Frock Flicks Guide to Lesser English Queens on Film: the Medieval Era

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I admit it, I am totally a (historical) royals geek. Of course, I understand that royalty are just people, some of whom aren’t very interesting or nice. But especially when I was younger, I read numerous “Queens of England” books and biographies of various queens. I always think about doing social media theme days with images of different queens, then get disappointed when I realize that there aren’t enough movies/TV series to make it worthwhile. So instead, I’m compiling a bunch of the lesser known/depicted queens into a series of three posts, focusing on the medieval era, then the Renaissance through the 19th century, and finally the 20th century.

BEFORE YOU FREAK OUT, I am consciously skipping these people who are worthy of (or already have) their own posts:

I’m mostly working with Wikipedia data here, so if you know of a movie or TV series that has included any of English/British queens, please feel free to add it in the comments! If they’re not listed here, it’s because I can’t find any onscreen portrayals. Also, I don’t wanna hear any bitching about the term “lesser.” I mean “less frequently depicted.” Breathe.

The daughter of Henry I of England, married Holy Roman Emperor Henry V. When her brother died, Henry I made Matilda (or Maude) his heir, but when he died, a civil war ensued between Matilda and her cousin Stephen of Blois. Stephen ended up winning, but Matilda’s son succeeded Stephen. A story that is SO WORTHY of screen adaptation – come on Hollywood!

"The Wedding Feast of Henry V and Matilda," 12th century, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS 373 3895B.

“The Wedding Feast of Henry V and Matilda,” 12th century, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS 373 3895B.

1964 Becket

Martita Hunt in Becket (1964). That’s…an interesting headdress.

1964 Becket

More Martita. The lady on the left is totally wearing my platonic ideal of “medieval” headdress.

Alison Pill in The Pillars of the Earth (2010). I have many questions about the hair.

More Alison. WOO BOY that’s some lamé!

Also played by Brenda Bruce in The Devil’s Crown (1978), but I can’t find any images.

Margaret of France, Queen of England and Hungary (1172-83)

Daughter of Louis VII of France, she married Henry the Young King when he was five and she was three. After Henry died, she married Béla III of Hungary.

Tracey Childs played Margaret in The Devil’s Crown (1978), but again I can’t find any images.

Berengaria of Navarre (1191-99)

Daughter of Sancho VI of Navarre and Sancha of Castile. She married Richard I, may never have set foot in England, and accompanied her husband on crusade. Hence, why she’s in a lot of crusader-y movies!

Abbaye de l'Epau - Gisant de Bérangère de Navarre via Wikimedia Commons.

Abbaye de l’Epau – Gisant de Bérangère de Navarre via Wikimedia Commons.

1923 Richard the Lionhearted

Played by Kathleen Clifford in Richard the Lion-Hearted (1923). That veil is gorgeous!

1935 The Crusades

Loretta Young in The Crusades (1935), rocking the bangs.

1935 The Crusades

More Loretta, because, PEARLS.

1954 King Richard and the Crusaders

Paula Raymond in King Richard and the Crusaders (1954). Not sure which lady she is!

1962-3 Richard the Lionheart

Sheila Whittingham (with tragic bangs) in Richard the Lionheart (1962-63).

1978 The Devil's Crown

Zoë Wanamaker in The Devil’s Crown (1978). That weird medieval “my jaw will fall off if I don’t tie it on” look.

1978 The Devil's Crown

More Zoë. That’s a lot of cotton broadcloth.

 

Isabella of Angoulême (1200-16)

Daughter of the count of Angoulême, Isabella married King John (the usual “evil king” in Robin Hood stories) and had five children. She later married Hugh X of Lusignan, Count of La Marche and had NINE more. Crikey!

Isabella of Angouleme's effigy on her tomb in Fontevraud Abbey (France), via Wikimedia Commons.

Isabella of Angouleme’s effigy on her tomb in Fontevraud Abbey (France), via Wikimedia Commons.

1955-59 The Adventures of Robin Hood

Zena Walker in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-59). Such pointy boobs!

1976 Robin and Marian

Victoria Abril in Robin and Marian (1976). Does she not get clothing?

1976 Robin and Marian

All I can tell is she’s young.

Cory Pulman played her in Robin of Sherwood (1984-86). I can’t find any images, which is too bad…

1984-86 Robin of Sherwood

Because this looks amazeballs.

2010 robin hood

Léa Seydoux in Robin Hood (2010). I’m not enough of a medieval expert to snark the dress.

2010 robin hood

More Léa. I think this is pretty, even if her hair is down!

 

Isabella of France (1308-27)

Daughter of Philip IV of France, she married Edward II. After various factionalism and war in which she couldn’t stand her husband’s favorite, she deposed Edward and served as regent for her son (1326-30). She’s frequently called the “She-Wolf of France.”

Homage of Edward III to Charles IV the Fair, Grandes Chroniques de France (BNF, FR 2606).

Homage of Edward III to Charles IV the Fair, Grandes Chroniques de France (BNF, FR 2606).

1972 Les rois maudits

Geneviève Casile in Les rois maudits (1972). Okay, we’re going with a wimple!

1991 Edward II

Tilda Swinton in Edward II (1991). DON’T ASK ME.

1991 Edward II

I just work here.

Sophie Marceau in Braveheart (1995). Such gorgeous (and accurate?) hair!

I know there's a zipper in the back

However, she’s the origins of our first tagline: because stretch velvet isn’t historically accurate.

2005 Les rois maudits

Julie Gayet in A Cursed Monarchy (2005).

 

Philippa of Hainault (1328-69)

Daughter of William I, Count of Hainaut and wife of Edward III. She served as regent when her husband was out of the country and frequently travelled with him to Scotland, France, and Flanders. Her eldest son was the famous Edward, the Black Prince.

Philippa of Hainault, 15th century, via Wikimedia Commons.

Philippa of Hainault, 15th century, via Wikimedia Commons.

1972 Les rois maudits

Françoise Burgi in Les Rois Maudits (1972). I feel like someone half-assed that crown.

2005 A Cursed Monarchy

Marie de Villepin in A Cursed Monarchy (2005). Hard to see much except wide medieval sleeves (yay?) and prom hair (boo).

 

Margaret of Anjou (1445-61 and 1470-71)

Daughter of René, King of Naples, and Isabella, Duchess of Lorraine. She married Henry VI and was personally involved as a leader of the Lancastrians in the Wars of the Roses. Margaret personally ruled the kingdom in her husband’s place due to his frequent bouts of mental illness. After the Lancastrian defeat, she finished her life in France.

Margaret of Anjou, wife of King Henry VI circa 1445 from a manuscript by the Talbot Master (British Library, Royal 15 E VI, f. 2v).

Margaret of Anjou, wife of King Henry VI circa 1445 from a manuscript by the Talbot Master (British Library, Royal 15 E VI, f. 2v).

1965 The Wars of the Roses

Peggy Ashcroft in The Wars of the Roses (1965-66). Is this too literal? I await Trystan’s “women in armor” post that she’s been working on.

2013 The White Queen

Veerle Baetens in The White Queen (2013). I guess I can’t snark the hair comparing it to the manuscript above, but it doesn’t seem very practical.

2013 The White Queen

Meh?

2016 The Hollow Crown- The Wars of the Roses

Sophie Okonedo in The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses (2016). NOW we’re in business!

2016 The Hollow Crown- The Wars of the Roses

More Sophie. Because, hennin.

2016 The Hollow Crown- The Wars of the Roses

Apparently she gets badass.

Who’s your favorite on-screen medieval English queen?

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

44 Responses

  1. mmcquown

    Some hard choices.14 kids should earn a medal. Berengaria gets my award for the worst movie line ever: “War, war, war; that’s all you think about, Dickie Plantagenet” (King Richard & the Crusaders, 1954). Robin of Sherwood was a fascinating series which combined magic with folklore and which still has a cult following.

    Reply
    • Northcountry Gal

      Oh my God – my favorite line! “War war war. . .” I thought of it as soon as I saw Loretta Young as Berengaria. I would love a series on Matilda – that could be really fascinating – (please keep Philippa Gregory far away from her!)

      Reply
    • Roxana

      I’m pretty sure it was John’s first wife, Hawise (Also Isabella) of Gloucester, who appeared in ‘Robin of Sherwood’ which impressed me because a lot of people don’t know John had a first wife. She was great heiress, which was why he married her, he got the marriage annulled because she was apparently barren. He may have been right, she married twice afterwards and never had any children.

      Reply
      • Caradoc

        I remember Hawise appeared in the Russell Crowe Robin Hood movie, shen she was crying bc John (Oscar Isaac) was in bed with Isabella d’Angouleme and Eleanor (Aileen Atkins) was like “Hawise, try to make him come to his senses and make him come back to you”. Well, Eleanor’s adice didn’t work at all

        Reply
      • A

        Whoever she was, she was definitely called Isabella on the show. I vaguely remember that eposide. She was very young, she was riding to some holy place or other, I think, with an official pilgrimage? I remember a scene where she’s told something is called “X’s Something”, and she just casually tosses “Now it will be Isabella’s Something”. And there was a plot about a guy claiming to be someone important, believed dead. He is killed, and the whole story ends with Isabella saying that of course he was an impostor, as she personally saw the king strangle the original person with his bare hands. And as she says that, she’s is literally rolling with laughter.

        Memory is a strange thing.

        Reply
        • Roxana

          The somebody important believed dead was Arthur of Brittany. I wonder if there were two episodes or if I’m confusing another Robin Hood series with Robin of Sherwood?

          Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      “Dickie”? “DICKIE”?! Dickie Plantagenet. Come on, you must be joking. And if you’re not joking, that really is the worst move line ever uttered by any female, queen or no queen.

      Reply
  2. LydiaR

    I started watching The Devil’s Crown on youtube but got sidetracked and never finished. I made it through the death of Henry II. I thought the costuming was meh, but given the likely budget at the time it was better than some I’ve seen. I found the whole production design fascinatingly stylized. I really should finish it one of these days – I love the early Plantagenets!

    Reply
  3. Caradoc

    the actress portraying Matilda/Maude in the Devil’s Crown appears in the 1st chapter towards the end (minute 45), and in some scenes in the 2nd chapter, I think.

    Reply
  4. Rowen G.

    Incidentally, the historical Isabella of Angouleme was somewhere between 12 and 14 when she was married to John. So at any rate, “young” is appropriate casting!

    Reply
  5. Roxana

    The women’s costumes in ‘Becket’ are pure fourteenth century – Peter O’Toole looks more period friendly. I don’t understand why they picked an actress who looks so adolescent for Matilda in ‘Pillars of the Earth’. Her costumes aren’t fourteenth century – but they’re not twelfth century either!

    WHY do they always go with long flowing hair???? At least the ladies wore veils in ‘King Richard and the Crusaders’. The barbette was a genuine thirteenth century fashion. It might be too early for Berengaria.

    Isabella of Angouleme was TWELVE when she married John. She is depicted in ‘Robin and Marion’ as really enjoying marriage and trying to lure John back to bed which is why she doesn’t get clothes. The ‘Robin Hood’ dress is medievalish. I think the neckline is wrong though and of course flowing hair! Braids and a veil please! You’re a married woman Isabella!

    Isabella of France’s costumes in ‘Braveheart’ are at least the right shape but yeah, velvet. But she wears the right headresses. The She-Wolf had a lot of reasons for turning on Edward II starting with his boyfriends. She actually put up with him for a respectably long time.

    Edward III and Philippa of Hainault are dressed fifteenth century style in ‘Cursed Kings’. Compare to contemporary picture to see how they should be dressed.

    Margaret of Anjou is a fascinating if unlikable woman. While she fought fiercely for husband and son there is no evidence she ever actually put on armor. In fact she seems to have sat out the battles in a nearby Manor House – which was perfectly sensible of her. I have no idea where the designer got that outfit she’s wearing in ‘The White Queen’. Sophie Okonedo looks fantastic but not historically accurate. But there are times when you just don’t care – right?

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      Right. Sophies Marceau and Okonedo are my favorite filmland medieval queens, despite the stretch velvet and armor. (In fact, S.O. in armor was my desktop photo for months after the 2016 election.)

      Reply
  6. Kathleen Julie Norvell

    Gotta go with Margaret of Anjou (I played her in a living Kingmaker game), although Sophie Okeneda gave me heartburn. Margaret was another French she-wolf.

    Reply
  7. Kaite Fink

    If there are any books that should be used to portray the stories and these interesting ladies well, they would be those written by Sharon Kay Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick. There are others, but these two are some of the best.

    Reply
  8. Nzie

    so many cool women I was unfamiliar with! thanks!

    Also, that lamé bodice—my goodness. Looks like also has princess seams, a wavy texture from the look of it, and the bottom button edges don’t match up, which is just a construction issue (also buttons? been looking at medieval clothing lately… haven’t seen that many of them, on armor or dresses). Yikes.

    With these free flowing locks, I do wonder if that’s just in artistic interpretation—from what I’ve been seeing hair (and neck/upper chest) coverage varied but it was rarely just free flowing, especially for married women.

    Reply
    • Roxana

      A comparison with the contemporary illustrations is instructive. Hair is covered with a veil in the 12th c. Dresses are high with a keyhole neck closed by a broach. The 13th c. introduces the barbette or chin band. Dresses are still high necked, closed with a broach and tend to be flowing and shapeless.

      The 14th c. queens wear their hair braided and looped or coiled over their ears in decorative cauls. Dresses are low necked and fitted with tight sleeves. A trained ‘surcote’ with big side cut outs is worn to display one’s arms. 15th c. Margaret of Anjou also wears this style but by her day it was somewhat dated and usually reserved for special occasions.

      Reply
  9. Saraquill

    Isabella of France is by far my favorite of the ones listed. I first learned of her via Badass of the Week.

    Reply
  10. Anna

    When casting Sophie Okonedo as Margaret of Anjou, what were the casting directors thinking? Margaret of Anjou was a French and not an African princess. Political correctness has really become absurd. Should the BBC make a film about Martin Luther King, I suggest casting Damian Lewis in the title role …

    Reply
      • Anna

        Still, the concept of color-blind casting is not credible and artificial for me, especially when it comes to real historical figures.
        Here ideology trumps historical probability, I think.
        I can be fine e. g. with a mixed-race Porthos in the series “The Musketeers” (after all, there were few people of African descent in France in the 17th century), but a Margaret of Anjou of African descent is pure fantasy.

        Reply
    • Jill Marflitt

      I am glad someone else felt this way. Couldn’t be bothered to watch because of this casting.

      Reply
      • M.E. Lawrence

        That’s too bad; you missed a very good production, in which Okonedo’s skin color was unimportant compared to her Margaret’s pride and grief and ferocity.

        Reply
        • Anna

          I think that in the case of a historical figure, especially a ruling historical figure, the skin colour of an actress/actor is important because of the genealogy of a given queen/king. Someone who is not knowledgable about history could think that at least one parent Margaret of Anjou was African. This is not historically correct and disinforming the unknowledgable viewer.

          Reply
          • M.E. Lawrence

            Anna, I take your point, but where does that leave, for example, the African-American Shakespeare Company in San Francisco? (Or any number of theatre companies, large and small?) Should a black or brown schoolchild not be cast as Lady Macbeth because she was (presumably) white?

            In the last few years, I’ve seen “Richard III” acted by an all-black cast and a multi-racial one; given how much of Shakespearean “history” sacrifices fact to drama, I can’t get too disconcerted by a brown-skinned medieval queen. And, of course, if it does bothers some people, they don’t have to go. The play’s the thing.

            Reply
            • Anna

              I think that in a theatrical play the skin colour of the cast is not that important, because theatre does not have that “real” feel like film has. Besides, there are many people, who get their historical education from television.

              Reply
  11. LouisD

    Genevièce Casile. She was so strong, so hard boiled in this great TV series. The kind of Cersei Lannister. I’ve seen it when I was a child and I couldn’t forget her after that. Too bad, this stage actress was in so few movies.

    Reply
  12. Cheryl from Maryland

    Loved Robin of Sherwood (not with Jason Connery) . The soundtrack is by Clannad and is amazeballs. I play it endlessly during the winter (especially around the Solstice). Thanks for the tip re Amazon Prime; a DVD set is pricey.

    Reply
    • Roxana

      I thought it was very clever of them to use both Robin Hood origin stories. I was also deeply in pressed by the amount of historical knowledge in the series. Not only did they show King John’s first wife but they knew all about the Scottish connections of the 12th c. Earl’s of Huntingdon.

      Reply
      • MoHub

        King John’s first wife was featured in the 1950s story cited here. In fact, Marian and Robin were there to advocate for her.

        Reply
  13. Katriona

    I’d love a biopic about Isabella of France where she’s neither villain nor heroine. Because I don’t think she was a monster but I’m also not a fan of romanticising her as some badass admirable heroine. She would work so well as an anti heroine, why does that movie not exist yet?

    Reply
  14. Roxana

    Isabella had good reason to be fed up to the brim with Edward II on personal grounds and because his incompetence was beginning to threaten their son’s inheritance. Unfortunately for all concerned Isabella was just as bad a picker of favorites as her hubby. Edward III seems to have put most of the blame on Mortimer, who was executed. Mum was deprived of power and retreated into retirement but she wasn’t locked up. She visited court and was visited in turn.
    Isabella was the daughter of Philip ‘The Fair’ suggesting she wasn’t overloaded with scruples but she put up with Edward II’s antics for quite a long time before snapping. She deserves some credit for that.

    Reply
  15. SarahV

    Sophie Marceau has the one scene when she parlays with Mel Gibson in shifting languages when she is crowned, wimpled and dressed in that glorious surcoat with the royal arms on it, that is long and particolored and THAT is I think might be pretty period accurate.

    It isn’t exactly feminine or glamorous, with it is regal and beautiful.

    Reply
  16. Faye

    Argh! That photo of Marie de Villepin in A Cursed Monarchy (2005) – take it away! My eyes! That is the most half-assed pair of thrones I have ever seen. What the actual heck. It looks like a children’s play stencil of the English throne – simple shapes, block colours, stencil ‘lions’.

    Reply
  17. Roxana

    I just realized we’re missing Queen Matilda, consort of King Stephen; Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henty III; and the two queens of Edward I, Eleanor of Castile and Margaret of France. Also Richard II’s two wives, Anne of Bohemia and little Isabella of France. Nobody made any movies about those quite interesting ladies I suppose? How remiss of the film industry.!

    Reply
    • Roxana

      Oh and there is Joan of Navarre, dowager duchess of Brittany who married Henry IV and the very Interesting Catherine de Valois, wife of Henry V, mother of Henry VI and ancestress of the Tudor Dynasty! What are filmakers thinking?

      Reply
  18. Diana Dunlap

    Clemence Poesy does a turn as Richard II’s Isabelle in the first Hollow Crown series. For those who are up in arms about Sophie playing Margaret, bear in mind that it’s Shakespeare, not realistic historical drama, and it’s now standard to cast actors of color in all Shakespearean roles (casting across gender is common, too). It’s also common to don Shakespeare and Marlowe in modern dress, which is why Tilda Swinton (who is superb) is in a modern ballgown in Edward II; the entire film is in a modern setting, not a medieval one. That said, I’d love to see a historically film about Isabella herself. She’s had to wait far too long.

    Reply
  19. Cheryl from Maryland

    Will there be a series of queens before the Norman Conquest? I ask because Aelswith, King Alfred’s wife (it was apparently customary at the time not to crown the King’s wife) in The Last Kingdom is a compelling character — although the leader of the “Christianity is a bunch of killjoys” crowd, apparently not her historical character. The Last Kingdom is on Netflix.

    Reply

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