Alys of France was born on 4 October 1160 and her life is an object lesson on how being a princess cannot save you from predation.
Alys was only eight years old when her father, King Louis VII of France, sent her to England as the betrothed of King Henry II’s son Richard, who was merely a child himself. It was a very tangled family already, considering Alys’s older half-sisters were also Richard’s half-sisters via their mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Alys’s father was Eleanor’s first husband, whom she had left for Henry II. Alys and Richard weren’t related by blood, but it still looked semi-incestuous in the 12th century.
The modern reader, hardened to the inbreeding of the royals, won’t get particularly creeped out by a nonsanguinous relationship BUT what will turn the 21st century stomach is the treatment received by Alys and the hands of her would-be father-in-law. Rather than waiting a few years and then letting Richard and Alys marry in their early teens, Henry saw the budding beauty of the French child and decided to make her his mistress. Yes, the almost 50 year old Henry was sniffing around Alys’s skirts when she was probably still 12 and was almost certainly bedding her by the time she was in her mid-teens.
This was an international scandal. For one thing, she was precontracted to Richard so Henry II was technically her “father” in the eyes of the church and the pre-modern Europeans. Additionally, even though the children of nobility wed very, very young it was considered bad form – and outright dangerous – to let them have sex before they were in their mid-teens. For Henry to be hunting for booty in the nursery was bad enough; it was so much worse that it was a little girl under his contractual protection AND a royal princess from another kingdom. People in the know were so horrified that the Pope himself got involved. “In 1177, Cardinal Peter of Saint Chrysogonus, on behalf of Pope Alexander III, threatened to place England’s continental possessions under an interdict if Henry did not proceed with the marriage” between Alys and Richard.
The marriage wouldn’t restore Alys’s “virtue”, but it would ensure she did not suffer any further harm as a result of Henry’s disgusting molestation. Once she was wed, her children would be considered legitimately Richard’s heirs and her future would be secure even if her father-in-law was still preying on her. It was the best solution they could come up with, since there was no way to punish Henry for his transgressions other than calling him a skank and impugning his honor. Even then, it was just as likely to be assumed that Alys had been somehow willing to be ‘seduced’ by the king and wanted his attentions or it would have been physically impossible for him to have sex with her.
The “she must have been asking for it” bullshit as an excuse for a woman or girl’s rape has been around a LONG time.
Eleanor or Aquitaine appears to have blamed Alys for her own rape; she is rumored to have hated the girl and to have seen her as Henry’s mistress rather than a victim. When Henry died in 1189 the queen prevented Richard and Alys from getting married. Although Richard was precontracted (and therefore de facto married to Alys) he went ahead and wed Berengaria of Navarre on 12 May 1191. Alys’s brother, King Philip of France, offered her to Prince John, but Eleanor refused to allow that marriage as well. Poor Alys was shipped home to France … having been used and utterly devalued by the English royals.
In 1195 King Philip arranged that Alys would marry William IV Talvas, Count of Ponthieu. Since she was almost 20 years older than the Count, Philip thought “that the couple would be childless, and he would thus gain control of Ponthieu, a small but strategically important county. However, Alys then gave birth to a daughter and heiress, Marie, in 1199. This daughter was the maternal grandmother of Eleanor of Castile, first wife of Edward I, King of England, to whom Ponthieu and the disputed Vexin inheritance would eventually pass as Eleanor’s dowry.”
Ironically, all future monarchs of England were (and still are) descendants of the abused and humiliated Alys of France via her great-granddaughter Eleanor of Castile.