Queen, Ruler, and Religious Activist
One of the most influential women in thirteenth-century Europe, and the de facto ruler of France from 1226 until her death in 1252, Blanche of Castile (in Spain) was the daughter of Alfonso of Castile and Eleanor of England. As granddaughter to Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry II of England, Blanche was an attractive prize in the complicated diplomatic relations between England and France at the close of the twelfth century. In the year 1200, Blanche's uncle, King John of England, entered into an agreement with the Capetian King Philip Augustus of France whereby Louis, the heir to the French throne, would marry the daughter of Alfonso and Eleanor. At the age of eighty, the indomitable Eleanor of Aquitaine was sent to the Castilian court in Spain to retrieve her twelve-year-old granddaughter and now bride-to-be. The two women traveled back to France together in what was to be the last public act of one of the most powerful women of the twelfth century. Blanche, destined to become an important political figure in her own right, married Louis of France (later Louis VIII) on 23 May 1200 in a church located just inside the boundaries of the English possessions in Normandy.
The arranged marriage between thirteen-year-old Prince Louis and twelve-year-old Blanche was by all accounts a happy one. There were a total of twelve children born to the royal couple during a twentysix-year marriage, but seven were to precede their father to the grave. Included among the dead was the eldest son and heir apparent Philip. The line of succession thus passed to the future "Most Christian King of France" (St. Louis IX). With the sudden death in 1226 of her forty-year-old husband after a brief three-year reign, Blanche became regent for her young son. The elevation of a woman to the position of regent for twelve-year-old Louis IX was an unprecedented action but is testimony to the close relationship between Louis VIII and his wife. The king had named her in his will as guide and adviser to their