Berengaria of Navarre was a Queen of England who never set foot in England as Queen. She was born, in around 1165, in Navarre, was married in Cyprus, lived most of her life in France, where she died in about 1230, and was buried in the abbey she built near Le Mans.
Her husband was King Richard I, known to history as the Lionheart. On the face of it, he might have been a perfect match, given that he was brave, handsome, and the most popular warrior-king in the Christian world. But that was as far as his attraction went. He had no interest in her, being far more concerned about pursuing his Crusade.
Berengaria had been discovered by Richard’s mother, who was convinced that she would make a good wife for her son. She escorted Berengaria to Sicily, where Richard was preparing to journey on his crusade. His route took him via Cyprus, which Richard promptly captured. The marriage took place in Limassol and Berengaria was crowned Queen of England and Cyprus.
After Richard’s campaign in the Holy Land was lost he sent Berengaria off to England, saying that he would travel by land and meet up with her later. However, she never reached England and probably never wanted to.
Richard’s return to England was severely delayed by his being captured by the Duke of Austria and held prisoner for a huge ransom. On his return to England, a whole year later, he decided that he would much prefer to campaign in France, which is where he spent most of the rest of his life. It was years before he and Berengaria were reunited, but they hardly made a happy married couple and no children resulted.
After Richard was killed in 1199 during the siege of a French castle, Berengaria retired to a nunnery and spent the rest of her life helping the poor and caring for abandoned children.
It was only after she was widowed that Berengaria visited England, being a frequent guest of her brother-in-law King John. In 1220 she witnessed the translation of Thomas Beckett’s bones to his new shrine in Canterbury Cathedral.
In 1229 she built an abbey at L’Epau where, under her new name of Juliana, she spent her final days as a nun. This was where she died and where her effigy can be seen in the chapter house today.