Yolande of Aragon was the eldest daughter of King John I of Aragon and his second wife, Violante [Yolande] of Bar. From birth, it made Yolande a significant individual. From her father, she held claims to Aragon, from her mother’s line she was a granddaughter of John II of France. Far from accepting a destiny mapped out for her in childhood, Yolande resisted arrangements, which was a sign of things to come. Yolande of Aragon went on to become one of the most influential women of the Hundred Years War.
Yolande of Aragon was born in Zaragoza, Aragon [modern day Spain] on 11 August 1384*. Her importance led King Richard II of England to open negotiations in 1395 with King John I of Aragon about a potential marriage contract. Unwittingly, Yolande had her first impact on international affairs. The French were unwilling to see a union between England and a Spanish kingdom, and so offered a marriage contract to Richard II of Isabella of Valois, a French princess.
Yolande then saw herself used as a diplomatic pawn between the rival houses of Aragon and Anjou. The two royal houses had clashed in the past: they held adjoining lands in France. Louis II Duke of Anjou, Count of Provence, had been crowned King of Naples in 1389. For Louis II to have a secure rule over his various lands, he would need to be on good terms with Aragon, as travel by sea could quite easily be disrupted or cut off. When her Yolande’s father died, her uncle took the throne of Aragon as King Martin I. Louis’ mother, Mary of Blois, approached Martin I and proposed a marriage between her son and Yolande of Aragon. A union that would cement her sons position, and eventually result in a large and powerful land holding across France and Spain.
Yolande was initially opposed to a union with Louis II. The two families had a history of disliking each other, and Yolande signed a document objecting to the marriage. The objection was short-lived, Yolande was persuaded to retract her objection and she married Louis II in Arles on 2nd December 1400.
In 1410 Martin I of Aragon died without issue. Yolande felt that she had the best claim to the throne. However, Aragon had a tradition of male rulers and succession, even for one of Yolande’s sons, was not assured. Nonetheless, Yolanda began styling herself as ‘Queen of Four Kingdoms’ [She also claimed the crowns of Sicily, Jerusalem and Cyprus] and her eldest son announced himself King Louis III of Aragon. They were claims that were in Title only. After two years of deliberations, the Aragonese parliament announced Ferdinand, a grandson of King Peter I, as King of Aragon. It was a claim that Yolande and her husband could not contest militarily, Ferdinand had the backing of Castile as well as the Estates General of Aragon.
Despite claiming the four crowns, it was Yolande of Aragon’s position in Anjou that was her position of strength and influence. The early 1400’s saw a great deal of upheaval politically and militarily within France, and Yolanda became highly adept at managing the situation for the benefit of herself, her children, and France.
Yolande’s husband spent much time attempting to secure the crown of Naples. In his absence, Yolande held power in Anjou, and managed diplomacy on behalf of the family. When civil war broke out between the Armagnac and Burgundian factions in France, Yolande moved quickly. One of Yolande and Louis’ sons was contracted to marry John the Fearless’ daughter Catherine of Burgundy. The contract was quickly repudiated as Yolande allied herself with the Armagnac faction. To cement this, she met with Queen Isabeau and negotiated a marriage contract between her daughter, Marie, and Charles, the third eldest surviving son of King Charles VI and Queen Isabeau.
The instability in Paris, coupled with the marriage contract, saw the young Charles move to the court at Anjou where Yolanda took a lead in raising him. This presented an opportunity for Yolande to influence the ideas of the young prince. Events were soon to make this a hugely influential position to have been in. Paris saw clashes between the rival factions. Queen Isabeau chose to side with the Duke of Burgundy, at the expense of her own children. Yolande sought to protect Charles and her daughter from the political impact of this.
Matters become more urgent following the English invasion of 1415. The devastating defeat of France at the Battle of Agincourt left Anjou exposed should the English follow up their victory with a move south. In a preemptive move, Yolande moved her court from Angers in Anjou to the families lands in Provence, in southern France. Almost straight away the importance of Charles and Marie changed. The Dauphin, Louis, died in December 1415, making Charles second in line to the French crown. Not only this but the Dauphin’s marriage had been a diplomatic union with Margaret of Burgundy.
1417 saw the situation in France worsen. having only been Dauphin since the death of his elder brother in December 1415, the eldest of Queen Isabeau and King Charles VII’s sons, John, died in April 1417. Louis II of Anjou also died in April of 1417, leaving Yolande as Regent of Anjou and her sons other domains. Now Yolande was Regent of a large part of France, and her daughter, Marie, was in line to be Queen Consort once she was married and Charles became King. Additionally, France also now faced an English invasion of Conquest. Simultaneously, the French civil war continued. French politics was being turned on its head. With Charles at Yolande’s court in Provence, Yolande was well placed to influence affairs.
The first decision that Yolande made was to deny the Queen’s request to send Charles to court in Paris. Chronicler Jehan de Bourdigné wrote that Yolande’s response was:
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.
This marked the beginning of a period in which Yolande had a huge amount of influence over French politics. The Dauphin was just 14 years old when his brother passed away. It was a period in which the Queen and Duke of Burgundy were dominating the Parisian court. As the English gained superiority in the field against the Armagnac backed French forces in Normandy, political pressure, and attitudes in Paris, saw the young Dauphin ostracised and eventually excluded from inheriting the French crown through the Treaty of Troyes.
Throughout this period [1417-20] Yolande ensured that there was resistance in the name of Charles. From their base in Provence she directed forces loyal to herself to fight against the English in the name of the Dauphin. It was at the expense of her own sons efforts to take the crown of Naples, but Yolande had set her sights on her daughter becoming Queen Consort of France. Matters in Naples were dealt with through diplomatic channels, allowing Yolande to focus on French matters. It was a role she excelled in. Even as the English made gains and threatened Anjou, she orchestrated resistance and kept Charles’ cause alive even when his claim appeared to have little hope of ever coming to fruition.
Following the death of Charles VI, this intensified. The English became more determined than ever to secure the throne that they had now taken. Yolande, in turn, used her diplomatic skills to great effect. First, Yolande was instrumental in arranging for a Scottish army to be deployed in the Dauphin’s name into Anjou and Maine. Led by John, Earl of Buchan, and Archibald, Earl of Wigtown, it held the northern border of Yolande’s territories from 1419 to 1421. Then, in 1422, the marriage of Charles and Marie was formalised. Then she persuaded Duke John VI of Brittany to terminate his pact with the English. This had the effect of diluting English forces, making counter attacks easier. Now the Dauphin had French, Scottish and Breton forces fighting in his name. And the links that Yolande had maintained with the Armagnac faction had ensured that there remained a number of key strategic locations held by forces opposed to the English and Burgundians.
The period 1420-1429 was difficult for the supporters of the Dauphin. It required Yolande’s steadfast support and her powers of persuasion to keep the campaigns going. In 1429, matters changed. Joan of Arc appeared on the scene. The arrival of Joan of Arc provided an opportunity that was too good to be missed. Despite Joan’s enthusiasm and her accurate predictions, she needed support and guidance if she was to have any kind of significant impact on the Dauphin’s fortunes. That support and guidance came from Yolande of Aragon. It was Yolande who listened to Joan of Arc’s story, in the court of Anjou that Joan was examined and proven to be a virgin, and through Yolande’s support and direction that Joan was provided with opportunities. The maiden’s progress was effectively stage managed by Yolande. As her status developed, Yolande opened doors for Joan of Arc, and ensured that the right kind of backing was in place. This extended to enabling contact between the Dauphin himself and Joan of Arc.
Alongside her support for Joan of Arc was an ongoing input into diplomacy. Marriages were arranged by Yolande that firmed up Breton support for the Dauphin. It was Yolande who was responsible for having Arthur Richemond, a Breton installed as Constable of France, making sure that the combined forces could be directed against the English and Burgundians. Richemont changed sides and became Constable, the most senior commander in France. Together with the Count Dunois, bastard of Orleans, and Pierre de Breze, Lord of La Varenne-, both of whom were loyal to Yolande, Richemont began to turn the tide against the English.
The victories that were won under the leadership of Joan of Arc were to a large extent due to the guile and planning of Yolande of Aragon. It led to famous victories, culminating in the coronation of Charles as King Charles VII in Rheims, and of Yolande’s daughter, Marie, as Queen. Her influence continued as Charles VII slowly regained control of parts of Northern France. Yolande’s court had trained and guided Agnes Sorel, and it is quite likely that Yolande had a hand in ensuring that her chosen maid was to become the mistress of Charles VII. Later, she had her granddaughter Margaret, later Queen Consort of England, stay at her court. It was under Yolande’s influence that Margaret learnt administration, governance, and the ways of French court.
Yolande of Aragon died in 1442. King Charles VII recognised her role in his successes in an epitaph that he penned:
The late Yolande, of good memory,
Queen of Jerusalem and Sicily, in
our youth did us great services in
many ways that we hold in perpetual
memory. Our said mother-in-law,
after we were excluded from
our city of Paris, received us generously
in her lands of Anjou and
Maine, and gave us much advice,
support and many services using
her goods, people and fortresses to
help us against the attacks of our
adversaries of England and others.
Whilst Yolande is most frequently remembered for her political acumen, she was also a great patron of the arts. The Hours of Isabella Stuart were originally commissioned by Yolande for one of her daughters, also called Yolande.
*There are various dates of birth given for Yolande ranging from the late 1370’s to August 1384.