Berengaria of Navarre

Berengaria of Navarre

Infobox British Royalty
name = Berengaria of Navarre
title = Queen consort of the English

reign = 12 May 1191 – 6 April 1199
spouse = Richard I of England
titles = The Queen Dowager
The Queen
Infanta Berengaria of Navarre
royal house = House of Plantagenet
House of Jiménez
father = Sancho VI of Navarre
mother = Sancha of Castile
date of birth = c. 1165-1170
date of death = death date|1230|12|23|df=yes (aged 59–65)|

Berengaria ( _es. Berenguela, _fr. Bérengère; c. 1165-1170 – 23 December 1230), was the eldest daughter of Sancho VI of Navarre and Sancha of Castile. Her maternal grandparents were Alfonso VII of León and Berenguela of Barcelona.


Berengaria married Richard I of England on 12 May 1191. As is the case with many of the medieval Queen Consorts of the Kingdom of England, relatively little is known of her life. It seems that she and Richard did in fact meet once, years before their marriage, and writers of the time liked to claim that there was an attraction between them at that time. A few twentieth-century historians, however, have claimed that Richard was romantically involved with Berengaria's brother, the future Sancho VII.

Richard had been betrothed many years earlier to Princess Alys, sister of King Philip II of France. Alys, however, became the mistress of Richard's own father, King Henry II, and allegedly the mother of Henry's illegitimate child; a marriage between Richard and Alys was therefore technically impossible for religious reasons of affinity. Richard terminated his betrothal to Alys in 1190 while at Messina.

He had Berengaria brought to him by his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Since 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 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. En route to the Holy Land, the ship carrying Berengaria and Joan went 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, overthrew Comnenus, and married Berengaria in the Chapel of St. George at Limassol.

Queen consort

Whether the marriage was ever even consummated is a matter for conjecture. Richard's sexual orientation is hotly debated amongst revisionist historians; some claim homosexuality via phenomenon theory, while others present him as a notorious womanizer. Unreliable sources have recorded him having one bastard son, Philip of Cognac (d. c. 1211), and perhaps another. In any case, he certainly took his new wife with him for the first part of the crusade. They returned separately, but Richard was captured and imprisoned. Berengaria remained in Europe, attempting to raise money for his ransom. After his release, Richard returned to England and was not joined by his wife. The marriage was childless, and Berengaria was thought to be barren.

When Richard returned to England, he had to regain all the territory that had either been lost by his brother John or taken by King Philip of France. His focus was on his kingdom, not his queen. Richard was ordered by Pope Celestine III to reunite with Berengaria and to show fidelity to her in future. The word the Pope used as reason of forgiveness was Richard's forced claim of sodomy. Richard did follow the Pope's word and took Berengaria to church every week thereafter. Nevertheless, when he died in 1199, she was greatly distressed, perhaps more so at being deliberately overlooked as Queen of England and Cyprus. Some historians believe that Berengaria honestly loved her husband, while Richard's feelings for her were merely formal, as the marriage was a political rather than a romantic union.

Queen dowager

Berengaria never visited England during King Richard's lifetime; during the entirety of their marriage, Richard spent just three months in England. There is evidence, however, that she may have done so in the years following his death. The traditional description of her as "the only English queen never to set foot in the country" would still be literally true, as she did not visit England during the time she was Richard's consort. However, she certainly sent envoys to England several times, mainly to inquire about the pension she was due as Dowager Queen and Richard's widow, which King John was not paying her. Although Queen Eleanor intervened, and Pope Innocent III threatened him with an interdict if he did not pay Berengaria what was due, King John still owed her more than £4000 when he died. However, during the reign of his son Henry III of England, her payments were made as they were supposed to be.

Berengaria eventually settled in Le Mans, one of her dower properties. She was a benefactress of the abbey of L'Epau, entered the conventual life, and was buried in the abbey. A skeleton thought to be hers was discovered in 1960 during the restoration of the abbey.

In fiction

The story of Richard and Berengaria's marriage is fictionalized in the 1935 film "The Crusades" starring Loretta Young and Henry Wilcoxon, and was a prominent feature of the 1960s British television series, "Richard the Lionheart", but both versions were highly romanticised and are not reliable sources of information about the queen.

Novels featuring Berengaria include:
*"The Passionate Brood", by Margaret Campbell Barnes
*"The Heart Of The Lion", by Jean Plaidy
*"Queen Without a Country", by Rachel Bard
*"My Lord Brother the Lionheart", by Molly Costain Haycraft
*"Shield of Three Lions" and "Banners of Gold", by Pamela Kaufman
*"The Lute Player' ', by Norah Lofts
*"Standard of Honor' ', by Jack Whyte
*"Wyrd' ', by Sue Gough


*Ann Trindade, "Berengaria: In Search of Richard's Queen" (ISBN 1-85182-434-0) (1999). []

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