Jeanne of Navarre: The Breton Duchess at the Lancastrian Court

henry4_joan_navarre_effigies
Jeanne of Navarre and Henry IV

On this day in 1403 Henry IV, King of England married Jeanne of Navarre, Dowager Duchess of Brittany at Winchester Cathedral. A little less than three weeks later she would make her formal entry into London and be crowned queen at Westminster Abbey. Henry’s new wife received mix reviews: Popular enough within the family, Jeanne had the misfortune of arriving in England in the midst of a surge of nationalism, which made the public wary of her Breton entourage and French family ties.

It was a second marriage for them both. Henry’s first wife, Mary de Bohun, had died in 1394, before he ascended the throne. From their marriage he had six children ranging from the ages of nine to 17 – a significant consideration in Henry taking a second wife was less in securing more children, as he had already four sons, but in providing his court with a feminine presence. Jeanne, for her part, had been married to Jean IV, Duke of Brittany for 13 years, a union which provided nine children.

When Jean IV died on November 1, 1399, her eldest son was only 10 and it fell to Jeanne to act as regent for him until he came of age. It was this same year that Henry IV became king, “usurping” the throne from his cousin, the last Plantagenet monarch, Richard II. Once crowned, and once Jeanne had been widowed, Henry proposed marriage and was well-received. Indeed, the couple already knew each other, since prior to becoming king, Henry had been banished from England by Richard II and spent some time at the Breton court. Notably, this match is often referred to as a marriage of preference, as opposed to diplomatic necessity.

Continue reading “Jeanne of Navarre: The Breton Duchess at the Lancastrian Court”

Critical Math: The Birth Order of the Woodville Children

woodvillearms
The Woodville coat of arms
Ohhh, the Woodvilles. For those that have never heard of them, here’s a quick download: An English widow named Elizabeth Grey (née Woodville) married Edward IV, the first king in the House of York, sometime in 1464. England was in the middle of what would become known as the Wars of the Roses and Edward was in his early 20s, had only been on the throne for about three years and stood to benefit (massively) from the foreign alliance that marrying abroad would bring him. He instead married for love, or lust, a Lancastrian widow who was older than him and the daughter of a mere baron.

Upon marriage, Elizabeth brought with her to court her parents and a plethora of unmarried brothers and sisters, all of whom needed positions befitting the family of the queen. Edward and Elizabeth’s two eldest sons would become the famed “Princes in the Tower,” and were likely murdered during the reign of their uncle, Richard III, while their eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, would marry Henry VII and help found the House of Tudor.

For those that are familiar with the period, then you will know that the Woodvilles have warranted refreshed appraisal in the last few years, which makes sense given the amount of recent scholarship that has been published on the Wars of the Roses, particularly its women. Almost always villainized, Elizabeth’s family are usually peripheral characters in the study or dramatization of the greater figures of Henry VI, Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII. Elizabeth, herself, is depicted as a cold ice queen, a social-climbing upstart or a witch dabbling in black magic – sometimes all three at once. Perhaps she was lucky – her Lancastrian counterpart, Marguerite of Anjou, is usually portrayed as a promiscuous, violent, foreign “she-wolf.”

Continue reading “Critical Math: The Birth Order of the Woodville Children”