WHEN I first set out to write a series about women born outside Scotland who had an effect on Scottish history, I knew it was a wide field and that I would have plenty of individuals to choose from.

I have to say I was surprised, however, to receive an email from a regular reader who pointed me in the direction of people that I had not really considered to be highly influential in Scottish affairs.

The reader, who asked to remain anonymous, correctly berated me for starting in the 16th century and thus leaving out several earlier women who had appeared to me to be mere bit players in Scottish history, namely a long line of queen consorts who married into the Scottish royal family and who all had an influence on Scotland to a greater or lesser effect.

My apologies for what might have appeared to be misogyny, but in fact was simple oversight, my only excuse being the bugbear of all Scottish historians of the mediaeval period – namely, the sheer lack of sources for the history of those centuries. We can only hope that someday someone will find a treasure chest full of original documents dating from the 11th to the 15th centuries giving us all a much greater account of what happened in Scotland in those eras, though thanks to the destructive forces of Edward Longshanks, the Reformation and Oliver Cromwell, I suspect such a trove does not exist.

Like many people I had thought that the various queen consorts of the kings of Scots were of no great account simply because there are no great accounts of their lives and careers. They barely figure in the various histories of events as most of the better mediaeval chronicles that survive are English, such as Lanercost, or are unreliable Scottish accounts such as John of Fordun’s Chronica Gentis Scotorum that dates to around 1360, or Walter Bower’s Scotichronicon which was heavily influenced by Fordun and dates from 1440 to 1449.

READ MORE: Marie de Guise: Scotland’s other ‘Queen’ of the 16th century

Bower does single out for praise one woman who really did have a tremendous influence on Scotland, Ermengarde de Beaumont. Like every woman featured in this series to date, she was born furth of these borders, in her case in France at the castle of her father Richard I, Viscount of Beaumont-le-Vicomte, Fresnay and Ste-Suzanne and his wife Lucie de l’Aigle. Her father was the grandson of King Henry I of England but he had no claim to the English throne because of the stain of illegitimacy in his parentage – his mother Maud FitzRoy, also known as Constance, was one of Henry’s many illegitimate children.

Little is known about Ermengarde’s early life, not even her exact birthdate, but she is usually said to have been born in 1170. The first mention of her in history is when she was chosen by King Henry II of England to marry the King of Scots, William the Lion.

The National: William the LionWilliam the Lion

By the time his future wife was born, William had already ruled over Scotland for five years. How did the king of England come to choose the wife for the King of Scots? It is worth dwelling on this point for a short while.

As I have written before, William I of Scotland – please note that when Prince William ascends the throne it will be as William IV of Scotland not William V – was a long-reigning monarch who did things his way. He was red-haired, fiery and headstrong and that wasn’t always to the good of himself and Scotland.

William’s brother David, the Earl of Huntingdon, ancestor of Robert the Bruce, marched into England to lead the rebellion in the north against Henry II – just about everybody rebelled against Henry, including his wife and sons.

William followed David in both 1173 – he really wanted the return of his lands in what is now Northumberland – and again in July, 1174, when disaster struck the king and his kingdom.

With a large army, William laid siege to the strategically important castle of Alnwick and in a military error of some consequence he spread his army around the area. That enabled a party of 400 battle-hardened English knights to find William on his own with a bodyguard of just 60 men.

Nothing daunted, William charged at the English shouting: “Now we shall see which of us are good knights.” It wasn’t William – he was unhorsed and captured and brought before Henry II, who had successfully defeated the rebellion and captured several Scottish castles in the absence of King William.

We know that the two men had a difficult negotiation about what was to happen. Henry was prepared to set William free but asked a very high price to which the King of Scots had to agree.

It wasn’t just money that Henry wanted. The Treaty of Falaise in Normandy, to where William had been transported as a prisoner, saw William accept that he had to do homage to Henry as his overlord and the English king was allowed to send garrisons to several Scottish castles.

The Scottish church was put under English rule – the Pope later revoked that article – and in 1175, William did homage to Henry at York.

Part of the Treaty was that Henry also got to nominate a bride for William, as yet unmarried and known for the number of his mistresses and illegitimate children.

By great good fortune, Henry gave William Ermengarde de Beaumont. The King of Scots thought a count’s daughter was beneath him and that Henry had insulted him. William had wanted to marry Henry’s granddaughter Matilda, daughter of Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony. But Henry would not give William such a highly titled wife. It was greatly to his benefit that Ermengarde came to be his wife, not least because her dowry included the return of Edinburgh Castle to Scottish control.

Henry was so pleased at asserting his overlordship that he paid for the entire wedding, and gave William land valued at 100 merks and 40 knight’s fees as a dowry, and later returned the other castles that William had forfeited.

The less than happy couple – at first – were married in the English royal chapel at Woodstock on September 5, 1186. William was then about 44, Ermengarde just 16.

Almost incredibly, theirs turned out to be a love match, at least in its early years. Though we have no sources that describe their relationship, it can be inferred from the fact that they had two daughters in quick succession that William was obviously lovestruck by his pretty French bride. We also have solid evidence that he reformed his previous ways and took no further mistresses – no further illegitimate children by him are recorded. They do appear to have grown apart as the much older William deteriorated physically and mentally, but Ermengarde also turned out to be a shrewd and helpful adviser who seems to have been able to keep her husband calm.

In Scotichronicon, Walter Bower described her as “an extraordinary woman, gifted with a charming and witty eloquence”, which is about the biggest compliment he pays any woman in his chronicle.

We know that the new Queen Consort was loved by her people, and that she soon began to play an important role in the royal court. She brought over friends and advisors from France and some historians say the seeds of the long-lasting Franco-Scottish alliance were sown by her during her time with William.

Unusually for the time, all four of their children made it to adulthood and were comparatively long-lived. Margaret was born in 1193, Isabella born in 1195, and despite William suffering a life-threatening illness, his son and heir Alexander was born in 1198 and Marjorie was born in 1200. All three daughters married English earls but only Margaret had children so the hoped-for Anglo-Scottish dynasties did not arise.

In the 1190s, William did a deal with Richard the Lionheart which in effect released him from the Treaty of Falaise and paid for the Lionheart’s crusade. But Richard’s brother John, who ruled while the Lionheart was abroad, always insisted on English overlordship of Scotland and that continued after he became king in his own right on Richard’s death in 1199. William had led numerous skirmishes into northern England for a number of years, but we can be pretty certain that Ermengarde advised him against going further south, for she had a plan.

It is at this point that Ermengarde comes into her own. Being French she could more easily converse and interact with the Plantagenet court in England, and it appears that she acted as a mediator between her husband and King John, who made little secret of the fact that he wanted to take the throne of Scotland from the ageing and increasingly ill William – there were also enough likely rebels among the nobility of Scotland who also fancied usurping the Lion.

(He got that nickname not from his leonine qualities but because he was the first King of Scots to fly the Lion Rampant as his standard – it remains the royal flag of Scotland to this day.) If she did do all the talking then she was very successful, because not only did they agree a peace in 1209, but Ermengarde somehow managed to convince John that a marriage between his daughter Joan and her son, the future King Alexander II, would be a perfect match.

The peace treaty of 1209 was a poor one for Scotland but the one renegotiated in 1212 by Ermengarde secured the succession of Alexander to the Scottish throne along with Joan of England as his wife. Alexander was even knighted by King John during the family’s visit to London to agree the treaty.

By now 70, William left more and more business to Ermengarde, whose main concern was training Alexander in the ways of kingship. She was also hugely devoted to the church and the evidence of her influence on Scotland was the fact that she sat in judgement on major church disputes – one priest even accused her of taking bribes to “fix” the bishopric of Glasgow for a friend.

In 1213, William took seriously ill but he recovered the following year and was able to travel north to Elgin before he collapsed again and was rushed south to Stirling Castle. It was there that he died on December 4, 1214, with Ermengarde left distraught by his passing, “in a state of extreme mourning and worn out with grief”, as Bower records. Not too upset, however, to fail to organise her son’s accession to the throne – while she remained with the king’s body, Alexander was crowned two days later at Scone by nobles close to William, to avoid any arguments breaking out among the several claimants to the crown.

The king was buried at Arbroath in the Abbey he had founded and funded in 1178. Although she was only 44 when she was widowed, Ermengarde never married again, which is also a sign of her devotion to William.

Ermengarde now became principal advisor to her son King Alexander as he entered his 20s, and she also became more and more devoted to the church and using her money for church causes as was often the case with rich widows in those days.

She single-handedly raised the funds to found a Cistercian abbey at Balmerino in Fife, and both she and her son often stayed there after it was completed in 1229. Eventually she took up permanent residence, you might indelicately say, at Balmerino Abbey after her death on February 12, 1233, being buried by the high altar.

It is regrettable that we know so little. We do know, however that her daughter-in-law Joan of England was no fan – find out why next week.