find the young queen at Poitiers, at her mother-in-law's court in the midst of the Great Revolt. In the author's biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine I have come across the information that on Whitsunday, 12 May 1174, Marguerite together with her younger sister Alais (Richard's betrothed), Henry II's half-sister Emma of Anjou, Constance of Brittany (Geoffrey's betrothed), Alice of Maurienne (John's betrothed) and her sister-in-law, Joanna were receiving Henry II himself who, after Eleanor had been captured, arrived to “scoop up the remnants” of her court.


Images of History by Ralph of Diceto in The Plantagenet Chronicles ed. by Dr Elizabeth Hallam. Greenwich Edition, 2002.

The Annals of Roger of Howden. Vol I. Trans. by Henry T. Riley. Internet Archive of Northeastern University Libraries

Historical Dictionary of the British Monarchy by Kenneth J. Panton. Google Books.

Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings by Amy Kelly. Vintage Books, 1950

Eleanor of Aquitaine by Marion Meade. Pheonix Press Paperback, 2002..

William Marshal. Court, Career and Chivalry in the Angevin Empire 1147-1219 by David Crouch.Longman, 1990

The Capetians. Kings of France 987-1328 by Jim Bradbury. Hambledon Continuum, 2007.

The Making of Romantic Love by William M. Reddy. Google Books.

The Realm of St Stephen by Pal Engel. Google Books.

Made in Hungary: Hungarian Contributions to Universal Culture by Andrew L.Simon. Google Books.

The History of Hungary and the Magyars by E.L.Godkin. Google Books.

God's War: A New History of The Crusades by Christopher Tyerman. Google Books.

The A to Z of the Crusades by Corliss K. Slack. Google Books.

Liturgies in Honour of Thomas Becket by Kay Brainerd Slocum. Google Books.


  1. Hmmm, went to preview my comment and it disappeared :.) What a fascinating post, Kasia! I had no idea, or I'd forgotten, that Henry and Marguerite married so young, and how sad that their only child didn't survive. I'd love to know what Marguerite thought of Bela and Hungary and whether she was happy there - I really hope so.

    1. Kathryn, thank you! I'm really happy you enjoyed the post! I too keep wondering how Marguerite did fare in Hungary. I do hope that she found happiness at Bela's side. After all, he was not only a great king, but first and foremost a cultured and educated man.

    2. I must thank you, Kasia, for this lovely biography of Margaret. I was searching for something more about her because it seems she was a Queen consort of the three lands ‒  England, Hungary and my homeland Croatia. I am quite keen when I think she could became an ancestress of many kings of England.

    3. Thank you, Valentino! I'm glad you like the post, although Marguerite is a little bit elusive, I must admit. But I did my best to learn more about Henry's queen.

      All the best,


  2. Hi Kasia, I really enjoyed this post as I knew nothing about Henry's wife, Marguerite. I like the phrase they were betrothed while they were 'crying in their cradles'. I wonder why she was 19 before she bore a child - quite late as they must have lived together as man and wife from about 15 onwards. Just imagine if the child had lived!

    1. Thank you, Anerje! I'm so happy you liked the post! I admit I became quite emotionally involved while writing it :-) I knew very little about Marguerite's second husband and find him (and medieval Hungary in general) really fascinating.

      You're right, I too keep wondering why, after so many years of marriage, the little William arrived as late as 1177. And yes, if only he had lived!

      P.S There's a very moving scene in Elizabeth Chadwick's Greatest Knight describing little Willaim's arrival into this world. Heartbreaking, to be honest.

  3. Great post. I knew almost nothing about Marguerite before this.

    Did she have any children with Bela?

  4. Hi, Gabriele! And thank you :-) I cannot express how much your kind words mean to me.
    No, baby William was her only child. His arrival into this world was a difficult one and it seems that she could not have children afterward. Bela already had children by his first wife when he married Marguerite in 1186, so there was no usual pressure when it came to fulfilling her "duty".

  5. I very much enjoyed the post Kasia - especially the Hungarian section which I knew very little about. I can't recall where I read it in the course of my research - I need to find it again, but it's a lot more recent than my earlier research - that Marguerite was handed over to the Angevins, but brought up away from the actual Angevin household until around the time that she was supposed to go and be crowned with young Henry. As and when I re-find it, I'll let you know!

  6. Thank you, Elizabeth! I'm deeply honoured! I very much enjoyed writing the Hungarian section and the research involved. Before this post medieval Hungary had been terra incognita to me :-)

  7. Excellent post, Kasia. I lived in Hungary for 10 years myself and am familiar with all of the places you mentioned, as well as King Bela, but didn't know that his second wife was Marguerite, widow of the Young King. Hungarians refer to the Angevin period under Louis the Great 200 years later. I am sure she was happy with her Hungarian husband - they are very passionate people.

  8. Thank you, Iiffser! I'm very happy you like it. Louis the Great (Polish "Ludwik Andegaweński") was half-Polish (so my fellow countryman :-)), the nephew of the last king of the Piast dynasty, Kazimierz Wielki (Casimir the Great). The latter died childless and Louis became his successor, meaning he was the king of both Hungary and Poland. Louis's daughter, Jadwiga was the king of Poland (yes, the king!!!) and since 1997 our patron saint.

    Thank you again for your comment!

    P.S. Did you learn to speak Hungarian? :-) I tried once, but gave up almost immediately :-) I wonder why...

  9. Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.I will be waiting for your next post.
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  10. Kasia, Marguerite's point of view is key to Young Henry. Surely as children they must have joked about being married. What is that like for children? Medieval experiences challenge us so. It must have been dramatically upsetting when Henri forced the five and three-year old to marry on November 2nd 1160 - without notice to her father. I know I'd be mad as hell. Making it worse, the chapel paperwork plus earlier contracts let Henri seize all Vexin fortresses (Margaret's dowry "on behalf of his son") in the coming week, again before Louis was notified, as the French King was in the wedding chapel with Adele November 13 determined to beget a son. Marguerite goes through the rebellion that ultimately Richard vanquishes, she experiences the death of her husband on which the hope of a peaceful Europe rested, her new marriage to Bela on the Hungarian pilgrim trail of her father and mother-in-law (they dealt with his father) and then on to worship in the Holy Land, made safe by her brother-in-law's agreement with Saladin. If ever there were a movie to be made....

  11. So interesting, both the original post and others’ comments. Thank you.


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