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Alexander II, King of Scots first wife was Joan, the daughter of King John of England. The marriage took place on June 19, 1221 when Joan was ten years old and Alexander was twenty-three. They were married for sixteen years but had no children. Joan died while on pilgrimage to Canterbury in March of 1238 leaving Alexander free to marry again. He was in desperate need of an heir.
King Henry III of England claimed sovereign authority over Scotland but Alexander had never accepted this. There were several diplomatic exchanges between the two kings to discuss money, territories or proposed marriages. Henry was not anxious for France to have greater influence in Scottish affairs. Much to the dismay and irritation of his former brother-in-law, Alexander married Marie de Coucy. Born c. 1219, she was the elder daughter of Enguerrand III de Coucy, also known as the Great and his third wife Marie de Montmirel. Enguerrand was a known enemy of King Henry III and Alexander may have met him during the Franco-Scottish invasions on England in the years 1216-17. Marie was the great-great granddaughter of King Louis VI of France. She was wealthy, of significant status and according to the chronicler Matthew Paris, very beautiful. She was brought from France to Scotland with an extensive retinue and the marriage took place at Roxburgh on May 15, 1239.
Alexander was forty-one and Marie about twenty. She most likely had to learn a new language when she came to Scotland. Some of the men in Marie’s retinue may have had some influence on Scottish affairs such as her chancellor Richard Vairement and her nephew Enguerrand de Guines. Enguerrand became a Scottish magnate by marrying Christiane de Bailleul, called Lindesay, a cousin of King John Balliol. Two years after her marriage, on September 4, 1241, Marie gave birth to a son named Alexander. It is believed she had a short lived daughter named Ermengarde after Marie’s mother-in-law. In 1244, Alexander met to negotiate with King Henry III at Newcastle and they may have agreed at this meeting that their young son would marry Margaret.
Four years later, Alexander fell very ill. While on an expedition against the Lord of Argyll on the island of Kerrera, he died on July 8, 1249. Marie and her son may have been in one of the royal residences at the time the news of his death was relayed. Marie immediately took Alexander to Scone and had him crowned as Alexander III. The following year, mother and son were in Dunfermline on June 19 for the observance of the canonization of the 11th C. Scottish queen, Saint Margaret and the translation of her remains to the new shrine.
Marie made a trip to France that fall and for the rest of her life she divided her time between France and Scotland. She inherited property from her father and Alexander had been very generous in providing for her upon his death. Consequently she was a very wealthy woman. She attended the wedding of her son and Margaret of England in York in 1252 with a large and magnificent retinue including nobles from Scotland and France.
Marie was obviously a very eligible bride. While she was in France in 1256-7, she married Jean de Brienne, a widower with the meaningless title of King of Acre. His father had been a famous crusader. Jean grew up at the French court with King Louis IX and his brothers and he had acquired the title of Grand Butler of France.
Marie appears to have been respected because of her wealth, her French connections and because she had given birth to an heir. In 1260, when the situation in Scotland became insecure and unpredictable with several noblemen competing for domination during the minority of the young king, Marie and her new husband were named members of the ruling council. Marie also received a re-grant of her jointure lands in Scotland and her revenues were secured. The next year, Alexander met his majority and began ruling on his own.
There are some sources that mention she had a daughter with Jean de Brienne name Blanche. She separated from Jean in 1268 and returned to Scotland. Alexander obtained an agreement allowing Marie to stay in Scotland as long as she pleased. When Margaret of England died in February of 1275, Marie found her son a new wife. She was Yolande, Countess of Montfort, a member of a prominent French family and a descendant of King Louis VI. She was also the stepdaughter of Marie’s second husband Jean. In the autumn of 1276 Marie traveled to Coucy through Canterbury and she visited the shrine of St. Thomas Becket. Marie died in the summer of 1285. Her remains were not returned to France but she was buried at Newbattle in an already constructed tomb which she may have commissioned ahead of time. Newbattle Abbey is now destroyed and the grave is lost.
Susan Abernethy is the writer of The Freelance History Writer.
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“Scottish Queens 1034-1714”, by Rosalind K. Marshall
“British Kings and Queens”, by Mike Ashley
“Oxford Dictionary of National Biography“, by Keith Stringer, entry on Marie de Coucy