06 April 2015

Today's Princess: Sybilla of Conversano

The death of Sybilla, miniature from Avicenna's Canon
via Wikimedia Commons
As further evidence of my assertion that there is a "Princess Diana" in every royal generation, today's princess is Sybilla of Conversano (c. 1103). Famously beautiful and significantly younger than her forty-something husband Robert Duke of Normandy, Sybilla caught the attention of the chroniclers of the day. In an era when some royal women's names weren't even recorded, Sybilla was praised not just for her beauty, but also for her many virtues, and keen mind.

Her husband Robert was said to have fallen in love with her while he was on his way to the First Crusade, and married her on the way home. He then took up his once-again unsuccessful struggle to take the English crown, which had been passed from his father William the Conqueror to his younger brother, and then upon his death, to an even younger brother. While away, he left Sybilla in charge of Normandy, where some remarked that she was a better leader than her duke. Of course, many thought her husband was inept, so this may not have been praise for her as much as it was condemnation of him.

Within a couple of years of her marriage, Sybilla gave birth to her son William Clito. A few months later, she died tragically young. While the true cause of her death is unknown, some allege that she was murdered by Robert's mistress. There are few facts to support this allegation, and many to refute it, but conspiracy theorists do enjoy rumors of murder when the good die young, don't they? Another legend even asserts that she once saved her husband from the wound of a poisoned arrow by sucking the poison from the wound; a fairly common story about popular royal/noblewomen that illustrates their devotion to their husbands.

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