Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia married four times. His first wife was Blanche of Valois. They both met as children at the French court. The marriage of Blanche and Charles was one of four royal marriages that tied the Bohemian royal family to the French royal family in the 14th century.
Early Life in France
Blanche was born around 1316, as the youngest daughter of Charles, Count of Valois, and his third wife, Matilda of Chatillon. Blanche’s father was a French prince – he was the second son of Philip III, King of France. Blanche’s name at birth was Margaret, but she was always called Blanche, allegedly because of her fair hair. In 1323, John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia, sent his eldest son, Wenceslaus to the French court for his education. There he was renamed Charles after the French king at the time, Charles IV. From then on, the Bohemian prince was known by his new name.
The French and Bohemian royal families already had a connection – the previous year, King Charles married Marie of Luxembourg, the sister of John. As the King’s first cousin, Blanche would have spent much of her time with Marie. When Blanche and Charles of Bohemia first met in 1323, they were both about seven years old. That same year they were betrothed. In 1324 Marie gave birth prematurely to a son after she was involved in a carriage accident. Both she and her son died. Despite this, the ties between France and Bohemia remained in place. King Charles married again but had no surviving sons. When he died in 1328, the French crown went to Blanche’s older half-brother, Philip, as Charles’ closest living male relative. This caused Blanche’s status to grow even more.
Marriage with the Bohemian heir
After the betrothal, Blanche lived with her mother until 1330, when she left for Luxembourg to join Charles. Soon afterwards, Charles was called by his father to campaign in Northern Italy. Blanche remained in Luxembourg for the next four years, while Charles was in Italy.
Finally, in 1334 Charles returned to Bohemia. Blanche would join him there on 12 June of that year. She was warmly welcomed by the nobility, clergy, and citizens of Prague. A month after her arrival, most of the people who accompanied Blanche on her journey returned to France. It was possibly a move to avoid disputes with the Bohemian courtiers. Blanche quickly learned both Czech and German, so she could communicate with the people in her new country.
Blanche quickly became pregnant after her arrival, and in May 1335, she gave birth to a daughter named Margaret. Blanche was said to have been very popular in Prague. She was admired for her beauty and introduced her new homeland to the latest French fashions. However, her life could not have been very easy. She seems to have had a difficult relationship with her father-in-law, John. In 1336, John brought his new bride, Blanche’s second cousin, Beatrice of Bourbon, to Prague. Beatrice was always compared unfavourably to Blanche. Blanche knew Czech, but Beatrice did not. Possibly due to a falling out with John or Beatrice, Blanche and her daughter moved to Brno in 1337. Brno was located in Moravia, a different region of Bohemia. As heir to the Bohemian throne, Charles held the title Margrave of Moravia. Blanche stayed there for the next several years.
Blanche seems to have returned to court by 1342, which was also the year that her second daughter Catherine was born. By then, Beatrice of Bourbon had left Bohemia. That same year, a marriage between Louis I of Hungary, and Blanche’s elder daughter, Margaret was contracted. It was finalized in 1347.
Queen of Bohemia
John was killed in the Battle of Crecy on 26 August 1346. This event made Charles and Blanche the new King and Queen of Bohemia. Even before John’s death, Charles was elected King of the Romans in opposition to Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV. Charles and Blanche were crowned as King and Queen of Bohemia on 2 September 1347 at St Vitus Cathedral in Prague. For this event, a new coronation code for the Kings and Queens of Bohemia was written. New crowns were made for the ceremony. In the 1980s, a golden crown that probably belonged to Blanche was found in the Sroda Treasure.
One month after the coronation, Emperor Louis IV died, and now Charles could take more steps to becoming Holy Roman Emperor. Charles finally reached the imperial title in 1355. However, Blanche did not live long enough to become Holy Roman Empress. She died on 1 August 1348 in Prague, after a brief illness, aged 32. She is sometimes thought to have died from the bubonic plague, but it did not reach Bohemia until two years later. Blanche was buried in the St Vitus Cathedral.
Charles, who was still in need of a son, remarried to Anne of Bavaria less than a year after Blanche’s death. Blanche did not enjoy her status as Queen for long, but Charles never forgot his first wife. Blanche and Charles knew each other since childhood, and some believe that out of his four wives, Blanche was the one he loved the most. Thirty years later, near the end of his life, Charles made one last visit to France. There he met with Blanche’s sister, Isabella, Duchess of Bourbon. They were said to have talked about Blanche and wept at her memory.1