The Yolanda Chronicles – Tracing Yolanda through history (Part two)

Yolanda of Dreux
Yolanda of Dreux (public domain)

This article was written by Carol.

Read part one here.

The name Yolanda frequently appears in the history books of the Middle Ages in Europe. It appears that almost all these Yolandas can be traced back to Yolanda of Guelders (c1090-1131), Countess of Hainault. In part one, we traced her descendants mainly through her great-grandaughter Yolanda of Flanders. Let’s return now to her other great-granddaughter, Yolanda of Coucy (1164-1222). She was the daughter of Agnes of Hainault and Raoul de Coucy, owner of the famous Castle of Coucy in France. She also married a grandson of King Louis VI, Robert II of Dreux and through her a French line of Yolandas descend. She was the mother of Robert III, Count of Dreux, Peter of Brittany and Yolanda of Dreux (1196-1240), among others.

Robert III’s grandson Robert IV, Count of Dreux, married Beatrice of Montfort. Their daughter Yolanda of Dreux (1263-1330) married King Alexander III of Scotland in 1285. The match was most likely made by Alexander’s mother, the Dowager Queen of Scotland, who was married to Beatrice’s step-father. Alexander was a widower whose children had all died; his heir was his young granddaughter, known as the Maid of Norway. He was looking for a son as well an alliance to shore up support against England. Just a few months after their marriage, Alexander was returning after dark from Edinburgh to join Yolanda for her birthday. Because it was a stormy night, his aides entreated him to wait until morning. Alexander was determined to continue and set off. Somehow he lost his way and was thrown from his horse. His body was found in the morning. It appeared that Yolanda was pregnant so the Scots were hopeful a son would be born. However, she either had a miscarriage, or the baby died. When the Maid of Norway also died, Scotland was plunged into a period of disarray.

Yolanda returned to France where she married Arthur II, Duke of Brittany. Arthur’s son and heir by his first wife, John III, Duke of Brittany, did not like his new step-mother. When Arthur died, John tried to have Yolanda’s marriage with his father annulled, and his step-siblings declared illegitimate. He did not have any heirs of his own, but he did not want Brittany to go to Yolanda’s children. Instead, his brother’s daughter came forward as his heir. On his death, this sparked the War of Breton Succession which lasted over 20 years and became embroiled in the Hundred years war between France and England. It was eventually settled in favour of Yolanda’s grandson John of Montfort.

Yolanda of Dreux and Arthur of Brittany’s daughter Joan married Robert of Flanders, a younger son of Robert III, Count of Flanders and Yolanda II, Countess of Nevers (1247-1280). This Yolanda was an heiress, descended from both Yolanda of Hainault and Yolanda of Coucy.

Joan of Brittany and Robert of Flanders’ daughter Yolanda of Flanders (1331-1395) married Henry IV, Count of Bar. Bar was strategically located, owing allegiance partly to the Holy Roman Emperor and partly to the French crown. Yolanda was just 18 with two young sons when her husband died. Yolanda was regent for her son and had to battle her in-laws who attempted to take the county. At one point, her husbands’ great-aunt, Joan of Bar, Countess of Salisbury convinced the French King John II to name her the regent instead of Yolanda. Rumour had it that Joan and John had an affair while John was being held for ransom in England after the Battle of Poitiers. Yolanda of Flanders fought back by marrying Philip, brother of King Charles II of Navarre. Since Charles and Philip were constantly warring against their cousins, the French Kings, this was considered a very provocative move. Yolanda was actually imprisoned by the King a couple of times. Things settled down with Yolanda’s son Robert marrying King John II’s daughter Marie. John even sweetened the deal by making Robert a Duke.

Robert I, Duke of Bar and Marie had a daughter, Yolanda of Bar (1365-1431), who married John I, King of Aragon and became known as Violant. When Violant arrived in Aragon, she was a young, pretty pampered princess interested in fashion and parties. However, by the time they inherited the throne of Aragon, it was clear that John was not well, perhaps suffering from epilepsy and his temperamental nature led to conflicts with the Aragon parliament. Violant vowed to give up all her luxuries in exchange for his health. She also was named Queen Lieutenant (regent) during periods of his illness, and her pragmatic approach helped resolve many issues.

In 1395, King John died with no son to succeed him. For quite some time, Violant claimed to be pregnant and thus tried to hold off her brother-in-law, Martin’s accession to the throne. When the pregnancy story was no longer credible, she tried to press her daughter’s claim, but this too was unsuccessful. She now turned her attention to the marriage of her daughter Yolanda of Aragon (1384-1442.) Yolanda of Aragon had initially turned down an offer from her cousin Louis of Anjou but now with diminished prospects took him up on it, marrying in 1400.

Yolanda of Aragon was now back in France, the birthplace of her mother. King Charles VI, the mad King of France, was on the throne, and the resulting lack of leadership plunged France into a civil war. Yolanda was in the thick of it for the next 40 years as peacemaker, diplomat and instigator in turn. She broke with the Burgundian faction from the beginning, ending the engagement of her son to John of Burgundy’s daughter and sending the 10-year-old Catherine back to her parents. She then made a pact with King Charles VI and Queen Isabeau and engaged her daughter Marie to their youngest son, Charles. Charles lived with her from the age of 11 and called her his “Bonne Mere.” After Charles’ two older brothers unexpectedly died, and he was now heir to the throne, she refused to return him to Queen Isabeau who had become aligned with the Burgundian/English faction.

She wrote: “We have not nurtured and cherished this one for you to make him die like his brothers, or go mad like his father, or to become English like you. I keep him for my own. Come and get him if you dare.” She was responsible for getting the parties to sign a peace treaty, but it did not hold. Nancy Goldstone’s book The Maid and the Queen makes the case that it is Yolanda who props up King Charles VII to continue to fight for his throne and it is Yolanda who is responsible for finding Joan of Arc to come to his aid. She is also known to have “borrowed” the famous illuminated manuscript “Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berri “ when the Duke died and then failing to return it. Eventually, she sent some paltry sum along to his heirs. She became known as the Queen of Four Kingdoms based on Louis’ claim to Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem and hers to Aragon although they did not control any of these. In addition to the Goldstone book, you can read more about her in Princess Michael of Kent’s historical novel The Queen of Four Kingdoms.

Eventually, Yolanda’s daughter Marie and Charles of France became King and Queen of France. Their daughter, Yolanda of France (1434-1478), married Amadeus IX, Duke of Savoy. Amadeus is thought to have been epileptic, and much of the administration of Savoy fell on Yolanda, particularly after Amadeus’s early death when she served as regent for her son. She is known for turning the Savoy castle of Moncalieri into a Renaissance palace, being devout and literary (she would travel with the Shroud of Turin), and for having been the first to own a tiger in Europe.

Her granddaughter, Yolanda Louise of Savoy (1487-1499), inherited all her father’s titles, including the titular claims of the Kingdoms of Cyprus, Jerusalem and Armenia, when her older brother died from a fall at Moncalieri. Although she was only nine, her uncle quickly married her to his son and grabbed the title Duke of Savoy for himself. Within months he too was dead. Tragically, she would die at the age of 12.

Another granddaughter of Yolanda of Aragon (Queen of Four Kingdoms) was Yolanda of Lorraine (1428-1453). She inherited both the Duchy of Lorraine from her mother and the Duchy of Bar from her father, Rene of Anjou. She married her cousin, Frederick of Vaudemont, to still the competing claim to Lorraine. Her younger sister was Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England The 19th-century play King Rene’s Daughter is a fictional account of Yolanda of Lorraine’s life that was then adapted by Tchaikovsky into his opera Iolanthe.

The last group of Yolandas descended from Peter of Brittany, younger son of Yolanda of Coucy. His daughter Yolanda of Brittany (c.1218-1272) was a prize on the marriage market back in the 13th century. At various times she was engaged to King Henry III of England (twice), John, the younger brother of King Louis IX, of France and the Count of Champagne. Eventually, she married Hugh of Lusignan who was a half brother of King Henry III of England. The Lusignans were a powerful family both in England and France.

Yolanda was Countess of Penthievre in her own right and Countess of La Marche and Angouleme through her marriage. Her granddaughter, Yolanda of Lusignan (1257-1314), became Countess of Lusignan and La Marche in her own right. The Yolandas in this line continue for another eight generations through to Yolanda Juvenal des Ursins who lived in the late 15th century and was a niece of the chronicler, Jean Juvenal des Ursins, who oversaw the 1455 trial that rehabilitated Joan of Arc.

Four hundred years later, European nobility seemed to move on from naming their daughters Yolanda. But if you are reading about a Yolanda during the Middle Ages, give a thought to Yolanda of Guelders who caused a scandal with her marriage back in the 1100s and spawned a total of 43 namesakes through 17 generations.

About Moniek Bloks 2701 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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