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Jacquetta and Richard Woodville – Lancastrians.

Jacquetta of Luxembourg.jpgElizabeth Woodville was the oldest of fifteen children of whom thirteen survived to adulthood. Their father was Richard Woodville of Grafton in Northamptonshire.  The Woodvilles were gentry rather than aristocracy and served the house of Lancaster.  Richard Woodville and his father both served in the duke of Bedford’s household.

It was there that Richard met Elizabeth’s mother – Jacquetta of Luxembourg.  Her father was the Count of St Pol and the family were not only aristocratic but had been around long enough to claim to be descended from Melusine a serpent/witch.  A glance at the family tree reveals that the bloodlines of King John and King Henry III of England were in her ancestry. Jacquetta was the young bride of the duke of Bedford and as with is first marriage to Anne of Burgundy, Bedford’s marriage was a matter of international diplomacy.  When Bedford died in 1435 the pair had been married for two years.

Jacquetta was descended from an ancient line and the aunt of Henry VI by marriage.  She should not have remarried without royal permission and she certainly shouldn’t have married a household knight but that is exactly what the young widow did.

There was a price to be paid for the pair’s love match.  The fine was £1000.  The cash was provided by Cardinal Beaufort but it was not a generous gift.  Jacquetta had to part with lucrative dower lands- she had inherited one third of Bedford’s estates. More of the lands were confiscated by the Crown. The Woodvilles were noted afterwards for their swiftly growing family and for Richard Woodville’s links with the House of Lancaster – in particular the Beauforts.  Richard served in France under the dukes of Somerset in a variety of capacities.

It was not England’s finest hour so far as the Hundred Years War were concerned. It was a sensible decision to sue for peace.  In 1445 Henry VI married Margaret of Anjou.  It was not a decision that met with popular acclaim.  The bride came with no dowry and the English had to part with Anjou and Maine. Margaret, along with her personal symbol of the daisy, was met with hostility.  William de la Pole who had orchestrated the truce and the marriage was reviled.  Yet, a new faction formed in English politics.  De la Pole and the young french bride bonded on their journey to England,  Margaret was only sixteen and she must have welcomed  Jacquetta Woodville who joined the bridal party as a friendly face.  Margaret and Jacquetta became friends.  Margaret swiftly learned the ropes of English politics and set about neutralising the duke of York who she regarded as a threat.

Jacquetta’s position in society was an ambiguous one.  She might have been descended from royalty and as the dowager duchess of Bedfordshire she might have had no superior other than the new queen but she had relinquished that particular position by marrying down – a woman’s rank came from her father and when she married from her husband. This was complicated by the fact that having been married to a duke she kept the title duchess. It was perhaps in part to relieve this anomaly that plain Sir Richard became Baron Rivers in 1448.  The Woodvilles were on the rise at a time when English society and politics was undergoing a bit of a shakedown.

In 1447 Good Duke Humphrey, Henry VI’s remaining uncle found himself being toppled form power when his wife Eleanor Cobham was hauled before the courts on charges of witchcraft and plotting against the king’s life.  He died soon afterwards followed by Cardinal Beaufort the king’s great uncle.  William de la Pole appeared to be in the ascendant.  The king’s cousin, Richard of York, had been sidelined by a posting to Ireland.  The Peace Party, the duke of Suffolk and the Woodvilles were doing very nicely thank you. When Elizabeth Woodville was old enough she came to court as one of Margaret of Anjou’s maid’s of honour.

Elizabeth Woodville was from a gentry family – that was her father’s rank irrespective of who her mother might have been before she married.  Her marriage to Sir John Grey, heir of Edward Grey of Groby was a good match.  Thomas Grey, Elizabeth’s first child, had arrived within two years of the first battle of St Albans. Unsurprisingly the Greys were a Lancastrian family in terms of their politics.

Fortune’s Wheel was about to make a turn.  The war in France continued to go badly. Parliament was called – the duke of Suffolk was blamed for the military disasters and banished.  He was murdered en route to his banishment.  His death was one of the triggers to Cade’s Rebellion of 1450.

Meanwhile the Woodville’s continued to rise – Richard became a member of the Order of the Garter as well as a privy councillor. He became Lieutenant of Calais. He was still in Calais in May 1455 when the red rose and the white rose took to the field against one another.  Woodville’s “sponsor”, Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset was killed – Richard Neville took charge of Calais and Richard Woodville returned home.

elizabeth woodvilleIn 1461 Elizabeth Woodville’s husband was killed at the second battle of St Albans fighting on the Lancastrian side – the wrong side as it happened.  Elizabeth was left  widowed with two young sons and at loggerheads with her husband’s family over her dower. She had no alternative other than to petition the Yorkist king Edward IV – the result would see the Woodville’s turn from Lancastrians into Yorkists.

 

 

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John of Lancaster, First Duke of Bedford

john of lancasterJohn of Lancaster,the man with the pudding basin haircut and rather sumptuous gown on his knees in prayer, was the third surviving son of King Henry IV and his first wife Mary Bohun. He was born in 1389.  His mother died when he was just five.

He is better known in history as the First Duke of Bedford. And he is famous, or perhaps infamous, for having Joan of Arc burnt at the stake for witchcraft.  As a mere girl she shouldn’t have been wearing trousers and she certainly shouldn’t have been leading French armies that thrashed English armies.

John’s eldest brother was Henry of Monmouth who went on to become King Henry V after a dissolute youth causing his father Henry IV despair (refer to Shakespeare Henry IV Part One and Part Two for a full litany of drinking, gambling and womanising along with princely reformation).  In any event Henry of Monmouth shook boorish habits from him as soon as he became king and went off to do what medieval English nobility expected of their monarchs – he went to war with someone, gained victory and land.

Henry IV’s second son was called Thomas but he was killed in 1421 at the Battle of Bauge in France. John was the third son and he was followed by Humphrey.  Much of the period of Henry VI’s minority is filled with the political machinations of John and Humphrey who was created Duke of Gloucester and Earl of Pembroke. Each of the brothers wanted more power than the other. Henry V had relied upon John when he was away fighting to rule in his absence.  He took the reigns of power for his brother three times in total.  However it fell to John to continue the English campaign in France despite the fact that he had been named Regent.  This left Humphrey at home.  He became the Lord Protector during John’s long absences in France.

Not that this stopped Humphrey from dabbling in politics in an attempt to destabilize John’s alliances with other European magnates. There was also the small matter of Humphrey antagonizing the next most important man in the kingdom during Henry VI’s minority – Henry Beaufort who was the Bishop of Lincoln, a key figure on the regency council and the half-uncle of Henry IV’s children. (Henry IV’s parents were John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster while Henry Beaufort’s parents were John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford).

 

John’s time in France had been successful – the French might not have been his greatest admirers given his severe administration techniques- until about 1427 at which point a quiet country girl with a dodgy hair cut, a large sword and angels telling her what to do rather rained on his parade. Her name was Joan of Arc.  He was forced to raise the siege of Orleans in 1429 on account of the peasant girl. Joan’s army took the Loire Valley and defeated the English after which she had King Charles VII of France crowned at Rheims which was against the treaty that the French had agreed to after Agincourt which saw King Henry V marry Katherine of Valois.  The French felt there was a world of difference between a mature victorious king and a baby boy – they perhaps had a point given the chaos that often resulted in England when a child was on the throne.

In any event it didn’t do Joan much good.  She was burned for witchcraft in 1431 – the French king who owed her his crown didn’t lift a finger to help her.  John had his young nephew crowned King of France in Paris so that for a little while at least there were technically two kings of France at the same time, though it rather depended where you were as to which one you recognised in public.

John’s second wife was the seventeen year old Jacquetta of Luxembourg, daughter of Peter I, Count of Saint-Pol. She caused a scandal after John’s death by marrying a mere knight called Richard Woodville.  She went on to have sixteen children and the knight became the first Earl Rivers  for his services to Henry VI and his queen Margaret of Anjou.  So when the Yorkists looked down their nose at Elizabeth Woodville, Jacquetta’s daughter and King Edward IV’s wife, they were forgetting that she was the grand-daughter of a Count and that her mother had once been at the heart of the royal court – albeit a Lancastrian one.

John, as well as being a soldier and a politician, was also a scholar. He founded the University of Caen and had a collection of important religious manuscripts, many of which survive today including The Bedford Hours which is held by the British Library. John’s first wife Anne of Burgundy gave the book to young Henry VI for Christmas in 1430 (I wonder how the grandchildren would react to a beautifully hand painted devotional text rather than the usual jigsaws, board games and selected Disney dvds).

John’s died at Rouen in 1435 during negations with the Burgundians who were breaking their alliance with the English to make a separate peace with the French.  His demise further weakened the stability of the English court where opposing and increasingly vociferous factions now had no one sufficiently intimidating to hold them in check.  The Plantagenet family were moving ever closer to implosion.

 

 

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