Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Monday, July 3, 2023

Violant of Bar, "Queen Lieutenant" of Aragon

Violant (Yolande) of Bar, queen of Aragon  (died 3 July 1431)

Violant of Bar, or Yolande, as she was then, was born about the year 1365, one of eleven children born to Robert I of Bar, and Marie of France, who was the daughter of John, duke of Normandy, and his first wife, Bonne of Luxembourg.*

Violant's paternal family controlled the territory of Barrois, in Lorraine. In 1350, a year after the death of Violant's mother, her father became king of France, as John II; in 1354, the new king raised the status of Bar from that of county to that of duchy. King John died in 1364, succeeded on the French throne by his son, Charles. In the same year, 1364, the new king's sister, Marie of France, married Robert, no longer count, but duke, of Bar. Whew.

Violant, queen of Aragon,
Liber genealogiae regum Hispanie
Born the year after her uncle became king of France, Violant spent much of her first fifteen years at the his court, where she received what seems to have been an excellent education. She was, as Dawn E. Price writes, "literate," "multilingual," and an "ardent" bibliophile; her surviving correspondence not only "forms one of the largest epistolary collections by a woman in medieval Spain" but is a testament as well to Violante's education and to her ongoing interest in religion, philosophy, secular literature, and politics.

On 2 February 1380, Violant of Bar was married to Joan, duke of Girona, the eldest son of King Pere IV of Aragon. Despite her royal connections and her own accomplishments, Violant of Bar "entered her husband's family . . . as an unwelcome daughter in law," as one noted historian delicately phrases the situation.**

For Violant's new husband, this was a second marriage. The duke of Girona's first wife, Marta d'Armagnac, had given birth to five children, but only one, a daughter named Joana, survived infancy. Although the young Violant had no choice in the selection of her husband and no role in arranging this marriage, she wrote to her family after her arrival in Aragon that was "well married as a queen" (bon maridada con reyna"). Despite her perceptions, King Pere would, as Price notes, continue to display "ill feeling towards the couple until his death."

Like her husband's first wife, Violant would also "fail" in her most important role as a wife, that of providing her husband with a male heir. Between her marriage in 1380 and the death of Joan, Violant would be pregnant eight times, but only her first-born child, Yolande of Aragon, born in 1381, would survive. Her second child, a son and heir, was born in 1384, but he died in 1388.

As duchess of Girona, Violant exercised considerable influence and "autonomy" in what Dawn Bratisch-Prince describes as "marital diplomacy." She involved herself in arranging marriages of members of her own family, of members of her household, and of those in her her husband's service. Although her son, Jaume, was only four years old at the time of his death, Violant's marriage negotiations for her son were underway with an agreement for him to marry the daughter of the king of Navarre. In 1392, Violant negotiated a marriage for her step-daughter, Joana Daroca, to the count of Foix, and for her own daughter, Yolande of Aragon, to Louis II, duke of Anjou and titular king of Naples (though this marriage was arranged in 1392, Yolande's marriage would not be finalized until 1400).

Meanwhile, in 1387, Joan succeeded to the throne of Aragon after his father's death. Now queen of Aragon, Violant is frequently depicted as something of a fun-loving, frivolous woman. In his extended treatment of Violant in Queens of Aragon: Their Lives and Times (1913), historian E. L. Miron describes "Doña Violante queening it over the Courts of Love," focusing on her love of troubadour poetry, song, and dance. Miron spends sixteen pages describing the Aragonese court's dedication to fashion, food, "extravagant pleasure," dramatic entertainments, and frivolity. 

As unlikely as Miron's account of Joan's reign sounds, it may not be far wrong. In his description of the Aragonese court at this time, Donald Kagay calls it a "temple of liberality," noting that the king was devoted not only to pleasure but to hunting and that "much of the revenue the king squeezed from his lands went to pay the salaries of his huntsmen and maintenance of his hawks and horses." 

There may have been lots of fun at the court of Aragon, but the years between Joan's accession and his death encompassed more for his wife than fun and games. In his History of Spain, Ulrich Burke notes that, while Joan was known as "the Indolent" or "the Sportsman," he was also quite ill and incapable of governing. And so, from 1388 until 1395, Violant served as "Queen-Lieutenant" for a king who was frequently incapacitated and unable to rule. 

Joan's reliance on Violant's political role no doubt contributed to the "waves of complaint" that "rippled across his lands"; according to one ambassador's account of the situation, "through the influence of his wife [the king] had betrayed himself, the government, and the republic." 

The increasing dissatisfaction and resistance to Joan--and to the part his wife played in the kingdom--came to an abrupt end in when Joan died on 13 May 1396. Too ill, too feeble, or too indolent to rule, Joan of Aragon died while he was out hunting--he fell from his horse.

Violant tried to maintain her position in Aragon after her husband's death--perhaps she hoped to become a regent for her daughter, Yolande, who might succeed to the throne. Instead, the crown went to Joan's brother, Martí, the guy who had had no trouble at all marrying his niece. He was kept busy in Sicily, trying to protect his interests there, but his wife, Maria de Luna, was in Barcelona when Joan died. She assumed the role of Queen-Lieutenant for her husband until he could arrive in Aragon.

For her part, Violant claimed to be pregnant, a claim that disrupted a smooth transition to a new king, since the widowed queen might give birth to the dead king's son and heir. Perhaps she was, perhaps she thought she was--or perhaps her claim was an act of desperation. Whatever the case, it did not buy Violant much time. She was put under careful watch, surveilled by several attendants, and her allies and supporters were arrested or expelled from court. And there was no posthumous birth. 

But Violant survived. She remained in Barcelona, with her daughter, who would not leave for her marriage to Louis II of Anjou until 1400. Nor did Violant give up her political ambitions. In 1411, when Martí died, Violant hoped to secure the throne for her grandson.*** She lobbied ambassadors and electors, even making the case herself to the Cortes. At least one source claims that her cousin, the king of France, offered her troops to help in her efforts. But she did not secure the throne for the boy. Failing that, after her brother's death at Agincourt in 1415, she claimed Bar for her grandson--in this, she was successful. 

Violant, queen of Aragon, was long noted primarily for her role as a patron of the arts--she was recognized for her cultural contributions, particular to literature and poetry. But more recent analysis, particularly of her voluminous correspondence, has recognized her political role, particularly in her diplomacy and her ameliorations of some of her husband's excesses and confrontations.****

The tomb of Violant, queen of Aragon,
and Joan, king of Aragon,

Violant, queen of Aragon,  remained in Barcelona until her death:
[D]uring her 35 years as a  widow, Violant continued to cultivate a larger-than-life image for herself and to demand special treatment from the Aragonese people, government officials, and ruling monarchs, for which she was known as somewhat of a political nuisance. She was fierce in her formal directness to those who crossed her. . . . She is quick to remind the king's servants of their feudal obligations, and even quicker to threaten retribution for wrongs done. . . .

This Queen Lieutenant died on 3 July 1431, at age sixty-six.

*At birth, she was Yolande, but in this post I have tried to follow the conventions for names that conform best to a confusing array of choices made by historians in English. After her marriage, Yolande became Violant; I've used Catalan forms not only for Violant, but also for her husband, Joan of Aragon (John), for her father-in-law, Pere III (Peter, Pedro), and for her brother-in-law, Martí, who will follow Joan onto the throne of Aragon. I apologize for any confusions and for all inconsistencies.

As for Yolande/Violant's maternal family--her father's name, Jean, or John, is simple enough. Her mother was named Jutta of Luxembourg; her father was John of Luxembourg, who became king of Bohemia after his marriage to Elizabeth of Bohemia. Although Jutta was born in Bohemia, she is known as Jutta "of Luxembourg," in recognition of her father's membership in the House of Luxembourg. After  marriage to Jean/Joan, her name was changed to Bonne. (At one point, by the way, Jutta had been betrothed to Robert of Bar's father, Henry!) 

**King Pere wanted his widowed son to marry Maria de Luna, queen of Sicily--who was his granddaughter and, thus, Joan's niece. Whether or not his close blood relationship had anything to do with Joan's refusal to marry Maria de Luna, Pere's second son, Martí, had no such qualms and married her. Traditional marriage again, huh?

***When he died, Martí had no legitimate heirs, and the Aragonese succession was disputed--after a two-year delay, which saw five claimants to the throne, the Compromise of Caspe saw the establishment of the Trastámara line of kings by placing Fernando of Castile, a grandson of Pere IV, on the throne. (Fernando's mother was Eleanor of Aragon, daughter of King Pere. 

****One of the more contentious issues involving Joan (and, thus, Violant) is the situation of the Jews in Aragon, and in particular a pogrom in Valencia in 1391. I particularly recommend Benjamin R. Gampel's Anti-Jewish Riots in the Crown of Aragon and the Royal Response, 1391-1392.