King Philippe-Auguste of France on a seal

Ingeburge of Denmark, Queen of France

In the Spring of 1193, Philippe-Auguste became engaged to Princess Ingeburge, daughter of King Knut of Denmark.  The young girl soon arrived in Amiens, where the King awaited her.  As soon as he saw her, he was smitten.  He had never met such a beautiful, gracious, desirable woman.  Knowing that he would be unable to wait until the next day to make her his wife, he told her, through an interpretor, that he wanted their marriage to take place immediately.  Ingeburge blushed and lowered her eyes, as the King took her arm and, followed by the people,  hurried her off to the cathedral, where a prelate had been urgently convoked.  After a rapid benediction, the King announced that the Coronation of the new Queen would take place the next day.

While he was addressing the crowd, Ingeburge was being undressed by the ladies of the Court who perfumed her body.  Then she went to bed, and Philippe-Auguste entered the nuptial chamber.  Hurriedly undressing, he lay down beside Ingeburge and pulled her into his arms.

Things did not happen at all in the way that the Princess had vaguely imagined them.  At first, the King held her tightly against him, and Ingeburge had the impression that he was waiting for something to happen.  Something which was evidently not happening, for she heard him sigh several times.  Worried, she tried to guess what could be upsetting her husband, but found nothing.  A long moment passed, punctuated with sighs and nervous gestures.  At last, the King tore himself away from her in anger, leaped from the bed and started to pace around the bedroom.  Ingeburge watched him, puzzled.  Thinking that he was perhaps timid, she smilingly beckoned him to come back to her side:  the King went back to bed.

Ten minutes later, he was up again, striding around the room, furious.  Ingeburge had only an approximative idea of what should be a wedding night;  however, she understood that this one wasn’t quite normal.

Suddenly, the King went pale and hurled:

“I’m bewitched!  My laces have been tied!…”

The young girl, who did not understand French, cowered against the wall, terrified.  Eventually, she fell asleep.  When she awoke the next morning, she was as pure as she had been on leaving Denmark.

Early in the morning, the sovereigns were taken to the cathedral for the Queen’s Coronation.  Among the rites was the Unction with holy oils on the bare breast.  But, when the Archbishop untied Ingeburge’s tunic to display her plexis, a cry was heard in the cathedral.  The Archbishop turned around and saw the King in a complete attack of nerves.  He was shaking, gesticulating and crying out.  Several ecclesiastics immediately surrounded him to hide him from the crowd, and belted out some very loud hymns.

After the ceremony, while the city feasted, Philippe-Auguste admitted to the Archbishop of Reims that he had been taken with a sudden repulsion for Ingeburge.  He was sure that she was bewitched.  She had made him impotent.  She had tied his laces.  She had to return to Denmark…

The prelate, who, very curiously, seemed to know a lot about the problem, tried to explain to the King that too great a desire, too great a fatigue, or too good a meal were perhaps causes of his failure.  The King insisted that Ingeburge had to go.  She had tied his laces.

He had her locked up in a convent that same evening.  One month later, he visited her there to try, for the last time, to make her his wife.  This last attempt had been advised by his uncle, the Archbishop of Reims, who had added:

“Go, my son, and remember that the whole of France has its eyes fixed on you…”

This was perhaps not the wisest thing to say.  Philippe-Auguste was aware that his people, informed by indiscrete domestics, knew about his lamentable wedding night, and the thought that France would have its eyes fixed on him while he was alone with Ingeburge, was not going to help him find his virility.  However, he went to the convent where the unhappy eighteen-year-old Queen was imprisoned.  He was seen to enter, a serious expression on his face.  One hour later, he came out again, in a state of extreme nervousness.  His face streamed with perspiration;  his hands trembled.  The knights present, the priests, the nuns were all unhappy for him.  He announced that there was nothing he could do.  The woman had bewitched him.

The next day, the King’s new failure was known and discussed.  Of course, no-one agreed on the causes of the royal weakness.  Some said that Ingeburge had the skin of a lizard;  others, fish scales on her abdomen.  But most people accused the poor girl of being a lace-tier, in other words, a witch…  This made the Danish students furious, and gigantic fights broke out in Paris.

After five months, a Council, composed of unscrupulous barons and prelates, meeting in Compiegne, pronounced the annulment of the royal marriage and Ingeburge was taken back to her convent where she was treated odiously.  She would remain there for years without understanding the reason for this imprisonment…

Then, in 1196, Philippe-Auguste decided to re-marry.  He chose the beautiful Agnes de Meranie.  Their wedding night was, of course, closely watched by the domestics, and the people waited to see if the King “could”, or if the spell which had affected Ingeburge would stop him from consummating his new marriage…  But the following day, a reassuring rumour ran through Paris:  the King could!   He was no longer bewitched!

His subjects rejoiced, saying that this news would have a very good effect in other countries.  In Rome, the news was very badly received.  The Pope, who had not accepted the annulment of the marriage, demanded the immediate removal of the new spouse, considered a concubine.  Philippe-Auguste refused.  So, the Pope excommunicated France:  the churches were closed, religious services suspended, and the dead were no longer buried according to the rites.  The unburied bodies started piling up along the roads, making the air stink and creating a risk of epidemics.

To be continued.