21 February 2010

Cinderella Sisters Part 4 of 4: Beatrice

Thirteen-year-old Beatrice of Provence was alone in the fortress. Her father was dead. Her mother had fled. Her three older sisters were resting their crowned heads in faraway places.

Outside the walls, the Holy Roman Emperor’s navy was sailing into port, the King of Aragon’s army was encamped, and the Count of Toulose and the Count of Anjou were each leading armies to capture the wildly gorgeous young girl.

Unlike her older sisters, each of whom had had little to offer a medieval bridegroom except their beauty, Beatrice was a prized heiress. Their father, Count Raymond Berenguer of Provence had left everything to her—including castles that had been provided as collateral for her eldest sister Marguerite’s dowry when she wed the King of France, the same ones which had also been used as collateral when Raymond borrowed money from his daughter Eleanor’s husband, the King of England. Asserting that his other daughters, who had all married well, did not need any part of the inheritance, Raymond not only left them nothing, he added insult by saying to Beatrice that she was “more beloved by me than all your sisters.”

The girls’ mother, Beatrice of Savoy, had agreed to her husband’s plan because his real intention was to leave her completely in charge of the land they had ruled together. Neither had anticipated that their youngest daughter would be literally besieged. Although Raymond had habitually overspent on wars and luxuries, Provence was a lucrative province with a rich salt monopoly and a burgeoning role in commercial trade. Lovely little Beatrice’s suitors all desired to get their paws on that money pot even more than they longed for a pretty girl.

Once it became clear that things were getting out of control, Beatrice the senior slipped out of Provence to seek help from the Pope. Several suitors also applied to the Pope, who soon assumed wardship of young Beatrice. That meant the excommunicated Emperor was out of luck—he was currently at war with the Pope. Needing a strong ally against the Emperor, the Pope had little inclination to side with Toulose or Aragon; what he really wanted was an alliance with France. Fortunately, the King of France’s youngest brother, 19-year-old Count Charles of Anjou was still unmarried.

In a secret meeting, the Pope, the King and Beatrice of Savoy agreed to award young Beatrice and Provence to Charles, who immediately set off with an army provided by his brother. En route, he outflanked the Count of Toulose and he quickly sent the King of Aragon into retreat after a brief skirmish. (The Emperor’s navy had been forced to retreat when the locals made it impossible to land.)

Beatrice and Charles were ideally suited for each other. They were both the spoiled youngest children who still felt slighted by comparison to their highly accomplished older siblings. Together, they set out to turn their new territory into a highly profitable one. The first order of business was to push aside Beatrice’s mother, much to her protest. Young Beatrice had now earned the ire not only of her disinherited sisters but also their well-connected mom.

Nevertheless, her eldest sister who was now also her sister-in-law could not completely ignore her. In fact, when Louis and Marguerite set off on crusade, Charles and his heavily pregnant teenaged wife went with them. Marguerite, who had suffered from barrenness for many years after she married, was forced to watch as her upstart little sister had a child every other year. The first, a boy named Louis, was born on Cyprus as the French royal party made its way across the Mediterranean. Concerned for the infant’s well-being on a military crusade, Beatrice left the baby on Cyprus to be cared for in her absence. By the time the French reached Damietta, both Beatrice and Marguerite were pregnant.

Beatrice’s second child, Blanche, was born while the French were being decimated by the Egyptians. (See Marguerite for the story of Damietta.) Perhaps the sisters grew closer because of their shared circumstances on this difficult sojourn, but any goodwill Beatrice had gained quickly evaporated. Although Louis sent Charles back to Europe to seek reinforcements and secure France, which was suffering some rebellion, Marguerite felt that Charles and Beatrice had abandoned the sickly king. The merry young pair was only too-eager to escape the dire situation with the added motivation of seeing their firstborn child again. That anticipation turned to bitter sorrow, however, when they discovered that Baby Louis had died while they were gone.

Charles carried his brother’s plea for reinforcements to the Pope, who refused to help. However, he offered Charles a consolation: the Kingdom of Sicily, if he could pay for the cost of taking it from the current king. (The same deal that the Pope would also offer Beatrice’s brother-in-law Richard of Cornwall—see Sanchia—and her nephew Edmund—see Eleanor.) Although the ambitious Charles would have loved a crown of his own, at the time, he didn’t have enough money to secure it. With his brother’s attention focused on holy war, he knew he couldn’t get the money from him either. He regretfully declined.

Instead, he set about making himself wealthy. Not only did he and Beatrice set up a highly efficient and lucrative administration in Provence, he also gained control of the extremely rich county of Hainault by offering military assistance to its heiress. Charles quickly began squeezing every fine or tax that he could out of Hainault. By the time the King finally returned from crusade, the people were fed up and Louis paid Charles a fortune to get him to surrender his authority.

This gave Charles and Beatrice enough money to pay off her quarrelsome mother and to repay (at a substantial discount) her father’s outstanding loan from King Henry and Queen Eleanor. Marguerite, however, was still livid with Beatrice and took any opportunity to put her sister in her place. When the entire Provencal family gathered together, Marguerite invited her sisters Queen Eleanor and Queen Sanchia to sit with her at the highest table. Countess Beatrice was left to fume at a lower table, prompting her husband to promise, “I will shortly make thee a greater queen than them.”

By this time, more than a decade had passed since Charles had turned down the throne of Sicily and the English claims on it had proven unachievable. Once again, the Pope offered the crown to Charles with the same condition as before. This time, however, Charles was independently wealthy enough to say yes. Beatrice set out on a charm campaign, persuading not just the young men of Provence but also of France to join her husband’s cause. She used her own jewels and her abundant beauty to raise an invasion force.

Charles led a small contingent by sea while Beatrice led tens of thousands across the Alps to join him in Rome. Through skill and with some luck, the couple rapidly achieved what so many others had failed to do: they captured the crown of Sicily, having killed the King in battle.

Beatrice had finally secured her place at the high table and the little county of Provence had produced four queens in one generation. Like her sister Sanchia, however, Beatrice would enjoy her crown for a short period. She died after only 18 months. Charles initially buried her in Rome, but later moved her to Provence to lie for eternity next to the father who had left everything to her.

Read about her sisters:
Marguerite | Eleanor | Sanchia

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