Feast Day : July 4
Patronage: brides; charitable societies and workers; difficult marriages and victims of unfaithfulness or adultery; falsely accused people; widows; queens; tertiaries; victims of jealousy
Also known as: Isabella; Angel of Peace; the Peacemaker
Given the contentious nature of her royal ancestors, no one would have predicted that Elizabeth would assume the role of peacemaker almost from birth. Her greatgrandfather was Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, leader of Germany, Italy, Sicily and Jerusalem, and cousin to St. Thomas Aquinas. Her maternal grandfather, King Manfred of Sicily, was one of Frederick II’s illegitimate sons. He met an untimely end when Charles of Anjou, son of King St. Louis IX of France, had him murdered and his body paraded through the streets on a donkey. On her father’s side, her grandfather, King James I of Aragon, banished his family from court because they criticized his incestuous affairs. But Elizabeth’s birth at Aragon in 1271 stopped all the squabbling, at least temporarily; James reconciled with his son Peter in order to see Peter’s child, named for her great-aunt St. Elizabeth of Hungary. The king fell in love with Elizabeth and took her to live with him. By the time King James I died in 1276, the six-yearold child had learned the intrigues of her grandfather’s marriages and affairs and understood the geopolitical significance of her own wedding. Edward I of England wanted Elizabeth to marry his son, and Charles of Anjou desired her for his son. But her father, now Peter III of Aragon, betrothed the girl, barely 12, to King Denis of Portugal, supposedly to keep her sunny, pious presence nearby. Passion and retribution scarred the groom’s family as well. Denis’s father was the illegitimate son of King Alfonso III of Portugal. The father repudiated his wife and married Beatrice Guzma, Denis’s mother—herself illegitimate. Denis was excommunicated, and all of Portugal was under a papal interdict for the royal family’s refusal to conform. By her 19th birthday, Elizabeth— an astute politician—had negotiated a peace between her husband and Pope Nicholas IV and the removal of the papal interdict. At 21, she called for arbitration to settle a property dispute between Denis and his brother. When that failed, Elizabeth avoided war by ceding her brother-in-law a piece of her own estates. The Portuguese remember the reign of King Denis and Queen Elizabeth as a golden age. The royal couple organized agricultural villages, and Elizabeth founded the nation’s first agricultural college, where orphan girls learned to be good farmers’ wives. Whenever one of the girls married, Elizabeth gave the couple a plot of her own land. She established foundling refuges, a hospital, travelers’ shelters and a home for penitent women at Torres Novas. Even during their honeymoon, Elizabeth gave parties for the poor and whatever she had to the needy. One account says that when she had no money for her workmen, she gave them roses, which turned into money. Elizabeth and Denis had two children, Constance and Alfonso, but Denis’s infidelities brought nine more into the royal household. Elizabeth refused to denounce Denis or repudiate the children. It pained her, however, that Denis preferred his illegitimate son Alfonso Sancho over their own son. Jealous and rebellious, Alfonso attempted to kill Alfonso Sancho, but his plot failed. To punish her for helping Alfonso escape, Denis banished Elizabeth from Lisbon, the royal capital, and persuaded Pope John XXII (r. 1316–34) to issue a bull granting Portugal the right to ignore Alfonso’s birthright in favor of the illegitimate children. When she was allowed to return to Lisbon, Elizabeth again brokered peace between Denis and Alfonso and persuaded the pope to lift the bull. In 1323, when nothing else worked to allay war between father and son, Elizabeth rode at full gallop on a donkey between the opposing armies standing on the field of battle, shaming them into reconciliation. She reportedly averted war between Ferdinand IV of Castile and his cousin, and between Ferdinand IV and her own brother, James II of Aragon. In 1324 Denis fell ill, and Elizabeth devoted herself totally to him. Denis finally admitted his sins and died repentant January 6, 1325. Immediately after his death, Elizabeth gave away all her possessions and made pilgrimage to Compostela, then left for a convent of Poor Clares she had founded at Coimbra. Dissuaded from joining the convent, she became a tertiary to the order of St. Francis and lived the rest of her life as Queen Mother in a house near the convent. Always the peacemaker, Elizabeth attempted one final mission to reconcile her son, now Alfonso IV, and her nephew, Alfonso XI of Castile. Traveling to Estremoz at age 66, in the summer heat, she died on July 4, 1336.Elizabeth is invoked in time of war, for peace.