12th Century: Eleanor of Aquitaine
Children: Two daughters by Louis VII of France; Five sons and three daughters by Henry II of England
13th Century: Blanche of Castile
Children: Three daughters and ten sons by Louis VIII of France
Marguerite of Provence.)
14th Century: Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster
Children: Two daughters and one son by Sir Hugh Swynford; one daughter and three sons by John of Gaunt Duke of Lancaster
In an age when marriage was more about property than romance, Katherine de Roet Swynford found both through her illicit love affair and later marriage to a king's son. Raised among the royal court of the English queen Philippa of Hainault, Katherine likely knew her future husband as a child. When the queen arranged an appropriate marriage for her and Katherine's dutiful attitude later earned her a role as governess to John of Gaunt's daughters by Blanche of Lancaster. This tight weave of court circles is further underscored by the fact that a famous tribute to Blanche, the poem "My Last Duchess," was written by Katherine's brother-in-law, who just happened to be Geoffrey Chaucer. After Blanche's early death, Katherine and John embarked on a love affair that did not prevent him from making a political marriage with the Spanish Princess Constance of Castile. All four of Katherine's children by John were born during his second marriage. Given the surname Beaufort, they were all legitimized when the couple final married after Constance's death. Greatly favored by the royal family, Katherine was granted property of her own and managed it prosperously. The Beauforts played a critical role in the Wars of the Roses, and the Tudor dynasty is descended directly from them.
15th Century: Isabella Queen of Castile
Children: Five daughters and two sons by Ferdinand King of Aragon
16th Century: Catherine de Medici
Children: Five daughters and five sons by Henry II of France
17th Century: Anne of Austria
Children: Two sons by Louis XIII of France
18th Century: Maria Theresa Empress of Austria
Children: Eleven daughters and five sons by Francis I Holy Roman Emperor
19th Century: Princess Alice of the United Kingdom
Children: Five daughters and two sons by Louis IV Grand Duke of Hesse
20th Century: Lady Diana Spencer
Children: Two sons by Charles Prince of Wales
21st Century: ???
Just over a decade into the new century, it is impossible to say which royal mother will emerge as the mum of the century--they haven't even all been born yet! To judge by the first decade, perhaps it should be one of the two who have had the most children: with five children each, there are Crown Princess Marie Chantal of Greece and Princess Astrid of Norway, who both started their families in the last century, or with four apiece, there are the Infanta Cristina Duchess of Palma de Mallorca, Princess Mathilde Duchess of Brabant and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, who pulled it off in just three pregnancies. Or perhaps it should be Crown Princess Masako, who despite a stress disorder that keeps her largely out of the public eye, has continued to mother her only child. Or perhaps it should be Crown Princess Mette Marit of Norway who managed to keep things together as a single mother and still catch a prince, with whom she has had two more children. Or perhaps Sophie Countess of Wessex, who struggled to have each of her children.
Whichever royal moms you celebrate, the women highlighted here are all examples of the ferocious love mothers have for the children and of how women can blend motherhood with careers that can change the world. (For an overview of royal ladies who struggled to be mothers, check out my 2011 post, Always a Monarch, Never a Mother.)
For all of you who are mothers yourself, happy Mother's Day from the Princess Palace.