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Alys, Countess of the Vexin (4 October 1160 – c. 1220) was the daughter of King Louis VII of France and his second wife Constance of Castile. She is also known as Alaïs, Adélaïde, Adèle, Alais, or Alix, but is not to be confused with her half-sister Alix of France, the daughter of Louis by his first wife Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Early life

Alys was a younger half-sister to Marie and Alix and a younger full sister to Marguerite. Alys's mother died in giving birth to her. Desperate for a male heir, Louis married Adèle of Champagne just five weeks after Constance's death. Five years later came the birth of Alys's half-brother Philip, eventually King of France, and six years later still the birth of Alys's youngest half-sister Agnes, Empress consort of the Byzantine Empire.

Relationships with royalty

In January 1169, an agreement was reached by her father and King Henry II of England that Alys should be betrothed to Henry's son Richard. She was thereupon sent to the Kingdom of England. Her prospective father-in-law, Henry II, kept her at his court for many years.

By 1177, this had become a scandal and a source of friction between England and France. In that year Cardinal Peter of St Chrysogonus, on behalf of Pope Alexander III, threatened to place England's continental possessions under an interdict if Henry did not proceed with Alys's marriage to his son. Henry eventually pacified Louis VII while still avoiding the central issue: Alys remained with Henry, unmarried. There were widespread rumours that he had made her his mistress and that she had a child by him. It was said of Alys that "except for her looks, the tales were none too good", as she was considered promiscuous throughout her life.

When King Henry died on 6 July 1189, her long-time fiancé, Richard, succeeded to the throne but terminated their engagement in Messinamarker in March 1191, on the grounds that she had borne a child by his father. She was sent back to France in 1195.

Her brother, King Philip II of France, had offered her to Richard's younger brother Prince John in 1192, but Queen Mother Eleanor of Aquitaine put a stop to that. Instead Alys was married on 20 August 1195 to William III Talvas, Count of Ponthieu, and they had three daughters: Jean (born dead), Marie, Countess of Ponthieu, and Isabelle. Alys was still alive on 28 July 1218; the date of her death is unknown.

Portrayals in fiction

As Alasia of France, she appears in Eleanor Anne Porden's 1822 epic poem Cœur de Lion. Porden depicts her being shipwrecked on the Third Crusade, and joining the army of Saladin to avenge herself on Richard for his rejection of her. She fights as a female knight, re-named 'Zorayda'. However, she is mortally wounded in a fight with the young knight Pardo, a foundling whom Richard has raised. As she is dying, she reveals that she is his mother, and Henry II, who had seduced her in girlhood, was his father.

Alys has appeared in a number of historical novels. She has a minor role in Sharon Kay Penman's novel, Time and Chance. American author/poet Judith Koll Healey published the historical novel The Canterbury Papers (The Lost Letters of Aquitaine outside the US) in 2004. It depicts Alaïs later in life, after her return to France, and sends her on a mission to England to retrieve some letters from Canterbury Cathedral for Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Alys (as "Alaïs") is a major character in James Goldman's play The Lion in Winter , in which she is depicted as Henry II's lover. She was played by Jane Merrow in the 1968 film adaptation, for which she was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture, and by Yuliya Vysotskaya in the 2003 TV adaptation.

She was also played by Katherine DeMille, adopted daughter of Cecil B. DeMille, in his 1935 film, The Crusades, by Susan Shaw in the British children's TV series Richard the Lionheart (1962), and by Lorna Charles (aged 13) and Lucy Gutteridge (as an older teenager and adult) in the BBC TV drama series The Devil's Crown (1978).


  1. Some genealogical sources and websites, relying on P. Anselme, Histoire généalogique et chronologique de la maison royale de France, 1725 (vol. 1 p. 77), state that Alys was born in 1170 and therefore that her mother was Louis VII's third wife, Alix de Blois (whom Louis married in 1164). The birth date of 1170 is impossible, however, not only because Alys was betrothed in January 1169, but because she must have been of marriageable age in 1177, when the Pope demanded that she be married immediately.
  2. Robert of Torigny, Chronicle in Chronicles of the reigns of Stephen, Henry II, and Richard I, ed. Richard Howlett, vol. 4 p. 240; John of Salisbury, Letters (ed. W. J. Millor, H. E. Butler) vol. 2 pp. 648-9.
  3. Roger of Howden, Annals 1177.


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