Beatrice of Bourbon raised some interest a few years ago when historians determined that she was possibly the first person to survive a cesarean section. Other than that, she has not made much of a mark on history. She was married to John of Luxembourg, who was king of Bohemia in right of his first wife, Elisabeth of Bohemia. Beatrice did not spend much time in her husband’s kingdom and was not a popular queen.
Beatrice of Bourbon was born around 1318/1320, as a daughter of Louis I, Duke of Bourbon and Marie of Hainaut. She belonged to the House of Bourbon, a branch of France’s royal Capetian dynasty. She was first betrothed to Philip of Taranto, from the royal family of Naples, but it was eventually broken off. Beatrice’s sister, Marie, would later marry Philip’s younger half-brother, Robert.
Elisabeth of Bohemia died in 1330, after twenty years of a troubled marriage and after giving John seven children. John eventually started looking for a second wife, and he considered Elisabeth, daughter of Frederick of Austria. However, John preferred a French connection. In the autumn of 1334, he met Beatrice at the court of her second cousin, King Philip VI of France. John and Beatrice married in December 1334 at the Chateau de Vincennes in the presence of the French king. The marriage of Beatrice was the latest in a string of marriages connecting the French and Bohemian royal families. In 1332, John’s daughter Judith (known as Bonne in France) was married to King Philip’s son and heir, John. In 1323, a marriage between John’s eldest son, Charles, and Philip’s youngest sister, Blanche was contracted. It was finalised in 1329. In 1322, John’s sister, Marie, was married to Philip’s cousin, Charles IV, who was king of France at the time, but this marriage produced no surviving children.
John’s sons, Charles and John-Henry, were not informed about their father’s wedding right away and they were apparently not happy about it. Beatrice was about two years younger than Charles, and about four years older than John-Henry. Because John was only king of Bohemia by his first marriage, any children born to his marriage with Beatrice would have no right to the Bohemian throne. They would be able to inherit John’s native county of Luxembourg, however. Beatrice did not arrive in Bohemia until January 1336, a year after her wedding.
The Birth of Beatrice’s son
On 25 February 1337, Beatrice gave birth to her only child, a son named Wenceslaus. The circumstances of Wenceslaus’ birth have received some attention recently. In 2016, researchers in Prague claimed that Wenceslaus was born by c-section, and used contemporary and near-contemporary sources to explain their claim. This included two letters from Beatrice, announcing the birth of her son. Another one is a Flemish chronicle that says that Wenceslaus was taken from his mother’s body, and the wound healed. However, none of the sources directly refer to Beatrice’s stomach being cut open, and some historians question the truth of these claims. If a c-section was indeed performed, Beatrice must have lost consciousness during the labour and was thought to be dead or dying. In the middle ages, c-sections were only performed as a last-minute attempt to save the baby if the mother was dead or dying. Cutting open a living woman would likely lead to death due to shock, blood loss, or infection. Even if Beatrice did not have a c-section, it’s still likely that the sources referred to a difficult childbirth.
The name Wenceslaus was common in the Bohemian royal family. Neither Beatrice nor John were born into this family, and this name was not used in their native countries of France and Luxembourg. It has been suggested that Beatrice chose this name to win the favour of the Czech people. It has also been suggested that this name was chosen in order to give thanks to Bohemia’s patron saint, Wenceslaus, for Beatrice’s and her son’s survival.
Beatrice was not very popular in her new country. She never learned the Czech language and was blamed for having a cold nature towards the people. Her cousin, Blanche of Valois, the wife of her stepson, Charles, knew the language and was much more popular. Beatrice and Blanche were close though, as they were able to communicate in the same language. Beatrice’s coronation did not take place until May 1337. Apparently, the coronation did not go well, and on 1 July 1337, Beatrice left Bohemia, never to return. She took her son with her. She spent the rest of John’s reign in Luxembourg. It was said that the Czech people rejoiced her departure more than her presence.
John was killed in the Battle of Crecy on 26 August 1346, fighting for the French king against the English. Her stepson Charles, now King of Bohemia, granted Beatrice all of her widow’s property. Beatrice enjoyed a rich social life in Brussels and loved art. She was allowed to keep her title, Queen of Bohemia for the rest of her life. Around 1347, Beatrice married for a second time, to Eudes II, Lord of Grancey. This marriage was childless, possibly due to the difficult birth of Wenceslaus. Around this time, Beatrice arranged for her son to marry Joanna, Duchess of Brabant in her own right. The wedding took place in 1351. Before his death, John wanted to grant Luxembourg to Wenceslaus. Charles at first held the county but finally granted it to him in 1353.
Beatrice outlived all of her stepchildren, as well as her own son by sixteen days. She died on 23 December 1383 and was buried in the Jacobins convent in Paris. Her standing tomb effigy was later moved to the French royal mausoleum of Saint Denis, where it can still be seen today. 1
“Was a 14th c. queen the first to survive a cesarean?” on The History Blog
de Goeij, Hana; “A Breakthrough in C-Section History: Beatrice of Bourbon’s survival in 1337.”
Killgrove, Kristina; “Historians Question Medieval C-Section ‘Breakthrough’, Criticize New York Times Coverage.”
Ladyova, Jana; “Czech Queen Beatrice of Bourbon: She survived the Cesarean section in the 14th century!”