Queens in the Middle Ages had a very specific role in the monarchy as well as in society in general. They were sometimes rulers in their own right, but often one of their most important duties was to act as a regent when their king was unable to rule, whether the king was sick or too young to make intelligent decisions.
Duties of Queens in the Middle Ages
Medieval Times were overshadowed by deceit and secrecy, and , as such, one of the main duties of a Queen in the Middle Ages was to help the King and other nobility find ways to spy on rivals, ignite conflicts or wars or simply spread important gossip throughout the land. Queens often helped the King strategize or analyzed the meaning behind others’ words and actions.
Queens were among the King’s most trusted allies and confidants. This was because Queens were usually one of the only people, if not the sole person, that Kings spent time alone with. Queens in the Middle Ages were also in Kings’ inner circles of trusted fellows and advisers that served as a part of their entourage and accompanied them most everywhere.
Another important duty of Queens in the Middle ages was to produce a male heir. The purpose of this was to secure her husband’s hold (as well as hers to an extent) on the throne and the empire. Queens were greatly pressured to produce a healthy male baby, especially if they were pregnant for the first time. Infertile Queens in the Middle Ages were shunned, divorced, or sometimes killed.
Queens in the Middle Ages also lived as socialites and hostesses. Notable examples of this included Queen Eleanor of Provence and Queen Isabella of Angouleme. They are sometimes regarded as the first socialites of Europe. Socialite queens were responsible for the comfort and happiness of the guests at their many celebrations. They were also in charge of planning these celebrations, which included many feasts, balls and seasonal parties. Queens also accompanied the King to social functions in other kingdoms.
Sometimes Queens in the Middle Ages served as regents if their king was absent or ill. Examples of this include Berengaria of Navarre, Blanche of Castile and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Queens in the Middle Ages were also considered regents if their sons or other male relatives were thought of as too young to be good Kings. However, it is believed that the Queen was still not the highest power figure if she had an appropriate male heir to rule the throne, no matter how young he was.
Important Queens in the Middle Ages
Aethelflaed- It is supposed that Aethelflaed lived from around the time of 873-918 in England. Aethelflaed was the Lady of the Mercians, and the daughter of Alfred the Great.
Saint Adelaide- Adelaide lived in Italy from 931-999. She was a regent for her grandson, Otto III.
Aelfthryth- Aelfthryth lived in England from 945-1000 and was the mother of King Ethelred II the Unready and Edward the Martyr. She was married to King Edgar the Peaceable.
Aelfgifu- Aelfgifu lived in England from circa 985-1002. She was the first wife of King Ethelred the Unready. Her son, Edmund II Ironside, briefly ruled England during a time of transition.
Eleanor of Aquitaine- Eleanor lived in France and England from 1122-1204. She was married twice and ruled both France and England at different times. She also had birthrights to other territories. In the twelfth century she was one of the most powerful women on Earth.
Elanor, Queen of Castile- Eleanor lived from 1162-1204 and was the daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was the mother of Enrique I of Castile, Berenguela, who served as regent for Enrique, Blanche, who later became the Queen of France, Urraca, who became Queen of Portugal, and Eleanor who had a brief period of rule as the Queen of Aragon.
Berengaria of Navarre- Berengaria lived from circa 1165-1230. She was the queen consort of Richard the Lionhearted (Richard I of England). Though she was the Queen of England, Berengaria never actually lived in England or even visited the country.
Berenguela of Castile- Berenguela lived from 1180-1246. She served as a regent to her brother Enrique I (Henry) of Castile until he died. She decided to give up her rights to the throne following Enrique’s death, instead passing them to her son Ferdinand.
Isabella of France- Isabella lived from 1292-1358 in France and England. She was notorious for helping arrange the removal and murder of her husband Edward II. She then ruled with her lover while serving as a regent to her son. Later she was banished to a nunnery for her actions.
Isabella I of Spain- Isabella lived in Spain from 1451-1504. As Queen of Castile and Aragon, she had equal power with her husband Ferdinand. Isabella is famous as the sponsor of Christopher Columbus’s expedition to the New World.
Elizabeth of York- Elizabeth lived from 1466-1503 in England. She was married to Henry VII, and this marriage represented the beginning of the Tudor dynasty and the end of the wars of the roses. She was also the only woman to have been a sister, wife, mother, daughter, and niece to English Kings.
Anne of Cleves- Anne of Cleves lived in England from 1515-1557. She was the fourth wife of Henry VIII. When she later agreed willingly to divorce, she was allowed a peaceful life of retirement in rural England.
Elizabeth I of England- Elizabeth lived from 1533-1603 in England. She has been nicknamed the “Virgin Queen” or “Queen Bess.” She is one of the most famous and well-remembered British monarchs (male or female).
Lady Jane Grey- Lady Jane Grey lived in England from 1537-1534. She is known as the eight-day Queen of England.
Mary, Queen of Scots- Mary lived in France and Scotland from 1542-1587. She was briefly the Queen of France and was, for a time, a possible claimant to the British throne. She became Queen of Scotland when her father passed away. Mary was only a week old at the time, so her rule did not last long and was quite controversial.