Westminster Abbey’s Royal Brides: The Middle Ages

This month, Westminster Abbey became a royal wedding venue for the first time in centuries when Princess Patricia of Connaught married there. She was the church’s first royal bride in over 500 years. As the centenary of her wedding approaches, Royal Central is looking at the role this famous church has played in royal history. And today we’re looking back at all of the regal weddings held at Westminster Abbey during the Middle Ages – from Henry I’s marriage in 1100 to Richard II’s in 1382.

Henry I of England to Matilda of Scotland (11 November 1100)

Matilda of Scotland. By AnonymousUnknown author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Henry I. Photo: British Library [Public domain]

Henry I succeeded to the throne upon the death of his brother, William II, who died under mysterious circumstances in the New Forest. Nevertheless, as soon as he’d taken the crown and the royal treasury, he knew he needed a queen, and he determined that he wanted to marry the daughter of Malcolm III of Scotland: Matilda (or Edith, as she was christened).

There was only one issue: Matilda had been raised in a convent and forced to wear a habit. She told the council of bishops convened to determine if she could marry that her aunt Cristina had made her wear the habit as a way to protect her “from the lust of the Normans.” Furthermore, she said that she’d never taken her vows and that she’d only been sent to the convent for educational purposes, and that she’d even once ripped off the habit and stomped on it, though she’d been punished for the action.

Eventually, the council determined that Matilda wasn’t a nun, and she and Henry I were married on 11 November 1100.

They had two children: Matilda and William Adelin, whose early death launched a period in English history known as the Anarchy.

Matilda passed away in 1118; Henry I later remarried in an effort to secure the throne. His second wife was Adeliza of Louvain; they had no issue.

Richard, Earl of Cornwall to Sanchia of Provence (23 November 1243)

Sanchia of Provence. Photo: Louis Blancard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Eleanor of Provence arranged the marriage between her sister Sanchia and her brother-in-law Richard, Earl of Cornwall.

Sanchia’s three sisters, Margaret, Eleanor and Beatrice were all queens: Margaret as the wife of Louis IX of France, Eleanor to Henry II of England, and Beatrice to Charles I of Sicily.

Richard had previously married Isabel Marshal, the widow of the Earl of Gloucester, though she passed away in 1240.

Eleanor was said to have cooked up the idea of marriage to Sanchia as a way to keep Richard happy following the birth of their son Edward (the future Edward I) and his exclusion from the King’s will.

He met Sanchia in Provence and fell in love with her, and they were married on 23 November 1243. When she lived in England, Sanchia was called Cynthia.

The cost of their wedding was borne by a levy imposed on Jewish people living in England; each person received a note with the requested donation amount, and it was, by all means, an extravagant affair. According to Wikipedia, “thirty thousand dishes were prepared for the wedding dinner alone.”

In 1256, Richard was named King of Germany and King of the Romans—a precursory title to Holy Roman Emperor—and Sanchia was named his Queen.

Richard and Sanchia had two sons. She passed away in 1261; Richard passed away in 1272, having remarried for a third time to Beatrice of Falkenburg.

Edmund of Crouchback, 1st Earl of Leicester and Lancaster to Lady Aveline de Forz (8-9 April 1269)

Edmund Crouchback. Photo: Richard Gough [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Edmund Crouchback, 1st Earl of Leicester and Lancaster, the second son of Henry III, was married to Lady Aveline de Forz on either 8 or 9 April 1269.

Queen Eleanor had arranged the marriage, which took place when the bride was only 10-years-old (the marriage was not consummated until Lady Aveline turned 14, in 1273). Marriage to Lady Aveline would have allowed Edmund to receive earldoms in Devon and Aumale, and lordships of Holderness and the Isle of Wight.

Lady Aveline’s last surviving brother passed away in 1269, and she inherited the title Countess of Aumale, though her lands were given to Henry III to be held in custody. Unfortunately, in 1274, Lady Aveline passed away, and her husband was never given her lands.

Lady Aveline is also buried in Westminster Abbey. She is the first person to be buried in the then-new part of the Abbey.

Gilbert de Clare, 7th Earl of Gloucester to Joan of Acre (30 April 1290)

Joan of Acre. Photo: AnonymousUnknown author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Joan of Acre, the daughter of Edward I, had a dramatic, romantic life. Her first suitor, chosen for her at the age of five by her father, was named Hartman, and he was the son of the King of Germany.

According to Wikipedia, Hartman “had fallen through a patch of shallow ice while ‘amusing himself in skating’ while a letter sent to the King himself stated that Hartman had set out on a boat to visit his father amidst a terrible fog and the boat had smashed into a rock, drowning him.”

Eventually, Edward I negotiated a marriage treaty with Gilbert de Clare, the 7th Earl of Gloucester. The Earl was 30 years older than his bride and divorced, and he agreed to forfeit his lands to the King (though they were returned to him upon marriage) and provide a dowry to Joan.

Joan was 18-years-old when she married the Earl, and he’d spent considerable amounts of money trying to woo her, lavishing her with gifts. Wikipedia notes stoically that Joan “had to marry him regardless of how she felt.”

The couple had four children: a son, Gilbert de Clare; and three daughters, Eleanor, Margaret and Elizabeth.

Gilbert de Clare passed away in 1295, leaving Joan a young widow.

Here’s where it gets juicy: she ordered her father to have her squire, Ralph de Monthermer knighted, and while Edward I was busy negotiating a second marriage for her, she secretly married Ralph.

When the King found out, he was, predictably, upset and had de Monthermer imprisoned, though Joan was visibly pregnant and nothing could have been done to stop the marriage. Eventually, de Monthermer rose to the King’s favour, and the couple went on to have four children.

John II, son of Duke of Brabant to Margaret of England (8 July 1290)

Margaret, Duchess of Brabant. Photo: AnonymousUnknown author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

John II, Duke of Brabant. Photo: Adriaan van Baerland, Jan Moretus, Plantijnsche Drukkerij [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On 8 July 1290, Margaret, the tenth child of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, married John, son of John I, Duke of Brabant.

Their wedding was, according to historians, “splendidly extravagant” and featured “a procession of knights in full body armour and richly dressed ladies singing as they paraded through the streets of London to the music provided by harpers, minstrels and violinists, while fools danced.”

Four years later, John succeeded his father and became John II, Duke of Brabant. Margaret became Duchess of Brabant, and, ten years after they were married, bore him a son, John III.

Unfortunately, wedded bliss didn’t linger between Margaret and John. Margaret was reportedly quite unhappy at the Brabant Court due to the constant stream of mistresses and illegitimate children stemming from her husband.

John passed away in 1312, leaving his only legitimate son to succeed him; Margaret passed away in 1333 and is buried in Brussels at the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula next to her husband. She was the longest-living and last of Edward I’s children.

Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia (20 January 1382)

Richard II and Anne of Bohemia Coronation. Photo: Unknown English painter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Following the Peasants’ Revolt, a beleaguered Richard II determined that he would marry Anne of Bohemia, daughter of Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor. The marriage was disapproved of by the nobility and the government, but Richard pressed on, and the couple were married on 20 January 1382.

According to historians, “Tournaments were held for several days after the ceremony, in celebration. They then made a tour of the realm, staying at major abbeys along the way.”

Though the marriage was initially unpopular with the public, they soon warmed to Anne. Anne’s father did not provide a dowry for her. Instead, Richard paid a sum of 20,000 florins to marry her.

Unfortunately, Richard and Anne didn’t have issue. Anne passed away in 1394, after a bout with the plague, and was greatly mourned by her husband. He had the house she died in razed after her death.

Richard then married seven-year-old Isabella of Valois in 1396 and died, deposed, three years later.

Richard and Anne’s wedding was the last in Westminster Abbey for 537 years until Princess Patricia of Connaught married in 1919.

About author

Jess is a communications professional and freelance writer who lives in Halifax and has a passion for all things royal, particularly the British Royal Family.