Matilda was born in February 1102, the eldest child of Henry I and Matilda of Scotland. She had one younger brother, William Adelin. Little is known about her early life, but it is likely that she stayed with her mother where she was taught to read and educated in religious morals.
In April 1114, Matilda married Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor. During this marriage she gained considerable practical experience of government. She played a full part in it by sponsoring grants, dealing with petitioners, and taking part in ceremonial occasions. She was controversially crowned Empress of the Holy Roman Empire when she and Henry traveled to Italy in 1116 and acted as imperial regent when her husband traveled. Henry died in 1125 and left childless, Matilda returned to Normandy.
Henry I’s failure to produce another male heir after the death of William Adelin in 1120 made Matilda his preferred choice as his successor. In 1126, the Anglo-Norman barons swore to recognize Matilda and any of her future heirs. In order to secure the southern borders of Normandy, Henry married her to Geoffrey of Anjou, the son of Fulk, Count of Anjou. They were married in 1128 and by the time Henry I died in 1135, they had two sons, Henry and Geoffrey.
After Henry’s death, Matilda and Geoffrey faced opposition from the Norman barons and were unable to pursue their claims. Instead, Matilda’s cousin, Stephen of Blois easily claimed the throne with the backing of the English Church. In 1139, Matilda crossed into England to take the kingdom by force with the support of her half-brother Robert of Gloucester and her uncle, David I of Scotland. Her forces captured Stephen in 1141 but her attempts to be crowned at Westminster failed due to bitter opposition from London crowds. Because of her retreat she was never formally declared Queen of England and only received the title Lady of the English.
Later in 1141, Matilda’s brother Robert was captured and she agreed to exchange him for Stephen. The war then degenerated into a stalemate and in 1148, she returned to Normandy which was now in the hands of her husband. She left her eldest son Henry to continue the campaign in England. She settled into her court near Rouen and for the rest of her life focused on the administration of the Duchy. When Geoffrey died in 1151, Henry claimed the family lands and in 1154 succeeded the throne as Henry II. In Normandy, Matilda often acted as Henry’s representative and presided over the government. Henry depended on her during the early years of his reign and asked her advice on policy matters.
In her old age Matilda focused increasingly in Church affairs and her personal faith. When she died in 1167 her remaining wealth was given to the Church. Her tomb’s epitaph included the lines, “Great by birth, greater by marriage, greatest in her offspring: here lies Matilda, the daughter, wife, and mother of Henry.” (x)
Anne was born in 1501, the younger daughter of Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire, and Lady Elizabeth Howard. She was educated in the Netherlands and France, largely as a maid of honor to Claude of France. She returned to England in 1522 to marry her cousin James Butler, but the plans fell through and she secured a post as maid of honor to Catherine of Aragon.
At court, Anne quickly established herself as one of the most stylish and accomplished women and had a number of men competing for her. She sang, played several instruments, danced with ease, and spoke fluent French. She was also remarkably intelligent and quick-witted. Anne was at the center of any social gathering and she reveled in the attention. During this early time at court, Anne entered into a secret betrothal with Henry Percy. The engagement was broken off when Percy’s father refused to support it.
By March 1526, she was being pursued by Henry VIII. Anne resisted his attempts to seduce her and refused to become his mistress as her sister Mary had been. Within a year, Henry proposed marriage and she accepted. They both assumed an annulment would be easily obtained but Catherine’s defiance made it difficult. It became Henry’s greatest desire to marry her and when the Catholic Pope would not annul his marriage to Catherine, he began to split England away from the Catholic Church.
Even before their marriage, Henry gave Anne enormous influence in the English government. She was able to grant petitions, receive diplomats, and give patronage. It became essential for ambassadors to have her approval to have any influence with the king. In 1532, Anne was granted by Henry the Marquessate of Pembroke, an appropriate peerage for a future queen. She became a rich woman and now ranked above all other peeresses. Henry performed the investiture himself.
Anne secretly married Henry in January 1533 and was likely pregnant at the time. In May, Henry’s marriage to Catherine was declared invalid and the marriage to Anne was made good. She had her coronation in June at Westminster Abbey and was the last queen consort to be crowned separately from her husband. Unlike any other queen consort, Anne was crowned with St. Edward’s Crown which had previously been used to crown only a monarch. The public’s response to her coronation and procession through London was lukewarm.
Before Anne gave birth, Parliament passed the First Succession Act. It made Anne’s unborn child the true successor to the crown by declaring Mary, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, a bastard. The Act required all subjects to swear an oath to recognize it and any who refused were subject to being charged with treason. In September, Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth. Three miscarriages would follow and by 1536, Henry was courting Jane Seymour.
In April 1536, Henry began to plot Anne’s downfall with the help of Thomas Cromwell. Men were arrested and accused of being her lovers, including her own brother, George Boleyn. Anne herself was investigated for high treason. In May, she was arrested and accused of adultery, incest, and witchcraft, and sent to the Tower of London. She was tried by a jury of peers which included Henry Percy and her uncle, Thomas Howard. She was found guilty of treason on May 15 and four days later she was beheaded.
She was buried in an unmarked grave in the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula. Following the coronation of her daughter, Elizabeth I, Anne was venerated as a martyr and heroine of the English reformation. Her remains were later identified during the reign of Queen Victoria and Anne’s resting place is now marked in the marble floor. (x)
Queens of England +Eleanor of Aquitaine (1124-1204)
Eleanor was born in 1122 or 1124, the eldest child of William X, Duke of Aquitaine and Aenor de Châtellerault. By all accounts, her father ensured that Eleanor had the best possible education. She was taught to read and speak Latin, was well versed in music and literature, and was schooled in riding, hawking, and hunting. In 1130, her mother and brother William Aigret died, making Eleanor the heir presumptive to her father’s domains.
William died in 1137 and Eleanor became the Duchess of Aquitaine aged between 12 and 15. Shortly thereafter her guardian, Louis VI of France, married her to his son Prince Louis, the future Louis VII. Both were enthroned as Duke and Duchess of Aquitaine but her land would remain independent of France until her eldest son became King of the Franks and Duke of Aquitaine. Soon after they were invested Louis VI died, and Louis and Eleanor were anointed King and Queen of the Franks on Christmas of that year.
By 1152 Louis and Eleanor only had two daughters, Marie and Alix. In consideration of this they agreed to an annulment of their marriage. Their daughters were declared legitimate and stayed in the custody of Louis while Eleanor’s lands were restored to her. Traveling to Poitiers after the annulment, Theobald V, Count of Blois, and Geoffrey, Count of Nantes (brother of Henry, Duke of Normandy) tried to kidnap and marry her for her lands. When she arrived in Poitiers, Eleanor sent envoys to Henry asking him to come at once to marry her. They were married in May 1152 without the pomp and circumstance that befitted their rank.
In October 1154, Henry became King of England. Eleanor was crowned Queen of England in December the same year. Over the next thirteen years she bore Henry five sons and three daughters. They had a tumultuous marriage and Henry was not faithful. In 1167 the two agreed to a separation and Henry escorted Eleanor to her city of Poitiers after Christmas that year. When her protective custodian Earl Patrick was killed and Eleanor captured and ransomed his nephew, she was left in control of her lands.
In 1173, Eleanor’s son Henry the Young King revolted against his father. With Eleanor’s help he convinced his brothers to help him and she herself may have encouraged lords to rise up and support them. Eleanor was arrested when she left Poitiers in 1174 and sent to the king. For the next sixteen years Henry imprisoned her in various locations. She did not often get to see her sons and was only released for special occasions such as Christmas.
When Henry II died in 1189, Richard ascended the throne and one of his first acts as king was to release Eleanor. She served as regent when Richard went off on the Third Crusade. She survived his reign and lived well into John’s. She died in 1204 and was buried in Fontevraud Abbey next to her husband and son Richard. (x)
Mary was born in February 1516, the only surviving child of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. As a princess, she was well educated and by the age of nine could read and write Latin. Throughout her childhood, her father negotiated potential marriages with the Dauphin of France, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and Francis I. They were all broken off for various reasons.
Mary’s status was thrown into jeopardy when her father sought to divorce Catherine. By 1531, Catherine had been banished from court and Mary was forbidden to see her. In 1533 her parents’ marriage was declared legally void and Henry married Anne Boleyn. Mary was then deemed illegitimate and was styled “The Lady Mary” rather than Princess. Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth, took Mary’s place in the line of succession. Her household was dissolved and she was sent to join the household of her infant sister.
Mary refused to acknowledge Anne that was the queen or that Elizabeth was a princess, enraging her father. He kept her movements restricted and she was frequently ill, which the royal physician attributed to “poor treatment.” The relationship between Mary and Henry disintegrated to the point that they did not speak to each for three years. Despite both of them being ill, Henry still would not allow Mary to see her mother and she was inconsolable when Catherine died in 1536.
Anne Boleyn fell from favor in the same year of Catherine’s death and she was executed. Mary’s sister Elizabeth joined her in the downgraded status of “Lady” and was also removed from the line of succession. Henry soon married Jane Seymour who urged him to make peace with Mary. She was eventually bullied by her father into signing a document that would acknowledge him as head of the Church of England, acknowledge that her parents’ marriage was unlawful, and accept her illegitimacy. Reconciled on Henry’s terms, Mary was allowed to resume her place at court and was granted a household. In 1537, Jane gave birth to a son, Edward, and Mary was made godmother. When Jane died soon after the birth, Mary was the chief mourner at her funeral.
In 1539, Mary was courted by Duke Philip of Bavaria, but he was Lutheran and Mary a strict Catholic so the suit was unsuccessful. Her father married again in 1540 to Anne of Cleves but the marriage was annulled only months later. As a Catholic, she watched her father execute her old governess and godmother, the Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salisbury, on the pretext of a Catholic plot in 1541. After Henry’s fifth marriage to Catherine Howard failed and she was executed, Mary was invited to attend the royal Christmas festivities and serve as hostess since Henry was without a consort. It was her father’s last wife, Catherine Parr, that succeeded in convincing him to return both of his daughters to the line of succession after their brother with the Act of Succession 1544. However, Mary and her sister were both still legally illegitimate.
Henry died in 1547 and rule passed to Edward VI. His regency council attempted to establish Protestantism throughout the country but Mary remained faithful to Catholicism and defiantly celebrated traditional mass in her own chapel. She stayed on her estates for most of Edward’s demands and a reunion with both of her siblings at Christmas in 1550 ended in tears when he embarrassed her by publicly reproving her for ignoring his laws. Neither of them ever gave concessions to the other.
Edward died in 1533, and because he did not want Mary to succeed him and undo his religious reforms, he planned to exclude her from the line of succession. He ended up excluding both of his sisters from his will and instead named Lady Jane Grey as his successor. Knowing of his plans, Mary fled to her estates to find support from Catholic adherents and wrote to the Privy Council with orders for her proclamation as Edward’s successor. Mary and her supporters assembled a military force and the faction that supported Jane Grey collapsed. After nine days of being queen, Jane was deposed and eventually executed. Mary rode triumphantly into London in August 1553, accompanied by Elizabeth and a procession of over 800 nobles and gentlemen. She was crowned at Westminster Abbey in October, and became England’s first undisputed queen regnant.
In her first Parliament, Mary abolished her brother’s religious laws and had the marriage of her parents declared valid. Parliament later repealed the Protestant religious laws and returned the English church to Roman jurisdiction. This led to the revival of the Heresy Acts, and numerous Protestants were executed under it, a total of less than 300 people. These actions eventually led to her being called “Bloody Mary,” despite the fact that her father himself had executed tens of thousands of people during his reign.
In 1554, Mary wed Prince Philip of Spain, the only son of her cousin Charles V, and it was unpopular marriage with the English people. She desperately wanted an heir to keep the Protestant Elizabeth from succeeding her but she would only have two false pregnancies and no children. She was forced to accept that Elizabeth would be her lawful successor.
In January 1558, Mary’s reputation suffered a blow when she lost Calais, England’s last remaining possession on the European mainland after several months of conflict between Spain and France. Despite an ultimately ineffectual rule, Mary did begin policies of fiscal reform, naval expansion, and colonial expansion that would later be lauded as Elizabethan accomplishments.
She died in May 1558 during an influenza epidemic and her will stated that she wished to be buried next to her mother but she was interred in Westminster Abbey. Her sister would later be buried next to her. (x)
Queens of England +Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603)
Elizabeth was born in 1533, the only child of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. She was a princess for the first two and half years of her life until her mother was executed and she herself was declared illegitimate. When Henry remarried Jane Seymour and she had a son, Edward, Elizabeth was placed into the household of her brother who was now the undisputed heir to the throne. Despite her illegitimate status, Elizabeth received one of the best educations for a woman of her generation. She could speak, read, and write in several languages, including French, Flemish, Italian, and Spanish.
Henry VIII died in 1547, leaving Elizabeth’s brother Edward to become king at age 9. Elizabeth went to live with her father’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr, and her husband, Thomas Seymour. Seymour engaged in inappropriate activities with Elizabeth and when he was caught in an embrace with her, Elizabeth was sent away. Seymour then plotted to marry Elizabeth after Catherine died but he was eventually arrested for this plot and for plotting to overthrow his brother who was the Lord Protector of Edward VI.
Edward VI died in July 1553 and his will swept aside the Succession to the Crown Act 1543 that had restored Elizabeth and her older sister Mary to the royal succession. This was mostly due to Mary’s Catholicism and the inability for Edward to only exclude one sister from his will. Lady Jane Grey was declared as his heir but Mary deposed her after nine days and Elizabeth rode with her triumphant sister into London.
There was little solidarity between Elizabeth and Mary during the latter’s reign. Mary wanted to stamp out the Protestant faith in which Elizabeth was educated and Elizabeth was forced to outwardly conform. When Mary’s initial popularity ebbed away, people looked to Elizabeth as a focus for their opposition. After Wyatt’s rebellion in 1554, Elizabeth was imprisoned for her participation though she protested innocence. But by October 1558 when Mary had fallen ill, Elizabeth was already making plans for her government and in November Mary officially recognized Elizabeth as her heir. Mary died in November 1558, and Elizabeth became queen at age 25. Her coronation took place in January 1559 at Westminster Abbey and she was received wholeheartedly by her citizens.
Elizabeth reinstated Protestantism in the beginning of her reign. However, the heresy laws were repealed and penalties for failure to conform were not extreme which allowed Catholics to privately practice their faith. Also from the beginning of her reign, it was expected that Elizabeth would marry but she never did. She insisted she was married to her kingdom and subjects, under divine protection.
In 1560, Elizabeth removed the French presence from Scotland which resulted in the Treaty of Edinburgh. When Mary, Queen of Scots returned to take power, the country had an established Protestantism and she refused to ratify the treaty. She would make a number of errors that forced to her abdicate the throne and eventually be imprisoned by Elizabeth in England for nineteen years. She was executed in 1587 for being a pretender to the crown.
Elizabeth won a great propaganda victory in 1588 when the English fleet defeated the Spanish Armada in one the greatest military victories in English history. Although Spain retained advantage in the war, this victory was viewed as a symbol of God’s favour and the nation’s inviolability under a “virgin queen.”
As she was unmarried and had no heirs, concern rose in the later years of Elizabeth’s reign as to who would succeed her. A negotiation was entered into with James VI of Scotland and he was recognised as her heir. She died in March 1603 and was interred in Westminster Abbey with her sister Mary. The Latin inscription on their tomb reads, “Consorts in realm and tomb, here we sleep, Elizabeth and Mary, sisters in hope of resurrection.”
Her reign became known as The Golden Age and her 44 years on the throne provided stability and forged a national identity for England. (x)
Anne was born in 1515, the daughter of John III, Duke of Cleves and Maria of Julich-Berg. As a child she received no formal education and could read and write in only German. At the age of 11 she was betrothed to Francis, the heir to the Duke of Lorraine. The engagement fell through when Anne’s brother became Duke of Cleves and refused to cede certain territory to the Duke of Lorraine.
Marriage negotiations began in 1539 for Henry VIII to marry Anne or her sister Amalia. Henry’s advisor, Thomas Cromwell, was keen to build connections with an alliance of Lutheran Princes that was established by Anne’s brother-in-law. Henry also looked to Germany for support when Francis I of France and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor became friendly. Hans Holbein was dispatched to portraits of Anne and her sister Amalia, and Henry required the portraits to be as accurate as possible and not to flatter the women.
A marriage treaty was signed in October that year for Anne to marry Henry. They met privately on New Year’s Day in 1540. Henry followed the chivalric tradition of meeting his bride in disguise but it turned out to be a failure. Disguised as a servant, he tried to kiss her but Anne was shocked at such behavior from a servant and did not respond. Humiliated, Henry did not want marry her but the marriage could not be called off without offending Anne’s brother, the Duke of Cleves, and damaging the German alliance so it went forward.
Anne married Henry on January 6, 1540 at Greenwich. She was never crowned and the marriage was never consummated. By June she was commanded to leave court and later informed that her marriage was invalid due to her pre-contract from 1527 and the fact that the marriage was unconsummated. Anne agreed to the annulment and was rewarded with lands and the title “The King’s Beloved Sister.” She also took precedence over all other women apart from Henry’s wife and daughters.
After Catherine Howard was beheaded, Anne and her brother pressed the king to remarry her. He refused and married Catherine Parr, whom Anne disliked. She reportedly remarked on the marriage, “Madam Parr is taking a great burden on herself.”
In 1553, Anne made her last public appearance when she participated in Mary I’s coronation procession. A year later, she lost royal favor following Wyatt’s rebellion and was not invited back to court after 1554. She spent the rest of life living quietly on her estate, never having returned to Germany. Anne died in 1557, the last of Henry’s wives still living, and was also the only wife to be buried in Westminster Abbey. (x)
Catherine was born in 1523, the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper. She was first cousins with Anne Boleyn through her aunt Elizabeth Howard. While she had an aristocratic pedigree, Catherine’s family was not wealthy. Her mother died in 1531 so Catherine spent her early childhood in the household of her step-grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Little attention was paid to her by the Dowager Duchess and as a result Catherine was poorly educated.
In 1536, at the age of 13, Catherine was molested by her music teacher, Henry Mannox. He would later give evidence against her. In 1538 Catherine was pursued by a secretary in the Dowager Duchess’s household, Francis Dereham. They became lovers and referred to each other as “husband” and “wife.” It was ended in 1539 when the Dowager Duchess caught wind of their relationship. Catherine and Francis may have parted with intentions to marry.
Catherine’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, found her a place at court in the household of Anne of Cleves. She quickly caught the eye of Henry VIII who was clearly uninterested in Anne. The Howards took advantage of the situation and sought to gain the influence they once had during the reign of Anne Boleyn. They succeeded in this and soon Henry was bestowing gifts of land and expensive cloth upon Catherine.
Catherine married Henry soon after his divorce from Anne in July 1540. In her new position, Catherine was called upon for favors in return for silence by people who had witnessed her earlier indiscretions. She made a fatal mistake when she appointed Francis Dereham as her personal secretary. It’s alleged that in early 1541, she began an affair with one of Henry’s courtiers, Thomas Culpeper.
By November 1541, Henry was made aware of her earlier relationships. Not wanting to believe that his “rose without a thorn” had such a scandalous past, Henry ordered an investigation to find out who was slandering Catherine while she herself was kept locked up. Unfortunately for Catherine, the evidence was against her and the king could not deny her past. Catherine refused to admit to a marriage contract between herself and Dereham and instead claimed that he raped her. She did this in spite of the fact that if she had admitted to a precontract, Henry would have been able to save face and easily annul the marriage. She was stripped of her title and imprisoned in Middlesex.
Catherine remained in limbo until February 1542 when Parliament made it an act of treason for a queen consort to fail to disclose her sexual history to the king within twenty days of their marriage, or to incite someone to commit adultery with her. Catherine was then found unequivocally guilty of treason and sentenced to death. She was executed on February 13 and buried in an unmarked grave in the same chapel as her cousin Anne. (x)
Queens of England +Isabella of Angoulême (1188-1246)
Isabella was born in 1188, the only daughter and heir of Aymer Taillefer, Count of Angoulême and Alice of Courtenay. She became Countess of Angoulême in her own right in 1202 after she was already Queen of England.
She married King John in 1202 after his first marriage was annulled. Even at 12 years old she was renowned for her beauty and has sometimes been called the Helen of the Middle Ages by historians. John was infatuated with her and often neglected state affairs to spend time with her. Together they had five children, including the future Henry III.
King John died in 1216 and Isabella’s first act was to arrange the coronation of her 9 year old son. As John’s treasure had been lost, she supplied her own golden circlet in lieu of a crown. Less than a year after Henry’s crowning she left him in the care of his regent, William Marshall, and returned to France to assume control of her inheritance.
In 1220 she married Hugh X of Lusignan, Count of La Marche to whom she had been betrothed before she married John. It had been previously arranged that Hugh would marry Isabella’s eldest daughter Joan. Upon seeing Isabella, however, Hugh preferred the mother to the daughter. In marrying Hugh, Isabella had not waited for the consent of the King’s Council which was the required procedure for a former Queen of England. In response the Council confiscated all of her dower lands and stopped the payment of her pension. She and Hugh then threatened to keep Joan, who was promised in marriage to Alexander II of Scotland, in France. Young King Henry himself decided to come to terms with Isabella for the sake of avoiding conflict with the Scottish king.
Isabella could not reconcile with her lesser status as mere Countess of La Marche. In 1241, Isabella and Hugh were summoned to France to swear fealty to Louis IX’s brother Alphonse, who had been invested as Count of Poitou. The Queen Dowager Blanche openly snubbed Isabella at this event which infuriated her. She had a previous hatred of Blanche from her involvement in the First Barons’ War in 1216 and this act pushed her to actively conspire against King Louis. She, Hugh, and other disgruntled nobles attempted to create a confederacy with the south and west provinces united against the king. This failed and in 1244 Hugh made peace with the king. When two cooks were arrested for attempting to poison the king and confessed to being in Isabella’s pay, she fled to Fontevraud Abbey. She died in 1246 before she could be taken into custody. (x)
Isabella was born in 1389, the eldest daughter of Charles VI of France and Isabella of Bavaria.
In October 1396, at the age of 7, Isabella was married to Richard II in a move to make peace between France and England. She came with an immense dowry and a truce was procured as a result of the marriage. Richard doted on her and the two developed a mutually respectful relationship.
In 1399, Richard was overthrown by Henry Bolingbroke who would become Henry IV. When Richard died in 1400, Charles demanded that Henry send back his daughter with her full dowry. Henry wanted Isabella to marry his son, the future Henry V, and could not afford to lose her dowry. Isabella, however, refused to marry Henry’s son and went into mourning for Richard. After a series of negotiations between Henry and Charles, she was sent back to France with all her jewels but the dowry was never paid back.
In 1406, Isabella was remarried to her cousin Charles, Duke of Orleans. She died giving birth to her only child, Joan, in 1409 when she was 19. (x)
Elizabeth was born in 1466, the oldest of ten children born to Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. She was born at the Palace of Westminster and her christening was celebrated at Westminster Abbey. The first few years of her life were relatively peaceful considering the political climate she was born into.
It changed in 1470 when Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, rebelled against Elizabeth’s father and restored Henry VI. Edward was forced to flee England to avoid capture and her mother had to take Elizabeth and her sisters, Mary and Cecily, into sanctuary. It was here that her brother the future Edward V was born. She stayed here until April 1471 when her father returned to England and crushed the rebellion.
Elizabeth was returned to a secure life as princess. Because of her betrothal to the Dauphin of France, Charles, in 1475, she received an excellent education. She was taught to speak and write French and taught to write court hand as well as her father. Her establishment was also amplified by the tribute Louis XI paid Edward to keep the peace. This long held alliance fell through when Edward became ill in 1483.
After the death of Edward, his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, seized the young Edward V and arrested Elizabeth’s uncle, Earl Rivers, and her older brother, Lord Richard Grey. The dowager queen again had to take sanctuary, bringing with her Elizabeth and her four younger siblings, including Richard, Duke of York. Richard was eventually taken to be with his brother at the Tower of London and the two were never seen again.
The Duke of Gloucester became Richard III when Parliament passed Titulus Regius. It declared the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville to be invalid, therefore making all their children illegitimate. In spite of this blow and that of the supposed death of her brothers, Elizabeth’s mother plotted against Richard. She made an alliance with Margaret Beaufort who was the mother of Henry Tudor, the last male heir of Lancaster. When Henry defeated Richard and became king, he would marry Elizabeth. In return, she would help legitimize his weak claim to the throne as he descended from the illegitimate line of John of Gaunt and gain him the support of Yorkists, many of whom thought she should claim the throne in her own right.
Henry defeated Richard in September 1485 at Bosworth. Elizabeth married him in January 1486, finally uniting the warring houses of York and Lancaster. She gave birth to their first son, Arthur, in September of that year and was crowned queen in November 1487. They eventually had six more children, only three of which survived infancy. These were Margaret, Henry, and Mary. Despite it being a political arrangement, Elizabeth and Henry’s marriage proved to be a successful one and they grew to love each other.
Elizabeth suffered a great blow when her eldest son Arthur died in April 1502, five months after marrying Catherine of Aragon. Elizabeth and Henry were both grief-stricken and she comforted him by telling him that God had left him with a son and two daughters and they were both young enough to have more children. Elizabeth then became pregnant for the seventh time and went for her confinement to the Tower of London in February 1503. She gave birth to a short-lived daughter named Katherine. Elizabeth died on February 11, her 37th birthday, from a post-partum infection. Twelve days after her death she was buried in the Henry VII Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey.
Her husband and children deeply mourned her. Henry went into seclusion and became extremely ill, allowing no one but his mother to see him. His character also deteriorated after her death and he became notorious for his rapacity. When he died in 1509, he was buried next to her in the chapel bearing his name. (x)
Mary was born in April 1662, the eldest daughter of James, Duke of York, and his first wife, Anne Hyde. Though her father later converted to Catholicism, she and her sister Anne were still raised as Anglicans at the command of their uncle Charles II. The sisters had their own establishment and were largely raised by their governess with only occasional visits to their parents. Her mother died in 1671 and her father remarried a few years later to a woman only four years older than she, Mary of Modena. As her father was Charles’ heir, Mary was second in the line to the throne for most of her childhood.
At the age of fifteen, Mary was betrothed to her cousin, the Protestant Stadtholder of Holland, William of Orange. Charles thought the match would improve James’ popularity among Protestants and pressured him to agree to it. Mary wept when she was told who she was to marry. She married William in St. James’ Palace in November 1677 and with him made a formal entry into The Hague in December.
Mary’s outgoing nature made her popular with the Dutch and her marriage to a Protestant was popular in England. William was often out on campaign but Mary became devoted to him. Within months of the marriage she was pregnant but suffered a miscarriage that may have permanently affected her ability to have children. She would suffer illnesses over the next few years that may also have been miscarriages. Her childlessness was the greatest source of unhappiness in her life.
Mary became heir presumptive when her father succeeded the throne as James II & VII. She and William were dismayed when James enacted a controversial religious policy that attempted to grant freedom of religion to non-Anglicans; Mary considered this action illegal. She was more disappointed when the Catholic King of France, Louis XIV, invaded Orange and her father refused to help. James also attempted to damage his daughter’s marriage by encouraging her staff to inform her that William was having an affair. Mary acted on the information but William denied it and she believed him. She dismissed her staff and sent them back to England.
When Mary of Modena gave birth to a son, James, in June 1688, rumors flew that it was not truly hers. Mary questioned Anne on the circumstances of the birth and her sister’s reply confirmed her suspicions that the child was not her brother. She believed it was a conspiracy by her father to secure a Catholic succession. In the same month, William received an invitation from the “Immortal Seven” to come to England with an army and depose James. He was reluctant at first because of Mary’s position but she convinced him that she didn’t care for political power and that she would do all that she could to make him king. William and his army invaded in November and the defeated James fled to France to live the rest of his life in exile.
Although she believed her husband’s actions necessary, Mary was upset by the circumstances of father’s deposition. William ordered her to appear cheerful on their arrival in London and as a result was viewed as being uncaring to her father’s plight. She was hurt more when James wrote a diatribe against her that criticized her disloyalty. Parliament offered the Crown to William and Mary as joint sovereigns with William taking precedence. They were crowned at Westminster Abbey in April 1689 as William III and Mary II.
From 1690 onward, William was frequently absent from England on campaigns. In his absence, Mary administered the government of the realm but she was still not keen to assume power. She was a firm ruler and even ordered the arrest of her own uncle, Henry Hyde, for plotting to restore her father. She was also extremely devout and many of her proclamations focused on combatting vice. She participated in matters of the Church as well—all matters of ecclesiastical patronage went through her. She promoted learning by endowing the College of William and Mary in present day Williamsburg, Virginia in 1693.
When Mary contracted smallpox in 1694, she sent away everyone who had not previously had the disease. She died on December 28 of that year and William, who had increasingly come to rely on her, was devastated. Jacobites considered her death divine retribution for breaking the fifth commandment (“honor thy father”) but she was widely mourned in England. Her funeral service was the first of any royal to be attended by all members of both of Houses of Parliament and she was buried in Westminster Abbey. (x)
Queens of England +Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818)
Charlotte was born in 1744, the youngest daughter of Duke Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Prince of Marow and Princess Elizabeth Albertine of Saxe-Hildburghausen. According to diplomatic reports at the time of her engagement to George III, she received “a very mediocre education.”
George III was unmarried when he succeeded to the throne in 1760 and his family and advisors were anxious for him to marry. The seventeen-year-old Princess Charlotte appealed to him because she had been brought up in an insignificant German duchy and wouldn’t have experience of power politics of party intrigues. He instructed to Charlotte on her arrival in London “not to meddle” and she easily acquiesced.
Charlotte and George were married in September 1761 in the Chapel Royal by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Charlotte spoke no English on her arrival but quickly learned the language. She gave birth to her first child, the future George IV, in August 1762. She and her husband would eventually have 15 children, 13 of which survived into adulthood.
Along with her husband, Charlotte was a music connoisseur and specially honored German artists and composers to whom they were partial. Together they patronized a variety of craftsman including silversmiths, landscape designers, and painters. Charlotte herself was an amateur botanist and the explorers Captain James Cook and Sir Joseph Banks constantly brought her new species and varieties of plants which she ensured would be enriched and expanded. Her interest in botany led to the South African flower, the Bird of Paradise, being named Strelitzia reginae in her honor.
Besides her interest in patronizing the arts, Charlotte also founded orphanages and in 1809 patronized the General Lying-in Hospital for expectant mothers. It was later renamed the Queen’s Hospital and today is the Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital. The education of women was also important to her and her daughters were educated better than was usual for women of the time.
In 1788, her husband fell ill with what is thought to be porphyria and grew to be mentally unstable. His behavior was erratic and violent and though Charlotte’s visits to him were limited, he remained in her care. While her son George wielded the royal power as Prince Regent, Charlotte was her husband’s legal guardian from 1811 until her death in 1818. His illness became so severe that he could not know or understand when she died. He died a little over a year later.
After her death in 1818, Charlotte was buried at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. She is the second longest-serving consort in British history after the present Duke of Edinburgh. Today, there are places named after her in Canada, New Zealand, and the United States of America. (x)
Queens of England +Catherine of Braganza (1638-1705)
Catherine was born in 1638, the second surviving daughter of John, Duke of Braganza and Luisa de Guzmán. Her father became King John IV of Portugal in 1640 and made Catherine a prime choice for a wife for European royalty. Catherine spent most of her childhood in a convent close to the royal palace under her watchful mother’s eye who also supervised her education.
Negotiations for Catherine’s marriage to the future Charles II began during the reign of Charles I and were renewed after the Restoration. The couple was married in May 1662 in two ceremonies: a Catholic one conducted in secret and a public Anglican service. Catherine was not able to keep Charles away from his mistresses and quickly became aware of her humiliating position as the wife of a licentious king.
Catherine became pregnant and miscarried at least three times. As it became unlikely she would ever have an heir, royal advisors encouraged Charles to divorce her. He refused which led to Catherine being made a target by courtiers. Throughout his reign he firmly dismissed the idea of a divorce and she remained faithful to him throughout their marriage. Even though she was faithful, Charles forced Catherine to make his official mistress the Lady of the Bedchamber.
Because she was Catholic, Catherine was not a popular choice for queen and was prevented from being crowned. Eventually her decorum, loyalty, and genuine affection for Charles changed public opinion. After growing up in a convent, she mellowed out and enjoyed the innocent pleasures of the court. She loved to play cards, dance, and organize masques. She also enjoyed the outdoors with picnics, fishing, and archery. She remained uninvolved in English politics and focused more on her native country. Her goal was to establish good relations with the Pope and gain recognition for Portuguese independence.
Catherine’s piety was widely known and it was characteristic that Charles greatly admired. As increasingly harsher measures were put in place and Catholic priests were ordered to leave the country, Catherine had to rely on foreign priests. Charles allowed Catherine to appoint a Portuguese Catholic priest as her Lord Chamberlain. It was a controversial move but it pleased Catherine and demonstrated the futility of people who wanted him to seek a divorce.
As a high-ranking Catholic, Catherine was drawn into the Popish Plot of 1678. She was criticized for supporting the idea of appointing a bishop to England who would help resolve the internal disputes of Catholics. Also, despite orders to the contrary, English Catholics attended Catherine’s private chapel. Though the Plot directly threatened her position, Catherine was secure in her husband’s favor and the House of Lords refusal to impeach her.
When Charles had his last illness in 1685, Catherine had great anxiety for his reconciliation with Catholicism and exhibited huge grief at his death. Catherine remained in England after his death through the reign of James II and his deposition in the Glorious Revolution. She was initially on good terms with William III and Mary II but her position deteriorated as her religion led to misunderstandings and isolation. A bill in Parliament limited the number of her Catholic servants and was warned to not agitate against the government. She returned to Portugal in 1699 to become caretaker and tutor to her nephew, Prince John. She died in 1705 and was buried at the monastery of São Vicente de Fora. (x)
Queens of England +Eleanor of Provence (1223-1291)
Eleanor was born in 1223 in Aix-en-Provence, the second daughter of Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Provence and Beatrice of Savoy. She was betrothed to Henry III of England in 1235. Never having been in his kingdom or having met him before the wedding, Eleanor married him in January 1236. She was crowned the same day. All of her three other sisters were married to kings as well.
In her retinue, Eleanor brought many of her relatives to install in important offices which did not endear her to the English people who mistrusted foreigners. She was also disliked by Henry’s barons for her influence on him, and this caused friction throughout his reign. Despite her unpopularity, Eleanor was a loyal and capable consort who was confident in exercising her power. When Henry was captured by his own barons and forced to agree to their terms for reforms, she went to France and raised troops to free him. Her invasion fleet was wrecked before it reached England but her son the future Edward I fought off the rebels and rescued Henry.
Eleanor remained active in promoting the royal family’s interests after Henry’s death in 1272. She stayed in England and raised several of her grandchildren. It was only fourteen years after Henry’s death that she retired to the nunnery of Amesbury. She lived a quiet and pious life there until her death in 1291. (x)
Anne was born in 1456, the younger daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and Lady Anne de Beauchamp. Her father was one of the most powerful noblemen in England and supported the House of York. Anne met the sons of Richard, Duke of York, George and Richard, at Middleham Castle where she spent most of her childhood.
Her father helped Edward IV win the throne in 1461 but by 1470 the two had fallen out, mostly due to Edward’s marriage. Warwick switched his allegiance to the House of Lancaster and Anne played an important role in cementing it as Margaret of Anjou was suspicious of Warwick’s motives. Anne was formally betrothed to the son of Margaret and Henry VI, Edward of Westminster. She became the Princess of Wales in December 1470 when they were married in Angers Cathedral.
Warwick succeeded in briefly restoring Henry to the throne but the king was captured and he himself was killed in March 1471 when Edward returned to England. Anne returned to England with Margaret and Prince Edward with more troops but they were soundly defeated. Prince Edward was killed and Anne was taken prisoner. She ended up in the household of her sister Isabel and her husband, George, Duke of Clarence.
Anne became the subject of a dispute between George and his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Richard wanted to marry her, but Clarence wanted the whole inheritance to which she and Isabel were heiresses. He attempted to make Anne his ward to control her inheritance and opposed any marriage. Edward IV also opposed the marriage and refused Anne safe conduct to plea her case. In circumstances that are unknown, Anne managed to escape the household and married Richard in July 1472.
After the marriage, Anne and Richard made their home in Middleham Castle. They had one child, Edward, born in 1473. Anne later took in her sister’s two children after the Duke of Clarence was executed for treason in 1478. Isabel had died in 1476 after childbirth.
When Edward IV died in April 1483, Richard was named Lord Protector for his nephew Edward V. However, Richard had Edward and his siblings declared illegitimate and seized power as Richard III in June 1483. Anne was crowned with her husband and her son was made the Prince of Wales. Edward IV’s sons were taken to the Tower of London and never seen again. There are theories on their disappearance that include Anne’s involvement.
In April 1484, Anne’s son unexpected died at Sheriff Hutton while both his parents were absent. His death was a personal tragedy as well as a dynastic blow since they had no other children. Rumors arose that Richard planned to divorce Anne and remarry in the hopes of gaining another heir. Instead, he named their mutual nephew, Edward, Earl of Warwick, as heir presumptive. After her death he named another nephew heir, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln.
Anne died less than a year after the death of her son in March 1485 from what was likely tuberculosis. The day she died, there was an eclipse which some took to be an omen of her husband’s fall from grace. She was buried in Westminster Abbey in an unmarked grave to the right of the High Altar. (x)
Queens of England +Elizabeth Woodville (1437-1492)
Elizabeth was born 1437, the eldest daughter of Richard Woodville and Jacquetta of Luxembourg. At the time of her birth, her family was mid-ranked in the English aristocracy and supported the House of Lancaster. In 1452 Elizabeth married Sir John Grey of Groby. He died in 1461 at the Second Battle of St. Albans, supporting the Lancastrian cause. Elizabeth was left a widow with two children, Thomas and Richard.
How Elizabeth and Edward IV first met is uncertain but it’s likely they were acquainted with each other from court. When she became destitute after her husband’s death, she petitioned the king by waiting under a tree with her two sons in area where the king was hunting. Edward, a notorious womanizer, was won over by Elizabeth’s beauty, but she remained indifferent to him until he offered marriage. They were secretly married in May 1464 and it became only the second time since the Norman Conquest that an English king married one of his subjects.
Elizabeth’s marriage to Edward upset the plans of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who had played a great part in helping Edward win the throne. Warwick was offended by Edward’s actions as he had been negotiating a marriage alliance with France. The relationship between the two would never fully recover. In 1469 he and Edward’s brother, George, Duke of Clarence, outright rebelled against the king. Edward was forced to flee England to avoid capture and Elizabeth was left alone with her mother to fend for herself.
Elizabeth fled to Westminster Abbey and took sanctuary with her three young daughters, Elizabeth, Mary, and Cecily. She was also pregnant and in November 1470, still in sanctuary, she gave birth to a long-awaited son, Edward. In April 1471, her husband returned to England and crushed the rebellion.
By the time Edward died in 1483, he and Elizabeth had a total of ten children. Their eldest son became Edward V and for two months Elizabeth was queen dowager. Edward’s youngest brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, served as Lord Protector. In June 1483 he seized power and sent Elizabeth’s sons Edward and Richard to the Tower. In an act of Parliament, Titulus Regius, he declared Elizabeth’s marriage to Edward illegitimate and all her children with him bastards. Elizabeth took sanctuary as Richard declared himself king and she would never again see her younger sons.
Elizabeth conspired to free her sons from the Tower and restore Edward V, but her plans changed when she was told that they were murdered. She allied herself with Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor who the last legitimate Lancastrian heir. To strengthen Henry’s claim and unite the feuding houses of Lancaster and York, they agreed that he would marry Elizabeth’s eldest daughter and namesake. In 1484 Elizabeth and her daughters came out of sanctuary after Richard publicly swore an oath that her daughters would not be harmed, molested, or imprisoned.
In 1485 Henry Tudor invaded England and defeated Richard. He married Elizabeth of York as agreed upon and had Titulus Regius revoked. Elizabeth was returned to her status as queen dowager. She stayed at Henry’s court until 1487 when she retired to Bermondsey Abbey. She died in 1492 and was laid to rest with Edward IV in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. (x)
Queens of England +Henrietta Maria of France (1609-1669)
Henrietta Maria was born in November 1609, the youngest daughter of Henry IV of France and Marie de Medici. Her father was assassinated less than a year after her birth. She was raised as a Catholic and with her sisters was trained in dancing, singing, and riding. She was also tutored in reading and writing but was not known for her academic skills. By 1622 she was living in Paris with a household of 200 staff and marriage plans were being discussed.
Henrietta first met Charles I of England, though still Prince of Wales at the time, in 1623 when he was travelling to Spain to discuss a possible marriage. The trip ended badly so he turned to France to find a bride. Henrietta married Charles by proxy in May 1625 shortly after his accession to the throne and they were married in person in June. Her Catholic religion made it impossible for her to be crowned with her husband and could only watch his coronation from a discreet distance. Her proposal of being crowned by a French Catholic bishop was unacceptable to Charles and the court. Henrietta’s failure to be crowned upset the public and her religion combined with her lack of assimilation into English society ultimately led to her becoming an unpopular queen.
Despite the religious intolerance of England at the time, Henrietta held fast to her Catholic beliefs. In the 1620s Catholics were still being executed and she caused controversy when she stopped to pray for Catholics who had died at the Tyburn tree. She obstructed plans to forcibly take in the eldest sons of all Catholic families and raise them as Protestants and she also facilitated Catholic marriages which was a criminal offence under English law.
The marriage between Henrietta and Charles did not start off well and his rejection of almost all of her French staff did not help. Their relationship did not improve until Charles’ favourite, the Duke of Buckingham, was assassinated and Henrietta effectively became his closest friend and advisor. Charles regularly wrote letters to her addressed “Dear Heart” and they showcase the loving nature of their relationship. She gave birth to their first child in 1629 but it died shortly after birth following a difficult delivery. The future Charles II was born following another complicated birth in 1630. They would eventually have seven more children, including the future James II.
Henrietta was honoured by Charles in 1632 when he named what is now the U.S. state of Maryland for her. The name is fitting as the man who applied for the original royal charter, George Calvert, intended the colony to be a refuge for Catholics to escape persecution in England.
In August 1642, the First English Civil War began and by 1644 Henrietta was forced to seek refuge in France after the birth of her youngest daughter. The execution of her husband in 1649 left her impoverished and she only returned to England after the Restoration of her eldest son, Charles, to the throne in 1660. She returned to France in 1665 for her health and died there four years later after taking a large amount of opiates as a painkiller on the advice of Louis XIV’s doctor. She was buried in the French royal necropolis at the Basilica of St. Denis. (x)
Queens of England +Matilda of Flanders (1031-1083)
Matilda, was the daughter of Baldwin V, Count of Flanders and Adèle of France. According to legend, when Duke William II of Normandy (later known as William the Conqueror) sent his representative to ask for Matilda’s hand in marriage, she told the representative that she was far too high-born to consider marrying a bastard. After hearing this response, William rode from Normandy to Bruges, found Matilda on her way to church, dragged her off her horse by her long braids, threw her down in the street in front of her flabbergasted attendants and rode off.
Naturally, Baldwin took offense at this but, before they could draw swords, Matilda settled the matter by refusing to marry anyone but William; even a papal ban by Pope Leo IX at the Council of Reims on the grounds of consanguinity did not dissuade her.
When William was preparing to invade England, Matilda outfitted a ship, the Mora, out of her own money and gave it to him. This indicated that she must have owned rich lands in Normandy to be able to do so. Additionally, William entrusted Normandy to his wife during his absence. Matilda successfully guided the duchy through this period in the name of her fourteen-year-old son; no major uprisings or unrest occurred.
Even after William conquered England and became its king, it took her more than a year to visit her new kingdom. Even after she had been crowned queen, she would spend most of her time in Normandy, governing the duchy, supporting her brother’s interests in Flanders, and sponsoring ecclesiastic houses there.
Matilda was crowned queen on May 11, 1068, in Westminster during the feast of Pentecost, in a ceremony presided over by the archbishop of York. Three new phrases were incorporated to cement the importance of English consorts, stating that the Queen was divinely placed by God, shares in royal power, and blesses her people by her power and virtue.
Matilda bore William nine or ten children. He was believed to have been faithful to her and never produced a child outside their marriage. Despite her royal duties, Matilda was deeply invested in her children’s well-being. All were known for being remarkably educated.
Matilda fell ill during the summer of 1083 and passed away in November 1083. Her husband was present for her final confession. Without her presence, a distraught William became increasingly tyrannical until his death four years later in 1087. (x)
Eleanor was born in Spain in 1241, the daughter of Ferdinand III of Castile and Joan, Countess of Ponthieu. She grew up in the courts of her father and her half-brother Alfonso X of Castile, both known for their literary atmospheres. This likely influenced her later literary activities as queen.
Eleanor married the future Edward I in 1254 as part of a negotiation between Henry III and Alfonso X. Alfonso had made claims on the duchy of Gascony; they agreed that Alfonso would transfer his claims to Gascony to Edward in exchange for him marrying Eleanor.
During the Second Barons’ War in the 1260s, Eleanor strongly supported her husband’s interests and imported archers from her mother’s county of Ponthieu in France. When Edward and his father were captured in 1264, she herself was honorably confined at Westminster Palace. In 1265 Edward escaped captivity, defeated the baronial army, and took a major role in reforming the government. Eleanor rose to prominence at his side and this only improved in 1266 when she finally bore a son, John, after having three short-lived daughters. Over the next three years Eleanor had two children, Henry and Eleanor.
When the kingdom was pacified after the Barons’ War, Eleanor joined Edward and his uncle Louis IX of France on the Eighth Crusade in 1270. Louis died before they arrived and they went on to Sicily and Acre in Palestine where Eleanor gave birth to two daughters. One was short-lived and the other was known as Joanna of Acre for her birth-place.
Eleanor and Edward were still out of England in December 1272 when they learned of Henry III’s death. They returned to England and were crowned together in August 1274. By all evidence Eleanor and Edward were a devoted couple. Edward is one of the few kings not known to have had affairs or fathered children out of wedlock. They were rarely apart and she accompanied him on military campaigns in Wales where in 1284 she famously gave birth to their son Edward (the future Edward II) in a temporary dwelling.
Eleanor had little political influence but her queenship is significant for the evolution of a stable financial system for the king’s wife. Edward wanted her to hold lands sufficient for her financial needs without drawing on government funds. He helped Eleanor acquire lands by giving her debts that landlords owned to moneylenders and she foreclosed on lands pledged for the debts. These estates became the nucleus for dower assignments made to later queens of England into the 15th century. Few queens after her exerted the same amount of economic activity, but any that did were able to do so because of precedents that Eleanor helped set.
After surviving sixteen pregnancies, Eleanor died in 1290 from what was likely a strain of malaria. Edward was at her bedside to hear her final requests. For three days afterward, the government came to a halt and no writs were sealed. As Edward followed her body to burial in Westminster Abbey, he erected memorial crosses at the site of each overnight stop between Lincoln and Westminster. These became known as the “Eleanor crosses” and three of the twelve original crosses survive today. Edward did not remarry until 1299 and attended memorial services for Eleanor until his death. (x)