Yolanda of Bar was born in 1365, the daughter of Robert Duke of Bar and Marie of Valois, a daughter of the French King John II. Yolanda had a pampered upbringing and given the education of a royal princess. At the age of 15, she married the heir to the Crown of Aragon, John Duke of Girona.
John had recently been widowed, and his father Peter, and step-mother, Sibila of Fortia wanted him to marry Maria of Sicily for political reasons. John, who did not get along with his step-mother was more interested in a French connection. Against his parents’ wishes, he married Yolanda in 1380. It was effectively the final break with his parents. His younger brother Martin later married Maria.
Yolanda was young, vivacious and pretty. She enjoyed dressing in fine gowns and jewels and attending balls and festivities. The Duchy of Girona where she and John lived became a rival court to Aragon, further alienating Peter and Sibila.
In 1387 Peter died, and John and Yolanda became King and Queen of Aragon. Sibyl was removed from court and pensioned off. John and Yolanda initiated a new festival which focused on the art of the Troubadour, called “the Gay Science.” Critics complained that “all life was spent in dances and ladies assemblies.”
Trouble however soon appeared. John was often ill. Scholars believe he may have had epilepsy. Doctors were brought to court from Paris and Barcelona but were unable to cure him. He went on pilgrimages, and Yolanda vowed to give up all her luxuries in return for his health His health did not improve, however, and he was often too ill to rule. Yolanda was made “Queen-Lieutenant” in order to allow her to act as regent, which she continued to do throughout his reign.
Where John was temperamental and emotional, Yolanda was more pragmatic. At the beginning of his rule the Aragonese parliament, the Corts, made several demands that John angrily denounced. Yolanda was able to suggest compromises that allowed the issues to be resolved. Later in 1391 one of John’s biggest crises in his reign were riots against the Jewish population. Again, it was Yolanda’s calmness that helped put down the violence.
In 1395, John fell off his horse, perhaps during a seizure, and was killed. Yolanda and John had had several children, but only their daughter Yolanda had survived childhood. The Corts was in favour of giving the crown to John’s brother Martin, but he was in Sicily fighting. To further complicate matters Yolanda said she was pregnant. Martin’s wife, Maria of Sicily ( the prospective bride John had renounced 15 years earlier) stepped forward and had herself appointed Queen Lieutenant. She immediately called a parliament to examine the issue of Yolanda’s pregnancy, and it was eventually disproved, and Martin became King of Aragon.
Yolanda remained in Aragon and focused on finding a husband for her daughter. She eventually married her to the French King’s brother, Louis Duke of Anjou. They continued to contest the Crown of Aragon, and the younger Yolanda titled herself Queen of Aragon throughout her life. Yolanda of Bar died in Barcelona in 1431, 36 years after her husband. 1
- Source: Besson, The Medieval Crown of Aragon ↩