Berengaria of Navarre

Photo of Berengaria’s effigy at l’Abbaye de l’Épau, France. Image Credit: Gabby Storey.

By Gabby Storey

Born c.1165-1170 to King Sancho VI and Sancha of Navarre, Berengaria spent her early years at the Navarrese court. Little is known of her upbringing, and aside from the grant to her of the fief of Monreal, we have little documentary evidence prior to her marriage.

The origins of the Anglo-Navarrese marital alliance which would see Berengaria marry Richard I, also known as Richard the Lionheart, are contested: it is plausible that either Richard or Eleanor initiated the alliance.

Richard’s decision to use Navarre to protect his southern borders whilst on crusade saw him break his engagement with Alys, sister of Philip Augustus, king of France, to wed Berengaria. Berengaria travelled with her mother-in-law Eleanor across Western Europe to meet Richard.

They were married at Limassol, Cyprus, on 12 May 1191. Berengaria was crowned queen of England the same day as her marriage. She continued her travels on crusade with Richard and her sister-in-law, Joanna of Sicily, with whom she returned to the Angevin heartlands in 1193.

The main documentary evidence that survives for Berengaria’s tenure is her witness of a loan in Rome in 1193. Otherwise, her time as consort is difficult to detail, as even her queenly residence is debated.

Upon Richard’s death in 1199, Berengaria travelled to Fontevraud and met her mother-in-law, though it is not clear if she attended the funeral. She spent the next few years, and indeed most of her life, petitioning King John for revenues and income.

In 1204, Berengaria arranged with Philip Augustus to surrender her rights to her Norman dower lands in exchange for lordship of Le Mans. It is here we can see her exercise of power, and her abilities as a female lord.

Berengaria was involved with several local religious institutions, however her foundation of the Abbaye de l’Épau, later her burial site, is one for which she is most well known. Despite popular misconception, Berengaria visited England in 1220 for Thomas Becket’s translation.

Although she never remarried and never bore children, her dowager period proves a striking contrast and interest to her time as consort.

Recommended Reading

Ann Trindade, Berengaria, In Search of Richard the Lionheart’s Queen (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1999)

Elizabeth Hallam, “Bérengère de Navarre,” La Province du Maine 93 (1991): 225-237

Gabrielle Storey, “Berengaria of Navarre and Joanna of Sicily as Crusading Queens, Manipulation, reputation, and agency,” in Forgotten Queens in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, Political Agency, Myth-making, and Patronage, eds. Valerie Schutte and Estelle Paranque, 41-59 (Abingdon: Routledge, 2018)

Gabrielle Storey, Berengaria of Navarre, Queen Consort and Lady of Le Mans (Routledge, forthcoming 2023)

Ghislain Baury and Vincent Corriol, Bérengère de Navarre (v. 1160-1230): Histoire et mémoire d’une reine d’Angleterre (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2022).

%d bloggers like this: