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:
- Eleanor of Aquitaine
- Elizabeth Woodville
- Anne Neville
- Elizabeth of York
- Catherine of Aragon
- Anne Boleyn
- Jane Seymour
- Anne of Cleves
- Catherine Howard
- Catherine Parr
- Henrietta Maria
- Jane Grey
- Mary I
- Elizabeth I
- Catherine of Braganza
- Mary of Modena
- Elizabeth II
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.
Empress Matilda (1114-25)
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!
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!
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!
Cory Pulman played her in Robin of Sherwood (1984-86). I can’t find any images, which is too bad…
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.”
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.
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.
Who’s your favorite on-screen medieval English queen?
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.
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!)
Yay for Robin of Sherwood!
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.
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
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.
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?
“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.
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!
robin of sherwood was my favourite thing on tv as a teen. thier version of isabella was such a total psycho she’d ahve put an isis bride to shame
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.
That shiny Alison outfit does give insight into the possible etymology of the word ‘lame’…
Robin of Sherwood (1984-86) is on amazon prime! I just started watching it last night after coming across it on twitter.
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!
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?
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.)
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.
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.
Kaite Fink – I was just thinking the same thing about Penman and Chadwick. Excellent novelists about Medieval times.
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.
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.
Isabella of France is by far my favorite of the ones listed. I first learned of her via Badass of the Week.
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 …
I think it was an exercise in color-blind casting. Read more about the concept here: https://www.frockflicks.com/actors-look-like-historical-figures-portray-films/
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.
I am glad someone else felt this way. Couldn’t be bothered to watch because of this casting.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
King John’s first wife was featured in the 1950s story cited here. In fact, Marian and Robin were there to advocate for her.
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?
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.
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.
but* it is regal and beautiful.
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’.
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.!
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?
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.
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.
I’m astonished to not find Emma Thompson as Catherine de France, Queen of England from 1420-22. The costumes of the film (Henry V.) are nice for theatre and not for historical accuracy, but the film is more about Shakespeare’s drama and therefore the costumes are looking quiet nice and do their job.
I think that Sophie Marceau and Léa Seydoux were great, both portrayed as intelligent women in a cruel world of men, who are stupid. Naturaly the whole story in Braveheart with the queen in love (!) with a Scotish rebel is pure fantasy like the whole movie.
I loved Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine (Henry II Queen consort) in The Lion in Winter.