Queens of England, Berengaria of Navarre, 1165/70 - 1230

Berengaria was born sometime between 1165 and 1170, like many medieval Queens, we do not know much about her life. She was the eldest daughter of Sancho VI of Navarre and Sancha of Castile. Berengaria was said to have been well educated and versed in the troubadour culture that existed in southern France at the time. She was said to be dark haired, petite and very beautiful. 

Her marriage to Richard I was organised by Richard’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who wanted the marriage as Richard, now king, needed and heir and Navarre would be an ally that could help to protect the borders of Aquitaine. In 1190, Eleanor went to Navarre to organise a betrothal between Berengaria and Richard. The betrothal could not be openly announced due to Richard’s prior betrothal to Alys of France. However the match with Alys was no longer wanted, this may have been because she had an affair with Richards father, thus making the affinity too close between the two. 

Richard had already set out on the Third Crusade as the marriage was organised and so Berengaria had to be brought to him by Eleanor. They met with Richard at Messina in Sicily and they were married after Lent on 12th May 1191, Berengaria was crowned at the same time. It is believed that she  loved her husband deeply, while he saw her only as his duty. The widowed Queen of Sicily was Richard’s sister Joan and she became friends with Berengaria. Berengaria was left in her custody while Richard carried on with the crusade. 

Berengaria accompanied Richard for the first part of the crusade but they returned separately. Richard was captured on his return through Europe and Berengaria spent much time after that in raising the ransom for his release. When he was released, Richard went straight to trying to recapture the territory in France that had been lost while he was on crusade and did not immediately return to his wife, even though he was often at places nearby. The Pope eventually insisted that Richard return to Berengaria and stop his old philandering ways, Richard agreed and the couple were reunited.

Richard died in 1199 and Berengaria was said to have been very distressed. Berengaria is known as the only English Queen never to have visited England as she never visited England while she was Queen, although she may have visited later. She spent years pleading with King John, her husbands successor, to pay her pension and her rights as dowager Queen. Despite Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Pope both intervening, she still had not been paid in full at the time of John’s death. Henry III gave her payments fully after he came to the throne in 1216.

Berengaria never remarried and settled in Le Mans, at a dower property of hers, here she became a benefactress of the abbey of L'Epau. She spent the rest of her life doing good works in the area and was buried in the Abbey upon her death on 23rd December 1230. A body thought to be Berengaria’s was discovered in 1960 during restoration to the abbey and is now buried beneath a stone effigy of the queen. 

I made this play called “Plantagenet,” where the last line of the play is the first line of “Richard III.” I was heavily influenced by my girlfriend’s mother, who was very interested in the English kings and queens. I had decided that Richard III had gotten a bad rap, and I was also a big fan of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” There was this poet character throughout — I never named him — who manipulated Richard’s action and even his words, until Richard is finally speaking in Shakespeare’s language instead of his own.

Medieval Ring Representing The Love Affair of The Duchess of Lancaster And John of Gaunt, Younger Brother of The Black Prince of Wales

This extremely rare gold and sapphire posy ring (c. 1360-1400 AD) was reputedly the property of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster, a gift from her lover, John of Gaunt,  the third son of King Edward III and a member of the House of Plantagenet. It has an ornate blackletter ‘alas for fayte’ inscription to the inner face of the bezel. The sapphire appears to have originated in Kashmir, and is likely to have traveled to Europe across the Silk Road.

Read more about John, Katherine and the ring below and you can watch a video about it here.

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Queens of England, Margaret of Anjou, 1430 - 1482

Margaret was born on 23rd March 1430 to Rene of Anjou and Isabella, Duchess of Lorraine. Her mother was a forceful woman, who had helped her husband try and regain his throne of Naples and Margaret seems to have been influenced by her. She also took influence from her paternal grandmother, Yolande of Aragon, another strong willed woman, who apparently governed Anjou as well as any man. Thus Margaret came to be described as a passionate, proud and strong willed woman. 

On 23rd April 1445, Margaret was married to Henry VI, she was fifteen years old. Henry was eight years older than her and ruled many parts of Northern France, as well as being King of England. The marriage treaty involved the King of France receiving Maine and Anjou back from the English, this part of the treaty was kept secret from the English so as to avoid public outrage. She was crowned as Queen Consort on 30th May 1445 at Westminster Abbey.

Henry was a weak king, and he had problems with his sanity. When Margaret gave birth to their son Edward on 13th October 1453, Henry had a mental breakdown and was unable to communicate for months. Richard, Duke of York, being in line to the throne, ruled as regent while Henry was incapacitated, and it was not a power he would welcome giving up, as was seen with the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses two years later. Margaret was determined to keep the throne for her husband and her son and worked hard to raise support by travelling to places such as Scotland to ask for aid. She was separated from her husband during this period, as Henry was captured in the first battle of St Albans in 1455 and was not recaptured by Margaret's Lancastrian forces until 1461. Thereafter followed a Lancastrian defeat and the recapturing of Henry IV, with Margaret fleeing with their son. The Duke of York had died during a battle and so his son was now declared Edward IV. In 1470, Margaret made a further attempt to take the throne back for her family, with the support of the Earl of Warwick, sailing to England with her son and freeing her husband, declaring him king once more. 

Margaret’s victory was short lived. The Yorkist forces had turned the fighting around and during the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4th May 1471, her son was killed and her forces defeated. The death of her son and her reason for fighting seems to have broken Margaret’s strong spirits. Her husband was also declared dead several weeks later, officially he was said to have died of a broken heart after his sons death, however it is likely he was killed by Edward IV to remove the final threat to his throne. Margaret was captured after the battle and imprisoned in the Tower of London for four years. In 1475, she was released and allowed to live in France. Margaret lived there, as a relative of the king, although a poor and somewhat sad figure, until her death, in 1482.

PLANTAGENET: a mix for the dynasty of warrior/child/usurper kings and the extremely badass queens that ruled medieval england | listen


i. bastille - daniel in the den  ii. alpine - empire   iii. jesper kyd - chase theme (excerpt from ‘access the animus’)   iv. fever ray - if i had a heart   v. e. s. posthumus - arise   vi. the romanovs - white flag   vii. ramin djawadi - the lannisters send their regards   viii. two steps from hell - false king   ix. these new puritans - we want war   x. harry gregson-williams - coronation   xi. howard shore - helm’s deep   xii. the civil wars - poison & wine   xiii. puscifer - horizons   xiv. woodkid - iron   xv. hans zimmer and lisa gerrard - elysium   xvi. hurts - illuminated

Leonor Plantagenet holding a branch of broom plant, as she does on her wax seal.

Sorry, but I have to ramble. I’m so proud of this one! Freckles! I managed to do some decent freckles! And she’s completely adorable. My most beloved Leonor so far!

The Scotch broom was back then known as genista or plante genest and according to Wace’s Roman de Rou and John of Marmoutier’s Gesta Consulum Andegarvorum was worn by Leonor’s grandfather, Count Geoffrey of Anjou. The plant was used as symbol of the Plantagenet lineage: even Richard Lionheart used it on his first great seal.

(From: Cerda, José Manuel: The Marriage of Alfonso VIII of Castile and Leonor Plantagenet. The First Bond Between Spain and England in Middle Ages, in Aurell, Martin (ed.): Les stratégies matrimoniales (IXe - XIIIe siècle), Turnhout 2013, pp. 143-154,  p. 149).

P.S. Be kind, don’t remove my signature. And I would love to hear from you! Any advice is helpful!

Queens of England, Eleanor of Castile, 1241 - 1290

Eleanor was born in Castile, the daughter of Ferdinand III of Castile and Joan, the Countess of Ponthieu. The court she grew up in was a highly literary one and this would influence her later life. Before her betrothal to Edward I, it was hoped that Eleanor would marry Theobald II of Navarre, however the match fell through. 

Eleanor married Edward on 1st November 1254. Despite being a happy marriage, it was unpopular with the English immediately. This was caused by many of Eleanor’s relatives coming to England and receiving generous amounts of money from the King due to their connection with her. Her unpopularity was not helped by her bearing a string of three children who died young. Her position was strengthened though in July 1266, when she gave birth to her first son John, followed in 1268 by a second son, Henry and daughter in 1269 named Eleanor.

There is little record of Eleanor’s activities until the 1260’s, when the second barons war began. She was a firm supporter of Edward during the war, importing archers from Castile and staying in England. When Edward was captured by Simon De Montfort, Eleanor was honourably confined at Westminster Palace. When Henry III and Edward defeated the barons, Eleanor was freed and became more prominent at court, due to her husband’s closer involvement in government. 

Eleanor’s devotion to her husband can be seen in her decision to join him when he went on the Eighth Crusade in 1270. She even gave birth during the crusade, to a daughter, who was named Joanna of Acre, after the place of her birth. Edward also suffered an assassination attempt while in Acre, being stabbed in the arm with a poisoned dagger. Eleanor was apparently distraught by Edward’s injury, but the doctor cut out the affected flesh and he recovered. In 1272, the news reached Edward and Eleanor that Henry III had died, and Edward was now King Edward I. The couple returned to England and were crowned together on 19th August 1274. 

It can be seen that Eleanor and Edward had a happy marriage. There is no record of Edward ever having an affair or having any illegitimate children. Eleanor even accompanied Edward on his campaigns to Wales and Scotland, giving birth to the future Edward II in Caernarfon Castle in 1284, and starting the tradition of the heir to the throne bearing the title of Prince of Wales. Eleanor remained unpopular however, due to the vast amounts of land she acquired and her officials overzealous attitude towards retrieving money from her tenants. Further, people often blamed her for Edward’s unpopular actions, even though she lacked any political influence. Instead of advising her husband, she was a patron of literature and read a great deal. 

In 1290, Edward was in the North, due to political business in Scotland. Eleanor was ill and so followed him at a slower pace, aiming to meet up with him in Lincoln. Eleanor became too ill to continue when she reached Nottinghamshire and had to stop. She was given her last rites and Edward rushed to her bedside to hear her final requests and say goodbye. Edward was grief stricken at Eleanors death after 36 years of marriage. In a letter to the Abbot of Cluny, he referred to Eleanor as the wife

whom living we dearly cherished, and whom dead we cannot cease to love

In Eleanor’s memory, twelve stone crosses were erected to mark the route the funeral procession took along the road from Lincoln to London. Eleanor was buried on 17th December 1290, in Westminster Abbey. Edward remarried in 1299 for a political alliance and to secure the succession, as he only had one living son. He continued to attend memorial services to Eleanor, often with his new wife Marguerite, at his side. In a final attempt to honour his first wife’s memory, Edward and Marguerite named their only daughter Eleanor. 


August 22nd 1485: King Richard III dies

On this day in 1485, King Richard III of England died during the Battle of Bosworth Field, making him the last English monarch to die in battle. Before ascending to the throne, Richard served as protector of the realm for his nephew, the 12 year old King Edward V. Supposedly to protect him before his coronation, Richard had the young king and his brother lodged in the royal palace of the Tower of London. However, Edward’s claim to the throne was declared invalid and Richard claimed the throne for himself. Soon after Richard’s coronation in July 1483, ‘the Princes in the Tower’ mysteriously disappeared, leading many to believe Richard had them killed to consolidate his claim to the throne. Richard’s reign, and indeed much of that of his predecessors, was dominated by the Wars of the Roses. These wars for the throne were fought during the mid to late fifteenth century between the houses of Lancaster and York, rival factions of the royal House of Plantagenet. Richard III was a Yorkist and contributed to many of his house’s early victories in the conflict, helping ensure his brother and then his nephew’s reign. However, Richard III was destined to become the last king of both the House of York and the Plantagenet dynasty itself. He was defeated and killed by the forces of Lancastrian Henry Tudor in the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22nd August 1485, ending the Wars of the Roses and allowing Henry to become King and begin the rule of the Tudors. Richard III was buried unceremoniously at Grey Friars Church, and his remains were lost for centuries, until an excavation in 2012 found his skeleton under a car park in the city of Leicester. The subsequent renewed interest in Richard III, so maligned by William Shakespeare in the eponymous play as a murderer and “poisonous bunch-back’d toad”, was partly shaped by revisionist attempts to emphasise the positive aspects of his reign and character. In 2015, 530 years after his death, King Richard III was reburied in Leicester in a ceremony as befit a king.

Plantagenet (14th century): Horizontal Braiding, Gorget.
Gorget - When a wimple is worn without a veil, pinned over hair coils on the side of the head (Fig. 19). Sometimes the coils were braided horizontally (Fig.18). Horizontal Braiding- popular in the mid 14th century, the head would go uncovered, but sometimes a fillet would support the plaits ( Fig. 22).


Today in history - The coronation of Elizabeth Woodville

Elizabeth Woodville was the eldest daughter of Richard,1st Earl Rivers (executed 1469) and Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Duchess of Bedford (her brothers Anthony and John were also executed). By her first husband Sir John Grey she had sons Thomas and Richard and was a lady of the bedchamber to Queen Margaret, wife of Henry VI. After her husband was killed at the second battle of St Albans she married King Edward IV (reigned 1461-70 and 1471-83) secretly at Grafton in Northamptonshire on 1 May 1464. The marriage was finally announced the following year and she had a lavish coronation at the Abbey on 26 May 1465.

The Character of this Prince has been in general very severely treated by Historians, but as he was York, I am rather inclined to suppose him a very respectable Man. It has indeed been confidently asserted that he killed his two Nephews & his Wife, but it has also been declared that he did not kill his two Nephews, which I am inclined to believe true; & if this is the case, it may also be affirmed that he did not kill his Wife, for if Perkin Warbeck was really the Duke of York, why might not Lambert Simnel be the Widow of Richard. Whether innocent or guilty, he did not reign long in peace, for Henry Tudor E. of Richmond as great a villain as ever lived, made a great fuss about getting the Crown & having killed the King at the battle of Bosworth, he succeeded to it.

Jane Austen on Richard III

The History of England From the Reign of Henry the 4th to the Death of Charles the 1st 

Queens of England, Philippa of Hainault, 1314 - 1369

Philippa was born in 1314, the daughter of the Count of Hainault and Joan of Valois, a grandaughter of the French King. Philippa seems to have picked up a love of literature and learning at the Court of Hainault and in England she became the patron of the chronicler, Jean Froissart. Her betrothal to Edward III was arranged by Edward’s mother, in order to gain the Count of Hainault’s support in taking the throne from Edward II. Despite this arrangement, their marriage appears to have been a happy one, despite his affair with Alice Perrers during the later years of their marriage. 

Philippa married Edward III on 24th January 1328, less than a year after he won the throne, she was 14 and Edward was 15. She was not crowned for two years, due to the power that Edward’s mother Isabella held at that time as regent. Philippa was eventually crowned on 4th March 1330, when she was 6 months pregnant with her first child. Philippa became widely known as a kind and gentle queen. Unlike many other medieval queens, she did not alienate the English people by keeping her foreign retinue and promoting her homeland politically. She acted as regent for Edward several times when he was away fighting in France.

Philippa gave birth to about thirteen children over the course of her forty year marriage with at least nine surviving infancy, including Edward, the Black Prince and John of Gaunt. This led to her becoming fat in later years. The number of her children also caused other problems, with the descendants of her children starting the War of the Roses, over their claims to the throne. The Queen’s College, Oxford, was founded in 1341 and is named after Philippa.