On this 14th of January in 1236, Henry III married Eleanor of Provence in Canterbury. A fanciful story has come down through the ages that Eleanor snared the king through his brother Richard of Cornwall. It goes back to an erroneous sixteenth-century biography of their uncle Richard the Lionheart, who supposedly inspired Eleanor to write her knightly romance Blandin of Cornwall while he was visiting Provence. The problem here is the Lionheart died more than twenty years before Eleanor was born. Later historians put “Richard” (the Lionheart) and (Blandin of) “Cornwall” together and assumed her heroic inspiration must have been Richard of Cornwall.
The next problem is Richard of Cornwall made his first and only visit to Provence in 1240, four years after Eleanor’s marriage to Henry. It was still too good a yarn not to take on a life of its own and so was reworked to have Eleanor sending Richard her Blandin romance in the hope of him passing it on to his brother. Naturally he does, Henry is smitten and marries the girl sight unseen.
This last part is true. Henry first laid eyes on Eleanor only after she arrived in Canterbury. He had spent the last six months negotiating for her hand and was so worried after four failed attempts to find a bride that he told his proctors he would marry her even without a dowry, which turned out to be the case. They had a long, loving marriage, and it was Eleanor of Provence who, with Henry’s encouragement and support, revived the role of dynamic queenship in England.