murreyandblue

A great WordPress.com site

Archive for the tag “Catherine de Roet”

Modern woman just would not kowtow as expected to in the past. . .!

Medieval Maidens

 

There are times when researching the past is, for a woman of today, a very insulting experience. This morning at the hairdresser I dipped into a book called Medieval Maidens: Young Women and Gender in England, 1270-1540. (No Hello, Heat or OK for me!)

Yes, I knew before I started that I wouldn’t like a great deal of what went on for women back then, but I came upon some details I would rather not have known concerning the ladies who waited on queens. By ladies, I mean quite high-ranking women, like the Countesses of Oxford and Worcester, and Dame Katherine Grey.

Here is the passages that caught my eye:

“Women servants sometimes played a role at meals and feasts, but one more closely bodily and intimate than the service of food. At Elizabeth of York’s coronation feast two of her ladies, Dame Katherine Grey and Mistress Ditton, ‘went under the table where they sat on either side [of] the Queen’s feet all the dinner time’. It is difficult to see what purpose this could have served other than to convey an impression of feminine presence, but it is powerful as an expression of lowly but intimate service.

“Throughout the meal, served to the queen by Lord Fitzwalter as sewer and by knights, the Countess of Oxford and Countess of Rivers ‘kneeled either side of the Queen, and at certain times held a kerchief before her Grace’, to collect her spittle and wipe her mouth.”

“A few decades later the countesses of Oxford and Worcester stood by Anne Boleyn at her coronation feast and intermittently ‘did hold a fine cloth before the queen’s face when she list to spit or do otherwise at her pleasure’, and she too had two gentlewomen under the table at her feet.”

Ew. . .

Are we to take this at face value? They actually did kneel under the table by the queen’s feet? I looked online to see if I could find any contemporary illustrations that would confirm this, and only found one. It’s of a woman scrambling around on her knees to serve a group of men.

womanservant under table

Or did it mean they knelt before the table as in the  illustration that follows? But no again, for this woman is serving food, and Phillips specifically says that particular honour was left to men. At great royal do’s anyway. And this woman here could hardly dump the roast peacock and sprint around to attend to the queen’s spittle! So I guess that under the table meant just that. Underneath it.

serving on knees

Hey, now here’s a warming thought. If high-ranking ladies were expected to perform such tasks, wouldn’t it be nice to think of Margaret Beaufort having to kneel under Anne Neville’s coronation feast table? Ready to wipe the royal nose or whatever? Oh, joy.

Mad Margaret

Today we accept having to wipe the mouths and noses of our children, and of invalids and the very old and frail, but would we do that for healthy young women. . .???? It just goes to show how very different life was then. We like to have a romantic notion of court life, but there was so much about it that simply does not sit with our modern sensibilities. Fancy having to kneel under the table throughout a meal. Did they have to vie for space with the king’s hounds? Margaret would certainly win that scrap!

Henry VIII close stool

And then there is the close stool. I know it was regarded as an honour to be in charge of this for the king, and so the queen too, I imagine. But having to wipe their bottoms for them as well? I’m told that part of the reason for this was the awkwardness created by their rich, voluminous robes, and maybe so, but the thought revolts me. I’m a modern woman, without any real idea how very strict and inflexible etiquette and rules were for our predecessors. I wouldn’t last five minutes at a medieval court. Bow and scrape to those who consider themselves my superiors? No wonder the grandest women resented having to show deference to Katherine de Roët, the governess who made it to being Duchess of Lancaster! Catch her spittle for her? They’d rather do the spitting!

Maybe Katherine Swynford in blue, kneeling, front(Katherine may be the lady in blue and ermine kneeling at the front of this illustration. And other ladies in the scene may have considered themselves far superior!)

I’d see all these folk in Hades first. Um, well, I’d see Hades, but probably by my intractable self. The only person I’d be prepared to bow to would be the monarch herself/himself. The rest can go whistle! Right, I wouldn’t last long.

One thing I will say. If anything, this under-the-table grovelling demeaned the queen or king as much as, if not more than, the one doing the grovelling. But then again, this is my modern-day sensibility creeping in. I don’t view it in the same way they did back then, when all grovelling came from those below the monarch.

The book I mentioned at the beginning of this article is very interesting and full of details, with many actual cases. That women were second-class citizens I had always known, but it didn’t occur to me that such high-class women would be expected to perform such disagreeably menial tasks. Yes, we’ve come a long, long way since then, but, ladies, we’re still second class citizens in many ways! I do trust that in another 500 years our future selves will look back on the 21st century and marvel that women now are still paid less than men for the same work, and so on.

Wanna bet?

 

 

 

Advertisements

The 10 greatest medieval royal romances? Some, maybe….

John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster

John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster

Well, my opinion only, of course, but where are John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford/de Roët? I don’t believe his first wife, Blanche, was his greatest love. That honour went to Katherine, for love of whom he went to extraordinary lengths, enduring scandal and opprobrium, but eventually making her his third duchess. And managing to legitimize his Beaufort children by her.

As for Edward II and Piers Gaveston. No, they don’t warrant inclusion, I’m afraid. Not because it was gay, but because it became dangerously spiteful, petty, posturing and not a little ridiculous. It ultimately destroyed all concerned. Then Edward II showed even less judgement by moving on to the dreadful Despensers. There was nothing great or romantic about his conduct in allowing his favourites such enormous power. I find his reign fascinating, but always want to shake him until his royal teeth rattle.

Edward II and Piers Gaveston

Edward with Gaveston

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn? Hmm. That gross man always thought with his codpiece, not his heart. The same goes for his maternal grandfather, Edward IV, the contents of whose codpiece appear to be overactive in the extreme.

Katherine of Valois and Owen Tudor? I have grave misgivings about this one. I believe she was more interested in Edmund Beaufort, 4th Earl of Somerset, and that when she became pregnant and he wouldn’t/couldn’t marry her, lowly Owen Tudor was hastily drummed up to “do the honours” of claiming to be the unborn child’s father. Maybe Owen already had a good and understanding relationship with Katherine? This might have made him acceptable to her in her hour of need. I may be wildly wrong about this, of course, but (once again) it’s my opinion.

Edward III and Philippa of Hainault? Yes. The Black Prince and Joan of Kent? Yes. Richard, Duke of York, and Cecily Neville? Yes. Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon? Yes. Edward I and Eleanor of Castile? Yes.

Who else is missing, apart from Katherine Swynford? Well, Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. Theirs was another political royal match, but they fell deeply in love. He was utterly distraught when she died suddenly.

Richard III and Anne Neville

Richard III and Anne Neville

Richard III and Anne Neville? George of Clarence and Isabel Neville? I think both couples are strong contenders. Whatever else may be said, about the brothers only wanting the Warwick inheritance, and so on, it seems to be an irrefutable fact that the Neville sisters won their York husbands’ hearts. Maybe it can be argued that their father’s inheritance was a great big carrot to both men, but the fondness/love that eventually came into being was real enough. Both men were heartbroken by their wives’ deaths, and George could not cope with Isabel’s loss. Richard, perhaps stronger emotionally, was equally as broken, but did not fall apart as George had done. Am I misjudging these marriages as well? No. I stick to my opinion!

No doubt, you will stick to yours too!

https://e-royalty.com/articles/the-ten-great-medieval-royal-romances/

 

 

Henry VII’s “dubious” ancestress…?

Henry VII and John of Gaunt's Tomb

According to Alison Weir, Henry VII was a little twitchy about his descent from John of Gaunt’s notorious mistress (and eventual wife) Katherine de Roët/Swynford. Between them, Gaunt and Katherine produced an illegitimate line of children, the Beauforts, which wasn’t/was/wasn’t legitimate/in line of succession, according to different monarchs. Henry VII was a Beaufort, so you can imagine which side of the argument he was on! Katherine might also have still been married to her first husband, Sir Hugh Swynford, when she conceived the first Beaufort, which was something else to make Henry VII shift uncomfortably. I am only surprised that Henry did not attempt to claim Katherine was descended from King Arthur. Henry was very keen indeed to prove that he and his line were rightful Kings of England because they had Arthur’s blood in their veins.

Anyway, I quote (from Weir’s biography of Katherine):-

“. . .The epitaph on John of Gaunt’s tomb in Old St Paul’s Cathedral, which was lost in the Great Fire of 1666, described Katherine as eximia pulchritudine feminam – ‘extraordinarily beautiful and feminine’. This epitaph was not contemporary but was placed on the restored sepulchre in the reign of Henry VII, who was desirous of restoring the good reputation of this rather dubious ancestress. It is unusual to find words of this kind in an epitaph – the emphasis is usually on virtue and good works – but since Henry VII could hardly laud Katherine’s virtue, it is possible that he ordered reference to be made to her beauty because it was one of the things people did remember her for, and it may even have been referred to in the original tomb inscription, which had been destroyed in living memory. . .”

So, Henry Tudor was up to more of his usual meddling tricks? Making sure posterity was recorded as he wanted it recorded? What a surprise. BUT, in one thing Katherine herself signally failed. Her extraordinary beauty did not descend to Henry or his Beaufort mother!

 

Sources for the above illustration: The lost tomb of John of Gaunt and his wife Blanche, old St.Paul’s Cathedral, London. From The History of St Paul’s Cathedral in London by William Dugdale, 1658. Originally from Wenceslaus Hollar Digital Collection at University of Toronto. Likeness of Henry VII from civ6customization.gamepedia.com

Henry VII’s iffy Beaufort claim….

There is always a howl of outrage if fingers are pointed at Katherine de Roet/Swynford and John of Gaunt, and the legitimacy of their Beaufort children is called into question. The matter is guaranteed to end up with someone’s digit jabbing toward Richard III. Why? Because in his proclamation against Henry Tudor, Richard derided the latter’s claim for relying on his mother’s Beaufort descent.

Richard and HT

Initially, the Beauforts were clearly illegitimate. Their parents were not married at the time of their birth, and even if Katherine’s first husband, Sir Hugh Swynford, was dead, Gaunt’s second wife, Constance of Castile, certainly was not. The union of Katherine and Gaunt was adulterous. In those days a late marriage did not legitimise children born before the belated wedding vows. Unless one acquired a convenient papal bull, of course. Which Gaunt was quick to do on the death of his second duchess. He married Katherine, and Richard II was persuaded to make their offspring legitimate. Well, the pope’s invention had made them so anyway. Richard II merely tidied it all up.

Henry IV

But on Gaunt’s death, a spanner was thrown into the works. Henry IV (Gaunt’s very definitely legitimate heir through the duke’s first marriage to Blanche of Lancaster) made it very clear indeed that even though they had belatedly been made legitimate, they were excluded from the throne. And he was their half-brother! He was also a trueborn Lancastrian, his mother having been Blanche of Lancaster, the great Lancastrian heiress. Blanche was the daughter of Henry of Lancaster. It was through her that Gaunt became Duke of Lancaster. Gaunt himself was not a Lancastrian, he merely acquired the title through marriage. So any children he had with anyone other than Blanche of Lancaster were not true Lancastrians.

If Henry IV was empowered to make this stipulation, which clearly he was, then he was determined to deny the throne to the Beauforts. No question about it. Yet, late in the 15th century, along came Henry Tudor, presenting himself as Earl of Richmond and the Lancastrian heir. Yes, he descended from John of Gaunt (3rd son of Edward III), but through the Beauforts, whose legitimacy was suspect to say the least, and who had anyway been barred from the throne by Henry IV. This was the basis of Henry Tudor’s challenge for the crown of England. No wonder than when push came to shove, on miraculously/treacherously defeating Richard III at Bosworth, he wisely made his claim through conquest! The Beaufort side of it was a little too dodgy, and he knew it. Conquest, on the other hand, was plain, simple. . .and unchallengeable.

Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, with his second wife, Joan Beaufort

Joan Beaufort, 2nd wife of Ralph, 1st Earl of Westmorland.

But, I hear you cry, Richard had a Beaufort in his ancestry! Yes, he did, Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland, daughter of Katherine and Gaunt. No disputing the fact. I make no bones about it. However, Richard didn’t claim through Joan. His descent came from two of Edward III’s other sons, Lionel of Clarence (2nd son) and Edmund of York (4th son). The two lines were subsequently united when Richard of Conisbrough (York) married Anne Mortimer (Clarence). Their son, Richard, 3rd Duke of York, became the father of both Edward IV and Richard III, No link to any Beauforts.  There was nothing iffy in Richard’s descent, unless one wishes to challenge the fact that Edmund of York was his progenitor. The then Duchess of York was said to be frisky, and a certain Duke of Exeter was supposedly her lover, which, if true, made Edmund’s, er, input, a little questionable. But Richard of Conisbrough was accepted as Edmund’s son, and even if the rumour about Exeter and the duchess were  true, it still leaves Richard III’s descent from Lionel, Duke of Clarence, whose position as Edward III’s second son was superior to Gaunt’s, the latter being only the third son.

So there you have it. When Richard III derided Henry Tudor’s Beaufort descent, he was spot on. It was Tudor’s only claim, and placed him on thin ice. Which was why he vowed to marry Elizabeth of York (to benefit from her Yorkist lineage), and then claimed the throne through victory in battle in 1485. Richard wasn’t lying or conveniently forgetting anything. Yes, he had a Beaufort in his ancestry, but he didn’t claim anything through that line. His descent from Lionel of Clarence and Edmund of York was considerably stronger than anything Henry could produce.

Spare me your howls of outrage. Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt were deeply in love, there is no doubt of that, but in the beginning it was an adulterous romance on Gaunt’s part. Maybe on Katherine’s too, although that seems less likely. Not impossible, though. So the Beauforts were illegitimate, legitimate, forbidden the throne. In that order. Henry Tudor of the House of Beaufort had his eyes on that very thing, the crown of England. Gaunt himself probably wanted his children by Katherine to be in line for everything, and he schemed to exclude the female line—in order to negate any claim from the descendants of his elder brother, Lionel, who left a daughter. Gaunt also claimed the throne of Castile through his own second wife. How very selective of him.

Do not point your bony fingers at Richard for not mentioning his Beaufort blood. Why should he refer to something that was of no importance to him? So he focused instead on Henry Tudor, to whom that dodgy Beaufort blood provided an only link to English royalty? Take away the Beaufort element, and Henry Tudor had nothing whatsoever to bolster his claim. Richard’s claim, on the other hand, was not in the least reliant on the Beauforts. He was the rightful King of England. The only rightful king!

Richard III and Undercroft

See also:-

http://www.richardiii.net/downloads/bulletin/2007_06_summer_bulletin.pdf In the article by David Candlin, page 22, are full details of Richard’s proclamation against Henry Tudor. Richard claims that Tudor’s Beaufort line was begotten in double adultery. He may have  believed that Katherine Swynford’s first husband, Sir Hugh Swynford, was still alive when she began her affair with Gaunt. Whatever, adultery was certainly involved, which made the children illegitimate.

 

 

 

 

 

SHW strikes again

Today in 1367, Henry IV was born:

The Swynford/ Beaufort case again

As we said five years ago, it is unclear whether John, Marquess of Somerset and Dorset, really was the son of John of Gaunt or of Sir Hugh Swynford. Furthermore, the common law answer to that question may be different to the genetic answer, as we revealed that Swynford could well have died after the conception, or even the birth of John “Beaufort”.

As hathawaysofhaworth reminded us in a comment here, the mediaeval year commenced on Lady Day, 25 March. Thus January, February and most March dates fall later in the same year as do 25 March to December. This gives more scope for Swynford’s life to have overlapped with the life, or gestation (“pre-life”) of Catherine de Roet’s middle child of seven.

Whilst Somerset’s (half-?) brother, Henry Beaufort, was a Cardinal, he did have an illegitimate daughter, unlike Thomas, Duke of Exeter. As Jane married Sir Edward Stradling in about 1423, according to the Cardinal’s will, we are still faced with the strong possibility that all those still surnamed Beaufort after his 1447 death were descended from Sir Hugh Swynford.

The truth about the Beauforts and the throne of England. . . .

 

From the Global Family Reunion website

John of Gaunt, third son of Edward III, was the Duke of Lancaster, and his illegitimate children, the Beauforts, were barred from the throne by his legitimate, firstborn son, Henry IV. Clearly the latter wasn’t having any baseborn relative wearing the crown. Nevertheless, we eventually ended up with a Beaufort king, who claimed to be the last Lancastrian heir. He wasn’t. 

Marriage of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster

Marriage of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster

Explanation is needed to sort out the intricacies of it all. The Beauforts were not true Lancastrians at all, because though they descended from John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, Edward III’s third son, it was a fact that Gaunt only had the title because of his first marriage, to Blanche of Lancaster. So Blanche’s descendants, Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI, were proper Lancastrians. The baseborn Beauforts descended from Gaunt’s mistress and eventual third wife, Katherine de Roët. Their eventual legitimisation by the ill-fated true king, Richard II, son of the Black Prince, Edward III’s eldest heir, did not change this. The Beauforts were never true Lancastrians. Without Blanche’s blood, they couldn’t be. (1)

After Henry VI, if the proper Lancastrian line, i.e. from Blanche Lancaster, were to have been continued, it would have been through the Portuguese offspring of Philippa of Lancaster, Gaunt’s elder daughter by Blanche.

The Marriage of Philippa of Lancaster and the King of Portugal.

Except, of course, that the Lancastrian line had never been the true one in the first place. The House of Lancaster usurped Richard II’s throne and then murdered him. The rightful line after Richard II was that of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, who had been Edward III’s second son.

Gaunt was a hypocrite. He tried his damnedest to persuade Edward III to prevent the throne from ever descending through a woman. This was in order to exclude the descendants of Lionel of Clarence. Lionel left a single daughter, Philippa of Clarence, who married Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March. Their only child, Anne, married Richard of Cambridge, a son of Edmund of Langley, thus uniting the second and fourth line of descent from Edward III. Thus the true House of York, as we know it, was created.

Of course, as far as Gaunt was concerned, staking a claim to the throne of Castile through his own second wife, Constance of Castile, was another matter entirely. It was just and noble, and through her he considered himself to be the King of Castile. He even demanded to be known as that. Yet he wanted such claims through the female line to be eliminated in England. Yes, a hypocrite of the highest order.

Arms of Richard of Cambridge

I can understand Gaunt’s wish to legitimise his children by Katherine, whom he clearly loved. But I cannot forgive his two-faced, underhanded scheming to steal a throne that was not his to steal! His son did steal it—through usurpation and murder, and that’s how we ended up with the three kings of the House of Lancaster, Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI. But the House of York did ascend the throne eventually, in the form of Edward IV and then Richard III.

left to right – Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI

Back to Gaunt. In the name of Lancaster, he had raised an army and sailed off to take a (foreign) throne that was occupied by someone else. And he did this through the claims of a woman, no less. Fast forward to the aftermath of the sudden death of the Yorkist king, Edward IV, and we have scheming Margaret Beaufort and her son, Henry Tudor, neither of whom truly represented the Lancastrian line. But they posed as such. Throughout the tragically short reign of Edward’s last brother, Richard III, they plotted against him. Their treachery, in the name of Lancaster, led to Henry’s foreign invasion and Bosworth, where Richard was betrayed and killed.

Henry VII

Henry Tudor promptly stepped up to the throne. Um, perhaps not in the name of Lancaster, more for himself. He was careful to claim victory through conquest, not blood line. Which tells me that he was well aware that his mother’s Beaufort descent was a very doubtful blessing. The Beauforts had been barred from the throne by an only too Lancastrian monarch, Henry IV.

Henry Tudor knew he had defeated and ended the life of the last true King of England. He, like Henry IV before him, was a regicide. (Yes, yes, I am aware that the same charge can be laid at Edward IV’s door, regarding Henry VI, but that is another story entirely.)

So, to sum up. No Lancastrian, of any degree, should ever have been king. From Richard II, the line should have descended through Lionel of Clarence, the Mortimers and York. Richard III did thus descend. The crown of England was his by right of birth. That could never be said of Henry Tudor, whose sole right was based upon foul treachery.

Richard III

(1) See also: The Lancastrian claim to the throne, Ashdown-Hill, pp.27-38, Ricardian 2003

How Edward IV ascended the throne of England….

 

The Wars of the Roses did not commence, à la Bard, with white and red roses snatched and brandished in a garden by opposing lords, but they were foreshadowed at the turn of the fifteenth century when Henry of Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, usurped and murdered Richard II.

Bolingbroke was the son and heir of Richard II’s uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, through Gaunt’s first marriage, to Blanche of Lancaster. It was through Blanche that the dukedom came to Gaunt. Bolingbroke was therefore the undisputable heir of the House of Lancaster.

But Gaunt had other children by other women, especially a nest of illegitimate Beauforts by his liaison with Katherine de Roët/Swynford, who had been governess to his children by Blanche. Gaunt wanted the Beauforts to be legitimized, and Richard II eventually agreed. Letters Patent were issued in 1397.

When Bolingbroke stole the throne and murdered Richard, he also made sure that his half-siblings, the Beauforts, could not succeed to the throne. He did this by adding a clause to the original Patent of legitimation. This was popularly regarded as valid, but maybe it was not, because the original patent had received parliamentary sanction.

The Lancastrian line held power until the reign of Bolingbroke’s grandson, the weak, ineffectual Henry VI. At first childless, Henry had to decide on an heir. If the Beauforts were set aside, the next legitimate heir to the throne was Richard, 3rd Duke of York, who descended from Gaunt’s younger brother, Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York. But, York was also descended, through his Mortimer mother, from Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence, who was an older brother of Gaunt’s. Not the oldest, of course. That honour went to the Black Prince, father of Richard II.

Gaunt and the Lancastrians did their utmost to insist that rights to the throne could not descend through a female line. They were wrong. For instance, Henry II’s claim came through his mother, the Empress Matilda, whose opponent, Stephen, also claimed through his mother. So, the Lancastrians were good at dealing from the bottom of the pack. Gaunt himself laid claim to the throne of Castile in right of his second wife! And he had gained the incredibly wealthy and important dukedom of Lancaster through his first wife. But that was different, of course. Oh, of course. So, they were hypocrites.

This was the situation when Henry VI needed an heir. York felt, rightly, that he was the legitimate heir. He did not claim that the House of Lancaster had no right to the throne, only that he was the next heir. Then, miraculously (or by the divine intervention of the Beaufort Earl of Somerset) Henry VI’s queen provided the much-needed son. In the nick of time, eh? Poor Henry believed he was the father, but a lot of people saw hanky-panky at work…and Somerset’s Beaufort fruitfulness.

York’s claims went quiet again. But as the years passed, Henry’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, grew fearful that York’s designs on the crown would be at the expense of her son. She was aided and abetted in this by the powerful Duke of Somerset. York realized that he and his House were in danger of extinction, and chose to stand up for his rights.

Thus began the Wars of the Roses, a tussle that went on for decades and resulted in the crown going from Lancaster to York, and then back to Lancaster….if Henry Tudor can be described as a Lancastrian. He was descended through the Beauforts, who, according to Henry IV, could not succeed to the throne. But that is yet another story. So, too, is the fact that if the claim to the throne could descend through the female line, then Philippa, one of Gaunt’s daughters by Blanche of Lancaster, and thus full sister of Henry IV, had to be considered. She had married the King of Portugal, and had sons. Philippa’s younger sister, Elizabeth, had married the Duke of Exeter, but their line was not considered either. Besides, Philippa was the older sister, and her line not only legitimate, but secure. However, as far as I can ascertain, her claim does not appear to have been even vaguely considered.

By this time York was the father of four sons: Edward, Earl of March (Edward IV), Edmund, Earl of Rutland, George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Richard III). The first two were old enough to fight. Another of York’s great assets was the Earl of Warwick, who is now known to us as the “Kingmaker”.

With Margaret determined to protect her son’s rights, battles commenced, and fortunes swung. Then York and his second son, Edmund, were slain by treachery (the same fate as that suffered by the last of the sons, the brave Richard III) at the Battle of Wakefield. York and Edmund’s heads were displayed on the gate of York city. At least Richard III did not suffer that.

Now York’s eldest son, Edward, the new Duke of York, became the figurehead of the Yorkist cause. Bitterly angry about the fate of his father and brother, he took up the cudgels and, with Warwick at his side, triumphed over the Lancastrians to take the throne. He was proclaimed king on 4th March 1461. After a few years there was a hiccup, and he was forced to flee the country with his younger brother, George and Richard. Henry VI was reinstated. Edward returned, and after another bout of battles (and quarrelling with and alienating Warwick, to say nothing of having George switch sides more than once) Edward finally demolished Lancaster at the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4th May 1471. He gained victory with his brothers fighting at his side. Somerset was captured and beheaded. Margaret of Anjou’s son, the Prince of Wales, was also slain, and Margaret’s will finally broken. Days later, Henry VI, died in the Tower of “melancholy”. Hmm. Let’s just say that his survival would have been inconvenient to Edward, who wouldn’t want him returning to the throne again.

 

And so England had her first Yorkist king for the second time. If you see what I mean. The above is clearly somewhat condensed, and many of the finer points have had to be omitted, but it’s the gist of how handsome, dashing, charming Edward, Earl of March, became King Edward IV.

A tale of John of Gaunt and two sisters….

Chaucer_BellScott - reading to Philippa and Katherine with Gaunt

The above painting by William Bell Scott depicts Chaucer reading to an aging John of Gaunt. The ladies are the two men’s wives, Philippa and Katherine, born de Roët.

Everyone knows that John of Gaunt (1340-1399) had three wives, the last of whom was Katherine Swynford (nee de Roët, 1350-1403), who had been his children’s governess. She then became his mistress (during his second marriage to Costanza of Castile) and finally, in 1396, his third duchess. The last move, was very unpopular at the time, for it was felt Gaunt, a king’s son, had demeaned himself by marrying well below his station…and that she had reached up well above hers.

John of Gaunt

Katherine, married at twelve to a Lincolnshire knight, Sir Hugh Swynford, had a sister, Philippa (c. 1346–c. 1387) who was a damoiselle of the queen, and who by the end of 1366 had been married to Geoffrey Chaucer. Yes, the Geoffrey Chaucer, who was a very close friend of John of Gaunt. Was the Chaucer marriage a love match? After all, at the time he was a mere squire, whereas she was relatively highborn, the daughter of a prominent Hainault family of rich landowners, or so I understand the de Roët sisters’ background to be. The Chaucer union is subject to a lot of speculation.

Let us go back before 1366, before Philippa became Geoffrey’s bride. John of Gaunt is renowned for his interesting private life, as described above, and seems to have been a Plantagenet charmer par excellence. By inheriting the huge wealth and status of the Duchy of Lancaster (through his first wife, Blanche) he was the richest, most influential man in England, especially when his father, Edward III, began to descend into senility. Gaunt had an eye for a beautiful woman, and the suggestion is that the de Roët sisters were both beautiful. I don’t know if they warranted the description, but I doubt very much that they were plain, stodgy dumplings. Men like Gaunt are not drawn to the nondescript.

So, Katherine Swynford was governess to his daughters. At this time her sister Philippa was unmarried, and also the queen’s lady. The queen, another Philippa, was from Hainault too, so I imagine this was a very good reason to have Philippa de Roët close to her. And then there was John of Gaunt, master seducer. The suspicion is that his eye fell upon Philippa first. It wasn’t the done thing to deflower unmarried ladies, and maybe this precluded such an affair in his eyes, except that there are suspicious signs that he broke the rule.

John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford

He was not a dishonourable man, and took his responsibilities seriously. Dates fit for him to have bedded Philippa and got her in the family way. In September 1366, before leaving for a campaign in Spain, Gaunt granted Philippa a lifetime annuity. It was very generous, and surely he had no reason for doing such a thing. Some present-day thinking is that Gaunt protected her by paying his good friend Chaucer a great deal to marry her. She was to give birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, the appropriate number of months later. Elizabeth would become a nun and enter the prestigious royal Abbey of Barking.

BarkingAbbey-1500- royal abbey

For the rest of his life, Gaunt was especially kind to Elizabeth, who might well have been his daughter. His particular favour to her suggests he knew she was. There were also more gifts, opportunities and annuities to the Chaucers.

Was Gaunt Katherine Swynford’s lover at the same time he was bedding Philippa? That we’ll never know, just as we will never know the truth about his dealings with the latter. All those gifts and favours are suspicious though. Why would Gaunt bestow such bounty upon Philippa? Why continue to be so concerned about her? She was by then a married women. Did the affair continue after she became Chaucer’s wife? Was Chaucer a complacent husband, paid well enough to say nothing and just let his wife get on with it?

Chaucer

Or, as some of you will no doubt tell me, Gaunt did no such thing. The Chaucer marriage was a love match and Gaunt was merely a generous lord. Possibly. Possibly, too, Elizabeth Chaucer was of royal blood.

 

 

What do Matilda and Margaret, Eleanor and Elizabeth, plus two Henrys, add up to…?

To my mind, it adds up to two very similar situations that are two centuries apart.

Henry I deathbed - stand-in pic

Let us begin in the 12th century. On his deathbed, Henry I of England named as his successor his only surviving child, his daughter, the Empress Matilda. He obliged the nobility to agree. They reneged, of course. A woman as queen in her own right? Cue mass hysteria among the male upper classes and uncontrollable fits of the vapours in the Church. And cue a sharp move by her cousin, Stephen, who promptly had himself crowned before she could even return to England.

To cut a long story short, Matilda fought first for herself, supported by her powerful half-brother, Robert of Gloucester. When it became clear she would never be accepted because she was a woman, Matilda fought on behalf of her eldest son. He, thanks to her tireless efforts, eventually became Henry II—and yes, he is one of the two Henrys.

There was nothing Matilda would not have done to see her son on the throne, and her aim came to fruition. And when he was crowned, she became the highest woman in the realm. She wasn’t monarch in the own right, but came darned close!

Then came the time when Henry II chose a queen. Not just any queen, but beautiful, spirited Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was not only a powerful, troublesome lady with a mind very much of her own, but was also prepared to scheme and manipulate on behalf of her sons by Henry. Against Henry.

Eleanor’s reputation was not squeaky clean. She had been married to the King of France, only for the marriage to be annulled and custody of their two daughters given to Louis. She had been on a Crusade with her husband, and halted at Antioch, where she encountered her uncle, Raymond of Poitiers, who was described by William of Tyre as “a lord of noble descent, of tall and elegant figure, the handsomest of the princes of the earth, a man of charming affability and conversation, open-handed and magnificent beyond measure“. There were whispers because Raymond and Eleanor spent such a great deal of time together and seemed so very intimate. She quite clearly found her uncle preferable to her husband. The whispers increased when she declined to leave Antioch with said husband, who eventually took her away by force. She was a lady to whom scandal seemed drawn, but it is only her ‘acquaintance’ with Raymond that is of interest for this article.

Raymond of Poitiers

Raymond of Poitiers

The difficulties between Henry and Eleanor commenced when the latter came up against Matilda, who was not about to surrender the position of First Lady. As far as Matilda was concerned, Eleanor was simply Henry’s wife, with no claim to any power. A baby-making machine, no more or less. Open warfare threatened.

fighting women

Was Henry caught in the middle? Well, in a way, but he loved his mother because of all she had done to put him on the throne. Then (so the story goes) he fell for one of his many mistresses, a lady known as Fair Rosamund Clifford. It was too much for Eleanor. Already furious about playing second fiddle to Matilda, she now had to endure his immense infatuation for younger  woman. Eleanor stormed off to her lands in Europe, there to plot with her sons against their father.

the lion in winter

If you have seen the film The Lion in Winter, you will know that Eleanor and Henry were played by Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole. Oh, how the sparks and flames flew when they were on screen together. Eleanor was indeed very beautiful, but I don’t think Henry resembled O’Toole. According to Gerald of Wales [he had} “a reddish complexion, rather dark, and a large, round head. His eyes were grey, bloodshot, and flashed in anger. He had a fiery countenance, his voice was tremulous, and his neck a little bent forward; but his chest was broad, and his arms were muscular. His body was fleshy, and he had an enormous paunch, rather by the fault of nature than from gross feeding.” Definitely not the gorgeous Peter.

* * *

Now we must fast forward to the fifteenth century, and Lady Margaret Beaufort, yet another mother who would stop at nothing to see her son on the throne. Meet that son, Henry VII, the second Henry concerned in this article. Unlike Henry II, who was a direct blood heir, Henry VII’s forebears descended through a rather convoluted and weak line that included the bastard strain of the Beauforts (illegitimate offspring of John of Gaunt and his mistress, Katherine de Roët.

When Henry, taking for himself the role of legitimate heir of the House of Lancaster, was helped to Richard III’s throne by traitors, his formidable mother became First Lady—she was known as the King’s Lady Mother. Like Matilda, Margaret also had a helpful half-brother, John Welles, Viscount Welles, but he was hardly in the same class as the mighty Robert of Gloucester.

I could not find an illustration of John Welles, but this is his father, Lionel, Lord Welles, who died at Towton.

Henry always supported whatever Margaret did. She was, perhaps, the only person he ever trusted completely. His was a suspicious, secretive, paranoid character. He was not a mother’s boy, but came pretty close.

Then he too took a wife. He had to, he’d promised it in order to win the support of discontented supporters of the House of York (to which his defeated predecessor, Richard III, had belonged). If Henry had tried to wriggle out of it, there would have been uproar, because the promise entailed marrying the eldest Yorkist princess, Richard III’s niece, Elizabeth. Henry VII did not like having to do as he was told, but wasn’t given much of a choice.

Elizabeth of York - for WordPress

It is hard to imagine anyone less like Eleanor of Aquitaine. Elizabeth of York was reportedly lovely, but was mostly so quiet and apparently inactive that she barely offered a defiant squeak when Henry and his mother belittled her. She must have loathed Margaret, who swanned around almost as if she were the king, not Henry.

However, like Eleanor before her, Elizabeth had also been caught up in a scandal. It too involved an uncle, Richard III. There were strong rumours that something went on between uncle and niece—so strong that Richard was forced to deny it all in public. Whether there was any truth in it all will never be known, although I doubt very much that Richard returned any incestuous affection. That falls into the realm of fiction. He was intent upon arranging a foreign match for her. But the story clings to Elizabeth’s memory. Maybe she did love Richard, who, unlike his Shakespearean namesake, was actually a handsome young widower at the time in question.

Richard III for WordPress

Henry VII may have come to feel affection for his queen (perhaps because she was so unlike his domineering mother!) but she always took second place to Margaret. There is no known equivalent of Fair Rosamund in Henry’s life, so Elizabeth was never challenged on that score. Even if she had been, I doubt if she would have flounced off in a fury as Eleanor did. Perhaps Henry’s problem with his marriage was that he could not forget the rumours about Richard.

Maybe Elizabeth was one of those people who work quietly in the background, getting her own way when she wanted, but never openly defying either Henry or Margaret. Well, she did once, and Henry was so startled at the unexpected stamping of her Yorkist foot, that he backed down. I’d love to have been there, just for the joy of seeing his face.

So, there we have it. Two grimly determined mothers-in-law, two daughters-in law touched by rumours of incest and consigned to second place. And two Henrys who were loath to take on their mothers. Two M’s, two E’s and two H’s!

Matilda and Margaret could not have the throne in their own right, but were prepared to fight tooth and nail to put their sons there. Eleanor was another in the same mould, but Elizabeth of York was not. Neither daughter-in-law was afforded proper prominence in the eyes of her husband.

As for the Henrys, well, while their mothers could not rule alone as the true monarch (heaven forfend!) these sons were quite happy to lay claim the throne through the female line. So, a woman’s blood was good enough pass on to a son who would be crowned, but was next to worthless if she tried to assert herself by becoming “king”.

 

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: