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Ingeborg of Denmark, queen of France

Title social-status: 
queen of France

Ingeborg was the daughter of Waldemar, king of Denmark, and Sophia, a russian princess. Ingeborg was married to Philip II king of France in August, 1193, with a large dowry from her brother Knut VI, king of Denmark. From that point on, her life and her letters were dominated by Philip’s attempts to repudiate her. For the two decades that the divorce proceedings lasted, Ingeborg made her presence felt on the political and ecclesiastical scene, although she was never active as consort or regent. She had spent no more than one night with her husband, after which he rejected and imprisoned her and did all he could to have the marriage annulled. There is a lot of speculation but no solid knowledge about Philip’s sudden revulsion. Some have suggested a hidden physical deformity in her, though contemporary descriptions, even allowing for some exaggeration, attest to good looks and character: Rigord called her a “pulcherrima puella, mirabili decore praedita; puella sancta, bonis moribus ornata, quam generositatis egregiae ac multae decus honestatis adornat,” “a very lovely girl, endowed with wondrous beauty, a holy girl, adorned with good customs, graced by outstanding generosity and great honesty.”(1) Others posit Philip’s disappointment over the lack of Danish support for a French invasion of England, or a conflict of wills between the two that emerged on the first night and just got worse.(2) The king’s sudden trembling during the wedding ceremony has been diagnosed by John Baldwin as the symptom of a disease Philip contracted on crusade.(3) The king summoned French prelates to Compiègne, and they pronounced a divorce on the grounds of consanguinity in November, 1193,(4) grounds which were rejected at Soissons in 1201.

Philip claimed for many years that the marriage had never been consummated, while Ingeborg insisted from the beginning that it had been. She said he was motivated by diabolical incitement and the persuasion of malitious princes, whom she also held responsible for his marrying Agnes of Meran, daughter of a duke of Andechs-Meranien, who bore him children and died in 1201. Philip claimed non-consummation “per maleficium,” impotence caused by sorcery. Philip did not admit that intercourse had occurred until 1212, then he tried to argue that there was no insemination. Meanwhile, Ingeborg accused Philip of bigamy and adultery described herself as “proscripta,” an outlaw and exile (Conklin, 43). She was, in fact, imprisoned, without funds, and forced to live an austere and lonely existence, but she continued to fight the divorce, writing to a series of popes, Celestine III, who condemned Philip’s actions in 1195, Innocent III, who, when Philip refused to restore her in 1200 imposed an interdict on France. Philip got the interdict lifted by faking a reconciliation with Ingeborg, but only briefly, after which she was imprisoned even more strictly. Conklin notes that Ingeborg uses terms in her letters that are just gaining currency in papal rhetoric, like calling the pope “vicarius Christi,” the vicar of Christ, and his power “gladius spiritus,” the sword of the spirt. He also argues that Ingeborg may have had an important role in composing the letters sent in her name, that she was literate, according to Stephen of Tournai, that she may have had herself informed about canon law because of her situation, that the blend of legal argument and personal expression all the way through the correspondence, even while her advisors changed, suggests one voice (51).

At times Ingeborg was worn down by Philip’s cruelty, but as a queen and the daughter and sister of a king, she had the will and the prestige to fight. She also had the support of her brother, the king of Denmark, who was charged by the pope with having her case prepared for the hearing, and the official support of the popes even if their help was sometimes cautious. Finally in 1213, Philip took her back, but only pro forma, and perhaps in preparation for a planned attack on the English king John. After Philip died in 1223, however, Ingeborg was well treated by her stepson, Louis VIII, and by his son, Louis IX, and she participated in royal events: in 1239 she rode at the head of the procession to celebrate the arrival of the crown of thorns with the queen mother, Blanche, and Louis IX’s queen Marguerite.(5) She controlled her dower lands and endowed churches and hospitals and religious establishments, and had the satisfaction of outliving her husband by some fourteen years and paying large sums of money to have masses said for his soul.

Ingeborg also sent money to her brother, king Valdemar II, in 1227, though neither is named in the related documents. Two letters in a Cistercian cartulary attest to a deposit made by an unnamed queen of France in a Flemish abbey of Ter Doest to be transferred to the king of Denmark, one from two Danish abbots, the other from the prior of Ter Doest. The sum mentioned in the two records differs slightly (540 or 549 marks sterling), which may be the result of a typo or of some more complicated cause:

Nos fratres L. de Esron, P. de Sora, dicti abbates in Dacia, cirterciensis (sic) ordinis, Roskildensis diocesis, notum facimus omnibus, tam presentibus quam futuris, presentem paginam inspecturis, quod domus de Capella, ordinis cisterciensis, diocesis Tornacensis, quod per manus fratris Gaufridi, cujusdam hospitalarii, quoddam depositum regine Francie, videlicet quingentas et quadraginta marcas sterlingorum susceperat, nobis presentibus et conventibus fratri Henrico hospitalario de Laipradoni fratris G. mandato fideliter restituit et reddidit cum debita integritate, domino regi Dacie transducendas.  Igitur quum istud in presentia nostra factum est et veritati testimonium perhibere nos convenit, volentes prefatam donum ab omni dampno servare immunem presentes litteras scribi et sigillorum nostrorum appensione fecimus roborari.  Actum anno Domini millesimo CCoXXoVIo.  (Cronica, p.530, CCCCLXII, #601).

We brothers L. of Esrum, P. of Sorø, called abbots in Denmark, of the Cistercian order, diocese of Roskilde, make known to all, present and future who will look at the present page, that the house of [Ter Doest], of the Cistercian order, diocese of Tournai, which received by the hand of a certain hospitaller, brother Gaufroy, a certain deposit of the queen of France, namely five hundred forty marks sterling, faithfully restored to brother Henry, hospitaller of Laiprado, at the order of brother G., with us and the conventuals present, with the owed integrity, to be transferred to the lord king of Denmark.  Therefore since this was done in our presence and it is fitting that we bear witness to the truth, wishing to preserve said gift immune from all harm, we have had the present letters written and strengthened with the affixing of our seals.  Enacted in the 1226th year of the Lord. 

Ego frater Eustacius, dictus prior de Capella in Flandria, notum facio universis presentes litteras inspecturis, quod a fratre Gaufrido, quodam hospitalario, quamdam summam pecunie, quingintis marcis et quadraginta et novem sterlingorum, ad pondus trescenti nomine depositi apud Capellam nuper recipi, ut ad preces illustris femine domine regine Francie per predictum hospitalarium domino Regi Dacie memorata pecunia in proximo transmittatur.  De predicta igitur pecunia inter me et predictum fratrem, utriusque consensu ita ordinatum est, ut si morte interveniente, vel infirmitate, sive alio quocunque casu detentus memoratus frater citra festum sancti Remigii ad domum nostram reverti non posset et presens cyrographum cum clave quadam quam penes se habet idem frater, et litteris domine regine, cum sigillo fratris Rigaldi, magistri parisiensis, aliquis reportaret sepedictam pecuniam a me, vel a nostris fratribus, si absens essem, procul dubio rehaberet.  Et ne ista ordinatio processu temporis oblivione depereat, tam ego prior, quam predictus Gaufridus, scripto dictam ordinationem mandari, et sigillis nostris fecimus roborari.  Actum anno Domini MoCCoXXo septimo, mense septembri, in octavis Decollationis sancti Johannis-Baptiste. (Cronica, p.531, CCCCLXIV, #604).

I, brother Eustache, called prior of [Ter Doest] in Flanders, make known to all who will look at the present letters that I recently received from a certain hospitaller, brother Gaufroy, a certain sum of money, five hundred forty-nine marks sterling, deposited as named at three-hundred weight at Capella, so that at the request of the illustrious woman, lady queen of France the said money be transmitted soon through the said hospitaller to the lord King of Denmark.  Therefore about the said money it was so arranged between me and said brother, with the consent of both, that if death or illness intervened or the named brother, detained by any other cause before the feast of St. Remy, could not return to our home and someone brought the present cyrograph with a certain key which that same brother has, and with the letters of the lady queen, with the seal of brother Rigald, master of Paris, he would without doubt recover the oft-mentioned money from me or from our brothers, if I were absent.  And lest this arrangement should be lost to memory, I the prior, as well as said Gaufrid, had said arrangement committed to writing and strengthened by our seals.  Enacted in the 1227th year of the Lord, in the month of September, in the octave of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist.

The two documents appear in Cronica et cartularium monasterii de Dunis, ed. Ferdinand Van de Putte and Désiré Van de Casteele (Bruges, 1864) and are briefly discussed by Eric Delaissé in “The Cistercian Network:  the Flemish Abbey of Ter Doest and Scandinavia,” Monastic Culture, The Long Thirteenth Century, Essays in Honour of Brian Patrick McGuire, ed. Lars Bisgaard, et al. (University Press of Southern Denmark, 2014), 269-84, who dates both of them 1227.  I am grateful to Professor Constance Berman for alerting me to the existence of the texts and for providing them. 


Biographical notes: 

(1) Cited by Hercule Géraud, “Ingeburge de Danemark, Reine de France, 1193-1236,” Bibliothèque de l’école des chartes, 6 (1844), 3-27, 93-118, see 8. Géraud cites several others who praise her virtue and wisdom as well as her beauty, among them Stephen of Tournai. (2) See George Conklin, “Ingeborg of Denmark, Queen of France, 1193-1223,” Queens and Queenship in Medieval Europe, ed. Anne J. Duggan (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1997) 40, 49, and Géraud, 10. (3) The Government of Philip Augustus: Foundations of French Royal Power in the Middle Ages (Berkeley, 1986), 357. (4) The claim was that Ingeborg was related to Isabel of Hainaut, first wife of Philip. John Baldwin characterizes these grounds as “obviously specious,” Masters, Princes and Merchants (Princeton: Princeton University, 1970), 8. Géraud shows where the allegation breaks down, 11, fn.1. (5) See Régine Pernoud, La Reine Blanche (Paris: Brodard et Taupin, 1972), 234.