The Danes and the Marriage Break-up of Philip II of France

The Danes and the Marriage Break-up of Philip II of France

By Frederik Pedersen

Adventures of the Law: Proceedings of the British and Irish Legal History Conference, edited by Paul Brand, Kevin Costello and W.N. Osbourough (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005)

Philip Augustus

Introduction: On 14 August 1193 the illustrious king Philip II of France repudiated his queen, Ingeborg, the daughter of the Danish king Valdemar I, during her coronation ceremony in Amiens cathedral. The events that followed, which merited twenty-four papal letters and the comment and speculation of several chroniclers across Europe. Shortly after the defeat of the Danes of by the Germans in 1864, the Danish historian A. Fabricius wrote a scholarly study of the Ingeborg’s fate. However, this study was marred by the author’s highly wrought romantic writing style, and was quickly superseded by a study of the incident by the German historian Robert Davidsohn. Since then the marriage of Philip II and his Danish queen has not seen a full length scholarly study, but in the twentieth century the incident has formed a significant part of studies by Tenbrock in 1933, by Helene Tillmann in 1953, by Georges Duby in 1978, in 1986 by John W. Baldwin in his study of the government of Philip Augustus and by Christopher Brooke around 1990.

But with its heady mixture of sex, international politics, and papal intervention, the story has almost been an embarrassment to Danish historians, though some feminist historians have tried to put the story to new use. Hal Koch in his history of the Danish church dismisses the twenty year struggle in a single paragraph, while Kai Hørby in the Gyldendal History of Denmark only comments on the case when it affects internal Danish developments. More recently, the same embarrassment is visible in Ole Fenger’s contribution to the eighteen-volume History of Denmark. So it is worth repeating its main points, not only for its value as an entertaining vignette of the realities of political marriages, but also for the insight it offers into the reception of legal knowledge across Europe in the late twelfth to the early thirteenth century and the way in which incident came to be subservient to Innocent III’s larger imperial policy.

The events of the case unfolded as follows. On 14 August 1193 Philip II of France took a new wife. His bride, the eighteen year old Ingeborg, the daughter of king Valdemar I and sister of the Danish king Canute VI, had only arrived in France the previous day in the company of two men who had the mastery of the French language which it was hoped Ingeborg would soon acquire, master William of Æbelholt/Paraclete, a former canon of Sainte Genevieve in Paris, and the bishop of Roskilde, Peder Sunesøn, a former Danish law graduate in Paris. In the evening Philip and Ingeborg, who had never set eyes on each other before, retired to consummate their marriage. The following day, the two spouses attended a mass celebrated by the archbishop of Rheims in the cathedral in Amiens, as had been the custom of the French monarchy since the days of Clovis, and Ingeborg was crowned queen of France. During the ceremonies, Philip grew pale and restless and and showed every sign that he could hardly wait for the service to be over. Upon its conclusion, Philip approached the Danish party and requested that they take Ingeborg back to Denmark with them. He announced that he intended to seek an annulment of the marriage. When told, Ingeborg rejected the suggestion out of hand, crying loudly and in rather simple Latin: “Mala Francia: Roma, Roma (Bad France: To Rome To Rome).” Philip took no heed of her distress and dispatched her to the monastery of Saint-Maur-des-Fossés not far from Paris. This was the beginning of a conflict between Philip and his legal wife that would not only be an embarrassment for the French King and the Papacy for the next twelve years but that would also poison their relationship until Philip’s death in 1223.

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