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Ancestor 10: Blanche of Castile was a mother who shaped the future of France

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This is the 10th article in the project, 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

Blanche of Castile is a 29th great-grandmother through great-great grandmother Antonia Flores, who married Jack Ross Everett. Antonia was descended from Spaniards who left Europe for Mexico in the 16th century and then moved to Texas by the 19th century.

Blanche was the granddaughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry II of England. Blanche came from a long line of strong women and it is no surprise that she would eventually be a single mother who could still run an entire country.

Blanche was born March 4, 1188 in Palencia, Spain to King Alphonso VIII of Castile and Princess Eleanor Plantagenet of England. She was well educated and by age 11, her grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, had taken Blanche from Spain to France for betrothal to Louis VIII, who was 12. They were married right away.

The marriage brought a temporary truce to the tensions between England and France. The marriage had been politically motivated and would benefit Blanche's uncle, King John of England. When John died in 1216, Blanche’s husband invaded England to try and claim the throne to bring about further unification of England and France. Louis VIII had supporters, who had been against King John, but he was defeated and Henry III, who was nine, was crowned.

Blanche’s first child was born in 1205 and she went on to have 12 more children, although some sources say 11 and still others say 14 children. Several did not survive to adulthood and it was Louis IX who would succeed his father to the throne.

Blanche was focused on raising and educating her children, taking care of the poor, being a patron of the arts, and establishing cathedrals and abbeys. Everything changed in 1223. King Louis VIII died while on a crusade for the Roman Catholic Church that he had undertaken on Blanche’s behalf. At that point, the barons and others with power and influence joined together with supporters of Henry III and Philip Hurepel to take the French throne from her 12-year-old son, Louis IX.

This is when Blanche’s true strength of character came through. From 1223 to 1236, Blanche ran the country on her son’s behalf and kept enemies at bay until Louis IX was of age. She was at times a diplomat, a negotiator, and even led her troops into battle. She rode into battle dressed in white, on a white horse that was draped in white. She established a truce with England in 1229.

Blanche selected Margaret of Provence to marry Louis, but even after she was Queen Mother, Blanche’s fingerprints were visible on Louis IX’s reign. When Louis went on a crusade in 1250, it was Blanche who ran meetings and signed laws. She tried to free her son when he was imprisoned while on the crusade but she was unsuccessful. He was still in captivity when Blanche died of a heart condition in 1252.

Blanche of Castile was buried at Maubuisson Abbey, which she had established.

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