Constance of Arles was born circa 986 as the daughter of William I, Count of Provence and Adelaide-Blanche of Anjou. In 1001, Constance became the third wife of King Robert II of France. He had divorced his first wife Rozala of Italy and his second marriage to Bertha of Burgundy had been eventually annulled.
The troubles Robert experienced with his second marriage did not entice him to form a close relationship with his new bride. Her entourage was also seen as “strange in their clothing and their comportment, eccentric by their arms and the harnessing of their mound…” Robert maintained a strong relationship with his stepson by Bertha, Odo II, Count of Blois, which also undermined his relationship with Constance.
Constance and Robert went on to have six children together: Hedwig, Hugh Magnus, Henry I of France, Adela, Robert I, Duke of Burgundy and Eudes. However, bearing his children did nothing to prevent him from turning against her as he was under the influence of his favourite, Hugh of Beauvais. Constance had no choice but to turn to her own family. In response, twelve knights of Fulk, Count of Anjou, assassinated Hugh, “under the King’s eyes.” This certainly did not help their relationship either, and in 1010, Robert went to Rome to reportedly seek papal approval for a divorce. Bertha even followed him to Rome, hoping for permission to remarry Robert. Constance stayed behind with her son Hugh at Theil, fearing the worst.
It is not clear how the marriage was saved in the end. There’s a miracle associated with Constance that said that Saint Savinian appeared to her at night, saying that she had been “liberated from impending sadness by a gracious God.” Afterwards, Robert returned and apparently “loved his wife more.” Nevertheless, disputes continued over the education of their children, and when their sons subsequently rebelled, she was blamed and not Robert. Possibly at Constance’s instigation, their son Hugh was crowned during his father’s lifetime. The boy was only nine years old, and Constance was criticised for her “foolish course of action.” Hugh died on 17 September 1025 at the age of 18 before officially succeeding his father. As the line of succession was not quite as rigid, Constance and Robert faced deciding who should now succeed Robert. Robert preferred his eldest son Henry, but Constance thought her third son would make the better King. It was reported that “his mother, possessed of a feminine rage, opposed the father and all those who helped him, asserting that the most apt to govern the kingdom was the third son Robert…” In 1027, Henry was crowned as junior King.
Constance was widowed on 29 July 1031 and then “there arose again between the mother and her sons a cruel discord and the old hatred of the past loosed the furies of yesteryear.” Constance probably did not want to relinquish control of the royal lands and was thus now at odds with her son. Another explanation could be a conflict over her dower. Either way, Henry besieged his mother at the town of Poissy, and she barely had time to escape to Pontoise. Yet, when he besieged the town of Puiset, Constance threw herself at her son’s feet to help save the unfortunate town’s people. Peace was then restored between them.
Constance died sometime in 1034, and she was buried with her husband at the Basilica of St. Denis. History has not been kind to Constance even though she performed her duties as Queen. She gave birth to several sons and built palaces. She had faced several challenges as a new bride, lived in fear of repudiation and never achieved the full confidence of her husband.1