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  1. On This Day: Death of Joan of England, Queen of Scotland

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    On this day in 1238, Queen Joan of Scotland died in Havering-atte-Bower. Her relatively short life had been frequently disrupted by the vagaries of English medieval politics, she had been passed from pillar to post as nothing more than a bargaining chip, and at the end of her life her marriage had been in ruins. She was yet another princess whose life was not what she may have hoped for.

    Childhoodjoan of england queen of scotland

    Joan was born on 22nd July 1210, the third child and first daughter of King John and his wife Isabella of Angouleme. Like the rest of her siblings her early life was influenced by King John's on-going war with the English Barons, as the court moved around the country trying to find alliances and support for John. Her life only really settled when, at the age of four, she was betrothed to Hugh X of Lusignan. As part of the betrothal agreement she was sent to Lusignan to be raised in her future husband's court. The betrothal was a peace offering on John's part, Hugh's father had originally been betrothed to Joan's mother Isabella of Angouleme. John had effectively betrayed the elder Hugh by tricking him in to leaving Lusignan and then marrying Isabella himself, leading to a series of battles and recriminations between both sides.

    Hugh the younger was anywhere between 15 and 27 years older than his future wife, but marriage to a Princess was not a deal that could be given up lightly, especially as Joan could instead have been used as a diplomatic deal between England and France. By keeping Joan at the Lusignan court Hugh and his family could at least be certain that John would keep his side of any future bargain, they effectively had his daughter as a hostage should things turn sour. How Joan was treated at the court, as unwanted future bride or honourable guest, isn't known. But in 1216 things changed again when King John died and her brother Henry became King Henry III.

    Up to this point Joan and Henry's mother Isabella had simply gone along with what her husband wanted. She had been 12 years old when she had married him, he hadn't been a brilliant husband to her, and it appears that she had no real love for England or the English. As soon as Henry was crowned and settled she decided to return to the continent, where she had inherited the county of Angouleme. Once she was home she soon became reacquainted with local power struggles and alliances, and in 1220 she usurped Joan's position by marrying Hugh X herself. With no father or brother to arrange her marriage for her, this was clearly a choice made by Isabella alone. It suddenly made Joan's position deeply awkward, with no groom waiting in the wings there was no point in her remaining in Lusignan. But Hugh and Isabella exploited the poor girl's position for everything it was worth.

    Back in England Henry and his advisors were shocked by the turn of events. The union of the counties of Angouleme and Lusignan made a powerful bloc that could upset the delicate political balance on the continent. Hugh and Isabella knew this, and simultaneously refused to place Joan in her brother's custody and threatened to deal with the King of France if their demands weren't met. Isabella wanted the dower that she was due to receive as the widow of a King of England, and Hugh wanted the lands and money that had been promised to him as part of the agreement for marrying Joan.

    The English court had no choice but to agree, they had already been arranging a new treaty with Scotland that was going to be cemented with a new marriage for Joan, this time to King Alexander II. Her sister Isabella was waiting a potential second best, but once again the age difference between bride and groom meant that an older bride was preferred, if only to reduce the amount of time until an heir could be produced. Henry agreed to his mother and Hugh's demands, and Joan was packed off back to England to face a new marriage.

    Queen of Scotland

    Ten year old Joan married the twenty three year old King of Scotland on 21 June 1221 at York. Henry paid for several days of celebrations, attended by nobles from both the English and Scottish courts, and Alexander then escorted his new bride back to his kingdom.

    Joan maintained close contact with her brother for the rest of her life. Although Alexander had granted Joan a "dower" of various lands in Scotland, the money from which was supposed to support her and her household, it does not appear that she was actually given any control over this money. Although she was only a child when she married Alexander, she appears to have been continuously denied her rights once she became an adult. This was alleviated somewhat by Henry, who occasionally granted her lands in England, as well as rights to build property and claim other sources of income that helped her gain a little independence.

    The real problems in the marriage seem to have stemmed from their childlessness. Like all Kings, Alexander was desperate to have a son and heir who would inherit his throne on his death. Even taking in to account the fact that Joan was only ten when they married, a decade later the couple still had an empty nursery. Although Joan had frequently proved her worth on the diplomatic front, frequently exchanging letters with her brother that also included things her husband had told her which helped smooth relations between both sides, to a medieval King her only value came from the sons she would give him.

    In 1237 Alexander and Joan travelled south to York for a meeting between Alexander and Henry. Alexander had been demanding that Henry grant him the county of Northumbria, and a face-to-face meeting was considered to be the best way to resolve the argument. Once things came to a successful conclusion - Alexander dropped his claim in favour of other grants and acknowledgements from Henry - Joan left her husband and travelled down to Canterbury with her sister-in-law Eleanor of Provence. By this time Canterbury was a centre of pilgrimage, and both Queens may have been praying for help getting the sons that both their husbands wanted.

    Joan then spent Christmas with her English family, with no apparent indication that she would return to Scotland any time soon. She was still in England when she fell ill, and she died on 4th March 1238, with her brothers King Henry and Richard Duke of Cornwall at her side. She was buried in Tarrant Crawford Abbey in Dorset, where Henry paid for masses to be sung and for a memorial set up over her tomb. Alexander married Marie de Coucy and by her had a son, the future King Alexander III

  2. On This Day: Birth of Mary I

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    On this day 1516 Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England, gave birth to a baby girl at Greenwich. The girl was Catherine's fifth child by her husband King Henry VIII, but the four previous pregnancies had resulted in miscarriages, stillbirths, and one son who died after two weeks.

    The Only ChildQueen Mary I

    Catherine of Aragon married her brother-in-law, the new King Henry VIII, in June 1509. She fell pregnant quickly, but the baby girl was born prematurely in 1510 and was probably stillborn. In January 1511 she gave birth to a baby boy, who was promptly named Henry and was given the title "Duke of Cornwall", which was a traditional title for the heir to the English throne. The baby appears to have been healthy, he was christened four days after his birth but this wasn't unusual in a society that had a high infant mortality rate. Sadly though he died when he was nearly eight weeks old. No cause of death was ever recorded, but with the high number of illnesses and untreatable infections that were prevalent at the time, it's not unusual that a cause could not be found.

    A third son, again called Henry, was born in November 1513. Unlike his brother this little boy didn't live longer than a few hours as he was premature. A third son was stillborn in early 1515, and does not appear to have been named. Mary's birth and survival in 1516, therefore, were seen as an important sign that it was indeed possible for Catherine and Henry to have a healthy child. Two years later Catherine gave birth to a third daughter, but this time the little girl lived no more than a week. This left Mary as Henry's only surviving child, and during her childhood she was an only child, doted on by her mother, who arranged her education.

    A Little Sister

    While Catherine may have reconciled herself to only have a daughter, Henry was less agreeable. He treated his daughter as a Princess of Wales, even sending her out to Wales to rule as his older brother Arthur had done, but he never formally gave her the title, which would have been an indication that she would be recognised as his heir. Mary had an illegitimate half-brother, Henry FitzRoy, whose presence suggested to her father that any problems with having children didn't stem from him. He was probably already thinking about divorcing Catherine when he met Anne Boleyn, but the fact that his new favourite refused to become his mistress probably prompted him to look closer in to the detail.

    Mary and Catherine were devastated by Henry's actions, and both of them suffered. Mary was frequently ill, but was kept away from her mother by Henry, who refused to let the two women write to each other, let alone see one another. Mary was seventeen when Henry married Anne Boleyn, and the announcement of her pregnancy followed by her coronation were two further blows. Mary was declared illegitimate, and forbidden to use the title "Princess", although she could possibly derive some comfort from the fact that Anne Boleyn gave birth to a baby girl, not the son that was expected. At least this was a healthy child who thrived, showing Henry that healthy children were possible, it was unfortunate for Anne that all of her following pregnancies would end in miscarriages. None of it helped Mary though, who was not only devastated by the death of Catherine in 1536, but who was also estranged from her father as she consistently refused to acknowledge his belief that she was illegitimate.

    A Little Brother

    After Anne Boleyn's execution Henry married his third wife, Jane Seymour. The new Queen was seen as a pacifying influence, and she helped bring a reconciliation of sorts between Henry and Mary. Unfortunately it was at the cost of Mary's principles, she had to accept her father's declaration that she was illegitimate and that her parents had never been married. She was frequently ill, but she was more welcome at court than she had been. Jane argued behind the scenes for Mary to be reinstated in the line of succession, which was unsuccessful, but she did at least manage to have her step-daughter brought back to court. She was granted her own household, given several palaces to call her home, and Henry arranged for her to have her own income so she was free to buy her own clothes and pay for her own entertainments. Letters between her and Queen Jane show that she appreciated her step-mother's help, but they never grew particularly close as Jane died giving birth to a son, Edward, in 1537. Mary's return to court meant that she was now the principal woman in the kingdom, and as such she was both godmother to her little brother, and the chief mourner at Queen Jane's funeral.

    Her life may have been promising at the start, but by the time she was in her early twenties, Mary's life had fallen apart. Her life would continue in a series of rollercoaster-like ups-and-downs. But five hundred years ago today, her parents would simply have been relieved that she was alive.

    If you're a fan of Mary, you can check out her badge!

  3. On This Day: Death of Nellie Bly

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    On 27th January 1922 an incredible woman passed away in New York. Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, who went by the pen name "Nellie Bly", was supposed to write about dresses and parties. Instead she had set a record, patented inventions, led mental health reform and annoyed the Mexican government.


    Nellie became a journalist almost by accident. On reading a misogynistic article in her local newspaper, she wrote a spirited defence to the editor. Her writing style impressed him, leading to first a trial offer and then a full time job as a writer for the Pittsburgh Dispatch. As a woman writer, she was expected to stick solely to the columns dedicated to "women's interest" - which primarily consisted of articles about fashion and beauty, and local celebrity gossip. None of this was of interest to her, so instead she moved to Mexico and began sending home a series of articles about life in the country and it's people. Afer a highly critical article about the Mexican government, Nellie was forced to flee back to America, where she not only published more criticisms on Mexico's politics, but collected her earlier articles and published a book.

    Mental Health ReformNellie Bly

    Back in Pittsburgh, Nellie was quickly reduced once again to the women's interest section. She soon got bored and quit her job to move to New York City, where she eventually managed to get a job interview with the New York World, the newspaper owned by Joseph Pullitzer. The paper had received reports of abuse being carried out at a mental asylum in the state, and Nellie was given the task of infiltrating the asylum to see what she could find. In order to be admitted she faked a bout of insanity, and after being brought before a judge and examined by several doctors, she was committed to the asylum. There she witnessed multiple acts of abuse, patients were beaten if they refused to be quiet, fed food that was either uncooked or had gone off, tied together with ropes and left on benches with no mental stimulation to keep them occupied, and occasionally deliberately drenched in freezing cold water.

    Nellie spent ten days in the asylum, after which her colleagues at the New York World persuaded the judge that it had been an act and that she should be released. She promptly wrote a report detailing her experiences, which was later also published as a book titled "Ten Days in a Madhouse". One of the biggest scandals was that a woman who was completely sane had been deemed otherwise by medical professionals, leading to questions about how many other women had been mistakenly classed as seriously mentally ill. The abuse she witnessed led to a public scandal, which prompted reform in the mental health system of the state. Nellie frequently submitted her own suggestions for changes that should be made, many of which were implemented.

    Eighty Days Around The World

    In the book "Eighty Days Around the World", Phileas Fogg makes a grand attempt to circumnavigate the world in a hot air balloon. On 14th November 1889, Nellie started out on her own version of the journey, publically supported by the New York World. She left New York by steamboat, and proceeded to travel through England, France, Italy, Egypt, Sri Lanka, China and Japan, using boats and railways. She took minimal luggage, carrying just one bag with her, and travelled alone. She was also in direct competition, the New York paper "Cosmopolitan" sent their own woman journalist on the same trip, but in the opposite direction.

    On 21st January 1890, Nellie's boat docked at San Francisco. Bad weather on the final leg of her journey meant that she was a few days behind schedule, but this was soon dealt with by Joseph Pullitzer, who paid for a private train to carry her back to New York from the west coast. She arrived home on 25th January, having travelled around the world in seventy two days, beating the Cosmopolitan's journalist by four days. Nellie only held the record for a few months, but she would always be the first person to travel around the world in less than eighty days, let alone the first woman to complete such a trip.


    On marrying in 1895, Nellie gave up writing to work with her husband (who was fourty years her senior) in his company, the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co. Nine years after they married, her husband died, leaving Nellie in charge of the company. She lodged two patents for products that the company made, but the business eventually collapsed as it was embezzled by employees. In the final decade of her life, Nellie returned to writing.

    Her death in 1922 appears to have gone relatively unnoticed. She was buried in New York, but her grave was unmarked until 1978 when the New York Press Club paid for the erection of a headstone. However in recent years her accomplishments have been noted in numerous plays, tv shows and movies, which have frequently drawn on her work "Ten Days in a Mad-House", and she was the feature of a 2015 Google Doodle.

    If you want to read about more women in history, you can check out my ebook on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com!

  4. On This Day: Wedding of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York

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    On 18th January 1486, Elizabeth of York married the recently crowned King Henry VII of England. The wedding had been a long time coming, and multiple English nobles had pressured Henry to ensure that he went through with a promise he had made in 1483, and help end the Wars of the Roses.

    ExilesHenry VII of England

    Henry Tudor, as he had been known before becoming King, had spent fourteen years in exile. First in Brittany, where he had fled with his paternal uncle Jasper Tudor, and then France when Brittany allied with King Richard III. He was the male heir to the House of Lancaster's claim to the English throne, and therefore a focal point for rebellion against the House of York and their kings; Edward IV and then Richard III.

    Elizabeth on the other hand had had a mostly stable childhood. In her infancy her father had fled to the court of Burgundy and her mother had sought sanctuary with Elizabeth and her sisters. This "exile" from the English court had only lasted months before Edward had returned with a small force, gathered an army, and then defeated both the Earl of Warwick and Margaret of Anjou at the Battle of Barnet and Battle of Tewkesbury respectively. This was to be the last set of major battles for a good few years, and once Margaret of Anjou was in prison and her husband and son, King Henry VI and Edward of Wesminster, were dead there was no other Lancaster contender to the throne besides Henry Tudor.

    Their lives therefore had been very different. Henry had been supported by his uncle, a long way away from his mother Margaret Beaufort. His childhood had been spent in England, and he had received a good education, but life as an exile was always dangerous. He could have been arrested and sent back to England for imprisonment, or killed if someone thought it might earn them favour with the King. If they struggled to find patrons in Brittany or France then both he and Jasper would have been forced to travel further afield for help, with no guarantee of a warm welcome. Meanwhile Elizabeth had grown up in the centre of a close family, with both her parents frequently spending time with their children. She was betrothed to the French dauphin when she was nine, if the match had gone ahead she would have become Queen of France, but it was called off by the French in 1482.

    Her life had fallen apart in 1483 when her father Edward IV died. Her uncle Richard moved faster than anyone expected, taking her brother Edward in to his "protection", while the rest of the Royal family fled in to sanctuary in Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth's mother was eventually persuaded to give up her second son, Richard, and both he and young Edward became known as the "Princes in the Tower" after they disappeared.

    A PromiseElizabeth of York

    On 25th December 1483, Henry Tudor went to Rennes Cathedral and publically swore that he would marry Elizabeth. If the marriage went through it would unite the two opposing families and their rival claims for the throne, and hopefully create a lasting peace. It also showed any York supporters who disliked Richard III that there was an alternative, through Elizabeth the York family would still have a connection to the throne. Nowadays we would expect that Elizabeth herself could claim the throne, but at the time a reigning Queen was not something people wanted, not when there was a male alternative in the sidelines.

    But after Henry won the Battle of Bosworth Field he didn't rush to marry Elizabeth. He was determined that his reign would be his alone, and that his enemies would have no reason to claim that Elizabeth was the rightful monarch. He had himself crowned in October 1485, claiming the throne by conquest rather than through his marriage. The potential wedding was delayed, probably to allow Henry time to be seen as King in his own right, but in December a petition was read out in Parliament requesting that he honour his original promise. A few weeks later, on 18th January, the wedding ceremony was performed in Westminster Abbey. They went on to have seven children, although only three outlived their parents and became King Henry VIII of England, Queen Mary of France, and Queen Margaret of Scotland.

    (Don't forget to check out my shop, where I have badges for both Elizabeth and Henry!)

  5. On This Day: Death of Edward the Confessor

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    On this day, 5th January 1066, King Edward of England died in London. He was sixty two years old and had no son, a fact that had cause considerable debate in England in the years leading up to his death, and would lead to an invasion by William Duke of Normandy later that year.

    The lack of any child from Edward's marriage has puzzled historians for years. Edward only married when he was in his early forties, three years after he became King of England. The delay may have been because it was difficult for him to find a suitably high-status wife. He spent most of his life in exile in Europe, probably in his mother's homeland of Normandy. His inheritance of the English throne was taken by Danish conquerors, and any man that married a daughter to him could not be certain whether he was marrying a future King of England or a man who would never be able to return home. It may also be that Edward had no intention of marrying at all, after his death his widow would claim that he had sworn himself to a chaste life. If this is true then it could have been a decision he made early on in his adult life.Edward the Confessor

    The theory that has been put forward in recent years is that Edward's lack of an heir was a deliberate snub to both his wife and his family. The woman he had married was Edith of Wessex, the daughter of Earl Godwin. Her family were extremely powerful and influential, and without their support Edward would have struggled to hold on to his throne. Edith appears to have been the price he paid for their on-going agreement to not rebel against him, but it doesn't mean he had to follow their plans exactly. It has been pointed out that Edward could have consistently refused to consummate his marriage with Edith, which would have Godwin over a barrel. He couldn't rebel against his son-in-law without removing his daughter from the throne too, and there was no real alternative without claiming the throne himself, which would not have gone down well with the rest of the Anglo-Saxon nobility.

    At one point Godwin's family overstepped the mark and were exiled from England by Edward, while Edith was banished to a convent. But they soon reappeared a year later, and Edith was reunited with her husband. From that point it was impossible for Edward to divorce her, whether their childlessness was caused by a medical condition or a deliberate decision, it was not something that was going to change in the future. As a result Edward began to look around at his extended family for a potential man to name as his heir.

    One of the earlier probabe candidates was Edward Aetheling, who was a nephew through the King's  paternal half-brother Edmund Ironside. The Aetheling was recalled to England, but died shortly after arrival leaving his five year old son as another possible contender. Norman historians claimed that Edward offered the throne to William Duke of Normandy, who was distantly related to Edward but not through any Anglo-Saxon relations.

    In the end Edward's death was witnessed by only had a handful of people, including his wife Edith and her brother Harold. They would go on to claim that Edward left his throne to Harold on his deathbed, and to emphasise the point Harold had himself crowned less than twenty four hours later at Westminster Abbey (the traditional coronation venue was Winchester Cathedral, which shows how quickly Harold had to move).

    But as news of Edward's death spread across England and Europe in the following weeks, multiple claimants began to come out of the woodwork. By the end of 1066 England would have seen several bloody battles, the deaths of a large number of Anglo-Saxon nobles, and invasion forces from both Norway and Normandy. 

  6. On This Day: The White Ship Disaster

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    On the 25th November 1120, Henry I left Normandy and sailed across the Channel to England. He left behind his son and heir, William Adelin, along with several of his illegitimate children, various other nobles, his nephew Stephen of Blois, and their servants. No doubt he assumed that he would see his son a few days later when they were both in England, perhaps reunited in Winchester or London.

    Back in the harbour of Barfleur, William was proving to be a generous host. The wine had been opened, the crew were joining in with what was proving to be a high-spirited afternoon, and more people slowly joined in the fun. Stephen of Blois left, reportedly due to illness, as did several others, but as evening fell there were three hundred people on board who were all determined to have a good time. The White Ship was reportedly acknowledged as being one of the best of it's kind, only the best would be used for the heir to the English throne of course. With this in mind some of the party began to encourage the crew to start a race. King Henry's ship had got a good head start on them, but the channel was relatively calm, there was a good wind, and they had the best ship. Surely they could surprise the King by overtaking his ship in the night and beating him to England. Instead of Henry waiting for his son, he would wake to find William waiting for him.The White Ship from The British Library

    With their pride now at stake, the crew agreed. It was now dark, and everyone had drunk a bit too much. Barfleur harbour could be difficult to leave safely if you weren't used to it, and while the captain (a man named Thomas Fitzstephen) had plenty of experience, he'd also had plenty to drink as well. The White Ship never reached the Channel, as it left the harbour it hit a rock, and quickly began to sink.

    In the dark night there was panic on board. A few forward-thinking people managed to launch a small boat from the side and get William Adelin in to it. As the heir to the English throne he was the most important person on board, his life could not be forfeit under any circumstances. The sound of his friends crying out for help as the water couldn't help but move the young Prince, especially when he recognised the screams of his half-sister, Matilda Countess of Perche. Ignoring the danger, William ordered his little crew of rowers to turn back around and help him rescue the Countess. But as the little boat moved towards her, others in the water clawed desperately at it, begging for help. The boat was capsized, throwing William and his rescuers in to the freezing cold November water.

    When dawn rose on 26th November, it found one man left alive in Barfleur harbour; a butcher from Rouen. Everyone else, including William Adelin, had drowned. Not only would this prove devastating to King Henry I, but in the long-term it would also lead to the period of civil war known as The Anarchy.

  7. On This Day: Birth of Isabella of Valois

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    On this day in 1389 Isabeau of Bavaria, Queen of France, gave birth to a baby girl in Paris. Princess Isabella was the third child and second daughter of the Queen and her husband King Charles VI. Sadly she did not have the best childhood, or the longest life.


    Isabella's parent's marriage had originally seemed like it was divinely blessed. Charles reportedly fell in love with his bride at first sight, and showered her with gifts and a lavish coronation. Their first child was a boy named Charles, who died aged eight, followed by Jeanne and then Isabella.

    But things slowly took the shine off the royal life. Charles developed a mental illness, which first appeared in 1392 when Isabella was three years old. For the rest of his life Charles would swing between lucidity and insanity, a situation that led to various political players attempting to gain control of the country. One of those players was Isabeau, who quickly developed a reputation in the medieval chronicles for neglecting her children.

    Charles' periods of sanity meant that Isabeau continued to fall pregnant, in total Isabella was followed by nine siblings. The Royal nursery was reportedly far from what it should have been, records stated that the children were left to run around in old, dirty clothes, and that if it wasn't for the servants they would have starved, as Isabeau never bothered to arrange supplies. Modern historians have pointed out that the actual records from the court show payments made for toys and clothes for the children, suggesting that even if Isabeau didn't spend much time with them, she certainly didn't neglect them.Isabella of Valois

    Charles' illness also meant that France was vulnerable to attack from outside as well. France and England had been at war for years, but it was a fight that was proving to be increasingly unpopular in England, and in the end Charles and King Richard II negotiated a truce, with Isabella playing a key part. Richard was a widower, his wife Anne of Bohemia died in 1394, and he had no children. The peace with France was sealed with a marriage to Isabella, who was a mere seven years old when the wedding took place in October 1396.


    After the wedding Isabella was taken over the English Channel and deposited safely in the care of two English duchesses and provided with a governess from France. Richard reportedly visited her frequently, when he would take her for walks in the garden. Despite the wealth that she brought with her, she was far from popular with English public or Richard's court, who felt that he should have married a woman old enough to bear children.

    Despite the unconventional home set-up, Isabella appears to have had genuine affection for her "husband". After Richard was deposed by his cousin Henry, the new king decided that the French truce could continue. He had a son, also called Henry, who was closer in age to Isabella, and by marrying his heir she would still eventually be Queen of England. Isabella on the other hand appears to have refused, and went in to official mourning for her husband. After a certain amount of negotiation (Henry was probably stalling in the hope that Isabella would change her mind), she was allowed to return to France with the jewels and other goods that her family had given her for her wedding.

    In June 1406 at the age of fifteen Isabella married for a second time, to her cousin the Duke of Orleans. Four years later she gave birth to her only child, a daughter named Joan, and passed away a few hours later. In her time as Queen of England she had little opportunity to make her mark, and her early death meant that she left little impression on French politics. Her younger sister Catherine went on to take her throne, marrying Henry V in attempt to bind France and England together once more. 

  8. On This Day: Coronation of Henry III

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    On this day in 1216, a hasty coronation was held at Gloucester Cathedral. The country was at war, and a nine year old boy was the new King of England. It wasn't a great start for the new Henry III.

    Civil War

    King John had been an unpopular king for years, which eventually led to the signing of Magna Carta. This revolutionary document failed to maintain peace for long. As soon as he could, John repudiated the document, and the First Barons War became official. England descended in to chaos, with John and a few loyal supporters on one side, and a large number of the nobility and popular of England on the other side. The rebels were also supported by King Philip II of France, whose conquering of English possessions in France had started the problems. Seeing an opportunity to gain a new jewel in the French crown, he sent his son Prince Louis with his own army to assist the rebels, and hopefully claim the English throne.

    Magna Carta had been signed in 1215. A year later, John was very ill, and fighting a lost cause. He had began a major offensive in September 1216, but rapidly lost his strength after contracting dysentery. He eventually reached Newark Castle in Nottinghamshire, where he died on 18th October. The story goes that he ate himself to death by gorging on peaches, but given that he was already seriously ill it's probable that it simply caught up with him.

    Henry was only a boy, too young to be accompanying his father around the country. Instead he had been left in relatively safely with his mother, Isabella of Angouleme. His father's will had named William Marshal as his guardian, showing that while John might have been an idiot in some decisions, he knew who his friends were. Marshal had a reputation as one of the greatest knights in England, he was strong, intelligent, chivalrous, and while he may have disagreed with John in the past, he was utterly loyal to his king. Henry was in good hands.

    Coronationking henry iii

    London was held by the rebellious barons and Prince Louis, so the traditional place of coronation, Westminster Abbey, couldn't be used. A coronation bestowed legitimate royal power on the King, so in order to strengthen Henry's claims against Louis, the ceremony needed to be held as quickly as possible. It was also hampered by the missing Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, who had been banned from England by the Pope, until peace could be declared.

    Henry was hastily taken to Gloucester, where he was crowned by an assortment of bishops, arranged by the papal legate to England. It's believed that King John had lost the crown jewels when crossing The Wash, as a result the reports of the time state that Henry had to be crowned using one of his mother' gold circlets. It wasn't the best start to a reign, but at least it gave England a new focal point. No one liked King John, but they disliked French influence even more. It soon became clear that there couldn't be an outright winner.

    Future Reign

    Henry would also go on to have his problems with his nobles. Louis was eventually defeated by William Marshall, and agreed to leave England once a large sum of money was offered to him. In the future, Louis' son and Henry would both marry daughters of the Count of Provence, and the French court would support Henry in his own fights against the Barons. After this inauspicious start, a second coronation was held for Henry in 1220, with permission granted by the Pope, with a newly created crown and a recently returned Archbishop of Canterbury.

    Although this was the first "emergency" coronation held for an English king who was still a minor, it wasn't the last. Henry's great-grandson, Edward III, would also one day have to endure a rushed ceremony thanks to political problems.

    (If you're a fan of Henry III, you can find his badge!)

  9. On This Day: Death of Jane Seymour

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    On this day in 1537 Henry VIII's third wife, Jane Seymour, died at Hampton Court Palace. Twelve days earlier she had done what her predecessor, Anne Boleyn, had failed to do - give birth to a living baby boy. Sadly though the birth would end up killing her.


    Jane's exact date of birth isn't known, but she is believed to have been born some time in 1508, mostly likely at her family's home of Wulfhall in Wiltshire. She was one of nine children, of whom six survived, including three of her brothers. Very little is known about her childhood however, her father was Sir John Seymour, but he wasn't a great political player like Anne Boleyn's uncle, the Duke of Norfolk. Unlike Catherine and Anne, she didn't have a reputation for being well-educated or quick witted, which suggests that she may have been taught little more than reading and writing.

    But even with little education, Jane could still attend court. Since her father was a courtier it was natural that a place would also be found for her. She was duly assigned to the household of Catherine of Aragon, and on her downfall, to that of Anne Boleyn. During this time she came to the attention of King Henry himself, who by this point was becoming convinced that his second marriage wasn't going to give him the necessary son, just like the first. Jane wasn't considered to be particularly beautiful, and with her lack of education she wasn't going to be the centre of attention like Anne had been. In fact, that was just what Henry appears to have wanted, a quiet and mild wife.

    MarriageJane Seymour Queen of England

    Jane and Henry were betrothed on 20th May 1536, the day after Anne Boleyn's execution. They were privately married ten days later at the Palace of Whitehall, but Jane wasn't crowned. Historians believe that Henry decided to wait until Jane was pregnant before she was officially given the crown, coronations were large, public and expensive events and he would hardly go to the trouble for a woman that may prove to disappoint him.

    Unlike Catherine in her early days, and Anne during the height of her success, Jane appears to have had little to no power or influence over the King. Several times she appealed for mercy, first for Princess Mary and then later on behalf of an Abbey and for the lives of men involved in a northern rebellion. Henry consistently refused her requests, and at one point reportedly told her to keep Anne in mind, which can't be seen as anything less than a threat. On the other hand Jane was allowed to order her women as she liked, and apparantly banned her ladies from sporting the French fashions which had been so popular under Anne.


    By the spring of 1537 Jane was pregnant. The summer progress - a tour of various counties by the King and Queen so they could get away from sickness in London - was cancelled. After so many miscarriages with the previous Queens, nothing was left to chance with this pregnancy, there would be no travelling if it could be avoided. Jane went in to "confinement" at Hampton Court on 16th September. She went in to labour in the second week of October. It would prove to be a long ordeal, reports from the time suggest it took three days for things to progress, and prayers and hymns were sung for her health. On 12th October, a live baby boy was finally born, and was promptly named Edward. After his christening, three days later, he was returned to Jane's room where she and Henry were waiting to receive the court.

    At first it seemed that Jane had got through her ordeal safely, she was certainly well enough to receive the court in her room. But she soon took a turn for the worst. Despite more prayers in St Paul's Cathedral, and the best attempts of her doctors, she died on 24th October 1537. Her cause of death was most likely puerperal fever, a serious infection that was common in a time when no one understood the concept of hygiene, such as midwives washing their hands.

    She was buried at Windsor Castle in St George's Chapel, and Henry would eventually be buried beside her. Jane's death sealed her in Henry's memory as his perfect wife. She had given her life so that he could have the heir he wanted.

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  10. On This Day: Birth of Margaret of England, Queen of Scotland

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    On 29th September 1240, Eleanor of Provence gave birth to her second child and first daughter at Windsor Castle. The baby girl was named Margaret, probably after her mother's sister, Queen Margaret of France. She was preceded by Edward, the heir to the English throne, and followed by Beatrice, Edmund and Katherine.


    The Royal nursery appears to have been established at Windsor Castle, and despite the wandering nature of the English royal court, was probably the closest place that Margaret had to a home. Eleanor of Provence was unpopular during her tenure as Queen, but as a wife and mother she was thoroughly dedicated to her family (something that may have stemmed from her own childhood, her parents also kept their daughters close by in childhood).Margaret of England, Queen of Scotland

    At the age of eleven Margaret was married to King Alexander III of Scotland, who was a year younger than his new spouse. The bride's father, Henry III, managed to maintain peace with Scotland for most of his reign. King Alexander II of Scotland had been married to Henry's sister Joan. Their childless marriage had ended when Joan died, Alexander III was the King's son by his second wife, Marie de Coucy. At the time of his marriage, the boy had already been king for two years.

    Life in Scotland

    After the wedding, which was held at York Minster, the new royal couple returned to Scotland. But it didn't all go smoothly at first. Margaret had left behind a warm and loving family to move to a court full of people she didn't know, which led to a period of severe homesickness for the young Queen. After writing to her parents complaining that she was badly treated, Henry and Eleanor requested that she be allowed to return home for a visit. The Scottish council who were ruling the country on behalf of Alexander refused the request. In the end Henry and Eleanor gathered an army together and marched north, determined to see their daughter. Margaret was allowed to travel south to visit her parents, and then returned to Scotland.

    She would be allowed to return home again in the future. In February 1261 she gave birth to her and Alexander's first child, a daughter named Margaret. The little girl was born at Windsor Castle, showing the affection that the Queen of Scotland retained for both her old home and the country of her birth. Two sons, named Alexander and David, were born in Scotland in 1264 and 1272 respectively.


    In February 1275, Margaret died at Cupar Castle in Scotland, she was only thirty four years old. Given that her last child was born in 1275, it's highly likely that she fell ill rather than died in childbirth. King Alexander remained a widower for ten years (although it's reported that that didn't stop him having a few mistresses in the intervening period) before marrying a second time to Yolande of Dreux. Margaret's children all died young; Princess Margaret married the King of Norway and died shortly after giving birth to a baby girl, Prince Alexander died childless shortly before he turned twenty, and Prince David died aged nine. In time this would create a succession crisis, and the Scottish interregnum.