Like so many things, on paper this seemed like a great match. Philip Augustus was the widower king of France. He was young, rich and needed more children. His first wife, Isabella of Hainaut, had given him an heir, Louis, but had died after her second pregnancy with twins. Louis was healthy, but times were uncertain and good policy was to have an heir and at least one spare. Ingeborg was the daughter of Valdemar I of Denmark and sister of Canute VI. She was eighteen and came with a good dowry, which Philip planned to put to good use against Richard I. She was described by contemporaries as beautiful, pious, generous, and wise. Her father also had a score to settle against the Angevins as they were still put out about losing England to the Normans in 1066. It looked like a win win scenario, and the pair were married on August 15, 1193.
Then it all went very wrong. As with many royal marriages, Philip and Ingeborg never met before their wedding day. The wedding seemed to go as planned after the feast the two retired to their bed chamber to consummate the marriage. What happened behind those closed doors was not known and has been speculated about to this day. The next day, the royal pair attended a mass at the cathedral in Amiens celebrated by the archbishop of Rheims where Ingeborg was crowned queen of France. During mass and the coronation, observers noticed Philip was pale and restless. He looked as if he wanted to be anywhere but in the ceremony. As soon as mass was completed, he took the Danish representatives aside and informed them he intended to annul the marriage and requested they take Ingeborg back to Denmark. Ingeborg did not take this well and began sobbing and begging in Latin. Philip did not care and sent her to the monastery of Saint-Maur-des-Fossés near Paris to await Papal judgement.
Both Ingeborg and Philip sent missives to Pope Celestine III, Philip asking for annulment on the grounds of consanguinity and Ingeborg protesting her treatment. Although Philip sent an extensive family tree trying to prove he and Ingeborg were closely related, the Pope rejected it. He was horrified by the events in France. He needed Ingeborg’s brother Canute’s support in his fight with the Holy Roman Empire. He was not about to see that fall because of some whim of the King of France. He ruled in Ingeborg’s favor. Philip neatly ignored this and convinced French prelates to declare the marriage null and void, then went wife shopping again.
All this while, Ingeborg was shut away in a convent. Although she was considered Philip’s queen by most of Europe and the Pope, no one much did anything to help her. She was a prisoner in a strange land. She had to watch Philip remarry Agnes of Merania in 1196. In 1198, Pope Celestine III was succeeded by Pope Innocent III. Ingeborg took her case to him. Pope Innocent actually did something. He placed France under interdict, which meant the clergy could not perform mass or any sacraments until the interdict was lifted. Exceptions were made in times of life and death, but that was all. The interdict was to stand until Philip repudiated his new wife Agnes as the marriage was invalid because never got an annulment for his second marriage. Philip raged at any clergy who observed the interdict, but Philip had to give in and agree to Innocent’s demands in 1200. He acknowledged Ingeborg as his wife, but kept Agnes on the side. Once the Pope found that out, he excommunicated Philip until he sent Agnes away to Poissy, where she died in July of 1201. One small glimmer of hope for Agnes was her children with Philip were declared legitimate by the Pope.
In revenge, Philip made Ingeborg’s life miserable by not allowing her visitors and very little food. He was starving her to get her to repudiate the marriage. She stubbornly refused. Politics changed again, and Philip saw an opportunity to get the Pope behind him for an invasion of England. At Soissons in 1213, finally announced his reconciliation with Ingeborg. He was hoping reconciliation with Ingeborg would bring the Danes into the fight against England on his side. Although they were technically reconciled, Ingeborg and Philip never lived together. They did coexist in relative peace for the last years of Philip’s life and he instructed his son, Louis, to treat Ingeborg with respect after his death in 1228. Ingeborg died ten years later in 1237 or 1238 and was buried in a priory near Corbeil.
What happened that fateful night in 1193 to turn Philip so decidedly against his new bride? Contemporary accounts theorize Philip was placed under the spell of an evil sorcerer. It is also thought Philip was unhappy with Canute’s reneging on a promise to invade England with him. Modern theories point to an illness he contracted during the Third Crusade. It left him weak with a tremor in his hands and possibly impotent. We do know that originally Philip said the marriage was not consummated, but changed his story in 1212 at a new Papal hearing saying the two did engage in but did not complete sexual intercourse. Could all of this been from embarrassment? Whatever happened, it set in motion events that would ruin the life of a poor Danish princess.
Sources available on request