Royal Women and the Black Death

(public domain)

The Black Death peaked in Europe between the years 1347 and 1353.  It was the most fatal pandemic in human history, killing millions.  Not even royals were safe from this.  During these years, a handful of royals died from the bubonic plague.  Here are some royal women who died during these years.  For some of them, the cause of death is not certain, but the plague seems to be the most likely cause.

Isabella of France, Dauphine of Viennois (c.1312-April 1348)  Daughter of King Philip V of France and Joan II, Countess of Burgundy.  She first married Guigues VIII, Dauphin of Viennois and had no children.  Her first husband was killed in a siege in 1333.  She married secondly to John III Lord of Faucogney.  This marriage was also childless.  Isabella was widowed for the second time in 1345 and did not remarry.  If it’s true if Isabella died of bubonic plague, she would have been one of the first fatalities in France, as it had just reached that country that year.

joan england
Joan of England (public domain)

Joan of England (c.1334-1 July 1348)  Daughter of King Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault.  Joan was betrothed to Peter, the heir to Castile in 1345.  Early in the summer of 1348, Joan and her retinue left England to prepare for her wedding.  Joan was heavily guarded and brought many riches with her.  At that time, the plague had not yet arrived in England.  Joan’s ship stopped in Bordeaux, France, on the way to the wedding.  Joan and her escort were said to have been warned about the plague when they arrived there, but they stayed anyway.  Soon members of Joan’s entourage began to fall ill and die.  In fear of her life, Joan possibly moved to a small village to escape the plague, but she succumbed to it on 1 July 1348.  Her death was a big shock to her family and proved that not even royalty was safe from the plague.

blanche burgundy
Blanche of Burgundy, Countess of Savoy (public domain)

Blanche of Burgundy, Countess of Savoy (c.1288-July 1348)  Daughter of Robert II, Duke of Burgundy and Agnes of France.  Sister of Joan “The Lame”, Queen of France, who also died from the plague.  Blanche married Edward, Count of Savoy and they had one daughter.  Given the time of Blanche’s death, the plague is a possibility.

Eleanor of Portugal, Queen of Aragon
Eleanor of Portugal, Queen of Aragon (public domain)

Eleanor of Portugal, Queen of Aragon (1328-30 October 1348)  Daughter of King Alfonso IV of Portugal and Beatrice of Castile.  She was the second wife of King Peter IV of Aragon, whom she married in 1347.  Eleanor had no children and succumbed to the plague almost a year after her wedding while travelling.  Her two-year-old stepdaughter, Maria, also died of the plague the same year.

Elisabeth of Sicily, Duchess of Bavaria (1310-March 1349)  Daughter of King Frederick III of Sicily and Eleanor of Anjou-Naples.  She married Stephen II, Duke of Bavaria and they had four children.  We could not find any sources that mention Elisabeth’s cause of death, but given the date, the plague is a strong possibility.

Margaret of Bohemia, Queen of Hungary (1335-c.7 September 1349)  Daughter of Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia and Blanche of Valois.  Blanche died a year earlier, from what some thought to have been the bubonic plague, but it had not yet arrived in Prague at the time.  Margaret married King Louis I of Hungary at a very young age and had no children.  Margaret died during an outbreak of the plague in Hungary, probably in September 1349.  Her aunt Bonne, Duchess of Normandy, also died of the plague that same month.

bonne luxembourg
Bonne of Luxembourg, with her husband Jean (public domain)

Bonne of Bohemia, Duchess of Normandy (1315-11 September 1349)  Daughter of John the Blind, King of Bohemia, and Elisabeth of Bohemia.  In 1332, she married John Duke of Normandy, heir of Philip VI of France, and they had ten children.  She died from the plague in September 1349, during her father-in-law’s lifetime, so she was never Queen.  Her niece Margaret, Queen of Hungary also died from the plague during the same month.  Bonne’s mother-in-law Joan the Lame, Queen of France also died from the plague three months later.  Bonne’s husband succeeded his father as King John II of France eleven months after her death.

Margaret Wake, Countess of Kent (c.1297-19 September 1349)  Daughter of John Wake, 1st Baron Wake of Liddell and Joan de Fiennes.  Margaret first married John Comyn, by whom she had one short-lived son.  John was killed in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.  In 1325, she remarried to Edmund, Earl of Kent, the youngest son of King Edward I of England.  By this marriage, she had three children, including Joan of Kent, later wife of Edward, the Black Prince, and mother of King Richard II of England.  Edmund was executed in 1330, and Margaret never remarried.  Her brother, Thomas Wake, 2nd Baron Wake of Liddell, died childless in May 1349, possibly from the plague.  Margaret briefly succeeded as Baroness Wake of Liddell but succumbed to the plague a few months later.

Catherine of Austria
Catherine of Austria (public domain)

Catherine of Austria, Lady of Coucy (1320-28 September 1349)  Daughter of Leopold I, Duke of Austria and Catherine of Savoy.  She first married Enguerrand VI, Lord of Coucy, and had one son.  Enguerrand was killed in a battle of the Hundred Years War around 1346.  In 1348, Catherine married for a second time to Konrad, Burgrave of Magdeburg.  This marriage was short and childless.  Konrad died of the plague on 25 September 1349, and Catherine followed him three days later.

Joan II, Queen of Navarre (1312-6 October 1349)  Daughter of King Louis X of France and Margaret of Burgundy.  She was a niece of Blanche, Countess of Savoy and Joan the Lame, Queen of France, who also both died from the plague.  Joan was Queen of Navarre in her own right.  In 1314, her mother was involved in the Tour de Nesle affair, imprisoned, and died the next year, possibly murdered.  Because of Margaret’s adultery, there was some doubt if Louis was really her father.  Louis remarried, but died in 1316, leaving his second wife, Clemence of Hungary pregnant.  Five months later, she gave birth to a son, John, who was proclaimed King of France and Navarre from birth, but he only lived five days.  Soon afterwards, the Salic Law was put in place, which barred female inheritance to the French throne.  This law was put in place mainly because of Joan’s alleged illegitimacy.  In turn, her two uncles succeeded as Kings of France and Navarre, but they also did not leave any sons.  In 1318, Joan was married to her cousin, Philip of Evreux.  Her last uncle died in 1328, and Joan became Queen of Navarre in her own right since that Kingdom did not use the Salic Law.  Joan and her husband ruled Navarre together until Philip’s death in 1343.  Together they had nine children.  Joan died from the plague in France in October 1349.

Joan of Burgundy
Joan of Burgundy (public domain)            

Joan “the Lame” of Burgundy, Queen of France (c.1293-12 December 1349)  Daughter of Robert II, Duke of Burgundy and Agnes of France.  Her sister, Blanche, also died of the plague.  Another sister, Margaret was the first wife of King Louis X of France, and mother of Queen Joan II of Navarre, who also died of the plague.  Joan married Philip of Valois in 1313 and had nine children.  In 1328, on the death of King Charles IV of France, the main Capetian line died out, and her husband was now the most senior member of the dynasty, and he succeeded as King Philip VI of France since the French throne could not be inherited through female lines.  Joan was known as “the lame” because of a deformity, which was considered a mark of evil.  Despite this, she was very politically influential and acted as regent when her husband was on campaigns during the Hundred Year’s War.  Her daughter-in-law, Bonne of Bohemia died of the plague in September 1349, and Joan followed her three months later.

Elizabeth of Carinthia
Elizabeth of Carinthia (public domain)

Elizabeth of Carinthia, Queen of Sicily (c.1298-c.1352)  Daughter of Otto III, Duke of Carinthia and Euphemia of Legnica.  In 1322, she married Peter of Sicily, who became King Peter II of Sicily in 1337.  Together they had nine children.  Peter died in 1342, and Elizabeth, along with her brother-in-law, John were regents of Sicily for her four-year-old son, Louis.  In 1348, John died from the plague, and Elizabeth became the main regent.  Elizabeth died during an outbreak of plague in Sicily, in as early as 1349/50 or as late as 1352.  Her oldest daughter Constance succeeded her as regent.  Both Constance and Louis also died from the plague in October 1355.

About CaraBeth 61 Articles
I love reading and writing about the royals of medieval Europe- especially the women. My interest was first started by the Plantagenet dynasty, but I decided to dive deeper, and discovered that there were many more fascinating royal dynasties in medieval Europe. Other dynasties I like reading and writing about are; the Capets, and their Angevin branch in Naples and Hungary, the Luxembourgs, the early Hapsburgs, the Arpads, the Piasts, the Premyslids and many more!

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