King John’s First Marriage

King John of England (From the Historia Anglorum, Chronica majora). Artist: Paris, Matthew (c. 1200-1259)

Fun fact: Henry VIII was not the first English monarch to divorce his wife. That dubious honor goes to King John of Magna Carta fame, though it should be noted that the “divorce” was in fact an annulment and, as I’ve noted before, it was a bit of a reverse-Katherine of Aragon situation. In John’s case, he left his English wife for a brilliant foreign match and not the other way around. His motivation for doing this was, however, a situation Henry would have found familiar – he was a younger son not originally intended for the throne.

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Isabella, the Second English Holy Roman Empress

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There have been two English Holy Roman Empresses in history. The first was the more famous one, Henry I’s daughter, Matilda, who would end up in a struggle for the English throne with her cousin, King Stephen, during the Anarchy (1135-1154). And then there was Princess Isabella, daughter of King John and younger sister of Henry III.

Isabella had the great misfortune of being born the daughter of one of the worst kings of England and, in my opinion, one of the least sympathetic women of the Middle Ages, Isabella of Angouleme. Their marriage was ill-advised from the get-go, though the future Empress, born at the tail end of her father’s life, in 1214, missed most of the drama. She joined two older brothers, Henry and Richard, in the royal nursery, as well as a sister, Joan. The following year, as their father was forced to sign the Magna Carta, a final child, Eleanor, was born.

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A Legacy of Destruction: King John & Isabella of Angouleme

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Fun fact: Henry VIII was not the first monarch to divorce their spouse from the throne. That auspicious honor goes to none other than King John, who, upon ascending the throne in 1199, divorced his wife, Isabel of Gloucester, and married the young Isabella of Angouleme. There are a few reasons why this divorce is of less fame, though it was its own 13th century scandal at the time. For one, this would be John’s only divorce and he stopped at two wives. Secondly, there was no religious component – the annulment, for all its detractors, was approved. And finally, instead of casting aside a princess and marrying an Englishwoman, John did the reverse. Isabel of Gloucester was no Katherine of Aragon and she didn’t have the familial ties of claiming relation to the Holy Roman Emperor. For that matter, we don’t know whether Isabel had any desire to stay married to John in the first place.

Which brings us to Isabella of Angouleme, who had one notable characteristic in common with Anne Boleyn – they were both wildly detested by the public.

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Edward IV’s Marriage to Elizabeth Woodville in Context

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Lately I have been reading John Ashdown-Hill’s “The Private Life of Edward IV.” I’m not too far into it yet, but so far it’s been enjoyable and it’s certainly a fresh look at the King’s reign, which is usually examined through the lens of the civil war of which he reigned in the middle. Broadly, it argues that perhaps Edward IV was not quite the ladies’ man for which his reputation has given him credit.

Ashdown-Hill has gained some notoriety of late for his theory that Edward IV did, in fact, marry before his queen consort, Elizabeth Woodville, and that their children’s legitimacy was undermined. It’s an interesting argument, one that would add some nuance to Richard III’s usurpation of the throne from his nephew, Edward V. However, this post is not about the veracity of that argument or even, really, about Edward’s relationship with Elizabeth.

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