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Archive for the tag “annulment”

Digging up Britain’s Past: By George, I think she’s got it

This second episode of this Channel Five series, presented by Alex Langlands and Helen Skelton, took us to Elsyng Palace, a North London house built by Henry VIII but with question marks about its precise venue until recently. Very unusually, the presenters clearly stated that the “King’s Great Matter” concerned not a divorce from Catherine of Aragon but an annulment (see the Shavian subtitle for my surprise), before they explained how Henry ran short of money and sought to extract it from the great monasteries, such as Rievaulx Abbey, which were thus dissolved. A visit to the Royal Mint, now at Llantrisant, showed how he debased the coinage from 92% silver to 25% and the plating over the King’s portrait wore off leaving him the moniker “Old Coppernose”.

Elsyng came into use because it was more private that Henry’s inner London palaces and because he could take his heir away from the unhealthy conditions that prevailed in the capital. In fact, Edward VI learned of his succession at Elsyng and spent his first night as King there.


This would explain a lot

Next month, David Starkey will be talking about Henry VIII on television again (1). However, in this Telegraph interview, he is compared to Henry in several ways, even suggesting that he

is that King’s reincarnation.
Sadly, the interviewer seems not to understand which of Henry’s marriage ceremonies were valid, or the difference between divorce and annulment, differences which were fully explained in a certain book a few years ago (2).

(1) Channel Four, Monday 6 April, 21:00.
(2) Royal Marriage Secrets, Ashdown-Hill, Chapter 10, pp. 95-113

Agnes Lancecrona and Robert de Vere

Robert de Vere (1362-1392) Earl of Oxford, found great favour with Richard II and was elevated first to the title of Marquess of Dublin and then in October 1386 to the dukedom of Ireland. This was the very first dukedom awarded outside the immediate royal family, and was, in effect, a “fingers up” to Richard’s many critics and opponents, the great majority of whom resented what they saw as the excessive influence de Vere had over the King.

Richard was often criticised at this time for the youth and low birth of his closest advisers, but really this was a canard. As will be seen from the bare facts of the matter, de Vere was neither young (by medieval standards) nor low born; indeed his was one of the oldest earldoms in the kingdom, albeit one of the least well endowed.

In addition, de Vere was married to the King’s first cousin, Philippa de Coucy, who was the daughter of the King’s late aunt, Isabel of England. Unfortunately, de Vere, for whatever reason, was not happy with Philippa, possibly because her inheritance had never been properly secured or perhaps for more personal reasons. At any rate, he decided to annul their marriage. This was seen as a great affront by the lady’s uncles, the dukes of York and Gloucester, who quite probably had concerns for the futures of their own daughters. The Duke of Lancaster would probably have been equally offended had he been in the country.

To make matters worse, de Vere proposed to replace Philippa with the Queen’s Czech (or possibly German) waiting-woman, Agnes Lancecrona. This was clearly a love match (at least on de Vere’s side) as Agnes had no money or land and no prospect of getting any. Agnes’ social status is obscure. One chronicler described her as the daughter of a saddler, another as a washerwoman, but she appears to have been a Lady of the Bedchamber, with the responsibility for caring for Queen Anne’s jewels. It is highly unlikely that the daughter of a saddler could have risen to such eminence, while the very idea of a washerwoman doubling up as a lady-in-waiting is too absurd to contemplate. Having said that, we really do not know who her parents were. To the English of the time, even more xenophobic than their descendants, it was probably bad enough that she was a foreigner and an immigrant.

It appears that de Vere, by giving false evidence to the Pope secured a dissolution of his marriage. He certainly gained possession of Agnes, but whether with her consent is less clear. Two of his retainers were later accused of abducting her and taking her to Chester, where de Vere was residing in the summer of 1387. They may or may not have undergone a form of marriage.

De Vere was defeated by his King’s enemies at the Battle of Radcot Bridge (20 December 1387) he fled abroad and was never able to return during his life. It is not clear whether Agnes followed him, or what happened to her. She simply disappears from the record. De Vere died in a hunting accident in 1392 before Richard could recall him.

In 1389 the dissolution of the marriage was revoked. Duchess Philippa seems never to have lost her status in practice, though for a time she was sheltered by de Vere’s rather formidable mother, who took Philippa’s side against her son. She had an annuity of 300 marks a year after her husband’s death, and was granted dower in 1398. She lived on until 1411, but chose to remain single.



Starkey on home territory

This BBC documentary was actually very good and it worked because Starkey spoke about a subject he knows inside out – the Reformation and Henry VIII, relating it to current affairs. From Luther’s theses, indulgences and translating the Bible, first into German then English, he moved onto Tyndale‘s efforts to smuggle it into England and Henry’s efforts, through More, to stop him. Then came Wolsey, Campeggio and the King’s “great matter”, followed by More’s downfall and Anne Boleyn’s rise, reminding us how Henry had three Catholics and three Protestants executed on the same day, whilst always actually remaining a Catholic.

Indeed the quality of this programme demonstrates why Starkey should concentrate more on broadcasting about Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, not interpreting the “Roses” period on an “incomplete records” basis through a “Tudor” prism. Quite apart from Henry VII liking the accounting reference, he is the main reason that the records are now incomplete!

The contemporaries of Henry VIII


HenryVIII220px-Francis1-1 ivan the terrible

Francois I of France died in the first quarter of 1547, after a reign of over thirty years, leaving only one legitimate son, Henri II. Whilst thought of as a cultured monarch, a patron of the arts and a linguistic reformer, he took an ambiguous approach to religious reform, (in which his sister Marguerite de Navarre took an interest). He organised several heresy executions (at the Place Maubert in 1523, in Paris in 1540 and at Merindol in 1545). The male line of the House of Valois became extinct in 1589, after his three grandsons had reigned.

Ivan IV of Russia was born in 1530 and is thus more a contemporary of Henry’s children. He succeeded his father as Grand Duke of Moscow in infancy and was made the first Tsar in January 1547, weeks before Henry VIII’s death and months before Francois I’s. He is also recorded as a patron of the arts but was increasingly mentally afflicted as his life progressed and was thus responsible for many deaths, including that of his elder son. Ivan, thereby known as “the Terrible”, is thought to have contracted seven marriages although he annulled three as the Russian Orthodox Church had a lifetime limit of four spouses. Like Henry and Francois, he died in his fifties and was succeeded by his son, Feodor I. In fact Ivan left two sons but Feodor was predeceased both by his daughter and his half-brother, ending the Rurik dynasty proper in 1598.

Although Henry VIII and Francois I were both descended from Charles V (and may have shared a mistress (Mary Boleyn), Ivan IV was not as closely related to either.

Another prominent possible bigamist?

Here we introduce the case of the future President Kennedy:

There are some clear differences. We don’t have full length research by a doctor of history, as we do for Edward IV. American law doesn’t allow for the “per verba de praesenti/ de futura” secret marriage and there would have been official records and witnesses. The 1545-63 Council of Trent also banned the concept of secret marriage throughout the Catholic world, to which the Kennedy family belonged. There are American states in which divorce and annulment are exceptionally easy.

There are similarities as well. Both men were members of very powerful families, with the opportunity to intimidate or persuade inconvenient witnesses, but Kennedy’s father was still alive.

To be married, or not to be married, that is the question . . . .

Before Bosworth, Richard III sent his heirs north to the safety of Sheriff Hutton, including his two eldest nieces, (daughters of his elder brother, Edward IV) Elizabeth of York and her sister Cicely/Cecily/Cecille/Cecilia/Cecylle. (For the sake of clarity and preference, I will call her Cicely.) With them were their male cousins, Lincoln and Warwick, and most probably, their brothers, Edward and Richard, the so-called ‘Princes in the Tower’.

This list is conjecture, of course, because no one knows exactly who was at Sheriff Hutton, although the only real uncertainties are the two boys from the Tower (or wherever Richard had kept them safety until this date, August 1485). The certainty appears to be that they were all under the protection of Richard III’s nephew, their first cousin, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln.

Now, I realize there is a school of thought that believes Cicely was not among this group, because she was a married woman by then and presumably with her husband, but I think she was there, and with this post I am not concerned with that particular aspect of the question anyway. Even if she was with her husband, Ralph Scrope, I doubt it would have made one whit of difference to what transpired. I am more exercised by the implications of Sheriff Hutton (if Richard did send her there) and of subsequent actions by Henry VII, for the security of her marriage, and such marriages in general.

According to fairly recent knowledge, Cicely was by this time the wife of “Ralph Scrope, younger brother to Thomas 6th Lord Scrope of Masham and Upsall, who served in the King’s household”. (Horrox, Rosemary. Richard III. A Study in Service, Cambridge, 1992, p.295) Not much is known about this Scrope marriage, which must have taken place with Richard’s knowledge. Perhaps he even arranged it, for he had promised to find ‘gentlemen’ husbands for his nieces. Or maybe he merely approved a young love match. There is certainly no evidence that Scrope forced her into it, or indeed that Richard forced her, nor does it sound like Richard to have done so. The thing is, we don’t actually know anything about the circumstances of this marriage.

What we do know, however, is that when Richard was killed at Bosworth and Henry VII came to the throne, he saw to it that the Scrope match was annulled, and pdq at that: “On December 16th [1485] a general pardon was granted to Cecily’s husband,” Ralph Scrope, late of Upsall, co.York, Esq.…….late of the household of Richard III….. But this did not enable him to stay married. At the end of this year, the case for the annulment of “the noble lady Cecily Plantagenet against Radulphus Scrope of Upsall” came before the Consistory Court at York and the marriage duly annulled.” (Consistory Act Book, 1484-1489, CONS.AB. 4.ff. 88v. 891,90r) As far as I’m aware, the reason given for this annulment was non-consummation.

After this, Cicely was promptly married to Henry’s half-uncle, John Welles, who became Viscount Welles. This is said to have been “a political marriage”, although there is always the outside chance that she wanted to marry Welles. Again, we don’t know. Did Henry thus believe she had been ‘taken care of’, was off the marriage mart, and could no longer be snapped up by some troublesome nobleman with a large private army and aspirations to cause strife in the name of York? Did he think that what he had done to the Scrope marriage could not possibly be done to the Welles marriage too? No, I doubt it. Henry was nothing if not thoughtful and clever.

The story so far gives me pause for thought about the whole thing. Richard appears to have sent Cicely to Sheriff Hutton. If he did, the fact that she was a married woman did not stand in his way. Maybe he—and possibly Ralph too—was aware that young marriages, especially where there was no sign of a child, were easy enough to set aside by those with enough clout, and she was therefore as likely as Elizabeth of York to be marriage fodder for any Tudor regime. So, if things went against Richard, off to Burgundy she and Elizabeth would go, to his sister Margaret, the duchess, well out of Henry Tudor’s reach. Perhaps it would have been Ralph’s intention to follow her there? Maybe, too, she had indeed been forced into the marriage and appealed to Henry to free her from it. Anything is possible, but the fact remains that for whatever reason, the marriage was annulled, and in this case it suited Henry to see to it by placing her in his own family, not that of a Yorkist sympathiser.

So . . . could it almost be regarded as pointless to ever marry off such an important woman in order to secure her from the dynastic intentions of an enemy? Once that enemy was ensconced on the throne, he could legally dispose of any tiresome husband (no need for blood and gore) and see the lady ‘safely’ married to someone more agreeable to himself. Which is exactly what Henry did.

But just how safe would the Welles match itself have been if Henry had been deposed in turn? What if, say, Lambert Simnel/Edward VI had come to the throne in 1487? A new Yorkist king, especially under the tutelage of Cicely’s first cousin, John de la Pole, would hardly want such an important lady (the new king’s second senior sister) married to Henry Tudor’s half-uncle. It was a number of years after 1487 that Cicely had her first child by John Welles (although there could have been miscarriages or stillborn babies of which we do not know), so who was to say the marriage was consummated right away? Unless, of course, the wedding night was enacted in front of a royal audience! And if a new Yorkist king wanted to say it hadn’t been consummated, regardless, who was really going to risk arguing? So, might Cicely have then been returned to Ralph? Or perhaps intended for some important foreign match instead? (The fate of Elizabeth of York, by then Henry’s queen and the mother of his heir, is another matter, of course.) And let’s be honest, the Scrope marriage may well have been consummated, and it was simply pretended that it had not. Ditto the Welles marriage.

My thought about all of this was that marriage did not firmly secure a woman to her husband. At least, a royal woman. Cicely was a pawn, and may not have actually married from personal choice until her third husband, Thomas Kymbe/Kymbe, a commoner whose low rank ensured her eventual expulsion from upper circles and court. She definitely chose to do it without Henry’s knowledge or consent. He was beside himself with rage about it, but did not have the marriage annulled. Perhaps even he thought it would be once too often to impose annulment upon her again. He did other things to make her life difficult, and when she was buried, he saw to it that she was named as Viscountess Welles, as if her third husband did not exist. But when it came to Thomas Kymbe, Cicely the pawn seems to have rebelled, and if so, I do hope she was happy with her Thomas.

My conclusion? The marriages of royal women, and probably others, were not final, and if an excuse was needed to have them set aside, such an excuse was probably quite easy to produce. Henry doesn’t seem to have had much trouble with the Scrope match.

Acknowledgement: I have taken some of the above quotes and references from a article entitled ‘Not So Fortunate As Fair’: The Life of Princess Cecily Plantagenet. The author, who is identified only as “Isle of Wight Enthusiast”, I now understand to be Sharon Champion. All thanks and credit to her.

Incidentally, the same article states that Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, was taken ill while in sanctuary with his mother and sisters in 1483. Quote: “The other distressed children must have been given time to take their leave of their brother, but he had become ill while in the narrow confines of the sanctuary whether from fear or the loss of his father and his isolation from his unhappy mother and sisters now threatened to break his spirit.”

We all know that this boy’s elder brother, Edward V, might have had poor health, but could the little Duke of York been sickly as well? This is clearly worthy of another post . . .

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