Navarre is a country that tends to be forgotten, as it was frequently absorbed by France. It was its own country with its own struggles and victories. Sitting in a strategic spot, and full of various religions and backgrounds, the culture produced different laws and regulations, and they had different needs from the French . Ten different languages were spoken throughout the country including French, Basque, Castilian, and Arabic. They were a strategic ally into the Iberian peninsula and held a solid amount of wealth to make other countries envious. It was vulnerable and actively sought after.
The 14th century is an intriguing, for Navarre is one of the few countries where women had a true chance at the throne, at least when the French were not involved. Where France had the Salic Law, forbidding women from inheriting the throne, Navarre had the Fueros laws that favored the daughter of a monarch over her uncles and illegitimate brothers. This led to a series of Queens in a time dominated by Kings. The Queens we observe in this century did not exercise their power strongly (or so could be claimed by today’s standards), but they stood their ground and set the tone for strong, powerful women in Europe.
The century begins during the end of the reign of Queen Joan I. Her father had taken the throne when his brother died traveling back to Navarre from a crusade, but he died only three years later. Joan was only two when she ascended the throne, with her mother Blanche of Artois as regent, and she was surrounded by men at all sides eager to usurp her. Blanche went to France for protection, and she was eventually married to Philip IV (who pretty much ruled for her). She never received a formal coronation in Navarre and the enormous support she received at her ascension began to dwindle as her mother and father-in-law, Philip III, sent Frenchmen to administer the country despite the nobles protests. This did not change much as her husband worked to control all her lands, but always ensured the documents he issued were done in her name or with her “approval” to appease the nobles in some way. Before the century she did show a streak of ferocity and defended her crown in person during the invasion of Champagne, and visited it frequently. She was never able to visit Navarre, but she did build the University of Navarre in 1305 when she died.
Her husband would go onto rule Navarre followed by their children. The line would revert to their eldest granddaughter, Joan II, though she would ensure her husband’s authority to make decisions in her name. Phillip III would work closely with his wife, and rarely made decisions without her, as she was the natural heir. They would punish those who took action against the Jews, and compensate their victims, and attempt to be as active in the Navarre government as possible, though their French territories often pulled them away. Joan had decided to support Philip VI in the Hundred Years War, but when it became clear he would not win, she signed a treaty with England. The English were allowed to come through her county of Angoulême in exchange for protection from the war. The act was successful and one of the last major things she does as Queen, as she dies in 1349 of the Black Death: six years after her husband. Eight of their nine children survived, and their son succeeded them as Charles II.
Charles the Bad (II) had almost no interest in Navarre, having been raised in France, and with a weak claim to the French throne, he had bigger fish to catch. He was vicious, petty, jealous, and murderous when he felt justified. He assassinated the Constable of France and then bragged about it. His favorite temper tantrum tactic was to threaten to ally with England against France, and had a tendency of working, though it was a highly dangerous move. Navarre was not massive and needed the protection of at least one of them. He would do the same in wars with Castile and Aragon, but it was France and England that would be his downfall. In 1377, he attempted to play all these countries, and they would all turn on him. By 1379 he had lost all his French territories and all he had left was the country he never liked in the first place.
(I could not find much on the people of Navarre in this period, but I can imagine they enjoyed the relative peace had Charles not focused on them brought, and the devastation when the country was violated due to his plotting. His death would become karma for the pain he caused. Old and sickly, he could barely move. Now you can say what happened next was an accident, but I have my doubts)
Charles II could barely move and the physician had to figure out how to help him. The remedy chosen? He was to be wrapped in cloth soaked in brandy from his feet to his neck. Now this was common practice: it started at the feet, and tied the cloth at the neck into a knot to hold it. Then the excess cloth is cut off. Here is where something goes wrong for the King, as the servant had the brilliant (or evil) idea to use a candle to eradicate the brandy soaked cloth. When the king burst into a blazing fire, she ran terrified, and the King burned to death. He was succeeded by his son, Charles III.
His son is remembered in a much better light, for he spent his reign pretty much cleaning up after his dear old dad. He created peace with both Castile and France through marriage and negotiations, though he did have to part with the counties of Champagne and Brie. His people knew him as ‘the Noble’ and that is how Navarre greets the next century.
- Canadian Journal of History, http://www.utpjournals.press/doi/abs/10.3138/cjh.47.3.630?journalCode=cjh.
- Woodacre, Elena (2013). The Queens Regnant of Navarre: Succession, Politics, and Partnership, 1274-1512. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-137-33914-0.