A Regent More Powerful than a King

Emily Kelly

Blanche of Castile is an interesting woman as she is one of the rare few medieval queens that held on to her political power.

There had been a significant change in how much power a French Queen had when Blanche ascended the throne, and this was due to her father-in-law, King Philip Augustus. With Philip trying to secure an annulment for over 20 years he made the role of queen less powerful so that it ended up just being a ceremonial and social position. The role and title of regent were now more important than queen. When King Louis VIII, Blanche’s husband, died in 1226 he gave little reasoning as to why she was sole regent. In making her sole regent, Louis had given her unlimited authority as he did not set any limits over her power. In theory, Blanche now had more authority than a King, as they have their coronation oaths and certain customs to uphold. The only limit to Blanche's power was the time limit of her son. When Blanche was made regent, regents were expected to focus on looking after and making sure the young king had a good enough education that they could ascend the throne as capable leaders. Regents were expected to shelter the young kings from hard, pressing matters from the kingdom that naturally falls into their mothers' role as protectors and educators of their children. Blanche’s reputation as a mother and regent was one of excellence, this was due to Louis IX’s rulership. King Louis IX was made a saint when he died and his steadfast Christianity was due to Blanche’s influence, as she was seen as pious. King Louis’s wisdom was given credit to Blanche and her tutelage, she even made sure he knew the Latin language at a time when most kings could not and did not read or write. Manuscripts from this time, including the one her son had created, show Blanche influencing and guiding her son on policies and governance. Very few queens, who were made regent, were recognised as tutors and regents. Blanche stands out due to the respect she got as a mother and regent, not just once but twice.
A Regent More Powerful than a King
Blanche of Castile

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A Regent More Powerful than a King
Louis IX of France and his mentor near the feet of his mother Blanche of Castile

Blanche’s influence even reached the army, she was seen as a tough campaigner and leader of the French army.

Just after she was made regent, Blanche was informed by Louis IX that there was a plot by nobles to kidnap him. In response, Blanche got her knights and the communal militia of Paris and rode out to Louis. Once back in Paris, she paraded herself and Louis through the streets as a triumph against the nobles and sharing the victory with the people. After this, she faced many battles against the Southern France nobles and even an invasion from King Henry III of England. However, Blanche managed to hold onto her domains and even extended the French Royal family's power. She kept the peace by agreeing to sign the Treaty of Paris, in 1229. Blanche was so notorious that even Pope Gregory IX requested her help to help preserve Constantinople from the Greeks, but she declined to help. Blanche having control of the French army and being respected for having it shows how far her influence reached. The difficulty of looking at Blanche’s power through legal documents is that they always had to be put through under King Louis IX’s legal authority. Most of the time Blanche and Louis are seen as having shared power, to the point that it is hard to see when Louis is the sole King. Documents show that Blanche was receiving letters about the governance of France that Louis did not know about, or even better, were written to Louis and had an end note to Blanche. After Louis came of age, in 1232, King Henry III of England still sent letters addressed to Blanche and Louis. This showed that even foreign powers respected and knew the influence Blanche still held, even after she stopped being regent. When King Louis went to fight in the Crusades in 1248, and made Blanche sole regent again, King Henry III still sent letters but only to Blanche. By this point Blanche decided to use a seal, seals were only used by widows and men, and by Blanche having a seal she was showing off the authority that she could wield. She was proclaiming male privilege by using the seal and not hiding that power. Using a seal shows Blanche as independent, influential, and someone of political importance. Blanche of Castile was a medieval Queen that held on to her influence and power and was respected by her contemporaries.
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A Regent More Powerful than a King

Emily Kelly

I’m Emily a History Graduate from York St John and currently working in the Heritage sector at Harewood House. I have a history Blog and Instagram: @peoplemakehistory where I try and highlight small, overlooked areas of history, including people from minority groups.
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