Yolande d'Aragón, duchesse d'Anjou, depicted in a stained glass window of the Cathedral of Mans.
Arms of Yolande d'Aragón, duchesse d'Anjou.

Yolande d'Aragón, duchesse d'Anjou
La reine des quatre royaumes
(1379-1442)

Born at Saragosa, Aragón. Her father was Juan I, king of Aragón, and her mother was Yolande de Bar, grand daughter of Jean le Bon of France (and niece of Charles V of France).

She was initially called "Violenta". On the Aragonise side, she was the granddaughter of Pedro IV of Aragón. Her father died and was succeeded by Martin as king of Aragón. Her marriage to Louis II of Anjou in December 1400, at Arles, was part of an effort, made in earlier such marriages, to resolve the contested claims upon the kingdom of Sicily and Naples between the two houses of Anjou and Aragón.

Louis II of Anjou spent much of his life fighting in Italy for his claim to the kingdom of Naples. Yolande's nominal title as "The Queen of Four Kingdoms" referred to Sicily, Naples, Jerusalem, and Aragón. In France, she was the duchess of Anjou and the countess of Provence. She preferred to hold court in Angers and Saumur.

Her five children were: Louis (b.25 Sep 1403), Marie (b.14 Oct 1404), René (b.16 Jan 1409), Yolande (b.1412), and Charles (b.1414). Yolande arranged in 1413 for her daughter, Marie, to marry, Charles de Ponthieu, the third son of Charles VI and Isabeau of France. This led to Yolande's personal, and crucial, involvement in the struggle for the survival of the Valois royal dynasty in France.

With the victory of the English over the French at Agincourt (1415), the duchy of Anjou was threatened. The French king, Charles VI was mentally ill and his realm was in civil war between the Burgundians and the Orleanists (Armagnacs). The situation was made worse by the Burgundian duke's alliance with the English and by the French queen, Isabeau [Ysabeau] of Bavaria submitting to the duke of Burgundy's scheme to deny the crown of France to the children of Charles VI. Fearing the abusive power build under the duke of Burgundy, Louis II had Yolande move with her children and future son-in-law, Charles, to Province.

       In 1416, the dauphin, Charles de Ponthieu's oldest brother, Louis, died. In 1417, his second older brother (and subsequent dauphin), Jean, died. Both brothers had been in the care of the duke of Burgundy. Yolande became the protectress of her son-in-law, Charles, who became the new dauphin. On 29 April 1417, Louis II d'Anjou died of illness, leaving Yolande, at age 33, in control of the house of Anjou. She also had the fate of the French royal house of Valois in her care. Her young son-in-law, the dauphin Charles, was exceptionally vulnerable to designs of the English king, Henry V and to his older cousin, Jean sans Peur (the Fearless), duke of Burgundy. Charles' nearest older relatives, the dukes of Orléans and of Bourbon had been made prisoners at Agincourt, and were held captive by the English. With his mother, queen Isabeau, and the duke of Burgundy allied with the English, the dauphin Charles had no power to support him other than that of the house of Anjou and smaller house of Armagnac (which had taken up the Orleanists' cause).

       Following the assassination of Jean the Fearless at Montereau in 1419, Jean's son, Philippe le Bon (the Good), succeeded as the duke of Burgundy, and with Henry V of England forced the Treaty of Troyes (21 May 1420) on the mentally ill king Charles VI. The Treaty designated Henry as 'Regent of France' and heir to the French throne. This followed, in 1421, the dauphin Charles being declared as disinherited. When both Henry V of England and Charles VI died (31 August and 21 October, respectively) in 1422, the dauphin Charles, at age 19, became Charles VII of France. Charles' title was challenged by the English (and their Burgundian allies), who supported the infant son of Henry V and Catherine, Henry VI of England. This was the stage for the last phase of the Hundred Years' War, or the 'War of Charles VII'.

       In this struggle, Yolande played a prominent role in surrounding the young Valois king with advisors and servants associated with the house of Anjou. She maneuvered to have the duke of Brittany break from an alliance with the English, and was responsible for the Breton soldier, Arthur de Richemont, becoming the constable of France in 1425. Yolande's early and strong support of Jeanne d'Arc, when others had reasonable doubts, suggests the duchess' possible larger role in the orchestrating the Maid's appearance on the scene. Yolande unquestionably practiced realistic politics. Using the constable de Richemont, Yolande was behind the forceful removal of several of Charles VII's, less desirable, close advisors. The worst, La Trémoille, was attacked and forced from the court in 1433. Yolande was not adverse 'to plant', or to make use of mistresses of influential men. She had a network of such women in the courts of Lorraine, Burgundy, Brittany, and even in that of her son-in-law's.

       The contemporary chronicler, Juvenal Ursins, described Yolande as "The prettiest woman in the kingdom." Bourdigné, chronicler of the house of Anjou, says of her: "She who was said to be the wisest and most beautiful princess in Christendom." Later, king Louis XI of France recalled that his grandmother had "A man's heart in a woman's body." A twentieth-century French author, Jehanne d'Orliac, wrote one of the few works specifically on Yolande, and noted that the duchess remains unappreciated for her genius and influence in the reign of Charles VII. "She is mentioned in passing because she is the pivot of all important events for forty-two years in France." While "Joan [of Arc] was in the public eyes only eleven months."

Brief Chronology

1379
Yolande born at Saragossa, Aragon.
1400
Yolande married Louis II of Anjou, at Arles, France in December.
1413
Louis II d'Anjou aligned with the Orleanists [later known as 'Armagnacs'] faction in opposition to Burgundian faction.
1413
Yolande took Charles, her prospective son-in-law, to her court in Angers.
1417
Yolande was widowed 29 April.
Yolande refused the queen, Isabeau's orders to return Charles [now 'dauphin', after the death of his elder brothers] to the French court. Yolande reportedly replied, "We have not nutured 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." [* see note below]
1419
On 29 June, Yolande gained an audience with Charles VI and prevailed upon him to sign the decree making his son 'lieutenant general of the kingdom' and gave the reason that Charles was the 'son of the king', and the monarch's acknowledgment of him as his son and rightful heir. The act removed Isabeau from any claim to be regent.
Yolande retired to Provence.
1423
Yolande returned from Provence. She initiated the first of a few short-lived treaties with Brittany.
1424-27
Yolande presided over the Estates General.
Yolande again obtained a treaty with the duke of Brittany and enlisted the duke's brother, Arthur de Richemont to support the Valois cause.
1427
The English regent in France, duke Bedford, moved to take the duchy of Anjou for himself. Yolande responded with a series of Valois court appointments and marriage aggrements among various noble houses that frustrated English and Burgundian initiatives, and sustained the threatened Valois crown until more dramatic reversal could be established.
Discord between la Trémoïlle, a key advisor to Charles VII, and the constable Richemont led to Richemont beng banished from the Valois court.
1429
Yolande was placed in charge of one of the examinations of Jeanne d'Arc, whom the duchess strongly supported. Yolande arranged for financing 'Jeanne d'Arc's army' that went to relieve Orléans.
1431
Yolande resided at Saumur, where Charles VII met with his Assemblly.
Yolande's youngest daughter, Yolanda, married the hereditary prince of Brittany.
Yolande's son René inherited the dukdom of Lorraine, but was made prisoner at the battle of Bulgneville on June 30, 1431.
1433
Richemont [who had returned to the court in 1432] overthrew Trémoïlle. Yolande's youngest son, Charles, comte de Maine, assumed the position as chief advisor to Charles VII.
1434
Yolande's son, Louis III d'Anjou died, and René became duc d'Anjou, as well as heir to the titular claim to Sicily. [Queen Joan of Naples and Sicily had made Louis III her co-regent and heir and, after Louis' death, she named René as his brother's heir.]
1437
René was released from Burgundian prison for a substantial ransom. He went to Italy in 1438 and engaged in a war against Alfonso d'Aragon for the disputed title to the kingdom of Naples. René was forced to abandon Naples in the summer of 1442.
1442
Yolande retired to Angers, and then to Samur where she died 14 November.

* NOTE: This statement [for year 1417 above] is without reference to source in Jehanne d'Orliac. Yolande d'Anjou, la reine des quatre royaumes (Paris, Plon, 1933) p.56. However, a viewer reports that John Holland Smith's book, Joan of Arc, cites the French historian, Gerard Pesme's claim that this statement was made by St. Colette (1381-1447). Even if the statement is not Yolande's, she, more than any one person or group, was singularly the consistent focal point of the various Orleanist, Armagnac, and Angevin factions that served and protected Charles VII when he was most vulnerable. If not her words, the statement most legitimately reflects Yolande's deeds.

 

Yolande Remembered

There are some claims [but expressed doubts by many scholars] that Yolande lived her last months and died in this large house, now called 'Maison de la reine de Sicile', located on an island in the Loire river that is connected to the center of the town of Samur by a bridge. From this small residence [now privately owned], the 'Queen of Sicily' could look across and see the fortress château of Samur looming high above the town. That magnificent structure had been one of her favorite residences at the height of her influence, though modern literature associates the château of Samur with where her famous son, 'the Good King' René d'Anjou resided until 1471, when he moved to Provence.
It is curious that few major French, or medieval feminist, scholars have addressed Yolande d'Aragon in a specific study, though she is often listed among the great women 'who made France'.
Jehanne d'Orliac's Yolande d'Anjou, la reine des quatre royamues (Paris 1933) contains considerable detail. While much of it can be corroborated in other works, the author's lack of citations is of serious concern and the work has some definite errors.
One of the best coverages of Yolande is the French historian Philippe Erlanger's Charles VII et son mystère (Paris, Gallimard 1945, Perrin 1973, 1981), in which this recognized historian describes Yolande's prominent role in sustaining Charles VII during the critical stages of his reign. Yolande is again recognized in Erlanger's "9 femmes qui ont fait la France," Historia (Septembre 1971, pp.40-53). Erlanger's recognition of the significance of Yolande's roll is perhaps due to his having examined other ears, and he is not beholden to documents, studies, and scholars who have focused on 'the Maid'. Such a perspective has drawn some criticism from those infused with the singular attribution toward 'the Maid'. No doubt, there may be a perception by some that elevating the contribution of Yolande threatens the unique status of Jeanne d'Arc.


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