Monday, January 15, 2018

Lambert Simnel and the Blind Poet

by Matt Lewis

One of the most intriguing and confusing stories I read about the possible survival of the Princes in the Tower comes from Bernard Andre, the blind French friar-poet who would act as tutor to Prince Arthur Tudor and possibly to Henry VIII too. It epitomises the lack of conviction that runs through almost all of the contemporary and near-contemporary sources about the precise fate of the sons of Edward IV.

When writing about the Lambert Simnel Affair of 1487, two years into Henry VII’s reign, André provides an account that is quite shocking, yet which just might make sense of the whole muddled business. Andre begins his explanation of the events by describing how ‘the cruel murder of King Edward the Fourth’s sons was yet vexing the people’. On the surface, this is an explicit assertion that both of the boys were dead and is presumably meant to be understood to implicate Richard III. He had earlier written of Richard that ‘After the tyrant, safe in his London stronghold, slew the lords he knew were faithful to his brother, he ordered that his unprotected nephews secretly be dispatched with the sword.’ Referring to news that a coronation of this supposed King Edward of the House of York had taken place in Dublin, André does not refer to the boy as Edward, Earl of Warwick, as the official Tudor version of events has it. The poet specifically states that ‘word came back that the second son of Edward had been crowned king in Ireland’. This second son would have been Richard, Duke of York, yet everywhere else it is made clear that the boy was named Edward. If he was a son of Edward IV named Edward, then he can only have been claiming to be Edward V.

The story doesn’t end there. André continues to describe the questioning of numerous messengers sent to Ireland to discover the boy's identity. Eventually, one person was sent to conclusively answer the question of who this boy really was. André has frustratingly left a blank space where the name should be, but it is possible it was Roger Machado, a herald trusted by both Edward IV and Henry VII. Whoever he was, André tells us that he ‘claimed that he would easily recognise him if he were who he claimed to be’. On this man’s return, André laments that ‘the boy had already been tutored with evil cunning by persons who were familiar with the days of Edward, and he readily answered all the herald’s questions’. So, we are told, a herald who knew Edward IV’s sons was sent to identify the boy in Dublin and returned unable to say he wasn’t Edward IV’s son. He didn’t say that the lad looked nothing like either of the princes. All he could say was that all of his questions were answered satisfactorily, a shocking development that André put down to quick and clever trickery.

In summing up, André confirms that ‘To make a long story short, through the deceptive tutelage of his advisors, he was finally accepted as Edward’s son by many prudent men, and so strong was this belief that many did not even hesitate to die for him’. André does not describe this boy as claiming to be Edward, Earl of Warwick, son of George, Duke of Clarence, but as claiming to be a son of Edward IV named Edward. It’s a brief passage, but it rings so many alarm bells. What if the whole story of an Oxford boy named Lambert Simnel impersonating Edward, Earl of Warwick was a smokescreen? Henry had an Edward, an heir of the House of York, in his custody, so putting out that the boy in Ireland was claiming to be someone imprisoned in the Tower would undermine his attempts to unseat Henry. Warwick was produced at St Paul’s for questioning by former members of the Yorkist court to prove that he really was a prisoner. What if that story was a pretence to whip support from beneath the boy in Ireland by painting his claims as a demonstrable lie, a joke even?

If we allow for a moment that the boy in Dublin might have been claiming to be Edward V, it makes sense of many other snippets of detail. Polydore Vergil, writing twenty years later, described the boy in Ireland as seeking to restore or re-establish himself, using the Latin verb ‘restituere’ to define his efforts. It would be an odd word to apply to Warwick, who had never held the throne in order to be able to restore himself to it. Given Edward V’s lack of a coronation, the desire to crown him in Dublin might also be significant. There is open confusion about the age of the boy later captured at the Battle of Stoke Field, and one account contained within The Heralds’ Memoir refers to the capture of the boy by Robert Bellingham and gives his name as John. Adrien de But even claimed that the boy escaped the field and was taken to Calais by Edmund de la Pole, then Earl of Suffolk, though de But does identify the boy as the ‘young Duke of Clarence’, referring to Warwick’s father’s title.

There are other interesting connections too. The sudden fall from grace of Elizabeth Woodville and the arrest of Thomas Grey, for example. The official Tudor version of the dowager queen’s removal from public life and her loss of her property was Henry’s outrage that she had endangered her daughters, including his wife, by releasing them to Richard III in 1484. Odd to become so suddenly scandalised three years after the fact and over a year into his own reign. Thomas Grey was supposedly told that if he really were loyal to Henry, then he wouldn’t mind a spell in the Tower to prove it. The timing of both events is highly suggestive that it was related to the emergence of the threat in Ireland. Elizabeth Woodville and Thomas Grey would have absolutely nothing to gain by supporting Edward, Earl of Warwick. Elizabeth was implicated in Warwick’s father’s fall and execution. If anything, placing him on the throne would make the Woodville position weaker. The only thing that can have been preferable to her daughter on the throne beside Henry VII for Elizabeth Woodville would have been one of her sons on it.

John de la Pole’s involvement is equally hard to fathom if the Lambert Simnel Affair had been a plot to place Warwick on the throne. Contrary to what has become popular opinion, Richard III never appointed an heir after the death of his only legitimate son in 1484. Some have claimed Warwick was designated heir, whilst other identify John, Earl of Lincoln as receiving that honour. Some even believe Warwick was initially appointed only to be replaced by Lincoln. None of these is true. Richard III left no instruction regarding who should succeed him, not least because he was planning to remarry and would have hoped for another son and heir. Lincoln would, by most measures, have been Richard III’s heir presumptive until a son arrived to replace him. Warwick was a male line descendant of the House of York, but his father’s attainder legally barred him from the succession. Undoing that impediment would create the sticky and awkward question of his senior claim that Richard himself possessed.

Lincoln therefore held his own claim, senior to that of Warwick, which he appears to have ignored. With Henry VII’s removal of Titulus Regius from the statute books, the illegitimacy of Edward IV’s children was reversed. If one or both were still alive, his sons would now possess the most convincing legitimate claim to the throne for the House of York. Warwick had no affinity of his own, having been orphaned at a young age and kept away from any kind of power as a child. Lincoln didn’t really have a swell of support, but he had a legitimate claim unhampered by attainder. The only Yorkist claim better than Lincoln’s was that of the sons of Edward IV. If Lincoln overlooked his own suit in 1487, it only makes sense that he did so for one of the Princes in the Tower.

The fate of the Princes in the Tower ultimately remains a mystery. However, it is a mystery clouded by later Tudor writers and by the unquestioning acceptance of what they wrote. Returning to the source material is critical to stripping away these layers of myth and misdirection, and in this case, it throws up some interesting questions. If you think about it with an open mind and push aside your preconceptions, the Lambert Simnel Affair makes an awful lot more sense as an uprising in favour of Edward V than it does as an attempt to place an imposter Earl of Warwick on the throne. Of course, Henry VII had a vested interest in denying the continued existence of two boys with a better and more popular claim to his crown than he had. Maybe that’s why he ordered that all of the records of the Irish Parliament held in 1487 should be burned. Maybe they referred to something he could never afford to have see the light of day. Maybe they referred to an attempt to return King Edward V to the throne of England. Maybe Henry VII has succeeded in pulling the wool over the eyes of history.

Pictures Copyright Matt Lewis


Matthew Lewis is the author of The Survival of the Princes in the Tower published by The History Press and available from Amazon and other outlets.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Giving Birth in Jane Austen’s Day: Confinement, Lying-in, and Churching

by Maria Grace

Unlike women today who often give birth in hospitals or birthing centers, women of the regency era normally gave birth at home. Preparation for confinement fell almost exclusively to the mother--big surprise, I know. Among the most significant of those preparatory decisions was where she would be confined. (Vickery, 1998)


The decision was a significant one. A woman's confinement, also called her lying-in, lasted a month to six weeks starting when the baby was born, through her subsequent recovery.  In some cases, women imminently due to give birth were also confined to the house and treated as invalids. (But only in cases where there was sufficient assistance available to take over the mother-to-be’s duties, of course.)   During confinement women were expected to stay indoors, preferably in bed. Most felt well enough to emerge from confinement after a month. (Honestly I think they’d have to be really ill not to be utterly stir-crazy by then. But then again, I get stir crazy confined by a day or two of rain.)

The medical community believed that an extended period of strict rest was necessary to help protect against the postnatal dangers threatening the mother and the baby.  Considering the number of women who died in childbirth and those who experienced complications including puerperal fever, hemorrhage, thrombosis and milk fever, the precaution made a great deal of sense.

Some women chose to return to their mother’s home to give birth. Others brought female relatives to their home for the event.  It was not unusual for rooms used for lying-in to be rearranged or redecorated in anticipation of the event. (Martin, 2004) Ideally, the mother would have two interconnected room. The inner, would contain the mother’s lying-in bed, usually kept dark though labor, delivery and at least the first week afterwards. The outer room would serve as a waiting room of sorts, a place for friends and relatives to gather.  (Lewis, 1986)

For those who could afford it, London, because of its reputation for skilled doctors, was regarded as the best place for a confinement, especially for the birth of an anticipated heir.  When a family went to town for a confinement, it could disrupt the household for weeks, even if the family maintained a house in London. And since delivery dates could not be accurately predicted, all this often happened at the very last minute. (I can’t think of anything I would less rather do at the very end of a pregnancy than be confined for hours on end in a bouncy-jolty carriage, moving households to somewhere else.) 

During the confinement, especially one with all the pomp and circumstance of a London confinement, the mother often received visits from friends and relatives. Sometimes a greate many of them, perhaps even more than she desired. Frequently these were women who had “shared in the drinking of caudle, the hot spiced wine mixture she had imbibed to ease her labor pains,” her ‘gossips.’ (Lewis, 1986) Country confinements had the advantage of fewer ‘drop-in’ sort of visitors. The new parents could exercise a little more control in who came to visit.

“The confinement itself was composed of a set of clearly defined stages in the recovery process. While these provided something of a guideline for the recovery of all women, they were flexible enough to allow for individual differences.  …  Generally, the stages …consisted of increasingly long forays from bed to sofa; thence to the outer or dressing room of the lying-in chambers; downstairs, possibly to dine with the family; and finally to take her first leave of the premises. The entire process lasted from four to six weeks.” (Lewis, 1986)


A woman’s confinement ended when the mother had been "churched" and her child christened. Considering the very real risks to both mother and infant, it is not surprising that the Church had a special service of thanksgiving after (surviving) childbirth. The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, called it the Churching of Women. Traditionally, a woman paid her first visit upon leaving home to her church for this service which emphasized a woman's gratitude toward God for her full recovery. (Lewis, 1986)

Although sanctioned by the Old Testament (Leviticus 12), churching was a prickly issue within the Church. Some condemned it as a remnant of the Jewish religion or as a Catholic rite. Still, it continued as a pervasive practice, especially in rural areas. (Collin, 2001) This may have been because of superstitions about women bringing bad luck following childbirth unless ritual cleansing took place.  

The ceremony was generally sought after by women, a ceremony that focused on them and acknowledged the perils they had faced. It was also an opportunity to rejoin society after extended isolation and often an opportunity to feast with the friends who had helped her through her labor (her ‘gossips.’)  (Knöde, 1995)

Women who experienced a still birth or whose child died soon after were still churched. But, women who gave birth to illegitimate children were not until they publicly repented before the whole congregation.  “There are also records of a debate whether a woman who had died in giving birth should be buried in the church graveyard if she had died unchurched. Popular custom occasionally had another woman undergoing the ceremony for the woman who had died, but such practice was not favoured by the church. It was eventually decided that an unchurched woman could be buried, but in a number of cases they were buried in a special part of the graveyard and superstitious beliefs had it that women between 15 and 45 were not supposed to be going to that particular part of the graveyard.” (Knöde, 1995)


Adkins, Roy, and Lesley Adkins. Jane Austen's England. Viking, 2013. 
Collins, Irene. Jane Austen and the Clergy. London: Hambledon and London, 2001. 
Collins, Irene. Jane Austen, the Parson's Daughter. London: Hambledon Press, 1998. 
Knödel, Natalie. The Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth, commonly called The Churching of Women. University of Durham. April 1995   
Lane, Maggie. Jane Austen's World: The Life and times of England's Most Popular Novelist. 2nd ed. London: Carlton Books, 2005.
Lewis, Judith Schneid. In the Family Way: Childbearing in the British Aristocracy, 1760-1860. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1986. 
Martin, Joanna. Wives and Daughters: Women and Children in the Georgian Country House. London: Hambledon and London, 2004. 
Selwyn, David. Jane Austen and Children. New York City: Continuum Books, 2010.
Vickery, Amanda. The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998.


Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. 

After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

Click here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, or follow on Twitter.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Ælfgyva: The Mystery Woman of the Bayeux Tapestry – Part IV

By Paula Lofting

The woman in the Bayeux Tapestry called Ælfgyva has given commentators and historians alike, food for thought for as long as the Bayeux Tapestry has been studied. As we have seen in the earlier chapters, there have been plenty of Ælfgyvas to choose from, but none quite fits the bill as much as Ælfgifu  of Northampton. We have discounted the Queen Emma/Aelfgifu version, and also that Earl Harold had any daughter or sister of that name. I have also set aside the idea that the lady may have been a child of William’s, offered to Harold as a wife in return for an alliance.

Ælfgifu was a purely English name and Ælfgyva, being the Latinised version, was used instead of its English counterpart, as the text on the BT is written in Latin. Although a possibility, it was not likely that such a name would have been given to a Norman woman, especially the daughter of William, whose daughters were called, Adela, Adeliza, Constance, Agatha and Cecilia, and none were given an English name, as far as we know.

Edward Freeman, writing in 1869, suggests that the woman they are discussing was a lady at the duke’s palace, and the idea that a bride for Harold was discussed, shouldn’t necessarily be discounted. However, it seems unlikely that if such a lady was chosen from one of the duke’s daughters, she would have been portrayed with lewd men underneath her image pointing up her dress. One thing to remember, the name Ælfgyva means noble-gift in Anglo-Saxon, and might have been used to refer to a lady of noble birth, in which case her name might not necessarily be Ælfgyva, but a sort of title.

So, the wording on the Tapestry, could actually be meant to be taken as A Priest and a Noble Lady, in which case she could have easily have been anyone at the court of William’s, but, unfortunately, we will never know.

So, why then does Ælfgifu of Northampton seem the likeliest candidate to match the mysterious lady on the Tapestry? What is it about this Ælfgifu that draws me to believe that she is the one?
There are several versions of the scandal which Ælfgifu of Northampton was involved in, but Florence of Worcester tells us an interesting tale of the first wife of Cnut, the said Ælfgifu of Northampton. According to his writings, she was said to have passed off the bastard child of a priest as Cnut’s son, after failing to provide an heir of her own. This child was called Swein.

Later, Worcester states that she passed off another ‘son’, Harold Harefoot, who was a child of a workman, or a cobbler. Interestingly, if we look once again at the image of Ælfgyva and the priest, we see that in the lower border a naked figure of a man with a rather large member, is mimicking the stance and gesture of the priest. There is also another image of a naked workman.  The priest, who touches her face, is either stroking her cheek, or slapping her. The scene is also iconographic, which means it is supposed to be a representation of what perhaps, William and Harold may have been discussing in the previous scene, as I have already said in Part III. 

Unlike the other scenes in the tapestry, this one is not to be viewed as part of the story but more as alluding to some sexual scandal. Interpreting the face fondling/slapping aspect is a bone of contention, however. At first, I favoured the idea that the priest was slapping her but upon further research I came across an intriguing suggestion submitted by J Bard McNulty in the Lady Ælfgyva in The Bayeux Tapestry (1980).

So, if we accept that the woman referred to in the tapestry must be Aelfgifu of Northampton, we have to ponder upon why on earth Harold and William would be discussing her at this stage of the story. Aelfgifu would have been long dead at the time of this meeting (around the autumn of 1064). But let us not discount her, for she was, like her counterpart and rival, Emma of Normandy, a formidable woman. Unfortunately for her, she was not as tactful or astute as Emma. 

Cnut had most likely married Ælfgifu in the more-danico fashion, commonly known as a handfasting, rather than a marriage that is recognised by the church. We believe this, as he was later able to marry Emma, despite already being tied to Ælfgifu. A handfasted wife was, by law, legitimate, as were any children she had. However, it was customary in those times to wed traditionally for love, or for an alliance that would expediate a man’s cause, then later, marry for political reasons as Harold Godwinson did with Aldith of Mercia, to gain the support of her brothers. Cnut needed support in his early days as ruler, and had married Ælfgifu to claim the loyalty of her father’s supporters whom were opposed to Æthelred; the king had killed her father and blinded her brother. 

Cnut must have initially valued Ælfgifu and her children by him, for he sent her and her eldest son, Swein, to rule Norway as his representatives, and as Swein was a mere child at the time, Ælfgigu was to act as regent. But she was unpopular with the Norwegians, her rule being ruthless and harsh, so, after some years, she and Swein were driven out of Norway, and Magnus the Good, replaced Swein as King of Norway. It would be interesting to know if Cnut’s feelings toward Ælfgifu would have changed after she lost Norway for him. 

Eventually, Magnus the Good would make a treaty with Cnut’s son by Emma, Harthacnut, and it was this treaty that Tostig may have used to persuade Harald Hardrada to lay claim to the English throne in 1066. Harthacnut and Magnus of Norway were said to have made an oath to each other that should one of them die, the other would inherit all the other’s kingdoms, should the deceased die without issue. Although Magnus claimed his right to England, he never pursued it beyond a threat after Harthacnut died.  

McNulty’s theory concerning this scene, centres around what the two men (Harold and William) might be discussing. William broaches the subject of the English succession with Harold, and they are conferring about the claimants to the throne, one of which was Harald Hardrada. Harold reassures William that he has nothing to worry about, because of the scandal of the sons of Cnut that weren’t really the sons of Cnut.

Sounds plausible? Nope, no, and nada. Confusing? Definitely. 

What had Ælfgifu’s indiscretion got to do with Hardrada’s claim to the throne? After all, she was not mother to Harthacnut who had made the oath with Magnus, and Emma of Normandy, who was the mother of Harthacnut, was not the Ælfgifu depicted in the scandal with the priest and the workman. What a great intrigue this is turning out to be. Just when I think I am there, another ‘but’ pops up! 

And in the immortal words of Sr Walter Scott: 
Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive
Stay tuned for the next part of the intrigue, PART FIVE


Paula Lofting is an author and a member of the re-enactment society Regia Anglorum, where she regularly takes part in the Battle of Hastings. Her first novel, Sons of the Wolf, is set in eleventh-century England and tells the story of Wulfhere, a man torn between family and duty. The sequel, The Wolf Banner is available now. Paula is currently working on the third book in the series, Wolf's Bane

Find Paula on her Blog

Monday, January 8, 2018

Place of the Caves – beneath the City of Nottingham

by Richard Denning

Many people are unaware that beneath the modern city of Nottingham are hundreds of caves, carved into the soft sandstone upon which the city stands. Yet it is the case that the city has a complex of over 500 caves. None of these caves are natural. They are all man made.

It is impossible to say when the first caves were dug and for what purpose, but it is believed that druids in pre Roman times carved out places of worship here. Later on, the Romans may have used them as a crematorium as evidenced by Roman tiles found in a ventilation shaft.

Many of these date back as far as the Dark Ages. More recent ones were used for industrial purposes and even as bomb shelters in the 1940s. It is claimed that Nottingham has more man-made caves than anywhere in the UK and nowadays the cave network has Ancient Monument Protection status.

So significant a feature were the caves that they appear in one of the earliest descriptions of the city in The Life Of King Alfred, by Welsh monk and historian, Asser. Around the year 868, the monk was travelling to Lincoln and recorded in his diary; “…..this day passed Tigguacobauc.” This word, in his native Welsh tongue, probably meant ‘cavy house’, or ‘Place of Caves’.  

In the reign of Edward I one set of caves near the River Leen was developed into a chapel which was eventually gifted to the king.

The caves played their part in history more than once. In the year 1330, Edward III used a cave to gain entrance to Nottingham castle where they captured Roger de Mortimer who at the time was the de facto ruler of England. Mortimer was taken away and later executed. After this time the tunnel was called Mortimer's Hole.

These ancient caves were eventually used by the poor for housing for centuries and certainly throughout the entire medieval period. Eventually this practice came to an end around 1845, when the St. Mary’s Enclosure Act made the rental of cellars and caves as homes illegal.

In the caves you can find man made features such as a well leading down from higher up, through the caves and down further. In this case you can actually look up through the original well shaft from the cave level towards the original street level as well as downwards from the cave and into the bedrock.

In addition to wells the caves contain cess pits carved out of the bedrock. Thankfully the contents have long since been removed!

Other caves contain underground tanneries where hides would be treated in beds filled with urine. This one is said to be the only tannery in Europe built in a cave. It would have been a very smelly place to go to work but it did have its benefits as the tanners rarely contracted the plague as neither the rats nor the flees that carried the plague endured the conditions.

There is a cave once used as a tavern cellar. The ledges would be where the beer would be stored – off the ground. In recent times some pubs and even restaurants have started to use the cellars again. You can even dine in one of the caves.

Some of the cellars were later used to house machinery during the industrial revolution. The Luddites objected to the machines which they saw a threat to the traditional labour force and so they sabotaged the machines in the year 1811 and the following few years. In Nottingham the machinery was sometimes in the caves and so they would sneak in and do their damage. Someone kept watch above ground and if the authorities turned up they would drop coins through small holes to warn those below to flee. It is possibly a source of the phrase “the penny has dropped”.

In the Second World War Nottingham was raided by the Luftwaffe and the city used the caves as shelters.

Caves, many of which have been forgotten about for centuries continue to be found. Indeed Nottingham council employs an archaeologist to find them and keep track of them all.

One complex of caves lies beneath Broadmarsh shopping centre which was built over the 19th century Narrow Marsh slums whose inhabitants used the caves. Today you can visit the caves either on tour or self guided. the tour lasts about an hour and is very informative so well worth booking into one. Find out more…

Richard Denning is an historical fiction author whose main period of interest is the Early Anglo-Saxon Era. His Northern Crown series explores the late 6th and early 7th centuries through the eyes of a young Saxon lord. Explore the darkest years of the dark ages with Cerdic.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, January 7, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

Join us for original articles on all aspects of British history. Our round-up for the week ending January 6 features:

by Maria Grace

Bad Queens 
by Danielle Marchant

by Linda Fetterly Root

by Lauren Gilbert

Friday, January 5, 2018

Historic Woking in Surrey

by Lauren Gilbert

Woking is a vibrant modern community in Surrey, England. The buildings in the city centre are modern, and there is no real sign of great age at first glance. The modern architecture and easy commuter access to London could lead one to assume that it is a completely modern city built for convenience. However, this initial impression is quite false. Woking is a parish that consists of multiple communities, including Woking village, Horsell, Mayfield, Brookwood and others. (It can be hard for the visitor to tell when going from one to another, as building has filled in the area.) The area appears to have been settled for centuries. Burial mounds going back thousands of years and the ruins of a small Roman settlement attest to Woking’s ancient roots. Originally listed as Wochingas or Wochinges, monks settled in the area possibly as early as the 8th century, and the area was a royal property from early times. The original town, now known as Old Woking Village, was a market town that appears to have been established on or near the site of the Roman settlement. In the old village, St. Peter’s Church was established in the 11th century, with subsequent additions. For example, the nave was constructed in the 11th century while the tower was built in the 13th century. Its name has been given to the borough and to the modern city as well.

St. Peter's Church

The Domesday Book shows Woking in William the Conqueror’s hands in 1086, and a manor there was previously known to be held by Edward the Confessor. The manor was held by the Crown until King John granted it to Alan Basset for a knight’s fee in the early 13th century. It stayed in Basset’s family, eventually coming into the hands of Hugh le Despenser (his mother was the granddaughter of Alan Basset). However, Hugh was executed in1326 and the manor of Woking reverted again to the Crown. During its history, the manor changed hands many times. However, ownership by the Beaufort Duke of Somerset ultimately prevailed. Upon becoming king, Henry VII granted the property to his mother, Margaret Beaufort, who was the daughter and heiress of John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset. Margaret did quite a lot of building there, converting it from manor to palace. After convincing Margaret to give it to him, Henry VII also added to the palace. It seems to have been a favoured residence of Margaret’s until her death and it remained a popular house among the Tudors, visited by Henry VIII many times, Edward VI once, and Elizabeth I on occasion in turn. Henry VIII and Elizabeth I had their own building projects on the site. In 1620, James I gave the property to Sir Edward Zouch. He built a new house, abandoning the palace, and turned the park into farmland. Sir Edward died June 7, 1634 and there is a memorial to him in St. Peter’s Church. Available data indicates the palace was never occupied again, and that material from the palace may have been used in other local building projects, including Sir Edward’s new house. The palace subsequently became a ruin. Woking Borough Council bought the site in 1988. Archaeological digs are on-going.

Woking Palace near Old Woking

Woking played an important role in cremation. As a method for disposing of dead bodies, cremation was common in the ancient world. However, with the rise of Christianity, cremation was disapproved and even became a crime under Charlemagne in 789, due to belief in the physical resurrection of the body. There were circumstances when cremation was used in spite of the disapproval of the church, such as times of epidemics, famines or following battle when there were large numbers of corpses requiring disposal. Cremation was considered illegal in England. In time, the health reasons for cremation gained support and Professor Ludovico Brunetti of Padua displayed his mechanism for cremation at the Vienna Exposition in 1873. In 1874, Sir Henry Thompson founded the Cremation Society of England as a result of seeing Professor Brunetti’s equipment. Money was raised by subscription and an acre of land purchased in Woking. A crematorium was built by 1879, but not actually used due to objections that it was unchristian, could negatively affect property values and was illegal. The issue of legality was finally resolved when, in 1884, a legal case in Wales involving a father who attempted to cremate the remains of his deceased infant son but was stopped resulted in a finding that cremation was not in fact illegal in Great Britain. The first official cremation in England took place at the crematorium built in Woking on March 26, 1885. However, cremation did not become a widely-accepted method for years. Only 1,824 cremations took place in England between 1885 and 1900. Of these, 1,340 took place in the Woking crematorium. In 1889, the crematorium was rebuilt in a more elaborate design. In 1902, an Act of Parliament formally recognized cremation as a legitimate means of disposal of the dead, and more crematoria were built. The crematorium site in Woking was expanded from the original one acre to 10 acres by 1911.

Gorini Cremator, Woking Crematorium

Because more and more people of different religious faiths were living in England in the 19th century, accommodation was needed. Woking became the home of the Shah Jahan Mosque in 1889. The oldest Mosque in England, the Shah Jahan Mosque was built by Dr. Gottlieb Leitner, a Hungarian orientalist and linguist who had established the Oriental Institute in Woking in 1881 to promote the study of oriental literature and learning. The Begum Shah Jahan, the female rule of Bhopal in India, provided some of the funds required for the building to provide a place of worship for Muslim students attending the Oriental Institute. The mosque was designed by W. L. Chambers using traditional elements including a dome, minarets, a courtyard and geometric ornamentation. The mosque closed when Dr. Leitner died in 1899. Interest in the mosque revived in 1912, thanks in part to the efforts of the Woking Muslim Mission, and the mosque reopened as a place of worship. In 1917, a burial ground was added for Indian soldiers. The Mosque remains open to this day.

Shah Jahan Mosque

A completely different claim to fame for Woking is literary. Author H. G. Wells wanted to get out of London and moved to Horsell Common, a suburb of Woking, in May, 1895. He lived with his partner Amy Catherine Robbins (nicknamed Jane) in a semi-detached house where he wrote in the mornings and from which he took bicycle rides or long walks in the afternoons. (He had married his cousin Isabel Mary Wells in 1891, but they had separated and subsequently divorced in 1894 as a result of his falling in love with Ms. Robbins. He subsequently married Ms. Robbins in October of 1895.) During these bicycle trips and walks, he paid particular attention to the local area and topography. His time in Woking was a creative and prolific period during which he wrote several novels including The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Wheels of Chance (published 1896), The Invisible Man (serialized in 1897, published as a novel the same year), and The War of the Worlds (serialized in 1897, published as a novel in 1898). It was in The War of the Worlds in which the local colour gleaned in his bicycle rides in the Woking area was used to greatest effect, with Martians attacking and destroying various places and people around town. He did it so well that part of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Wells’ birth September 21, 1866 in 2016 included a tour of landmark sites destroyed in the novel. He and Jane lived in Woking for approximately 18 months, moving to Worcester Park in the latter part of 1896. However, his time in Woking made a lasting impression on the city and the world.

H. G. Wells' House

I’ve had the pleasure of travelling to Woking more than once and each time found it a delightful and interesting place. While this essay addresses some points of significance, it is by no means comprehensive. As you can see, the area is of great historical significance and well worth a visit!

Sources include:
British History Online. “Parishes: Woking” from A History of the County of Surrey Vol. 3, Pages 381-390. HERE

Exploring Surrey’s Past. “Woking: Borough”. HERE (Contains links to various topics about Woking and its environs.)

Woking History Society. “History of Woking.” HERE

A Vision of Britain Through Time. “Place: Woking, Surrey.” HERE

Friends of Woking Palace. HERE

The Guardian. “Woking pays homage to H.G. Wells, the man who brought the Martians to town” by Robin McKie, February 27, 2016. HERE

Celebrate Woking.  “H.G. Wells and Woking.”  HERE
All illustrations from Wikimedia Commons:
St. Peters Church HERE
Woking Palace HERE
Woking Crematorium HERE
Shah Jahan Mosque HERE
H. G. Wells' House HERE


Lauren Gilbert lives in Florida, where she is enjoying the weather and working on her 2nd historical novel, A Rational Attachment. A long-time member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, she holds a bachelor of arts degree in English. Her first published book is Heyerwood: A Novel. Visit her website HERE.

Lift Your Mug of Wassail and Raise Your Voice in Song: a Brief Look at Twelfth Night

by Linda Fetterly Root

Here's to a slice of Cake and a cup of mulled wine or Wassail in honor of Twelfth Night.

The origin of Twelfth Night is sometimes traced to the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia because of the appearance in many of its versions of a mock king. Adaptations of Roman festivals in medieval European courts often featured the appearance of a false sovereign sometimes called the Lord of Misrule, but the title of the bogus monarch common to the Twelfth Night holiday on the eve of the Feast of Epiphany was most often known as the King of the Bean. The tradition was also adopted in Spain, the Low Countries and the German principalities, although in Germany and the Netherlands, the item in the winning slice was a coin. It has been speculated as inevitable that the French would combine their love of the culinary arts with their passion for spectacle, in a celebration conferring temporary kingship on a courtier who found a bean hidden in his marzipan or honey cake. The French phrase meaning, ‘he had good luck’ –il a trove lafeve au gateau—literally translated to ‘he found a bean in his cake.'

Twelfth Night entertainments at British Courts did not begin with Shakespeare
The comedic flavor attributed to the festival of Twelfth Night did not begin with the mishaps of William Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, nor was it exclusively a British holiday. Shakespeare wrote his play at the turn of the 17th century, and it was first performed in 1602. The plot centers around fraternal twins who were separated in their youth by a shipwreck. One of them, Viola, resurfaces in adulthood as a trickster who often disguises herself as a man. She falls in love with Count Orsini, who is in love with Countess Olivia, who meets Viola while she is wearing her disguise and falls in love with her. The predictable series of misadventures follow.

The Masque of Blackness, script by Ben Johnson, Costumes and Set design by Inigo Jones, Starring Queen Anne of Denmark and sixteen ladies of the Court
Blackness costume design
by Inigo Jones

At least one Twelfth Night celebration, this one at the Stuart Court in 1605, was controversial in its time and certainly would not pass political correctness tests of current times. The production was sponsored by Queen Anne of Denmark, the first English Stuart consort, and entitled The Masque of Blackness. The play was written by Ben Jonson, and the set designs and costumes and props were the work of Inigo Jones. Queen Anne was a great fan of masques and often performed in them. In Blackness, she played the part of Euphorus and appeared in black face. Even then, a theme centering on skin color was considered improprietous by some of the Queen’s critics. The plot involves a group of African women who had regarded themselves as the most beautiful women in the world until learning black skin was considered ugly outside of Africa. The story advances as the women explore the known world seeking a way to make themselves white. It ends with a promise that the next year’s masque will involve Beauty, in which the black-faced women are likely to discover themselves in Britannia, where pale skin was the norm. However, performance of the second installment of the story, entitled Beauty, was postponed to 1608, to permit the 1607 Twelfth Night reveries to focus on a Wedding Masque of Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex and Lady Francis Howard, who proved to be a couple more mismatched than any pair either Shakespeare or Ben Jonson could have conjured.

Queen for a Day: Twelfth Night at the Court of the Queen of Scots
My favorite Twelfth Night story comes in two installments of a love story I uncovered when I researched my debut novel, The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, and it involves Twelfth Night reveries which occurred in Scotland during Marie Stuart’s brief personal rule. The story begins in France during Queen Marie Stuart's youth. At the mid-sixteenth century French court at which King Henry Valois’s elegant mistress Diane de Poitiers set the tone, it is not surprising to find the selection of a Queen of the Bean incorporated into the festivities. Traditionally, a white bean was placed into a honey cake in the royal kitchens and served to female members of the royal household, the first piece given to the oldest. Like most things associated with Diane, the tradition caught the fancy of Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots, when she was Dauphine, and later, Queen Consort, and she brought the tradition home with her to Scotland in 1561.

The version she introduced commemorated her own sovereignty by making the featured attraction the selection of a Queen of the Bean. No King of the Bean appears in the histories of her reign, which the consort Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, should have heeded. There is no record as to precisely when the Queen introduced the lottery of the honey cake, but there is some indication that Lady Marie Beaton may have been the winner in 1563. However, the Twelfth Night celebrations of 1564 have survived in some details and were vividly commemorated by descriptions reported to the Crowned Heads of Europe. It was the year when the bean was found in the honey cake of Marie Fleming, the Queen’s first cousin and leader of the Queen's ladies called The Four Maries. The petite blond woman who had been lauded by French poets as one of the most beautiful women in the world appeared dressed in a gown of silver and covered from head to toe in jewels. Even Beaton’s paramour, the English ambassador Thomas Randolph sent reports to Queen Elizabeth and to the Queen Mother Catherine d' Medici at the French Court comparing Fleming to three goddesses from classical mythology and describing her presence as eclipsing the Queen. Even stiff-necked George Buchanan praised her demeanor and her beauty. It is fitting to note that the last Twelfth Night celebration of Marie Stuart's six-year personal rule was held at Court in 1567, when the former Queen of the Bean, Marie Fleming, married the celebrated Scottish diplomat and foreign minister Sir William Maitland of Lethington who had fallen in love with her presumably at her appearance on Twelfth Night, 1564. Through their daughter, Margaret Maitland (Kerr), Lady Roxburghe, the bride and groom are remote ancestors of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and hence, her sons, William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry of Wales. The Twelfth Night Celebration of 1564 is commemorated annually in Biggar, Scotland, the Fleming ancestral home.

Twelfth Night in the New Millennium
The popularity of Twelfth Night festivities caught on in 18th century America and were very popular with George and Martha Washington, who chose it as the date of their wedding. Nevertheless, the nature of the holiday changed with time. By the 19th century, the tradition involving the election of a King or Queen for a Day had all but disappeared. Such, perhaps, is the fate of monarchy. However, its vestiges are seen in Provence and to some degree, in Germany. By the early 19th century, the festival had taken on a carnival mood and was a favorite holiday of the great Jane Austen. However, late in the 19th century, Queen Victoria outlawed its celebration as having become too raucous. Its popularity survived longer in the Americas, but by the 20th century, it had become an occasion for the taking down of decorations and the extinguishing of the Yule Log. In current times, especially in traditional households where Epiphany is celebrated, Twelfth Night is commemorated with cake and a punch bowl of wassail, which is happily consumed and put away until the next Christmas season. Thank you for celebrating it with me.

Linda Root is a retired career prosecutor, armchair historian and historical novelist who lives in the Morongo Basin area of the California high desert within a quarter mile of the Joshua Tree National Park. Her books take place in Marie Stuart’s Scotland and Stuart England, and can be found at, and Amazon Kindle. Her eight book and current work in progress, The Deliverance of the Lamb, will be published in the late Spring, 2018.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Bad Queens - Part II

by Danielle Marchant

On Sunday 7th September 1533, Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, was born at 3 o’clock in the afternoon at Greenwich Palace. This was supposed to be a happy occasion, but there was one detail that cast a shadow over this important event.

The baby was a girl.

Both her mother and father were disappointed that she was a girl. Up until now, all of the best astrologers and doctors had predicted a boy. Henry had spent time wondering whether to call his son Edward or Henry and was making plans for the celebratory tournament. Anne had even seen in advance the letter announcing the birth. In the letter, it gave thanks to God for sending her “good speed, in the deliverance and bringing forth of a prince”.

However, as soon as the baby girl was born, Henry decided to name her Elizabeth, after his mother Elizabeth of York, instead. The tournament was cancelled and the letter announcing the birth was slightly altered with an extra “s”, giving thanks to God for the birth of a “princes”.

Why was there so much disappointment over the baby being a girl? The reason for this was that at the time, there was a fear of having a female ruler. A history of what has been perceived as a series of “Bad Queens” had made it all the more important for the heir to the throne to be a boy, to keep the stability of the country. Henry had even divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon and had broken away from the Catholic Church because of Catherine’s failure in producing a healthy, male heir - despite the fact that they did have a healthy daughter, Mary.

Here is a part II of a list of Queens that helped to create the climate of fear of having another female ruler… (Read Part I HERE)

The Queens in the Wars of the Roses

Just over four decades before Princess Elizabeth’s birth in 1533, the country was torn apart by civil war between the House of York and the House of Lancaster, in the Wars of the Roses that lasted nearly thirty years. Around the time of Elizabeth’s birth, there may have still been many old enough to remember what they had seen, and this made it all the more important for the current generation to maintain peace. There were two main Queens in this civil war who became focus points for both Houses and helped to exasperate the situation even more. The series of events and the roles these two Queens played would definitely have helped to contribute to the climate of fear of not wanting another female ruler in the Tudor period:

1. Margaret of Anjou

Like Queen Isabella a century before her, Margaret was another French princess, who married Henry VI in 1445. In Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 3, she was famously named the “She-Wolf” of France, and that her “tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide”.

Margaret was niece by marriage to the French King, Charles VII. The marriage caused controversy because no dowry had been given to the English Crown for Margaret by the French. Alternatively, they agreed that Charles VII, who was at war with Henry V in The Hundred Years' War in France, would have the lands of Maine and Anjou returned to France. This caused friction in the King’s council.

A breakdown in law and order, corruption, the distribution of royal land to the king's court favourites, and the continuous loss of land in France meant Henry and Margaret’s reign was an unpopular one. Returning troops, who had often not been paid, contributed to the anarchy and triggered a rebellion led by Jack Cade. Henry lost Normandy in 1450 and later lost other French territories, leaving only Calais untouched.

It is believed that this loss of French territory contributed to Henry’s nervous breakdown, which modern Doctors would probably diagnose as Catatonic Schizophrenia. Margaret gave birth to their only son, Edward of Lancaster, in 1453. However, given Henry’s mental state, this fuelled rumours that the son was not his; he believed that he would have been incapable of fathering a child and that the baby was actually the result of an affair between Margaret and one of her favourites. Edmund Beaufort 1st Duke of Somerset, or James Butler Earl of Wiltshire were considered to be possible fathers. Nevertheless, Henry accepted the son as his own.

While Henry remained for some weeks in a catatonic stupor, Margaret had to rule in his place. The kingdom found difficulty in having to cope without a king, but Margaret was ruthless and called for a Great Council in May 1455. This council excluded Richard Duke of York, and this sparked the series of battles between the Houses of York and Lancaster. Margaret attempted to raise support for the Lancastrian cause and subsequently, Lancaster was victorious at the Battle of Wakefield and of St Albans.

However, they were defeated by York at the Battle of Towton, in 1461. Edward, son of Richard Duke of York (who had been beheaded at the Battle of Wakefield) overthrew King Henry VI and proclaimed himself Edward IV. Margaret then fled to Scotland with her son and remained there, plotting her return.

2. Elizabeth Woodville

Elizabeth was the eldest of twelve children and spent her early life in relative obscurity in Grafton Regis, Northamptonshire. Even though her mother was Jacquetta, Dowager Duchess of Bedford and her father was Sir Richard Woodville, she was considered to be a “commoner” by her contemporaries. Her first husband, Sir John Grey, was killed at the Battle of St Albans, leaving her a widow with two sons.

It is believed that around the summer of 1464, Elizabeth heard that Edward VI was hunting in Whittlewood Forest. She waited for him under a tree (which was later called the “Queen’s Oak”), holding her two sons tightly. The King then rode by and she allegedly threw herself at his feet, begging him for help with the Grey family inheritance. According to the story, Edward was so struck by her “mournful beauty” that he fell in love with her and assumed she would just agree to be his mistress. However, she refused to be his mistress, even when a dagger was put to her throat (according to some interpretations of the story, she produced the dagger herself and put it to her own throat).

Her refusal to give in to him, unless he married her, increased his passion for her even more. They married in secret on Mayday in 1464. Only her mother, a Priest, probably two others and “a young man who helped the Priest sing” were present. It is believed that Elizabeth and Edward continued to meet in secret with the help of Jacquetta (who even managed to hide the secret marriage from her husband) until September, when the Council met in Reading. Here, Edward was being coerced into a marriage with Bona of Savoy, sister-in-law to the French King. Edward then had to admit the truth about his relationship with Elizabeth.

The news was a bombshell. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick – also known as “The Kingmaker” – who had helped Edward take the throne, responded angrily to the clandestine marriage. He had negotiated for the hand of Lady Bona, and her marriage to Edward would have helped to forge an alliance between the House of York and one of the greatest Houses of Europe, helping to replenish the dwindling treasury with a generous dowry. Warwick’s anger at not being consulted on such an important matter would have been understandable.

Elizabeth was crowned Queen in May 1465. However, refusing to accept the marriage, Warwick fell out with Edward. Warwick later formed an alliance with Margaret of Anjou. Together, they overthrew Edward and restored Henry VI to the throne. In addition, Warwick’s daughter, Anne Neville, was married to Margaret's son Edward in December 1470.

Their success was brief, as Margaret was taken prisoner by York after being defeated at the Battle of Tewkesbury, in May 1471, where her son Edward was killed. Soon afterwards in the same year, Warwick was killed in the Battle of Barnet by Edward VI’s forces.

Since her marriage to Edward, however, Elizabeth was plagued with rumours of being a “sorceress”, having bewitched Edward into marriage. When Edward died in 1483, his brother Richard seized the throne, accusing her of having bewitched his brother into a bigamous marriage. As a result, Elizabeth’s marriage was declared invalid, and her two sons were taken into the Tower of London by their uncle Richard, after which they mysteriously disappeared.

It is possible that she may have plotted against Henry VII, who married her daughter Elizabeth of York. It is believed that she may have conspired with rebels in the Simnel rebellion. Subsequently, she was sent to live in Bermondsey Abbey, where she died in June 1492. She was allowed only occasional visits to court, and all her lands were transferred to Elizabeth of York.

Therefore, it is understandable that this history of “Bad Queens” (or those perceived to be “Bad Queens”) would have made the news of Princess Elizabeth’s birth in 1533 most unwelcome news. However, as we know, Elizabeth grew up to become Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth was one of the most successful rulers in English history, and her reign was called “The Golden Age”. Not a “Bad Queen” at all and all fears of another female ruler had been unfounded.


Margaret of Anjou (British Library Royal)
Elizabeth Woodville, possibly a copy of a lost original (Master and Fellows of Queen's College, Cambridge)

Sources and further reading:

Elizabeth – David Starkey, 2001
Eleanor of Aquitaine – By the Wrath of God, Queen of England – Alison Weir, 2000
Blood Sisters – The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses – Sarah Gristwood, 2013
Anne Neville – Queen to Richard III – Michael Hicks, 2007
Elizabeth Woodville – Mother of the Princes in the Tower – David Baldwin, 2012.
She-Wolves: the Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth - Helen Castor, 2011


Danielle Marchant is an Independent Author from London, UK. Parts 1, 2 and 3 of her series of historical novellas based on Jane Boleyn Lady Rochford’s life, The Lady Rochford Saga, are available now:

Visit her pages at and at

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Bad Queens - Part I

By Danielle Marchant

On Sunday 7th September 1533, Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, was born at 3 o’clock in the afternoon at Greenwich Palace. This was supposed to be a happy occasion, but there was one detail that cast a shadow over this important event.

The baby was a girl.

Both her mother and father were disappointed that she was a girl. Up until now, all of the best astrologers and doctors had predicted a boy. Henry had spent time wondering whether to call his son Edward or Henry and was making plans for the celebratory tournament. Anne had even seen in advance the letter announcing the birth. In the letter, it gave thanks to God for sending her “good speed, in the deliverance and bringing forth of a prince”.

However, as soon as the baby girl was born, Henry decided to name her Elizabeth, after his mother Elizabeth of York, instead. The tournament was cancelled and the letter announcing the birth was slightly altered with an extra “s”, giving thanks to God for the birth of a “princes”.

Why was there so much disappointment over the baby being a girl? The reason for this was that at the time, there was a fear of having a female ruler. A history of what has been perceived as a series of “Bad Queens” had made it all the more important for the heir to the throne to be a boy, to keep the stability of the country. Henry had even divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon and had broken away from the Catholic Church because of Catherine’s failure in producing a healthy, male heir - despite the fact that they did have a healthy daughter, Mary.

Here is a part I of a list of Queens that helped to create the climate of fear of having another female ruler… (part II tomorrow)

Queen Boudicca (died circa AD 60)

Boudicca was maybe not necessarily a “Bad Queen”, but her reign was definitely not a quiet and peaceful one. She ruled over the Iceni people of Eastern England and led a major uprising against occupying Roman forces. She was married to Prasutagus, ruler of the Iceni people of East Anglia.

When the Romans conquered southern England in AD 43, they allowed Prasutagus to continue to rule. However, when Prasutagus died, the Romans decided to rule the Iceni directly. They confiscated the property of the leading tribesmen. It is also believed that they stripped and thrashed Boudicca and raped her daughters. These actions helped to intensify widespread hatred at Roman rule.

In 60 or 61 AD, while the Roman governor, Gaius Suetonius Paullinus, was leading a campaign in North Wales, the Iceni rebelled with the help of members from other tribes.

Boudicca's warriors successfully defeated the Roman Ninth Legion and destroyed the capital of Roman Britain, which as the time was in Colchester. They went on to destroy London and Verulamium (St Albans). Thousands were killed. Finally, Boudicca was defeated by a Roman army led by Paulinus. Many Britons were killed, and Boudicca is thought to have poisoned herself to avoid capture. Where the battle had taken place and the site of Boudicca's death are unknown.

Empress Matilda

Once again, she was probably not exactly a “Bad Queen” (and Matilda was never crowned a Queen either), but it was down to the fact that she was a woman and the resulting dispute over her disregarded claim to the throne that led to years of civil war. Empress Matilda was the granddaughter of William the Conqueror and daughter of Henry I. She is known today as the Lady of the English, having never been crowned queen. She was married for a short time to the Holy Roman Emperor and was the rightful heir to the throne. If she had become Queen, she would have been the first reigning queen of England in 1135, being descended from Norman, Scottish, and English (Saxon) kings. However, on her father’s death in 1135 – and partly because she was a woman – her cousin Stephen of Blois seized the throne.

Like Matilda, Stephen was a grandchild of William the Conqueror. He had, on at least two occasions, promised Henry I to support Matilda as Queen of England, as had all other nobles in the realm. But after Henry died, Stephen claimed Henry made these promises under coercion and that Henry had named Stephen as his successor. In spite of this, the nobles and the Pope supported Stephen’s claim to the throne, and he became King of the English and Duke of Normandy, which was another title he had inherited from Henry I.

However, his reign was not a peaceful one, and this was the start of almost 20 years of civil war. Within four years of Stephen’s accession, Matilda had gathered a force to challenge him for the crown. She had a lot of political support, because along with other estranged nobles, she also had her husband, who was one of the most powerful nobles in France, Geoffrey, Count of Anjou.

In 1141, she was in London and was ready to be crowned. However, within a few months Stephen ruined her chances and forced Matilda out before the coronation occurred. In spite of this, Matilda’s supporters continued to fight for her claim by challenging Stephen. However, neither she, nor they could win and to make matters worse, her husband Geoffrey never sent a major force to England to assist them.

However, Geoffrey did eventually force out Stephen from Normandy and then, took over as its Duke. Geoffrey and Matilda had a son, Henry, who Geoffrey named Duke of Normandy in 1150. Henry inherited the titles and lands as Count of Anjou following his father’s death in 1151.

With the support of his mother, Henry claimed the English throne from Stephen. Eventually, Henry and King Stephen made an agreement that Henry would be the heir to the throne after Stephen died, even superseding the claims of Stephen’s son, Eustace. This ended the civil war. Within two years, both Eustace and Stephen’s wives were dead, and Stephen was forced to relinquish the crown to Henry. In 1154, Stephen died of natural causes and was succeeded by Matilda’s son, King Henry II.

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor was one of the most powerful and controversial women of the Middle Ages. She was beautiful, intelligent and headstrong. There were rumours about her in her lifetime, but definitely within reason and her contemporaries were shocked by her behaviour. Eleanor was the elder daughter of William, tenth Duke of Aquitaine. She was raised in one of Europe's most cultured courts and given an excellent education. She later became an important patron of poets and writers. It was also a relaxed and licentious place, where the arts of the troubadours thrived, and she even presided over the fabled Courts of Love.

In 1137, both her only brother and her father died, leaving her with a vast inheritance. At just the age of 15, she became the most eligible heiress in Europe. That same year, she married Louis, heir to Louis VI of France, who shortly afterwards became King Louis VII. The couple had two daughters.

In 1147, Eleanor accompanied her husband on the Second Crusade, travelling to Constantinople and Jerusalem. The Crusade was a failure. The relationship between Eleanor and her husband – which was already in a vulnerable state - worsened even more. Eleanor failed to produce a son, and this added to the tension. In 1152, they were divorced.

Two months later Eleanor married Henry of Anjou, who in 1154 became King of England. The couple had five sons and three daughters. For nearly twenty years, Eleanor played an active part in the running of Henry's empire, and she travelled back and forth between their territories in England and France.

In 1173, two of Eleanor's sons involved her in a plot against their father. Subsequently, Henry imprisoned her. After Henry's death in 1189, his eldest son, Richard I, ordered his mother's release. Despite her age (at this point, she would have been in her mid-sixties), Eleanor played a major part in government. In 1190, she acted as regent in England when Richard went to join the Third Crusade. She even played her part in negotiations for his release after he was taken prisoner in Germany on his way home.

Queen Isabella

Queen Isabella was the wife of Edward II. Isabella is definitely viewed as a “Bad Queen” because she helped to remove her husband from the throne, alongside her lover Roger Mortimer, one of Edward’s enemies. Edward was later imprisoned and murdered. In addition, Isabella’s reign alongside Mortimer was a failure.

Edward became King in July 1307. On his accession, he immediately recalled his favourite, Piers Gaveston from exile, whom his father, Edward I, had banished to France for having a bad influence on his son. Gaveston was given the earldom of Cornwall, which had previously been a title conferred on royalty.

This act sparked opposition to the king and his favourite. In 1311, the nobles issued the “Ordinances”. This was an attempt to restrict royal control of finance and appointments. Gaveston was twice exiled at the demand of the barons, but returned to England soon afterwards. In 1312, he was captured and executed by the barons.

In 1314, Edward invaded Scotland. He was defeated by Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn. Power was now in the hands of the barons led by Edward's cousin, Thomas of Lancaster, who by 1315 made himself the real ruler of England. Yet Lancaster did very little to pledge reform and as a result, some areas of the country collapsed into anarchy.

By 1318, Edward and Lancaster did resolve some issues between them, but the king had two new favourites - Hugh le Despenser and his son. When Edward supported the two Despensers' ambitions in Wales, a group of barons banished both father and son. This made Edward want to fight back. Edward defeated Lancaster - who had begged the Scots to help him - at Boroughbridge in March 1322. He executed him and recalled the Despensers, with whom he now ruled.

This is where Isabella comes in, because at this point, she emerged as a focus for Edward’s enemies. In 1325, she was sent on a diplomatic mission to France. There she met and became the mistress of Roger Mortimer, an exiled opponent of Edward. In September 1326, they invaded England. Fortunately for them, there was almost no resistance. The Despensers were captured and executed, and Edward was overthrown in favour of his and Isabella's son, who was crowned Edward III in January 1327. Edward II was imprisoned at Berkeley Castle and murdered there.

As Edward III was still a minor, the country was ruled by Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer. However, their reign was as bad as Edward II’s. They had even gone so far as to recognize Robert the Bruce as the King of Scots, something even Edward wouldn’t do.

As soon as Edward reached the age of 18 in 1330, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He had Mortimer arrested, but instead of having him killed straight-away, Edward had Mortimer tried for treason in Parliament. Despite Queen Isabella’s protest, Mortimer was then hanged.

Isabella, however, escaped such a similar fate when Edward allowed her to retire from public life for the rest of her life. She died in 1358.

Tomorrow, Part II will explore the lives of the 'Bad Queens' of the Wars of the Roses...

Sources and further reading:
Elizabeth – David Starkey, 2001
Eleanor of Aquitaine – By the Wrath of God, Queen of England – Alison Weir, 2000
Blood Sisters – The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses – Sarah Gristwood, 2013
Anne Neville – Queen to Richard III – Michael Hicks, 2007
Elizabeth Woodville – Mother of the Princes in the Tower – David Baldwin, 2012.
She-Wolves: the Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth - Helen Castor, 2011


Danielle Marchant is an Independent Author from London, UK. Parts 1, 2 and 3 of her series of historical novellas based on Jane Boleyn Lady Rochford’s life, The Lady Rochford Saga, are available now:

Visit her pages at and at