Born c. 1175, died 1236. Daughter of Denmark's King Valdemar I "the Great" and his queen, Sophie. Sister to Danish kings Knud VI and Valdemar II. Wife of King Philip II August of France.
Few tales of arranged marriage can be more tragic than that of Queen Ingeborg of France, and her unhappy life.
In 1193, a political alliance between Denmark's king, Knud VI, and France's king, Philip II August, was sealed with the marriage of Knud's sister Ingeborg to Philip August, at Amiens in France. By this political marriage, the two kings hoped to gain each other's help. Philip August desired Danish assistance in an alliance against England, and Knud needed French support in his relationship with the Holy Roman Empire in Germany. Ingeborg was a convenient symbol of the alliance, and she does not seem to have been unwilling to play her part.
This seemingly harmonious state of affairs was soon to disintegrate.
The marriage and subsequent coronation of the new queen took place on the 14th of August, in the cathedral in Amiens. The very next day, the 15th of August 1193, Philip August publicly disavowed the marriage, declaring it null and void, for "personal reasons".
The fact that a marriage was entered into for political reasons, and not for love, did not, however, invalidate it. Canon law did not recognise divorce as an option, so Philip August set his canon lawyers to work, trying to have the marriage annulled, on the grounds that there was too close a family relationship between Ingeborg and Elisabeth, Philip August's first queen, who had died in childbirth. The supposed relationship was constructed through the marriage of King Knud IV to Edel of Flanders, more than a century before.
Ingeborg disputed this claim, on the grounds that this was a deliberate misrepresentation. Knud IV's only son by Edel, Carl of Flanders, had died without issue - and besides, Ingeborg was descended not from Knud IV, but from his brother, Erik I and his queen, Bodil, who came from Jutland.
She refused to accept the rejection and return home, as Philip August demanded.
The king now summoned the Archbishop of Rheims, and convened an assembly to examine the matter. Sixteen bishops and knights declared under oath that the genealogy presented by Philip August's lawyers was truthful. The archbishop, prompted by the king, declared the marriage invalid.
Ingeborg immediately appealed the verdict to Rome. Meanwhile, Philip had her confined (under prison-like conditions) in a convent in northern France. What followed was a twenty-year-long legal process, which became a serious political burden to Philip August, both in his relationship to the pope, and (naturally) also in his relationship to Denmark.
In 1194, King Knud VI sent his chancellor, the learned and capable Anders Sunesen, and the equally learned (and French-born) Abbot William of Æbelholt, to the Pope, that they might promote Queen Ingeborg's case. They managed to convince the papal curia that the evidence offered by the French was false. In 1195, the aging Pope Celestine III overruled the French verdict of annulment, and forbade Philip August to enter into new marriages (on the grounds that he was already married). Even so, in 1196, Philip married Agnes of Merano, while Ingeborg was being held prisoner at the castle of Étampes, just south of Paris.
In 1198, a new pope ascended to the throne of St. Peter. Pope Innocent III, only 37 years old at his ascension, was a highly-skilled canon lawyer, educated in Paris, Rome and Bologna. He sided with Ingeborg, and placed France under interdict. Faced with this ultimate papal sanction, Philip August relented and promised to respect Ingeborg as his queen. Even so, he soon resumed the divorce proceedings, treating Ingeborg worse than ever.
The legal process lasted until 1213, and has produced an enormous corpus of documents, which give a detailed insight into the case. Though most of the documents are legalistic in nature, the human aspect of the case sometimes surfaces, through all the legal formalism. The Pope, in one of his letters, calls the French divorce verdict an outright charade, the more so because it was pronounced upon a woman who was without counsel and who, with no knowledge of the French language, could not understand the proceedings.
Ingeborg, held virtually incommunicado during her long ordeal, still managed to get occasional letters smuggled out. In a letter from 1203, which somehow reached the pope in Rome, she tells of her being denied the chance to read the letters the pope had sent to her. It also speaks of her emotional distress at being treated this way by her lawful husband, who "degraded her youth with the loneliness of prison",
"For none dare to visit me there, nor does any conventual come to comfort me, nor can I hear God's words from anyone to the betterment of my soul, nor even do I have access to confession with a priest. I but seldom hear Mass, and never any of the Hours. No person or messenger from the country of my birth is allowed to come to me or to speak with me. Food is sometimes given to me only sparingly, so that I daily consume only the bread of sorrow and the drink of adversity; no medicament is given to me for human frailty; nor can I have someone to help me take care of my health, or to help me and assist me. I am not allowed to bathe. Should I desire to be bled, I cannot, and therefore I fear for my vision, and that I might be overwhelmed by serious illness. Of clothes there are few, and they are not of such a kind as is befitting for a queen. Moreover, the crowning indignity of my misery is that the most despicable people with which I am surrounded by the King's will, never give me good words, but assault me with abusive and insulting words....I am confined in a house, and I cannot leave. What more can I say?"
In the letter, Ingeborg goes on to plead with the pope to release her from this pitiful condition, "so that her own family may have the freedom to declare her will in everything."
Ingeborg's troubles were not so easily ended, however. Only after 1213 was she given leave to live as she pleased in various French towns, under acceptable conditions - conditions which improved after Philip August's death in 1223. She was on close terms with her brother, King Valdemar II (who had become King of Denmark in 1202, after their brother Knud's death), and she contributed a major sum towards his ransom from captivity, in 1227.
When Ingeborg finally died, in 1236, she was widely recognised as the moral victor in a battle in which she was essentially helpless and completely at the mercy of her jailor/husband. Despite seemingly endless abuse, Ingeborg never wavered from her demand for justice and restitution - and she remains one of the most marked female figures in the history of the middle ages, whether in Denmark or elsewhere.