Thursday, 25 July 2013

Katherine Howard, Jane Boleyn, and Sexual Violence

Top: Were Queen Katherine Howard (above) and her lady-in-waiting Lady Jane Boleyn victims of what we would now term sexual violence?

The mysterious relationship between Queen Katherine Howard and Jane Boleyn, formerly Viscountess Rochford, has long perplexed and confused modern historians. Both would die by the axe in February 1542 for committing treasonous acts against the state, after it was alleged by the Crown that Queen Katherine had committed adultery with Thomas Culpeper, a gentleman of Henry VIII's privy chamber. She had apparently been aided and abetted by the experienced Lady Rochford, who acted personally for mysterious reasons which historians have been unable to trace. In my book, which will hopefully soon be published, I have found intriguing evidence to suggest that Queen Katherine was a victim of what would today be termed sexual violence during her childhood at the hands of Francis Dereham. Controversially, there might be evidence to indicate that her lady-in-waiting, Jane, suffered similar horrific experiences.

George Cavendish, who formerly served in the household of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and who was thus admittedly hostile to the Boleyn family, provided disturbing evidence regarding Jane's husband, George Boleyn, who was executed for supposed incest with his sister Queen Anne. Cavendish's verses regarding George's vices read thus:

My lyfe not chast, my lyvyng bestyall,
I fforced wydowes, maydens I did deflower,
All was oon to me, I spared non at all
My appetit was all women to devoure
My study was bothe day and hower.
My onleafull lecherey, howe I myght it fulfill
Sparyng no woman to have on hyr my wyll.

Modern historians such as Retha M. Warnicke and Alison Weir have interpreted Cavendish's hostile verses to mean that George committed not only rape and buggery but also sodomy, sparing neither men or women in his pursuit of sexual gratification. Personally, I am sceptical - of course, it is possible that George did enjoy homosexual sexual intercourse alongside heterosexual sex, which could explain Cavendish's references to his 'onleafull lecherey' and 'all was oon to me'. However, I believe that the verses are intentioned to relate to how no women were spared from Rochford's licentiousness: 'I spared non at all, My appetit was all women to devoure', 'sparyng no woman'. Perhaps these verses have been misinterpreted. Rather than emphasising 'unnatural' homosexual 'perversions', Cavendish seeks to describe in horror and revulsion George's sexual violence, not stopping even at rape, using force on women to pursue sexual pleasure.

Of course, we cannot know if this relates to Jane, George's wife. Historians have traditionally believed that the marriage was singularly unhappy, perhaps even a catastrophic failure. They suggest that Jane as an earnest supporter of Queen Katherine of Aragon was resentful or jealous of Anne, George's glamorous elder sister, and it also seems likely that Jane's traditional Catholic religion led her to be hostile of the reformist Boleyns, who were identified by their enemies as Lutherans. In 1536, the Boleyn family spectacularly fell from power, as the Queen and her brother alongside four other gentlemen were accused, condemned and executed for sexual perversions, including adultery and incest. While Jane Rochford probably did not supply the crucial evidence for her husband's incestuous relations with his sister, as was traditionally believed by historians, she does appear to have assisted the Crown's case, detailing how Queen Anne had confided in her that her husband, Henry VIII, was impotent and unable to father a son on her.

It is also unlikely that Lady Rochford was assisted by Cromwell, or rewarded for providing evidence. As Warnicke notes: '... her status as his wife did not exempt her from revealing information about his treasonable activities.... she seems not to have made any deal with the crown in exchange for her testimony'. In a letter to Cromwell, she beseeched God to pardon George. But, interestingly: 'Had Rochford's attentions to other women been the cause, her contemporaries would have viewed her behaviour as a grave over-reaction because of the prevailing double standard that condoned a husband's extra-marital liaisons. Given this custom, she must have been greatly provoked to condemn him'.

Rather than believing, as Warnicke and Weir do, that Lady Rochford moved against her husband because she was revolted at his homosexual relations with other men, I believe that Cavendish's verses may insightfully supply intriguing evidence as to Lady Rochford's decision to provide assistance. If George had sexually assaulted her, or forced her to undergo sexual intercourse, she could have been personally affronted, even horrified. While women were identified as licentious, even evil in their carnal appetites, rape was to become a capital offence and during Elizabeth's reign was to become punishable by the death penalty. If Lady Rochford had been violently forced by her husband to have sex, perhaps even raped, it could explain, rather than his supposed homosexuality, her revulsion towards him and why she decided to assist Cromwell.

On a different note, there is tantalising evidence to suggest that her future queen, Katherine Howard, also endured sexual violence at the hands of Francis Dereham, who resided in the household of her step-grandmother the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Aged around fourteen when Dereham began pursuing her, Katherine later emphasised his use of 'force' and his 'vicious purpose', while her statement that he used her 'as a man doth his wife' could imply that he was violent towards her, for wife-beating was a serious problem particularly in London during this period. A more detailed explanation and interpretation is to be found in my full-length study. Admitting that she had not enjoyed the sexual experience, Katherine suggested that she had been unable to conceive a child because of her revulsion. When she was forced to employ Dereham in her household in 1541 in order to try and keep him quiet about their relationship, his aggressive and controlling behaviour in boasting about his intention to marry the Queen when the King died and his boasts about his acquaintance with her confirm the likelihood that he was aggressive both verbally and physically towards a girl probably at least a decade younger than him.

Around the same time that Dereham threateningly promised to marry Katherine following Henry VIII's death, the Queen became involved with Thomas Culpeper, a handsome favourite of the king who served as a gentleman of the privy chamber. Although she never committed adultery with him, Katherine was later to admit that she had become friends with Culpeper, and he also admitted his liking for the Queen. There is no evidence that Culpeper, like Dereham, was aggressive and physically violent. The association of rape and murder with him probably relate to his elder brother, confusingly also called Thomas. Lady Jane Rochford's assistance in this affair was crucial. Katherine's ladies in waiting seemed to confirm that she had encouraged Katherine from the very beginning.

While Jane's motives for helping the Queen remain obscure, this reinterpretation of both Jane's marriage and Katherine's childhood sexual experiences indicate that both women may have suffered what in the twenty-first century would be termed sexual violence. Although their contemporaries did not regard such experiences as such, they were aware of rape and sexual assault, which were classified as sexual deviance and abominable to God. Churchmen warned that sexual intercourse should be utilised only for the purpose of conceiving children. Lust was unthinkable and viewed as offensive, with women identified as licentious and eager to entrap men in unnatural perversions. Consequently, the experiences these women may have undergone would be classified as deviant, for lust was turned on its head and the purpose of conceiving children inverted for the sake of inflicting harm.

If both Jane and Katherine had endured such horrors, it may have brought the two women together. Interestingly, Jane seems to have become the Queen's confidant and favourite lady-in-waiting, despite the fact that she was aged around twenty years older than her new mistress. Aware of Katherine's marital difficulties in the spring and summer of 1541, she appears to have encouraged Katherine's blossoming friendship with Thomas, as the Queen's position was increasingly endangered by the resentful Dereham and his foolish comments. Never the pathological monster or sociopath she is often presented in modern portrayals as, Jane Rochford had perhaps been the victim of unnatural sexual force and wished to assist her Queen, who may have suffered similar experiences, as best she could.

Later, these women were associated with carnal licentiousness and treason against the king. Following their executions in 1542, Katherine has been universally condemned as a flighty and adulterous trollop and Jane Rochford a revolting abetter of the foulest of crimes. Perhaps reading their experiences in light of prevailing cultural customs and prejudices about women and sexuality should clarify and explain their actions. Their male contemporaries were unable to believe that women did not enjoy sexual intercourse, since they almost universally subscribed to the view that women, as accomplices of the Devil, eagerly and happily embraced all forms of sexual perversions, no matter how unnatural.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Princes in the Tower

The fate of the two Princes in the Tower, the eldest sons of Edward IV and his queen Elizabeth Woodville, is one of the greatest mysteries in history. Shrouded in controversy and mystery, historians and researchers fiercely disagree as to who was responsible for their deaths; debating as to whether both princes died; whether one, or both, in fact survived; and, unsurprisingly, this scandal has impacted profoundly on those associated with it, including two English kings, Richard III and Henry VII.

This article will examine the events which led to Richard III's accession and will explore the fate of the two Princes, considering the main suspects for their murders - if, that is, they were even murdered at all. The surviving evidence is intriguing, but entirely contradictory, and one has to take into account the political, social and dynastic bias of the writer, whether it was a Tudor apologist bent on demonising Richard, or a contemporary observer writing in a foreign country, detached from English events.

It was a shock for everyone when Edward IV died aged forty-one in April 1483, allegedly of a fever. This Yorkist king's reign had seen comparative peace and tranquillity in England following the dynastic troubles which had plagued the 1460s and 1470s, known by the later name Wars of the Roses. Edward had fathered at least 8 children with his queen Elizabeth, of whom his eldest son, Edward, aged twelve, had been heir and now England's king. However, the fact that the new king was a minor spelt trouble for contemporaries, for the rule of minor kings led inevitably to greater factional conflict and fierce rivalry over control of the child king. This, perhaps, may have greatly influenced the actions of both Edward's mother and his uncle, Richard duke of Gloucester.

In May 1483 the new king arrived in London for his coronation, weeks after the death of his father, and was accommodated in the royal residence of the Tower of London, while his younger brother Richard resided in sanctuary with his mother the queen and several of his sisters. They had journeyed there after hearing alarming news which suggested that Elizabeth's brother-in-law, Richard of Gloucester, had intercepted the king's journey from Ludlow in Wales and had seized the king's uncle Anthony Woodville and the queen's youngest son by her first marriage Richard Grey.

It seems certain that Richard of Gloucester feared for his own future, for the Woodvilles were powerful, greedy and notoriously intolerant. He may also have genuinely believed that his brother Edward's marriage to Elizabeth was invalid, for he claimed that it had been brought about by witchcraft and sorcery, and also suggested that Edward had in fact been previously precontracted to one Eleanor Butler, which meant that Elizabeth Woodville was never his lawful wife. Consequently, their children were illegitimate and not fit to inherit the throne of England. By this thinking, then, Richard of Gloucester was England's rightful king.

It is essential to critically examine later Tudor propaganda, which alleged that Richard III was a monster and a murderer. I, personally, do not believe that the moment King Edward died, Richard, as a scheming and essentially evil character, decided to seize the throne of England and murder his nephews. I believe that he genuinely feared the Woodvilles and, consequently, was scared for his own future, and it is entirely possible that he did believe that his brother's marriage to Elizabeth was invalid by reason of his earlier pre-contract. If this was true, then Richard was entitled to be king of England, as shocking as it may seem.

As Sarah Gristwood writes in her book Blood Sisters (2012):

"The majority of historians from Vergil and More onwards have believed that Richard III murdered his nephews; and thanks largely to Shakespeare, it has become the accepted view among many who care nothing for history. A vocal minority are utterly convinced he was not guilty, while propounding various alternative versions of the boys' fate. Others again believe it is virtually impossible to be certain, which makes it wrong to declare Richard guilty. In that uncertainty the writer's most honourable option is simply to present both the few known facts, and the relevant theories".

Contemporary historians fiercely and angrily dispute who killed the Princes in the Tower - as Gristwood says, most continue to believe, subscribing to persuasive Tudor propaganda, that it was their evil uncle, the hunchbacked and deformed Richard III (although the recent excavation at Leicester somewhat disproves this). Others, however, suggest it was someone entirely different. So what is the 'truth', if that can even ever be recovered?

One needs to put the events in context. Having seized the throne, Richard ordered it to be preached by a Dr Shaa at St Paul's Cross that Edward IV's marriage was invalid, rendering all his children (including his daughters living in sanctuary) illegitimate. By all accounts, what we know is that the Princes were last seen, for certain, playing in the grounds of the Tower in the summer of 1483 (the younger prince, Richard, having been sent out of sanctuary by a very reluctant Queen Elizabeth to join his brother in the Tower). Dominic Mancini stated that both princes 'were withdrawn in the inner apartments of the Tower proper, and day by day began to be seen more rarely behind the bars and windows, till at length they ceased to appear altogether'. In 1674, ominously, two skeletons were discovered under the staircase leading to the chapel within the Tower of London, and in 1933 the grave was opened (the two bodies having been buried, on the orders of Charles II, in Westminster Abbey), and the skeletons were determined to be those of two young children, aged about seven to eleven and eleven to thirteen. The two princes, if they died in 1483, would have been aged 12 and 10. Moreover, the fact that they were buried in Westminster Abbey, where royals were traditionally buried, indicates that, at least in the seventeenth century, the king and others believed the bodies to be of the princes.

So, firstly, it would be wise to consider the main suspect: Richard III. Some have argued that he had no need to kill his nephews, for he had already had them declared illegitimate - since they were bastards, neither could inherit the throne, so why should he need to have them dead when they were safely imprisoned? But, as historian Amy Licence notes: '... the princes' royal blood made them dangerous claimants to the throne, to whom many of their father's former staff would prove unfailingly loyal... Richard may have hoped that the problem of the two little boys may simply have disappeared. They did, but the problem didn't.'

Those who believe that Richard had no need to kill his nephews are somewhat misguided, for one needs only to consider the bloodshed of the Wars of the Roses to understand just why he may have felt he would only be secure with both boys dead. While they were alive and imprisoned, they would always be the focus for future rebellions which aimed to restore either boy to the throne as the rightful king, and one only needs to look at the example of Richard's brother Edward, who had had King Henry VI killed on his orders, obviously not feeling secure enough about his own claim to the throne. Edward had also had his own brother George duke of Clarence executed for treason - family connections did not prevent execution. It is possible that Richard ordered a loyal servant to dispose of his two princes, as suggested in Shakespeare's play. The suspect, for a long time, has been Sir James Tyrell, for he is known to have made a confession in 1502 which admitted that he had killed the two princes. This Tyrell was actually in London in the late summer and early autumn of 1483, when the boys were last seen alive for certain. Moreover, Licence suggests that, when Richard discovered that a loyal servant, perhaps Tyrell, had murdered both boys, he may have visited Canterbury Cathedral soon afterwards to make his peace with God, as a highly religious man.

There is evidence to suggest that Tyrell was the murderer of the princes, although since it was produced much later by observers writing in the Tudor age and thus hostile to Richard, it must be regarded as suspect. Polydore Vergil, who loathed Richard, claimed that Tyrell 'rode sorrowfully to London' to commit the deed on the orders of King Richard, while Richard himself later spread rumours of his nephews' deaths in the hope that it would discourage future rebellion. Thomas More, who vilified Richard to a shocking degree, also claimed that Tyrell had murdered the boys on Richard's orders, before confessing to his crime in the reign of Henry VII.

It seems that the most compelling reason to believe Richard was guilty of his nephews' deaths was the simple fact that he never publicly produced them, to prove that they were still alive, and to counter rumours which spoke of their murders. Furthermore, Richard promised the safety and security of the princes' sisters, but he gave no such assurances for their brothers, which suggests that they had been done away with by this time. Henry VII, when he acceded to the throne, accused the former king of "shedding of Infants blood" in a Bill of Attainder brought against the dead Richard, which probably directly accuses him of the Princes' murders. The Danzig Chronicle of 1483 alleged that 'Later this summer [1483] Richard the king's brother seized power and had his brother's children killed, and the queen secretly put away'. The French chancellor Guillame de Rochefort, in a speech on 15 January 1484, recounted how Edward IV's sons 'have been put to death with impunity, and the royal crown transferred to their murderer by the favour of the people'.

Many modern historians, including Alison Weir, Michael Hicks, and David Starkey, agree that Richard was the culprit. Further rumours alleged: Richard 'put to death the children of King Edward, for which cause he lost the hearts of the people. And thereupon many gentlemen intended his destruction'. The major problem is, however, that much of the surviving evidence which suggests Richard was the culprit was produced in the Tudor age, when Richard was vilified as a tyrant and a monster, and was therefore hardly objective. For instance, the historian Bernard Andre, writing in the sixteenth century, claimed: 'the entire land was convulsed with sobbing and anguish. The nobles of the kingdom, fearful of their lives, wondered what might be done against the danger. Faithful to the tyrant [Richard] in word, they remained distant in heart'. Philippe de Commines categorically confirmed that Richard III was responsible for the princes' deaths.

The fifteenth century was a troubled age, comprised of dynastic conflict, murder, treason and betrayal. Richard III would not have been unusual had he put to death his own relatives. Let us consider the fact that there were at least 5 other monarchs around this time who did the same thing:

Edward IV - put to death his own brother, George duke of Clarence, and probably ordered Henry VI's murder.
Henry VII - put to death his wife's relatives Edward earl of Warwick and Edmund earl of Suffolk.
Henry VIII - executed the 'White Rose' faction (members of the Pole family); also executed 2 of his queens.
Mary I - executed her own cousin, Lady Jane Grey.
Elizabeth I - executed her cousin and rival Mary Queen of Scots.

It would not have been unusual if Richard had ordered the murder of his 2 nephews. I do not subscribe to the Tudor propaganda which presents Richard as evil, deformed, corrupt and ungodly. But I do think that, in this period, a person did not have to be evil to commit an act of murder.

However, there might be other evidence which intriguingly suggests that Richard was not, in fact, the culprit for the murders of his nephews. Some have suggested that it was, in fact, Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. She would clearly have had a motive, for if the two princes were to die, then her son would have an even stronger claim to the English throne. He was betrothed to their sister Elizabeth of York, yet if they remained alive, they would both have a greater claim to be king than he would, even if he were to marry their sister. The seventeenth-century antiquary George Buck apparently read 'in an old manuscript book' how it was believed that Margaret and her friend Bishop Morton 'conspiring the deaths of the sons of King Edward and some others, resolved that  these treacheries should be executed by poison and by sorcery'. Helen Maurer, a historian, also favours Margaret as the culprit.

However, Buck was one of Richard III's earliest and most vocal defenders, and so would have claimed that it was someone from the enemy camp who had committed such a shocking deed. It is also noteworthy, as Weir notes, that Richard's own relatives never accused Margaret of murdering the princes - Margaret of York, his elder sister and former Duchess of Burgundy, who loathed Henry VII, never accused Margaret, while she was not even named by other contemporaries. Furthermore, we do not even know Margaret's whereabouts during the summer of 1483 for certain - she may not have been in London at the time. Margaret also, at this time, was probably in a secret alliance with Queen Elizabeth, plotting to marry her son Henry to Elizabeth's daughter, and if Margaret was simultaneously planning to murder Elizabeth's sons, it is inconceivable that the Queen would have co-operated and worked together with Margaret.

Was the murderer in fact Henry Tudor, future king of England? He was not actually residing in England in the summer and autumn of 1483, instead being a fugitive in Brittany as he plotted to usurp the throne from Richard with the aid of his mother. Gristwood seems to believe that he may possibly be responsible:

'If Henry were to bolster his own genealogically weak claim with that of Elizabeth of York, he needed the princes dead. If the whole family were declared illegitimate, then Elizabeth had no claim. If they were legitimate, her brothers' claim would take precedence over hers for as long as they lived. What is more, while the assumption of Richard's guilt depends on a posthumous reputation for savagery it was Henry VII (and later Henry VIII) who would, one by one, eliminate all the rival Yorkist line with chilling efficiency'.

Gristwood certainly had a point, for Henry VII would later order the executions of the nephew of Richard, Edward earl of Warwick, and also had executed Perkin Warbeck, a pretender (but whom, some believe, may actually have been the younger of the two Princes). Henry VIII was similarly ruthless in the 1530s. However, no surviving source material from the time actually suggests that Henry was believed to be the culprit. True, Tudor historians would hardly have dared to have challenged their king and accused him of murder, but no foreign sources written on the Continent connected Henry Tudor with the Princes' murders. Even Margaret of Burgundy, who continually plotted against him, never accused him of her nephews' deaths.
Some actually believed that Henry avenged the princes' deaths. The Crowland Chronicler, for instance, wrote how 'the children of King Edward' had been 'avenged' at Bosworth in 1485 through Henry's victory and Richard's death.

Furthermore, Henry's only real opportunity to murder the two Princes would have been on his accession in 1485, for he had been dwelling in Europe prior to that. By all accounts, however, the two boys were last seen in the autumn of 1483 - almost 2 years previously. It is, admittedly, possible that Henry ordered one of his servants or a loyal supporter to travel to England and commit the deed, but there is no evidence of this.

Others suspect that it was Richard's former supporter, the Duke of Buckingham, who had the Princes murdered. The contemporary Historical notes of a London citizen stated that 'King Edward the Vth, late called Prince of Wales and Richard Duke of York, his brother... were put to death in the Tower of London by the vise [advice] of the Duke of Buckingham' (although this does not actually mean that Buckingham himself killed the princes). The private secretary to the king of Portugal, Alfonso V, recounted how '...after the passing away of king Edward in the year of 83, another one of his brothers, the Duke of Gloucester, had in his power the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York, the young sons of the said king his brother, and turned them to the Duke of Buckingham, under whose custody the said Princes were starved to death'. Yet Buckingham had left the court on progress at Gloucester in early August, travelling to his residence, before leading a rebellion in Wales - there is no evidence that he was in London at the time.

Buckingham had become increasingly disaffected with Richard and had rebelled against him in the autumn of 1483, before being executed on 2 November. However, the rebellion may have been aimed at actually freeing the princes - so why would he then have killed them? But this becomes murkier when one considers that Buckingham himself had royal blood (he had also been the husband of one of Elizabeth Woodville's younger sisters, who he resented). Yet, as Weir notes, Richard never accused Buckingham of murdering his nephews before his execution for treason, which would have been a crime, and which he surely would have done if evidence had come forth suggesting Buckingham was responsible, thus deflecting from the rumours which linked Richard with their deaths. Moreover, The Great Chronicle suggested that rumours of the Princes' deaths did not circulate in London until Easter 1484, which if true, meaning that the Princes were still alive at the end of 1483, removes the possibility of Buckingham's culpability, for he had been executed in November 1483.

Overall, the evidence thus far seems to indicate that the traditional assumption that Richard was the culprit is probably correct. However, some revisionist historians believe that one, or both, of the Princes actually survived. A visitor from Silesia in 1484, Nicolaus von Popplau, recorded: 'many people say - and I agree with them - that they are still alive and kept in a very dark cellar', but of course, they might have been killed shortly afterwards. One might question, furthermore, how Poppau and 'many people' knew specifically that the princes were alive and kept in a cellar. Vergil reported rumours which suggested that they had been exiled to 'some secret land'. Historians such as David Baldwin believe that the younger prince, Richard Duke of York, actually survived, and became a bricklayer in Essex. Yet his evidence has not proved compelling.

Audrey Williamson, author of The Mystery of the Princes, suggested that Elizabeth Woodville left sanctuary because she was promised by Richard that both, or her younger son, would be allowed to join her and live with her. Williamson believes that the younger Prince may have later dwelt at Gipping Hall in Suffolk, along with other royal children. More intriguingly, this was the seat of the Tyrell family, whom Tudor historians believed was responsible for their deaths. But as has been stated, if either, or both of, the princes was sent to Gipping Hall, 'someone would surely have got to know about it... It is likely that several of those who served the Queen could have recognised her sons. Thus it would have been virtually impossible to keep the existence of the Princes a secret, especially in the face of rumours of their deaths'.

Other historians have suggested that one of the pretenders in the reign of Henry VII, Perkin Warbeck, may actually have been the younger prince, Richard. Throughout the 1490s, Warbeck invaded England, hoping to gain support for 'his' crown, supported by many European powers including Margaret of Burgundy, the Scottish king, and King Maximilian I. Margaret personally tutored Warbeck in the ways of the Yorkist court - of course, if this was actually her nephew, it explains her actions; but it is more likely that she knew he was an imposter but supported his venture against her sworn enemy Henry VII. Warbeck was reported to resemble Richard of York in his appearance (although one might question when anyone had last seen Richard alive, especially since he had only been a child of 10, whereas Warbeck was somewhat older). However, Warbeck later confessed to being an imposter, being of Flemish origin. This is somewhat confirmed by the fact that many of the family ties he recounted in his later confession have been backed up by the municipal archives of Tournai.

Certainly, by the autumn of 1483, it is likely that the elder prince was dead. Evidence suggests that he had been gravely ill, possibly suffering osteomyelitis, a bone disease. More seems to suggest that he may have suffered depression. Possibly, then, he died of natural causes, but his murder cannot be ruled out. It is significant that no pretenders ever claimed to be him - instead, it was his younger brother they chose to represent.

The evidence put forward here indicates that it is impossible to be certain what happened. Rumours are often untrustworthy, the evidence is contradictory, and much of it was compiled significantly later, in the age of the Tudors, by those hostile to Richard III and his legacy. However, it seems likely that both Princes died in the Tower by the end of 1483. Theories of one Prince's survival, or indeed both, are not convincing and do not put forward compelling evidence. For me, the most convincing evidence which suggests that both died within the Tower was the discovery of two corpses in 1674, clearly of children, who were about the same age as the Princes would have been. The only problem, of course, is the sex - they were not definitively known to be male. But then, who else could they be?

We will never know for certain just what happened to the Princes. But, taking everything into account, I would still tentatively put Richard as the culprit, believing that both boys were dead by the end of 1483. At least five other monarchs put to death people who they feared would take the succession from them. His own brother, Edward, ordered his brother George's execution. Henry VIII executed 2 of his wives, and several maternal relatives. His two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, each executed a fellow queen and cousin. I do not think Richard was evil or corrupt, as Shakespeare presents him. But I think that he strongly wanted to be King of England. He was aware of his brother's popularity, and knew that, as long as his 2 nephews lived, they would always have the stronger claims to the throne, and would always be the focus for rebellion and dissent against his regime. Their deaths were necessary, even if he regretted them.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Jacquetta of Luxembourg

Above: Janet McTeer as Jacquetta Woodville in The White Queen (2013).
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth Woodville.

The BBC television series The White Queen, based on three of bestselling fictional novelist Philippa Gregory's novels set in the times of the Wars of the Roses, has sparked much greater interest in the extraordinary lives of royal English women who lived in context of ferocious battles, murder, bloodshed, and treachery. The TV series, of course, is horrendously inaccurate, with critics noting the appearance of zips on dresses, modern stair-rails, and quick to rage against the very modern language. I personally cannot understand why these medieval women do not wear headdresses and instead walk around dressed like prostitutes!

Queen Elizabeth Woodville, of course, was a notorious woman who was adored by her husband, Edward IV, much praised for her beauty, fairness and other qualities, but loathed by English nobles who perceived her to be arrogant, cold, ruthless, and vain. However, the life of Elizabeth's mother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, is perhaps even more astounding than that of her eldest daughter.

Portrayed by Janet McTeer in the television series, Jacquetta had lived a life of almost unimaginable luxury and privilege before she married into the Woodville family. Perhaps born around 1416, Jacquetta was the eldest of nine children born to Pierre of Luxembourg, count of St. Pol, Conversano and Brienne and vicomte of Lille, and his wife Marguerite, daughter of the duke of Andrea. In 1433, aged seventeen, she married John duke of Bedford, who was uncle to the infant king of England, Henry VI. Thus, having been born into the European aristocracy, Jacquetta married essentially into the English royal family, cementing further her family's illustrious prestige and lineage. This marriage was not a love match, for the duke was aged around 27 years older than his new bride and had previously been married already. Instead, it was a marriage made by politics, to suit prevailing English interests in French lands at the time.

However, Jacquetta's husband John died only two years after the marriage, leaving her a widow aged 19, without children. She was, however, left extremely rich, for she was entitled to a third of her husband's lands and annuities. Just two years later, in 1437, Jacquetta married again, to her social inferior Sir Richard Woodville, who was not at all wealthy or highly ranked. Since she had, a year previously, agreed that she could not marry again without the consent of King Henry VI, she was forced to pay £1000 as a royal pardon for her transgression. This marriage clearly seems to have been a love match, for Jacquetta was willing to sacrifice her wealth, her lineage and royal connections in marrying a humble squire. Further evidence of the passionate love between them can be seen in the fact that she bore Richard at least 14 children.

Above: Were Jacquetta and her daughter Elizabeth witches, as The White Queen so controversially suggests?

Jacquetta and her new husband spent the first few years of their marriage in France, for Jacquetta was negotiating there to secure her dower lands, while Richard served there. They dwelled at Grafton, Northamptonshire, as their main English residence following their return. Their first daughter, Elizabeth Woodville, was born around 1437, and was followed by a further seven girls and seven boys, including Anthony and John. Elizabeth would prove like her mother to be extremely fertile.

In 1444, Jacquetta participated in the retinue which brought the new queen, Margaret of Anjou, to England, and it seems that the two became close friends. Jacquetta and her Woodville family were, initially, Lancastrians who supported Henry VI's regime, for the Woodvilles had been connected with the duke of Bedford, uncle to the king. However, several years later, the political and dynastic troubles which came to be known as The Wars of the Roses transformed Jacquetta's life forever. At the Battle of Towton, her husband and eldest son were arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London, although they were later released. At this point, the Woodville family probably transferred their allegiance to the Yorkists.

Most infamously, Elizabeth, Jacquetta's eldest daughter, allegedly seduced the new Yorkist king, Edward IV, in 1464, leading him to marry her since she had, apparently, refused to become his concubine. Later stories dramatically suggested that she had held a dagger to her throat and promised to kill herself were he to attempt to use force on her. Regardless of the circumstances, Edward married Elizabeth at the Woodville's family home at Grafton on 1 May 1464, with only Jacquetta, a priest, and two gentlewomen present. This, of course, transformed the Woodville's fortunes. Jacquetta's husband became Earl Rivers and treasurer of England, while her children were married into the English nobility, causing much resentment and anger among other nobles. For instance, her 20-year old son John was, shockingly, married to Katherine Neville, the elderly dowager duchess of Norfolk, who was at least in her late 60s. Katherine Woodville married the young Duke of Buckingham, who was apparently furious, believing his new wife to be grossly inferior to himself.

Jacquetta and Elizabeth have often been linked in the public consciousness with witchcraft and sorcery. The White Queen supports these allegations, in both the TV series and in the book, by suggesting that both women engage in witchcraft to fulfil their ambitions - thus sorcery is practised to make Edward fall in love with and marry Elizabeth; to change the outcomes of battles; to wreak vengeance on enemies. Certainly, at the time rumours of witchcraft were linked to the new queen and her family. Contemporaries found it scarcely credible that their Yorkist king had married a woman so far beneath him, who had no royal blood and was, in fact, from a Lancastrian family. Richard III, brother-in-law to Elizabeth, and the Earl of Warwick both insinuated that Jacquetta and Elizabeth had inflicted sorcery on the king, rendering his marriage invalid. Thomas Wake, a Northamptonshire esquire, claimed in 1469 that Jacquetta had brought about the marriage of Edward and Elizabeth by witchcraft, having found two lead figures, one for the king and one for the queen. Jacquetta, however, when brought to trial proved her innocence and the case against her collapsed.

As with earlier medieval women such as Joan of Navarre and Eleanor duchess of Gloucester, witchcraft was often used to irrevocably damage the reputations of powerful women. There is no evidence to suggest that Elizabeth and Jacquetta were witches. Jacquetta's family was linked to Melusina, a water goddess or 'serpent woman'. However, there is no conclusive evidence to show that Elizabeth or Jacquetta strongly celebrated their links with such a legend, despite Philippa Gregory's claims to the contrary. While Jacquetta did own a copy of the ancestral romance Melusine, other fifteenth-century ladies did too, which hardly suggests that she was unique.

The main reason why Elizabeth was believed to be a witch was because other nobles could not believe that she, a mere gentlewoman of no social standing, was genuinely worthy of the king of England and had caused him to fall in love with her by natural means. Certainly, Edward's cousin and former supporter the earl of Warwick was furious, for he had been negotiating for Edward to marry a foreign princess, who was believed to be far worthier of Edward. Warwick personally resented and hated the Woodvilles, mainly because, by virtue of their relatives marrying almost all the other nobles, there were no suitable nobles left for his two daughters Isabel and Anne to marry.

The marriage between Edward and Elizabeth culminated in Warwick's defection to the Lancastrian cause, resentful of his loss of influence and power with the rise of the queen's family. He married his eldest daughter Isabel to the king's younger brother George duke of Clarence, who had become similarly angered and hostile towards his brother. Matters came to a head when Warwick left England, accompanied by his wife, his two daughters and his new son-in-law, and journeyed to visit the former queen Margaret of Anjou, promising his support of her and allegiance to the Lancastrian cause. Agreeing that his younger daughter Anne should marry Margaret's son Edward of Lancaster, a new alliance was struck up by which it was agreed that the Lancastrian king, Henry VI, should be returned to the English throne, and Edward IV forcibly removed from it.

Meanwhile, Jacquetta's personal influence with Queen Elizabeth remained firmly entrenched. She participated in her daughter's coronation, and in 1466 took part in Elizabeth's churching following the birth of her first child, the future Elizabeth of York. Misfortune overtook her, when her husband Richard and her son John were executed in 1470 on the orders of Warwick, who had returned to England in an attempt to restore Henry VI to the throne. Edward IV escaped to Europe, leaving his young wife to seek sanctuary in Westminster Abbey where, accompanied by her mother, she gave birth to the future Edward V in November 1470.

Jacquetta did not long survive the brutal deaths of her husband and son, dying on 30 May 1472, aged around 56. Where she was buried is unknown. She was an immensely powerful and wealthy woman who had been born into European royalty, marrying into the English royalty in her teens before becoming, by virtue of her second marriage, the mother of England's queen and thus grandmother of a later queen, Elizabeth of York, and great-grandmother of Henry VIII.

Rather than being a scheming and ambitious woman who only relied on witchcraft and sorcery to bring about her triumphs, it is likely that Jacquetta was, as Lucia Diaz Pascual intriguingly writes: 'a formidable woman who understood how to navigate the corridors of power and was capable of great resilience, strength, and determination to achieve her objectives'.