he main characters in THE SISTER QUEENS, Marguerite and Eleanor, may have been the daughters of the Count of Provence, but much of their real power and attraction as royal brides lay in another family connection. These remarkable 13th century women were related through their mother to the house of Savoy. The Savoyards were celebrities in the High Middle ages—a family of considerable political and marital power, whose members were renowned for their personal attractiveness. People wanted to be like the Savoyards, and people (even kings and popes) wanted to be seen with them.
Eleanor had a particularly close connection with her Uncle Peter, Count of Savoy. In December of 1240 Peter arrived in England to advise and support his niece. Henry III of England took to Peter immediately and made much of him—eventually knighting him and granting Peter the Honor of Richmond.
From this point on Peter spent significant time in England, but ever a Savoyard, he did not sever his relationships with his native territory nor with his powerful brothers. Peter owned the legendary Chateau Chillon on the banks of Lake Geneva. He gained this stronghold—and with it control of the road from Burgundy to the Great Saint Bernard Pass and a fleet of ships on Lake Geneva—beginning in 1234 (when he and all the Savoyard brother’s met there upon the death of their father to negotiate a settlement which recognized Amadeus as the head of the house and allowed them to work together to the aggrandizement of all Savoyards rather than turning on each other and diminishing the house through infighting).
I first visited Chateau Chillon when I was 20 years old. It is a marvelously memorable fortress. Here today are some pictures of “Uncle Peter’s place” courtesy of my middle-child who (in her mother’s footsteps) was there today.
January 31, 1246 – On this day (and as a result of the earlier secret conclave at Cluny) Beatrice, Countess of Provence, marries Charles d’Anjou, brother of Louis IX at Aix in Provence.
A list of “medieval celebrities” are present at the marriage, including: the bride’s sister Marguerite (Queen of France) and her husband Louis IX; Blanche of Castile, Dowager Queen of France; the Dowager Countess Beatrice of Provence; and the bride’s prestigious Savoyard Uncles (Thomas and Count Amadeus IV). When the groom complains noisily that the event lacks sufficient grandeur (he had expected a magnificent affair in Sens or Paris), Marguerite is NOT amused. Eleanor of Provence will learn of her sister’s marriage into the Capetian line only after-the-fact, and she will be furious.