Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Saturday, August 15, 2020

Constance of Aragon, Regent of Sicily

Constance of Aragon, queen of Hungary, regent of Sicily, and Holy Roman Empress (crowned queen of Sicily 15 August 1209)


Constance of Aragon was the eldest daughter of King Alfonso II of Aragon and his queen, Sancha of Castile, though the year of her birth is not certain, with sources ranging from 1179 to 1184.

The fabulous crown of
Constance of Aragon,
Holy Roman empress,
photo by José Luiz Bernardes Ribeir 
After Alfonso's death in 1196, his eldest son, Pedro, succeeded him on the throne of Aragon. It was Pedro II who arranged his sister's marriage to Emeric, the king of Hungary, to whom Constance was wed about the year 1198.

The marriage had been promoted by Pope Innocent III--Emeric sought an alliance that would strengthen him against his younger brother Andrew's efforts to gain the crown of Hungary for himself. Pedro had been crowned in Rome by Innocent, and after swearing to defend the faith, was known as "Pedro, the Catholic," but it's not clear (at least to me) what he got out of the alliance with Hungary.

In any event, Constance's marriage to the king of Hungary did not last long. She gave birth to a son and heir, Ladislaus, probably in the year 1200, but by 1204, Emeric was dead.

While he lay dying, and in order to ensure his son's succession, Emeric had arranged for the boy's coronation, but the king made the colossal mistake of deciding that his brother, Andrew, would be a good regent for the child--despite the fact that he had imprisoned Andrew, who had continued his efforts to gain the crown of Hungary for himself. Emeric only released Andrew from confinement so that he could be his son's guardian and protect the kingdom for him. Right.

After Emeric's death and fearing for the safety of her son, Constance escaped from Hungary, taking ladislas with her. She took refuge with Leopold of Vienna, her husband's cousin, who agreed to shelter her and the boy, despite Andrew's threats of invasion. But within months, Ladislas, the "king" of Hungary, was dead.*

Now in undisputed control of the crown, Andrew demanded the body of Ladislas be returned to Hungary. The boy was buried in the basilica at Székesfehérvár, and Duke Leopold sent Constance, the dowager queen, back to Aragon. Upon her return, Constance joined her mother the convent of St. Sigena, where she would remain for the next five years.

In 1208, King Pedro arranged a second marriage for his sister, this one to Frederick, who had been crowned king of Sicily when he was just three years old. Like all royal marriages, this one had political advantages for all parties as well--except, perhaps, for Constance.

Constance of Aragon's second husband was the son of Henry VI, Holy Roman emperor, and the Empress Constance, queen of Sicily in her own right. But since both of his parents were dead, Frederick, still a minor, was then in the guardianship of Innocent III. The pope hoped not only to promote the boy's interests but also to secure an alliance against a too-powerful empire.

Frederick needed powerful assistance in asserting his rights in southern Italy and, eventually, in securing the title of Holy Roman emperor for himself. An alliance with Pedro of Aragon would provide this support in the form of 500 knights to fight for Frederick in Sicily.

For his part, Pedro II of Aragon wanted the pope to annul his marriage to Marie of Montpellier so he could marry Maria of Montferrat, queen of Jerusalem. And so the king of Aragon was once again eager to agree to a proposal made by Innocent III.**

And so off the dowager queen of Hungary went to Sicily. On 15 August 1209, Constance, then between twenty-five and thirty years old, was married to the fourteen-year-old Frederick, king of Sicily and would-be emperor. Now queen of Sicily, Constance gave birth to a son, Henry, in 1211. 

Meanwhile, Otto IV, the current Holy Roman Emperor, had invaded Italy, and been excommunicated by Innocent III. A rebellious group of German princes elect Frederick as king of the Germans, and he headed off to war on the continent, leaving Constance as regent of Sicily. (She does appear to have joined her husband briefly in 1216.)

Although he was crowned as king in 1212, Frederick did not have widespread support until after Otto's defeat in 1214, and so he was elected king of Germans for a second time in 1215 and crowned in Aachen. Otto IV, the excommunicated emperor, died in 1218, and negotiations following his death--and the death of Innocent III--meant that Frederick did not become Holy Roman emperor until 1220.

During the years of her regency in Sicily, Constance defended the interests of her husband and son, working with the pope and supporting her brother's effort to extend his influence in the area that is now southwestern France. She confronted rebels, invaders, and the Muslim population.

When her husband was crowned Holy Roman emperor in Rome by the new pope, Honorius III, Constance was also crowned empress. Frederick returned to Germany while the new empress remained behind. Although Frederick was again in Sicily in 1222, he was occupied by a conflict with the saraceni della Sicilia and did not see Constance before she died in May of that year. 

Constance of Aragon, regent of Sicily and Holy Roman empress, is buried in the cathedral of Palermo.

The tomb of Constance of Aragon,
Cathedral of Palermo,
photo by José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro
The most easily accessible account of Constance of Aragon's life is by Norbert Kamp in the Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, available online by clicking here. (The same source includes a biographical essay on Frederick, so a few details of Constance of Aragon's life also appear there.) 

You might also be interested in Christopher Mielke's analysis of the elaborate jeweled regalia buried with Constance--his essay, "From Her Head to Her Toes: Gender-Bending Regalia in the Tomb of Constance of Aragon, Queen of Hungary and Sicily," is available by clicking here.

*Since he had been crowned on 26 August 1204 and died on 7 May 1205, Ladislas "ruled" as king of Hungary for six months and five days.

**Marie of Montpellier fought back against her husband's efforts to annul her marriage, and--despite Pedro's efforts--Innocent III ultimately refused to grant the annulment. But on her way back to Aragon in 1213, Marie, still queen of Aragon, died. Pedro II died a few months later, succeeded as king of Aragon by Jaume, his son with Marie of Montpellier.