Alys of France – Mistress of the King?

Marie, Alys' daughter

Alys of France was born on 4 October 1160 as the daughter of King Louis VII of France and his second wife, Constance of Castile. She had two elder half-sisters from her father’s marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine and a full elder sister. Her mother died giving birth to Alys and so she never knew her mother. Her father remarried just five weeks to Adèle of Champagne. They had a further two children, the future Philip II of France.

By 1169 Alys was promised in marriage to Richard the Lionheart, son of Henry II of England. She was then sent to England as Henry’s ward. As she grew up in England, rumours began to fly that Henry had made his son’s fiance his mistress and that they had had a child together. When King Henry II died in 1189, the new King Richard went on to marry Berengaria of Navarre without breaking his engagement to Alys, further fueling rumours that she had been his father’s mistress.

Her brother Philip then offered Alys to Richard’s younger brother Prince John, but this was prevented by his mother. Although she had once been set to become Queen of England, Alys ended up marrying William IV Talvas, Count of Ponthieu on 20 August 1195. She was 18 years older than he was.

She and William had two daughters, Marie, who succeeded her father as Countess of Ponthieu and Isabelle. They also had a stillborn son named Jean.

She died around 1220.

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My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

1 Comment on Alys of France – Mistress of the King?

  1. Alys of France had the last laugh, though. Richard Lionheart died without issue by his Navarrese wife. Alys’s daughter had a daughter who became Queen of Castile (marrying a descendant of Henry II’s daughter Eleanor) and whose daughter Eleanor of Castile married Edward I and so brought Ponthieu and the Vexin to the English king (then heir to the throne).
    Richard Lionheart and his mother did *not* treat Alys well. First, Richard promised to marry Alys when he and Philip of France set off on Crusade from Vezelay. At Sicily, Richard told Philip that he wouldn’t marry Alys after all and would be marrying Berengaria of Navarre instead. He paid Philip 10,000 marks in compensation, but he and his mother refused to let Alys free until 1195, and refused to let John marry her either. I doubt that religious issues were the reason, but rather sheer vindictiveness. (How dare Alys choose another man than Richard?). John was willing enough, by the way. (He really wanted that alliance with the French king).

    By the way, keeping widows of heirs apparent (and a few kings) had form in English royal history. Henry I kept his widowed very young daughter-in-law Isabelle/Matilda of Anjou with him for years, before allowing her to take vows at Fontevrault Abbey. (He also refused to return her dowry). Henry IV initially refused to let Isabelle of France, child widow of Richard II, return to France and pressured her to marry his own heir the future Henry V (who married her much younger sister Catherine instead). Henry VII Tudor refused to let his widowed daughter-in-law Catherine of Aragon return to Spain, refused to return her dowry, *and* refused to maintain her in the state/manner expected for a Dowager Princess of Wales. (He was notoriously mean, but this was just a start for what poor Catherine would get from his son post the divorce).

    Alys was however a royal fiancee, not a child widow or a teenaged widow. (All three marriages above were reportedly unconsummated, with two being marriages to child wives under 10). Her sister Marguerite, widow of Henry II’s eldest surviving son, eventually got back her dowry in the form of payments to be made. The actual land – Gisors and the Norman Vexin – was transferred to Alys’s dowry. And of course, Henry II didn’t want to give Richard these castles, nor did Richard want to return those castles once he inherited everything.

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