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JOAN NEVILLE, SISTER TO THE KINGMAKER.

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The effigies of Joan Neville and her husband William Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel. 

On a recent visit to the Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel, I stood transfixed at Joan Neville’s beautiful monument.  Carved from Caen stone.  Joan’s effigy lies next to that of her husband, William Fitzalan Earl of Arundel (1417-1489).  Her head turned toward him, she gazes serenely at him, but whether that is artistic licence by the artist who carved her monument, hennins and coronets such as Joan’s being difficult to represent in stone, or because it was requested by her husband we shall never know.

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Joan’s headdress, Yorkist necklace and the cushion still retain much of the original colouring as well as embossed wax..

The fact that the effigies were out of sight of man for many years  – until 1981 when they were moved and restored  –  helped preserve them to a great  extent,  Joan’s still having retained traces of original colouring – red, gold gilding and embossed wax on her headdress, surcote and robes.  We can only guess that when they first made they must have ‘stunned viewers with their magnificence'(1)

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Note the wonderful detail of Joan’s cuff, her girdle, necklace and surcoat.  

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Joan and William’s effigies now  in their glass case….Joans feet resting on a griffin.

Joan Neville, future countess of Arundel,  born  before 2 November 1424  and dying about the 9th September 1462 was the eldest  of six sisters to  Richard Neville who became known as Warwick the Kingmaker and one of 12 siblings.   Her parents Richard Earl of  Salisbury and Alice Montacute,  as was the custom of the day arranged marriages for all of their daughters while they were still children and Joan was duly  married to William Fitzalan about 1438 when she was  14.  However her first son was not born until 1450 with a further 5 children to follow.    Their marriage was to endure 24 years and William  never remarried after her death.  Whether her death affected him or his own health was in decline  or perhaps for some other reason that eludes us,  Willam  certainly ceased to show any interest in anything political after her death.

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The Fitzalan Chapel.  Joan and William’s tomb is to the right hand side.

The Chapel suffered greatly during the English Civil war and it is more than fortunate that the Fitzalan tombs and monuments have survived in such good condition.

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Painting by Thomas Cane of the chapel  c1886. 

Of the aristocratic families  who lived during  those turbulent times few if any  escaped terrible and tragic  loss.   The Nevilles were no different and  although Joan did not live long enough  to see her brothers, Richard and John die at Barnet,  she had suffered the loss of  a brother, Thomas,  and her father, Salisbury,  during and after  the aftermath of Wakefield.   To find out more on Joan,  her five sisters and their husbands,   David Baldwin’s The Kingmaker’s Sisters can be recommended.

  1. Sally Bedham Medieval Church and Churchyard Monuments p34.

Devon Roses

Devon Roses 2019 catalogue number R16

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Devon & Cornwall branch of the Richard III Society

Songs recorded from 2015 to 2019 at Rock Lee & Other World Studios

 

The lady singers of the Legendary Ten Seconds:

Elaine Churchward vocals

Jules Jones vocals

Pippa West vocals

Bridgit England vocals

Violet Sheer backing vocal on Wife to the Kingmaker

Fleur Elliott backing vocal on Act of Accord

 

The minstrels of the Legendary Ten Seconds:

Ian Churchward guitars, mandolin, mandola & keyboards

Lord Zarquon keyboards, bass guitar, drums & percussion

Phil Swann mandolin & 12 string acoustic guitar on The Walk of Shame

Ashley Dyer trumpet on Wife to the Kingmaker

Rob Bright lead guitar on How do you Rebury a King

All songs written by Ian Churchward except:
Eleanor Talbot written by Elaine & Ian Churchward and
Less Fortunate Than Fair written by Sandra Heath Wilson & Ian Churchward

 

http://www.thelegendary10seconds.co.uk

 

 

 

1)Fatal Match – a song about the marriage of Henry VI to Margaret of Anjou

2)Charm and Grace – the coronation of Elizabeth Woodville

3)Kings of England – a song about Henry VII’s wife

4)Less Fortunate Than Fair – a song about Cecily of York, the daughter of Edward IV

5)The Duke of York’s Wife – a song about Richard III’s mother

6)Sanctuary – a song about the birth of Edward V

7)The Walk of Shame – a song about Elizabeth Lambert, mistress of Edward IV

8)The Minstrels did Play – Christmas 1484 in the court of King Richard III

9)How do you Rebury a King ( 2018 version ) – about the reburial of Richard III

10)Eleanor Talbot – a very sad song about Eleanor Talbot

11)The Month of May – a song about the events in London in May 1483

12)Act of Accord – a song about the defeat of Richard Duke of York at the battle of Wakefield

13)Her Household Requires – a song about the household of Elizabeth of York

14)I Greet you Well – correspondence between the Duke of Gloucester and his sister Margaret

15)Wife to the Kingmaker – inspired by a novel written by Sandra Heath Wilson

 

FATAL MATCH

 

SHE ARRIVED ON THE COCK JOHN

BLOWN OFF COURSE FOR SO LONG

BATTERED AND BRUISED BY AN ANGRY SEA

CARRIED ASHORE TO HER DESTINY

 

OH PEERS OF ENGLAND THIS FATAL MATCH

FATAL THIS MARRIAGE AND THIS DISPATCH

GRAVE NEWS FOR OUR DUKE IN FRANCE

MAINE AND ANJOU LOST PERCHANCE

 

MARGARET OF ANJOU TO HENRY WED

BY HIS QUEEN HE WAS LED

SUFFOLK’S ADVICE THE QUEEN SOUGHT

SHE LOVED TO HAVE HIM IN HER COURT

 

OH PEERS OF ENGLAND THIS FATAL MATCH

FATAL THIS MARRIAGE AND THIS DISPATCH

THE DUKE OF SUFFOLK WE MUST ACCUS

FOR HIS BAD JUDGEMENT IS GRAVE NEWS

 

Bridgit England lead and harmony vocals

Jules Jones backing vocals

Ian Churchward acoustic guitar

Lord Zarquon bass guitar, keyboards and drums

Confusion in Cairo: Sean Cunningham and the “Princes”

Not content with accusing Richard III of the death of nearly every notable in 15th century England, it seems of late there has been more ‘confusion in Cairo’ as the the traditionalists attempt to drag in Richard’s friends and relatives in order to back up their position. Recently, the loyal John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, and even Richard’s mother, Cecily Neville the Duchess of York have been thrust into the fray. Heavens, there was even a  recent ‘history magazine’ feature on ‘the Princes’ with interior artwork of not only a shifty, lank-tressed Richard, but a scowling, gimlet-eyed John Howard with a villainous moustache just ripe to be twirled!

This article put Howard forward as a potential suspect in the ‘murder’ of the Princes. It is interesting that he was never considered a ‘suspect’ in any of the early accounts but he seems to have become one in the last few years. According to some, it is ‘proof’ that the ‘Princes’ were dead when John Howard was made Duke of Norfolk in 1483, since the title was held by the younger Prince through his marriage to the late Anne Mowbray. This seems a case of ‘two plus two equals five’.  Young Richard of Shrewsbury had his titles forfeited due to being declared illegitimate; therefore, it is hardly unexpected that John Howard, who had unfairly lost his rightful inheritance due to Edward IV tinkering with the law to benefit himself, would be rewarded  by Richard for his support by receiving  the Dukedom back. That this happened in 1483 does not in any way ‘prove’ that Richard of Shrewsbury was already deceased; simply he was no longer eligible to hold the title.

Then there’s been much ado about Cecily Neville, Richard’s mother, perhaps because  in modern times there has been attempts to emphasise—and sometimes over-emphasise—the behind-the-scenes roles of medieval women. She was undoubtedly a powerful and sometimes outspoken woman, but that does not make her some kind of ‘Lady MacBeth.’ Apparently, we are told, she supported George for King in 1469 because her eldest son was indeed a bastard and not fit to hold the throne. Again, this makes little sense. If there was any truth in the rumours about Edward’s parentage, why was his kingship suddenly a problem in 1469 and not when he first became King in 1461? Yes, Cecily supposedly  cried out that he was no true son and she would publicly swear to it, when she found out about his ill-thought out “marriage” to Elizabeth Woodville…but if she truly  declared such a thing, she never mentioned it in public again and  (according to traditionalist accounts) was most ‘put out’ by the rumours of  Edward’s illegitimacy being resurrected around the time Richard became King. Like so many denialist accounts, the stories conflict—she’s hardly likely to have admitted an adulterous sin then act as if she was shocked and affronted that it was repeated. So only one of the above scenarios can be true (or neither of them.)  My personal belief is she did lash out verbally at Edward during an angry confrontation over his marriage, and futilely tried to hold him in check with what turned out to be an idle threat.)

Following on from this series of contradictions, Cecily has also recently been made out as some sort of ‘Kingmaker’ in regards to her youngest son, ruthlessly forgetting her grandchildren (but think of the chhilldreenn, Cecily!) in order to support Richard’s claim (this is assumed mainly, I presume, because she allowed his use of Baynard castle during his bid for the crown)  but in the very next instance,  we have others claiming she  showed her disapproval of his kingship by not attending Richard’s Coronation. (Although the latter may be another falsehood—Cecily may well have been there. As the late John Ashdown-Hill wrote in his book on the Duchess, the assumption of her absence comes from the fact there is no record of her having received fabric for her robes—Well, there is also no record of Richard and Anne receiving any fabric either, as  their clothes would have been supplied by the Great Wardrobe. Cecily’s garments could quite possibly have come straight from the Great Wardrobe too, since she was the King’s Mother.)

Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with debating either John Howard or Dame Cecily’s involvement in the events of 1483. But let’s not end up with either rumour or theory being presented as fact (we have enough of that already!),  such as some of the elements in this article on Cecily Neville, which is on the National Archives page:

Cecily Neville National Archives

And since I mentioned amusingly bad magazine art that isn’t even the little tiniest bit biased (cough), here you  go:

THE STRANGE LEGEND OF USK CASTLE

In a tiny town in Wales, a ruined castle stands on rising ground amidst a haze of dark trees. An atmospheric round tower, cracked  by time; shattered walls, the remains of hall and chapel. Privately owned, a garden drops down the hillside before it, to an old house  which appears to contain much castle stonework. Modern statuary of gargoyles peep out from a tangle of flowers as birds fly from their nests in the towers toward the town beyond, with its grey church, once an ancient priory.

This is  Usk Castle, and it has an interesting history, and a legend that might contain a grain of truth. A Roman fort once stood nearby and the castle itself may be situated on the site of an Iron Age hill-fort. The first castle was likely  built in Norman times by  Richard de Clare and William the Conqueror’s banner-bearer,  Tristram Fitz Rolf . Later, around  1120,  the Marcher Lord,  Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare strengthened the castle’s defences, perhaps building in stone for the first time. His tenure there was long so long; Iorwerth Ap Owain killed  him in an ambush in a dark, wooded pass called ‘the ill way of Coed Grano.’ The place today still contains a commemorative marker known as the ‘Stone of Revenge.’ Later still,  Usk was held by William Marshal and then returned to the de Clare family with Gilbert de Clare, earl of Hereford (son of Joan of Acre, daughter of Edward I), who was slain at Bannockburn in 1314.

The last events of high drama at the castle seem to have taken place in 1405,  when Welsh prince Owain Glyndwr attacked the town of Usk and the garrison gave battle, capturing Owain’s  son.

The rest of the 1400’s may have been quieter in Usk, but just as interesting. For a time, Usk Castle was held by Edmund Mortimer, earl of the Marches,  and from him it eventually passed to Richard, Duke of York, whose mother was Anne Mortimer, granddaughter of Philippa, the daughter of Lionel of Clarence, Edward III’S third son. The Duke of York was also patron to nearby Usk Priory, today the parish church. William Herbert (senior) was  the Duke’s steward in the area. When Edward IV came to the throne, Usk became a crown possession, and of course it was also subsequently held by Richard III.

Several references of the 1800’s (earliest 1828) to the York family at Usk are rather noteworthy. They state the Duke of York spent ‘considerable time’ at the castle, and that both Edward IV and Richard III were born there. Now, it is known for a fact that Edward was born in Rouen, France and Richard at Fotheringhay, in Northamptonshire, but could there be something in this old tale, which was repeated in more than one source? Is there some sliver of folk memory here, recalling that the Duke’s sons had been in residence in Usk at some time? Edward was not all that far far away at Ludlow with Edmund as a youth, but what about Richard?

It is interesting to look at the stable isotopes detected on Richard’s teeth. They showed that his earliest childhood was spent in a geographic  area of England that would correspond with Fotheringhay; then the isotopes appear to indicate he spent some time in a wetter environment more consistent with western Britain. We know he was with his family at Ludlow at the time of the Battle of Ludford Bridge and the subsequent sacking of the town. Could he have spent some time prior to that at Usk? Was Duchess Cecily in residence there for a while with her younger children?  I somehow doubt  the Duke would have  his wife and children ride all the way from Fotheringhay to Ludlow with hostilities about to break out in the area, so it only makes sense to assume they were already dwelling somewhere in the region.  Perhaps they were at Usk and the Duke ordered them to Ludlow, which had a larger, stronger, more  defensible castle. The distance between Usk and Ludlow is around 50 miles, a much shorter distance than  that between  Fotheringhay  and Ludlow. That latter route would also have taken in more of the Lancastrian dominated areas in the Midlands. Certainly, the possibility is there and many legends are not just pulled from thin air.

Vintage article on the castle:

USK CASTLE FROM VICTORIAN HISTORY BOOK

 

USK CASTLE:

 

 

“King Richard and his Women”

I don’t know what your reaction would be to reading the following, but my Ricardian heart plummeted:-

“….There have been many versions of Shakespeare’s Richard III over the years. But King Richard and His Women may be the first to focus on the title character and his relationships with the women in his life….”

Firstly that this new play is based upon the Bard’s Richard, and secondly because this means, inevitably, that the women in question are bound to loathe him. Looking at the above photograph, I feel they can’t wait to tear him to shreds.

But the Bard’s Richard III and the real man are worlds apart, and I will cheer the day when the theatrical world does the actual Richard a centuries-overdue favour, and creates something around the TRUTH. But that, I fear, would be too much to ask.

To read more about King Richard and His Women, go to this article

Richard III’s Prehistoric Foremother?

Recently I came across this fascinating blogpost by an archaeologist called Katharina, who was working on a Bronze Age burial site in Austria. The skeletons her team excavated have recently been DNA tested–and one of them carried the maternal haplogroup J1c2, which is part of the group to which Richard belonged.

Richard’s Bronze Age foremother?

Now there are differences in their DNA sequences; Richard has a rare mutation, making his exact group J1c2c3. So far, only about a dozen people from all worldwide testing sites have been found to carry this exact mutation. None as far as I know, have been found in continental Europe, so it looks as if the rare mutation occurred recently in his maternal line–either with Cecily Neville, his mother, Joan Beaufort, grandmother, Katherine Swynford, his great-grandmother, or Katherine’s mother, who was a migrant to England.

Haplogroup J, called ‘Jasmine’ by geneticist Bryan Sykes, is thought to be one of the last female haplogroups to enter Europe, first appearing in the Near East around Syria. It is a ‘sister’ to Mtdna haplogroup T, with both  groups having split off from  a foremother carrying the Haplogroup JT, which is not commonly found in Europe but still can be  found in the Near and Middle East. (I am Haplogroup T2b4 ,’Tara’, by the way, so part of the ‘sister’ group.) J and T are both considered, in particular,  hallmarks of the Neolithic revolution (agriculture)  in Europe and maybe even associated with the spread of Indo-European languages, although there were probably some earlier people with these haplogroup in the Mesolithic as well.  Today J and T are considered mid-size DNA groups, with about 12% of Europeans carrying some form of J and 9% carrying T.

All the people with haplogroup J will share a common maternal ancestor with Richard at some point…but it might be well be a 100 generations ago or even earlier! Obviously there are different clades of each haplogroup, each with different mutations, which show where the groups split and diversified, and hence some people with MTdna J will be closer  matches to Richard than others, the closest being those who have that elusive ‘3’, who all seem to come from Richard’s close family. (I myself am in the same maternal group as the last Tsar of Russia but my mutations are quite different to his; I’m more closely related to the outlaw Jesse James! And Ozzy Osborne! Still, they are all my relatives on some kind of  remote level, though!)

It’s quite fascinating to be able to look into the deepest past and see where we all came from, and how interrelated we really all are.

 

mtDNA-J-map

The reign(s) of Edward IV….

 

If you want the bare bones of Edward’s reign(s), supposedly born today but on an impossible date, here they are, although there is no reference to his valid marriage in 1461. To me, Edward IV, for all the good he did as king, was rather a prat. Sorry, but there’s no other word for it. He was led by the contents of his codpiece, and didn’t pay enough attention to those he offended.

 

The inspiration for Richard III’s rosary….

The following article and extract are from Nerdalicious:

 

“ ‘In the nineteenth century the Clare Cross was found in the castle ruins. It’s actually a reliquary, containing a fragment of the True Cross, and it was probably made soon after 1450  so probably it belonged to Richard III’s mother. For that reason, when I got an agreement from Leicester Cathedral for a rosary to be buried with Richard III I chose a quite large, black wooden rosary which I bought years ago, when I was a student at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich. Then I had the cross and the central link replaced by George Easton (who made Richard III’s funeral crown for me too). George copied the Clare Cross for me, to replace the original crucifix, and he also made an enamelled white rose (like the ones he made for Richard’s crown) to replace the central link. A white rose is the symbol of the house of York, of course, but it’s also a symbol of the Virgin Mary, who is at the centre of the prayers of the rosary.’ “

 

The Church of St. Alkelda at Middleham

History of St Mary and St Alkelda Church

If you go to Middleham, your priority will be to visit the castle of King Richard III but you can’t leave this fabulous town of the Dales without having a look at the church of St Mary and St Alkelda. This church is a must for visitors, especially Ricardians, and considering it is not a massive church, it has a lot to offer to those who love historical buildings.

The first church on the actual spot where the present church is built dates back to the 12th century but just a couple of stones are still there. The actual date of the foundation of the church seems to be the year 1280.

The dedication of the church is to the Virgin Mary and St Alkelda. Myth and folklore surround this saint and many even doubt her existence, even though in 1818, when the nave was dug, a stone coffin was found. When it was opened, the mortal remains of a woman were found and in the exact spot where tradition indicates St Alkelda was buried in the south east corner of the present church.  The meaning of her name derives from the Old English – Norse healikeld in Modern English “holy well”. It seems that there was a well close to the church and the water was very effective for eye problems.

The new church was built around 1350 while the tower was added in 1450 approximately. St Alkelda was martyred around 800 AD so it is possible that a Christian society was already active in Middleham. However, we need to go to 1280 to have a church there with a nave, aisles and a chancel. The following year, Mary of Middleham was born. She is thought to have been the heiress to the castle and the patron of the church. The first mention of the church is found in a taxation document by Pope Nicholas IV in 1291. The value of the church was fixed at £8. In 1310 the church was endowed with lands to increase the value of the building.

The Feast Day of St Alkelda was granted in 1388 by Richard II on 5th November and lasted 3 days. In 1470 Edward IV granted a license to found a chantry in the south aisle. Previously, in 1460 St Alkelda and the castle of Middleham was the house of Richard Neville, better known as Warwick the Kingmaker. After the death of Richard, Duke of York, Cecily Neville of Raby, his wife, moved with her children to Middleham. Warwick made Edward Plantagenet King Edward IV but when this latter failed the Kingmaker’s expectations by “marrying” Elizabeth Woodville and not a French princess, Neville plotted against him, planning to put on the throne George Duke of Clarence, the King’s brother, or to restore Henry VI. The outcome was the battle of Barnet, where Warwick lost his life. Middleham castle and lands including the church were granted to the youngest of Cecily Neville’s sons Richard Duke of Gloucester, who later became King Richard III. He married Anne Neville, one of Warwick’s daughters and inherited the Lordship of Middleham.

In 1477, possibly at Gloucester’s request, Edward IV, his brother, granted a license for transforming St Alkelda into a College with a Dean, six Chaplains, four Clerks, a Sacristan and six Choristers. In the Statute drawn up by Richard Gloucester, the Dean was appointed to lead perpetual masses for the Royal Yorkist family. A copy of the original statute is currently displayed on the left aisle under the white boar and the stained glass window depicting Richard and his family. When Richard became King Richard III, the church became known as the King’s College, Middleham. Sadly, in 1547, the Chantry was closed by Act of Parliament under Henry VIII’s Reformation of the Church. It seems that the Collegiate title was one in name only because it was never listed as an exempted Collegiate church in the Act for the Dissolution of Chantries in 1547 during the reign of Edward VI.

In 1538 Thomas Cromwell decided to allow couples to marry in St Alkelda without a license or banns. This practice stopped in the 18th century. Because of this, St Alkelda was a sort of Gretna Green in Yorkshire.

In 1839, Dean Wood tried to revive the Chapter appointing six Canons and reinstated the Cathedral form of service. In 1845 the status of Royal Peculiar ended. The Dean became a Rector and St Alkelda an ordinary parish church under the Bishop of Ripon.

St Alkelda has many valuable objects and decorations. Apart from the 14th century relief of the Crucifixion and the 15th century glass depicting St Alkelda’s martyrdom, the visitors can also appreciate the Saxon gravestones in the north aisle, the 14th century stone font and chancel arch. In addition to this, there is the Lady Chapel aisle with Richard III’s White Boar standard, a copy of his royal seal, a copy of the statute of the church signed by Richard Gloucester and the beautiful window depicting the King and his family.

There are many other artefacts and decorations in St Alkelda to see such as the medieval grave covers, the carved gargoyles, the copy of the Middleham jewel and much more. St Alkelda is a church belonging to the Anglican Diocese of Leeds.

St Alkelda Pilgrimage Way

There is a new plan going on as regards St Alkelda; a walking route around 35 miles long that follows an ancient prehistoric and Roman route for most of the way. It goes through the Yorkshire Dales National Park and it would take walkers 2-3 days to complete it depending on how experienced they were.

The route from Middleham goes via Coverdale, passing by little hamlets, Coverham Abbey, churches with monastic associations, evidence of ancient settlements, tumuli and an impressive earthwork. It then takes in Kettlewell (tourist centre), passes down Wharfedale to Kilnsey, up  and into the  limestone hill country, Mastiles Lane, an ancient trackway, Roman camp, the remains of 5 medieval wayfaring crosses. Il passes down Celtic and medieval field systems into Malham tourist centre and where the archaeological dig of St Helen’s chapel, holy well and graveyard, medieval and Anglo-Saxon, takes place in May. From there it goes past Malham Cove, peregrine falcon reserve, a spectacular limestone scenery, down to Stockdale Lane and descends to Ribblesdale past evidence of a Roman camp waterfalls,  limestone caves where prehistoric and Romano-British remains have been found,  Settle, market town and across the river to Giggleswick and its church.

On the route, we see how the different rocks – limestone and millstone grit mostly, produce different scenery, grass colours and flora. In St Alkelda’s day, there would have been marsh and bog around the rivers, woodland and even thick forest in places, the habitat of deer, wolves, bears, and wild boar. These animals are mentioned in some Celtic nature poetry, also Prayers for Protection! It was the monks and their sheep during the Middle Ages who changed the landscape to what it looks like today. The plan has just started but visitors and good walkers will soon enjoy the awesome St Alkelda Pilgrimage Way.

The merry widows of medieval England….?

The above illustrations show two royal widows. On the left Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, mother of both Edward IV and Richard III. On the right an imagined meeting between Edward IV and the widow he was to marry, Elizabeth Woodville.

In this modern age, when we are striving to live longer and longer, it’s hard to imagine what it could be like in the medieval period if someone, especially a widow, lived on into their eighties. Oh, yes, some did. We are always told that medieval widows had much more freedom than other women, but that is questionable. Merry widows? Not necessarily.

The following is based on Medieval Women by Henrietta Leyser.

In the twelfth century, Maud be Bohun was widowed at the age of ten. She married again, but through her long life (she was an octogenarian) she retained the dowry she had inherited as a child. This was to the considerable dismay and disadvantage of her first husband’s family, who had to wait for her eventual demise. The same can be said of Margaret of Brotherton of Framlingham, who survived two husbands, four children and died in the same year as her grandson (17-year-old John Hastings, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, who was killed in a jousting accident at court of Richard II at the end of December, 1389).

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The seal of Margaret of Brotherton

 

stone-head-framlingham

This late medieval carving of a woman’s head is one of five at Framlingham Castle that may be likenesses of the Mowbrays, Margaret Brotherton’s descendants

More about Margaret of Brotherton, see http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/histories/women-in-history/womens/margaret-brotherton/

During the long lives of such widows, their families and in-laws could suffer great hardship because the widows held large parts of the inheritance. The two ladies above were from aristocratic backgrounds, but those in lesser circumstances could cause penury! Mind you, even rich widows could find themselves forced into remarriage. They had to do all they could to stay one step ahead of forceful, unwelcome suitors. (see https://wordpress.com/post/murreyandblue.wordpress.com/27858) Or, of course, they could deliberately seek another marriage because of the protection afforded by a man. It depended on the woman, and was all a case of swings and roundabouts.

But under the Anglo-Norman and Angevin kings, widows had no choice in the matter, because they were in the gift of the king. Yes, really. Would-be suitors paid handsomely into the royal coffers for this gift of marriage to a particular widow of their choice! It must have been like selecting from a menu. Eventually, the coronation charter of Henry I contained promises regarding widows’ rights of dower and that they would not be forced into marriage. Then Magna Carta further supported the rights of these women, who were not to pay for their dower or be compelled to remarry. Empty promises, it seems, because the practice continued to fill the treasury. Of course, it could work the other way too, and a widow could (if she had sufficient funds) pay the king not to give her away. In either case, the king profited.

Then came the growing practice of holding lands in jointure, which gave widows greater financial security. Unfortunately for them, this also made them more desirable as wives. According to the Merriam-Webster Unabridged dictionary, jointure is:

A – (1) : the joint tenancy of an estate; (2) : the estate so held

B – (1) : an estate settled on a wife to be taken by her in lieu of dower; (2) : a settlement upon the wife of a freehold estate (as in lands or tenements) for her lifetime at least to take effect upon the decease of the husband and to act as a bar to dower.

Yet another aspect of a widow’s trials came when they were urged in their late husband’s wills to “take the order of widowhood”. That is, not go into a convent, but to take a public vow of chastity. Failure to embark on such a course could result in the terms of the will severely reducing the widow’s income. The reason was not always male spite from beyond the grave, but could safeguard her and any children from a new husband who might not have their best interests at heart. Or whom she definitely did not want! Not so good if she wanted a physically loving relationship.

In the case of a third Margaret—Lady Margaret Beaufort—she was too powerful to be pushed around, and when it came to her final marriage, she took the public vow of chastity. A physical relationship cannot have appealed! She chose to marry Thomas Stanley, who presumably didn’t care if she was in his bed or not. A definite marriage of convenience and an alliance of great fortunes and power that was to cost Richard III his life when Margaret’s Tudor son usurped his throne. As you will see, Margaret and her boy were not high on the list of beautiful people. Sour pusses, both. Thomas Stanley, if this is a reasonable likeness, was better looking.

Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII and Thomas Stanley, who became 1st Earl of Derby

A medieval widow could therefore be caught in a vicious circle, and unable to rule her own life as she saw fit. That is something we just accept these days. Well, we do in the West, it is still very different in many other parts of the world.

So, as I said at the beginning, the freedom of medieval widows is debatable. Truly merry widows were probably rather thin on the ground.

Two more medieval widows, in the regulation black and white

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