Finding Women in Anglo-Saxon England

Written by Expert Contributor Annie Whitehead

With the study of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the writings of Bede, the Welsh and Irish annals, and the later Anglo-Norman chroniclers (many of whom had direct access to earlier documents), it is relatively easy to piece together the history of the kings of Anglo-Saxon England. 

But what of the women? Can we find anything? If we look at the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle we will find that from the entries in 672 until the arrival of Emma of Normandy in 1002, there are only a dozen or so women mentioned by name. Often we have an entry such as this one for 926: “Athelstan gave [Sihtric] his sister in marriage.”

Hmm. She was his sister, Athelstan was a king, so she was royal. Doesn’t she warrant a name-check? Who was she?

Athelstan’s father, Edward the Elder, had three wives by whom he had at least fourteen children. To discover the identity of the sister married to Sihtric, it’s probably easier to start at the end and work backwards. 

Edward the Elder

Edward had married his third wife, Eadgifu, by at least 920, because we know that their firstborn, a son, was born in 921. Eadgifu had another son by Edward, and two daughters, called Eadburh and Eadgifu. Eadburh became a nun at Winchester and the Anglo-Norman chronicler, William of Malmesbury, tells us that when she was just 3 years old her father, wishing to ascertain whether she would choose the religious life, laid out a chalice and the Gospels, and some bangles and necklaces. When little Eadburh was brought in by her nurse, she was told that she could choose what she wanted, whereupon she immediately crawled towards the Gospels and chalice. She joined the community of Nunnaminster at Winchester founded by her grandmother Ealhswith, wife of Alfred the Great. Of Eadgifu, Eadburh’s sister, less is known. But given that Edward died in 924, she must have been born no later than nine months after that, and no earlier than 920, which makes her rather too young to be the bride of Sihtric in 926.

We don’t know if Edward was a widower in 920 when he married Eadgifu, but we do know that his previous wife, Ælfflæd, bore him six daughters. Two – Eadflæd and Æthelhild – took the religious life, while the other four made prestigious marriages. Eadgifu (yes, it seems he had two daughters of the same name!) married Charles the Simple, king of the Franks, while Eadhild married a Frankish duke, Hugh the Great. The remaining two, Eadgyth and Ælfgifu, were, apparently, both sent to Germany so that the future emperor, Otto, could choose one of them as his bride. He married Eadgyth – it was, apparently, ‘love at first sight’ – and Ælfgifu married another prince, whose identity is the subject of some debate but nowhere is it suggested that he was Sihtric. 


So it seems unlikely that the entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle refers to any of Athelstan’s half-sisters and, indeed, William of Malmesbury claimed that the bride was a full sister of Athelstan’s.

Athelstan’s mother, Edward’s first wife, Ecgwynn, barely emerges from the shadows and is not mentioned by any of the contemporary sources. Some said she was a concubine, while others said she was a wife. Sometimes she was described as high-born and sometimes as being of lowly birth. But, either way, her status was important.

When Edward died, Athelstan ruled Mercia while his eldest half-brother, Ælfweard, succeeded in Wessex, dying a mere 16 days later. The statue of Edward’s sister, Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, outside Tamworth Castle famously shows her with her arm round a small boy, her nephew Athelstan, who was, apparently, brought up by her in the Mercian court. There is no contemporary evidence for this; the assertion comes to us from William of Malmesbury. But why would Athelstan have been brought up in Mercia? 


Athelstan’s subsequent rule over Wessex was not universally approved. After Edward’s death, the opposition there claimed that Athelstan was an illegitimate son of a woman of low birth. There are hints that Athelstan’s half-brother, Edwin, was also part of this opposition and was exiled by Athelstan, put to sea in a boat from which he then plunged to a watery death. Added to the fact that Ælfweard had been designated king in Wessex initially, while Athelstan was given Mercia, it is hard to conclude anything other than that Athelstan’s mother, Ecgwynn was, regardless of her class, no more than a concubine and not a wife. 

However, William of Malmesbury also tells us that Athelstan had been adored by his grandfather, Alfred the Great, and that when he was a young boy he had been given by Alfred a ‘scarlet cloak, a belt studded with diamonds, and a Saxon sword with a golden scabbard’. William also said that Alfred ‘made him a knight’ which is anachronistic, since technically no such rank existed in pre-Conquest times, but if it signifies some sort of investiture, it would suggest that his royal status was somehow acknowledged by Alfred.

Is it possible that, for whatever reason, Ecgwynn was put aside when Edward married his second wife, and that she and her children returned to Mercia, possibly the land of her birth?

I say ‘children’ because we are told that aside from Athelstan, Ecgwynn also bore Edward a daughter, although her identity is far from clear. 

There is a saint, Edith of Polesworth, who was said by some to be the daughter of Edward the Elder, although not all sources agree. Indeed we cannot be sure that, even if Edith of Polesworth was a daughter of Edward’s, she was also the daughter of Ecgwynn and, in any case, how could this religious lady have been married to Sihtric?


Yet, the Anglo-Norman chronicler, Roger of Wendover, named her as Edith, the sister whom Athelstan married to Sihtric, the Norse king of the Northumbrians. He went on to relate that after Sihtric’s death (only a year after the wedding), and having preserved her virginity, Edith retired to the monastery at Polesworth, which was in Mercia. She was venerated as a saint and if she was, indeed, Athelstan’s full sister then her return to Mercia, rather than Wessex, might make sense on two counts: that she, like her brother, was brought up at the Mercian court and that their mother, Ecgwynn, might have been Mercian herself.

Not all historians agree about Edith of Polesworth’s identity (some even suggesting that she was, in fact, Eadgyth, daughter of Edward by his second wife, Ælfflæd, who married Otto), but these stories do on the whole draw us back to Mercia time and again. Polesworth, incidentally, is in modern-day Warwickshire, in the heart of what was Mercia. 

Having accounted for all the other known daughters of Edward it does seem, on balance, that the sister whom Athelstan married to Sihtric could well have been Edith of Polesworth, daughter of Ecgwynn. And the story serves to show how much information we can glean, if we take the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as a starting point and do a bit of detective work.

Annie Whitehead

Expert Contributor

Annie Whitehead studied History under the eminent Medievalist Ann Williams. She is a member of the Royal Historical Society and an editor for EHFA (English Historical Fiction Authors.) She has written three award-winning novels set in Anglo-Saxon England, including To Be A Queen, the story of  Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, daughter of Alfred the Great. She writes nonfiction too and Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom was published by Amberley Books in 2018. She has contributed to fiction and nonfiction anthologies and written for various magazines, including winning the New Writer Magazine Prose Competition. She was the winner of the inaugural Historical Writers’ Association/Dorothy Dunnett Prize 2017. She has recently been a judge for that same competition, and for the HNS (Historical Novel Society) Short Story Competition. Her latest book, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England, is published by Pen & Sword Books.  

Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II

by Heather R. Darsie

Please note this article originally appeared on

Eleanor Ramnulfid of Aquitaine, born circa 1122, was a pretty, wealthy teenager when she married her first husband. No confirmed likenesses of Eleanor exist, and it is not known what she looked like other than that Eleanor was a beauty with gorgeous eyes. Eleanor’s father died when she was young, leaving her the vast, rich territory of Aquitaine in southern France. She was left in the care of the King, who swiftly betrothed Eleanor to the Dauphin Louis Capet. The King wasted no time in bringing Eleanor to the royal court.

On Christmas day 1137, Eleanor and her husband of five months became King and Queen of France. Their marriage did not last long, despite Louis being enamored by Eleanor. Eleanor’s inheritance of Aquitaine and Poitiers massively increased the territory under the control of the French crown. Various issues early on with the nobility and vassals put a strain on the couple’s marriage.

In 1147,  Louis was convinced by the pope to go on the Second crusade. Eleanor and her ladies went with Louis and his army to Jerusalem, an area which Eleanor’s uncle governed. Eleanor’s behavior while the couple were on crusade perturbed Louis, who eventually petitioned for their marriage to be annulled.

The couple’s first child, Marie, was born in 1145. Eleanor was roughly 23 years old, and married to Louis VII for about eight years when Marie was born. Their second child, also a girl, was named Alix and born in 1151. No sons were born of Louis’ marriage to Eleanor after fourteen years, so Louis petitioned the pope for an annulment. The annulment was granted in 1152, and Eleanor found herself once more the most eligible bachelorette in Europe.

Eleanor of Aquitaine, via Wikimedia Commons.

Eleanor rapidly married Henry Plantagenet on 18 May 1152, not even two full months after her marriage to Louis VII was annulled on 21 March 1152. Two years later, Henry became Henry II of England. Eleanor was eleven years older than her new husband, but the couple had no trouble producing children. The couple had eight children over a span of thirteen years, seven of whom reached adulthood. Their first child, a boy, died young. Their other children, four boys and three girls, went on to make good matches. Three of those boys, Henry the Young King, Richard the Lion Heart, and John Lackland all became kings of England.

All was not happiness and joy for Eleanor and her husband Henry II, however.  Henry was a philanderer, which vexed Eleanor.

Eleanor’s son Henry the Young King revolted against Henry II in 1173, which some historians believe was either at Eleanor’s instigation or at least not without her blessing. Henry the Young King then fled to France, after which Eleanor sent her other sons. She may have also tried to rally support for her sons against their father amongst the nobility in southern France under Eleanor’s dominion. Eleanor was eventually captured by Henry II when she tried to leave her territory of Poitiers for Rouen. After that, Henry held her secretly for about a year before anyone learned of her whereabouts.

Henry II brought Eleanor out France and into England in July 1174, keeping her imprisoned for the rest of his life. Henry began publicly displaying his great love and favorite, Rosamund, in 1174. Henry met Rosamund at some point in 1166, and it is thought his publicly favoring Rosamund was an attempt to instigate Eleanor into requesting a divorce. Eleanor would not take the bait.

Her sons continued to attack her husband. Henry the Young King tried again to overthrow his father in 1183, this time in Limoges, an area under Eleanor’s control. Henry the Young King failed, and died that summer of dysentery. Later that year, Henry II brought Eleanor out of England and into Normandy to settle a property dispute with the French king. Eleanor remained Henry II’s prisoner until his death in 1189, even though she enjoyed the appearance of greater freedom and being present at court after 1183.

Eleanor died at the ripe old age of 82.

Heather R Darsie

Assistant Editor

Heather R Darsie focuses on Medieval and Early Modern history, particularly Germany under Charles V. She is the author of “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s Beloved Sister” and her second book is set for release next year.


Love learning about the Queens of England? Are you interested in Tudor history or Women’s history? Then check out my book, Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’, a new biography about Anna of Cleves told from the German perspective!

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Women Behind Their Men: Anne Lovell

Written by Expert Contributor Michele Schindler

The discovery of Richard III`s remains in a car park in Leicester, seven years ago, has caused a surge of interest not only in the life of this controversial monarch, but also in his contemporaries. A particularly positive trend during these last years has been the interest showed in the women in Richard`s life, in the Wars of the Roses period in general. Whereas most of them have been typecast, if not outright ignored, over the last few centuries, many talented authors have focused on their lives, their influence, their politicial opinions, showing the fully rounded personalities they have been denied for so long.

Minster Lovell

Sadly, however, one influential woman has been strangely excempt from this trend. While her contemporaries have finally been allowed to emerge from the mists of history, Anne Lovell has not been given any attention. Ignored in history books, maligned in fiction, Anne`s importance in life has been all but forgotten.

Her life did not begin in a way that promised anything but rich and comfortable obscurity. Born as the third daughter and fourth child of Henry FitzHugh, 5th Baron FitzHugh, and his wife Alice Neville in 1460, Anne`s future probably seemed predictable, comprising of marriage to a member of the gentry or lower-ranking nobility and motherhood.

At least, this appears to have been what her parents were planning for her. In February 1465, when Anne was not more than barely five years old at the most, they married her to the then eight-year-old Francis Lovell, who had become Baron Lovell only around five weeks earlier after his father`s sudden death. It was a marriage made possible by Anne`s uncle Richard, Earl of Warwick, and would doubtlessly have been seen as a good match for the little girl.

It cannot be said how much Anne and Francis saw of each other in the first years of their marriage. It is known, however, that it was in the summer of 1466 that Anne`s mother-in-law, Joan Beaumont died, leaving Francis and his sisters Joan and Frideswide full orphans. After their mother`s death, it seems the girls were raised together with Anne and her siblings in her parents` household.

It is probable that during this time, Anne knew her sisters-in-law far better than her husband, who did not live in the same household she did. It was only some years later that he seems to have started living in her parents` household,  but it is known that by 10th September 1470, he was definitely there, for he is included, together with Anne, her siblings and his sisters, in a pardon granted to Henry FitzHugh for his rebellion that year. It is one oft her very few early mentions of Anne in the sources, though it does not say anything about her personally. Only ten years old when the pardon was issued, her inclusion being a nominal one, not indicative of any of her actions.

The next mention of Anne found in contemporary sources is from 1473, by which time quite a lot in her life had changed. Now thirteen, she had lost her father the year before and seen her brother Richard become Baron FitzHugh. Though her father`s death meant that she and her siblings were the king`s wards, it seems that their mother Alice, had been allowed to keep custody of them, and in the summer of 1473, she and her children, Anne among them,  joined the prestigious Corpus Christi Guild in York.

FitzHugh Arms

An interesting fact about this is that Anne`s husband, Francis, was present then as well and joined the guild with Anne and her family. This suggests Francis stayed with the FitzHughs regularly until Anne was old enough to be his wife in more than name, perhaps to give Anne the chance to get to know him, but there is no way to be certain. Nor do we know exactly when Anne was considered old enough, though some guesswork can be made. Francis made sure his sisters were not married before they were sixteen. It seems likely that he and Anne therefore also delayed cohabition and consummation until she had reached that age.

There evidence that this was also the age that Anne began living together with Francis, such as a letter written by Elizabeth Stonor in early March 1477. This letter refers to her and Francis, clearly as the Stonors`  Oxfordshire neighbours. The context makes it clear that their relationship, while friendly, was still comparatively new and uncertain, which would fit perfectly with the Lovells, aged 20 and 16, first moving into Francis`s ancestral home of Minster Lovell Hall together around half a year before the letter was written.

The letter also contains an interesting minor mention of Anne, as the recipient of a present, like her husband, to win their good will. This indicates that the Stonors knew, or at least assumed, that Anne held some sway over her husband or meant something to him, as well as that she held some influence of her own, and that her friendship as well as his was worth cultivating.

Sadly, as so much of Anne`s life, evidence about her in the following years is scarce. She often visited her mother, usually together with her husband. Quite possibly, she also often saw her sisters, both of whom named their first daughter after Anne, and her brothers as well.

Even if she did not, she definitely saw her older brother Richard at court on 4th January 1483, as he acted as one of Anne`s husbands sponsors when he was created a viscount and Anne became a viscountess, and event that must have been splendid for her.

It was the beginning of a steep career for her husband and following events would catapult Anne, too, more into the limelight than she had been until that point. Only four months later, King Edward IV died and six months later, Edward`s brother Richard had become king, in a way that remains controversial to this day. Since the new king was her husband`s closest friend, he was favoured a lot, which was to reflect on Anne as well.

It is known that when Richard became king, Anne was present for his coronation. She was in the new queen`s train, like her mother Alice and older sister Elizabeth, and like them and several other ladies of high standing, she was given “a long gown of blue velvet with crimson satin” and “one gown of crimson velvet and white damask” for the festivities.

Unlike her mother and Elizabeth, Anne was not made a lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne, who was her first cousin, and unlike them, she does not seem to have been favoured in any other way by the new queen. In fact, it seems that after the coronation, she was not ever present in her household, which means that her presence at the coronation had been an exception made for the special occasion.

As to why Anne did not join her mother and sister in becoming a favour lady of the queen, we can once more only speculate. It is possible, of course, that the two women simply did not like each other. However, had Anne wished to be a lady-in-waiting, it is almost impossible Queen Anne could have denied her this, as she was the wife of one of the most important men in the government. It is therefore most likely Anne herself decided that she was not interested in the position, though the reasons for this must remain lost to history.

Lovell Our Dogge by Michele Schindler

Anne appears to have chosen to remain close to her husband whenever possible, which would mean she was at court often, and witnessed a lot of the events that remain so controversial to this day. Her opinions on them can never be known, but it seems that at the very least, she did not dislike Richard III.

Richard`s reign, famously, was not to last long, and within only two years of his accession, he was faced with an invasion, by an exiled Lancastrian earl named Henry Tudor. He employed Anne`s husband, among many others, to help him ward off this invasion. Perhaps with the danger of this task in mind, on 10th June 1485 Francis Lovell created an indenture in which he arranged for Anne to receive several manors in the event of his death, not just to keep for the rest of her life, but to own and be able to pass on to her descendants after her death. This was an unusual arrangement, and not at all one he would have needed to make, indicating that Anne was priced by her husband.

The fact that this arrangement would have enabled her to pass these manors on to her descandants also shows up an oddity. It is certain that Anne never had a child by Francis, yet even after what were likely nine years of living as man and wife, he does not seem to have at all blamed her for it, or, as can be seen from the indenture, even doubted she could have children. Since this arrangement could have disadvantaged any children Anne had by him, giving their half-siblings she potentially could have had by another man after Francis`s death a claim to these manors, it seems he thought or knew that their childlessness was his fault, though there is no telling why.

What Anne thought of this is, as always, up for speculation, but it does seem that she did not hold it against her husband. Nor does she seem to have held it against her husband that when Richard III was killed in battle, he chose not to accept the newly made Henry VII`s pardon. It is of course possible that she would have wished for him to do the same her brother Richard FitzHugh did, accept Henry VII, but once Francis`s decision decision was made, she supported it.

In march 1486, less than a year after Henry`s accession, Francis started a rebellion with two supporters, the brothers Humphrey and Thomas Stafford. It was a dangerous but not well thought-out undertaking, probably born more of desperation than any political thought, and not surprisingly, it failed. The brothers Stafford were captured and faced the consequences of their actions, but Francis was never caught, which seems to have been at least partly because Anne helped him. After the failure of the rebellion, the Countess of Oxford relayed information where Francis was hiding, which turned out to be inaccurate. Shortly afterwards, Anne`s brother Richard was stripped of several offices and the whole FitzHugh family, Anne included, watched with suspicion by the new government. Since Countess Margaret was Anne`s aunt and quite close to her mother, it is certainly far from impossible that the faulty intelligence where Francis was hiding came from Anne.

Anne remained under suspicion, and perfectly uncaring of the fact, for at least the next year. Famously, in 1487, with the support of Margaret of York, Dowager Duchess of Burgundy and John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, Francis started another rebellion in 1487, which would go down in history as the Lambert Simnel uprising. It was far better planned than the rebellion of 1486 had been, and once more, Anne appears to have been in contact with her husband and to have supported him.

In a letter to John Paston written on 16th May 1487, Sir Edmund Bedingfeld warned him that there were rumours he had met with “Lady Lovell”, and cautions him that he should act wisely about this rumour. Bedingfield does not spell out why he considers that such a meeting would be unthinkable, apparently certain Paston would know. Since only three months earlier, Paston had been chided by the Earl of Oxford, one of Henry`s closest men, for accidentally passing on wrong information regarding Francis`s whereabouts, it might very well be that Anne was suspected, or even known, to have once more deliberately spread bad intelligence. It can naturally not be proved today, but it certainly is remarkable that two people connected with Anne were provided with wrong information about Francis`s whereabouts at moments crucial for his escape.  

It is obvious that the rebels, while in Ireland and Burgundy, must have had a contact in England, as they when they were landed on Piel Island in June 1487, they were already awaited by supporters. There is some evidence that this supporter in England was in fact Anne, and it seems that after Henry VII`s men had won the battle, she was surreptiously investigated. But whatever she did, it was apparently never proved, for Henry VII`s government enacted no punitive measures against her.

Interestingly, Anne does not seem to have been afraid of being punished, or else her concern for Francis overrode her fear, for in 1488, she was looking for her husband. We know this from another letter to John Paston, this one from Anne`s mother, in which Alice FitzHugh mentions that Anne was looking for Francis, supported by unnamed “benevolers“. For this purpose, she had send one of Francis`s men and fellow rebels, Edward Franke, to look for him, but he had been unsuccessful.

What is especially intriguing about this is that  that Edward Franke was himself a traitor at that point, and knowing of his whereabouts without reporting them was treason in itself. It speaks volumes about Anne`s feelings for her husband that she did not care for the danger to herself when trying to find out what had happened to him. It is also an indication that she was courageous, and determined to find the truth.

The mention of the “benevolers”, whom she seems to have trusted and who seem to have supported her in this risky undertaking, appear to show that she was a well-liked woman who had several close, trusted friends.

We do not know if Anne ever found out what happened to her husband. It seems that sometime before  December 1489, she gave up looking, as we do know that by then, she had taken a religious vow, for when Henry VII`s government granted her an annuity of 20 pounds then, she was called “our sister in God”. It means that at the age of 29 years at the most, Anne was certain she did not want to marry another time. Though of course her marriage prospects were diminished significantly due to her being a traitor`s widow, she could have found someone interested in her family connections, or even married for affection, but chose not to. Again, it can be taken as an indicator of feelings of affection for Francis.

We do not know what sort of vow she took, nor do we know what happened to her after that. The last mention of her in any source is in a second attainder passed against Francis in 1495, at which time she was spoken of as still alive. She might have died in 1498, but was definitely dead by January 1513.

Michèle Schindler

Expert Contributor

Michèle Schindler studied at Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, reading English Studies and history with a focus on mediaeval studies. At the same time she worked as a language teacher, teaching English and German as a second language. In addition to English and German, she is fluent in French, and reads Latin.

Find Michèle’s book here:

Jacquetta of Luxembourg: Mother of the Commoner Queen

Originally published on as ‘Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Duchess of Bedford and Countess Rivers

Written by Expert Contributor, Susan Abernethy

Jacquetta of Luxembourg was the great-grandmother of King Henry VIII. She was the daughter of one of the oldest families in Luxembourg and northern France and could claim descent from Charlemagne. She would defy convention by marrying for love and beneath her station in life. While her daughter Elizabeth Woodville would become Queen of England, she tragically lost several members of her family due to the vagaries of the Wars of the Roses.

There is no known surviving portrait of Jacquetta. This is a depiction of a 15th century Burgundian woman by the artist Petrus Christus dating from 1450-1460

Jacquetta of Luxembourg or Jacquetta of St. Pol was born c. 1416. She was the eldest child of Pierre de Luxembourg, Count of St. Pol, Conversano and Brienne, seigneur of Enghien and Vicomte of Lille. Her mother was Marguerite des Baux (or del Balzo in Italian). We know nothing of her early life but she probably lived with her family in Brienne and received an education commensurate with her status.

At the time of Jacquetta’s birth, France and England were engaged in the Hundred Years War. The Treaty of Troyes of 1420 had brought relative peace and named King Henry V of England and his successors as the heirs to the throne of France upon the death of King Charles VI. Starting in 1422, the brother of Henry V, John Duke of Bedford began serving as regent in France on behalf of the English government in the name of King Henry VI. In 1423, he married Anne, sister of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. It was to be a happy marriage that produced no children and Anne died in 1432.

Isabeau of Bavaria and Charles VI of France at the Treaty of Troyes. Illuminated miniature from Jean Froissart’s Chroniques, BL Harley 4380, c. 1470

Bedford was convinced to marry again by Louis, Bishop of Thérouanne, the French chancellor for the Duke from 1425-1435. The chosen bride was the bishop’s niece Jacquetta. At the time of her marriage, she was seventeen and described as lively, beautiful and gracious. Louis performed the wedding in the cathedral of Thérouanne on April 20, 1433. The match was offensive to Bedford’s former brother-in-law, the Duke of Burgundy as Bedford had failed to ask for permission, married quickly after the death of his first wife and for other political reasons.

That summer, Bedford’s brother Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, regent for their nephew King Henry VI, requested Bedford come to England to answer questions of negligence regarding his job as regent in France. Bedford was also in need of more funds for war. On June 18, Jacquetta and her new husband sailed for England. On July 8, she requested and received denization, giving her the rights of English citizenship. That same year, her father died and a funeral service was held in Old St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. In April of 1434, she received the robes of the Order of the Garter.

While they were in England for a year, Jacquetta and Bedford lived in London and Fulbrook in Warwickshire. When they returned to Paris, they lived in the Hôtel de Bourbon near the Louvre and later moved to Rouen. The Duke of Burgundy, still smarting from Bedford’s marriage to Jacquetta, abandoned his alliance with the English and made a pact with the French. During this time, Bedford appointed Sir Richard Woodville lieutenant of the garrison at Calais. He was doing his best to rule the English territories in France as he became increasingly ill. He died on September 14, 1435 and was buried in Rouen.

John, Duke of Bedford, praying before St George; from BL Add MS 18850, f. 256v (the “Bedford Hours”)

Jacquetta’s uncle Louis was the executor of Bedford’s will. The Duke granted her a generous amount of goods worth twelve thousand livres and she inherited his library. Bedford tried to give her a life interest in his income and lands but this proved impossible due to inheritance laws. However, on February 6, 1436, King Henry VI allowed her the usual dower of one-third of Bedford’s property, the resulting value of which was £1,333 with an income of £817 per annum. She also had claim to some properties in France. The agreement allowed her to return to England on the condition that she obtain the king’s permission before remarrying.

Sometime before the spring of 1437, she married Sir Richard Woodville. Richard was a young and handsome gentleman from Northamptonshire who had served in the retinue of the Duke of Bedford in France. We don’t know how or when their romance started but Jacquetta probably knew him well and they most likely wanted to marry right away. Perhaps the difference in their social standing made them hesitate. Within a year of receiving her dower, the marriage was made without the permission of the king and was shocking due to a woman of status marrying a mere gentlemen of little means.

Jacquetta was forced to ask the king’s pardon and pleaded that the fine not be too exorbitant. On March 23, 1437, Parliament recognized the marriage and ordered the couple to pay the Crown a fine of £1000. She raised the money by selling some of her west country manors to Cardinal Beaufort, the king’s wealthy half great-uncle. The couple received a full pardon on October 24. Jacquetta brought land, wealth and generous income to the marriage.

Richard’s career went forward despite the unorthodox marriage. He worked in various positions in England. He served under the Duke of Somerset and later under the Richard Duke of York in France until 1442. He gained an international reputation as a premier jouster. Jacquetta probably spent much of the first years of her marriage in France overseeing legal matters regarding her dower lands. Jacquetta maintained contacts with her relatives in France and Burgundy.

John, Duke of Bedford, praying before St George; from BL Add MS 18850, f. 256v (the “Bedford Hours”)

The family made their primary home in Grafton Regis beginning in late 1436. They most likely leased the home but eventually purchased it on June 10, 1440 after the owner died. Jacquetta was remarkably fertile. She would bear fourteen children, seven sons and seven daughters. Twelve would live to adulthood. The birth dates and order of her children were not recorded. They are listed in a contemporary source as follows: Anthony, Earl Rivers, Richard, Elizabeth who married King Edward IV, Louis, another Richard, Sir John Woodville, Jacquetta, Anne, Mary, another John, Lionel, Bishop of Sarum, Margaret, Jane, Sir Edward Woodville and finally, Katherine, Duchess of Buckingham.

In 1444, Jacquetta and her husband, along with a large party, were chosen to escort King Henry VI’s new bride Margaret of Anjou from France to England for the wedding. Jacquetta’s sister Isabel was married to Margaret’s uncle Charles, Count of Maine. Jacquetta was in high favor with the new queen. She became an important member of Henry VI’s court and would serve in various capacities for Queen Margaret. On May 8, 1448, Jacquetta’s husband was elevated to the peerage and chose the title Baron Rivers.

Jacquetta and her eldest daughter Elizabeth were very close. In 1452, Elizabeth married Lord Grey of Groby who was a member of a Lancastrian family. She would have two boys during this marriage. On November 18, 1453, Jacquetta attended the churching of Queen Margaret after the birth of her son Edward of Lancaster. In the summer of 1456, Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou went on progress and Jacquetta was with the queen upon her entry into Coventry in the Midlands. In November 1457, Sir Richard was made constable of Rochester Castle and Jacquetta accompanied him to live there. They were not there to defend the coast from the French but to defend from an attack by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick who was now Constable of Calais.

Although the reign of King Henry VI was weak and misguided, the Woodville family would remain staunch supporters of the House of Lancaster in the civil strife that broke out between Lancaster and York. This conflict would become known as the Wars of the Roses. In 1459, Queen Margaret ordered Jacquetta’s husband to assemble a fleet at Sandwich to come to the aid of the Duke of Somerset, who was fighting for the King against the Earl of Warwick. Warwick was attacking ships of the Hanseatic League, disrupting trade. Jacquetta joined her husband in Sandwich along with their eldest son Anthony.

On January 19, 1460, one of Warwick’s men attacked the English fleet and dragged Rivers, Jacquetta and Anthony from their beds. Jacquetta remained in Kent but Rivers and Anthony were taken to Calais where they were harangued and castigated by Warwick and Edward, Earl of March, son of Richard Duke of York. But the men were never charged with a crime or imprisoned and they were eventually released.

The civil strife between Lancaster and York was now escalating. In February 1461, Queen Margaret’s troops had a victory at the second Battle of St. Albans. Unfortunately, Jacquetta’s daughter Elizabeth’s husband, Sir John Grey was killed in the battle and Elizabeth returned home with her two sons to live with her parents.

After the battle of St. Albans, Queen Margaret tried to gain entry into London. The gates remained closed to her. The City of London recruited Jacquetta, Lady Scales and Anne, dowager Duchess of Buckingham to plead with Margaret that she do no harm to the city. Margaret promised not to punish the city and it was agreed a small Lancastrian force would be allowed in. But the city was so pro-Yorkist the gates were barred even to a small contingent. Margaret realized she would not gain entry and withdrew her troops to the north. The city did open its gates to the Yorkists and Edward, Duke of York was proclaimed King Edward IV.

Sometime after the Yorkist victory at the bloody Battle of Towton in March of 1461, King Edward made his way from the north to London and stopped at Grafton Regis to spend a couple of nights. This may be when he met Jacquetta’s beautiful daughter Elizabeth Grey and got to know her. Jacquetta’s husband Richard and son Anthony had been captured at Towton and imprisoned in the Tower. But in July, King Edward pardoned them and they returned to Grafton.

By 1464, the formerly Lancastrian Woodville family had come to an understanding with the Yorkist king Edward IV. Sometime in the spring or late summer, King Edward married Elizabeth Grey secretly with the help of Jacquetta. She was one of a handful who witnessed the ceremony. When the marriage became known, Jacquetta once again had a premier place at court. She attended the coronation of her daughter and dined at the subsequent magnificent banquet. She attended the christening at Westminster Abbey and stood as godmother to Elizabeth’s first child, Elizabeth of York who was born on February 11, 1466. When Elizabeth was “churched” a few weeks later, Jacquetta attended the ceremony.

Queen Elizabeth Woodville in her coronation robes (Worshipful Company of Skinners’ Fraternity Book)

In 1469, for various reasons, the Earl of Warwick rebelled against King Edward. After the Yorkist defeat at the Battle of Edgecote Moor, Warwick seized control of the king and held him in custody. Jacquetta’s husband and her son John were taken prisoner and following a hasty show trial, were executed at Kenilworth on August 12.

Warwick had Jacquetta arrested on charges of witchcraft. Thomas Wake, a Northamptonshire man, reported she manufactured two obscene leaden figures representing King Edward and her daughter Elizabeth and practiced black arts to bring about their marriage. She was also accused of making another figure representing the Earl of Warwick and conspiring his death.

Jacquetta immediately defended herself, writing to the Lord Mayor of London, recalling her service on the city’s behalf and asking for his protection. The Lord Mayor forcefully defended her. After investigation, it was revealed that the witness had been bribed and charges were dropped. By February of 1470, Jacquetta was cleared of all charges. However, the accusations of witchcraft were revived against her after her own death when King Edward IV died.

Warwick eventually relented and released King Edward. He returned to London and a joyful family reunion. Warwick went to France and made an alliance with the former Queen Margaret to return King Henry VI to the throne. In September of 1470, Warwick invaded England. King Edward IV was forced to flee the country and Queen Elizabeth entered sanctuary in Westminster Abbey with her children and Jacquetta joined her there. Queen Elizabeth gave birth to her son Edward while in sanctuary. King Edward returned to England with troops and defeated the Lancastrians at the Battle of Barnet in April of 1471. Warwick was killed in the battle. Edward returned to London and Queen Elizabeth came out of sanctuary.

But Margaret of Anjou had come to England and although she was dismayed that Warwick had been killed and defeated, she decided to continue the fight. Queen Elizabeth and Jacquetta took refuge in the Tower of London as Edward fought at the Battle of Tewkesbury. King Edward won the battle and Margaret’s son Edward, Prince of Wales was killed. While Elizabeth and Jacquetta were in the Tower, they came under attack but survived. King Edward returned to London victorious. Henry VI was murdered in the Tower next few weeks.

Jacquetta brought lawsuits to court against the Earl of Warwick for the unlawful deaths of her husband and son but none of these actions amounted to anything. Her children would make brilliant marriages among the English nobility. She loved culture and the arts and passed this love on to her children. Among her books was a manuscript of the “Book of the City of Ladies” by Christine Pizan. Jacquetta died on May 30, 1472. There is evidence she made a will but the document has not survived and her place of burial is unknown. Jacquetta was a formidable woman with resilience, determination and strength. She was a survivor.

Further reading: “The Last Medieval Queens” by J.L. Laynesmith, “Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses” by John A. Wagner, “The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family” by Susan Higginbotham, “Elizabeth Wydeville: The Slandered Queen” by Arlene Okerlund, “Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower” by David Baldwin, entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography on Jacquetta of Luxembourg written by Lucia Diaz Pascual

Susan Abernethy

Expert Contributor

Susan Abernethy has a degree in history and is a member of the Rocky Mountain Medieval and Renaissance Association. Her blog, The Freelance History Writer has been continuously publishing historical articles since 2012, with an emphasis on European, Tudor, medieval, Renaissance, Early Modern and Women’s history. She is currently working on a biography of a prominent Stuart royal.



The Illegitimate Son: Arthur Plantagenet

by Heather R. Darsie

Please note this article first appeared on

Arthur Plantagenet was born in the late 1460’s in English-held Calais. He was the illegitimate son of King Edward IV o England. His mother’s identity is unknown. Up until Edward IV’s death in 1483, Arthur was raised at court. It is not known how his teenage years were spent after Edward’s death and during the reigns of Richard III or Henry VII. When he was in his early 20s, he joined his half-sister Elizabeth of York’s household. She died a couple years later from a complicated childbirth. After that, he was moved to his brother-in-law Henry VII’s household, and remained a fixture at court.

Stallplate of Arthur Plantagenet, via Wikimedia Commons.

Arthur received various honors from his nephew Henry VIII after Henry became king in 1509. Including be made Esquire of the King’s Bodyguard c. 1509, he eventually became Vice-Admiral of England. In 1511, Arthur married Elizabeth Grey. When Elizabeth’s niece, the son of her brother John, 2nd Viscount Lisle, died in 1519, Elizabeth was the only family member available to inherit and became 6th Baroness Lisle. Arthur and his wife were part of Henry VIII’s train during the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520. In 1523, Henry VIII awarded his uncle Arthur the title and rights of 1st Viscount Lisle by virtue of Arthur’s marriage to Elizabeth.  He lost the title when Elizabeth died a couple years later.

Arthur next married Honor Grenville in 1529. It was a second marriage for them both. They did not have children together, but Arthur was involved in raising his stepchildren. Arthur received several more important duties from Henry VIII. By 1533, Arthur was Governor then Constable of Calais, and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. As Constable of Calais, Arthur had a few curious tasks, such as finding quail eggs for Jane Seymour during her pregnancy in 1537. Honor Grenville corresponded with Anne Boleyn, and appears to have been supportive of her.

From Arthur and Honor the world has the Lisle Letters. Because they were stationed in Calais, Arthur and Honor had to conduct most of their court and day-to-day business via letters to England. Their letters were seized in 1540 when Arthur, then roughly 65 to 70 years old, was arrested with a group of other Calais officials for treason. Arthur was kept in the Tower of London for two years. Henry decided to release Arthur in 1542. Upon hearing the news of his imminent release, Arthur had a heart attack and died on 3 March 1542.

Monumental brass of Honor Grenville, via Wikimedia Commons.

Arthur was arrested 19 May 1540, and Honor arrested the day after. She was placed under house arrest for two years in Calais. After Honor’s release, she went through a period of great joy in learning that both she and her husband Arthur were free, then great sorrow upon learning of his death. After returning to England, she lived away from court for the rest of her life. Honor died in 1566, aged roughly 73 years.

The downfall of Arthur and his wife Honor came about because of rumors that Honor, secretly a Catholic, was trying to secure a marriage for one of her daughters to a Frenchman. The French were enemies of England; if a noble person married a French person without proper royal approval, that amounted to treason. The letters between Arthur and Elizabeth were seized in hopes of finding evidence of their suspected treason. It was never found. Arthur outlived his legitimate Plantagenet cousin Margaret de la Pole by about one year.

Sources & Suggested Reading

  1. Grummitt, David. “Plantagenet, Arthur, Viscount Lisle (b. before 1472, d. 1542)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press (2004).
  2. St. Clare Byrne, Muriel, ed. The Lisle Letters: An Abridgement. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (1983).

Assistant Editor/Heather R Darsie



Heather R Darsie focuses on Medieval and Early Modern history, particularly Germany under Charles V. She is the author of “Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s Beloved Sister” and her second book is set for release next year.




Check out Heather’s Book on Anne of Cleves:

Love learning about the Early Modern period? Are you interested in Tudor history or Women’s history? Then check out Heather’s book, Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’, a new biography about Anna of Cleves told from the German perspective!

The Devil’s Brood

Written by Matthew Lewis

The Plantagenet dynasty remains England and Britain’s longest reigning royal house, providing kings of England from Henry II’s accession in 1154 until Richard III’s death at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Its beginnings were less than auspicious, though, and the dynasty that began with the Henry II, first Angevin King of England, might well have come crashing down in the next generation. Henry famously had problems with his four sons as they all jostled impatiently for power and prestige, desperate to carve up their father’s vast empire while he still lived.

Coronation of King Henry III, British Library

Two of Henry’s son, Henry the Young King and Geoffrey, died before their father and the other two, Richard and John, would go on to become kings. Both were in open rebellion against their father when he died, their actions driving him into the grave aged 56. Gerald of Wales, a courtier to Henry II who also lived through the reigns of Richard and John, was fond of stories about the early Plantagenets and their furious bickering. He relates one story about a mural Henry II had painted to offer a depiction of his struggles.

But it happened that there was a chamber at Winchester beautiful with various painted figures and colours, and a certain place in it which was left clear by the royal command, where a little time after the king ordered an eagle to be painted, and four young ones of the eagle sitting upon it, two upon the two wings, and a third upon the middle of the body, the fourth, not less than the others, sitting upon the neck, and more keenly watching there to peck out the eyes of its parent. But being asked by those who were on intimate terms with him what this picture might mean, he said, “The four young ones of the eagle are my four sons, who will not cease to persecute me even unto death. The younger of them, whom I even now embrace with such tender affection, will sometime at the last insult me more grievously and more dangerously than all the others.”1

Gerald had a story about the ancient origins of the counts of Anjou that also helped explain the catastrophic infighting that almost doomed the Plantagenet dynasty. There was once a Count of Anjou who seemed to have everything. His beautiful wife had provided him with four sons to secure his dynasty. As time went by, one thing began to bother the count. What began as a curiosity soon became a source of apprehension, particularly because his men began to gossip about it too. Everyone had noticed that each Sunday, the countess would stand and leave the church just before the elevation of the host.

The more the count thought about it, the more he realised that his wife was never keen to attend church, and that her devotions were, well, lacklustre. However hard he set his mind to trying to remember, the count could never recall how, or when, or where he had met his wife. It was as though he was blinded by her beauty. As his own curiosity deepened, and the voices of his men became louder and louder, mirroring his own concerns, the count decided that he had to act. The very next Sunday, the couple attended church, but when the countess rose to leave at the moment she always did, she found four of her husband’s men blocking her way. When they told her she would not be permitted to leave until the service was completed, she threw off her robe. Pushing her two oldest sons away, she grabbed the younger two and to the astonishment of all within the church, she flew up into the air. As fear gripped the congregation, the countess, revealed to be a demon, flew out of a high window. Neither she nor her two younger sons were ever seen again.

This was Gerald’s explanation of the volatile, self-destructive nature of the first two generations of what became known as the Plantagenet family. The name given to the dynasty is believed to derive from the Latin name for the sprig of broom plant often worn as a badge by Henry’s father Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. The Latin planta genista became Plantagenet, though the first known use of this name didn’t come until 1460 when Richard, Duke of York used it during his written claim to the throne occupied by Henry VI. It is from this story, this piece of foundation mythology, that the family derived the nickname of the Devil’s Brood. Gerald was adamant that it was tale King Richard I, Henry II’s son, was keen to tell whenever the opportunity presented itself. Gerald claimed that:

Moreover, king Richard was often accustomed to refer to this event; saying that it was no matter of wonder, if coming from such a race, sons should not cease to harass their parents, and brothers to quarrel amongst each other; for he knew that they all had come of the devil, and to the devil they would go. When, therefore, the root was in every way so corrupt, how was it possible that the branches from such a stock could be prosperous or virtuous?

Clerical chroniclers were always keen to find a religious explanation for events that unfolded in the world. Anything they could not explain, and much that they could, was the direct intervention of God, or the work of the devil that demanded punishment from the Lord. In this way, they consoled themselves that it was all part of a plan and that it would all end up precisely as God intended. Henry II was a descendant of this demon countess, and so his blood, and that of his sons, was tainted and doomed. The problem is that this story was a structure, a morality tale. It was applied to the troublesome Lusignan family too and in various guises to other noble families with bothersome members whose attitude needed to be explained.

King Richard I

It is interesting that Richard I was aware enough of his own part in the squabbles that tore his family apart and cost his father his life to embrace the fairy tale of his own demonic ancestry. Perhaps he saw the martial benefit of letting his enemies believe he was something unearthly and terrifying. Or maybe he felt some guilt for his part in hounding his own father into the grave. The Plantagenets would rule England for 331 years in total, but they could easily have been no more than a blip in a nation’s history.

Expert Contributor/Matthew Lewis

Matt is a writer and historian of the medieval period with a particular focus on the Wars of the Roses and Richard III. Matt is the author of several non-fiction books and biographies as well as two historical fiction novels. He operates a blog and can often be found on Twitter (@MattLewisAuthor), Facebook (MattLewisAuthor), Instagram (@MattLewisHistory) and YouTube (Matt Lewis).


Books on the Subject Written my Matt:

England’s Only Half-Spanish King: Edward II

by Expert Contributor, Kathryn Warner

Edward II ruled as king of England from July 1307 to January 1327, and is remembered as one of the country’s most unsuccessful – if not the most unsuccessful – kings in history. He was the first to be forced to abdicate his throne, and the nineteen and a half years of his reign saw endless conflict with his own barons, military defeats, excessive reliance on a parade of male ‘favourites’, and much else. Yet his turbulent reign is a fascinating one, and Edward himself was a fascinating, albeit deeply flawed, individual.

Half figure of Edward facing left with short, curly hair and a hint of beard. He wears a coronet and holds a sceptre in his right hand. He has a blue robe over a red tunic, and his hands are covered by white, embroidered gloves. His left hand seems to be pointing left, to something outside the picture. Erected at Westminster Abbey sometime during reign of Edward I, thought to be an image of the King.

Edward was born on 25 April 1284 in Caernarfon, North Wales, where his father had recently begun to build a great castle which still stands today. In 1284 it was, however, in the very early stages of construction, so Edward was perhaps born in a temporary timber building in the middle of a construction site. His father was Edward I, almost forty-five years old in April 1284 and king of England since the death of his father Henry III in November 1272, and his mother Leonor or Eleanor of Castile was forty-two, born perhaps in Valladolid in central Spain in November 1241. Rather astonishingly, Edward of Caernarfon was the youngest of his parents’ fourteen, perhaps even as many as sixteen, children. He had at least ten older sisters, of whom five lived into adulthood, and three older brothers, who all died in childhood: John (1266-71), Henry (1268-74) and Alfonso of Bayonne (1273-84). Edward was not born as the heir to his father’s throne, as his ten-year-old brother Alfonso – named after his uncle and godfather Alfonso X of Castile – was still alive in April 1284. Alfonso, however, died in August 1284, whereupon four-month-old Edward of Caernarfon became heir to their father’s throne. Unlike his three older brothers, Edward was a sturdy, healthy child, and he grew up to become an enormously strong, fit, tall, and physically powerful man.

Edward II shown receiving the English crown in a contemporary illustration
provided by the British Library  (Public Doman)

Edward’s royal ancestry was impeccable: he was crowned king of England at age twenty-three, and was the son of a king and the grandson of two more kings. His paternal grandfather was Henry III, born in 1209, king of England from 1216 to 1272, the fourth longest-reigning king in English history after Elizabeth II, Victoria and George III. His maternal grandfather was Fernando III, king of Castile and Leon, born in 1201 and ruler of two of the four kingdoms of medieval Spain. Fernando III conquered much of the territory of al-Andalus, or Muslim Spain, between the 1220s and the 1240s, including the great city of Seville, Cordoba and Jaen. He died in Seville in May 1252, when his daughter Leonor, the twelfth of his fifteen children. was ten years old. She married Lord Edward, heir to the English throne, in Burgos, northern Spain, two and a half years later. Fernando was later canonised as a saint of the Catholic Church, and is now the patron saint of the city of Seville, where he and many members of his family are buried in the cathedral.

It is a little-known fact that Edward II, that most disastrous of English kings, was the grandson of a Spanish saint, and in fact he was the first of only two half-Spanish monarchs in English history: the second was Queen Mary I, born in 1516 as the child of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon. Eleanor of Castile was not the first Spanish queen of England, as her husband’s great-uncle Richard Lionheart (reigned 1189 to 1199) married Berengaria of Navarre in 1191, but the couple had no children, and Berengaria never set foot in England, or least not while she was its queen. Edward II’s great-grandson Henry IV (reigned 1399 to 1413) married Juana of Navarre in 1403, but she was his second wife and was not the mother of his children.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to say for sure what Edward II knew about his Spanish heritage, as his mother the queen died when he was only six years old in November 1290. Rather curiously, he inherited a county in northern France from his mother after her death. Queen Eleanor, though herself Spanish, had a French mother: Jeanne de Dammartin (c. 1220-79), queen-consort of Castile and Leon, and also countess of Ponthieu in her own right as her inheritance from her parents. Jeanne’s maternal grandmother Alix, countess of the Vexin, daughter of Louis VII of France, had been betrothed to Richard Lionheart of England for many years, and married William Talvas, the young count of Ponthieu, after Richard refused to marry her. Alix and William’s daughter Marie was the mother of Jeanne, queen of Castile, who passed on her county of Ponthieu to her daughter Eleanor, queen of England, who in turn passed it on to her youngest and only surviving son, Edward II.

Edward thus became count of Ponthieu at the age of six, and it was the first of his many titles. I’ll examine further aspects of his life, family and reign in future articles for History Lair. 

Expert Contributor/Kathryn Warner

Kathryn Warner holds two degrees in medieval history from the University of Manchester, and is a historian of the fourteenth century, specializing in the reign of Edward II. She has appeared in TV documentaries, has given a paper at the International Medieval Congress, and often gives talks about Edward to conferences, symposiums and history societies.


Books on the subject by Kathryn Warner:

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