Friday, 12 August 2016

Uncrowned Consorts 1066-1558



After the Norman Conquest of 1066, it became customary for the king's consort to be crowned, either alongside him or at a later date. In Anglo-Saxon England, it had not been usual for the queen to be crowned. However, William the Conqueror signalled a break with the past when he assented to the coronation of his wife, Matilda of Flanders, alongside him on Christmas Day 1066. Thereafter, the wife of the king was usually honoured with a coronation. 

As J. L. Laynesmith notes, the medieval coronation enhanced the quasi-religious nature of the royal dynasty and manifested a 'dynasty-bound divine right'. It conveyed divine favour while promising prosperity for the dynasty, provided that the king and his consort obey God's laws and govern their people equitably and justly. For the queen consort, the coronation was concerned with her role as an integral part of her husband's public body. Thus the coronation, as Laynesmith suggests, offered the consort 'a richer sense of her divinely ordained role'. 

Given that the majority of English queens in the period 1066-1558 were foreign-born, it was customary for the consort to be crowned after her arrival in England and subsequent marriage to the king. Indeed, no Englishwoman was crowned queen until Elizabeth Wydeville in 1465. The coronation, from the consort's perspective, functioned as a celebration of the ruling king's dynasty and more broadly demonstrated the wealth and magnificence of the realm which she had arrived in. 

However, not all consorts in the five hundred years after the Conquest were crowned, for a variety of reasons. These were complex in nature and included political troubles, financial difficulties, and domestic insurrection or rebellion that prevented the king from dedicating the time and expenses required to furnish his consort with a coronation. Whether or not a lack of coronation affected the consort's claim to legitimacy is a significant question that cannot always be answered straightforwardly, but it will be seen that at least in some cases, the consort felt slighted by the absence of this ceremony.

Isabelle of France, second consort of Richard II
(1389-1409), consort 1396-1399


Traditionally, Richard II's second consort is said to have been crowned on or about 8 January 1397, but unusually, there is no extant evidence of the coronation festivities. If her coronation did take place, it must have been very low-key and this may partly be because of the hostility generated by Richard's choice of bride. The new queen was only seven years old and would be unable to bear children for some years to come. Given the uneasy political climate, it could be said that Richard had not chosen particularly wisely, although the marriage was designed to cement peaceful relations between England and France. If the coronation took place, it was apparently unworthy of being recorded for posterity; some historians doubt whether it actually took place. If it did not, Isabelle was the first consort in over three hundred years not to be honoured with a coronation. 

Henry VIII's consorts (1536-1547)


After his failed marriages to Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII elected not to honour any of his subsequent four wives with a coronation. In two cases, evidence suggests that coronation festivities were planned but did not take place. Jane Seymour, his third consort, most likely would have been crowned had she lived after giving birth to her only son, the future Edward VI. Court observers reported that the king wished for Jane to be crowned in October 1536, six months after her marriage, but rumours of plague alongside insurrection in the north of England prevented the ceremony from taking place. The coronation could, and did, celebrate the queen's fertility, thus legitimising the king's dynasty. Had Jane survived the birth of Edward in October 1537, it seems reasonable to suppose that her grateful husband would have arranged for her coronation, but her unexpected death prevented this from coming to fruition. 

Henry's belief that Anne of Cleves was not his wife prevented her from receiving a coronation, while his final consort, Katherine Parr, was not favoured with a coronation for reasons that remain unclear. However, it is possible that Henry did consider crowning his fifth wife, Katherine Howard. The royal couple departed on a northern progress in the summer of 1541, partly because Henry was determined to ensure the north's obedience to him following recent rebellion in the area, and partly because he hoped to meet his nephew, James of Scotland, at York. One ambassador reported that Henry intended to have Katherine crowned at York, which would have marked a break with the past given that both Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, not to mention the medieval consorts, had been crowned in London. The coronation did not take place, perhaps because Henry was waiting for his consort to provide him with an heir. She did not, of course, and her execution the following year prevented her from being crowned.

Guildford Dudley, consort of Jane 
(c. 1537/8-1554), consort 1553


Whether Lady Jane Grey should in truth be referred to as Queen Jane I of England continues to be disputed by modern historians, but if she was rightful queen, as Eric Ives argues, then her husband Guildford Dudley should be viewed as her consort. Guildford, who was probably younger than his wife, most likely would have been crowned alongside his wife had Mary Tudor not successfully seized the crown from Jane and had the young couple imprisoned in the Tower of London. Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence of animosity or dislike between Jane and Guildford and the young noblewoman continued to refer to herself as Lady Jane Dudley even while imprisoned. When Guildford requested to see Jane before their executions on 12 February 1554, Jane refused because the sight of one another would 'increase the misery in both, and bring much more suffering'. Fifteen or sixteen when he was beheaded, Guildford Dudley was the first male consort since Geoffrey of Anjou, husband of the Empress Matilda.

Philip II of Spain, consort of Mary
(1527-1598), consort 1554-1558

Portrait of King Philip II of Spain, in Gold-Embroidered Costume with Order of the Golden Fleece.jpg

Mary I's husband, Philip II of Spain, was never crowned. It is clear that he personally resented his wife's decision not to arrange for his coronation, because it confirmed that his wife took precedence at least in governing England. This absence of a coronation was part of a broader curtailing of Philip's powers and influence in Mary's realm. Philip was made king by an Act of Parliament stipulating that he 'shall aid her Highness... in the happy administration of her Grace's realms and dominions'. It is possible that the decision not to crown Philip was at least partly a result of the widespread antipathy to Mary's choice of a husband who was both Catholic and Spanish. 



In the period 1066-1558, the consort expected to be crowned alongside her husband (or more rarely, his wife). It was unusual for the consort not to be honoured with a coronation and usually, if the ceremony did not take place, it was due to extraordinary circumstances. These circumstances included political troubles, as in the case of Philip II; domestic insurrection and rebellion, as Jane Seymour and Guildford Dudley discovered, the latter being deposed alongside his wife; and the king's decision to wait for his consort to prove her fertility, as occurred with Henry VIII's later consorts. Whether the consort accepted the absence of a crowning or not depended on their personality. No evidence survives for how Henry's later consorts felt, or perhaps Isabelle of France. Nor do we know whether Guildford Dudley minded, but given that his wife was also not crowned before she was deposed, it is unlikely that he had much say in the matter. But evidence suggests that Philip resented what he perceived as the curtailing of his rights in England; the absence of a coronation confirmed his supplication to Mary, at least in her own realm.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The Expulsion of the Jews from England

A man in half figure with short, curly hair and a hint of beard is facing left. He wears a coronet and holds a sceptre in his right hand. He has a blue robe over a red tunic, and his hands are covered by white, embroidered gloves. His left hand seems to be pointing left, to something outside the picture.

On 18 July 1290, a cataclysmic event took place that was to have far-reaching consequences. King Edward I ordered the expulsion of the Jews from England. Only in 1657, a total of 367 years later, were the Jews permitted to return to England. The Edict of Expulsion has usually been interpreted as the inevitable culmination of worsening persecution against the Jews. 

By 1290, the Jews were an accepted presence in English society, although Christians viewed them with ambivalence. Economically, Jews could enjoy great influence. Loans with interest were permitted between Jews and non-Jews, contrary to English practice which expressly forbade usury, which was regarded by the Church as a heinous sin. While Jews could benefit from lending money at high rates of interest, they were also vulnerable to the whims of the king, who could levy heavy taxes on them without summoning Parliament. Their reputation as extortionate moneylenders, whether deserved or not, could make them unpopular among their Christian fellows. 

In wider society, as W.D. Rubinstein has noted, anti-Jewish attitudes were prevalent. These stemmed from, and were encouraged by, negative images of the Jew as a diabolical figure that preyed on innocent Christian children. Jews were vulnerable to accusations of ritual murders; most notably, William of Norwich (d. 1144) and Little St. Hugh of Lincoln (d. 1255). Walter Laqueur opined that: 'There have been about 150 recorded cases of blood libel... that resulted in the arrest and killing of Jews throughout history, most of them in the Middle Ages. In almost every case, Jews were murdered, sometimes by a mob, sometimes following torture and a trial'.

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Above: William of Norwich (left) and Little St. Hugh of Lincoln (right).

Hostility to the Jews occasionally erupted in violence and bloodshed. Massacres occurred in 1189 and 1190; in York, over 100 Jews were massacred while hiding in a tower. The situation gradually worsened as, less than thirty years later, in 1218, Jews were required to wear a marking badge. Over the course of the thirteenth-century, Jews were heavily taxed. In 1275, King Edward I issued a statute that placed a number of restrictions on the Jews in England, in which he outlawed the practice of usury. Later, the king charged the Jews with failing to follow the Statute of Jewry, and he ordered their expulsion from the country in July 1290.

Only in the seventeenth-century were Jews officially permitted to return to England. The widely anti-Semitic attitudes that characterised medieval and early modern Europe, as a whole, did not disappear in modern times. The Holocaust, which claimed the lives of roughly 6 million Jews, built on and was encouraged by anti-Jewish propaganda that had existed on the Continent for hundreds of years.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

19 July 1543: The Death of Mary Stafford



We do not know how old Mary Stafford (nee Boleyn) was when she died on 19 July 1543. Mystery surrounds every aspect of Mary's life: we do not know her date of birth, what she looked like, whether she was the oldest or the youngest of the surviving Boleyn children, what her relationship with her siblings was like, or even where she died. Mary's life has been imagined and invented in works of fiction, most notably Philippa Gregory's bestselling novel The Other Boleyn Girl and in Karen Harper's The Last Boleyn. 

Although Mary remains best known as the sister of Anne Boleyn, it seems fitting to refer to her as Mary Stafford given that she died while the wife of William Stafford. In her letter to Thomas Cromwell, written c. 1534, Mary described her second husband as 'honest' and noted that she 'could never have had one that should have loved me so well'. At a distance of almost five hundred years, it is impossible to know whether Mary's controversial marriage to William Stafford was ultimately happy, but certainly theirs appears to have initially been a love match. Like other Tudor noblewomen, such as Frances Brandon, Katherine Willoughby and Anne Stanhope, Mary had selected a second husband who was inferior to her in status because it brought the promise of security, although it enraged her family and compelled her sister to order her dismissal from court.

At her death, Mary held a number of properties, many located in Essex. After the disgrace and deaths of her brother and sister in 1536, she was her father's sole heiress and it was to her that the Boleyn inheritance passed. When Mary died, the properties passed to her son Henry Carey, who was then aged seventeen. He was highly favoured by his cousin Elizabeth following her accession in 1558. Henry's sister Katherine was also a favourite of the queen. 

Above: Anne Boleyn. In the realm of fiction, Mary and Anne have often been presented as jealous rivals. 

The last years of Mary Stafford's life were not necessarily pleasant ones. Her unexpected marriage to William Stafford displeased her family and her sister, who was then queen, banished her from court permanently. Less than two years later, Anne and George Boleyn were both executed, alongside four other men, on scandalous charges of adultery, incest and treason. Less than two years after the shocking events of 1536, Mary's mother died, and a year after that, her father also passed away. In 1542, her sister-in-law Jane Parker was beheaded for treason alongside Mary's cousin, Katherine Howard. Although she was not necessarily close to any of these individuals, it would be surprising if the betrayal, bloodshed and devastation that was inflicted on the Boleyn family between the late 1530s and early 1540s did not have an impact on Mary, by then the only surviving child of Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn.

Two biographies of Mary have been published to date and she regularly features in general histories of Henry VIII's reign. Moreover, she has been the subject of numerous novels. However, much of Mary's life remains unknown. Perhaps it is this mystery, this uncertainty, that makes her so entrancing to modern audiences today. 

Above: Katherine (left) and Henry (right), Mary's children by her first husband William Carey. Both were greatly favoured by their cousin, Elizabeth I. 

Friday, 17 June 2016

Queenship and Witchcraft: Joan of Navarre

Joana Canterbury.jpg

In 1437, a week ago today, Queen Joan of Navarre died in London at the age of about sixty-six. Joan is one of the lesser known medieval queens of England and her controversial reputation is founded on the accusations of witchcraft that were levied against her by her stepson, Henry V. This neglect of Joan is unfortunate, because in reality she was one of the most intelligent, politically astute and capable consorts. Recently, I undertook research into Joan's life and discovered that there was a great deal more to her story than the rumours of sorcery that blackened her name.

Born around 1370 in Pamplona, Navarre, Joan married her first husband while still a teenager, in 1386. Her husband was John IV, duke of Brittany. The marriage appears to have been successful and the couple had nine children together. As duchess of Brittany, Joan participated in the ceremonies of court and she is known to have interceded for individuals who displeased her mercurial husband, including Clisson, constable of France. In her activities, Joan conformed entirely to contemporary expectations of how a noblewoman should behave. She fulfilled the roles of mother, wife, intercessor and patron. Her interest in court ceremonial, moreover, indicates that she was both cultured and artistic. 

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Above left: John IV, duke of Brittany, Joan's first husband. 
Above right: Henry IV of England, Joan's second husband. 

In 1399, when Joan was around the age of twenty-nine, her husband died. She chose not to remarry immediately after her husband's death and instead fulfilled the role of regent for her son, John V, during his minority. It was during this period that Joan clearly emerges as a politically astute, capable and wise ruler. In 1403, she remarried. Her second husband was Henry IV of England. By marrying Henry, Joan placed herself in an ambiguous position, for her husband was a usurper. As with the later consorts Elizabeth Wydeville and Anne Neville, whose husbands also unlawfully usurped the throne, Joan was required to legitimise her husband's claim to the throne. Rumours circulated that there had been long-standing affection between Henry and Joan, and it is possible that their marriage was a love match.

However, Henry also demonstrated shrewdness in selecting Joan to be his consort. She was highly experienced in the affairs of government, intelligent and pragmatic. Moreover, in bearing her first husband nine children, she was clearly fertile, which was undoubtedly important for a medieval king whose claim to the throne was not fully secure. Unfortunately, during their ten-year marriage Joan did not bear Henry an heir, although it is possible that she experienced stillbirths. Fortunately, the queen enjoyed excellent relations with her stepchildren, including her husband's son Henry. 

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Above: Henry V, Joan's stepson.

Henry IV's death, however, changed Joan's life. Financially straitened, the new king, Henry V, accused Joan of witchcraft in a ruthless attempt to seize her lands and income with which to finance his foreign wars. As a highborn woman, Joan was vulnerable to accusations that were usually gender specific: namely witchcraft, sorcery and adultery. Other medieval noblewomen suffered from similarly ignominious accusations: both Eleanor Cobham, duchess of Gloucester, and Jacquetta, duchess of Bedford, were accused of witchcraft. There is no surviving evidence that Joan ever engaged in activities associated with witchcraft, and it is surely significant that she was later restored to favour.

During her imprisonment, Joan resided at Pevensey Castle and later at Nottingham Castle. Her stepson died in 1422 and was succeeded by his only son, Henry VI. Joan died on 10 June 1437, the same year in which her successor, Katherine of Valois, also died. As with many medieval queens, there is a lack of evidence concerning Joan's life and her experiences as queen. However, she seems to have enjoyed success during her husband's reign, but his death placed her in an ambiguous position, for she had borne him no children and thus was unable to exert influence in the politics of her stepson's reign. With no-one to support her interests, she was vulnerable to the whims of Henry V and was humiliated when he seized her income to finance his wars on the Continent. Although she died in obscurity, Joan of Navarre emerges as a politically astute, intelligent and influential consort, whose eventual fate bears witness to the dangers faced by highborn women in the Middle Ages. 

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

31 May 1443: The Birth of Lady Margaret Beaufort



On 31 May 1443, Lady Margaret Beaufort was born at Bletsoe Castle in Bedfordshire. She was the daughter of John Beaufort, duke of Somerset, and Lady Margaret Beauchamp. Through her father, Margaret was a descendant of Edward III. Less than a year after his daughter's birth, the duke of Somerset died in suspicious circumstances while on campaign abroad. Some of his contemporaries believed that he had committed suicide, a heinous sin in the eyes of fifteenth-century individuals. Margaret probably did not learn of her father's death until she was older, but the knowledge that he may have killed himself would have brought shame and dishonour both to herself and to her family.

Shortly afterwards, Margaret's wardship was granted to the king's favourite, William de la Pole, first duke of Suffolk. As the heiress to her father's fortunes, Margaret was a highly valuable commodity. In early 1444, when she was less than three years old, Margaret was married to the duke's son John de la Pole. Occasionally, highborn children were married while still in infancy. Later, Edward IV's son Richard married Anne Mowbray when he was four years old and she five. Other evidence indicates that Margaret may actually only have married John in 1450, the year in which Suffolk was murdered. Irrespective of its date, the marriage was annulled in 1453 and Henry VI granted Margaret's wardship to his half-brothers Edmund and Jasper Tudor. 

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Above: Edmund Tudor, earl of Richmond.

On 1 November 1455, when she was twelve years old, Margaret was married to the king's twenty-four year-old half-brother Edmund Tudor, earl of Richmond. Usually when girls were married at a young age, consummation of the marriage was delayed until a later date. Edmund, however, elected to consummate his marriage immediately. At the age of thirteen, Margaret fell pregnant. Her husband, however, was not to learn the outcome of her pregnancy, for he died while in captivity at Carmarthen in November 1456, perhaps of plague. Two months later, his widow gave birth to her only child, Henry Tudor, at Pembroke Castle. Evidence suggests that the birth was a difficult one, and Margaret may have been physically and mentally scarred by the experience. A year after the birth of her son, the widowed countess remarried. Her husband was Sir Henry Stafford, son of the duke of Buckingham. Evidence suggests that their marriage was a happy one. 

Above: Pembroke Castle. Margaret gave birth to her son Henry there.

In 1461, the castle was captured by the Yorkists, and the infant Henry was placed in the custody of William Herbert, earl of Pembroke. Henry later departed for the Continent in the company of his uncle Jasper. The year her son departed for France, Margaret's husband died at the Battle of Barnet. 1471 was a tumultuous year. The Lancastrian king Henry VI was probably murdered in the Tower of London by the victorious Yorkists, and his only son Edward of Westminster was slain at Tewkesbury. Margaret, whose status had naturally inclined her to support the Lancastrian cause, dutifully made a show of supporting the new Yorkist dynasty. She understood that her son, Henry Tudor, was the only Lancastrian claimant still alive. Edward IV, understandably, was determined to gain custody of Henry. In a bid to protect both herself and her son's future, Margaret outwardly supported the house of York. 

A year after her husband's death, Margaret married for the last time, to Thomas Stanley. This marriage enabled Margaret to reside at court, and she appears to have enjoyed amicable relations with both the king and queen, later serving as godmother to one of their daughters. However, Edward IV's unexpected death in 1483 and the usurpation of Richard III changed Margaret's life forever. Margaret initially signalled her support of the new regime by carrying Anne Neville's train at her coronation, but she wholeheartedly supported the duke of Buckingham's rebellion against Richard III, perhaps with the backing of Edward IV's widow Elizabeth Wydeville. The rebellion was legitimated by rumours that Edward IV's sons had been murdered, perhaps on the orders of Richard III. It was agreed that, if the rebellion succeeded, Henry Tudor would marry Edward IV's daughter Elizabeth of York. However, the rebellion failed and Buckingham was executed. Margaret was stripped of her titles and estates and placed under house arrest; she was fortunate to escape with her life.

Above: Thomas Stanley, husband of Margaret Beaufort.

Despite this setback, Margaret continued to scheme for her son's accession. Evidence suggests that she had been content to support Edward IV and desired no more than her son's attainment of the earldom of Richmond. However, Margaret may have believed that Richard III was a usurper and perhaps viewed him as guilty of the murder of his nephews. It may have been this that encouraged her to press for Richard's deposition and his replacement with her son. At Bosworth in 1485, Henry Tudor defeated Richard and the final Yorkist king was slain. It was a moment of triumph for Margaret. Her son duly married Elizabeth of York, but Margaret's influence was considerable during her son's reign. Known as 'My Lady the King's Mother', Margaret held property independently from her husband, and she administered justice in the king's name at several courts. 

Margaret was revered for her education and her piety. In 1502, she founded the Lady Margaret's Professorship of Divinity at the University of Oxford, and three years later founded Christ's College, Cambridge. St John's was founded in 1511. She was politically astute, intelligent and resourceful. Historians have debated the nature of relations between Margaret and her daughter-in-law Elizabeth of York, but irrespective of their true feelings towards each other, the two women cooperated and worked together for much of Henry's reign. Margaret's death in 1509 followed that of her only son, for whom she had schemed and worked to ensure his accession to the throne. Lady Margaret Beaufort deserves to be remembered for her considerable successes. 

Above: Henry VII, son of Margaret. 

Monday, 30 May 2016

The End of Joan of Arc



On 30 May 1431, a young woman of nineteen years was burned to death in Rouen, Normandy. A year previously, Joan of Arc (known to the French as La Pucelle d'Orleans, the maid of Orleans) had been captured by the Burgundians, who handed her over to the English. She had almost single-handedly revived French fortunes during the Lancastrian phase of the Hundred Years' War between the traditional enemies England and France. Now, she was to die a shameful death, associated with witchcraft and heresy, a perversion of the natural order of things.

Joan had been born in northeastern France in around 1412, in an area that remained loyal to the French crown despite being close in proximity to Burgundian lands. At the age of thirteen, Joan reportedly experienced visions while in her father's garden. She saw the figures Saint Michael, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret, who instructed her to bring about the expulsion of the English from France, and to bring the Dauphin to Reims for his coronation. Thus began Joan of Arc's mission, as she perceived it. Her experience thus far could be viewed as a sign of God's favour, uniquely bestowed upon her, but to others it betokened witchcraft.

Joan later visited the court of Charles VII, and she was financed with an army by the king's mother-in-law Yolande of Aragon. Joan requested to be equipped for war and to be placed at the head of the king's army; her requests were duly granted. Stephen W. Richey notes: 'Only a regime in the final straits of desperation would pay any heed to an illiterate farm girl who claimed that the voice of God was instructing her to take charge of her country's army and lead it to victory'. The king perhaps viewed Joan as sent from God, the means by which France could be delivered from subjection to England. Her presence offered the promise of French independence and French victory. Others, however, were concerned; they wondered whether Joan was a heretic or a sorceress, while her decision to wear the clothing of a soldier would later be brought against her. In response to initial concerns about Joan, a commission of inquiry at Poitiers concluded that Joan was 'a good Christian' and 'of irreproachable life'. Shortly afterwards, Joan visited the besieged city of Orleans in April 1429, and was present at the councils and battles thereafter.

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Above: Charles VII of France.

Joan believed that she had been instructed by God to drive the English from France and ensure that the dauphin was crowned; as she saw it, her mission was a holy one. The lifting of the siege at Orleans was perceived by contemporaries as evidence that Joan truly was God's messenger, and she gained the support of the archbishop of Embrun and the theologian Jean Gerson as a result. Joan later provided the Duke of Alencon with advice about strategy. After the lifting of the siege and the battle of Patay, which was a decisive victory for the French, Joan accompanied the victors on the march to Reims. 

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Above: The Battle of Patay, June 1429.

Reims opened its gates on 16 July 1429, and the coronation took place the following morning. The French army accepted peaceful surrenders from towns near the capital. In December that year, Joan and her family were ennobled by a grateful Charles VII as a reward for her actions. Six months later, she was present at the siege of Compiegne, the scene of her final military action. Joan was ambushed and captured; later, she was imprisoned by the Burgundians at Beaurevoir Castle. She made several escape attempts, including jumping from a window 70 feet high, but miraculously survived, which was for her supporters another sign of her divine favour. Later, Joan was moved to Rouen. 

Above: Joan of Arc's entry into Reims in 1429; painting by Jan Matejko.

In early 1431, Joan's trial began. It was a contentious affair and several of the clergy had to be threatened with their lives to participate in it. These threats and the domination of the trial by a secular government actually violated the rules of the Church. Usually, a heresy trial should be conducted without secular interference. Ecclesiastical law was further violated by the refusal to allow Joan a legal adviser. Joan was charged with heresy and cross-dressing, a heinous offence in fifteenth-century eyes since it violated the natural order. Joan explained that she had chosen to wear male attire to protect herself from molestation; others testified that her dress had been taken by the guards and she had nothing else to wear. On 30 May, her execution took place. Burning at the stake was the customary method of execution for those found guilty of heresy. A crucifix was held before her by two of the clergy as she was tied to the stake. Her remains were cast into the Seine river. Some, at least, believed that a saint had been burned.

Two decades after her death, in 1452, a retrial was ordered, authorised by Pope Callixtus III at the request of Inquisitor-General Jean Brehal and Joan's mother, Isabelle. A formal appeal followed three years later, and in the summer of 1456, the court declared that Joan was innocent. She was canonised by Pope Benedict XV on 16 May 1920. 


In a short but extraordinary life, Joan of Arc was perceived in the contradictory guises of woman, warrior, saviour, heretic, witch, and saint. Following her death, she became something of a legendary figure and has inspired many by her bravery and willingness to die for her faith. She was certain that she had been chosen by God to ensure France's total victory over the English; it was the driving force in her life. Since her death, Joan has inspired artistic and cultural depictions for six centuries. Ultimately, although she did not live to see it, France's victory in the Hundred Years' War lent credence to the legitimacy of Joan's mission, signifying that she had indeed been favoured by God. Her retrial served to vindicate Joan, and in death she has been granted the admiration and awe that was largely denied to her in life. 

Sunday, 1 May 2016

'Now Take Heed What Love May Do'



The exact date on which King Edward IV married Elizabeth Wydeville is uncertain, but traditionally they are held to have married on, or about, 1 May 1464. In literature, Mayday had long been associated with romance, chivalry and passion. The selection of the date was appropriate, because Edward's marriage to Elizabeth appears to have been a love match. 

The marriage took place in circumstances of secrecy. Elizabeth's mother Jacquetta attended - and perhaps arranged the match - as did an unnamed priest. Two gentlewomen also attended. Contemporary writers and chroniclers later wrote, variously, that Elizabeth had enchanted the young king under an oak tree; that she had defended herself with a dagger when he attempted to force himself upon her; or that he threatened her with a dagger. 

Edward has been criticised by modern historians for selecting Elizabeth as his bride. However, there were good reasons to marry her. Firstly, she was undoubtedly fertile. She had already produced two sons in her first marriage, and she herself had thirteen siblings. Clearly, from Edward's perspective, Elizabeth came from good stock and would be able to produce sons, which was the primary duty of the medieval queen. Secondly, as later events would show, Elizabeth was beautiful, intelligent, charismatic, pious and ambitious. Thirdly, she was descended from the ducal house of Luxembourg, and could in theory offer her husband a prestigious foreign alliance. Fourthly, she had been married to a Lancastrian knight and the Wydevilles had traditionally supported the Lancastrian regime, so marriage to Elizabeth offered Edward the opportunity to heal the divisions between the warring houses of Lancaster and York.

On the other hand, Edward's choice was surprising to his contemporaries, because Elizabeth was not a foreign princess; marriage to a French princess would have been more profitable both for Edward and for his kingdom. The earl of Warwick had been negotiating for the king to wed Bona of Savoy. By marrying an English widow, Edward failed to consolidate his position, which was a risky policy given that he was a usurper. The situation in England remained precarious, and marriage to a foreign princess would have offered the promise of foreign military and diplomatic support, in the wake of further conflict and bloodshed. Secondly, the marriage alienated Warwick, who had supported Edward until that point. There is no evidence that the nobility as a whole resented the Wydevilles, but they were certainly disliked by Warwick, and he was a dangerous enemy to have, as events were to prove. 

In defying convention, Edward behaved exactly like his future grandson Henry VIII, who married four English women, at least two for love. King Edward has often been viewed as a serial womaniser, and indeed it is possible that he was actually married to Eleanor Talbot before marrying Elizabeth Wydeville. The king could not have known it, but his previous involvement with Eleanor was to jeopardise his marriage to Elizabeth. In Richard III's reign, the Wydeville marriage was declared invalid and the children of Edward and Elizabeth were declared illegitimate and unfit to succeed. 

In September 1464, Edward finally admitted that he had married Elizabeth. She was crowned queen on 26 May 1465, and gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Elizabeth, in February 1466. The marriage seems to have been a successful one. Elizabeth demonstrated her suitability to be queen and was praised for her constancy and modest behaviour, particularly during the troubles of 1470. Ultimately, it was their daughter Elizabeth's fate to be queen of England as the wife of Henry VII.