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Yolande of Aragon: Background information when reading Joan of Arc

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Joan of Arc

A History

by Helen Castor

Joan of Arc by Helen Castor X
Joan of Arc by Helen Castor
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  • First Published:
    May 2015, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2016, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Yolande of Aragon

This article relates to Joan of Arc

Print Review

Popular history remembers Joan of Arc but not so much Yolande of Aragon (1384 – 1442) who, according to Helen Castor's Joan of Arc, was more influential in placing Charles VII on the throne of France than "The Maid of Orleans," or indeed of the rather weak-natured Charles himself.

Yolande of Aragon The kingdom of Aragon was a wealthy, independent monarchy in northeastern Spain from 1035 to 1714 (when its constitutional system was swept away at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession). Born in Saragossa, Yolande was the eldest daughter of Aragon's king, John I (1387 -1396) of the House of Barcelona and his second wife Yolande of Bar, who in turn was related to the Valois family to which France's monarchs of the era belonged (Charles V was Yolande's uncle).

Little is known about Yolande's life until her marriage to Louis II, Duke of Anjou (1377 – 1417), the cousin of France's King Charles VI. After John I's death, Marie of Blois (Louis II's mother) approached John's successor to negotiate a marriage contract in the hopes that the union would settle land disputes between Aragon and Anjou. Yolande, however, wanted no part of the match and signed a protest which she was later forced to retract, and with her wedding in 1400 she became Queen of Sicily, Naples and Jerusalem, lands which Louis II claimed as his own.

During their 17-year marriage Louis was frequently away, fighting to retain his Italian territories, but they still managed to have six children together, five of whom survived to become rulers or consorts in their own right.

In 1413, Yolande met Queen Isabeau of France, the wife of Charles VI. The two negotiated a marriage between Yolande's nine-year-old daughter Marie and Isabeau's third son, 10-year-old Charles. Charles went to live with Yolande, and as tensions grew between the Burgundies and Armagnacs in Paris, Yolande moved her household to their family lands in Province in 1416 for their safety. When both of Charles' older brothers died he became Dauphin, heir to the throne of France.

Yolande and Isabeau supported different political factions. King Charles VI was subject to frequent bouts of madness, and as a result Isabeau was largely in control of the government. She allied her house of Burgundy with the English King Henry V, and convinced her husband to appoint Henry the Regent of France and his heir, thereby disinheriting Charles. Yolande, however, felt that Anjou was threatened by the encroaching English and supported her son-in-law Charles' claim to the throne, consequently aligning with the Armagnacs. Isabeau demanded that she return Charles to Paris, but Yolande reportedly replied, "We have not nurtured and cherished this one for you to make him die like his brothers or to go mad like his father, or to become English like you. I keep him for my own. Come and take him away, if you dare."

Yolande then proceeded to fully back Charles, helping him fund an army with her own finances and providing much needed moral support. There is a lot of speculation at this point, about how much influence she had in Charles' life. It's well documented that Charles was easily led and had a strong interest in the supernatural, and it's believed Yolande capitalized on these tendencies. Many credit her with convincing Charles to grant Joan an audience, and it's certain that she was among the women who gave Joan a physical to verify her virginity. In addition, she surrounded Charles with advisors and servants loyal to Anjou, with perhaps her greatest coup enticing the powerful Arthur de Richemont away from the English to become Constable of France in 1425 (the second in command in France). She further used Richemont to forcefully remove several of Charles' less-desirable advisors, and it was also said that she planted women in the courts of Lorraine, Burgundy and Brittany to become mistresses to high-ranking nobles, hoping to gain inside information through the use of these spies. From 1423 on she was nearly a co-ruler with Charles; many documents from the time bear the joint names of Charles VII and the Queen of Sicily.

Interestingly, Charles wasn't the only child Yolande led to power. She raised her granddaughter Margaret from the time the girl was nine, teaching her deportment as well as political maneuvering. Margaret married Henry VI of England, and ruled England during his frequent bouts of insanity, and was a key figure in what became known as The War of the Roses.

Yolande died at the Château de Tuce-de-Saumur on 14 December 1443 and was buried in the Saint Maurice Cathedral of Angers, France.

Picture of Yolande of Aragon depicted on a stained glass window in Le Mans Cathedral from Xenophongroup.com

Filed under People, Eras & Events

Article by Kim Kovacs

This "beyond the book article" relates to Joan of Arc. It originally ran in June 2015 and has been updated for the May 2016 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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