Late 11th century France was shocked when their king, Philip I, left his wife for the already-married Bertrade de Montfort. Bertrade’s husband, Fulk IV, Count of Anjou, also had a questionable marital history himself. As for Bertrade, she was seen as a temptress, a beautiful but immoral woman.
Countess of Anjou
Bertrade was born around 1070, as the daughter of Simon I of Montfort and Agnes of Evreux. Her family was based in the Duchy of Normandy. In 1087, after the death of her father, Bertrade was placed under the care of her maternal uncle, the Count of Evreux. Apparently, this was around the time when Fulk IV of Anjou first noticed her. At the time, Fulk was married to his fourth wife. His first wife had died during their marriage, and he divorced each of his following ones. Fulk divorced for the third time in the same year, and in 1089 he married Bertrade. According to the chronicler, John of Marmoutier: “The lecherous Fulk then fell passionately in love with the sister of Amaury de Montfort, whom no good man ever praised save for her beauty.”
By 1092, Bertrade had given her husband a son, also named Fulk. Her marriage would not last long. That same year, she caught the attention of King Philip I of France.
Bertrade runs off with the King
In May 1092, Philip met with Fulk at Tours. There he also met Bertrade. Philip was trying to repudiate his current wife, Bertha of Holland. Bertha had given him three children, of which a son and a daughter survived. Tired of Bertha, Philip sent her away the year before and had her imprisoned. At the time he met Bertrade, he was planning on marrying Emma of Sicily. However, the meeting with Bertrade ended all of those plans. On 16 May 1092, Bertrade left her husband and Anjou with the King. There are various speculations about what led to this event. Did Bertrade and Philip fall in love? Was Bertrade hungry for power? Was Philip plotting against Fulk? Whatever the truth, this was to cause a huge scandal for them both.
Bertrade and Philip married that fall, but their marriage was not seen as valid by the church. Yves, Bishop of Chartres, was the first to oppose the marriage. He refused to attend the wedding, and then he wrote to the Pope about the adulterous union. When Philip found out about this, he had the Bishop jailed. The Pope was also opposed to this union and excommunicated Philip and Bertrade.
Philip’s first wife Bertha died in 1093, but her death did not settle things. Philip and Bertrade remained excommunicated, and France was placed under interdict. In 1096, Philip lied to the Pope, saying that he set Bertrade aside. The Pope believing this, lifted the interdict, but not the excommunication on Philip and Bertrade. Despite the opposition from the church, Bertrade was recognised as Queen.
Philip and Bertrade had three children together: two sons named Philip and Fleury, and a daughter named Cecile. By his first marriage, Philip had a daughter, Constance, and a son, Louis. Louis, being the oldest son was, of course, Philip’s heir instead of Bertrade’s sons.
Rumours about Bertrade trying to poison Louis, in order for her own son to become king, were started. It is hard to tell if there was any truth to these rumours. The excommunication of Philip and Bertrade was finally lifted in 1104. Bertrade’s first husband Fulk never married again. Oddly enough, in 1106, Philip and Bertrade returned to Anjou. There, Fulk warmly welcomed them and threw them a grand feast.
From Scandalous Queen to Nun
Philip died in 1108. At one point, Philip, Bertrade’s older son by the king revolted against his half-brother, Louis, trying to take the throne. It’s not certain if Bertrade was involved in this. Later, Bertrade ironically retired to the religious life. She became a nun in 1115 and founded the priory of Haute-Bruyere. She died at her priory in 1117 and was buried there.
Although Bertrade’s son never became king of France, Fulk, her son from the first marriage later became King of Jerusalem. Also through Fulk, she was an ancestor of the Plantagenet dynasty.1