Berengaria of Navarre was born between 1165 and 1170 as the eldest daughter of Sancho VI of Navarre and Sancha of Castile. She was probably named after her maternal grandmother Berengaria of Barcelona. Berengaria suffers the same fate as many medieval women; we simply have little information about her.
Eleanor of Aquitaine wished for the engagement of Berengaria to her son Richard because Navarre bordered Aquitaine on the south. They probably met some years before their marriage for the first time. There were some complications with the betrothal because Richard had been betrothed to Alys of France, sister of Philip II of France for several years. Alys was rumoured to have become Richard’s father’s mistress and to have borne him an illegitimate child so that marriage would be impossible anyway due to affinity. Alys eventually married Count William IV of Ponthieu.
Richard was on the Third Crusade at the time of his marriage to Berengaria. Eleanor and Berengaria travelled together to Messina in Sicily in 1191. They were also joined by Richard’s sister Joan, the widowed Queen of Sicily. They were rescued by Richard when their ship ran aground near Cyprus. They were married on 12 May 1191 in the Chapel of St. George at Limassol on Cyprus.
Berengaria initially joined him on crusade, but they returned separately, and Richard was captured and imprisoned. During this time Berengaria was in Beaufort-en-Vallée to try and raise money for his ransom. He was eventually released, and he returned to England, but Berengaria did not join him there. Berengaria never set foot on English soil during their marriage. Richard was even ordered by Pope Celestine III to return to Berengaria. He did so, before dying in 1199. Berengaria is believed to have been genuinely upset at his death.
It is possible that Berengaria visited England after Richard’s death. Her pension due as a Dowager Queen was denied by King John, though payments resumed during the reign of Henry III.
Berengaria settled in Le Mans, which was a part of her dowry. She turned to religious life in L’Épau Abbey, and she was buried there when she died in 1230. A skeleton was found during the restoration of the abbey in 1960 which is presumed to be hers. These are now preserved beneath the stone effigy of Berengaria.
There is a biography written about Berengaria; however, according to the reviews, it doesn’t add much to the information we have. 1 You can find some of Berengaria’s letters online, though, yet I’m afraid she’ll remain largely a mystery to us! 2