My history hero: Yolanda of Aragon (d1442)

HRH Princess Michael Kent on why she admires a pivotal figure in the Hundred Years' War

A stained glass depiction of Yolande of Aragon. (Creative Commons)

This article was first published in the January 2014 issue of BBC History Magazine 

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Yolande, daughter of the king of Aragon, was a pivotal figure in France during the Hundred Years’ War, the series of conflicts fought between France and England, in the 15th century. She was married to the young duke Louise II of Anjou, a first cousin of King Charles VI of France. On Louis’ death in 1417 he designated Yolande as his regent. Yolande later brought Joan of Arc to Charles VII and lent her the army of Anjou, thereby orchestrating the great victory against the English at Orléans in 1429. Despite his ambivalent character, Yolande continued to support Charles VII (who had married her daughter Marie) throughout her life and remained a key diplomatic player until her death in 1442.

When did you first hear about Yolande?

During research for my previous book, The Serpent and the Moon (Touchstone, 2004), I came across the story of Agnès Sorel (mistress to Charles VII) who intrigued me. Thinking I might make her my next subject, I learned that she had been discov- ered and mentored by Yolande.

What kind of person was Yolande?

Yolande was educated to know that her duty was to marry the choice of her parents, for the sake of Aragon: dynastic and material. That was the norm. Yolande was pragmatic, deeply principled, highly intelligent and famously beautiful. She understood the purpose of her marriage to Duke Louis II – to bring an end to the conflict between Aragon and Anjou over their jointly disputed inheritance: the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily. Unusually for an arranged marriage, Yolande and Louis fell deeply in love, and for life.

What made her a hero?

Her willingness to accept her husband’s guiding principles: to become wholly French and support her king and adopted country in the way he taught her, unconditionally. After Louis’ death she used her power and wealth for this purpose, even at the expense of her own children’s inheritance.

What was her finest hour?

Her decision to believe in Joan of Arc, following two days spent secretly interrogating her at Chinon. Yolande put her faith in this 17-year-old country girl from Lorraine to inspire her seasoned, Angevin soldiers to raise the siege of Orléans from the English – the only hope of saving France. For this, Yolande turned back her army marching to Marseilles to take ship to Naples in aid of her beloved son. It was a decision that cost her dearly, but the Kingdom of France was at stake.

Is there anything you don’t particularly admire about her?

Yes, her incredulity that her children, and those she had educated with them in her values and beliefs, could consider any other point of view than her own.

If you could meet her what would you ask her?

I’d ask: “When did you realise that your dissipated son-in-law could change through the love of a beautiful, intelligent girl you had trained to mentor him once you were dead; that he would fall in love and harken to Agnès and devote himself to the good of his country, something you had been at pains to teach him all your life?”

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HRH Princess Michael of Kent is a writer, historian and lecturer. Her new historical novel, The Queen of Four Kingdoms, the story of Yolande of Aragon, is out now, published by Constable