Wednesday, 31 July 2013

A queen remembers her lost love

A moving photo from today's service to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of King Baudouin of the Belgians.  His widow, Fabiola, now in her eighties was wheeled past a large photo of the king showing him as a much younger man.  And in that little smile that is starting to show on her lips, there is a glimpse of the memories, of the love and the long life shared in special circumstances.  Queens lose their loves as well and while a nation remembered a figurehead, just for a moment a wife remembered a husband.

 
A smile that crosses years - Fabiola remembers her husband, Baudouin, on the 20th anniversary of his death

A new princess challenges for headlines

The latest installment of Philippa Gregory's books on the women of the Wars of the Roses is out today.  It focuses on Elizabeth of York - the girl who could have been Queen Regnant of England but who let her own claim to the throne go to become Queen Consort.  But in so doing she seemingly wrote herself out of history.  She may have been the wife of Henry VII and the mother of Henry VIII but she very little is known about her.


Elizabeth of York was queen of England not that you'd know it without a good search - she was all but erased from history and a lot of the whitewashing came from her own family

The Tudors basically erased her from history.  They could do PR better than anyone and for some reason, Elizabeth didn't make the grade. She comes down to us from them as a pretty face, a perfect mother, a much loved wife but not much more.  There's little flesh on these historical bones and hardly anything to tell us what kind of person she was.  For the Tudors, her role was to provide the heirs who would take the dynasty into a new era.  And job done, she disappears.

 
The famous portrait by Remegius that shows the founders of the Tudor line.  Commissioned in his lifetime by Henry VIII, it represents the four pillars of what he hoped would be a dynasty.  Elizabeth of York is back right behind Jane Seymour while Henry VII stands behind his son, Henry VIII

But why?  Who was Elizabeth and what was it about her that made her fade from the scene faster than the white rose petals of her father's house?

1.  She was an unambitious woman thrust into the limelight against her will

Given her parentage, her grandparentage and the behavior of her children, it's hard to believe that this woman born to a king and queen of England had no drive at all.  Her dad was Edward IV, a man so ambitious he led armies, had his own brother executed and is rumoured to have smothered a king to death.  Then there was mum.  Elizabeth Woodville went from widowed commoner to queen of England in less than six months and she grabbed a host of wealthy husbands and wives for her siblings into the bargain. 


Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville - they liked power and they made sure they had it

On her father's side she was descended from Richard, Duke of York who fought tooth and nail for the crown of England and almost won it and Cecily Neville who was known for her pride, her temper and her determination.  Cecily was descended from John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford - he was the founder of the Lancastrian line of kings while she was a mistress who landed her man in the end and had her children legitimized in the process. 

On her mother's side there was Jacquetta of Luxembourg who landed a royal duke and then when she was widowed young and left wealthy in the process, married a commoner she fancied and held firm against her critics to get the rules around marriage changed.  And while that commoner, Sir Richard Woodville, gets less press you need a fair dose of ambition to risk everything by marrying against your king's wishes. 

So Elizabeth had ambition flowing through her veins on all sides.  And yet she shows none at all from 1485 onwards when her husband, Henry Tudor, wins the crown at the Battle of Bosworth.

2.  She was hiding the shame of her teenage years

Elizabeth of York was famous for one thing before she married Henry Tudor, by then King of England, in January 1486.  And that was being the centre of rumours that she was happy to marry his predecessor as king, Richard III.  Richard may have been her uncle and still married to Anne Neville when the gossip started but once it began, it took on a life of its own.


Anne Neville had to listen to gossip that her husband was planning to replace her with their niece as she became increasingly ill in the summer of 1484
 
In the summer of 1484 Elizabeth's brothers, Edward and Richard, had disappeared and uncle Richard had had them and all of the siblings declared illegitimate.  He was, according to himself and the laws he passed, the undoubted king of England.  And while his wife was queen, they had no heir and no chance of another as Queen Anne was ill and most likely dying.  And soon tongues were wagging that the uncle was paying a bit too much attention to his niece and that she didn't really mind at all.

There had always been rumours that Elizabeth's father was actually illegitimate.  While his father acknowledged him as his son, the whispers were that his mother had actually had an affair with an archer and Edward was the result.  Whether that influenced Elizabeth and made her think a marriage to Richard was a possibility isn't clear.  But the king was forced to issue strong denials that he had any plans to wed Elizabeth.  And when Anne died he opened very loud marriage negotiations for the hand of a Portuguese princess.

 
Did Richard III really make advances towards his niece?

So did Elizabeth keep a low profile to keep from gossips resurrecting what was an embarrassing teenage incident by all accounts? 

3.  She preferred to rule through her husband

She'd seen her mother do it and maybe getting Henry to do what she wanted while playing the loving wife was the easiest and best way to power.

Elizabeth Woodville may have been queen consort but there were enough people who believed she was in charge of her husband and his policies to make her dangerous enemies.  In fact, men waged war over her influence.  The Earl of Warwick switched back to Lancaster in part to counter Elizabeth and her family while Richard III cited the power of the Woodvilles as his reason for taking his nephew, Edward V, into custody soon after he succeeded Edward IV.

 
Paul Delaroche's famous painting of the Princes in the Tower.  Richard III took them into custody to stop the influence of their mother's family, the Woodvilles

Elizabeth of York's pattern of marriage was a strong woman influencing a strong man.  Perhaps Henry and Elizabeth had just learned from the past.  They may have helped each other far more than we know but for PR reasons, made it look as if Henry wore the trousers.

4.  She was overpowered by the King's Mother, Margaret Beaufort

Margaret had been waiting years for a taste of the top job and the idea that she would give way to anyone, let alone the daughter of Elizabeth Woodville, is not really viable.  She had worked hard to counter the remaining Yorkist threat by negotiating the marriage between Henry and Elizabeth and once the ring was on the York princess' finger, there was no way Margaret was letting her have a sniff of power. 


Margaret Beaufort was never Queen of England but she made her son the country's king and exercised considerable power as the monarch's mother
 
Margaret refused to walk too far behind the new queen and took to signing her name Margaret R. which could quite easily have represented 'Regina' or queen.  And she was given power by her son which only increased as his reign went on.

As mothers in law go, Margaret was hard going.  Maybe Elizabeth just wanted an easy life.

5.  She was the victim of a PR campaign by her son and grandchildren

Henry VII needed to rule in his own right.  He had won the Battle of Bosworth but while he was Lancastrian claimant to the throne, Elizabeth of York had just as good a claim - if not better.  Her son, Henry VIII, believed in men ruling and he needed to be seen to take his power from his father.  Any question that the Tudors were kings of England because they had inherited a crown through Elizabeth didn't suit the story.  And when Henry's strong willed daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, did become queen regnants they, too, kept the line that their line came from Henry VII alive.


Elizabeth I was named after her grandmother, Elizabeth of York.  Could a woman as seemingly unambitious as the queen consort produce a descendant with so much fire in her belly?
 
And that brings us back to ambition.  Elizabeth was the descendant of determined people and her own descendants showed ambition that remains unrivalled in royal history.  So why this one woman in the middle was so demure is a mystery that perhaps will never be solved.

The White Princess by Philippa Gregory is published on August 1st 2013 in the United Kingdom.  More on Philippa Gregory's website.

Belgian King and Queen's first duties

One of the first duties the new Belgian King and Queen have performed is to remember a predecessor.  Today is the 20th anniversary of the death of King Baudouin and at the memorial service, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde led the royal family publicly for the first time since the swearing in of July 21st 2013 that made them monarchs.


Queen Mathilde and King Philippe of the
 
Belgians lead the royal family in the memorial to King Baudouin held in Brussels today on the 20th anniversary of his death
 
Next to the new king was the Queen Dowager, Fabiola, who was married to Baudouin for 33 years.  Albert II and Queen Paola were there too but for the first time since his brother's death in July 1993, Albert was able to attend first and foremost as a sibling rather than as a head of state leading official tributes. 
 

 
King Albert II pays tribute to his brother, Baudouin, flanked by Queen Paola and Dowager Queen Fabiola

Confused by The White Queen

I've watched episode seven of The White Queen twice now and I still don't get it.  Not the history.  That was well done and managed to pare the details down to make them understandable without losing too much of what really happened.  The bit I don't get is why we are expected to believe anything about Elizabeth Woodville in this interpretation of her story.  The Philippa Gregory novels on which this TV spectacular are based are far more mysterious and interesting when it comes to bringing this queen consort to life.  In this series, the first commoner to wear the crown of England is nothing more than a beautiful bystander to the Wars of the Roses rather than one of its causes.  And that leaves massive holes in the story that can't be filled by longing looks alone.

 
The White Queen - yes, she was lovely to look at but as well as beauty beyond compare her ambition was pretty unmatchable as well
 
This week we reached the soap opera part of Edward IV's reign with more family intrigue than a Christmas episode in Weatherfield and Walford combined.  The king was secure enough from the threat of Lancaster but found plenty of things to worry about closer to home.  Not least the rather false looking stomach that he'd been provided with to show he was getting older and unhealthier.  Edward IV was handsome, dashing and gorgeous.  But the years of excess he indulged in after finally defeating Lancaster in 1471 quickly took their toll.  Max Irons had the body of an am dram Henry VIII but the face of, well, Max Irons.  Still young and beautiful, it's hard to believe he's aged a day let alone a decade since the story started.
 
 
Being king is a walk in the park for this Edward IV - not so much as a grey hair or little wrinkle
 
While he caroused with mistress, Jane Shore, Elizabeth delivered another son who was apparently saved by Margaret Beaufort.  The bond between the two women seemingly strengthened and within minutes Maggie was off spying for the queen at court, listening in magnificent style to every conversation being whispered in corners.
 
 
Margaret Beaufort (Amanda Hale) found a new role this week - curtain twitcher
 
The Neville sisters fluttered around the edges, giving voice to the fears that Elizabeth was ruling the king and thus his kingdom through both fair means and foul.  But while we've lived every moment of the White Queen giving birth, Anne and Isabel dropped three sprogs between them without batting an eyelid.  Suddenly, baby Margaret was being bounced around by Isabel and husband George while Anne was telling Richard that their son, Edward, was still small but would grow.  The arrival of heirs to the brothers of Edward IV was one of the reasons the bond between them began to fragment as each could offer a son to take the crown in the future.  And yet, Edward of Middleham and Edward, last of the Plantagent men, were confined to bit parts in this telling of the saga.
 
 
Isabel and Anne Neville with mum in happier times
 
But the real star of this week's show was George, Duke of Clarence.  Having not spoken for at least four episodes suddenly David Oakes came into his own.  George's treachery and the decision of the king to execute his brother is one of the most spine tingling, sensational and strange chapters of English history.  Hats off to the script writers for making it understandable in one hour long episode but it's a shame that we haven't seen more of the double dealing all the way through.  We had him siding with Warwick in the 1470 battle of the red and white but that was all very short and neat and with little inkling of the anger and fraying of fraternal relations that this entailed. 
 
 
George, Duke of Clarence let brotherly rivalry get the better of him in this week's episode
 
George made it clear he wanted a crown for real and nothing was going to stop him. First he tried to be regent of France then when Edward decided not to wage war, he cosied up to King Louis in a strange scene involving lots of floating material and not much dialogue.  France gone, only England remained and George crashed through several crazy attempts to change the head wearing the crown.  He accused the queen of being a witch then hired a sorcerer to bring about the death of the king.  Meanwhile, he'd convinced his pregnant wife they were in danger of being poisoned by Elizabeth.  Off they went to Warwick Castle where she promptly died leaving him to accuse the queen of killing her.  And when Edward refused him a foreign royal bride off he went to Louis again - fortunately this time we were spared the floaty curtains and menacing looks.  
 
  
Isabel Neville's death led to George putting about more rumours about the queen
 
He finally lost his marbles, and any hope of making it through to episode eight, when he gatecrashed Edward's celebrations to mark 15 years as king.  The effect of a masked ball with no one sure who hid behind the rather scary animal heads being donned all round added real drama to the episode as did the silence of the trial scenes and the begging by Duchess Cecily that one of her sons would spare the life of another.  Caroline Goodall's magnificent begging was all in vain and the drowning of the duke was played out in gruesome colour, ending the reign of the three sons of York.
 
 

 
Drowned in a butt of malmsey wine - Edward IV allowed his brother one tiny piece of clemency and that was to choose the method of execution
 
It was a shame that time meant we couldn't get into some of the more intriguing subplots  In the run up to his last act of treachery, George became convinced Isabel had been murdered and held a show trial of a woman he accused of poisoning her.  That was lost, as was Anthony Woodville who is meant to be Elizabeth's closest relative and confidante as well as adviser to the king.  This week he went on pilgrimage, just like that, and returned at the end for a chat in the garden.  His integral role in the hatred directed towards the Woodvilles when they were at the height of their power hasn't even been mentioned.  Instead he makes just like his screen sister and wanders around looking blonde and beautiful but with little substance.
 
 
Anthony and Elizabeth Woodville - making pale very uninteresting
 
And all the time, in the background, are Margaret Beaufort and husband number three, Lord Stanley.  They lurk in the shadows, whisper in the silences and hold gallons of venom and determination hidden behind poker faces.  Amanda Hale and Rupert Graves are magnificent as the ultimate power couple on the make.  They shifted sullenly through the intrigue and drama this week, shaping events to their own ends without anyone noticing.  And their exchange at the beginning of the episode when husband begged wife to play her part properly was a married couple brought to life to perfection. 
 
 
Lord and Lady Stanley may be about to emerge from the shadows as The White Queen heads towards its conclusion
 
Not wanting to spoil the ending, but thank goodness they'll be around to the end of the series.  Unlike Edward - I fear Max Irons may be bowing out next week as the story gallops to its conclusion.  His one consolation is that his character will be the only forty year old with wrecked health who still looks nineteen.
 
 
 
Maybe he moisturizes.  Max Irons as Edward IV, still impossibly young and handsome after two decades of war and retribution not to mention the wine, women and song.
 
 
The White Queen is on BBC One on Sundays at 9pm.  All photos from the BBC.


Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The prince who used to be third in line to the British throne

The latest addition to the British Royal Family was never going to be called Alfie.  It's one of the most used boys' names in the UK at the moment and with Alfie Moon on TV four times a week in EastEnders it was just too in use to make it into the exclusive club of future kings' names. 


It was never going to be all about Alfie..the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge present
HRH Prince George to the world on July 23rd 2013
(photo Christopher Neve)
 
But today marks the anniversary of the death of a Prince Alfie who, for almost twenty years, was number two in line to the British throne.  Alfred Ernest Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was Queen Victoria's second son and for the best part of two decades he played the part of spare to the future Edward VII's heir.  The arrival of Edward and Alexandra's first son in 1864 sent him tumbling down the pecking order to number three but to make up for it, he succeeded his uncle as Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha as his own big brother had renounced any claim to that title to concentrate on being Prince of Wales.

 
He might look just like Edward VII but unlike the king, Prince Alfred wasn't born to rule
 
But life on the slide was far from dull for Alfie.  He was the first member of the British royal family to visit Australia - late in his teenage years he joined the Navy and landed there on service although the trip was made into a state event. But the welcome was far from warm as he was shot in a failed assassination attempt.  Nursed back to health he went on to become the first British royal to go to Japan. 
 
His marriage provided a fantastic opportunity for lacy fans and long gloves at dawn for two royal consorts.  Alfie married the only daughter of Tsar Alexander II of Russia.  The Grand Duchess Maria became Duchess of Edinburgh on their wedding day in 1874 but she had no intention of playing second fiddle to the second lady of Victoria's court.  Alexandra of Denmark was the second most important woman but Maria lobbied the queen to take precedence arguing that the Russian royals outranked the Danish first family.  Victoria was not amused by the request and turned it down.
 
 
Maria, Duchess of Edinburgh wasn't so coy at court after her marriage, demanding to be given a higher ranking than the Princess of Wales
 

Alfie became Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1893 but enjoyed his new position for just seven years - he died of throat cancer on July 30th 1900.  His only son had died the year before him so his German title passed away from his line while the title of Duke of Edinburgh returned to the Crown to be revived in 1947 for Prince Philip on his marriage to the then Princess Elizabeth. 
 
Alfie - actually known as Affie by his family - is now largely forgotten by history, a fate that won't await his distant relative Prince George of Cambridge who may be third right now but who is guaranteed the top job in the years to come.


A future queen consort pays her respects

The official funeral service for the 79 people killed in the train crash at Santiago de Compostela has taken place.  The Prince and Princess of Asturias and the Infanta Elena, Duchess of Lugo attended the service and offered their condolences to those who lost loved ones afterwards.

 
The heir to the throne of Spain, Felipe, leads mourners at the official funeral service for those who died in the Santiago train crash.  He was accompanied by his wife, Letizia, and his sister, Elena.
(photo Casa S.M. el Rey/ Borja)
 
The sad duty of the future king and queen was shared by Elena - like Santiago, Lugo is in Galicia and the infanta has a long relationship with the area.
 
 
The official funeral service was held at the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela
(photo Casa S.M. el Rey/ Borja)


Paying to keep queens' memory alive

The Heritage Lottery Fund is giving £47 million to six historical tourism sites in England and Wales to help improve facilities and draw in more visitors.

 
Winchester Cathedral has been the setting for just one monarchical marriage.  It will now get over 10 million pounds of Lottery funding to bring in more tourists.
(photo Magnus Manske)

Included on the list is the cathedral at that former royal seat of just about everything, Winchester.  It might be a nice stop on a historical tour of England now but in the Middle Ages it was a regular haunt of kings, queen, princes and wannabes.  It was the birthplace of Henry III and the spot where three royals who should have ruled but didn't entered the world.  The heirs of Henry I and Henry VII were born there but both William Adelin and Arthur, Prince of Wales died before they could become king.  And it was also, reputedly, the birthplace of the first woman who could and should have ruled England in her own right.  Henry I's daughter, Matilda, was delivered there around 1102.

 
Matilda, born a daughter of the King of England and made an Empress by her first marriage.  She tried to rule England in her own right after the death of her father, Henry I, but was defeated by her cousin, Stephen, and had to settle for her son inheriting the crown as Henry II.
 
But only one queen consort can claim a bona fide link to Winchester Cathedral itself.  In 1403 the 33 year old Joanna of Navarre married Henry IV in the church, becoming his second wife and first consort.  The couple had met when Henry stayed at the Breton court in 1398 while preparing to snatch the crown of England from his cousin, Richard II.  He was a widower, having lost his first wife in 1394.  Joanna was still married to John V, Duke of Brittany - they had wed in 1386 and she had enjoyed considerable power as his consort.

 
Joanna of Navarre was married to her king at Winchester Cathedral
 
The year 1399 was a big one for Henry and Joanna and led to them becoming king and queen of England.
 
 
Henry IV and Joanna of Navarre found love later in life - but romance was just one reason why they wed at Winchester Cathedral in 1403
 
He led a successful campaign to become English king, deposing Richard II who was taken into captivity and died in mysterious circumstances the following year.  Henry was an autumn king in many ways - he took the throne in September when the sun's strength was beginning to fade and the harvest was all but gathered in.  And although just 32 when he succeeded to the crown, he was in the last third of his life and already had a large family and years of experience in politics and warfare by the time he took the top job. 
 
 
Henry IV looks this grumpy in most of the images of him made in his lifetime.  This later engraving keeps the stern look but adds a red rose of Lancaster - Henry was the first Lancastrian King and the first monarch of the two houses that would fight the War of the Roses
 
A few months after Henry became king, Joanna became a widow.  Her husband died in December 1399 leaving a ten year old son as the new duke.  Joanna ruled as regent for four years but left her teenage boy, John VI of Brittany, to rule by himself when she made the journey to Winchester Cathedral to become a queen. Brittany was relatively stable at the time, thanks to the work of her first husband and the younger John was able to establish himself fairly quickly as a solid ruler.  So mum went off for a bit of romance of her own - and a chance to be a queen.
 
 
Joanna of Navarre went from Duchess to Regent to Queen in the space of four years
 
 
The marriage between the belligerent widower and the ambitious widow was a great success.  Joanna enjoyed semi-friendships with Henry's children from his first marriage.  The gruff king got a bit of sparkle added to his kingship - Henry IV was a great administrator but spent much of his reign tackling rebellions and sorting out would be kings who had seen him depose a monarch and fancied a bit of similar action themselves.  He had none of the charm or PR savvy of his son and heir, the future Henry V, and was dull and miserable in comparison.  Joanna brought the gloss and glamour of a queen consort to his rule and in the bargain, got a fair dose of political power herself.
 
 
Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster claims the throne in 1399.  But he'd set a trend and the conquering king found himself the subject of several uprisings and power grabs himself
 
But while she enjoyed influence as a queen consort, she ended up in prison as a queen dowager.  Henry IV had relied on his son's military prowess to help keep hold of his throne during some of the biggest rebellions of his rule.  But while Henry IV liked doing the accounts and making sure the paperwork was in check, the future Henry V liked a bit of oiling the wheels, winning friends and influencing people.  The older Henry also suffered periods of bad health and this, combined with a PR campaign of epic proportions by the heir, led to the young prince holding much political power by 1410.  The old king was back in charge within a year - but dead within three, leaving Henry V with no contest to his way of doing things.
 
 
Henry V, King of England from 1413 to 1422.  Was he the hero of Shakespearean legend or a bit of a sneak who would stop at nothing to get his own way?
 
 
And one of those ways was making sure he had enough cash and paying for a dowager queen was a costly experience.  It's one of the main reasons suggested when historians question why the young, heroic Henry charged his stepmother with witchcraft in 1419 and had her imprisoned at Pevensey Castle.  She stayed there for four years but it wasn't Henry who released her.  By the time she was allowed her freedom, he was dead and his nine month old son ruled England and France.  As her adopted country headed for civil war, Joanna lived quietly at Nottingam Castle and moved around other lands belonging to her as queen dowager.  She died in 1438 in Essex and was buried in Canterbury Cathedral.
 
Whether either of those locations end up asking for lottery money to promote their links with a queen of England remains to be seen.  But the 10.5 million pounds heading to Joanna's marriage place of Winchester Cathedral should help maintain that part of her story for years to come.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Heartbreaking duty for a future queen consort

Letizia, Princess of Asturias has many detractors.  That may be one of the reasons that, according to the poll, she is the royal woman being given the toughest time by the press.  More on that later this week but today it didn't seem appropriate to discuss such things as this future queen takes on a sad and onerous task.

Later today, Letizia will accompany her husband, Felipe, and his sister, Elena, to the special service being held in honour of those killed in last week's train crash at Santiago de Compostela.  Seventy nine people lost their lives and the royal couple and the Duchess of Lugo will offer comfort to those left behind.

Royals continue to represent their country in many ways and this is one of the saddest. 

 
Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia on their visit to Santiago last week to meet those injured and those who helped when a train crashed near the station, killing 79 people and leaving many more injured

A fatal royal marriage

Many royal marriages have been described as tragic but not many end with both participants suffering violent deaths after plots and intrigue.  The wedding which took place almost 450 years ago today proved to be the most tragic decision that both bride and groom ever made.  But it did lead to the birth of the king who brought together the crowns of England and Scotland. 

 
Mary, Queen of Scots in a portrait held in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  Mary was a bride on this day in 1565 but her wedding had a very unhappy ending for both husband and queen.
 
Mary, Queen of Scots became a bride for the second time on July 29th 1565.  She was 22 years old and had already packed more into her short life and long reign than many of her contemporary monarchs.  The crown, or crowns, rested heavily on Mary's head from virtually the first moment of her life.  Queen of the Scots at the age of six days and queen consort of France at the age of sixteen when her first husband became Francis II on the unexpected death of his father, Mary in reality held little real political power at that stage of her life.  And she was double queen for only a year or so - Francis died in 1560 aged just sixteen himself.
 
 

Francis II, King of France 1559 - 1560, and his wife Mary - already Queen of Scots by the time she became French queen consort
 
Mary, as queen of her own country and dowager queen of another, was royal marriage dynamite.  If her collection of crowns wasn't enough, she also had a strong claim to the English throne through her descent from Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VII and his York bride, Elizabeth.  Another Elizabeth was queen of England now - but the Protestant Queen Regnant Elizabeth I faced challenges to her rule and some of her Catholic opponents chose Mary as their figurehead.  For Elizabeth, and for many in Europe, Mary's choice of husband was a dangerous game over which they had little control.
 
 
 
Margaret Tudor, Queen Consort of Scotland, was the eldest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and the grandmother of Mary, Queen of Scots
 
According to some historians, Elizabeth's great stroke of good fortune was that Mary herself had little control over who she would marry.  Her second wedding, 447 years ago today, was based on lust and passion and one observer noted that the queen appeared 'bewitched' by her potential king consort.  Mary was now back in Scotland and ruling with headstrong impetuosity.  That same tendency let her heart rule her head, the queen made Henry Darnley her second husband at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh - not even obtaining the necessary permission from the Pope to wed a cousin.  On her wedding day, Mary seemed a more powerful threat to Elizabeth than ever before - Henry was also descended from Margaret Tudor meaning any baby had a double Tudor claim to the English crown.  But Mary had married in haste and her lack of self control led to the beginning of the end of her reign.
 
 
 
Henry, Lord Darnley was briefly king consort of Scotland but was dead within months of the birth of his heir, the future James I of England and James VI of Scotland
 
Henry, by all accounts, was as hot headed and lacking in common sense as his new wife.  As the year drew to an end the king consort decided he liked his new life so much he wanted to guarantee it went on, even if his wife died, and he demanded to be made joint ruler.  Mary refused and Darnley began to plot to gain the throne.  The queen was by now pregnant but rumours about her child's paternity were commonplace with many indicating that her private secretary, David Rizzio, was the daddy rather than Darnley. In March 1566 David Rizzio was stabbed to death in front of the heavily pregnant queen.  Darnley, although involved with the plot, decided his wife was a better bet after all and switched his allegiances back to her.
 
 
The Murder of Rizzio by John Opie - Mary was held at gunpoint and forced to watch the man said to be her lover stabbed to death
 
But soon after the birth of their son, James, Mary was plotting herself and met with her lords to discuss how to handle Darnley.  Not long after this meeting, Darnley's house was hit by an explosion and he was found dead in the garden.  But he hadn't died in the blast.  It seemed that he had been suffocated or strangled and the man everyone pointed the finger at was Lord Bothwell, also rumoured to be a lover of the queen.
 
The young bridegroom of July 29th 1565 had been married to his queen for just over a year.  But before the second wedding anniversary, his wife had lost her throne.  Bothwell was tried and found not guilty of Darnley's murder in April 1567 and soon after abducted the queen.  Some claim her raped her, others that she promoted the idea of the attack to protect her honour.  In May 1567, 22 months after marrying Darnley, Mary wed Bothwell in Edinburgh.  It was too much for many of her lords and just two months after this third wedding in the 24 year old queen's life, she was forced to abdicate in favour of her year old son, James. 
 
 
James VI of Scotland became James 1 of England in 1603 when he succeeded his cousin, Elizabeth I, who nominated him as her heir.  This portrait is by Paul von Somer and shows the king in 1620, fifty years after the dramatic events that cost his mother her throne
 
 
From there she fled to England to ask her cousin, Elizabeth, for help.  Her long years of house arrest and her involvement in plots to gain the throne of England led to her execution in 1587.  Twenty two years after her impetuous marriage to a dangerous man, both participants were dead.
 
Without the royal marriage of July 29th 1565 the histories of both Scotland and England might have been very different.  Mary, Queen of Scots said that her heart was her own.  But sadly for her, it caused the end of her reign and cost two young people their lives.





Friday, 26 July 2013

A busy year for Queen Mathilde

After the hectic days of the abdication and accession at the weekend, it's no surprise that the new queen of the Belgians has taken her children on holiday.

King Philippe and Queen Mathilde posed for photographers at the beginning of a break on l'Ile d'Yeu off western France where they and the new royal family are taking a summer break.  The princes ran around the rocks, the girls ran along the sand and the whole family clustered together for a group shot at the end.


Blue is the colour - for the second time this week a high profile royal family choose blue for an appearance...the Cambridges on Tuesday and on Thursday, the new king and queen of the Belgians


But while the sun might be shining on their holidays now, in just a few weeks the work of being queen hits home for Mathilde.  The new monarchs will tour their country in September and October to introduce themselves all over again to their fellow Belgians, now they are King and Queen.  Their neighbours in the Netherlands did much the same thing followed up by a quick cuppa with most of the royal houses of Europe in a high powered, tiara sparkling round of tea and buns.


Duiven, 30 mei 2013: Koning Willem-Alexander en Koningin Máxima bezoeken de provincie Gelderland

King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima in Gelderland as part of their introductory tour as monarchs of the Netherlands


We don't yet know whether Philippe and his queen, Mathilde, will take their travels outside of Belgium as they introduce themselves as king and consort but there's no doubt that at the start of the traditional school year, both of them are getting back to class to learn the ropes as monarchs of their nation.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Queen Elizabeth and strange baby name choices

While most queen consorts have stuck to pretty traditional methods of picking their first son's name, two have gone completely off message.  One went against the grain quite possibly because of her hatred of one of her husband's former friends while the other went all strange and used a name from myth and legend in the hope of starting a new dynasty.  And both of these queens were called Elizabeth.  In fact, the third queen consort called Elizabeth caused a stir with her choice of name for her firstborn but she had a little girl, also called Elizabeth.  It wasn't particularly royal name at the time but the successful reign of that baby, now Elizabeth II, have changed all that.

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Queen Elizabeth II - her parents choice of name for her was considered by some to be rather daring

It's not really a surprise that the first to go against the grain was Elizabeth Woodville.  She'd started as she meant to go on by switching sides in the Wars of the Roses after seducing the younger Edward IV beneath an oak tree in Northamptonshire.  It took her six years to give her king his longed for heir and when she did, she named him after the king rather than his father as was traditional.

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Edward IV, one of the handful of kings in English history to have his son and heir named after him

There are several reasons why this baby became an Edward rather than a Richard.  Firstly, Elizabeth liked to be different and she liked things her way and by choosing to honour the baby's father rather than his dead grandfather, she was setting a new trend.  Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, Richard was also the name of the Earl of Warwick. And just months before her son was born he had switched his allegiance from Edward to the House of Lancaster once more.  On the day the future king arrived, November 2nd 1470, Elizabeth was in sanctuary in Westminster Abbey while Warwick held the ill and frightened Henry VI on the throne as his puppet king.  Edward IV was in exile, plotting his comeback but certain that if he set foot in England again and failed to topple Warwick, he would die.  To name a son Richard at that point was unthinkable.  Lastly, Elizabeth already had a son with that name.  Her youngest child with her first husband, Sir John Grey, was by then around 11 years old and hiding in the abbey with his mother.

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Elizabeth Woodville, queen consort of England, had two sons called Richard making calling them in for their dinner a bit tricky

But having one Richard in the family didn't stop Elizabeth using the name again three years later.  By the time she and Edward welcomed their second son together, the king was king once more and Warwick had been dead for two years.  The latest Richard in her family was made Duke of York but disappeared along with little Edward ten years later when another Richard, their uncle, was battling to grab the throne.

The other Elizabeth to go completely off message was the daughter of Edward IV and his Woodville wife.  She married Henry Tudor in 1486 and settled into being a quiet, background queen consort even though her claim to the throne was better than that of her husband.  Their first child was born later that year and named Arthur.  He is, so far, the only eldest son of a monarch to bear that name. 


Arthur, Prince of Wales and heir to Henry VII until his death in 1502

Henry and Elizabeth wanted to create a new Camelot and in the months before their child's birth had drawn up a family tree linking the Tudors to the court of King Arthur.  Their son's arrival marked, for them, the beginning of a new dynasty that would stretch far into the future.  But Arthur died, aged 15, in 1502 and never became king.  His widow did become queen consort - Catherine of Aragon married Arthur's brother when he became Henry VIII in 1509.  But the hoped for dynasty of course never arose and while three of Henry and Elizabeth's grandchildren ruled England, they left no heirs.  The throne went to the descendants of one of their daughters instead.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Royal baby is Prince George

George it is.  Future Queen Consort, Kate Middleton, has named her son George Alexander Louis.  The future king has a regal name - of course he doesn't have to use it to rule.  But it's a good, solid Windsor name.  The name of the founder of the house, the name of his son who took over from the king who abdicated and saved the monarchy in the process.  And the name of the dashing Duke of Kent who died a hero in World War Two. 


George VI, the last king to bear the name, became king at a crucial time for the English monarchy but left the throne secure.  His great, great grandson now shares his name.

Kate also becomes the first English queen consort to name her first born son George.  George VI's mother was born in Kensington Palace but he wasn't a first born and George wasn't his first name.  But the other first born Georges all had German mothers.  The name itself wasn't a royal name until the 18th century - used very briefly by the York dynasty in the late 15th century, it disappeared quickly then after George, Duke of Clarence betrayed his brother, Edward IV, once too often.


George, Duke of Clarence in The White Queen.  Not the most popular royal role model.

But six largely successful kings of that name have redeemed it.  Alexander has great royal pedigree in Scotland where three kings have had the name.  And Louis is a popular one with the current royal family, honouring Lord Mountbatten who was killed in 1979 and whose influence on new grandfather, Prince Charles, is well known.

In fact, Charles' influence can be seen in all the names chosen by Kate and William.  Charles idolised his own grandfather, George VI, and it's been widely reported he wants to reign as George VII when he becomes king.  Queen consorts of the past mostly gave their first born sons the name of their paternal grandfathers.  Kate may not have called her son Charles but if he is a King George then this little Prince of Cambridge may well be sharing a name with grandad - the name by which they choose to rule.


The royal baby's name is....

William and Kate no doubt have that rather hungover feeling that new parents get.  It's not too much champagne to wet the baby's head, it's not enough sleep. Even by day two the tiredness is so extreme that even if they have picked a name for the baby, summoning up enough brain power to remember it and say it out loud could be beyond them.  With everything focussed on looking after their new son, choosing how he will be called in the history books might be the furthest things from their minds.  But then past queen consorts could help them make the decision.
 
Most women who mothered kings kept to a pretty safe pattern.  They named their first born son after his paternal grandfather.  Matilda of Flanders got things going by giving number one son the same name as her husband's father.  Robert never became King of England but he did get granddaddy's Duchy of Normandy so life didn't turn out too bad.  Through the House of Norman to the House of Windsor, using the dad's dad's name is pretty much standard form.  And with Charlie a popular name in England at the moment already, a little bonny prince with that name might just tick all the boxes.

History is a sad affair and sometimes the first born didn't live long enough to be king.  In that case, second and third sons who became king brought mother's father's names into play or even just random choices.  But thankfully things are far better now and with a long and healthy life in front of him, this little Prince will need to check his history books to find out what mum and dad might have in store for him.

Charles fits all the rules but all rules need exceptions and history has several of those.  The first to go off message was Eleanor of Aquitaine who picked her own dad's name for son number one.  Eleanor of Provence also dared to be different and named her eldest son after England's saint, at that time Edward the Confessor.  And then we have Caroline of Ansbach whose husband, the future George II, was so fed up with his father that he named their first born after his wife's mother's best friend's husband. 

But the House of Windsor reverted to type.  George V named his first born Edward, after his own father.  Edward VII had gone for Albert Victor after both mum and dad and Victoria chose Albert Edward after her husband and her father.  Elizabeth II's choice of Charles surprised a lot of people and there are no Williams in the immediate family tree of either the Prince of Wales or Diana, Princess of Wales but these last two generations are the only ones to go off message.  And as William will most likely be king in 2066 giving him the same name as the Conqueror whose anniversary he will mark was a pretty historical gesture.  Or possibly just a name they liked.

Because that is the conundrum all queens and future queens face.  The world and the royal household all have opinions as to what your baby should be called.  But he remains Kate and William's little boy and whatever a mum and dad want to name their son is always the right choice.

Is the White Queen losing her power?

Elizabeth Woodville was queen consort of England for 19 years and according to the history books kept her power for that whole time.  So influential was she that according to some versions of England in the 15th century, her brother in law Richard snatched her two sons who became the Princes in the Tower because he feared her ruling the country through them after the death of Edward IV.  So it was strange to see this fascinating queen reduced to a simpering bystander in last night's edition of The White Queen.

Elizabeth had a lot to deal with but did most of her coping in slow motion with fuzzy edges.  From finding hubby in bed with his mistress to watching her mother die, events rather overtook this feisty woman and turned her from medieval powerhouse to subject of a problem page.  There was none of the steel and grit that makes Elizabeth one of the most mysterious and admirable women in British history.  And none of the scheming and hard edges that let her survive this most turbulent of times.  I do hope she grows a backbone before next week because Rebecca Ferguson is doing a great job with the strange spin she's been given - it's certainly missing some of the grit Elizabeth showed in Philippa Gregory's novel.


Edward wasn't quite so smitten with his wife in this week's installment of The White Queen

But while The White Queen was having an identity crisis, The Red Queen was having a whale of a tmie. Mad Margaret Beaufort decided to get married after being rejected by Jasper Tudor.  With what passes for her heart broken, she sent a very skinny man wtih a strange beard off to court to get her a Yorkist husband so she could turn herself into a kind of crazy Trojan horse inside the enemy's camp.  Her shopping list for potential mate was hilarious and the scene with soon to be hubby number three, Lord Stanley, when they bantered their way to a medieval pre-nup was the highlight of the whole hour.  Rupert Graves and Amanda Hale are more than a match for one another and as Lord Stanley and mad Maggie were the real driving force into getting Henry Tudor on the throne, the dramatic denouement of the series is in safe hands.


Lord Stanley may be just about able to keep mad Margaret Beaufort under control

The Neville sisters, meanwhile, didn't have a great week.  Isabel, out of nowhere, went feral and had half an hour as a mini despot before remembering which show she was in and reverting to type.  Anne, annoyingly called Annie through most of the episode, seemed to be enjoying the most liberating of imprisonments of all time, constantly wandering around castles before being told to get back to her room.  It's a shame there wasn't time to bring to life her story between the death of Edward of Lancaster and her marriage to Richard of York.  The legend that has a Princess of Wales and future Queen Consort hiding as a maid in a London house to avoid being sent to a convent by George, Duke of Clarence is a fabulous tale that needs telling.

She might have ended up as Queen Consort but legend has it that Anne Neville had to do the dishes for a few months to save her fortune and her freedom from her brother in law

But that's part of the White Queen's problem.  There just isn't enough time for all these amazing stories.  The men got far more of a look in this week but they need to if we are to see the full implosion of the House of York that happened in the mid 1470s and which left Edward IV so exposed.  But then to do full justice to that we need to curtail the other big issue which brings us back to Elizabeth.  She is just too nice in this telling of her story.  A little bit of mean would go a very long way to bring this story fully to life.

Let's hope Edward annoys his wife even  more next week so we get a bit more steel from the rose of the House of York

And as we've just lost the marvellous Jacquetta we need something.  She's been the sensible voice of scheming ambition in this show.  Janet McTeer gave another star turn as the ultimate pushy mother fading into ill health and death.  She'll be missed as much as the woman she played was when she left the stage.  Her death left Elizabeth to weave her name into history on her own.  Hopefully next week we'll believe, once more, that she was capable of doing just that.

Jacquetta of Luxembourg, mother of a queen of England and grandmother of a second, took her final bow in this week's episode