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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On Disposing of Excess Baggage

I am just coming to the end of The Mirror and the Light, the final volume of the trilogy by novelist Hilary Mantel about the English statesman, Thomas Cromwell. The story revolves around the obsession of Henry the Eighth to produce a male heir for the English throne, an obsession that, if it necessitated divorce or otherwise disposing of a spouse who had not fulfilled her purpose... so be it. Henry could have saved himself the adversity that came from setting the Catholic Church and much of European royalty against him, and the expense of every so often having to have swords or axes sharpened in order to dispatch his no longer desired wives. One of his daughters would prove the female sex quite capable of providing a monarch as worthy as himself. Although Henry found annulment of marriage a useful policy, it took the English royal institution about four and a half centuries, the abdication of a king, numerous scandals and the suffering of several members of the royal family in order to come to terms with the fact that divorce, if not an ideal state is sometimes the most expedient solution to an unsatisfactory marriage.

In 1097, Baldwin of Boulogne, whose wife, Godeghilde had died during the crusade, married the daughter of a minor Armenian noble, a woman traditionally known as Arda (her name does not appear in contemporary sources). It was a marriage of convenience. Baldwin had gained rule of Edessa, and Arda’s father, Thoros of Marash promised him a substantial dowry of 60,000 bezants. The marriage suited Baldwin’s expectations at the time, as co-ruler and very shortly after, sole ruler of the first crusader state, the County of Edessa, a state whose inhabitants were mainly Armenian Christians. Baldwin, however, was soon to rise in the world. In 1100, with the death of his brother Godfrey of Bouillon, Baldwin succeeded him as king of Jerusalem. With his new status, Arda became less of a bonus and something of a burden. Her father had not been forthcoming with the promised dowry, she had produced no children, and possibly she had been unfaithful as a wife. The latter was the claim made in order to annul the marriage. In the alternative version of Guibert of Nogent, she had been tainted by having been raped by pirates on the way to Jerusalem. Whether or not either of these was true, the marriage was annulled in 1105, and Arda was sent off to the monastery of Saint Anne. Seven years later Baldwin arranged to marry Adelaide del Vasto, the widow of Roger I of Sicily, a rather strange choice if an heir was his motive as she was middle aged at the time of their marriage. More likely it was her wealth that attracted Baldwin (who in any case, in the eyes of some historians, had homosexual preferences). The marriage was supported by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Arnulf of Chocques, but was condemned by the pope because Arda, who was still alive, remained in the eyes of the Church Baldwin’s legitimate wife. For condoning the consequently bigamous marriage Arnulf was deposed, and only reinstated when he agreed to invalidate the marriage to Adelaide. The new queen quite understandably returned to Sicily in a huff.

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