Henry II was not known for his family feeling. He had been at war with his wife and sons for years, and eventually put his wife, the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine, under house arrest. Into this stew of intrigue comes a new innocent figure, Alais of France.
Alais was the daughter of Louis VII of France and Constance of Castile. Like her sister Marguerite, she was a pawn in the constant dealings between Henry and Louis. Marguerite was betrothed to Henry’s heir, Young Henry, and they must have decided to keep it in the family as Alais was betrothed to Young Henry’s brother, Richard. She brought the county of the Vexin, which Henry and Louis had been fighting over for what seemed like forever. The two girls traveled to the court of Henry II as children to be raised among their future husbands’ family. Alais was only eight when she arrived in England in 1169. Things must have been tense as the family relations began to fall apart, and as the heirs grappled for who was next in line for the throne Alais waited, and perhaps caught the eye of a king?
Rumors flew that Henry had taken a shine to his son’s future bride, and bedded her for himself. There was no proof, but it was certainly suggestive that she was never married to Richard. Pope Alexander III threatened to place England under interdict if Henry did not proceed with the marriage. Interdict was serious business. It meant that no masses could be said, no weddings and no sacraments. Exceptions were made for the dying, but that was it. Still no wedding. Richard was the cream of chivalry. He made it a point to keep every oath he made, including pardoning the archer who killed him. However, he never kept his betrothal to Alais. Richard eventually married Berengaria of Navarre while he was technically engaged to Alais. Her brother, Philip Augustus of France, offered her to John, Richard’s brother, but the dowager queen Eleanor blocked the match. There were rumors that not only did Alais become Henry’s mistress, but she had born him a child. I imagine Eleanor did not want her boys getting “spoiled goods”. However, it must have been an impossible situation. She had watched Alais grow up with her children, and they must have known each other well and possibly been close.
After Richard married Berengaria, he still would not let Alais go home to France. She stayed in the Norman city of Rouen and twiddled her thumbs for close to five years. Perhaps it was a relief to be out of the spotlight of court, especially if she had been the old king’s mistress, and certainly as the new king’s spurned lover. Eventually, he allowed her to go home to her brother. A new marriage was proposed for Alais, and this one took. She was married to Walter, Count of Ponthieu and disappears from the historical record. There is some reports of her having two daughters and a stillborn son, but this is not known for sure. She slipped into obscurity as quickly as she had slipped out. Hopefully, her life out of the spotlight was happier than her life in. There are no known descriptions or paintings of Alais.
Sources available on request