The article was written by Carol.
Have you ever wondered why so many European medieval noblewomen were called Yolanda? Well, I did, and I discovered that most of them can be traced back to one ancestress, Yolanda of Guelders (c1090-1131), also known as Yolanda of Wassenberg.
Yolanda had one daughter named Yolanda, two granddaughters named Yolanda and two great-granddaughters named Yolanda: Yolanda of Flanders and Yolanda of Coucy. From these women, at least 43 additional Yolandas can be counted among her descendants. Through the generations, parents continued to name their daughters after their mothers, grandmothers, and aunts named Yolanda. Their lives illustrate how European nobility used marriages for strategic advantage, sending their daughters to foreign lands to fend for themselves.
Yolanda of Guelders was the second daughter of Gerard I, Count of Guelders. Around 1108, she married Baldwin III, Count of Hainault. Baldwin broke his engagement to Adelaide of Maurienne in order to marry Yolanda. Adelaide’s aunt, Clementia of Burgundy, the Countess of Flanders, was incensed at what she called this insult from “so small a count.” Clementia went so far as to take the matter to the Pope, who happened to be her brother. Baldwin was called to a hearing, but the Pope ruled that there was nothing to be done since the marriage was a done deal. (Adelaide ended up marrying King Louis VI of France and was said to have “rejoiced to be Queen of France rather than Countess of Hainault.”) Perhaps this was a love match, or perhaps the alliance with Guelders was important to Baldwin. Yolanda would also have been seen as a prestigious bride because she could trace her descent from Charlemagne, a still valuable asset at the time. When Baldwin III died in 1120, Yolanda became regent of Hainault for her young son Baldwin IV. She married a second time to Godfrey de Ribemont of Valenciennes and had two more children. She was also credited with the founding of the town of Binche in Belgium, now known for its Shrove Tuesday festivities.
Yolanda’s son Baldwin IV married Alice of Namur around 1130. They had eight children together, the eldest was a daughter named Yolanda of Hainault (1131-1202). Giselbert of Mons, who chronicled Baldwin IV’s reign, mentioned Yolanda of Hainault frequently as being among the most beautiful women in Europe. Yolanda married first Ivo of Soissons and later Hugh, Count of St. Pol. Hugh participated in the 3rd and 4th crusades and died in Constantinople in 1205. She had two daughters with Hugh.
Baldwin IV’s heir was his son Baldwin V, Count of Hainault. Baldwin V reunited Hainault and Flanders by marrying the Flanders heir, Margaret. Their second daughter, known as Yolanda of Flanders (1175-1219) married Peter of Courtenay, grandson of King Louis VI of France (yes, Adelaide’s grandson!). Her two brothers, Baldwin and Henry, were both Latin Emperors in Constantinople. When Henry died, Yolanda’s husband Peter was chosen as the next emperor. Peter disappeared en route to Constantinople (presumably killed). Yolanda of Flanders had gone ahead to Constantinople, and while waiting for him, she served as Regent, making peace with Theodore Laskaris of Nicea, to whom she married one of her daughters. Eventually, when it was clear Peter would not be returning, she ruled in her own right. She died shortly after that in 1219.
Earlier, Yolanda’s brother Henry, while he was Emperor, had arranged the marriage of Yolanda’s daughter Yolanda of Courtenay (c.1200-1233) to King Andrew II of Hungary. Hungary was an important ally for the crusaders as the route to the east went through Hungary. Yolanda of Courtenay married Andrew in 1215. She was only 15 or so and had a lot to deal with. Her predecessor, Andrew’s first wife, had recently been murdered by angry Hungarian nobles. She was crowned Queen Consort, but the authority for this was immediately questioned by one of the Bishops, and the Pope had to intervene. And her husband, who thought he was going to be named Latin Emperor, lost out on the job to her father. However, she appears to have been a good step-mother to Andrew’s children and his son King Bela IV named a daughter after her.
Yolanda and Andrew had only one daughter, Yolanda of Hungary (c.1215-1251), who married King James I of Aragon. Yolanda of Hungary (known as Violant in Spanish) was King James’ second wife. She was considered smart and statesmanlike and had a great deal of influence on her husband’s policies. She was at James’ side as they rode into Valencia on 9 October 1238 having expelled the Moors. October 9 is still celebrated today in Valencia. Her insistence that her children each be provided with territory caused much uncertainty as James constantly rewrote his will divvying up his Kingdom in different ways, none of which were popular with the Aragonese. In some ways, her death created stability in Aragon.
Their eldest daughter, Violant of Aragon (1236-1301), was Queen Consort of Castile and León. She had been married to King Alfonso X of Castile in order to create a truce between Aragon and Castile who were each trying to expand its borders by overpowering their neighbours. Alfonso used his wife as an intermediary when trying to get James to support his warfare. James himself said: “he could not say no to his daughter, even when he wished to say no to her husband.” When Alfonso died, a dispute arose about the succession. Alfonso and Violant’s oldest son had predeceased his father but had left two minor sons. Their second son Sancho claimed the throne over his nephews. Violant of Aragon was forced to flee with her grandchildren to her brother’s court in Aragon. Sancho made a deal with her bother King Pedro II of Aragon whereby the children were kept virtual prisoners in the fortress of Xativa. Some say Violant was bribed as well to acquiesce. They never regained their inheritance.
Alfonso and Violant’s daughter Beatrice of Castile married William VII, Marquess of Montferrat. Montferrat was strategically placed in what is now northern Italy. To counter the French who were attempting to control the area, William allied with Castile and for a time was successful in expanding his control over much of Lombardy including Milan. Their daughter Yolanda of Montferrat (1274-1317) was married to the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos II of Palaiologos in 1284. Yolanda of Montferrat took the name Irene and became Empress Irene. Similar to her great grandmother, Empress Irene wanted the empire divvied up for her children at the expense of the Emperor’s sons by his first wife. This was in conflict with the Eastern customs. Her aggressiveness on this topic eventually led to the collapse of her marriage, and she retired to her own court in Thessaloniki, which the Montferrat family still claimed in descent from the crusader Boniface of Montferrat.
Irene’s son Theodore eventually inherited Montferrat. He married his daughter Yolanda of Montferrat (1318-1342) to Aimery of Savoy in an effort to make peace between Savoy and Montferrat. One of the provisions was that in the event the male line of Montferrat died out, the Duchy of Montferrat would become part of Savoy. Two hundred years later this came to pass, but when Yolanda of Montferrat’s descendant Charles III, Duke of Savoy tried to incorporate Montferrat, he was overruled by the much more powerful Emperor Charles V.
Yolanda of Montferrat and Aimery of Savoy’s daughter Bianca married Gian Galeazzo Visconti of Milan. Their daughter Violante Visconti (Italian for Yolanda) (1354-1386) married King Edward III of England’s son Lionel of Clarence. Gian Galeazzo was looking to buy his way into European royalty. He had married his son into the French royal family, and now with his daughter, he was buying himself an alliance with the King of England. Edward III, for his part, needed money for his war with France. The chronicler Froissart, who was a guest at the wedding, gives a detailed description of the lavish marriage ceremony and the excess of gifts and food. Unfortunately, Lionel died within months of the ceremony – not a good return on investment for Gian Galeazzo. Violante married again to her cousin Secondotto, Marquis of Montferrat. Secondotto was an unpleasant fellow who according to Barbara Tuchman “was given to strangling boy servants with his own hands.” He soon turned against his father-in-law and died shortly after that, perhaps at the hands of the Visconti. Her third marriage in 1381 was to another cousin who was soon killed by her brother. She died aged 32, three times a widow. This line of Yolandas thus ended after nearly 300 years.
Read part two for Yolanda of Coucy’s descendants, the French Yolandas.
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