Not Wrong.

My friends and I were standing in front of a portrait of Oliver Cromwell at the Tudors to Windsors portrait exhibition at the art gallery in Bendigo. .   

As I often do, I added my own commentary. In a posh English accent and lower vocal register, I quipped, “Look at me being all godly and humble and unroyal and stuff before I go and kill a bunch of people and destroy all the monasteries… you know, on God’s behalf.”

A well-dressed elderly gentleman had come to stand beside me. When I finished speaking, he added in a crisp, upper class accent: “Bastard.”
He was not wrong. 

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The ‘Tudors to Windsors’ Exhibition

This afternoon I visited the Bendigo Arr Gallery to see this amazing exhibition of royal portraits and memorabilia from the English royals dating from 1485 to the present day. 

In one way, it was a little surreal: I have seen these paintings in history books, and the more recent photographs were familiar because I had seen them online or in magazines, so it was really strange to think I was seeing the originals. 

In addition to being a most enjoyable and interesting gallery experience, it made me feel more connected to the history I have read and studied for so many years. 

I really loved seeing the Tudor portraits, especially Elizabeth I whom I admire enormously, but found them all quite fascinating. Some of the portraits definitely felt more intimate and personal, while others had that sense of grandeur and formality that one might expect from a royal portrait. There was a good representation of men in stockings and garters, and some fabulously royal big hair. 

It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon among royalty without having to dress up or curtsey to anyone.

If you get a chance to see this exhibition, I highly recommend it.

Women In History: More Fabulous, Famous Femmes

History is full of amazing women who had strength, courage and determination and showed men a thing or two about how things should be done.

There are so many great women that I would have loved to write about, but I couldn’t get to them all because I wanted to focus on featuring some of the less heroines of history with whom many people would not be familiar. I did find this excellent post that includes quite a few ladies who were on my list, so I thought I would share it with my readers on this final day of Women’s History Month.

I hope you enjoy this great post from Nerdome featuring some fabulous famous femmes including feisty royals Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great, and two of my literary loves, Jane Austen and Maya Angelou.

Nerdome

Happy Women’s Day ! , Today we are going to remember , powerful and inspirational women who have been pioneers for women’s rights and racial equality and have defined the worlds of science, mathematics, aviation and literature.

Whether these famous females were inventors, scientists, leaders, politicians, or literal Queens, these  strong women undeniably changed the world for the better.

Cleopatra, 69 BC-30 BC Egyptian pharaoh

cleo.jpg

Cleopatra. (Photo By DEA PICTURE LIBRARY/De Agostini/Getty Images)

Final ruler of Egypt’s Ptolemaic dynasty, Cleopatra was more than the famous beauty her subsequent, simplistic portrayals often depict. A formidable, politically shrewd monarch, she was directly involved in the running of a kingdom that faced challenges on many fronts.

Queen Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603)elizabeth.jpg

“Though the sex to which I belong is considered weak you will nevertheless find me a rock that bends to no wind.”

The Armada portrait of Queen Elizabeth I painted in 1588

Elizabeth called herself ‘The…

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Women in History: Khutulun

Today’s ‘Woman in History’ is a very different kind of Medieval princess.

Khutulun was born in 1260, the daughter of Kaidu, the powerful Mongol ruler of Central Asia, and the great-great-granddaughter of legendary Mongol leader Genghis Khan. 

While Kaidu’s cousin, the great Kublai Khan, had built his own empire with cities and a more settled and sedentary way of life, Kaidu’s empire continued in the old ways of horsemanship, weaponry and fighting, and a traditionally nomadic lifestyle. 

Khutulun was raised to be a skilled and powerful warrior who accompanied her father and his soldiers into battle, demonstrating prowess in both stealth and combat. Even when the opposing empires of Kaidu and Kublai went to war against one another, she went to war alongside Kaidu and acquitted herself in a most exemplary manner. 

Khutulun was so impressive in battle that the famous explorer Marco Polo wrote of her military exploits and abililites. Even though he was a ruler over a large empire and had an enormous army at his disposal, he would often seek her advice and support in both political and military matters. In fact, Kaidu wanted to make Khutulun his heir as the ruler of his empire, but because she had fourteen brothers, he was unable to do so. 

Khutulun would never settle for an arranged marriage and resisted her familiy’s attempts to find her a husband. Instead, she issued a challenge: any man who wanted to marry her would have to wrestle her and win.  Any suitor who lost the match would have to give her a horse. 

Clearly, she was a woman who knew her strengths and was willing to back herself in a contest. According to legend,  Khutulun won more than ten thousand horses from the eligible men of Mongolia. She did eventually marry, although it was not because someone was able to successfully win her hand in marriage by beating her in a wrestling match.

Picture: Qutulun, daughter of Qaidu. Public Domain via Gallica Digital Library. https://gallica.bnf.fr/

When Kaidu died, Khutulun took up vigil as the guard of his tomb. Her brothers continued to oppose her at every turn, and she gradually slipped out of public and military life. 

Khutulun died in 1306. The manner of her death remains unknown. 

Her story remained untold for the next four hundred years until a French historian by the name of Francois Petis de La Croix researched and wrote a biography of Genghis Khan. He wrote the story of Turandot based on her life, although he greatly altered the details of the story. It seems Shakespeare wasn’t the only one guilty of deciding he could tell a story more interesting than the truth

Khutulun certainly did things her own way and lived life by the rules that she set. Although she never got to rule the empire as her father had hoped, you’ve got to admire her ability to show all the other soldiers how the fighting should be done, and for finding a  most creative and lucrative way to deal with everyone who wanted to marry her off. 

And admire her is what the Mongolian people still do: their traditional wrestling costume is still worn widely open at the chest to prove that the wrestler is not female. 


Women in History: What Medieval Princesses Could Do

Among the amazing women I have featured for Women’s History Month over the past few weeks are some of my favourite feisty medieval royal women: Boudicca, Æthelflæd. Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen Philippa of Hainault, Margaret  of Anjou and Anne Neville

Each of them rebelled in one way or another against the social conventions of their time, showing even in their strongly patriarchal societiy that women were capable of far more than just making politically astute marriages nd popping out royal babies to guarantee the king an heir— or several. 

I stumbled across this article from the History Extra website on the weekend, and thought it made a wonderful addition to my collection of articles here. 

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! 

7 Things You Didn’t Know A Medieval Princess Could Do

https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/princesses-what-life-like-middle-ages-daughters-edward-i-eleanor-joan-acre/

Women in History: Queen Philippa of Hainault

Life is crazy busy sometimes, and it’s not always possible to write a great post every day.

Today’s Women in History post on Philippa Of Hainault comes from Sarah Kay Bierle’s Gazette 665 history blog, which is always interesting.

The coronation of Phillipa of Hainault, queen of Edward III of England.

This queen’s power as Regent of England and her influence on the court and country are often overshadowed by the military happenings and disease sweeping through Europe during her lifetime. Queen Philippa of England has been “lost” in many history books, and even her image may have been significantly altered through the centuries.

Today, we’ll uncover ten things you should know about this remarkable queen:

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Women in History: Margaret of Anjou

In my ‘Women in History’ post about Anne Neville, I commented that she was one of the women of history most grievously misrepresented by Shakespeare. There is a good argument for Margaret of Anjou being another. 

Margaret was the wife of Henry IV and the mother of Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, who married Anne Neville.

Shakespeare paints Margaret as a bitter and twisted old woman who hung around the castle and served everyone with a vitriolic curse or two before breakfast every morning. Of course, Shakespeare was not one to let the truth get in the way of a good story or a really effective dramatic device. He was all about the entertainment— and on sucking up to Elizabeth I by portraying her grandfather as the king who brought peace to England after the Wars of the Roses.

It’s understandable, really. Not only was he working from accounts of history written by Tudor-friendly historians, he also understood how foolhardy it would be to offend the reigning monarch and risk his head. Thus, his play casts the first Tudor king, Henry VII in a very godly light, and delivers messages to the masses about how only evil people try to take the throne from the rightful ruler. 

It is a matter of course, then, that both the Yorks and the Lancasters are shown to be fractious, grasping and hateful people. 

What, then, is the real story of Margaret of Anjou?

Margaret was born in 1430 to the Duke of Naples, Rene of Anjou, and his wife Isabella, Duchess Of Lorraine. As the niece of the queen of France, the arranged marriage of Margaret to the young Lancastrian king in 1445, and solidified a truce between France and England that brought an end to the Hundred Years’ War.

Margaret took an active role in supporting Henry IV in his rule, but when his mental health declined, Richard, Duke of York, who held significant position and power at court was appointed as Lord Protector. Margaret and York distrusted one another’s pride and ambition, she because she feared he would claim the throne that rightfully belonged to her husband and son, and he because he deeply disliked the self-assured and proud young French queen. 

Enmity blew out into full conflict in 1455, and the two factions met on battle at St Albans. Henry VI’s forces were defeated, and Richard took the reigns of government.  Henry VI’s mental and physical health had deteriorated to the point where he was unable to govern, so Margaret, determined to maintain hold on the throne for her husband and son, worked relentlessly to remove York from his position, finally regaining control of the throne in 1456. 

By 1459, the situation had degraded so badly that Margaret outlawed York and his key supporters, and armed conflict could no longer be avoided. Henry VI was captured at Northampton in 1460 and, when offered a compromise that would see York declared to be Henry’s heir instead of her son, she steadfastly refused, maintaining that her son was the only rightful heir to the throne of England. 

Margaret’s soldiers killed York near  the Yorkshire town of Wakefield in the December of 1460 and won Henry’s release from Yorkist captivity at the second Battle of St. Albans in February of 1461. 

This was not the end of the conflict, however. York’s sons and supporters continued to fight, and his eldest son Edward of York laid claim to the throne as Edward IV on March 4. His army met and crushed Margaret’s forces at the Battle of Towton on March 29, causing Margaret and Henry to flee to Scotland with their son.

By 1470, Warwick the Kingmaker had become disillusioned with Edward IV as king and commenced machinations to lead a coup against Edward and return Henry IV to the throne. Although there had been strong enmity between them, Warwick and Margaret negotiated a reconciliation arrangement by which Henry was restored as king in October of 1470, and his son Edward was married to Warwick’s daughter Anne Neville to seal the deal. 

It was only a matter of months before Edward’s soldiers killed Warwick in the Battle of Barnet on the on the 14th of April— the same day that Margaret, Edward and Anne returned to England from France. 

The two armies met again at Tewksbury on May 4th, 1471, with Margaret leading the Lancastrian forces in the absence of Henry, whose health had once again deteriorated. Edward dealt Margaret a crushing defeat and her son was killed. 

Shortly after that,  Henry VI was put to death in the Tower of London. This final blow put an end to Margaret’s hopes to reclaim the kingdom, and she was taken into custody where she was held in various places including the Tower of London. She appealed to her father for help, but he refused, so she remained imprisoned until 1475 when the French king Louis XI negotiated her release and paid the ransom that enabled her to return to France.Margaret died in poverty in 1482.

While I have no doubt that she did indeed weep and that she most passionately hated the Yorks, she certainly didn’t get a chance to lurk behind pillars in their castles and curse them face to face. She never saw Richard take the throne of England, nor was she a witness to the death of his wife Anne, her own former daughter-in-law. Both of those things happened in the year after her death.

Women in History: Anne Neville

Anne Neville has to be one of the women in history most maligned by Shakespeare.

While it is true that he does portrays her as one of the many victims of Richard III, and doesn’t really say anything terribly nasty about her, it is also undeniable that her reputation is maligned by the way she is portrayed as being quite fickle and very, very gullible.

As I always remind my students, there is a vast difference between actual history and Shakespeare’s play. In fact, Shakespeare entirely misrepresents both the course of events and the relationship between Anne and Richard. 

Not only were their families well known to one another, they were quite closely related. 

Anne grew up at Middleham Castle, the daughter of the 13th Earl of Warwick and his wife, Anne Beauchamp. Anne’s great aunt was Cecily Neville, the wife of Richard, Duke of York, and mother of Richard and his brothers.

When the Duke Of York died, his youngest sons George and  Richard went to live at Middleham with Warwick’s family. Anne’s sister Isabel would later marry George, Duke of Clarence.

Warwick, known as The Kingmaker, played a crucial role in helping his cousin take and hold the throne as the King Edward IV of the House of York during the troubled times of conflict commonly referred to as either The Cousins’ War or the Wars of the Roses. For the first few years of Edward’s reign, Warwick held enormous influence over the young King. 

However, when Warwick tried to negotiate a marriage arrangement for Edward to secure an alliance with France, he discovered that Edward had secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of Sir John Grey who had been loyal to the Lancastrians. Warwick was not alone in distrusting her and her family, and was profoundly annoyed by Edward’s secret marriage to a woman whom Warwick considered entirely unsuitable. 

At the same time, and quite likely in direct response to Warwick’s contempt for his queen, Edward refused to give his blessing to a proposed union between his brother George, Duke of Clarence, and Warwick’s daughter Isabel, but the pair married anyway with Warwick’s blessing. 

This pitched Warwick and Edward against Edward, and their forces met in battle at Edgecote Moor in 1469. Edward was defeated and taken captive, although released before long, Warwick had sufficient time to reconcile his differences with Margaret of Anjou, the queen of the former Lancastrian King Henry VI. The significance of this is enormous: Warwick and Margaret absolutely hated one another.  

Even so, Warwick’s daughter Anne Neville was betrothed to Margaret’s son Edward of Westminster, the Lancastrian Prince Of Wales,  as a seal of the alliance, and Henry VI was restored to the throne of England two months before Anne and Edward were married in November of 1470. Thus,  Anne became the Princess of Wales and part of the Lancaster dynasty. 

Edward of York, however, was not so easily deposed. He defeated and killed Henry VI in the Battle of Barnet in April 1471, just as Margaret, Edward and Anne were returning to England. Margaret led an army to Tewksbury in May, where her son Edward was killed either during or just after the battle. Edward IV of York then reclaimed the throne as king of England.

Anne, a young widow, took up residence with her sister Isabel and her husband. When Richard asked for and was given consent to marry Anne, the only opposition came from his own brother, who wanted to inherit the entirety of Warwick’s wealth for himself. 

Anne was very willing to marry Richard, and harbored no resentment toward Richard for any of his deeds, perceived or real. They married in 1472 and theirr only son, Edward of Middleham, was born in 1473.

Her relationship with Richard’s mother Cecily was good and her marriage to Richard was happy, although stricken by grief when their son died at the age of ten. Anne and Richard then adopted the young orphaned son of her sister and Clarence, who was also named Edward — of course he was! and of a similar age to their own son. In yet another striking contrast to Shakespeare’s play, the newly adopted boy was named Richard’s heir. 

Anne Neville died at Westminster on 16th March 1485, from an illness that was most likely tuberculosis. She was only in her late twenties, but she had witnessed a very great deal of conflict, grief and turmoil in the kingdom in the course of her life. She was buried in Westminster Abbey, near the High Altar, although the location of her grave was never marked. 

Anne’s story is very different than that told by Shakespeare. Instead, Anne appears to have been a woman who possessed both integrity and backbone, and to have dealt with her trials with considerable resilience. As much as I love the works of the Bard, I do prefer the real story of Anne Neville, and feel sorry that for so many years, she was neither admired nor respected as she deserved to be. 

Women in History: Eleanor of Aquitaine

One of the most powerful and influential women of her time, Eleanor of Aquitaine was born in the early 1120s and lived until 1204. 

By birth, she became Duchess of Aquitaine, a province in the southwest of France, when her father died in 1137. Independently wealthy and renowned for her beauty, she was the most sought-after bride in Europe.

Eleanor married King Louis VII of France in 1137, but the marriage was not happy. She sought an annulment of her marriage— one wonders how many women were in a position to do that for themselves back then— but it was rejected by the Pope.

It was not until 1152 and Louis’ agreement because she had not produced a son that Eleanor was able to obtain an annulment on the grounds of their family relationship. Louis kept their daughters, but Eleanor’s lands were restored to her and Eleanor was free to move on, which she did almost immediately.

Two months later, despite the efforts of two other lords to abduct and marry her, Eleanor married the Duke of Normandy, who would become King Henry II of England in 1154.

Five sons— three of whom became kings—and three daughters secured the line of inheritance to the English throne before Eleanor and Henry grew apart and became estranged, their marriage complicated by Henry’s frequent affairs and numerous illegitimate children.

While the idea of courtly love was not new, Eleanor and her daughters brought the concept to life at Poitiers, where they and their courtiers discussed matters of love and chivalry and adjudicated both theoretical questions and disputes between lovers. This gave rise to the great popularity of courtly love literature in Europe.

Suspicion that Eleanor was encouraging one or more of their younger sons to rebel and possibly ultimately challenge him for the throne led Henry to summon Eleanor to meet him at Rouen in 1173, from whence he took her captive and kept her as his prisoner at either Winchester Castle or Sarum Castle, and then at various other locations, for the next sixteen years. 

Eleanor was released from her albeit comfortable imprisonment by her son Richard, who became king on Henry’s death in 1189. She returned to Westminster and was welcomed with oaths of loyalty from the lords and, although not officially given any position or title, went on to rule for several years on behalf of her son Richard the Lionheart during his extended absences from England, both while on Crusade and while being held hostage by the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VI. She was instrumental in raising the money needed and negotiating to secure Richard’s release. 

After John’s accession to the throne on the death of his brother, he sent Eleanor to Castile to bring back one of her granddaughters for an arranged marriage to secure a truce and alliance with Philip II of France. On her way there, Eleanor was kidnapped by Hugh IX of Lusignan who held her hostage, demanding land that his family had owned before selling it to Henry II be returned to him. An old hand at dealing with men who couldn’t think of a better way to solve their problems than to take someone captive and make demands before letting them go, and more than likely quite weary of men telling her what to do, she gave him what he wanted regardless of whether or not it was hers to give, negotiated her own release and went on her way.

That wasn’t the last of the trouble on her errand. On the way back, Eleanor and her granddaughter Blanche spent Easter at Bordeaux where they met a renowned soldier, Mercadier, who agreed to escort them back to Normandy. However, he was killed by the man-at-arms of one of his  rivals.  Shocked by his death, Eleanor retreated to Fontrevaud Abbey, committing her granddaughter to the care and escort of the Archbishop of Bordeaux. 

Despite ill health, Eleanor left Fontrevaud when hostilities once again broke out between England and France. She returned to Bordeaux to support John against the claims of her grandson Arthur, Duke of Brittany.

Not easily dissuaded, Arthur besieged her in the castle of Mirabeau until John arrived and captured Arthur, who was still only fifteen years old. One could be forgiven for suspecting he inherited some of his nerve from his grandmother.

Eleanor returned to Fontrevaud Abbey, where she died and was entombed beside her husband Henry and her son Richard in 1204. Her effigy has her reading a book, presumably a Bible. 

By the end of her life, she had been queen of both France and England, and become the mother of not only two kings of England and one of France, but also of several queens of European nations and provinces. Eleanor had led armies into battle on more than one occasion, and had been a leader of the Second Crusade.  

She was clearly a woman of great temerity and independence of spirit. Even though she very obviously lived in a man’s world, she would never settle for not having just a bit of it for herself and leaving her mark on it when she left. 

Women in History: Æthelflæd

Meet one of my favourite women in history: Æthelflæd, Lady Of The Mercians.

In today’s Women’s History Month post, I want to introduce you to another favourite feisty English princess: Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians.

Born in 870  as the first daughter of King Alfred the Great and his wife Ealswith,  she grew up in a kingdom plagued by Viking invasions and increasing Danish domination of lands the had until recently been other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. 

In 878, the tide began to turn when Alfred defeated the Danes at the Battle of Edington, and  Æthelred  became leader of the the half of Mercia that was still under English control. As Lord of the Mercians, he acknowledged Alfred as King over all the English people who lived in areas not controlled by the Vikings. This alliance was sealed by the marriage of Æthelflæd to Æthelred. 

Not content to be a political pawn, Æthelflæd established herself in Mercia as a very capable co-ruler with Æthelred, and when his health began to fail, she took on the responsibilities of rule. When he died in 911, she assumed sole leadership of the kingdom and ruled in her own right as the Lady of the Mercians. 

This was the first time a woman had ruled an English kingdom, and she did a brilliant job of it. She fought against the Danes alongside her father and then he brother Edward, who became King on the death of Alfred in 899, enjoying victories that led to the Viking rulers of York offering her their loyalty in 918. However, Æthelflæd died before she was able to accept their offer and Edward absorbed Mercia into his own kingdom. 

RClearly, Æthelflæd was a woman who was not content to take a passive role in either history or her own life. She recognised no glass ceilings, and showed most of the men around her— including her own brother— how leadership should be done. 

To learn more about this fascinating woman, I recommend Annie Whitehead’s fabulous work of historical fiction, To Be A Queen.