Yolande of Aragon (1379–1442)
Yolande of Aragon (1379–1442)
Duchess of Anjou and queen and regent of Sicily. Name variations: Yolanda of Anjou; Yolanda of Sicily. Born in 1379 in Saragossa, Aragon; died in November 1442 in Paris; daughter of Juan I also known as John I the Hunter, king of Aragon (r. 1387–1395), and Yolande de Bar; married Louis II, duke of Anjou and king of Sicily, in 1400; children: Marie of Anjou (1404–1463, who married Charles VII of France); Louis III (1403–1434), king of Naples (r. 1417–1434); René I (1408–1480), duke of Lorraine and Bar, duke of Provence, duke of Anjou and Guise, and later king of Naples (b. 1409); Yolande of Anjou (1412–1440); Charles, count of Maine (1414–1472).
Yolande of Aragon was an important political figure in France during the final years of the Hundred Years' War. A princess of the small Iberian kingdom of Aragon, Yolande was the daughter of King John I the Hunter. Her mother Yolande de Bar was descended from King John II of France, so Yolande claimed two royal heritages. Her marriage in 1400 to Louis II, duke of Anjou, was an effort to end a traditional feud between the houses of Aragon and Anjou. At first Yolande refused to marry Louis, whom she considered the enemy of her family, but she was eventually convinced that the union was necessary to bring peace between the two states. The marriage was celebrated December 2, 1400, probably in Arles.
Despite her misgivings, it turned out to be an excellent match, and Yolande came to love her husband, who shared her intelligence, political ambition, and interests in learning and the arts. They also shared a deep loyalty to the French royal house. Despite her Spanish upbringing, Yolande adopted the interests of Anjou as her own, and came to be one of the French monarchy's most loyal defenders in the chaos of the Hundred Years' War against England and the simultaneous civil war which plagued France. She had five surviving children, born between 1403 and 1414, whose interests she guarded vigilantly against the English and their allies, the Burgundians.
In addition to being duke of Anjou, Louis II was count of Provence, Maine, Guise, and Lorraine, and king of Sicily. He also had various claims to rule over Naples, Jerusalem, Majorca, and Cyprus. When he left Anjou to try to establish his rule in Naples in 1410, Yolande remained in their capital of Angers. She was named lieutenant-general for the duke, meaning that she could act in all capacities for him during his absence. She therefore ruled as regent of Anjou and their smaller provinces. When rebels in Provence tried to take advantage of Louis' absence and staged an insurrection in 1411, Yolande wasted no time in bringing an army to quell the revolt. Following this victory, she learned that her father had died and that some of her Spanish relatives were disputing her inheritance in Aragon, so she hastened with her army across the Pyrenees to defend her patrimony.
In 1413, Yolande became directly involved in the politics of the royal house of Valois, which at the time was led by the queen, Isabeau of Bavaria . The queen and Yolande were longtime political rivals. In the war against the English, Yolande favored peace, but not at the cost of dethroning the insane King Charles VI, or ceding any territory to the English. Isabeau had few loyalties to the weakened French monarchy, even though she was queen of France and her children were its heirs, and wanted to align herself with the English and their allies, the house of Burgundy. Isabeau had decided to break off the betrothal between her daughter Catherine of Valois and Yolande's son, and marry Catherine into the house of Burgundy instead. Yolande was outraged that Isabeau would align herself with the enemies of France, and to compensate for her loss, she offered one of her daughters, Marie of Anjou , as a bride for the queen's sickly youngest son, Charles. Queen Isabeau agreed to the proposed marriage and even allowed Yolande to take Charles to Anjou to raise. Yolande became a loving foster mother for the boy, gaining a positive influence over him which would never wane.
In 1417, Charles unexpectedly became heir to the throne on the death of his older brother. Queen Isabeau demanded that Yolande send Charles to her in Paris; Yolande refused, knowing that he would become the pawn of his mother's English allies. A few weeks later Duke Louis of Anjou died suddenly. Despite her mourning, Yolande refused to withdraw from public life and ruled as regent of Anjou for her son, now Louis III, as well as devoting herself to the education of the new dauphin. To bolster his authority, Yolande convinced the king to sign an act naming the dauphin Charles lieutenant-general of the realm.
When Charles VI died in 1422 and the infant king Henry VI of England was proclaimed king of France, the duchess encouraged the irresolute dauphin to fight for his throne. Believing that the French and Burgundians had to unite to repel the English, the duchess then negotiated a peace treaty with the duke of Burgundy. Yolande was also instrumental in the success of Joan of Arc when the girl first arrived at Yolande's court at Chinon, asking to lead Charles' troops against the English. It was Charles' mother-in-law who insisted that he meet with Joan, recognizing the Maid's potential for stirring popular resistance to the English. Yolande also arranged for the interrogations by the king's councillors and church leaders which confirmed Joan's sincerity, and the duchess' ladies examined Joan to verify her virginity. When Charles was persuaded to let Joan lead his army, Yolande directed the gathering of troops and the military preparations for Joan's battle against the English at Orléans.
Even after Charles' coronation in 1429, Yolande remained active in the struggle to unite the French factions and end the English occupation of France. Respected for her political moderation and diplomatic skill, she negotiated a peace treaty with the duke of Brittany in 1431, and intervened in the civil war between two of Charles' advisors, presiding over the peace settlement.
Around 1435 Yolande, age 56, finally curtailed most of her political involvement and retired to a quiet life in Paris. However, she did not withdraw from politics altogether, and remained an important advisor to her son-in-law and daughter Marie of Anjou until her death in November 1442, at age 63.
Lehmann, Andrée. Le Role de la Femme dans L'Histoire de France au Moyen Age. Paris: Editions Berger-Levrault, 1952.
Vale, M.G. Charles VII. Berkeley, CA: University of California, 1974.
Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California