Biography of Judith of France

First Woman to Be Crowned Queen of England

Baldwin I and Judith of France painting

Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Judith of France (843/844–870), also known as Judith of Flanders, was married to two Saxon English kings, first the father and then the son. She was also both stepmother and sister-in-law of Alfred the Great. Her son from her third marriage married into the Anglo-Saxon royal line, and his descendant Matilda of Flanders married William the Conqueror. Her consecration ceremony set a standard for later wives of kings in England.

Fast Facts: Judith of France

  • Known For: First woman to be crowned Queen of England; daughter of the King of France; grandmother of Matilda of Flanders, wife of William the Conqueror
  • Born: October 843 or 844 in Orleans, France
  • Parents: Charles the Bald and Ermentrude of Orléans
  • Died: April 870 in Burgundy, France
  • Spouse(s): Saxon king of the West Saxons, Aethelwulf of Wessex (m. October 1, 856–858); Aethelbald of Wessex (m. 858–860); Baldwin I, Count of Flanders (m. 861–870)
  • Children: Charles (b. 864); Baldwin II (865–918); Raoul, Count of Cambrai (867–896); Gunhilde (b. 870), all children with Baldwin I

Early Life

Judith of France was born in October 843 or 844, the daughter of the Carolingian king of West Francia, known as Charles the Bald, and his wife Ermentrude of Orléans, daughter of Odo, Count of Orleans and Engeltrude.

The Saxon king of the West Saxons, Aethelwulf, left his son Aethelbald to manage Wessex and traveled to Rome on pilgrimage. A younger son Aethelbehrt was made the king of Kent during his absence. Aethelwulf's youngest son Alfred may have accompanied his father to Rome. Aethelwulf's first wife (and mother of his children including five sons) was Osburh; it's not known if she had died or was simply cast aside when Aethelwulf negotiated a more important marriage alliance.

Returning from Rome, Aethelwulf stayed in France with Charles for some months. There, he was betrothed in July 856 to Charles' daughter Judith, who was about 13 years old.

Judith Crowned Queen

Aethelwulf and Judith returned to his land; they were married on October 1, 856. A consecration ceremony gave Judith the title of queen, making her the first crowned queen of England. Apparently, Charles had won from Aethelwulf a promise that Judith would be crowned queen upon their marriage; earlier wives of Saxon kings were known quite simply as the "king's wife" rather than carrying a royal title of their own. Two generations later, the queen's consecration was made standard liturgy in the church.

Aethelbald revolted against his father, perhaps fearful that Judith's children would displace him as his father's heir, or perhaps just to keep his father from taking control of Wessex again. Aethelbald's allies in the rebellion included the bishop of Sherborne and others. Aethelwulf pacified his son by giving him control of the western part of Wessex.

Second Marriage

Aethelwulf did not live long after his marriage to Judith, and they did not have children. He died in 858, and his eldest son Aethelbald took over all of Wessex. He also married his father's widow, Judith, probably in recognition of the prestige of being married to a daughter of the powerful French king.

The church condemned the marriage as incestuous, and it was annulled in 860. That same year, Aethelbald died. Now about 16 or 17 years old and childless, Judith sold all of her lands in England and returned to France, while Aethelwulf's sons Aethelbehrt and then Albert, in turn, succeeded Aethelbald.

Count Baldwin I

Her father, perhaps hoping to find another marriage for her, confined her to a convent. But Judith escaped the convent in about 861 by eloping with a man named Baldwin, apparently with the help of her brother Louis. They took refuge in a monastery at Senlis, where they were likely married.

Judith's father Charles was quite angry over this turn of events and got the pope to excommunicate the pair for their action. The couple escaped to Lotharingia and may also have had help from the Viking Rorik. They then appealed to Pope Nicholas I in Rome for help. The Pope interceded with Charles for the couple, who finally reconciled himself to the marriage.

King Charles finally gave his son-in-law some land and charged him with dealing with Viking attacks in that area—attacks that, if unchallenged, might threaten the Franks. Some scholars have suggested that Charles had hope that Baldwin would be killed in this effort, but Baldwin was successful. The area, first called the March of Baldwin, became known as Flanders. Charles the Bald created the title, Count of Flanders, for Baldwin.

Judith had several children with Baldwin I, Count of Flanders. One son Charles (b. 864), did not survive to adulthood. Another son named Baldwin (865–918), became Baldwin II, Count of Flanders; and a third, Raoul (or Rodulf, 867–896), was the Count of Cambrai. A daughter Gunhilde, born about 870, married Guifre I Count of Barcelona.

Death and Legacy

Judith died in about 870, a few years before her father became Holy Roman Emperor. Her significance to the British crown, however, lasted for generations.

Judith's genealogy has some important links in British royal history. Sometime between 893 and 899, Baldwin II married Aelfthryth, daughter of the Saxon king Alfred the Great, who was a brother of Judith's second husband and the son of her first husband. One descendant, the daughter of Count Baldwin IV, married Tostig Godwineson, brother of King Harold Godwineson, the last crowned Saxon king of England.

More importantly, another descendant of Judith's son Baldwin II and his wife Aelfthryth was Matilda of Flanders. She married William the Conqueror, the first Norman king of England, and with that marriage and their children and heirs, brought the heritage of the Saxon kings into the Norman royal line.


  • Drake, Terry W. "The History of the Drake Family and the Times They Lived." Xlibris, 2013.
  • Geary, Patrick J. "Women in the Beginning: Origin Myths from the Amazons to the Virgin Mary." Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006.
  • Oksanen, Eljas. "Flanders and the Anglo-Norman World, 1066–1216." Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Ward, Jennifer. "Women in England in the Middle Ages." London: Hambledon Continuum, 2006.
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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Biography of Judith of France." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2021, February 16). Biography of Judith of France. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Biography of Judith of France." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).