Royal mistresses since 1066, this week, if you please. We’ll leave Elizabeth I’s romantic attachments to one side and Queen Anne’s as well. Some monarchs are remarkably discreet, others less so. Henry VII for example was not known for his mistresses – but his account book reveals payment to “dancing girls” …they may just have been dancing. Other mistresses have achieved notoriety and in the case of Henry VIII’s mistresses, in many instances, the Crown itself. You may find yourself dealing with potentially bigamous monarchs as well this week. Good luck.
At the beginning of the English Civil War, in 1642, William Cavendish of Bolsover and Welbeck Abbey who was the Earl of Newcastle at that time gave Charles I £10,00 and raised a troop of 200 horsemen. In June of that year William was sent to secure Newcastle. He was on his way to becoming the king’s general in the north and about to start a military dance with Lord Ferndinado Fairfax and his son Sir Thomas Fairfax that would only end in 1644. Not that it was all plain sailing. The slide to war met with opposition and not every local lord was keen on Cavendish’s recruitment campaign.
Cavendish summoned his tenants and the trained bands of the North. They came largely from Northumbria at the beginning of the conflict- remember he was also Earl Ogle – his mother was Catherine Ogle. He kitted them out in a new uniform – the coats were undyed because, according to Margaret Cavendish’s biography of her husband, the soldiers asked for them to be left white so that they could dye them in the blood of their enemies. They were also kitted out with caps of so-called Scots’ blue. The “whitecoats” or “lambs” had an identity that was immediately recognisable on the battle field.
In total there would be seven divisions of Whitecoats. Their first action might have been against the trained Bands of Durham who seemed to have had a falling out with the men left by Cavendish whilst he went on to Newcastle to secure it for the king. The earl went back to Durham and smoothed ruffled feathers. One of the men from the Durham trained bands stated that he liked the earl well enough but not his soldiers.
At first the Royalists dominated the war in the north. They first saw action at Tadcaster and the following year (30 June 1643) at the Battle of Adwalton Moor. The battle initially went against the royalists because of the position that Fairfax held on a ridge and because Newcastle didn’t have enough musketeers but ultimately there was a final push of pike led by the wonderfully named Colonel Posthumous Kirton – you may not have royalist sympathies but what’s not to love about the name Posthumous Kirton! Kirton’s attack ultimately caused the Parliamentary left wing to collapse. The war continued and Newcastle’s Regiment of Foot fought where it was required in the North, Yorkshire and the Midlands, but there is surprisingly little information on its exact movements.
The Whitecoats saw action at the sieges of Hull and Gainsborough as well in 1644 of York – when they were being besieged and repulsed the Parliamentarian forces when they breached the walls at St Mary’s Tower by mining it. The tide had turned against the Royalists in 1644 when the Scots became involved. This was why Newcastle was forced back into Yorkshire.
Rupert of the Rhine arrived to relieve York on the 1st July 1644 but took charge of the army and insisted on fighting the Parliamentarians. On the following morning he led his own men out onto Marston Moor between Tockwith and Long Marston. The Whitecoats joined Rupert at 4pm having spent the day looting what was left on the Parliamentarian siege line. The earl arrived in his carriage. Aside from a little skirmishing the two armies faced one another and waited. Rupert will have been able to work out that his army was smaller than that of Parliament – by some 10,000. By 7 pm the Royalists decided that there wasn’t going to be a battle that day so settled down for the evening. There was also a thunderstorm. At which point the Parliamentarian army attacked. It didn’t all go Parliament’s way. Thomas Fairfax had to make his way through the Royalist lines on his own at one point. Victory really belonged to Oliver Cromwell who turned his wing in an arc behind the Royalist force.
At the Battle of Marston Moor Newcastle’s Regiment of Foot were killed almost to a man. They remained in formation in the centre of the Royalist line and it is thought defended White Syke Close. The Parliamentarians recognising their bravery asked for their surrender but the regiment refused. By the time the Whitecoats died the battle was already lost – their deaths were futile. They were buried in mass graves where they fell. If you walk the route of the Battle of Marston Moor White Syke Close is marked on the ordinance survey map. Alternatively take advantage of a Country File walk which outlines the battle and leads you on a circular walk, https://www.countryfile.com/go-outdoors/walks/marston-moor-north-yorkshire/ The Battle Fields Trust website has information about the battle and the site today.
It is thought that William Cavendish was the last Royalist commander left on the battle field. Personally brave but not necessarily charismatic he arrived in Scarborough the following morning where he boarded a vessel bound for Hamburg. He had £90. Upon arrival he borrowed £160 and set off for Paris and Henrietta Maria. At the family seat of Welbeck Abbey his daughters would have to face a Parliamentarian force, hide the family plate and get some of their father’s art collection to safety.
The image of the Battle of Marston Moor was painted in 1819 by Abraham Cooper. He painted a second image of the battle in 1824 entitled Rupert’s Standard.
I would politely remind you that I am not a battle field historian although I can describe key moments in some of the battles of both the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War. I can also tell you that it is incredibly easy to get lost on Marston Moor even when armed with a map and book of war walks – although a couple of fully costumed re-enactors emerging out of the morning mist is certainly enough to make you sit up and pay attention.
This is episode two of my three part look at Amy Robsart’s life and death – as with any other historical death involving persons of political significance where there isn’t a clear cause there are always conspiracy theories – not that Amy was of political significance but her husband was. So, this episode looks at what history does know without making any attempt to identify the probable cause of Lady Dudley’s demise – aside of course from her being found at the bottom of a staircase…and even the size and shape stairs are a matter of conjecture as we shall discover next time.
In the Summer of 1558 Amy and Robert settled into Norfolk. Amy had inherited money from her father and the pair began searching for a suitable home of their own. Remember at this stage of the story Robert was part of the Norfolk gentry thanks to his father-in-law’s links in the area. Elizabeth was still effectively a prisoner of her increasingly unwell sister Queen Mary. Amy was not able to move into her childhood home because her half-brother inherited Stanfield Hall.
Everything changed for Robert, and thus for Amy, on the 17th November 1558 when Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth at Hatfield. Dudley was by Elizabeth’s side the following day when the Great Seal was handed over to her. One of her first acts was to make him her Master of Horse, in addition to a salary and four horses the post also gave him rooms at court and the right to touch the queen, helping her on and off her horse – no other man in England had that honour. Cecil tried to dissuade Elizabeth by suggesting that Dudley could perhaps be a special ambassador to Spain but the queen overruled Cecil. Dudley was now in constant attendance on the queen, helping with the preparations for the coronation and going hunting with her. The following year he would accompany the queen on what would become an annual progress around part of her realm.
For Amy a time of homelessness followed. She seems to have lived in the homes of men who owed their allegiance to her husband. At first she stayed at Throcking in Hertfordshire. This was the home of William Hyde.
By spring of the following year it was being reported by the Spanish ambassador as well as the Holy Roman ambassador that Amy Robsart was unwell and that Robert was waiting for her to die so that he could marry Elizabeth. The queen did not disguise the fact that she disliked the idea of Amy’s existence or Robert being close to her in any way but in April 1590 Robert went to Throcking in Hertfordshire whilst parliament was in recess to spend Easter with his wife. His accounts reveal that he played cards with his host William Hyde and lost.
It may have been an uncomfortable visit. Amy was unwell. She believed that she was being poisoned. William Hyde described Leicester as “My singular good Lord.” He even had one of his daughters baptised “Dudley.” None the less, no one wants to be accused of poisoning their lord’s wife. It probably didn’t help that at a later date Amy was described as “sore troubled” at this time – and given the rumours about her spouse carrying on with the queen it is perhaps not surprising. For some historians this is evidence of illness, an unsound mind or that Amy was being poisoned either with or without the knowledge of her husband. So far as I am concerned from the point of view of this post it explains why Amy moved on from Throcking.
Robert Dudley’s account books reveal that he visited Amy in 1558 and 1559 when she stayed in Denchworth near Wantage. It is also clear form his accounts and her correspondence that income from the land that she’d inherited was being paid directly to her and that she was writing to the steward of Syderstone – Mr John Flowerdew- about the sale of wool.
It seems that in May 1559 Amy made a brief visit to London by then Elizabeth had made Dudley a Knight of the Garter and the Venetian ambassador was noting the fact that Dudley was in “great favour.” Amy saw a doctor, was described as eating well and feeling better. It was the last time that she and Robert would meet one another before her death. From London she travelled to Suffolk whilst in London the gossips started to report that the queen was pregnant and that the father was Sir Robert Dudley.
During the early part of the Autumn Amy spent a few weeks at Compton Verney in Warwickshire. Compton Verney was the home of another of Dudley’s followers. Sir Richard Verney would be painted by Sir Walter Scott as Amy Robsart’s murderer in his novel entitled Kennilworth. He doesn’t come out of the story very well, for that matter, in Philippa Gregory’s novel entitled The Virgin’s Lover.
In November the Spanish Ambassador, Bishop de la Quadra wrote that there was a rumour that Robert Dudley was trying to kill his wife so that he could marry the queen. The Holy Roman ambassador was sending similar information to his master Ferdinand I. Yet the French, with whom Dudley was closely associated at this time make no mention of it at all.
In December 1559 Amy was at Cumnor Place, some three miles from Oxford. It was the home of another member of Dudley’s affinity – Sir Anthony Forster and his wife. He’d leased Cumnor Place from Dr George Owen, one of the physicians responsible for the care of Henry VIII. The household included some of his relations – Mrs Owen is a key witness to Amy’s death (or rather key non-witness). Amy’s room was the best chamber accessed from a staircase to the south of the great hall. In addition to Amy, Cumnor Place was also home to her retinue of ten servants. One of them a man named Bowes would carry news of her death and another, her maid, Mrs Picto would testify that Amy was in low spirits on the day of her death. In August a gift arrived at Cumnor from Robert Dudley – his account books reveal he sent her gifts that ranged from horses to spices- and Amy ordered a new dress.
On Sunday September 8 1560 Amy ordered that all her household should go to the Fair of Our Lady at Abingdon which was about five miles from Cumnor. Mrs Oddingsells, who may have been Sir Anthony Forster’s sister-in-law or possibly an impoverished member of the Hyde family cared for by Dudley, was shocked by the suggestion and later said that Sunday was a day reserved for servants and common folk to go to the fair and that she would have rather gone on a different day. She also said that she didn’t want to leave Amy on her own. Amy responded that Mrs Owen would join her for dinner – which she did.
Mrs Oddingsells did not go to the fair. She and Mrs Owens played cards that afternoon. Both women recalled hearing a crash but continued to play their game.
Later that day Amy was found at the foot of a pair of steps or a shallow stair depending upon the source you read. Her neck was broken and her head dress – according to the later anti-Leicester text entitled Leicester’s Commonwealth stated that her headdress was barely out of place. She was only 28 years old.
Amy’s man Bowes set off to give the news to Dudley but en route he encountered Dudley’s man Sir Richard Verney who happened to be in the area (let’s leave the co-incidence to one side for the time being).
News of Amy’s death reached Dudley on the 9th September at Windsor where he was staying with the queen. Dudley charged another of his men, his steward, – Thomas Blount- referred to as “Cousin Blount” in Dudley’s letters to investigate and to keep Amy’s half brother John Appleyard (from Amy’s mother’s first marriage) informed of his findings. Blount needed to find to whether death was by “chance or villainy.”
Robert arranged for Amy’s body to be buried at St Mary’s in Oxford – the bill for the funeral came to an astonishing £2,000 but he did not attend – custom said that he should not. Instead he retired to his home at Kew and wore black for six months. Elizabeth ordered her court into mourning for a month or more. Gristwood makes the point that Elizabeth probably ordered his withdrawal from the court in the hope that the scandal of Amy’s tragic death would die down, except of course it didn’t and Dudley lost his chance to marry a queen …assuming that Elizabeth really would have married him.
There is no certain contemporary portrait of Amy Robsart although there is a miniature of an anonymous lady- shown above- which might be Amy in happier times. The picture at the start of this post is by the Victorian artist Thomas Francis Dicksee. Yeames depicted her in 1877 at the bottom of the staircase at Cumnor – he has left room as to whether the shadowy figures on the stairs are hurrying to her aid or are quietly departing having assassinated Mrs Dudley, which is of course what part three of this little series is going to be about.
Adams, Simon.ed. (1996) Household Accounts and Disbursement Books of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester:
Gristwood. Sarah (2007) Elizabeth and Leicester. London:Bantom Books
Skidmore. Christopher. (2010) Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson
I have been reading a Social History of Women in England 450-1500 by Henrietta Leyser in between finding out about John of Gaunt’s retinue as it is sometimes easy to impose our own views and beliefs on the events of a particular period. Interestingly it was only in the twelfth century that the Church came up with a consistent view of what constituted a marriage and what wordage was required from the couple who it joined in wedlock and whether the marriage needed to be consummated in order to be legally binding.
So here it is very briefly as I understand it: Peter Lombard of Paris insisted that a couple need only exchange the words “I take you as my wife” and “I take you as my husband.” He argued that the Virgin Mary was married to Joseph but had remained a virgin her whole life according to the theology of the time. Consequentially, if it was good enough for the mother of Jesus it was good enough for everyone else. Pope Alexander III backed this view.
In 1215 Pope Innocent III clarified the Church’s views on consanguinity by reducing the prohibited degrees of relationship from seven to four. When counting seven degrees of relationship the Church simply counted back up the family tree so that would have meant that a sixth cousin would be unable to may his or her sixth cousin which must have made life somewhat difficult for the intertwined aristocratic families. Properly the first degree of consanguinity is the closest one – parent and child; second degree of consanguinity -siblings; third degree aunt-nephew or uncle-neice; fourth degree- first cousins. However, the Church continued to make its calculations by going back up the family tree four generations meaning that the net of consanguinity covered much more than a first cousin. It included anyone with the same great great grandparent. However, there were such things as papal dispensations which fetched in a handy income for the Church.
The need to apply for papal dispensation where cousins removed were to be married often fitted into a rather lengthy negotiation process where the marriage was more of a seal on an alliance than a love match. Prior to a couple’s betrothal a financial settlement had to be agreed. A bride’s family was expected to settle a dowry upon her. This was her share of her inheritance. It often took the form of goods and cash as well as land which her own mother might have brought into her own marriage. In return the bride would receive dower rights from the lands which her groom held i.e. the income from those lands was hers. Once the marriage settlement had been agreed then there would be a betrothal ceremony. Given that these betrothals often took place where at least one of the participants was a very young child the betrothal wasn’t always binding. Effectively where children had not yet reached the age of reason it was much easier to wriggle out of a marriage alliance than after. Margaret Beaufort was betrothed by her guardian to his son John de la Pole at the age of six but was rebetrothed on the orders of Henry VI to his half-brother Edmund Tudor three years later. Seven was regarded as the age of reason and after that time is was harder to break a betrothal. A full coming of age was twelve for girls and fourteen for boys though even at the time Edmund Tudor’s treatment of his child bride raised eyebrows.
There were other considerations to take account of if you were of peasant stock and wished to marry. Family politics and relative wealth acquisition played their parts from the mightiest to the least in the land. However the peasantry or those descend from villeins had to find the money to pay marriage fines and there were plenty of them. Leyser (120) describes Merchet – a fine paid for a licence to marry; legerwite which literally translates as a laying down fine was the fine levied on a woman who had had pre-marital sex (there was no corresponding male fine) and there was also chidewite which was the fee for having an illegitimate child. You might also find yourself having to marry someone your lord had decreed was a suitable match for you – though of course this something that every strata of society had to deal with.
Innocent III also forbade secret marriages and decreed the necessity of the calling of banns. There were also times of the year when the Church decreed that marriages couldn’t occur. Advent and Lent were marriage free times of the year. Banns were called three times and the calling had to be at least a day apart to allow an opportunity for anyone objecting to the union to come forward.
During medieval times weddings did not take place inside the Church. Weddings occurred at the church door – which given the climate in England probably accounts for the number of porches within medieval church architecture. The marriage at the church door was a curious amalgam of vows and financial arrangements. The ring that the bride wears today is all that is left of the symbolism of the groom’s symbolic gift of gold or silver given to represent the bride’s dower. It was apparently quite normal for the groom to arrive with a shield or book stacked with gold or silver. The couple exchanged vows in English. And did I mention that a priest wasn’t needed even if the couple did get married at the church door! Of course having a priest made it easier to prove you were married.
And that leads to an explanation of the word wedding. Dixon Smith explains that consent to a marriage or a pledge to marry was shown by giving and receiving an item referred to English as a ‘wed’. A ‘wed’ could be any gift understood by those involved to mean consent to marry but was often a ring. A ‘wedding’ where a man gave a woman a ring and she accepted it created the marriage. This complicates things still further because if the giving of a gift is enough to have created a marriage there’s an awful lot of room for accusations and counter accusations of being married based on very little evidence other than a he says/ she says sort of exchange in a court.
Once the couple had exchanged their vows they entered the Church and celebrated Mass. Once that was done the couple knelt to receive a further blessing.This was all followed by a wedding feast and there could be no skimping on the food or festivities. Leyser reveals that Robert Juwel was fined for failing to provide a feast at his marriage (109). Obviously this depended on the relative status and wealth of the groom and his family.
And finally the priest would bless the happy couple’s bedchamber and the bed. There then followed an often rowdy and sometimes public bedding of the bride and groom.
All very straight forward except it wasn’t! Leyser goes on to reveal that during the Middle Ages couples got married all over the place – from trees to inns. This of course was because there were two kinds of marriage as anyone familiar with the convoluted story of Edward IV’s love life must be aware. If Edward IV, who married Elizabeth Woodville in secret, had previously been betrothed to Eleanor Butler then he was as good as married which made his union with Elizabeth bigamous. The promise of marriage followed by intercourse was marriage and recognized as such by the Church. So despite the fact that secret marriages were prohibited, the Church recognised that people could and did get married without the consent of either the Church, their parents or their overlords. Law required the irregular or clandestine marriage to be regularised before any children could inherit but the marriage was legally binding even if there were no witnesses, no banns and none of the above negotiations. No priest was required for an irregular marriage either. This makes either proving or disproving such a union rather difficult.
Unsurprisingly there are plenty of accounts in the ecclesiastical courts of couples who’d married clandestinely and which were followed up by objections. And so far as consanguinity was concerned anyone with an interest in English History knows where that got Henry VIII but realistically it was possible to extract yourself from an unsatisfactory marriage if some previously unknown impediment should be discovered and that’s before we even get on to the topic of people being pre-contracted in marriage and then going off and marrying someone else.
All of this seems to be rather complicated and in an age where the wealthy often married without love it comes as a bit of a surprise to discover that a marriage could be dissolved if it was proved to have occurred under duress. Marriage by abduction did occur. The reason why there may have been very few annulments for this reason was that once the marriage was consummated or the couple had lived together the grounds for duress was deemed to have fallen by the wayside. Nor was cruelty a grounds for divorce though occasionally the courts threatened errant husbands with a whipping if they didn’t step up to the mark.
Of course sometimes people did marry for love – Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville spring to mind as do Margery Paston and the family bailiff Richard Calle. Katherine of Valois married Owen Tudor in secret rather than face life without a spouse and unable to marry to her own status in society until her son came of age. More surprisingly Edward I’s daughter Joan of Acre married Ralph de Monthermer a squire from her household in secret. Her father was not amused when he found out.
The image at the start of the post is to be found in Reading Museum. It is an interpretation by Horace Wright completed in 1914 of the marriage between John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster which took place in Reading Abbey on 13 May 1359. The happy couple were third cousins so a papal dispensation was required. Their shared heritage was their descent from King Henry III.
Dixon-Smith, Sally. Love and Marriage in Medieval England in History Extra 11 February 2016 http://www.historyextra.com/article/feature/love-and-marriage-medieval-england-customs-vows-ceremony
Leyser, Henrietta. (1997) Social History of Women in England 450-1500 London: PheonIx
Princess Elizabeth was born on 28 December 1635. She was the second daughter of King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria. The princess, a sickly child, died in her fifteenth year after being caught in a shower on the bowling green at Carisbrooke Castle. Her sad end completed the turmoil of her life. She was a prisoner of Parliament, albeit a well cared for one, from the age of six along with her brother Prince Henry – Duke of Gloucester until her death.
Parliament ensured the children were educated as befitted their rank and Elizabeth demonstrated a flair for languages and religion while she was separated from her family. Numerous academics took to dedicating books to the princess and there are accounts of her growing beauty. In addition, she was known within her family for her tolerance and kindness. This fairy tale princess didn’t see her father from 1642 until 1647. Elizabeth and two of her brothers spent two days with the king but then he fled to the Isle of Wight. This ultimately led to his trial and execution. Henry and Elizabeth were permitted to see their father for one last time without hope of any happy ever afters. Elizabeth, aged thirteen wrote an account of the meeting that ought to move the hardest of hard-hearted Parliamentarians which was found with her possessions after her death. “He told me he was glad I was come, and although he had not time to say much, yet somewhat he had to say to me which he had not to another, or leave in writing, because he feared their cruelty was such as that they would not have permitted him to write to me.” The king had to ask whether Elizabeth would be able to remember everything he said to her because she was crying so hard but she assured her father she would remember everything – clearly she wrote it all down in order to help keep her promise to her father. It is from this source we see that Charles was aware of the role that some Parliamentarians might have had in mind for his captive son. “Heed, my child, what I say: they will cut off my head and perhaps make thee a king. But mark what I say. Thou must not be a king as long as thy brothers Charles and James do live; for they will cut off your brothers’ heads when they can catch them, and cut off thy head too at the last, and therefore I charge you, do not be made a king by them.’ At which my brother sighed deeply, and made answer: ‘I will be torn in pieces first!’ And these words, coming so unexpectedly from so young a child, rejoiced my father exceedingly.”
Prince Charles, the penniless eldest son of King Charles I who’d sought refuge n the Low Countries was now a penniless king in the Low Countries but Parliament could not rest easy especially when the aforementioned king arrived in Scotland in 1650 and got himself crowned King of Scotland. Elizabeth was now an important pawn in a desperate political game. She was moved from the English mainland to Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight where her father had been imprisoned and where he’d failed to escape not once but twice. The Princess was not well when Parliament ordered this move but Parliament did not heed her pleas to be left alone. According to legend she was caught in a shower on the bowling green and this led to a chill which in turn led to pneumonia but it is possible that she was already ailing.
Romantic accounts say that Elizabeth was discovered with her head resting on a Bible which her father had given her during their last meeting. It was this story that the Victorian artist Cope recorded in his picture “The Royal Prisoners.” The picture in this blog was accessed from http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/the-royal-prisoners-16672 (14th July 2015 at 20:01). In the image Prince Henry and a guard discover the dead princess with her head on the open Bible and a miniature of her father in her hands. Her learning is signified by the books around her and her love of music in the lute that is also pictured. The open bird-cage is symbolic of the flight of Elizabeth’s soul. Henry’s hands are clutched in those of the guard who has dropped his still smouldering pipe. Parliament quickly buried the princess in the parish church of Newport in a largely unmarked grave. She was rediscovered in 1793 during building works and was reburied with a plaque to mark her resting place. Prince Henry was finally released into the care of his family in 1652.
That might have been the end of it but in the next century Queen Victoria was horrified to discover that her distant relation had not received a burial befitting to a princess. The princess was disinterred from her resting place in St Thomas’s Church and a suitable monument erected. Whilst building work was being completed the mortal remains of the princess were kept in a locked shed. A local Doctor- Ernest Wilkins- decided that the skeleton should be examined in the interests of science. He deduced that the princess suffered from rickets and having made his research departed from the shed with a rib and some of the princess’ hair which shortly, to the horror of the citizens of Newport, found themselves on public display in a curio shop owned by a certain Mr. Ledicot according to the June edition of The Isle of Wight Life.
Ledicot refused to remove them from public display despite a deputation asking him to think of propriety. He changed his mind rather rapidly when he received a visit from a distinctly unamused Queen Victoria and Princess Beatrice who took the grisly artefacts no doubt amid much bowing and scraping. The rib was returned to Elizabeth’s grave but Victoria kept Elizabeth’s faded locks of hair, which can be seen in the Carisbrook Castle museum.