Saturday, 2 November 2013

England's missing queens

At the end of 2012, the British government changed the law to allow women to succeed to the throne ahead of any younger brothers they may have.  It paves the way for the first female heiress assumptive but she will follow dozens of girls who have been shuffled away from the throne by little baby boys who followed them into the royal nursery.  Of course, had just one taken the crown the whole course of English history would be different.  Who are England's missing queens?

Victoria, Princess Royal and eldest daughter of Queen Victoria was the last British royal to be passed over for the throne in favour of a younger brother

Most people look to the Empress Matilda, the daughter of Henry I who came close to ruling England after her father's death in 1135.  But she wasn't the first girl to be overlooked for the crown since the Conquest.  All of William I's daughters saw the throne pass to a younger brother.  There is some dispute over the number of daughters born to the Conqueror and his wife, with most going for six but some arguing for five or even four.  But as it's generally believed that the couple's last child was Henry, later the first king of England to bear that name, that means that all of the girls they had missed out on being queen because the crown passed to kings.

Matilda of Flanders was proud of her royal heritage but all of her daughters were passed over for the throne of England - as was her first born son

Their eldest daughter, Cecilia, was the one who lost out the most.  She was born around 1056 when there were already two little boys in the nursery of the Norman duke.  But neither became king and the crown passed to two brothers who were born after Cecilia.  She became a nun, entering the Abbey of Caen at a young age and becoming the Abbess of the convent of the Holy Trinity in Normandy in 1112.  She died in 1127 when her littlest little brother, Henry, was well into his reign as King of England.  Cecilia holds the honour of being the first woman to be passed over for a man in the line of succession since the Conquest.  But without her own words to tell us, whether she wanted the crown and regretted seeing her brothers take it is lost to history.

Cecilia of Normandy, the first woman to lose the post Conquest Crown of England to a baby brother
One of her sisters, according to some tellings of the Conqueror's story, came very close to being queen consort of England.  There is no definite date of birth for Adeliza of Normandy (and some historians put her at the top of the list of the Conqueror's daughters) but she was definitely older than both of her brothers who inherited the throne of England, William and Henry.  She is said, by some sources, to have been promised as a wife to Harold Godwineson.  Oderic Vitalis said that the two were bethrothed and that after the death of Harold, Adeliza or Adelis remained unmarried.  Another sister, Matilda, is thought to have been born around 1061 and died around 1086 before her father, meaning that she could never have inherited his throne.  But Adela and Constance could.
Adela of Normandy, mother of a king of England, lost out on being queen regnant to her younger brother, Henry

Constance was definitely born in Normandy, while her father was still just a duke, but probably after the disputes that would lead to his conquest of England had begun.  Her date of birth is put at some point between 1057 and 1061 meaning only one of the Conqueror's kingly sons, Henry, was her junior.  But according to some historians she was the most talented of William and Matilda's daughters.  She certainly made a good marriage - on paper, the best of any of the Conqueror's children in his lifetime. Her husband was Alan IV, Duke of Brittany was one of her father's great rivals while he was Duke of Normandy.  Once he became King of England, he sought to neutralize Alan's influence by making him his son in law.  Constance married the Duke of Brittany in 1087 just before her father died.  With his power behind her, she had enough supporters to argue a case for being queen but her early death in 1090, possibly through poison, ended any ambitions she may or may not have had. 

Constance of Normandy, Duchess of Brittany, and reputed to be the most talented and admired of the Conqueror's daughters
Adela was one of the youngest of William and Matilda's children with possibly only baby Henry below her in the pecking order of the royal nursery.  But whatever they played at as they grew up, it must have involved ambition and determination in spades because while Henry was ruling England, his nearest sister was raising a family who would one day snatch his throne.  By the time Henry I took the crown of his father's conquered country, Adela was the Countess of Blois and living in northern Europe with her much older husband and a growing brood of children - many of them sons.  When Henry lost his only legitimate male heir in 1120 in the White Ship disaster, his sister mourned with him as she, too, lost a child.  Her daughter, Lucia-Mahut, perished but Adela s son, Stephen, survived having changed his mind about sailing on the boat just hours before the journey was due to begin.  When Henry asked his nobles to swear allegiance to his one, surviving legitimate child, Matilda, as his reign drew to a close, Stephen was keen to be among the first to make the promise.  And yet on Henry's death, Stephen claimed his throne. 
Stephen of Blois, son of Adela, who became King of England in 1135
And yet there was never any question of his mother claiming the throne, even though her claim was stronger than his.  Stephen was ruler of England partly because he was a man.  He put aside several women with better claims to wear the crown.  And there's no doubt Adela's claim was strong.  A new monarchy can, to a certain extent, make its own rules and her brother's willingness to ask his nobles to promise obedience to his daughter shows that the idea of a female regnant wasn't totally discounted.  In that sense, Adela was the unluckiest of the Conqueror's daughters.  She lost the throne twice, once to a younger brother and once to her son.  There was another daughter, Agatha, who despite some claims that she is a fiction does seem to have existed but to have died relatively young. And she joins her sisters in the claim to be England's first missing queens.

No comments:

Post a Comment