Charles Allston Collins, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
While they might not always be crowned alongside their kings, the consorts in the thousand years since the Norman Conquest have usually had coronations at Westminster Abbey. But one queen of England was given her crown thousands of miles from the realm.
Queen Berengaria is a little known figure in English royal history but she has a place all of her own. The consort of King Richard I is the only one to have been crowned outside of England. And her coronation is a sparkling part of a story filled with romance and adventure.
It took place on a balmy May day in Limassol in Cyprus. Berengaria was crowned against a backdrop of Mediterranean flowers and a sparkling blue sky and sea. Just hours earlier, she had married Richard after he had sailed to her rescue. It was every inch the fairy tale although it hid a far more practical story of political allegiances and wobbles towards war.
Richard I had become King of England in 1189 on the death of his father, Henry II. Richard had acquired a reputation for daring and chivalry by the time he took the throne. However, he hadn’t acquired a wife and now he ruled a kingdom, he was expected to produce an heir. But he hadn’t just inherited a crown from his father. He had been bequeathed a rather messy matrimonial melange.
Henry II had helped arrange a betrothal between Richard and Alys of France, sister of the all powerful French king, Philip II. However, by the time of his death, there were rumours that Henry had had a relationship with Alys himself. Richard was far more interested in his estates and power in southern Europe than in England and wanted a marriage that would shore those up. Enter Berengaria, daughter of the King of Navarre.
Through his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard had a substantial powerbase in the Duchy of Aquitaine which had Navarre as a strategically important neighbour. Eleanor was rather keen on a union between her son and Berengaria and by 1191, Richard had used continental conflicts and the possibility that his father had had an affair with his betrothed to end his commitment to marry Alys. A union with Berengaria was arranged.
Richard was heading off to join the Third Crusade and so Berengaria took to the water herself, in the company of his sister, to meet her future husband. But she ended up in Cyprus where she and her almost sister in law, Queen Joan of Sicily, were threatened by the island’s ruler, Isaac Comnenus. Richard arrived, along with a retinue of crusading nobles, and soon conquered the island. However, rescuing Berengaria was just one part of the story. Between them, the crusaders had also secured a vital sea base in the ongoing religious wars.
It was in Cyprus, on May 12 1191, that Richard I married Berengaria and she became Queen of England. Their wedding took place at the Chapel of St. George at Limassol and it was here that Berengaria was crowned. The Archbishop of Bordeaux, along with the Bishop of Evreux and the Bishop of Bayonne, oversaw the coronation.
This romantic royal wedding was followed by a very medieval honeymoon as the new Queen of England set off on Crusade with her husband soon afterwards. Berengaria returned before Richard and the two spent little time together as the king travelled over his extensive range of realms while the queen stayed on the continent. The couple were apart when Richard died in 1199.
Queen Berengaria has gone down in the history books as the only consort never to step foot in England. However, there is evidence that points to her spending some time in the kingdom after Richard’s death. She outlived her husband by three decades, dying on December 23 1230. But even then they weren’t reunited. Richard was buried at Fontevraud Abbey while his queen is believed to have been laid to rest over eighty miles away at L’Epau Abbey in Le Mans, which she helped found.
However, their names are forever united in a story of romance and adventure that ended with a royal wedding under the sun and the only coronation of an Queen of England to take place on foreign soil.