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Berengaria of Navarre (c. 1165-1230), who was married to King Richard I of England for eight years (1191-1199), was part of the exchange of princesses between the Iberian kingdoms and the kingdoms and counties of France and England. Her marriage began with a great journey, for she wed Richard in Cyprus and joined him in the Holy Land, to become one of the most widely traveled of queens. The terms of Berengaria’s marriage also promised her extensive territories in France and England as her dower. The actual geographic scope of Berengaria’s life proved to be much more restricted. Famously the queen of England who never set foot on the island, Berengaria was marooned in the Loire region for the much of her life. Childless at the time of Richard’s death and of no use to her Plantagenet in-laws, Berengaria was denied access to her dower properties by Richard’s successor. Nevertheless, as a widow Berengaria was able to mark her tiny domain, the seneschalcy of Le Mans, by founding in her own right the Cistercian monastery of La Piété Dieu in L’Épau, on the outskirts of the city, to be her place of burial and commemoration. The foundation took place in the year of Berengaria’s death in 1230, so that while the monastery’s very existence demonstrates Berengaria’s strength of purpose, the construction continued after her death. We have, however, two visual records likely created in her lifetime that chart her journey from Plantagenet bride to dowager queen and patron of L’Épau. The first is a portable object, her personal seal, known to us only from a description written in the late eighteenth century, and the second her well-preserved, monumental stone tomb, now restored to L’Épau. These two objects, one marking the great expectations of a young queen and the other the meager reality from which Berengaria wrested so much, demonstrate the ways in which territorial claims and relationships can be stated explicitly, through legends of a seal, and referenced symbolically, through visual character of a tomb monument.
Post-print of: Nolan, Kathleen, “Symbolic Geography in the Tomb and Seal of Berengaria of Navarre, Queen of England,” in Moving Women Moving Objects, ed. Tracy Chapman Hamilton and Mariah Proctor-Tiffany, Brill, 2019, 59-85.