14 February 2010

Cinderella Sisters Part 3 of 4: Sanchia

When Sanchia of Provence first met her Prince Charming, she was a beautiful 13-year-old and he was the rich and dashing brother of the English king. At 31, he might have appeared old to the shy girl, but he almost certainly seemed heroic. Having been received with royal honors in Paris, Richard Earl of Cornwall was passing through Provence on his way to the Middle East to fight the infidel and protect Christendom. If that wasn’t enough to make him a romantic figure, he also had recently lost his beloved wife.

Rich and brave. Sad and brilliant. What more could a young girl want in a shining knight?

Unlike her older sisters, Queen Marguerite of France and Queen Eleanor of England, however, Sanchia didn’t have royal ambitions or scrupulous intelligence. Nevertheless, she did share their legendary beauty which Richard undoubtedly found alluring.

But, he had a war to fight. Besides, Sanchia was already engaged.

A quiet soul, Sanchia preferred the warmth of her close-knit family and her parents initially planned to keep her close to them. She had been promised to Guigues, the son of a local lord.Then, calamity struck. Her father’s quarrelsome neighbor, the Count of Toulose, attacked Provence. Sanchia’s parents scrambled for help—beseeching their royal sons-in-law in England and France, begging the Holy Roman Emperor, pleading with the Pope—seeking anyone who could protect their sunny domain from the aggressive ambitions of Toulose. In his forties, the Count of Toulose was a desperate man: he needed a son to keep his proud territory independent of France. So, in the end, the only way Provence could assuage him was with a virgin sacrifice: the lovely Sanchia was offered.

Meanwhile, Richard of Cornwall was becoming one of the most celebrated men of his day. When he arrived in the Holy Land, things were going terribly for the Christians: the Knights Templar no longer controlled Jerusalem and hundreds of Frenchmen were being held captive. Richard used his diplomatic prowess—and his deep pocketbook—to gain freedom for the French, restore Jerusalem and he even refortify Christian defenses in the region. He never fought a single battle, but he left the Holy Land after only four months with the reputation of a great hero.

Richard was returning to England wiser, richer and even more respected than when he had left. His sheer power made him a potential threat to his brother, King Henry III. The Provencal family put their collective heads together and came up with a solution to help protect Eleanor’s interests in England from a too powerful and dynamic brother-in-law by tying him even more closely to the family through marriage.

The family found another young bride to satisfy the cranky Count of Toulose and deftly reminded Richard of the strikingly beautiful girl who had caught his eye in Provence. Unlike his brother though, Richard was not blinded by enough desire to accept his bride without a dowry. This was a setback for the always cash-strapped Count of Provence. The impetuous King of England offered a solution: Henry himself would pay his brother to marry his wife’s sister. He went even further by throwing them a gigantic wedding festival.

And so, the sweet young Sanchia was married to the dashing prince. He doted on her, showering her with his wealth and she was a welcome addition to her sister’s court as her quiet manner posed no threat to the dynamic and ambitious Eleanor.

When Sanchia soon gave Richard a son, he threw a great feast, but when the baby died a few months later, the devastated Sanchia could find no consolation from her husband. A rift grew between the grief-stricken couple. It was perhaps inevitable that Sanchia’s unassuming nature could not long satisfy her worldly husband. Although gorgeous, she was no match for his beloved first wife, Isabella Marshall. Not only had Isabella been beautiful and brilliant, she and her family were politically powerful. She was a true soul mate for Richard, who as a second son was constantly seeking to make a name for himself independent of the king. Sanchia could offer him no intelligent insights and her only political power was tied directly to the king.

By the time her only surviving child Edmund was born, it was clear that she and Richard were living separate although parallel lives. There was no feast for Edmund.

Back on the continent, the political winds were changing. The death of the Holy Roman Emperor was creating two power struggles. His imperial throne in Germany went to one son while another inherited his throne as King of Sicily. This left the Papal States squished between two dangerous states. The pope, desperate to secure his territory, offered Richard the throne of Sicily, but, since the pope didn’t actually control the throne, Richard would first have to capture it. Never a great soldier, Richard had no desire to fight or to expend his wealth in a losing battle. When he turned down the crown, the pope offered it to Henry and Eleanor for their second son. They eagerly accepted and nearly lost their own kingdom in unsuccessful attempts to get it for him.

Back in Germany, the new emperor died and another German prince who had seized control was murdered by his new subjects. The imperial throne was up for grabs. Unlike Sicily, however, this was an elected position controlled by seven princes. The vacancy attracted other candidates but none was as persuasive as Richard of Cornwall. Supported by King Henry and Sanchia’s extensive and influential family network on the continent, Richard was crowned King of the Romans, the title granted to the imperial heir. Sanchia became the third queen from the little county of Provence. Richard and Sanchia traveled around the parts of their new kingdom that weren’t hostile to them. Richard reveled in all of the glorious ceremony, which he himself organized and paid for, but Sanchia longed to return to her home in England where she could live quietly.

The English political climate, thanks to Henry and Eleanor’s Sicilian ambitions, had taken a dramatic turn. The barons were threatening to relieve all of the royal family of their English properties. Richard stood to lose most of his fortune. He and Sanchia rushed back to England. Within 18 months, Richard’s diplomatic skills had left the royal family more secure. With his property safe, Richard could finally travel to Rome to be crowned by the pope as Holy Roman Emperor. He and Sanchia set off on what was supposed to be a triumphal journey through Germany. Things had become even more dangerous while they had been away. Other contenders for the throne were gaining momentum among the populace. Soon, the hostility became overbearing. More diplomat than soldier, Richard saw no way out, hurrying back to England, where he seemed content as the king of a territory he didn’t have to actually visit.

Home again at last, Sanchia, barely in her thirties, became very ill. History doesn’t record what ailed her, but it does record that her husband did not stay near her side. Richard came to see her only a few times. On his final visit, when he was told she was dying, he began giving away her goods and then returned to London. A few days later, the lovely Queen of the Romans died without her husband or any imperial trappings. Only her 11-year-old son and her servants were at her side. She was buried quietly in a church she and Richard had built together in their brief honeymoon period. Richard did not attend.

A few years later, he married again.

Read about her sisters:
Marguerite | Eleanor | Beatrice

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