‘Did Richard III Marry His Sister?’
Lurid headlines blared off a rag on sale during Richard’s re-interment week in March 2015. A certain anti-Richard professor was, once again, insisting that because Isabel Neville was sister to Anne Neville and married to Richard’s brother George, that made Richard Isabel’s ‘brother’ and therefore his union with Anne ‘incestuous’ under the laws of the time.
This claim appears to have little foundation. There were several other notable marriages where two royal brothers married two sisters. In 1236, King Henry III of England married the young and beautiful Eleanor of Provence, daughter of Raymond Berenger and his clever, refined wife Beatrice. A few years later, in 1243, Henry’s brother, Richard of Cornwall, married Eleanor’s equally attractive younger sister, Sanchia.
No accounts from the time suggest anything was considered irregular about either marriage due to two brothers marrying two sisters. There was some worry about the legality of Henry’s marriage, but this was because he had previously made a proxy marriage to Joan of Ponthieu. The marriage was not consummated, as Henry was eager to state (he and Joan probably never met) and hence was swiftly annulled.
Interestingly, there was another pairing of two brothers and sisters involving the Provencal daughters of Raymond Berenger, only these marriages took place in France rather than England. King Louis IX married the eldest of the four girls, the clever Margaret or Marguerite, and some time later, when she was of age, Louis’s brother Charles married the youngest one, Beatrice.
Another case of brothers marrying sisters in English royalty concerns John of Gaunt and his youngest brother Edmund of Langley. Gaunt took Constance of Castile as his second wife, while Edmund of Langley wed Constance’s sister Isabella…and from this latter union was born Richard of Conisbrough, the father of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, and grandfather to Richard III and his siblings.
Isabella and Edmund were said to be an ill-matched pair…but there were no suggestions at the time that their marriage was considered incestuous because two brothers had married two sisters.
Indeed, such unions did not seem all that uncommon or frowned upon at all….