Top 10 Queen Consorts | Sarah Stook
They say that behind every great man is a great woman. One supposes that is true. A strong marriage and partnership can be a true asset.
Sometimes, it may not be the marriage, but the woman who is the lone power.
In England and Great Britain, we’ve had many great monarchs. They’ve had some extraordinary Queen Consorts, intelligent women who have led troops into battle and used diplomacy to create peace. These women also used charity, arts and charisma to create a better place for the people to be.
Let’s take a look at the 10 most amazing Queen Consort we’ve had in our illustrious history.
1. Matilda of Flanders (c. 1031-1083)
Matilda of Flanders was born in roughly 1031 to Count Baldwin V and Adela of France. History states that Matilda believed herself to be too high-born to marry the bastard William of Normandy, though she was eventually won over. The marriage was very happy, with no recorded affairs or illegitimate children. They are believed to have had 10-11 children, though the true number of daughters is not certain.
Matilda was an incredibly capable ruler in her own right, holding down Normandy whilst her husband was away fighting. No major issues were had during her regency. She was also incredibly interested in her children’s education, all of whom were educated to the highest standard possible. This gave us two very educated kings: William II and Henry I. Under her regency, Normandy flourished as a cultured area.
She was also very shrewd. As a gift to her husband, she commissioned and designed a ship for him to sail to England on. This was supposedly a huge morale boost.
One issue in their marriage came about when Matilda financially supported their estranged son Robert. Robert has been furious with the disrespect given by his father and had almost accidentally killed him in battle. William was furious and cast Robert out. Matilda cried when confronted and told her husband how she was worried for their son, which then led to reconciliation by all parties.
Sadly, Matilda died in 1083 at the age of 51/52. She was widely mourned, especially by her husband. William chose not to remarry and turned more tyrannical without her influence.
Queen Matilda of Flanders was a deeply intelligent and shrewd politician. In her time in Normandy, there were no rebellions or uprisings, a testament to her character. She was a devoted spouse and mother who ensured her children were well-educated.
2. Eleanor of Aquitaine (1112-1204)
The daughter of William X, Duke of Aquitaine and Aénor de Châtellerault, Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the wealthiest women in Europe and certainly one of the most powerful. Upon her father’s death, Eleanor inherited all of his property and wealth, holding even more land than the King of France. Her father placed her in the care of Louis VI in order to protect her. In that same year, she was betrothed and married to Louis’ son and heir, also named Louis. Louis VI died a week after the wedding, thus Louis VII and Eleanor became rulers.
Eleanor was extremely well-educated, intelligent and headstrong, but unpopular at court and with the people. She was a huge influence on her husband and joined him at the Crusades. Soon enough, the marriage disintegrated. Eleanor tended to favour her own family over Louis. She’d also provided him with two daughters, but no male heir. It was decided in 1152 that the pair would have their marriage annulled on the grounds of consanguinity (they were closely related). Whilst their daughters remained legitimate, they were left with their father.
After the annulment, Eleanor regained control of Aquitaine, as it had been merged with France during her marriage. Only a couple months later, Eleanor married Henry Plantagenet. In 1154, Henry became Henry II.
The couple had five sons and three daughters. Three sons became King, whilst the daughters all married into European royalty. She left England for Poitiers in 1167. Eleanor was a huge proponent of the arts, especially the idea of chivalry and courtly love.
Come 1173, and Eleanor’s sons had enough of their father and his rule. Prince Henry decided to overthrow his father. Eleanor, who has been angered by her marriage and her husband’s infidelities, was believed to have sent two of younger sons to help Prince Henry. She unwisely left Poitiers but was captured by her husband. Eleanor was shuffled from castle to castle for 16 years until the death of Young King Henry, who begged his father to release his mother. She returned to England. Six years after her release, King Henry died.
Richard became king, but only spent six months in England during his reign. Eleanor ruled in his stead, putting money together for ransom and securing his release. In 1199, Richard died and John became king. Eleanor supported John when her grandson and his nephew Arthur, son of the late Geoffrey, tried to overthrow the monarch. In 1204, Eleanor died aged 82 in an abbey.
Eleanor was a young pawn early in life, married off for her money and lands. She was still an intelligent woman who refused to bend to the will of others and was a capable regent in her own right. Eleanor also refused to accept her husband’s infidelity as she was expected to. As a mother, she was fierce but loving.
3. Eleanor of Castile (1241-1290)
The daughter of Ferdinand III of Castile and Joan, Countess of Ponthieu, Eleanor was exceptionally well-educated for the time. She was an important pawn in politics and had several options for marriage. In 1254, she ended up marrying Edward Longshanks, son of Henry III.
Unlike most marriages of the time, the two were truly very much in love. Edward had no affairs or illegitimate children unlike most noblemen. Eleanor bravely joined her husband on the Crusades, even giving birth while there. In 1274, they returned to England and were crowned monarchs.
Whilst Eleanor was not particularly political, she inspired a cultural renaissance in England. She had a deep love of the arts and academia, encouraging both as Queen. There was somewhat of a religious zeal too, as Eleanor was helpful towards the monks and their scholarly endeavours. She was known for her charity, such as alms to the poor.
Eleanor started to fall ill later in life, clearly sixteen pregnancies had started to take its toll. She died in 1290. Edward was absolutely devastated. In remembrance of his wife, Edward commissioned the famous ‘Eleanor crosses,’ 12 beautifully decorated monuments that marked the resting places down the route between her death and burial. With only one living son, Edward was forced to remarry. He wed Margaret of France nearly a decade into widowhood and whilst the marriage was very happy, he still missed Eleanor.
Queen Eleanor is primarily remembered for her steadfast devotion to her husband, her bravery during the Crusades and devotion to improving England’s culture. The Eleanor cross remains part of her legacy and showed how popular she was. She was also a talented businesswoman. Whilst not a politician, she was her husband’s closest confidant.
4. Isabella of France (1292-1358)
Known as the ‘She-Wolf of France’, Isabella has a bad historical reputation, but that’s mainly because the things she did weren’t expected of a woman. The daughter of Philip IV of France and Joan I of Navarre, Isabella’s father was one of the most powerful in Europe. Aged 13, Isabella was married off to Edward II of England.
Isabella was known for being extremely beautiful and intelligent, both of which were commonly commented upon. This beauty did not impress her husband, who immediately snubbed her. At their wedding, Edward chose to sit with his male favourite Piers Gaveston. He even gave Gaveston Isabella’s jewellery. It took four years for Eleanor to get pregnant. Luckily, by that point, the barons had enough and got rid of Gaveston, who was executed. It was a relief to Isabella, who hated him, but Edward would soon have another favourite.
Enter Hugh Despenser the Younger, whose father had been an ally of the king. Despenser became a favourite of Edward and the pair had a close relationship, which further angered Isabella and the other nobles. After Isabella returned from time abroad, she refused to sign an oath of loyalty to Despenser and angered her husband.
Back in France, Isabella plotted a coup with her lover, Roger Mortimer. With aid from angered nobles, Isabella captured Bristol and with it, Despenser. Despenser was beaten and abused by the public as he was dragged to his violent executions. King Edward abdicated and was later likely killed in prison.
Isabella and Mortimer spent four years as regents for Edward III. Mortimer ordered the execution of the king’s half-uncle and with that, Edward III had enough. Whilst Isabella begged for mercy, the King had Mortimer executed and the Dowager Queen imprisoned. She lived a privileged imprisonment, looking after her daughter Joan, as well as becoming a doting grandmother.
Queen Isabella eventually took the veil and died in 1358.
Isabella was no more brutal or scheming than the men of her era. She was perhaps even more cunning and intelligent than her male counterparts. Isabella didn’t take to being sidelined by her husband, again contrasting to other women of the era. Successfully invading England and overthrowing the King isn’t easy either.
5. Philippa of Hainault (1314-1369)
Philippa of Hainault was born to William I, Count of Hainault and Joan of Valois. At a young age, it was decided that she would marry Prince Edward of England. She wed the now-king Edward III in 1328. In actual fact, there was a regency ruled by Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer.
Philippa gave birth to Edward the Black Prince, the favourite of his grandmother Isabella and heir to her fortune. The Queen was known for her kind nature, such as interceding on behalf of some carpenters who had accidentally injured her. She took active interest in her people and the industries and was very charitable. While Edward was known for his infidelity, the marriage was fairly happy. Philippa would often join Edward on missions and expeditions.
As Edward got old and ill, his mistress Alice Perrers started to become more influential. On her deathbed, Philippa asked that Edward ensure that merchants who’d served her paid, her money went to the church and chaired, and that they be buried together. Philippa died in 1369.
Queen Philippa is remembered as one of the best consorts. She was kind-hearted, charitable, pious and loyal. Philippa did not hesitate to join her husband on important excursions abroad nor plead for the lives of those who had displeased the Queen.
6. Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482)
Margaret of Anjou was daughter of René of Anjou and Isabella of Lorraine. René was known for his many titles, such as King of Jerusalem, whilst Isabella was Duchess of Lorraine in her own right. Women in her family were encouraged to be educated and political in their own right. Her uncle, Charles VII of France had her betrothed to Henry VI of England to ensure peace between the two nations.
Henry and Margaret were initially on good terms, spending time together. The King was more interested in academia than with ruling and the military, and was thus at odds with the court. His mental health was never very good, but he had a complete breakdown after the birth of their son Edward eight years after they married. Henry claimed that he couldn’t possibly have sired an heir. He spent days incapacitated in bed, argued with his council and could recognise his own wife. Whilst Henry was a kind and gentle man, his severe mental illness made it impossible for him to rule capably.
The unpopular Margaret was already quarrelling with Henry’s courtiers. She used her political influence to have the Duke of York, her rival, banished from court. One of her allies from France arrived on English soil with thousands of men and murdered a mayor, which caused even more anger against her. Margaret then called a council meeting but did not invite members of the Yorkist faction.
War soon broke out. Margaret commanded armies and men. When Edward IV declared himself king, Margaret was furious and desperate to get the crown back to her son. She fled to England and had her son married to Anne Neville to ensure an alliance. As a commander, Margaret was ruthless. Unfortunately, it would soon come to an end. Her son Edward was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury and their forces were defeated. Margaret was captured and imprisoned by order of Edward IV. Henry VI was also captured and taken to the Tower of London, where he died only a few weeks later.
Margaret was eventually ransomed by her cousin Louis XI of France. Her father was still living, but ignored her in favour of his new young wife. Margaret was forced to surrender her claims to her father’s lands. She lived as a charity case until her death in 1482.
Margaret of Anjou was widely praised by contemporaries as beautiful, highly intelligent, resourceful and courageous. She was political in a way that only men were thought to be and was talented in war. Unfortunately for Margaret, she was not able to continue her legacy by blood, yet remains well-known to this day.
7. Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536)
Catherine of Aragon was born to Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, their last surviving child. Her parents were famous for driving the Moors out of Spain and uniting the lands. Isabella in particular was legendary for her bravery, strength and cunning. Catherine was educated to the highest degree and was known for her intelligence and devotion to her faith.
Through her mother, Catherine had a claim to the English throne. She was married by proxy to Prince Arthur of England, the eldest son and heir of Henry VII. The two had written to each other before meeting. They immediately got along and were very happy until Arthur’s sudden death a few months after marriage.
Catherine also lost her mother, which meant that her sister Joanna inherited Castile, leaving Catherine less of a popular match. Henry VII initially wanted to wed Catherine himself, having lost his beloved wife Elizabeth years before, but this never transpired. Catherine was set to marry Prince Henry but was kept as a glorified prisoner as her father kept dragging his feet. She was mortified by the fact one of her ladies-in-waiting couldn’t marry due to not being able to afford a dowry. It was at this point she made history as the first female ambassador in Europe, serving as the Spanish envoy to England.
One key issue that was preventing the marriage was the fact that Catherine was Henry’s brother’s widow. This was forbidden by religious doctrine and law. Catherine swore up and down she’d never consummated the marriage, meaning it was not technically valid in that sense.
Henry VIII soon became king and decided to marry Catherine anyway, as the two had fallen in love. Despite later issues, it is known that Henry and Catherine enjoyed a rare happy marriage for most of their wedded life. Though he had affairs, which was common, the two were both young, attractive and intelligent. Unfortunately, they did not have the best of luck when it came to having children. Only two of their six children lived past birth. Their son Henry was born to great joy, but died soon after. Mary was their only living child.
As Queen, Catherine was absolutely beloved by the people. She ensured that there was widespread charity for the poor. When heavily pregnant, she led forces to a victory at Flodden Field, a victory Henry would never achieve. She commissioned a revolutionary pamphlet called ‘The Education of a Christian Woman,’ controversial as it encouraged female education on an equal level to men.
Unfortunately, the lack of a male heir started to become a problem. Henry was tired of Catherine when he met Anne Boleyn, a lady-in-waiting who had spent time in France. Anne was young, pretty and fertile. Henry decided that his marriage to Catherine was invalid because she was his brother’s widow and that they had violated religious law. He set his vase before the Pope.
Unfortunately for Henry, the Pope was being held prisoner by the Holy Roman Emperor, Catherine’s nephew. The Emperor was furious at the treatment of his favourite aunt- the Pope was at his mercy and therefore dragged his feet. Cardinal Wolsey had failed in his attempt to get Henry his annulment.
Throughout it, Catherine behaved with dignity and grace. Even allies of Henry and Protestant reformers , such as Thomas Cromwell and Martin Luther, praised Catherine as a wonderful woman. She was widely supported by the people, as well as members of Henry’s own family. Catherine maintained that she was a virgin when she married Henry and that she was his only true wife.
History tells us Catherine lost the battle. Henry secretly wed Anne and five days later, the marriage between him and Catherine was declared invalid. Mary was declared a bastard. Catherine was only given the title of Dowager Princess of Wales as a nod to her marriage to Arthur. She was devastated at the thought of not being a legal wife and her daughter being cast as illegitimate. Henry had her banished to the country and refused to let mother and daughter see one another unless they agreed that Anne was his rightful wife. Both refused. The people also refused to submit to Anne, not shouting ‘God save the Queen’ when she headed to her coronation.
Catherine never saw her daughter again. In 1536, Catherine was dying and she knew it. Soon after she drew up a will, she passed away. The people deeply mourned her death. Henry and Anne both dressed in yellow and outwardly celebrated, but their joy was short-lived when Anne miscarried a son on the day of the funeral. Mary was heart-broken and not permitted to attend her mother’s funeral. She would never forgive Anne for how Catherine was treated.
Famous as Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon was a force of nature in her own right. She was extremely intelligent and encouraged other women to be as learned as her. Catherine was a loving mother and did everything to ensure that her daughter would not be cast aside. She was also extremely brave, shown by her leading troops and kind, as seen by her charity work. Thomas Cromwell summed it up best:
‘If not for her sex, she could have defied all the heroes of history.’
8. Catherine Parr (1512-1548)
AKA the Survivor. The eldest child of Sir Thomas Parr and Maud Green, Catherine Parr’s family was noble but not of the highest stock. She showed a passion for learning beyond what was taught to her. In 1529, Catherine wed her first husband but the marriage only lasted for four years, as he died.
Catherine married again a year later, to a man substantially older than herself. Her husband, Baron Latimer, was a supporter of Catherine of Aragon and opposed Henry’s new course of action. For this, he was arrested. Catherine was also held hostage by rebels. Latimer was very nearly killed, but ended up being saved, albeit with a tarnished reputation. He died several years later, leaving Catherine wealthy but grieving. Catherine soon allied herself with Princess Mary and became a member of her household.
She caught the King’s eye at court. Whilst initially weary, knowing his reputation, Catherine saw it wise to accept. They married in 1543.
Catherine proved a soothing influence on her husband. She was beloved by her step-children, seeking to get them back into the fold and reconciling them with their father. Catherine oversaw and encouraged their education. Henry made her regent whilst he was abroad and she showed herself to be incredibly incapable of ruling.
Unfortunately, trouble was brewing.
Catherine was a Protestant and had supported anti-Catholic sentiment. Enemies decided to encourage Henry to have her arrested for heresy, especially as he was annoyed at her debating him. Unfortunately for them, Catherine was smarter. She saw the warrant and sprung to action. In the King’s chambers, she fell to the floor and cried. When Henry asked her what was wrong, Catsheine told him that she only debated politics to learn from him and to keep his mind off his painful legs. This was the right move, as it played to Henry’s arrogance. He kindly forgave her. The next day, when walking together, a soldier who didn’t know of the situation attempted to arrest Catherine. Henry yelled at him, but Catherine politely interceded on the poor man’s behalf.
When Henry fell ill, Catherine nursed him through the bad times, as she had done with Latimer. He died in 1547. Catherine was granted a pension, the title of Dowager Queen and the highest respect for any woman in the land. She retired from court, only to marry Thomas Seymour, uncle of Edward VI. They didn’t ask for permission and when it came out, there were repercussions. Edward eventually came around, but Mary was furious. Elizabeth Tudor was still close to her, however, and lived with the Seymours.
This living arrangement did not last, as Seymour seemed to have interest in Elizabeth. Catherine tolerated this at first, but asked Elizabeth to leave when she caught them playing around with the princess wearing only a nightgown. They never saw one another again, but remained in contact via letters.
Catherine fell pregnant at 35. She gave birth in 1548, naming her daughter after Mary Tudor. Unfortunately, like many women of the time, Catherine died in childbirth.
Catherine Parr is often less-remembered than the other Tudor wives but should be. She had a great influence on her husband. Catherine used her brains to debate the king, educate her family and protect herself from harm. Her kindness towards her step-children had them forever grateful to her. Along with Anne of Cleves, she was smart enough to survive marrying the infamous Henry VIII and get a good deal out of it.
9. Mary of Teck (1867-1953)
Mary of Teck was the eldest child and only daughter of Francis, Duke of Teck and Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge. Born and raised in Britain, Mary’s family were only minor British nobility. As befitting a girl of her status, she was educated at home by a governess.
Queen Victoria was looking for a wife for her grandson Prince Albert, as he was second in line to the throne after his father Edward. Victoria was pleased with Mary, as she had been born and raised in Britain. She also thought highly of Mary’s character, which was serious but kind. Albert and Mary were engaged, but Albert suddenly died of influenza.
During the mourning period, Mary formed a close bond with Albert’s brother and the new heir, Prince George. The two fell in love and George proposed, with Mary accepting. Queen Victoria was thrilled and the two married. George did not have any mistresses, unlike his father.
The pair had six children, five sons and one daughter. As was customary at the time, the children were left with nannies, but Mary was a loving parent who encouraged a love of learning. As Queen and Dowager Queen in both wars, she was involved in the care of servicemen. Mary ensured that the palace underwent the same frugal methods as the people did during hard times. She was a cherished adviser to her husband and was known for always being calm and dignified.
Mary nursed her husband as he was ill, which many credit with extending his life. The King died in 1936. When Edward VIII showed interest in Wallis Simpson, the Queen was torn between her love for her son and her faith. She did not approve of Simpson and never accepted her into the family. Mary was close to her grandchildren Elizabeth and Margaret, encouraging their education when others didn’t.
The Dowager Queen continued her charitable services during WW2, visiting servicemen. She lost her first child John in 1919, Prince George in a 1942 plane accident and finally George VI in 1952. Mary died less than a year later, weeks before her granddaughter’s coronation.
Mary of Teck may have been a staid and serious woman, but she was a great consort. Her calm resolve never wavered, even as she saw deeply injured servicemen in hospitals. She was a loving parent, supportive wife and doting grandmother. Her encouragement of the arts in Queen Elizabeth showed her concern for education.
10. Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (1900-2002)
Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was born to British aristocrats Claude Bowes-Lyon, 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne and Cecilia Bowes-Lyon. She was a very intelligent child with a talent for Greek. During the First World War, she helped care for wounded soldiers. One brother died, whilst another was a POW.
Elizabeth turned down Prince Albert twice, once in 1921 and again in 1922 after his sister’s wedding. She feared a loss of independence and what being in the royal family meant. In 1923, Elizabeth agreed to marry him. She proved a popular figure, greeting all people on tours and supporting her husband as he attempted to beat his stammer.
In 1936, her brother-in-law became King. With no children of his own, it looked as though Princess Elizabeth would be heir. He fell in love with Wallis Simpson, who Elizabeth was wary of but never cruel to. She proved as popular as Queen as she had before, her visits abroad were an enormous success.
This popularity grew even more during WW2. Hitler viewed her as the ‘most dangerous woman in Europe’ due to her universal acclaim. She refused to leave London for the safety of abroad. During the war, she would visit areas destroyed by the Blitz, as well as factories and troops. The royal family remained in Buckingham Palace, even as it was bombarded by bombs.
Elizabeth enjoyed a happy post-war era until her husband’s untimely death in 1952. Her daughter, who had left for Kenya as Princess Elizabeth, was now Queen. In order to differentiate the two, she became the Queen Mother. She was a widow for fifty years and was very active during this time. When not participating in outdoor pursuits, the Queen Mother continued royal engagements and was particularly well-travelled. She had a cordial but not warm relationship with Princess Diana.
As she aged, the Queen Mother gained injuries such as broken hips. Her hundredth birthday was widely celebrated and she enjoyed her last engagement at 101. Soon after she was hospitalised again, her daughter Margaret passed away. Despite concern from doctors and the family, the Queen Mother insisted on attending the funeral. She rode in a car, hidden behind curtains.
The Queen Mother died aged 101, the Queen at her bedside. Her funeral was well-attended and watched by millions.
Elizabeth, the Queen Mother was a widely-liked consort, despite not being a consort for two long. She was a humorous lady who cared for the troops and stayed loyal to her country during the War. Despite initially refusing his proposals, Elizabeth enjoyed a happy marriage with her husband. She was dedicated to royal duties even after she turned 100.
From warriors to artists and gentlewomen to firecrackers, the consorts of England and the United Kingdom have been incredible. Their history is varied and this will surely be the case for as long as the monarchy lasts.