Berengaria of Navarre

Berengaria of Navarre (Basque: Berengela, Spanish: Berenguela, French: Bérengère; c. 1165–1170 – 23 December 1230) was queen of England as the wife of Richard I of England. She was the eldest daughter of Sancho VI of Navarre and Sancha of Castile. As is the case with many of the medieval English queens, relatively little is known of her life.

12th and 13th-century wife and queen of King Richard I of England

Queen consort of England

Berengaria of Navarre

Effigy of Berengaria in the chapter house of L’Épau Abbey, Le Mans
Queen consort of England
Tenure 12 May 1191 – 6 April 1199
Coronation 12 May 1191
Born c. 1165–1170
Died (1230-12-23)23 December 1230 (aged 59–65)
Spouse

(m. 1191; died 1199)

House Jiménez
Father Sancho VI of Navarre
Mother Sancha of Castile

Traditionally known as “the only English queen never to set foot in the country”, she may in fact have visited England after her husband’s death, but did not do so before, nor did she see much of Richard during her marriage, which was childless. She did (unusually for the wife of a crusader) accompany him on the start of the Third Crusade, but mostly lived in his French possessions, where she gave generously to the church, despite difficulties in collecting the pension she was due from Richard’s brother and successor John after she became a widow.

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In 1185, Berengaria was given the fief of Monreal by her father.[1]Eleanor of Aquitaine promoted the engagement of Berengaria to her son, Richard the Lionheart. An alliance with Navarre meant protection for the southern borders of Eleanor’s Duchy of Aquitaine, and helped create better relations with neighbouring Castile whose queen was Eleanor, a sister of Richard. Also, Navarre had assimilated the troubadour culture of Aquitaine and Berengaria’s reputation was unbesmirched.[2] It seems that Berengaria and Richard did in fact meet once, years before their marriage, and writers have claimed that there was an attraction between them at that time.

In 1190, Eleanor met Sancho in Pamplona and he hosted a banquet in the Royal Palace of Olite in her honour.[3] The betrothal could not be celebrated openly, for Richard had been betrothed for many years to Alys, half-sister of King Philip II of France. Richard terminated his betrothal to Alys in 1190 while at Messina. It has been suggested that Alys had become the mistress of Richard’s own father, Henry II of England, and possibly the mother of an illegitimate child; a marriage between Richard and Alys therefore would have been technically impossible for religious reasons of affinity.

Richard had Berengaria brought to him by his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine. Because Richard was already on the Third Crusade, having wasted no time in setting off after his coronation, the two women had a long and difficult journey to catch up with him. They arrived at Messina in Sicily during Lent (when the marriage could not take place) in 1191 and were joined by Richard’s sister Joan, the widowed queen of Sicily. Berengaria was left in Joan’s custody.[4] En route to the Holy Land, the ship carrying Berengaria and Joan ran aground off the coast of Cyprus, and they were threatened by the island’s ruler, Isaac Comnenus. Richard came to their rescue, captured the island, and overthrew Comnenus. Berengaria married Richard the Lionheart on 12 May 1191, in the Chapel of St. George at Limassol on Cyprus, and was crowned the same day by the archbishop of Bordeaux and bishops of Évreux and Bayonne.[5]

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