Violant (or Yolande) de Bar was the 8th of 11 children of Robert I, Duke de Bar, and Marie de Valois, Princess of France and daughter of King Jean II of France called the Good (le Bon). Violant’s uncle was King Charles V the Wise (le Sage), at whose court she grew up and received a stellar education. Violant left France at the age of 15 and traveled with a great escort to Aragon, where she married Duke Juan of Girona and the heir apparent to the throne of Aragon.
By her marriage, a teenaged Yolande became Duchess of Girona and Countess of Cervera. For her husband, it was a second marriage that turned out a happy one for them both. Violant and Juan fell in love with each other, and in years to come, upon his ascension, she would become a valuable consort, a great patron of the arts, and his queen-lieutenant who would help him rule. In a traditional medieval sense, Violant was responsible for producing healthy progeny, in particular a male one, to guarantee a male line of succession to the Aragonese throne.
Violant was pregnant 7 times both before and after Juan’s ascension to the throne in 1387. Only her daughter survived into adulthood: she was the future Yolande of Aragon, wife of Duke Louis II d’Anjou and mother-in-law of King Charles VII of France called the Victorious (le Victorieux). Their only son who survived infancy born in 1382 – Jaime, Duke of Girona and Count of Cervera – died in 1388. It seemed that the only source of dynastic hope died together Jaime.
None of their other offspring lived past infancy. In the Middle Ages, the maternal role was considered to be the main one for women, which was modeled on the Christian image of the Virgin Mary. Sadly, Violant failed to produce a robust male heir. However, Violant’s daughter turned out to be one of the most prominent and fascinating women in the history of France, and she witnessed Yolande of Aragon’s notable role during the Lancastrian stage of the Hundred Years’ War.
As child mortality rates were very high back then, parents often tried not to become too emotionally attached to their offspring. Queen Violant of Aragon was and is still rather unfairly treated and portrayed by some historians as a capricious, ambitious, meddling, and aggressive woman by some historians. She served as Queen-Lieutenant, or regent of Aragon as proxy of her spouse from 1388 until 1395. While there was financial and administrative disorder during the reign of Juan I and Violant, it would be unfair to call her a bad queen. The Catalan writer and politician Rafael Tasis i Marca (1906-1960) said that Violant did not even care about her children:
“Violant de Bar put, then, her role as queen before her role as mother. The children are always far from her, who preferred to follow the travels of her husband.”
Nonetheless, there are letters in the Spanish archieves in which we see Violant announcing to her friends, courtiers, servants, and foreign monarchs, as well the Pope, her pregnancies in joyful, yet cautious, tones. Who can blame Violant for being reserved in her feelings if she watched most of her children die? Violant’s correspondence with both males and females is full of hopes to provide the kingdom with a male heir. Over time, her letters commenced reflecting her desperation to have a healthy male child, and simultaneously her ambitious thoughts that in case of her royal spouse’s death, she would be a regent of Aragon during their son’s minority.
Upon their ascension, Juan and Violant’s only son was still alive. This is an excerpt from Violant’s letter to the Countess of Castellbó, encouraging her to swear an oath of fealty to Jaime:
“And so we have learned from a letter from the viscount, your son, how he, following the petitions of the other barons and nobles of the realm, and doing that which he ought to do and is held to by nature, wants to swear [loyalty] to the prince, first born son of the lord king and ours.”
All of Violant’s letters proved that she was a protective mother to Jaime and Yolande. After Jaime’s passing, Violant was pregnant several times again, but in vain. She pretended that she was pregnant at the time of King Juan I’s death in 1396, perhaps striving to delay or stop her loss of the crown in favor of her husband’s younger brother – Martin of Aragon, and his wife, Maria de Luna (they were lawful successors). Perhaps Violant hoped that she was with child and later understood that it was not true. Violant’s fake story or her mistake threw the orderly process of succession into confusion. Kept under royal guard, the young widow admitted her false declaration. Afterwards, Violant focused on educating her only daughter Yolande.
During her long widowhood that lasted for 35 years, Violant remained cultured, proud, and ambitious, autonomous in her thinking and resolute in her actions. Despite her patronage of the artists (see this article: Yolande of Aragon: her mother, Violant de Bar, as a role model), Violant de Bar, who won the trust and love of King Juan I, alienated many Aragonese nobles by introducing foreign customs and tastes to the royal court, as well as by intervening in politics. However, Violant was a role model for her daughter Yolande of Aragon, who in 1400 married Louis II, Duke d’Anjou and Count de Provence, as well as titular King of Sicily.
King Martin of Aragon passed away in 1410 without a male heir. Violant tried to secure the throne for her grandson – Louis III d’Anjou, who was the elder son of her daughter Yolande and Louis II d’Anjou. Just as in 1396, her attempt was unsuccessful: the Cortes of Aragon elected Ferdinand, the 2nd son of Eleanor of Aragon and Juan I of Castile, as the next monarch of Aragon. When her brother, Duke Édouard de Bar, was killed in the Battle of Agincourt of 1415, Violant challenged her another brother – Louis, Bishop of Langres – to the rights of the Duchy of Bar. Louis eventually ceded his rights to the duchy to her grandson, Louis III d’Anjou.
Violant de Bar’s ambitions were unrealized. For years after King Juan’s death, she resided in Barcelona. She spent approximately a year in 1420 with her daughter and grandchildren in 1420 in Provence and returned to Barcelona, where she lived until her death on the 13th of August 1431. In spite of her negative reputation in some chronicles and works of certain historians, many contemporary literary works cultivated an image of Violant as an admired and respected figure.
All images are in the public domain.
Text © 2021 Olivia Longueville