6 Trailblazing Medieval Women

Six trailblazing medieval women

Everyone has heard of Joan of Arc or Eleanor of Aquitaine, but which other women were important during this 1,000-year period? As Susan Signe Morrison explains, evidence abounds concerning medieval women who were doctors, musicians, writers, theologians, explorer and scientists…

Submitted by: Emma Mason
Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179). (Photo by ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179), a scientist, doctor of medicine, musician, philosopher and theologian, is “acclaimed as the most accomplished of medieval women”, says Susan Signe Morrison. (Photo by ullstein bild via Getty Images)

First female playwright: Hrotsvit of Gandersheim (c935–c1000)

 

The 10th-century Saxon canoness Hrotsvit of Gandersheim called herself ‘the strong voice of Gandersheim’. She had many firsts to her credit: first medieval playwright; first female playwright; first female German poet and first female German historian.

Dedicating her works to various members of Emperor Otto’s family, Hrotsvit was highly educated in both the quadrivium (music, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy) and the trivium (grammar, rhetoric and dialectic), as well as key writings by Christian theologians. Hrotsvit was also well-versed in Roman pagan authors, whose immoral comedies featured love affairs and women of suspect reputation, embodying the worst of misogynist beliefs. Hrotsvit took these well-plotted, but immoral, plays and turned them into morally admirable dramas featuring worthy women and weak men. Girls stood up to those who did not let them lead the lives they chose.

Hrotsvit put to vellum the first-known dramas since the classical period. Her plays extol females, from strong virgins to prostitute saints, willing to sacrifice themselves for God. What could have been happier for a devout medieval Christian than to end up in heaven? Her heroines include young girls, one as young as eight, who stand up defiantly under torture and humiliation from pagan Roman officials.  One holy virgin tells the violent emperor, “I have called him a fool, I now call him a fool, and I shall call him a fool as long as I live.” Nothing frightens her.

Hrotsvit uses misogynistic stereotypes about women – that they are more physically weak than men, for example – to argue the very opposite. Hrotsvit even has two fallen women as her heroines, who exemplify the category of the ‘holy harlot’, as seen most famously in the life of St Mary of Egypt.

 

Hrotsvit presents Emperor Otto the Great with her Gesta Oddonis, in the background is Abbess Gerberga. Woodcut by Albrecht Dürer, 1501.  (Photo by Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

 

 

 

Fighting crusader: Margaret of Beverley (c1150–c1214/15)

 

The 12th-century Margaret of Beverley, born in Jerusalem to her English pilgrim parents, returned to the Holy Land just as the great Muslim leader Saladin decided to reclaim Jerusalem from Christian control. Margaret lived in Jerusalem as the city came under siege by Saladin’s troops in September 1187. Mobbed with refugees from other defeated cities, Jerusalem was surrounded by enemy soldiers. No food or water could enter. Everyone living in this urban nightmare had to participate in its defence.

Forced to stay, Margaret willingly set to work. “[L]ike a fierce virago, I tried to play the role of a man,” her brother records her saying. She told how “During this siege, which lasted 15 days, I carried out all of the functions of a soldier that I could. I wore a breastplate like a man; I came and went on the ramparts, with a cauldron on my head for a helmet. Though a woman, I seemed a warrior, I threw the weapon; though filled with fear, I learned to conceal my weakness.”

The heat was blistering. The soldiers inside had to battle continually to prevent their enemies from entering. Women helped by using weapons and machines such as catapults when not enough men were available, filling in ditches and providing food and drink. Once, when Margaret gave water to the men to drink, a catapult sent a millstone over the walls. It burst apart. A small piece of stone flew off and struck her, causing blood to gush out. Margaret carried the scar throughout her life.

About two weeks after the tumult had begun, the siege was over. Later enduring imprisonment, torture and humiliation, Margaret ultimately gained her freedom and returned to Europe, becoming a Cistercian lay-sister in a French nunnery.

 

 

 

Scandalous nun: Heloise d’Argenteuil (c1100–64)

 

By the time she was not yet 20, Heloise d’Argenteuil was renowned as the most educated woman in Europe. Peter Abelard, arguably the most brilliant philosopher of his time, had already caused an uproar among the intellectual classes. No diplomat, Peter alienated respectable older theologians, making enemies.

Heloise’s uncle, Fulbert, a clergyman at the church of Notre-Dame on the Île-de-France in Paris, hired Peter, who gladly took on the role of tutor to this young girl. Peter later wrote how he intended to break his lifelong chastity with this student entrusted to him.  Featuring a pregnant teenager and the older teacher who seduced her, this scandalous affair stemming from 1118 became the gossip of Paris.

Soon after they met,  Heloise and Peter exchanged amorous glances, looks that transformed into touches. As Peter openly confesses, “My hands strayed oftener to her bosom than to the pages.” They soon were enjoying carnal embraces. “[O]ur desires left no stage of lovemaking untried, and if love could devise something new, we welcomed it”. Heloise’s uncle remained oblivious, until he caught the lovers together. Meanwhile, Heloise was thrilled to learn she was pregnant.

The couple secretly wed. But Peter ignored Heloise after being tragically castrated by the henchmen of her vengeful uncle. In return, Heloise wrote brilliant, angry and passionate letters. Boldly proclaiming, “It would be dearer and more honorable to me to be called your whore,” she understands her passion to be authentically motivated; the true whores are those women who marry for position and money. Amazingly, scholars once refused to believe that a woman could have written such intelligent letters. Ultimately, Heloise became abbess at the Paraclete, a religious hermitage with daughter houses, six of which were set up under Heloise’s rule. She remained abbess until her death.

 

Héloïse d’Argenteuil and Peter Abélard. (© Quagga Media/Alamy Stock Photo)

 

 

Audacious innovator: Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179)

 

Female scientists were active in both practical and theoretical medicine. The most famous of all is Hildegard of Bingen, who transcends categorisation. Scientist, doctor of medicine, musician, philosopher, theologian, mystic – Hildegard is acclaimed as the most accomplished of medieval women. A resident of medieval Germany, she explained confounding theological notions such as that of the Trinity (the Father, Son and Holy Ghost).  Standing up to male superiors in the church, she often succeeded in getting her desires, including founding a new convent.

Hildegard wrote about the human body, even using poetic language to describe reproduction from the woman’s perspective. Her music, much performed today, reflects her view that humans create music in an attempt to recapture the cosmically harmonious paradise lost with the fall, when Adam and Eve were thrown out of the Garden of Eden. In Hildegard’s Ordo virtutum, a liturgical drama in song, the devil fights with the soul’s virtues; only the devil has a speaking role.

Hildegard’s other writings include theological, cosmological and visionary works. “Let no man be so audacious as to add anything to this writing lest he be blotted out from the book of life,” she asserts. While many medieval women turned to the divine to find meaning in their interior lives, Hildegard also commented publicly on state and church politics.  Creating voluminous letters to the pope and churchmen, she corresponded on issues of salvation and church organisation. Between 1158 and 1170 she also undertook four preaching tours – extraordinary in a time when women were expected to obey St Paul’s injunction to not teach or speak in the church.

Vocal feminist: Christine de Pizan (1364–c1430)

 

Feminist beliefs were espoused unashamedly by some trailblazing medieval women. The brilliant Christine de Pizan, for instance, was raised by an unconventional father who supported Christine’s desire to study and learn. Her arranged marriage at the age of 15 became a love match. When tragedy struck, cutting down both her father and husband in the prime of life, the 25-year-old Christine was suddenly left in charge of the extended household.

Christine had been left with no knowledge of how the financial accounts were arranged. She was even cheated by people claiming false debts. Initiating a feminist critique of marriage that still resounds today, she laments, “For it was the custom for married men not to talk about or declare the complete state of their affairs to their wives… it makes no sense unless women, instead of being ignorant, learn wise management of such matters.”

Christine had few options. “Now it was necessary for me to go to work, something which I, nurtured on the finer things of life, had not learned”. While initially she copied manuscripts as a scribe, she then became the first European professional female writer. Defying misogynist writers, calling anti-woman invective “hodgepodge, rubbish, and wasted words,” Christine boldly proclaimed to one anti-woman writer, “You have committed a great error without reason.”

In her masterpiece from 1404–5, The Book of the City of Ladies, Christine envisions an allegorical city populated only by women and ruled by the Virgin Mary. In this prose text, Christine asserts how women created all good culture, politics and science. Christine argued that women should be allowed to be what everyone should be given – the right to be human. Her final work extols a young maiden as embodying all that is fine about womanhood – none other than Joan of Arc.

 

 

Christine de Pizan, seated on a chair in carved wood. Miniature from a MS in the Burgundy Library, Brussels, 15th century. (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)

 

 

Matchless matriarch: Margaret Paston (c1423–84)

 

With shades of Real Housewives of the Middle Ages, estate manager Margaret Paston protected her extended family’s vast properties during the War of the Roses, a time of violence and disruption. As adept and well-versed in legal intricacies as her male lawyer counterparts who were away in London, she defended the homestead, bidding her husband to send weapons such as crossbows, axes and protective garments should enemies attack.

In addition to protecting her lands and informing her husband of crises, Margaret undertook the activities that any woman would have to do to support an estate or even modest farm: making bread and wine, brewing ale, smoking ham and bacon, and drying fruit for the winter months. She oversaw the care of pigs, poultry and cows.  Needlecraft, such as embroidery, weaving, cloth making and mending, lay within a woman’s sphere. Given the Pastons’ estates and property, Margaret consulted with tenants, negotiated legal claims, and sought out (and gave) judicial advice.

Estate management also included selling products manufactured on the farm, such as foodstuffs, cloth and grain, as well as ordering supplies from larger cities in the area. Making and maintaining connections with powerful individuals who would support her during these political turbulent times, Margaret had to borrow jewellery when she finally met Queen Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI.

Catherine Morland,  Jane Austen’s heroine in Northanger Abbey (1803), laments, “I read [history] a little as a duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all – it is very tiresome….” Poor Catherine! If only she could come back today, when much medieval history focuses on gender and the everyday experiences of the vibrant, dynamic and unexpected lives of women from the medieval period.

 

 

 

Susan Signe Morrison is professor of English at Texas State University. Her award-winning historical novel, Grendel’s Mother: The Saga of the Wyrd-Wife, tells the story of the Old English poem, Beowulf, from the woman’s point of view. 

She can be found at amedievalwomanscompanion.com and susansignemorrison.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @medievalwomen.

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10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Bonnie Prince Charles and the Jacobites

~10 things you (probably) didn’t know about Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites

The 1745 Jacobite Rebellion was a turning point in British history. Believing the British throne to be his birthright, Charles Edward Stuart, aka ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, planned to invade Great Britain along with his Jacobite followers and remove the Hanoverian ‘usurper’ George II. Yet, argues Dr Jacqueline Riding, the reality of the ’45 continues to be obscured by fiction and fables

Submitted by: Emma Mason
Bonnie Prince Charlie. (Photo by National Galleries Of Scotland/Getty Images)

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, by William Mosman, 1750. Oil on canvas. (Photo by National Galleries Of Scotland/Getty Images)

 

Her new book, Jacobites: A New History of the ’45 Rebellion, reveals a story more complex and paradoxical than the myth suggests.

Here, writing for History Extra, she brings you 10 lesser-known facts about the Jacobites, Bonnie Prince Charlie and the rebellion…

 

In June 1745, Charles Edward Stuart (b1720) had one key aim: regaining the thrones his grandfather, the Roman Catholic convert James VII of Scotland and II of England and Ireland, had lost in 1688–90 to his nephew and son-in-law William of Orange (who reigned as William III). This ‘glorious’ revolution had confirmed a Protestant succession, in a predominantly Protestant Great Britain, which, from 1714, was embodied in the Hanoverian dynasty.

Following George I’s accession, several risings in support of the exiled Stuarts occurred, most notably in the years 1715 and 1719. By this stage, on the death of James VII and II in 1701, the chief claimant (or ‘old pretender’) was his only legitimate son (and father of Charles) James Francis Edward (b1688). A French invasion of Britain in support of the Stuarts in early 1744 had been abandoned, mainly due to severe weather, leaving Charles, who had arrived in France to lead the invasion, kicking his heels in Paris.

Losing patience with the lack of commitment for another invasion attempt by his chief supporter and cousin, Louis XV, and with the greater part of the British Army fighting in Flanders against the French, Charles secretly gathered together arms and a modest war chest and set sail from Brittany, landing a small party at Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides on 23 July 1745.

His audacious – or reckless – plan was to gain a foothold in the western Highlands, rally support en route south, meet up with a French invasion force at London and remove the Hanoverian ‘usurper’ George II (reigned 1727–60). And with luck and the element of surprise on his side, for a time it proved almost as straightforward as that.

 

After raising the Stuart standard at Glenfinnan on 19 August – the official beginning of the rebellion – the small Jacobite army marched south-east towards the Scottish capital. Edinburgh surrendered on 17 September and four days later Charles achieved an unexpected and resounding victory against Sir John Cope and his British army troops at Prestonpans. The key to their success was the Highland charge: a fast and furious manoeuvre that regular troops had little or no experience of.

At the beginning of November the Jacobite army entered England, taking Carlisle after a short, bloodless siege. Having marched through Lancashire gathering further support, by 4 December the Jacobite army, now numbering around 6,000 men and boys, entered Derby, some 120 miles from London. But rather than push on to his ultimate prize, at a council of war the prince was completely outnumbered by his predominantly Scottish commanders and, to his utter dismay, the Jacobite army returned to Scotland. However, the rebellion was far from over. Between January and March 1746, with his army almost doubled in size, Charles and his men secured another victory against the British Army at Falkirk, this time led by General Henry Hawley, and then seized Inverness – the capital of the Highlands. But Charles was in desperate need of money to feed and maintain his troops.

On 24 March the Royal Navy captured a French ship carrying the money destined for the Jacobite army. Its loss was a disaster. With dwindling funds and a British army hard on his heels – a well-fed and now tactically prepared force commanded by George II’s son, William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland – Charles resolved to fight sooner rather than later, once again against the advice of his Scottish commanders.

The defeat of the Jacobite army at Culloden on 16 April 1746, the last battle fought on the British mainland, led to the rolling out of a new British government policy: the attempted extinction of core Stuart support in the Highlands via the systematic dismantling of the ancient social and military culture of the Highland clans, regardless of whether they had joined the rebellion. The wearing of Highland garb, particularly tartan plaid, was banned, and the semi-feudal bond of military service, coupled with the power of the chiefs over their clans, removed.

 

Understandably the British government wanted to stamp out any potential of another rebellion occurring, but the uncompromisingly ruthless and often violent manner in which this was achieved, including the destruction of property and livelihood, executions and transportation, swiftly turned the joy at the rebellion’s termination into sympathy for the rebels and, soon after, disaffection towards the government. The Duke of Cumberland’s enthusiastic leadership in this process won him the soubriquet ‘the butcher’. However, the pacification of the Highlands and the channelling of Highland military prowess into the British Army largely removed any potential for a future rising in the area.

Charles, meanwhile, had left the field, believing his swift return to France would hurry the long-promised French battalions he needed to resurrect the campaign. Others, however, believed he had abandoned his troops to their terrible fate and even abandoned the Stuart cause in order to save his own skin. In the event, Charles spent five months as a fugitive in the western Highlands and islands with Cumberland’s men in relentless pursuit. He eventually escaped to France, with the selfless assistance of the heroic Flora MacDonald, and died in Rome in 1788 by all accounts a drink-befuddled and bitter man. But his legendary alter ego, the ‘Highland laddie’, lived on.

Here are 10 things you might not know about him and the Jacobites…

1) The term Jacobite comes from the Latin for James (ie James VII and II) ‘Jacobus’

‘Jacobite’ is not to be confused with ‘Jacobean’, which refers to James Stuart’s rule in England as James I. (Jacobean is also often used to describe a style of art, architecture and theatre.) Nor is Jacobite to be mistaken for ‘Jacobin’, the radical political group formed during the French Revolution.

As it was treason even to make contact with the exiled Stuarts, let alone visit them, Jacobites established an intricate set of symbols, coded phrases and rituals. For example, the white rose was a symbol of James Francis Edward (his birthday, 10 June, was ‘white rose day’) and after the birth of his sons, Charles (1720) and Henry (1725), the single rose is often represented with two buds. Such symbols were used on items including fans, glassware and snuff boxes, and can also be seen in Jacobite portraiture.

The toast to “The little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat” was a reference to William III’s death from injuries sustained during a riding accident. It is said his horse stumbled on a molehill. Perhaps the most famous toast, though, is to “The king over the water”, by raising your glass and then passing it over a bowl of water.

 

2) Jacobites weren’t all Roman Catholics

The ‘senior’ Stuart branch – the male heirs of James VII and II – were Roman Catholic, but many Jacobites were Protestant, whether ‘high church’ Anglican, Episcopalian, nonjuring or dissenting.

Whatever their religion, Jacobites considered the exiled Stuarts the true British and Irish monarchs – most believed by divine right – and therefore they could not be removed, as they would see it, at the ‘whim’ of parliaments. Among the Scottish Jacobite army commanders of the 1745 rebellion, James Drummond, Duke of Perth, and his brother Lord John Drummond, were both Scottish Catholics raised in France. But other commanders, such as Lieutenant-General Lord George Murray and the Life Guards commander David Wemyss, Lord Elcho, were Protestant.

It is true that religious minorities like British Catholics could expect greater tolerance under a Catholic monarch, but few displayed any interest in joining Charles’s campaign. The most eminent English Catholics, the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk, attended court at St James’s Palace at the height of the threatened advance to London in November 1745, in order to publically demonstrate their support for King George.

3) Jacobites weren’t all Scottish

It is true that many members of the Stuart court in exile were Scottish – certainly by 1745 – but there were Irish and English exiles too. It is also true that Scottish Jacobites, whether in exile or not, felt an inherent loyalty to the ancient Stuart – prior to Mary Queen of Scots ‘Stewart’ – kings of Scotland. The dynasty was founded in Scotland in 1371, inheriting the English crown via James I in 1603.

In addition, many Scottish Jacobites saw the return of the Stuarts as the welcome catalyst for the dismantling of the Acts of Union between Scotland and England (creating the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707). Yet the one thing that united all Jacobites was not their nationality or the breaking up of the Union, but, as previously stated, their desire to see the return of the Stuarts to the British and Irish thrones.

Jacobites came from all parts of the British Isles and Ireland, and in exile formed a very international network. During the 1745 uprising, Charles’s small inner circle of chief confidants included two Irishmen, his former tutor in Rome, Sir Thomas Sheridan, and the Jacobite army’s adjutant general (senior administrative officer) and quarter-master general (senior supplies officer), Colonel John William O’Sullivan. Their influence over the prince rankled with some of the Scottish commanders, such as Lords George and Elcho, as the Scotsmen believed they, the Irish, had little to lose but their lives.

The expectation of a rising of the English and Welsh Jacobites was one of the key reasons why Charles ventured so far into England, believing he could reach London on a wave of residual pro-Stuart feeling and with the armed support of thousands of local recruits. Indeed, supported by a French invasion, the only hope of success in regaining all the Stuarts’ former territories lay in a significant local English rising.

4) Charles Edward Stuart spoke English with a British accent

Charles was born and raised in Rome to a Polish mother and a father of mixed European heritage, including Italian and French as well as British, which has led to the assumption that the prince spoke English with some form of foreign accent. In Peter Watkins’ BBC docudrama Culloden (1964), for example, the prince, played by Olivier Espitalier-Noel, speaks with a sort of French/trans-European accent. Lord Elcho’s oft-quoted jibe as the prince left the field at Culloden – “There you go for a damned cowardly Italian”– has fuelled this particular interpretation, although this jibe was likely a later embellishment.

Although Charles’s father, James Francis Edward, left Britain when he was six-months-old and spent his youth in exile in France (in St Germain-en-Laye, near Paris) he was surrounded by British and Irish courtiers. Indeed, his main role model, his father James VII and II, born at St James’s Palace, London and a mature 55-year-old in 1688, would have obviously spoken English with an English accent.

Eyewitnesses during the 1745 uprising described Charles as speaking “the English or broad Scots very well”. One observer, the Edinburgh schoolmaster Andrew Henderson, stated that Charles’s “speech was sly, but very intelligible; his Dialect was more upon the English than the Scottish Accent, seem’d to me pretty like that of the Irish, some of whom I had known”. “Sly” here means soft or low.

5) The Jacobite troops at Culloden were not all Highlanders

The misconception that the Jacobite army was comprised solely of Highlanders is supported, in part, by the imposing memorial cairn on the battlefield itself, which states: “The graves of the gallant Highlanders who fought for Scotland & Prince Charlie are marked by the names of their clans.”

Lowlanders and English alike spoke of the ‘Highlanders’ and the ‘Highland army’, and certainly focused their attention on the sizable Highland element within the Jacobite army as Charles and his men marched through their towns and countryside. Furthermore, in the early stages of the campaign the Jacobite army could have been described as ‘Highland’, as the thousand or so men gathered around the Stuart standard at Glenfinnan came predominantly from the Cameron and MacDonald clans.

But by the time the army had occupied Edinburgh for almost six weeks, the composition had changed. It now included many Lowland gentlemen, such as Lord Elcho, and Lowland tradesmen. A month later, by the time the Jacobite troops had crossed into England and reached Derby, it was compositionally a very different army to that at Glenfinnan. It now included, along with Lowlanders, an English regiment of about 300 men, known as the Manchester regiment. Fast-forward less than six months, at the battle of Culloden (16 April 1746) about two-thirds of Charles’s troops could be termed Highland Gaels, but there were also Lowlanders, Irishmen, Frenchmen and some Englishmen.

6) The ‘Skye Boat Song’ isn’t entirely Gaelic

One of the most famous stories concerning the prince’s five months as a fugitive is his escape by sea, dressed as a maid ‘Betty Burke’, accompanied by Flora MacDonald. Many of us will know the wistful ‘Skye Boat Song’ and its promise of “the lad that’s born to be king” as he is rowed away to Skye from whence, like King Arthur before him, he “will come again”.

Its form is a traditional Gaelic rowing song or iorram and the tune is believed to derive from the Gaelic song Cuachan nan Craobh or ‘The Cuckoo in the Grove’. But the lyrics, establishing the association with Bonnie Prince Charlie and the 1745 rebellion, were actually written by an Englishman named Sir Harold Edwin Boulton (1859–1935) of Copped Hall, Totteridge, Hertfordshire, and first published in 1884. Sir Harold, a keen collector and publisher of traditional British songs, also wrote the English words to a well-known traditional Welsh lullaby, ‘All Through the Night’.

In 1892, Robert Louis Stevenson, author of the post-Culloden adventure, Kidnapped(1886), wrote his own version of the ‘Skye Boat Song’ with the first line “Sing me a song of a lad that is gone”. In recent years Stevenson’s version (with modifications) has been made famous by the TV series Outlander.

 

7) The battle of Culloden did not end the Jacobite cause

Yes, Culloden was a devastating defeat – the Jacobite army’s first of the entire nine-month campaign – but several thousand men, some of whom had not been present at the battle, gathered at Ruthven 30 miles to the south, and many were willing to continue the fight. But a lack of supplies and, in the short-term, a failure of leadership from both Lord George Murray and Charles, put paid to any thought of a final stand, or a ‘guerrilla’-type campaign.

Certainly, the Duke of Cumberland believed that another battle could occur in the months following Culloden. The various acts introduced after the battle, in particular the Heritable Jurisdictions (Scotland) Act of 1746, in concert with the pacification of the Highlands, made another rising in this region extremely unlikely [the act abolished the traditional judicial rights afforded to a Scottish clan chief]. But the British government and army commanders alike believed that with Charles in France agitating for troops and money to renew his campaign, and while France was still at war with Britain (in Flanders), the Jacobite threat was very much alive.

It was the peace between Great Britain and France in 1748 that ended the 1745 rebellion, by the terms of which Charles was forcibly removed from French territory. But it is not widely known that the prince, still in his twenties, made a secret visit to London in 1750 to stimulate another rising in England, which later became known as the Elibank plot, during which, it is believed, he converted to the Church of England.

In reality, what completely put to bed any hope of a Stuart restoration was the removal of support by France. France had continued to toy with the idea of an invasion of Britain – as ever, a means of destabilising the British state, her trade and her colonial interests – during the Seven Years’ War (1756–63), until major defeats in 1759, including the battle of Quiberon Bay, meant abandoning any such attempt. Charles’s behaviour in the face of yet another crushing disappointment, in particular his drunkenness, disgusted the French and eventually he and his cause were abandoned for good.

This was followed, in turn, by the papacy. On the death of his father in 1766, Pope Clement XIII did not recognise Charles as the Jacobite king Charles III, de jure king of England, Scotland and Ireland. Indeed, the peaceful accession of a third king George, in 1760, suggested that as an active, political cause, Jacobitism, along with its fundamental aim of a Stuart restoration, was effectively dead.

8) Charles Edward Stuart was not the last of the Stuart claimants

On Charles’s death in 1788, his brother, Henry Benedict, became the Jacobite Henry IX of England and I of Scotland. But, as a Roman Catholic cardinal, it was with him that the direct, legitimate line ended on his death in 1807. By this time the beleaguered cardinal, who had witnessed the French Revolution (and lost the financial support of his Bourbon cousin in the process) had begun receiving an annual pension of £4,000 from George III – yes, from the very Hanoverian monarch or, in Jacobite terminology ‘usurper’, that his father and brother had fought so hard, and at such great cost, to remove from the British throne. Henry, unlike his father and brother, did not press his claim.

However, the current official Jacobite claimant, according to the Royal Stuart Society, is Franz von Bayern (b1933) of the House of Wittelsbach, a prince of Bavaria, as his name suggests, and the great-grandson of the last king of Bavaria, Ludwig III. Franz von Bayern – or, as Jacobites would call him, Francis II – became the Jacobite de jure king in 1996, and is descended from the youngest daughter of Charles I (Princess Henrietta-Anne) via the House of Savoy and the House of Este. He has no intention of pressing his claim.

 

9) It’s claimed that Bonnie Prince Charlie has a direct descendant alive today

It is claimed that there are direct descendants of Charles Edward Stuart alive today. Therefore, potentially, in the 21st century there are at least two ‘pretenders’ (from the French ‘prétendant’ or claimant) to choose from. It is well known that Charles had an illegitimate daughter, Charlotte Stuart, Duchess of Albany (b1753), by his mistress Clementina Walkinshaw. After many desperate years with an increasingly drunken and abusive partner, Clementina left Charles, accompanied by their young daughter. Charles initially refused to recognise Charlotte, who spent years in convents in France, and, it is believed, produced, in turn, three illegitimate children via her relationship with Ferdinand de Rohan, archbishop of Bordeaux.

In the meantime, Charles had married (in 1772) Princess Louise of Stolberg-Gedern, but the marriage was a disaster and was childless. In 1784, a lonely Charles legitimised his daughter Charlotte, who left her children (or so the story goes) with her mother in order to nurse Charles through his final years. Charles eventually died of a stroke in 1788 and his daughter died less than two years later.

Charlotte’s children remained unknown to history until the mid-20th century, when research undertaken by the Jacobite historians and siblings Alasdair and Henrietta Tayler apparently revealed the existence of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s grandchildren: Marie Victoire Adelaide (b1779), Charlotte Maximilienne Amélie (b1780) and Charles Edward (b1784).

A biography of the self-styled Count Roehanstart (Rohan Stuart, aka Roehenstart) by George Sherburn (published in 1960), based on the subject’s private papers, sets out the extraordinary life of Charles’s secret grandson, who is buried at Dunkeld Cathedral. As Roehanstart had no children, nor, it was believed, did his sisters, there the Stuart direct (albeit illegitimate) line may have ended. But a new claimant, in the guise of Peter Pininski, has recently emerged. He claims to be the descendant of Charlotte’s eldest daughter (see the 2002 book The Stuarts’ Last Secret: The Missing Heirs of Bonnie Prince Charlie). The mystery continues.

10) Bonnie Prince Charlie is buried in Rome

Charles died at the Palazzo del Re, located on the Piazza dei Santi Apostoli in Rome, the building where he had been born. The palazzo still exists on the north side of the square and just to the north-east of the forum. Sadly Charles’s birth and death in this building is not acknowledged.

Charles was originally buried at Frascati Cathedral (his brother was cardinal-bishop of Frascati) but was eventually reburied (excepting his heart, which is still at Frascati) in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, alongside his brother and father. A modest but elegant marble monument by Antonio Canova, funded, in part, by George IV and unveiled in the south aisle of the main church in 1819, marks the final resting place of the ‘old pretender’ and his sons.

 

Dr Jacqueline Riding is an associate research fellow in the School of Arts, Birkbeck College, University of London, who specialises in 18th- and early 19th-century British history and art. She is the author of Jacobites: A New History of the ’45 Rebellion (Bloomsbury 2016).

To find out more about Jacqueline, visit jacquelineriding.com

Anne of Cleves panels found in English countryside church

  

Panels from the long-vanished Tudor royal residence Chelsea Place have been discovered in an English country church. The panels bear the insignia of Anne of Cleves, Anne’s monogram, the emblem of the Duchy of Cleves and a snarling lion’s head and were likely made for her and installed on her orders in one or more of the royal residences that she lived in for the last part of her life.

Anne of Cleves was Henry VIII’s fourth wife and their brief six-month marriage ended in an annulment because Henry found Anne physically unattractive. He later went on to marry two more times. Anne of Cleves died at Chelsea Place in 1557 and is the only one of Henry’s Queens to be buried in Westminster Abbey.

  

The panels, up to 20 of them, are now in St. Leonard’s Church in Old Warden in Bedfordshire, in the Museum of London and in private ownership. They are currently the only known examples of high-status English interior architecture to have survived from this period. Because of this there are considered to be of very substantial importance.

Chelsea Place was just one of Henry VIII’s over 60 royal residences. Most of these were torn down and stripped of their contents during the English Civil War or they simply did not survive the times. Chelsea Place was demolished in 1825. Some of the contents were recycled in other buildings, some were lost and maybe some are still awaiting rediscovery like these panels.

The discovery is also significant due to the low numbers of surviving objects relating to any of Henry’s six wives. Due to Anne’s short marriage to Henry items relating to her are especially rare. Anne received a generous settlement from Henry after she agreed to the annulment and lived a lavish lifestyle, even after his death in 1547.

Before this new research into the panels they were thought to have been from a chapel in Bruges, Belgium, or from having been created after her death.

Henry VIII’s Love Life

Not such a prude after all: the secrets of Henry VIII’s love life
Despite having married six women and seduced countless more, Henry VIII is often depicted as something of a prude. But, as historian and author Amy Licence reveals, the story may have been quite different for the women who shared his bed…

Henry and Anne Boleyn
Henry VIII courting Anne Boleyn. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

 
When it comes to Henry VIII’s love life, the biographical focus usually falls on Henry’s wives and is dominated by his quest for a son. This is no surprise given its dynastic importance and the comparative paucity of material surviving on Henry’s mistresses. Indeed, Henry is often compared to his lusty and syphilitic contemporary, Francis I of France, whose antics leave the English king in the shade. Henry certainly had no official mistress in the French style, although he did offer this title to Anne Boleyn, who refused it. There is also the question of Henry’s health, as when considering his personal life images of his obesity and injuries can easily eclipse those of his handsome youth. It may be, though, that tradition has him all wrong.

Henry wasn’t so much a prude as a very private man. While Francis paraded his mistresses in public, Henry preferred to keep his extramarital liaisons known only to a small circle of loyal intimates: his chief minister, his gentlemen of the chamber and his closest friends, many of whom went to the block for treason in the 1530s, contributing to the silence over the king’s private affairs. Henry valued secrecy and discretion when it came to his personal relationships and although he was at the centre of a busy court, he had the means to achieve this.

Henry’s success in this regard becomes clearer when we consider the two mistresses that are known to have shared his bed, and the processes of history by which they were recorded. Elizabeth (or ‘Bessie’) Blount’s name is remembered today because she was an unmarried mother who bore a surviving son, which the king chose to acknowledge. Usually kings favoured affairs with married women, whose pregnancies could be officially attributed to their husbands, even if the court gossips suspected otherwise.

Bessie was quickly married off and her subsequent children, born soon after her son Henry FitzRoy, were given the surname of her pliant husband. Had Bessie’s marriage taken place sooner, or her child been female or not survived, we would not know about her relations with Henry VIII. Likewise, our information about Henry’s affair with Mary Boleyn derives from Henry’s reluctant admission of affinity when he desired to marry her younger sister, Anne. Without these chance survivals, these accidents of history, the image we have of Henry today would be as a shining example of marital fidelity, and we know that was not the case.

There is also a wealth of circumstantial evidence to suggest that Henry had a number of affairs or casual encounters. These are more than mere court rumours: cumulatively they offer a convincing picture. In 1513, when Henry stayed in Lille before the siege of Tournai, he stayed up all night dancing with a mysterious “Madame the Bastard,” barefoot and in his shirtsleeves. After returning to England, he received a letter from a maid of honour by the name of Etiennette de la Baume, in the Lille household of Margaret of Savoy. She asked for his assistance for her forthcoming marriage, reminding Henry of a promise he had made her “when we parted” and that he had called her his page.

Another letter, dating from 1514, implicated the king in a flirtation being enjoyed by his friend Charles Brandon with two ladies of the English court, to whom Brandon had sent “tokens”; during his friend’s absence abroad, Henry was to act as go-between and pass on his warm words. There was also Jane Popincourt, a maid of Henry’s sister Mary, who was refused entry to France in 1514 by King Louis XII on account of her immorality. This, coupled with Henry’s choice of her as a dance partner the following spring and his generous gift of £100 to allow her to leave, have led to speculation that Jane had shared his bed.

Perhaps most interesting of all is the entry in the Privy Papers for 1537, when a William Webbe claimed Henry had stolen away his mistress and enjoyed her favours in “avowtry” (aka advowtry) – that is, adultery. The names of various other women have been proposed as mistresses of Henry, or as the mothers of his reputed illegitimate children Thomas Stukley, John Perrot and Ethelreda Malte, but these were never acknowledged by Henry and there is no evidence to connect him with them.

Henry Fitzroy
Henry Fitzroy, the illegitimate son of Henry VIII and his mistress, Elizabeth Blount. Fitzroy was the only one of his illegitimate children that Henry acknowledged. He died of consumption. (The Print Collector/Getty Images)

 

While the church advocated regular but moderate sex within marriage – for mutual comfort and procreation – Tudor medicine stated the importance of sex for health. Without it, fluids and vapours were thought to build up in the body and cause fits, fever and illness. Aristocratic wives were expected to be models of chastity in order to produce heirs but their husbands might seek sexual satisfaction elsewhere, typically with women of the lower classes. Couples were supposed to refrain from sleeping together during part, if not all, of the wife’s pregnancies, and it was during Catherine of Aragon’s first confinement that Henry’s court was rocked by a scandal that implicated him with one of his wife’s waiting women, Anne Hastings.

Hastings may have been involved with both Henry and his closest friend, William Compton, with whom she certainly had an affair in later years. The Spanish ambassador Luis Caroz believed it was the king who had turned the newlywed’s head, writing in 1510 that Anne was “much liked by the king, who went after her”. Anne’s sister was concerned enough about her behaviour to interfere, which resulted in her banishment from court for “tale-bearing” and “insidiously spying out every unwatched moment”. This was what brought the matter to Catherine’s attention, and the royal couple had their first serious argument as a result.

Despite living at the heart of a busy court, Henry did not lack opportunities for romance. He drew on the discretion of friends such as William Compton, whose house in Thames Street provided a convenient location for liaisons, accessible by barge, and Thomas Wolsey, who oversaw the arrangements for Bessie Blount’s lying-in, acted as godfather to her son. Although there might be prying eyes at court, when Henry visited the homes of his friends in the town or country, or stopped at a hunting lodge with a small retinue, leaving his wife at court, there was a greater degree of privacy to facilitate meeting women. Wherever he travelled, Henry took his own personal lock to guarantee secrecy.

And yet, even under the scrutiny of his courtiers, Henry found the perfect vehicle for flirtation. His love of masques and dancing gave him a degree of licence for intimacy; under the guise of planning entertainments, he might ‘borrow’ maids of honour in order to rehearse elaborate pageants that required dancing, costumes and song. Writers Juan Luis Vives in the 1520s and John Heywood in the 1530s both drew the connection between dancing and sex, with the lines of contemporary plays full of bawdy and suggestive lyrics. Characters in Heywood’s 1533 The Play of the Weather joke about “meddling” with each other, about literal and metaphoric dirty linen, dallying “with your simper de cocker” and kissing a woman’s behind.

 

Dancing at the royal court 2

The Dancing Picture’ from around 1530, attributed to Hans Holbein (male figures) and Janet Clouet (female figures). The two figures on the left have been identified as Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

 
The arrangements of Henry’s household would have facilitated affairs too. The Eltham Ordinances, published in January 1526, help us understand how. When it came to sleeping with his wife, the king followed a ritual involving a large amount of staff, including an elaborate procession through the corridors that needed to be cleared and guarded, followed by a ceremony of disrobing. This visible display provided a foil for the occasions when Henry desired privacy, at night amid the chambers “reserved secret, at the pleasure of his grace, without [the] repair of any great multitude”. Henry’s grooms were charged to remain “humble, reverent, secret and lowly” about all tasks, with two sleeping on pallets outside his door and Sir Henry Norris charged with preventing all other gentlemen from entering. With Norris’s assistance, it would not have been difficult for Henry to admit whomever he pleased. Whatever secrets he may have known, Norris took to the grave a decade later, when he became one of the scapegoats in Anne Boleyn’s fall.

When it comes to Henry’s relationship with Anne, a further mystery arises. Traditionally, the story has been told that it was Anne’s refusal that maintained Henry’s interest, and that for the seven years before their secret marriage Anne kept herself aloof, denying Henry consummation. Catherine had gone through the menopause in around 1525 and Anne did not conceive until the end of 1532: Catherine’s menopause coincided with Henry’s thirties, at a time when he was keen to father a son. Is it really realistic that the king was celibate throughout this time? And if not, who exactly was he sleeping with?

Did he continue to share a bed with Catherine, intermittently, up to the day in July 1531 when Henry rode away from her at Windsor and she was never to see him again? Perhaps Anne permitted Henry some liberties with her person after she had agreed to his proposal in around 1527. In one letter Henry refers to kissing her breasts or “pretty duckies,” and they may have enjoyed a certain degree of intimacy, stopping short of full penetration.

The fact that Anne did not fall pregnant until December 1532 suggests they were restrained, or else practised some form of contraception. Early condoms were available, known as the ‘Venus Glove’ and manufactured by glovers. They were expensive, but Henry could have afforded them. Yet Anne’s allure lay in her promise and her desire not to be discarded as her sister had been. Nor did Henry wish to risk the arrival of a child before he was in a position to be able to marry her. It is far more in keeping with the mores of the time that Henry resorted to the occasional casual encounter, discreetly arranged by his gentlemen, and considered to be an essential bodily function, just as eating or sleeping. The needs of the king’s body must be met.

 

First meeting of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn

A depiction of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s first meeting, from 1835. (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

 

In later years, Henry’s ulcerous leg and increasing girth rendered him less able to play the nimble lover. Yet this really only applies to the final decade of his life. The young Henry was accustomed to having his own way and with the facilities and staff to ensure his own pleasure. The notion of a prudish, restrained king may be more the result of a paucity of evidence rather than a true reflection of Henry’s character. Although he was not quite, as Francis I was described, “of such slight morals that he slips readily into the gardens of other and drinks from the water of many fountains”, the surviving shreds of evidence suggest Henry VIII enjoyed a full and active love life. This also provides an important reflection upon the nature of evidence and its survival. As late as 1817, when John Lingard cited the letter in which Henry admitted to having slept with Mary Boleyn, his fellow rejected the claims as a deliberate slur upon the reputation of her sister, Anne.

When it comes to the sexual secrets of such a secretive Tudor monarch, it is imperative to consider the holes in the evidence as much as the evidence itself. Here was a man who married five out of his six wives in private, in a departure from the example set by his parents. Henry didn’t want the details of his love life to be made public: five centuries later, he has largely succeeded.

On this day, 9th of February in Tudor time…

Arms-of-John-Viscount-Welles

 

On This Day 9th February 1498

 

On 9th February 1498 of John, Viscount Welles died. Welles was the half-brother of Lady Margaret Beaufort, and thus uncle to Henry VII. As part of Henry’s policy of integrating Lancastrian and Yorkist supporters (as well as ensuring that his York sisters-in-law were married to men loyal to himself), Welles was married to Cicely of York in 1487. The couple had two daughters, who both died as children. Cicely remarried in a match which was widely disapproved of.

On this day, 6th of February in Tudor time…

  

On This Day 6th February 1587
On 6th February 1587, in the Great Hall at Fotheringhay Castle, the warrant for her execution was read aloud to Mary, Queen of Scots. It bore the flamboyant signature of her cousin, Elizabeth I, Queen of England, and was the culmination of nearly 20 years of captivity. Mary had come to England as a supplicant, following the defeat of her forces at the Battle of Langside in 1568. She hoped the English Queen would support her in regaining the throne that she had lost following the tumult that erupted after the assassination of her husband. Elizabeth, strongly influenced by her Secretary, Sir William Cecil, who had an implacable distrust of the Catholic Mary, had held her captive in a series of locations across the north and midlands of England. Numerous plots to free her and put her on the English throne, some undoubtedly with Mary’s support, had finally culminated in a trial that Mary refused to recognise and a death sentence.

Anne of Cleves

anne-of-cleves-portrait

 

Anne of Cleves has gone down in history as the ugly wife. Henry VIII was so revolted when he first clapped eyes on her that he immediately instructed his lawyers to get him out of the marriage. Thereafter, his poor, spurned fourth queen retreated quietly into obscurity to hide her face from the world, while Henry joyfully married the infinitely more desirable Catherine Howard.

Anne, who was born 500 years ago, was Henry’s wife for just six months, making her the shortest reigning of all his queens. And so she has been dismissed as little more than a blip in the history of England’s most-married monarch.

The true story of Henry VIII’s fourth wife is entirely different to this humiliating fiction. Anne may not have been to the king’s liking, but how she responded proves that she was far from being the hapless victim of legend. In fact, she can justifiably claim to have been the most successful of all Henry’s wives.

Anne, daughter of the late Duke of Juliers-Cleves, Johann III, and sister of his successor, Wilhelm, had first been mooted as a potential wife for the English king in the closing weeks of 1537, soon after the death of his beloved third wife, Jane Seymour. Anne was then 22 years of age, and had already been used as a pawn in the international marriage market when she had been betrothed to François, heir to the duchy of Lorraine, in 1527. This had come to nothing, leaving her free to marry elsewhere.

John Hutton, ambassador to Mary of Hungary, who had originally made the suggestion, admitted he had heard no great praise of her beauty. Such a recommendation hardly motivated Henry to pursue the scheme any further, and it was not until early 1539 that the idea was resurrected. This time Henry gave it more credence because he desperately needed new allies.

His two great rivals, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and French king Francis I, had forged a treaty, and to make matters worse, a short while later Pope Paul III had reissued the bull of excommunication against the English king. Although the then Duke of Juliers-Cleves, Johann (Anne’s father) was no Protestant, he – like Henry – had expelled papal authority from his domain. An alliance with Cleves would therefore provide a major boost to the Reformation in England, and it was for this reason that Henry’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, championed it so enthusiastically.

In March 1539, Henry finally agreed that negotiations could begin. Cromwell was quick to relay reports of Anne’s beauty, assuring his sovereign: “Every man praiseth the beauty of the same lady as well for the face as for the whole body… she excelleth as far the duchess [of Milan] as the golden sun excelleth the silver moon.” But Henry was taking no chances. He dispatched the renowned portrait painter Hans Holbein to Cleves so that he could see what he was letting himself in for.

The king was delighted with the result. Holbein’s portrait showed a pretty young woman with fair hair, a doll-like face, delicate eyes, mouth and chin, and a demure, maidenly expression. The match was confirmed and a treaty was signed on 4 October 1539. A few weeks later, Anne embarked upon her journey to England.

The charter annulling Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne of Cleves. The king’s passion for lady-in-waiting Catherine Howard sounded the death knell for the couple’s union. © AKG

“I like her not!”

Portrait of Henry VIII, 1548 (engraving) (b/w photo)
XJF323070 Portrait of Henry VIII, 1548 (engraving) (b/w photo) by Massys, Cornelis (1508-80); National Portrait Gallery, London, UK; (add.info.: Henry VIII (1491-1547), King of England; artist’s surname is also spelt Metsys;); Netherlandish, out of copyright

On New Year’s Eve, Anne arrived at a stormy, windswept Rochester Castle in Kent. The next day, in true chivalric tradition, Henry hastened to greet her in disguise. He was horrified with what he saw. “I like her not! I like her not!” he shouted at Cromwell when the meeting was over. It seemed that Anne had been rather flattered by her portrait. In contrast to the petite stature of Henry’s first three wives, she was tall, big-boned and strong-featured. Her face was dominated by a large nose that had been cleverly disguised by the angle of Holbein’s portrait, and her skin was pitted with the marks of smallpox.

To be fair to Anne, however, until Henry expressed such a strong aversion towards her, there had been no other disparaging accounts of her appearance. The famous nickname of ‘Flanders Mare’ was only coined by Bishop Gilbert Burnet in the late 17th century. Most of the contemporary accounts before her marriage had been complimentary. Even Henry was forced to admit that she was “well and semelye [seemly]”. But the fact that she nevertheless repelled him ensured that Anne would henceforth be known as the ‘ugly wife’.

History has thus served a great injustice on Anne, particularly as her betrothed could hardly have been described as an attractive prospect himself by the time of their marriage. Incapacitated by an ulcerated jousting wound in his leg, Henry’s girth had increased at an alarming rate. When he became king he had been a trim 32 inches around the waist; by the time he met Anne of Cleves it was closer to 52 inches.

A contemporary depiction reveals the king as a grotesque figure. His beady eyes and tiny, pursed mouth are almost lost in the layers of flesh which surround them. He appears to have no neck, and his enormous frame extends beyond the reaches of the canvas. “The king was so stout that such a man has never been seen,” reported a visitor to court. “Three of the biggest men that could be found could get inside his doublet.” On balance, Anne had far more reason for complaint than her prospective husband.

However abhorrent his new bride might be to Henry, there was no going back. It would have caused a major diplomatic incident if he had reneged on the treaty, and England could ill-afford to lose allies. The wedding duly took place on 6 January 1540, and the king now had to do his duty by consummating it.

Thanks to the events that happened afterwards, a detailed account of the wedding night exists among the records of Henry’s reign. The king had run his hands all over his new wife’s body, which had so repelled him that he had found himself incapable of doing any more.

The following morning, he told Cromwell that he found Anne even more abhorrent than when he had first beheld her, bemoaning: “She is nothing fair, and have very evil smells about her.” He went on to claim that there had been certain “tokens” to suggest that she was no maid, not least “the looseness of her breasts”, which he had apparently examined closely. As a result, he confided to a manservant, his bride was “indisposed to excite and provoke any lust” in him and he “could never be stirred to know her carnally”. He had therefore “left her as good a maid as I found her”.

For her part, Anne gave every appearance of joy in her new husband. But despite Henry’s claims, she was clearly a virgin and had no idea what was involved in consummation. When the marriage was but a few days old, she confided to her attendants that she believed she might be pregnant, telling them: “When he [Henry] comes to bed he kisses me, and taketh me by the hand, and biddeth me, Goodnight, sweetheart: and in the morning kisses me, and biddeth me, Farewell, darling. Is this not enough?” The Countess of Rutland retorted: “Madam, there must be more than this, or it will be long ere we have a Duke of York.”

Henry’s inability to consummate the marriage has been traditionally assigned to his revulsion at his new bride. But it is at least equally possible that he was impotent. He was nearly twice his young bride’s age and had become increasingly immobile in recent years. There had been no talk of a mistress for some time. This was not the sort of thing that he would have wished to be publicly known. Kings, even more than ordinary men, prided themselves on their sexual potency: it was, after all, vital for the continuation of their dynasty. Henry was a little too eager to boast to his physician, Dr Butts, that although he could not bring himself to have sex with Anne, he had had “two wet dreams”.

The happy couple?
To the outside world, everything was as it should be. Anne wrote to her family, assuring them that she was very happy with her husband. Meanwhile, Henry made sure that he appeared in public with his new queen as often as could be expected. A few days after the wedding, a celebratory tournament was held in Greenwich. The contemporary chronicler Edward Hall recorded the event and praised the new queen so effusively that nobody would guess there was anything amiss. “She was appareiled after the English fashion, with a French hood, which so set forth her beauty and good visage, that every creature rejoiced to behold her.”

But Anne lacked the courtly refinements that her new husband was used to. The education of noble ladies in Cleves was very different to England. Being accomplished at music, dancing and languages was seen as trivial – “an occasion of lightness” – and ladies were instead taught the more useful skills of needlework and household management. The English ambassador to Cleves described Anne as being of “lowly and gentle conditions”, and noted that “she occupieth her time most with the needle”. No matter how affable and eager to please the new queen was, her awkwardness rendered her an embarrassment in the sophisticated world of the Tudor court.

There was another reason why Henry was desperate to be rid of his fourth wife. By the spring of 1540, he had fallen madly in love with Catherine Howard, a pretty young lady-in-waiting in his wife’s household.

This spurred him into action. Pressure was brought to bear on Thomas Cromwell, who had been arrested for treason and was now obliged to give evidence from the Tower in support of the annulment.

On 24 June Anne was ordered by the council to remove herself from court and go to Richmond Palace. A short while later, Anne learned that her marriage to the English king had been called into question because Henry was concerned about her prior betrothal to the Duke of Lorraine, and had therefore refrained from consummating the union.

An ecclesiastical inquiry was duly commissioned, and a delegation of councillors arrived at Richmond in early July to seek Anne’s co-operation. Shocked by this sudden turn of events, Anne fainted. When she had sufficiently recovered herself, she steadfastly refused to give her consent to the inquiry.

Before long, though, perhaps fearing a similar fate to Catherine of Aragon or, worse still, Anne Boleyn, Anne resolved to take a pragmatic approach. The marriage was duly declared illegal on 9 July, and the annulment was confirmed by parliament three days later. Anne wrote a letter of submission to the king, referring to “your majesty’s clean and pure living with me”, and offering herself up as his “most humble servant”.

Anne was to be richly rewarded for her compliance. She was given possession of Richmond Palace and Bletchingly Manor for life, together with a considerable annual income. This was further boosted by her right to keep all of her royal jewels, plate and goods in order to furnish her new properties. Moreover, she was to be accorded an exalted status as the king’s ‘sister’, taking precedence over all of his subjects, with the exception of his children and any future wife that he might take.

Henry later granted her some additional manors, including Hever Castle, the former home of Anne Boleyn. This was to become her principal residence, and she lived very comfortably there on the fringes of public life. It says much for Anne’s strength of character that she managed to accept and adapt to her new life with dignity.

Henry and Catherine Howard were married at Oatlands Palace in Surrey on 28 July 1540. But the king’s joy was short-lived. Catherine was a flighty and flirtatious girl, some 32 years younger than her husband, and she soon began an illicit affair with Thomas Culpepper, a gentleman of the privy chamber. When her adultery was discovered, she went to the block in February 1542.

Anne of Cleves was a committed reformer who might have fallen victim to Mary Tudor’s anti-Protestant crackdown – like bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, shown being burned at Oxford in 1555 – if it wasn’t for the fact that she was good friends with Mary. © Getty

Just good friends
Speculation began at once about who would be the king’s next wife. Among the potential candidates was Anne of Cleves. She had been careful to remain on good terms with Henry after their annulment, and had shown no signs of resentment at being so humiliatingly rejected. She had been a regular visitor to court and had also received several visits from her former husband, which by all accounts had been very convivial. The pair had exchanged New Year’s gifts in 1542. But the king made no indication of wishing to revive their union, and although Anne was rumoured to be bitterly disappointed when he married his sixth and final wife, Katherine Parr, this may have been just for show.

By that time, Anne was comfortably ensconced at Hever with all the riches and honours of being a queen, but none of the disadvantages of being married to the ageing, bloated and increasingly tyrannical king. She remained there for the rest of her days, outliving her estranged husband, who died in 1547 and was succeeded by Edward, his nine-year-old son.

Edward’s accession prompted a decline in Anne’s status. The new king’s council viewed her as an irrelevance, not to mention a drain on their resources, and confiscated two of the manors that Henry had given her. Forever the pragmatist, Anne resolved to make the most of the life that she had left. She established her house at Hever as a lively social centre – a kind of miniature court, where she could receive esteemed guests from across the kingdom, notably Princess Elizabeth, who doted upon her. Through these guests, she kept abreast of events at court, and solicited invitations to visit it herself.

The archetypal ‘merry widow’ (or divorcee), Anne also outlived Henry’s son, Edward, who died after just six years on the throne. He was succeeded by his elder half-sister Mary, with whom Anne was still on good terms. She and Elizabeth were accorded the place of honour at Mary’s lavish coronation. The two women shared an open chariot which was richly arrayed with crimson velvet and “cloth of silver”. Anne and her younger stepdaughter were also given new dresses made from a similarly rich silver material, and in the procession to Westminster Abbey they walked together directly behind the new queen.

But neither Anne nor Elizabeth would long enjoy Mary’s favour. Their reformist religious views set them at odds with the new conservative Catholic regime, and there were soon rumours that the two women were conspiring against the queen. These were almost certainly untrue: Anne was far too sensible to take such a risk and had no grudge against Mary. Fortunately, Mary retained enough of her former affection for Anne not to act against her.

With characteristic discretion, Anne left court soon after Mary’s accession, resolved to live out her days quietly at Hever and Chelsea – another manor left to her by Henry. It was while staying at the latter that Anne died on 16 July 1557, after a short illness. Although she was only 41 years of age, she had outlived each of Henry VIII’s five other wives – and had had a happier ending than any of them.

It is a testament to her sensible and cheerful nature that she had managed to stay in everybody’s good graces throughout those turbulent times. Even her dogmatic stepdaughter Mary, who sent hundreds of reformists to the flames, held Anne in such esteem that she ordered the full pomp and ceremony of a royal funeral at Westminster Abbey.

It was a lesson that was not lost on her younger stepdaughter, Elizabeth: to succeed in the dangerous and volatile world of the Tudor court, one must be guided by pragmatism, not principle.

Friends and rivals

Anne of Cleves won over three fellow Tudor queens, yet the failure of her marriage proved lethal for a king’s chief minister

Mary Tudor

Anne of Cleves was about the same age as her eldest stepdaughter, Mary, and the two struck up an apparently warm friendship. It is an indication of how likeable Anne was that Mary overcame her natural aversion to reformers and refused to listen to the rumours that Anne was conspiring against her when she became queen.

Catherine Howard

The skittish young Catherine was among the ladies appointed to serve Anne when she arrived in England in December 1539. Anne was fully aware that Catherine had caught her husband’s eye and although she complained to the Duke of Juliers-Cleves’s ambassador, she soon became reconciled to the situation, gracefully ceding victory to her rival. To show that there were no hard feelings, she even danced with Catherine after the latter had become queen.

Thomas Cromwell

Arranging the king’s disastrous fourth marriage was the beginning of the end for his chief minister. Cromwell had championed Anne enthusiastically, aware that the marriage would cement his religious reforms. After her first disastrous meeting with Henry, Cromwell urged Anne to “behave in a way which might please the king” – in short, she should ‘excite lust’ in her new husband. But it was all in vain and Henry had Cromwell executed a few days after the marriage was annulled.

Elizabeth I

Anne cherished an abiding affection for Henry’s youngest daughter, Elizabeth. She once claimed that “to have had [Elizabeth] for her daughter would have been [a] greater happiness to her than being queen”. Perhaps the two women were initially united by a shared sense of rejection at the hands of the king, but theirs was also a meeting of minds because both were of the reformist faith. The princess undoubtedly learned a great deal from her stepmother, particularly the art of pragmatism, which would become the keynote of her own queenship.

Tracy Borman is a historian and bestselling author. To find out more, visit http://www.tracyborman.co.uk.

You can also follow Tracy on Twitter @BormanTracy.