Queenship and the Power of Death: Blanche of Castille and the Twin Foundations of Maubuisson and Le Lys

Alexandra Gajewski, Independent Scholar, Nice, eremburg@talk21.com
Among medieval, aristocratic women who influenced artistic processes, Blanche of Castile (1188-1252) holds a special position due to the rare political power she exercised as regent and confidante of her son, Louis IX (r. 1226-1270). The difficulty in assessing the role played by patronage during the queen’s reign is demonstrated by her two Cistercian foundations, Maubuisson (1236), later used for the burial of Blanche’s body, and Le Lys (1248), where her heart was buried. The modest structure of the two abbey churches has been contrasted with the cathedral-like splendour of Cistercian Royaumont, founded by Blanche and Louis IX in 1228. The latter is considered an example of Louis’ own patronage, and regarded as a Cistercian version of the K√∂nigskirche that set the standard for what a royal Cistercian abbey should look like, thus sidelining scholarly interest in Maubuisson and Le Lys. Moreover, the emphasis on Louis’ close bonds with Royaumont has effaced Blanche’s central role in the foundation of the monastery. In fact, the patronage of Blanche and Louis cannot be disentangled and the three abbeys should be seen together, as examples of their joint ecclesiastical sponsorship. Despite the simplicity of the architecture of the female convents, all three abbey churches belong to the same stylistic milieu of Ile-de-France Rayonnant. The simplicity itself can be understood, not as an indication of lower status, but as a poignant signal, emphasising the virtue of humility in the interest of the image of rulership that was at the centre of Blanche’s interests.