History Blog

 RSS Feed

  1. If you want to look at an unhappy Royal family in history, then you don’t have to look much further than King Edward II and Queen Isabella. A marriage that was supposed to seal peace between England and France eventually led to a rebellion against the King. While their son Edward III certainly had a happy marriage, the same cannot be said for his two sisters.

    Eleanor of Woodstock Eleanor-of-Woodstock

    The elder of the two princesses, Eleanor of Woodstock was born in June 1318. Eleanor’s childhood featured growing estrangement between her parents, followed by her mother leading a rebellion against her father. She was nine years old when her brother was formally crowned and became part of their mother’s puppet government, and she spent a number of years in the care of various noble families in England. 

    Eleanor’s future was the subject of a lot of negotiation as the years went by. The kingdoms of Castile and France were both interested in the possibility of her as a Royal bride. Negotiations with Castile floundered over the dowry negotiations, Prince Alfonso ended up making an unhappy marriage with a Portuguese princess. For the French an English princess would have been a suitable wife for the heir to the throne, Prince John. But Eleanor was pipped at the post by the kingdom of Bohemia, who offered a princess in return for a military alliance.

    Instead Eleanor had to settle for an older widower. Count Reinoud II of Guelders had been widowed in 1329, his wife Sophia had left him with four daughters but no sons. Eleanor’s marriage was arranged by her brother’s mother-in-law, who was helping expand English influence beyond the normal spheres. Eleanor was given a magnificent trousseau and was dispatched overseas. The marriage took place in May 1332 in the town of Nijmegen (part of modern Netherlands).

    Sadly for the young princess it was not a happy marriage. Eleanor gave birth to the required heir and spare; Reinoud was born in 1333, and Edward in 1336. But she was much younger than her husband, barely two years older than her eldest stepdaughter. Coming from an unstable family and unhappy childhood Eleanor reportedly clung to her husband, who eventually grew bored and dismissed her from court. He even tried to have the marriage annulled by declaring she had leprosy, but in a rare show of spirit Eleanor reportedly returned to court wearing nothing by a thin shift. With no signs of leprosy the annulment was never going to be successful.

    Reinoud died suddenly in 1343 after falling from his horse. His and Eleanor’s eldest son was only nine years old at the time. Eleanor made a bid to become Regent in her son’s name, but ultimately failed in 1344. After falling out with her son her lands were confiscated and she eventually died in poverty in a convent. She was only 36 years old.

    Joan of the Tower Joan-of-the-Tower

    Unlike her older sister, there was very little debate in Joan’s future marriage. Her name comes from her place of birth, political insecurities at the time meant that Isabella had to have her confinement in the secure walls of the Tower of London. Political considerations would dominate her life, her marriage was arranged as part of the Treaty of Northampton between England and Scotland in 1328. Joan was promptly sent north in the summer, on 17 July 1328 the seven year old princess married the four year old heir to the Scottish throne - Prince David. 

    The two children were raised together in the Scottish court. David’s early reign was marked by the passing of various regents, before he was forced to flee to France in 1334 after a rebellion led by Edward Balliol (with the assistance of Joan’s brother, Edward III of England). David was only eleven, Joan was nearly thirteen. They were offered a home in Chateau Gaillard (which had been built by King Richard I) but very little is known about their time in France.

    The Royal couple were allowed to return to Scotland in 1341. Joan was now twenty years old and reportedly a beautiful young woman. But David returned to Scotland with his mistress in tow, leaving Joan somewhat sidelined in her own court. They lasted in Scotland for five years until David was captured by the English at the Battle of Neville's Cross. He was taken to London and imprisoned in the Tower of London and Joan followed. But while her husband was a captive, albeit one held in a certain amount of luxury, Joan was an honoured guest. She resided with her mother, was given a pension by her brother, and received frequent visits from her sister-in-law Queen Philippa and her nieces and nephews.

    In many ways Joan's story ends better than most unlucky princesses. Her marriage was a sham, and David had consistently shown his disdain for her. After his release and return to Scotland in 1357 he quickly took up another mistress. Joan by this point had had enough and returned to her brother's court where she was once again a beloved member of the family. She accompanied Isabella on her final pilgrimage and nursed her during her last illness. She didn't live for too many more years, dying in 1362 aged 41. She was buried at London's Greyfriars Church near her mother.

    David remarried after becoming a widower. His second wife also failed to conceive any children, and on his death the Scottish throne went to the Stuart line.


     

    Last month's Unlucky Princess was Maria Josepha of Bavaria.

    If you like the Unlucky Princess series you might like my eBook series - 30 Women in History.

  2. A potential King Arthur of England, young Arthur of Brittany was the son of Duke Geoffrey of Brittany and his wife Constance, and thus had Royal blood in his veins. Geoffrey was the son of King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine, while Constance was descended from Scottish kings. Geoffrey died a few months before Arthur's birth, leaving Constance to protect both their son and the Duchy of Brittany. As the grandson of Henry II, baby Arthur was also a potential claimant to the English throne.

    Of course Arthur's position in relation to England would have been made highly unlikely if King Richard I had had a son or two. But Richard's marriage to Berengaria of Navarre was childless. However Arthur's claim was unfavourable as he was being raised in Brittany by his mother Constance, who was disliked by Eleanor of Aquitaine and who may have been hostile towards her husband's family. Arthur-of-Brittany

    Regardless of Constance's mutual dislike of her in-laws, Arthur was still a nephew of the King of England. Richard even arranged a marriage for Arthur to the daughter of Tancred of Sicily, which came to nothing but does show the influence that the extended family could have over the boy's life. Arthur's older sister Eleanor was also briefly considered as a potential bride for the heir to the French throne as part of an alliance between Richard and King Philip, but again it never came to fruition.

    After several years considering naming John as his heir, or naming Arthur, King Richard began to lean more towards Arthur. In 1196 he named Arthur officially and requested that the boy be sent to him so he could be raised by his Plantagenet family. But on the journey Arthur's mother Constance was captured and imprisoned by her husband, and Arthur was secretly taken to the French court and placed in the custody of King Philip.

    Despite being raised as a French pawn it may have been that Arthur would have remained as Richard's heir, were it not for his uncle's untimely death. Richard was shot by an arrow during a siege in 1199 and the wound soon turned gangrenous. With his mother at his side as witness Richard named his brother John as heir on his deathbed, not Arthur. It may be that Eleanor persuaded him to do so, or it might have been down to the fact that John was a grown man while Arthur was only twelve years old. Richard's deathbed wishes were not enough to stop King Philip, who immediately proclaimed Arthur as the real heir to the Angevin Empire.

    Anjou, Maine and Touraine all declared for Arthur, leading to war in the region as John and Eleanor fought to hang on to the counties. Arthur witnessed several sieges on his behalf, but as John started to gain the upper hand he was moved back to Paris. King Philip treated the boy as a treasured companion for his son and heir Louis and had him educated to the same high standard. But Arthur wasn't the grateful subject that Philip believed him to be. Concern grew that Philip intend to claim Anjou, Maine and Touraine for himself and exclude Arthur from gaining control when he came of age. Instead Arthur fled to the court of King John, once more accompanied by his mother Constance.

    It was not a situation that ended well. Suspicious of John as well as Philip, Arthur and Constance never saw John. When their intermediaries failed to negotiate a favourable audience with John they fled straight back to a very angry Philip. Arthur was virtually excluded from the peace talks that followed. It was agreed that he would do homage to John for Brittany, and Philip and John settled various territorial claims between them, as well as arranging a marriage between one of John's nieces in Castile and Philip's eldest son Louis. Arthur would shine in the tournament thrown to celebrate the marriage a year later.

    Arthur's greatest ally, his mother Constance, died in September 1201 in childbirth, possibly after delivering twins. In recent years Constance had leaned more towards Arthur's paternal family, but without her advice and influence he moved back towards the French court. Encouraged by King Philip he led an invasion against Poitou. His forces even managed to besiege Eleanor of Aquitaine in the Château de Mirabeau in July 1202, but John quickly marched on Mirabeau. Arthur and his forces were taken unawares. Eleanor was freed and Arthur was captured and imprisoned at the Château de Falaise.

    Arthur's ultimate fate is unknown, all that is known is that he was never seen again after 1203. One account is that King John ordered for Arthur to be physically mutilated in some way, either castrated or blinded, and that after his captors refused to carry the act out they killed in fear of what John would do to them for disobeying him. Other accounts state that John himself killed the young man in a drunken rage and had the body thrown in to the Seine. Like the Princes in the Tower several centuries later Arthur's final resting place was never revealed. His older sister Eleanor, also reportedly captured at Mirabeau, would live in to her late fifties and died in captivity in England during the reign of Henry III.

     


    Last month's Almost King was Henry the Young King.

     

  3. If you don't get along with your mother-in-law then spare a thought for poor Maria Josepha of Bavaria. Not only did she get an overbearing mother-in-law in the form of Empress Maria Theresa, but she also had a husband who spent most of their marriage showing his complete disdain for her.

    Maria Josepha was born on 20 March 1739 in Munich, the last of seven children, although only four had survived infancy. At the age of four she lost her older sister Theresa Benedicta, followed by her father Charles when she was just six years old. Her mother Maria Amalia was a first cousin to Maria Theresa, and it was on her behalf that Charles, who was Holy Roman Emperor, had claimed the Habsburg lands during the War of Austrian Succession. After Charles' death Maria Amalia persuaded her son to make peace with Maria Theresa, and it was Maria Theresa's husband Francis who was elected the new Holy Roman Emperor. Maria-Josepha-of-Bavaria

    Maria Josepha's mother lived in retirement after her husband's death, and she may have taken her youngest child with her for company. In 1756 Maria Amalia died, leaving her seventeen year old daughter an orphan. As her two surviving older sisters were married she most likely resided at the court of her brother, Maximilian III of Bavaria. Both sisters had married relatively late, in their early twenties, so it should not be too surprising that Maria Josepha was still unmarried at the age of twenty six, when a marriage was proposition arrived from the court of Empress Maria Theresa.

    The potential bridegroom was her eldest son Joseph. His first wife Isabella of Parma had died 1763 after contracting smallpox while pregnant. Joseph's only living child was a daughter, and the Empress was determined that he would have a male heir. A uniting of the two families might prevent war in the future, and Maria Josepha was the only unmarried daughter left from that side of the family. Her thoughts on the match are unknown, but Joseph was particularly reluctant. He had adored Isabella and continued to mourn her. He had no interest in remarrying, unless it was to her sister Maria Luisa (who declined the suggestion, not only was she already betrothed but she had no interest in taking her sister's place).

    However Maria Theresa was not an indulgent parent. She wanted an heir from Joseph, and so he needed a wife. After a proxy ceremony two weeks previously the couple were formally married in Vienna on 25 January 1765. Although Maria Josepha was, at first, very happy with her husband and fell in love with him quickly her feelings were not reciprocated. In one of his many letters Joseph complained that she had bad teeth, acne, and was too short. In another letter, this time to his former father-in-law, Joseph complained that he had nothing in common with his new wife and would never be able to love her.

    Maria Josepha herself was very aware that her husband didn't care for her, in many ways he did nothing to hide it. In fact Joseph managed to arrange his days so that he only saw his wife briefly in the morning when he woke up, at mealtimes when they shared a table, and in the evening when they went to bed. The rest of the court may have taken their cue from Joseph as his wife does not seem to have settled in well, she was mostly isolated and deeply unhappy. She was reportedly a very amiable young woman, but poorly educated (surprising given that of her two surviving sisters, one was a noted musician and the other a diplomat). Joseph wanted a mirror image of Isabella; beatiful, well educated and witty. Maria Josepha would never live up to the idealised portrait of the beloved first wife.

    Eight months after the wedding Maria Josepha became Holy Roman Empress when her husband's father died. However the reins of power were still very firmly in the hands of Maria Theresa, and she wasn't ready to relinquish anything to her son, let alone her daughter-in-law. Had Maria Josepha managed to produce the desired heir then things might have improved, but she and Joseph do not appear to have conceived a child during their few years together.

    In May 1767, just over two years after her wedding day, Maria Josepha contracted smallpox and died. Joseph stayed well away from his second wife and didn't even visit her on her deathbed, although Maria Theresa visited her (and caught smallpox as a result, however she survived).

    Maria Josepha's tomb can today be found in the Imperial crypt, as a Holy Roman Empress she was buried with the rest of the family who had cared so little for her in life.


    Last month's Unlucky Princess was Juana la Beltraneja.

    If you like the Unlucky Princess series you might like my eBook series - 30 Women in History.

  4.  Henry Plantagenet is the only prince in this series that actually had a coronation. Known to history with the epithet "the Young King", Henry spent most of his short life feeling very hard-done by. 

    Henry-the-Young-King

    Born in February 1155, Henry became the the eldest surviving son of King Henry II of England and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine when his older brother William died in 1156. Henry could have expected to inherit the vast Angevin empire, with borders reaching from Scotland to Spain and the Mediterranean sea. But Henry was joined by a whole host of siblings, including his younger brothers Geoffrey, Richard and John. His father, King Henry, wanted to try and ensure a balance of inheritance between his sons. Their mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, wanted her lands to go to her favourite son, Richard, who was raised in the duchy with the anticipation that he would become Duke. Meanwhile the King's favourite son John was at the bottom of the pile and would have little to inherit, something that King Henry wanted to prevent.

    Young Henry grew up in his mother's household until the age of six, and then joined the household of Thomas Becket until his downfall. After this he may have spent time in his father's household, before Eleanor appointed William Marshall as guardian and tutor to her eldest son. William would go on to gain a reputation as one of the greatest knights in England's history, and Henry was one of five kings to whom he would show unwavering loyalty and dedication.

    As they grew older Henry was the only one who was firmly kept away from power and responsibility. Geoffrey was married to the Duchess of Brittany and allowed to rule in her name (as long as he followed what his father wanted). Richard was due to be given Aquitaine. But despite his requesting the right to rule Normandy, Henry was sidelined. He was married to Marguerite, a princess of France as the daughter of Eleanor's first husband King Louis, but even this prestigious match (arranged since their infancy) wasn't enough to placate the young prince. Henry-the-Young-King-2

    King Henry tried to mollify his son by having him crowned at Winchester. Crowning the heir to the throne while the current King was still alive was a French custom, not an English one, and led to tensions in the country. Even after the coronation Young Henry was still not given lands to rule and found himself constantly in debt. He was reportedly a handsome young man, with a quick wit, easy charm and a generous hand, the main reason for his debt was that he was keen to be generous to friends and supporters. Unfortunately he was also arrogant, and inclined to take the side of sycophants over his family. It may have been these negative traits that led to his father refusing to give him any kind of responsibility, the King didn't think his son was up to the task of ruling. But it eventually led to a rebellion in 1173.

    Young Henry was joined in the rebellion by Richard and Geoffrey, who despite the inheritances that were granted to them were still chafing under the control of their father. All three were supported by Eleanor, and quickly gained support from the King of France and various groups who were fed up with King Henry's rule. The rebellion was defeated in 1174 and led to the Treaty of Montlouis, where Young Henry was granted an income (but still no responsibility) and his brothers were all confirmed in their previous roles. Eleanor had been captured and was imprisoned in England, none of her sons were able to persuade Henry to release her. Young Henry was also kept very close by until he managed to arrange an “escape” to the continent with his wife Marguerite. In 1177, while in France, Marguerite gave birth to a baby boy, who was named William and died three days later.

    Young Henry spent the last few years of his life making friends in France and taking part in tournaments. He became a friend of King Philip II of France, even taking part in the coronation ceremony and joining in with the celebratory tournament in 1179. But he still wasn't content, and after an appeal for “aid” from a group of disaffected nobles in Aquitaine he led another rebellion, this time against Richard. He was desperately short of money, King Henry sided with Richard and cut off the Young King's allowance. In order to pay his mercenaries Young Henry looted monasteries and shrines, and in June 1183 he and his men stole the treasure from the shrine at Rocamadour.

    Shortly afterwards Young Henry contracted dysentery. He was taken to the village of Martel, and begged his father to come to him so they could make amends. King Henry was persuaded that it was a trap, and instead sent a doctor and a ring to signify his forgiveness. He asked his father to forgive Eleanor and release her, and take care of Marguerite. William Marshall, who had also fallen out with Young Henry, was reconciled with his old friend and agreed to travel to the Holy Land on his behalf.

    Young King Henry died on 11 June 1183 and was buried in Rouen Cathedral. He was the first and last English king to be crowned before the death of his father, and has never been included in the numerical list of Kings. The next King Henry would be the son of his younger brother, King John.


    Last month's Almost King was Robert Curthose.

  5. Technically known to history as “Juana of Castile” (a name that would later be taken by one of her nieces), Juana la Beltraneja's more well-known name comes from the questions that surrounded her birth. Her mother Joan of Portugal was a Queen Consort of Castile as the second wife of King Enrique IV of Castile. Enrique had had his first marriage dissolved after thirteen years on the basis that it had never been consummated due to impotence (caused by a curse). Juana-la-Beltraneja

    Juana's birth on 21 February 1462 was something of a miracle, assuming her father's rumoured problem was true. Castilian nobles on the other hand attributed her not to God, but to court favourite Beltran de la Cueva. Much of what was written about Enrique came during the reign of his half-sister Isabella, who needed to legitimise her own actions. Juana's epithet thus comes from her potential father Beltran.

    Despite the apparent rumours Enrique was happy to recognise the baby as his own. When she was three months old he officially named her as the heir to the throne and gave her the title “Princess of Asturias” - the traditional title held by the heir. But various members of the Castilian nobility refused to recognise her as heir, favouring Enrique's younger half-brother Alfonso. In 1464 civil war broke out, and Enrique was forced to acknowledge Alfonso as his heir. The one compromise that was agreed to was that Alfonso would marry Juana when she came of age, uniting the two competing claims to the throne.

    Alfonso's death four years later should have given Enrique an opportunity to promote Juana again. Instead he agreed to support the claim of his half-sister Isabella. Juana was still excluded. Her claims weren't helped by the actions of her mother. Joan had been dismissed from court by Enrique and ended up moving to a castle belonging to the Bishop Fonesca. She fell in love with the Bishop's nephew and had two illegitimate children with him. Not only did this give Enrique an excuse to divorce her too, but it also added to the rumours about Juana. Clearly her mother was an adulteress at least once, why not twice?

    On Enrique's death in 1474 it looked as if Juana's cause was completely lost. Although her mother tried to support her from her exile, her death in 1475 put paid to any assistance she could have given her daughter. Juana herself had been raised by a succession of noble Castilian families, and her future marriage had been carefully considered by her father. French and Burgundian alliances were considered, but in the end she was betrothed to King Afonso of Portugal. Enrique's death led to the War of Castilian Succession. Isabella was supported by her husband, Ferdinand of Aragon. In May 1475 Afonso of Portugal invaded Castile and promptly fulfilled his betrothal by marrying Juana.

    Afonso brought with him an army from Portugal, combined with the Castilians who supported Juana. It wasn't enough though, after the Battle of Toro Ferdinand declared an overwhelming victory.

    It wasn't quite true, but it was enough to convince the Castilians to side with Ferdinand and Isabella. Afonso tried and failed to secure support from France, and effectively gave up the fight. He abdicated the Portuguese throne in 1477 and retired to a monastery. Juana's marriage was annulled a year later, and Isabella gave her a choice – become a nun or wait for another decade to marry Isabella's infant son Juan, and again potentially unite the two claims. Juana chose the convent, and officially renounced her claim to the Castilian throne. However she spent the rest of her life signing letters as “Juana the Queen”. After a number of years in a convent she was allowed to move to Lisbon, where she resided in the Castle of Sao Jorge, supported by her mother's family.

    Juana outlived Isabella by twenty six years, dying in Lisbon in April 1530. Ironically it's reported that after Isabella's death her husband Ferdinand proposed to Juana, in a desperate attempt to keep control of Castile. Unsurprisingly Juana declined.


    The previous Unlucky Princess was Marie Louise d'Orleans.

    If you like the Unlucky Princess series you might like my eBook series - 30 Women in History.