Ailenor of Provence and Queenship by Carol McGrath #medieval

Carol for BlogsI’m delighted to welcome historian and novelist Carol McGrath to my blog today, to tell us about the concept of Queenship as it relates to her new novel The Silken Rose.

Ailenor of Provence and Queenship

Ailenor of Provence was married to twenty-eight year old Henry III when she was only thirteen and he was twenty-eight. It was a dynastic marriage. She was from the cultured Provencal ruling family, a princess who was precocious, intelligent, beautiful and elegant. The marriage took place in Canterbury in January 1236. Ailenor was crowned later that month in Westminster Abbey. Henry had taken her without a dowry and she took her role as Queen of England very seriously. Although she hailed from the impoverished court of Provence, her father instilled in her a sense of her aristocratic bearing. All her long life Ailenor was a queen through and through, not relinquishing her queenly signature after Henry’s death.

During the medieval era there was a subtle interplay between the image of the Virgin Mary and that of a secular queen. Marion symbolism occurred in sculpture, glass, embroidery and illuminated books. There was a huge trade in Marion reliquary such as fingernails and other odd bodily bits. Marion chantries and chapels abounded throughout Europe. The Cult of the Virgin was a High Medieval obsession. Mary was chaste and she was Christ’s mother. Marriage was for the begetting of children, not sex.

Carol HenrytretiThe coronation liturgy stressed the association between queenship and marriage. Ailenor’s job was first and foremost to provide heirs for the royal line. Henry III was so convinced that he possessed a sanctified ancestry from the line of David he had the tree of Jesse depicted on the window of Ailenor’s bedchamber at Windsor Castle. It showed marriage’s priority to beget heirs. Ailenor’s window at Clarendon Castle depicted her kneeling before the Virgin and child. Fecundity and maternity were particularly important to Ailenor’s queenship. When Edward was born in 1239 the celebrations in London were extravagant with wine flowing from fountains, pageants, gifts. Three royal girls and another prince followed.  They became a close family. Ailenor took royal motherhood hands on.

The queen was an authority figure and, without doubt, Ailenor enjoyed this role. The Virgin is often shown bearing a sceptre as the Queen of Heaven beside the figure of Christ. Ailenor’s figure on her first great seal shows her crowned and bearing a sceptre. She exploited her regal position on many occasions and frequently, though not always, was a power behind Henry’s throne, aided and advised by her clever Savoyard uncles.

The Coronation of the Virgin is a medieval image used in particular on embroidery, books, statutory and painted glass. This depiction shows Mary’s humility as she leans towards Christ receiving her crown and it became representative of queenly intercession.  Ailenor interceded effectually for victims with both Henry and her son Edward I.  She could soften Henry’s heart and on many occasions use intercession to influence policy towards the Church and Henry’s difficult barons. Just like Esther of the Old Testament, Ailenor considered she was directing the King towards good. Her enemies, however, perceived her as manipulative.

Carol eleanor-of-provenceQueens had their own household officers. In her heyday, Ailenor commanded around a hundred people- stewards, cooks, knights, a marshal, tailors, nurses, laundresses, grooms etc. She possessed a wardrobe (household administration) which never lost its special identity. Even so, daily accounts were rendered to officials of the king’s household. Ailenor and Henry were both into keeping up appearances and loved gorgeous clothes and ceremony. They were exceptionally extravagant. Queens had control of lands granted to them for their support for their husband’s lifetime and Dower lands to support them after their husband’s death. Queen’s Gold was a royal right, a levy of ten per cent on all fines over ten marks. It enhanced queenly power but for Ailenor this led to conflict. She spent it all.

During the thirteenth century, queens tended to witness writs rather than issue them in their own names. A queen could not be sued by courts of law. Any offence against her could dishonour the king’s dignity.  Ailenor also had the power of patronage, in particular, that of nunneries. She collected ward-ships of noble orphans and married her wards off with her own interests in mind, mostly to Provençals and Savoyards depriving the English noble marriage market of their orphaned heirs and heiresses, and importantly, their estates.

The Silken Rose Final VisualThe fact that Ailenor possessed her own power, lands, knights and household was a huge asset when her personal power was threatened by the arrival of the king’s Lusignan half-brothers. For a time conflict emerged during the 1250s between Queen’s Men and King’s Men, her Savoyards and the King’s Lusignans.

Want to know more?

Read about it in The Silken Rose which is currently on amazon kindle and available on amazon and in bookshops as a paperback on July 23rd.

Finally, Ailenor’s queenship was further challenged when the English barons threatened both the Queen and King during the 1260s. A new Barons’ War led by Simon de Montfort loomed large on England’s horizon. You can read about this in The Damask Rose which continues the She-Wolf-Queen Trilogy and will be published April 2021.

 Find Carol on her website:  or twitter @carolmcgrath

Thanks to Carol for her most informative post. I’ve read an ARC of this book and it’s stunning – full of lush historical detail and little-known snippets of medieval life. Don’t forget to BUY THE BOOK.


The Betrothed Sister – 11th century epic

I have read all of Carol McGrath’s Hastings Trilogy, and have been entranced by this little-known period of English history. Her most recent features a woman about whom little is known, but McGrath’s research into the politics, events and atmosphere of the time have filled in the gaps .

Betrothed Sister

Carol McGrath’s beautifully detailed novel of the exiled Princess Thea is a treat for the senses. For much of the novel Thea is on a journey to find her Russian Prince Vladimir, and we are in her company as she braves the icy Northern waters in a Dragon boat, crosses the vast steppes and fights off pirates and brigands. We are taken with her to chilly monasteries, fortress castles, and the ‘terem’ the womens’ quarters at the Rus Court.We watch her embroidering her ‘rushnyk’ – her ritual wedding cloth, and visiting the local cunning woman.

The characters in this novel provide the reader with plenty of tension – the jealous Olga, the faithful Gudrun, and the men battling for land, and lusting for power. The finale is a gripping and spectacular battle for a city besieged, and it makes a wonderful climax to what has been a great series.

If you like well-researched historical biography with a wealth of period detail, you will love this. Highly recommended.

Find out more about Carol and the other books in the trilogy on her website