Saturday, 10 August 2013

The White Queen's ten husbands

It's almost a football team. The four women taking centre stage in The White Queen racked up a whole ten husbands between them.  If anything indicates that the girls in medieval times had all the fun and held all the cards, it's the number of weddings involving these noble and not so noble ladies.  And which of them had the most's always the one you least expect.

There goes the bride....The White Queen in her best frock heads off to be queen after one of the many weddings that these four women took part in
The amazing marriage stakes start with the one who made more kings and queens than any other but who has gone down in history as a footnote, a bit part player, almost forgotten.  The Earl of Warwick was called the Kingmaker but Jacquetta Woodville should have been named the Queenmaker...and the Kingmaker.  She could make monarchs faster than most of us can make dinner. 

Jacquetta of Luxembourg was instrumental in shaping the English monarchy for several decades but is largely forgotten by history 
She herself might have been queen if the cards had fallen differently.  Marriage number one on our top ten sees Jacquetta marrying a man who was heir to the throne albeit at a time when the line of succession was far from settled.  John, Duke of Bedford was the third son of King Henry IV of England and uncle to the boy who had inherited his throne, Henry VI.  When Jacquetta and John married, in 1432, John was the closest blood relative to the ten year old Henry VI.  John was also Regent but spent more time in France where his nephew was also king through the Treaty of Troyes.  Power in England belonged to John's brother, Humphrey, but he was younger than the Duke of Bedford meaning that when Jacquetta married for the first time, her husband was just one step away from the English crown. 
John, Duke of Bedford kneels before St.George. By marrying the Duke in 1432, Jacquetta came close to being queen consort of England herself but the crown escaped her
Any chance of the throne slipped from her grasp when John died in 1435.  They had no children which meant that the twenty year old Jacquetta was a widow with money, power but no chance of a crown.  Her links to the royal house of Luxembourg and her descent from King John of England gave her plenty of clout of her own.  But then she met husband number two.

 He wasn't famous enough in his own lifetime to merit etchings or paintings so we'll have to make do with how he looks in The White Queen - here's Earl Rivers, hubby number two of Jacquetta, on a particularly grumpy day
He was Richard Woodville who had some quite nice, respectable relatives of his own but no royal blood, no title and a fairly low social standing.  He'd been sent to accompany the widowed duchess back from France to England but went and married her instead.  The king - well his advisers, really - were none too pleased as Jacquetta was so important she was meant to ask permission and they all wanted to make sure her husband was of their choosing as that meant they controlled her and her fortune.  But they were also on a sticky wicket as the king's own mother, Katherine of Valois, had done a Jacquetta just a few years before and married a commonor, a certain Mr Tudor of Wales.  So at some point in 1436 or 1437 Jacquetta got away with marrying for love and kept influence at court while keeping happy at home with hubby number two.  It would take almost thirty years for the great and the good to really regret their decision.
 Jacquetta starts her queenmaking - Janet McTeer plays history's forgotten heroine in The White Queen, seen here with screen daughter, Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson)
For many years, Jacquetta and her family were no threat.  They were staunch Lancastrians, siding with Henry VI in the growing war for the crown being waged with the House of York.  By the 1450s, Jacquetta had one daughter of marriageable age but this girl had to make do with the kind of OK, semi noble marriage that was on offer to someone of her father's rank in society.  The eldest daughter, Elizabeth Woodville, wed a knight called Sir John Grey in around 1453 and went off to live a rather ordinary English kind of life with him.  Wedding number three in our top ten sees a girl who would be queen settle down with a man who is most definitely not a king. 

The most famous portrait of Elizabeth Woodville made after she became queen - her beauty was legendary as was her ambition and determination
Jacquetta had another thirteen children to look after.  Interestingly, none of them married in the really bloody years of the Wars of the Roses when Richard, Duke of York and his three sons were breathing down the neck of the Lancastrian Henry VI and his belligerent queen, Margaret of Anjou.  In 1461, that consort led the troops at the second Battle of St Albans, claiming a victory for the house of the red rose.  But while Margaret won that battle, she lost herself a war in more ways than one.  One of the Lancastrians killed at St Albans was Sir John Grey and that made 24 year old Elizabeth, still seen as one of the most beautiful women in England, a widow.  And widows with young sons to look after and ambitious mothers need powerful husbands.

Rebecca Ferguson puts a pretty face on the woman called the most beautiful in England - Elizabeth Woodville was actually Lady Grey when she went looking for kings in Northamptonshire in 1464

The year 1461 didn't go well for Margaret after that and her husband lost his crown when the white rose claimed victory at the Battle of Towton.  The Duke of York's eldest boy, Edward IV, was king at the age of nineteen.  He'd been helped by Warwick, the Kingmaker.  But that man was about to find himself pitted against Jacquetta, the Queenmaker as we head for marriage number four in the top ten.

Perhaps not doing them justice - a contemporary image of Edward IV and Elizabeth who despite their appearance in this picture were feted as one of the best looking couples of their time
Cue oak tree, pretty woman and lusty lord.  Elizabeth Grey, nee Woodville, famously waited under a tree in Grafton Regis in Northamptonshire in 1464 in the hope of meeting Edward IV who would be passing that way.  She turned up ostensibly to petition for her dead husband's money to be returned to her and her sons but some argue that Jacquetta was instrumental in getting her Betty under the boughs to flutter her eyelashes at a man who liked a pretty woman or two and who needed a queen.  It worked and the young widow insisted on a wedding ring rather than being a royal mistress.  She won that battle as well as this war for the crown - the fourth wedding on the list finally allowed Jacquetta to get her hands on the throne as her daughter became queen of England.

Jacquetta in The White Queen - she finally got the throne in 1464 via her daughter, Elizabeth
Elizabeth settled into being our first commoner queen while her opponents made a right hoo ha about it but all for nought.  And mum settled into marrying off her other children to as many wealthy and important people as she could find.  But while Jacquetta was doing a turbo charged stint as mother of the brides and grooms, another woman with endless ambition was racking up endless husbands.  The Red Queen of Philippa Gregory's novels, Margaret Beaufort, was adding to our list of ten men married to the heroines of the Wars of the Roses.

You'd never guess it from this picture of Margaret Beaufort from later in her life but she had as many husbands as Jacquetta Woodville and her ambitious daughter, Elizabeth, combined

Margaret, in total, had four husbands.  Four.  Yes, four.  Margaret was married pretty much all her life, perhaps not surprising given her considerable wealth as an heiress and her own links to royalty through her descent from Edward III. By the time Elizabeth was making eyes at her own Edward beneath that oak tree, Maggie was on husband number three. 

Still no sign of a femme fatale - Margaret Beaufort in The White Queen

But let's start at the beginning of her bridal blitz.  Margaret is responsible for wedding number five in our top ten and it sees her, aged seven, marrying an eight year old bridegroom.  At the time, she was the heiress of the Duke of Somerset who had died before she was one leaving her very rich indeed. It also meant her wardship was up for grabs and the winner was the Duke of Suffolk who could pick who she married.  He chose his own son and heir, John de la Pole, and they wed in 1450.  Youngsters often married at ridiculously young ages but there was no question of consummating the relationship until their were much older.  This marriage was annulled when the couple were both ten, still too young for a physical relationship, and a wedding but no bedding meant that the marriage could be struck from the record and Margaret never considered John de la Pole to have been her husband.  Perhaps it was because of their youth and non consummation or perhaps it was because he went on to marry Edward IV's sister, Elizabeth, and Lancastrian lovely Margaret wouldn't want any links to the Yorks.

Still seeming staid - another portrait of Margaret Beaufort from the last stage of her life
Aged just ten, Margaret was back on the marriage market and the Lancastrian king got to pick this time round.  So at the age of twelve Margaret said 'I do' for the second time and clocks up wedding number six on our list.  This time round the bridegroom was Edmund Tudor, half brother of Henry VI - they shared a mother, Katherine of Valois, who we already know married Owen Tudor in the 1430s.  This wedding was followed by a bedding - when Edmund was captured by the Yorkists his young wife was pregnant.  He died three months before the birth of their son who Margaret named Henry Tudor.
Why the long face?  That would be the influence of mother's genes - Henry Tudor, Margaret's son, painted after 1485 when he was Henry VII of England
Margaret was a widow at the age of thirteen.  Which meant she was in the market for marriage number seven on our top ten.  She waited six years before tying the knot once more and by the time of her wedding in 1462 she was on the losing side.  She ended up wed to Henry Stafford, second son of the Duke of Buckingham who had little chance of being duke himself and had much less cash than his wife.  Despite her wealth and power, Margaret was now the wife of an also ran noble and to make matter worse, two years later a commoner became queen consort of England.

Henry Stafford was number three on Margaret's marvellous marriage list

Lord Stafford died from the injuries he sustained at the Battle of Barnet, fighting for the Yorkist cause, in 1471.  Margaret remained unmarried for a whole year before wedding number eight on our list saw her become the wife of Thomas Stanley who gave Warwick a run for his money when it came to making friends and influencing people.  He shimmied his way through the shadows of the last years of Edward IV's reign and played all sides against one another as Richard III fought to take the throne from Edward's son, one of the princes in the tower.  Maggie met her match in hubby number four.

Lord Stanley played by Rupert Graves in The White Queen
Which leaves two marriages to go.  And for this we need an heiress, princess and queen who managed to talk her way out of the history books.  Anne Neville is always painted as the sheepish, quiet Neville sister.  Isabel is a fireworks display of prettiness, temper and ambition while Anne is the milky, pale one in the corner biting her nails and looking slightly worried about everything.  And yet this woman is the only one in British history to marry an heir to the throne but end up queen because of a wedding to one of his greatest rivals.

Anne Neville - Duchess of Gloucester, Princess of Wales and Queen of England
Marriage number nine is that of Anne, the Kingmaker's daughter and Edward, son of Margaret of Anjou.  This was Warwick's last throw of the dice to regain the power he had enjoyed so much for the best part of two decades, first alongside Richard, Duke of York and then shoulder to shoulder with the duke's son, Edward IV.  But perhaps he knew it was destined for disaster from the off.  He had thrown his lot in with the woman he had spent the best part of a decade trying to destroy.  To seal the deal with Margaret of Anjou he had to make a marriage for her son, Edward, the Lancastrian heir to the throne.  And only Anne remained.  So she married the prince and for a while was in line to be queen.  But the final loss of the Lancastrian cause saw her teenage husband killed in battle and by 1471, Anne was a fifteen year od widow and at the mercy of her brother-in-law, George of Clarence.

Anne Neville, played by Faye Marsay, is trapped in The White Queen
What happened next is either pure romance or pure politics, depending on how you want to see it.  Anne was in line for half her mother's considerable fortune.  As George plotted to get his hands on all the cash - the other half coming to his wife, Isabel Neville - a fortunate wedding saved Anne from a convent and England from a very rich and by now all but bonkers George.  His brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester married Anne in secret.  It's wedding number ten on the list - but is it the most mysterious of all?
Richard of Gloucester in The White Queen
Is it a great love story that sees a shy youngest brother win the girl he's always wanted while rescuing her from the tyranny of a man who had lost the plot?  Or is it the result of a calculated move in a long game that would put Richard III on the throne of England?  For there's no doubt that the Duke of Gloucester got a lot from marrying Anne.  There was the considerable fortune and lots of influence in the powerful northern part of England that allowed him to establish a base that George could never rival.  His wife got on well with his mother and having Cecily on side was vital in this endless game of politics.  He got an heir when their son, Edward, was born in 1473.  And he took himself out of a marriage market that could have seen his brother, Edward IV, marry him off for political reasons at any time.
King and queen - could either have achieved the throne without the other?  Anne perhaps gave Richard far more than he gave her.
Which just goes to prove that the women really did hold all the cards.  The ten men who these powerhouses chose to marry were swept along, to a certain extent, by the ambitions and desires of the women who spent some time as their wives.  But we will never know the true balance of power in any of these ten relationships - they are the bits that history forgot to write down. 
The White Queen, The Kingmaker's Daughter and The Red Queen

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