Monday 30 September 2013

Isabella of Valois: Royal Child-Bride

I thought that it might be nice to think about specific days in history, starting with today, 30 September.
On 30 September 1399, Henry IV was proclaimed king of England, after deposing his cousin, Richard II. Henry is often overlooked in medieval history, with the dramatic reigns of his predecessor, Richard II, and successor, Henry V, more frequently studied. He was a fascinating character however, with his usurpation being the original reason behind the Wars of the Roses (although not the spark that lit the conflict). Henry, the eldest son of Edward III’s third surviving son, leapfrogged over both Richard, who was the sole surviving child of the eldest son, as well as the descendants of the second son, the Mortimers. Anne Mortimer would later bear Richard, Duke of York, who claimed the throne from Henry IV’s grandson, the ineffectual Henry VI.

Henry IV was married twice, with his second wife, Joan of Navarre, becoming his queen following their marriage. Joan is famous as the only English queen to be punished for witchcraft. At the time of his accession on 30 September 1399, however, there was only one queen in England – the child-bride of Richard II, Isabella of Valois. I wrote about Isabella in my book, England’s Queens: The Biography (Amberley, 2010) and her story fascinates.

In June 1393 a peace treaty with France was drawn up, but Richard’s parliament refused to ratify it. Richard II, a widower, needed a new wife so that he could father an heir and Charles VI of France offered his own eldest daughter as a bride.
Isabella of Valois, the eldest child of Charles VI of France and his wife, Isabella of Bavaria, was born in 1389. Richard was attracted to marriage to Isabella primarily due to the promise of peace that it offered. It is also possible that the bride’s extreme youth appealed to him, as it would give him time for his grief for his first wife, Anne of Bohemia, to mellow. Certainly, when challenged on the wisdom of marrying a bride so far from being old enough for childbearing, Richard contended that she would become older with every day that passed.

The marriage was not universally unpopular and the scholar Philippe de Mezieres wrote an open letter to Richard setting out its benefits and pointing out that Richard could train Isabella as an English queen from an early age, suggesting that a camel had to be trained from infancy to obey man. He concluded that ‘would it not be better that the lady he chooses as helpmeet and wife, from her childhood, before reaching the age of discretion and before acquiring harmful habits of mind, should be well instructed under the prudent and wise guidance of the royal majesty’. It is unlikely that this letter dispelled many doubts about the marriage, but Richard himself remained committed to the match.
Negotiations for the marriage proceeded slowly but Richard and Charles eventually agreed a twenty-eight year truce in March 1396. According to Froissart, at the same time the English ambassadors requested that they be allowed to see Isabella, in order to report on her appearance and conduct to their master. This was granted although the French, concerned by Isabella’s extreme youth pointed out:

‘That they muste be content howe so ever they founde her, for they sayde she was but a yonge chylde of eyght yere of age, wherefore they sayd, there coulde nat be in her no great wysdome nor prudence; howbeit, she was indoctryned well ynough, and that the lords founde well whan they sawe her. The erle Marshall, beynge on his knees, sayde to her: Fayre lady, by the grace of God ye shall be our lady and quene of Englande. Than aunswered the yonge lady well advisedly, without counsayle of any other persone: Syr, quod she, and it please God and my lorde my father that I shall be quene of Englande, I shall be glad therof, for it is shewed me that I shall be than a great lady’.

The ambassadors left convinced that Isabella ‘was lykely to be a lady of hygh honoure and great goodnesse’.

Richard sailed to Calais in 1396 for a meeting with the French king. The two kings had much in common and the visit was a cordial one. Immediately after dinner, Isabella was led in accompanied by a great number of ladies and was ceremonially handed over to her new husband. She was seated in a rich litter and, together with Richard and the English nobility, travelled back towards Calais.
The couple were married in Calais and then sailed for England. Richard gave her a grand entry into London, but the people, eager to catch a glimpse of their young queen, crowded thickly around her. Isabella was unscathed but at least nine people were crushed to death on London Bridge, a tragedy that marred the occasion.

At only seven years old, it was never intended that she would be ready for either marriage or queenship and, after her coronation, she was sent with her own household to Windsor.
Due to Isabella’s youth, she played no role in the politics of Richard II’s troubled reign. I wont go into the political history here, although, in the period, Richard’s rebellious uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, was murdered on his orders. He also exiled two other opponents, Henry, Earl of Derby and the Earl of Nottingham in 1398, with Derby’s banishment for a term of six years. When Derby’s father, John of Gaunt, died in February 1399, Richard seized his lands and made Derby’s exile permanent. He then unwisely left for an expedition in Ireland.

Before he left for Ireland, Richard held a grand tournament and feast in London. The tournament was intended to highlight the splendour of Richard’s reign and Isabella was present. In spite of the expense laid out in the tournament, it was poorly attended and, according to Froissart, this was due to Richard’s treatment of the Earl of Derby. Isabella, who had received regular visits from Richard since her marriage, played the part of queen well but, soon after the tournament she returned to Windsor where he took his leave of her. Neither can have realised that this would be the last time that they would meet.
Derby sailed for England soon after Richard left, intending to claim the duchy of Lancaster. He received a rapturous reception in England and decided to make an attempt on his cousin’s crown. Richard had left his remaining uncle, the Duke of York, as regent of England in his absence and, as soon as he heard of Derby’s plans, York had Isabella conveyed to the safety of Wallingford Castle. Richard made an attempt to regain his throne and sailed home from Ireland. He was deeply unpopular however and, on 20 August 1399, was captured attempting to seek refuge in Wales and taken to the Tower of London on the orders of the triumphant Earl of Derby. He was soon compelled to abdicate and Derby took the throne as Henry IV on 30 September.

The deposition of her husband left Isabella in a difficult position and she was moved by Henry from Wallingford to Havering-at-Bower, where she could be kept under close watch. According to Froissart, her state was ‘tourned and broken’ and she was stripped of the French and English ladies of her household with whom she was familiar and furnished with an entirely new household loyal to Henry. She was able to meet with her father’s ambassadors, receiving them ‘sweetly’, but they were forbidden from giving her any news of Richard.
While Isabella was staying at Sunning near Reading, a group of Richard’s supporters obtained a man to impersonate the deposed king and spread rumours that he had escaped and was raising an army. These supporters came personally to her and informed her that Richard already had 100,000 men and that he had good hopes of victory. According John Hayward, Isabella was jubilant at this news and:

‘Shee defaced King Henries armes and plucked away his cognisance from those his servants that attended uppon her, and having in some sorte satisfied her womanish anger with this harmelesse spight, she and the lords departed together, first to Wallingforde, and from thence to Abington, stirring the people by the waye to take armour and to rise in ayde of King Richard, who was (saide they), and is, and should be their prince’.
By the time that Isabella and the lords who accompanied her had reached Chichester in Sussex they had amassed a large army. When they attempted to enter the city they were attacked by the townspeople and heavily defeated. The false Richard, who attempted to flee to Scotland following news of the defeat, was captured and executed and Isabella found herself once again a prisoner of Henry IV. Isabella’s rebellion had far greater consequences and, soon afterwards, Richard was murdered at Pontefract Castle. She was not, at first, aware that she had become a widow and she continued to look towards Richard’s restoration to the throne.

Isabella remained a prisoner during the early years of Henry’s reign as the new king had no intention of allowing such a valuable bargaining counter to leave his kingdom. When her father heard of Richard’s death he demanded that Isabella be returned to France, in spite of Henry’s attempts to marry her to his eldest son (the future Henry V, who would later marry her younger sister, Catherine of Valois).
When word reached Isabella that a new match had been proposed for her, she finally realised that her husband was dead. She plunged her household into mourning and ‘estranged her selfe from all occasions of pleasure or comforte, and was accompanied with a heavy traine composed to sorrow both in behaviour and attire’. Isabella spent her time loudly lamenting her husband’s fate and cursing Henry IV. Reputedly, she surprisingly requested an audience with Henry IV himself which was granted. She used this opportunity to attack him openly to his face, calling him ‘cruel and ambitious’ and in his ‘owne opinion mightie’, before criticising his ingratitude to Richard.

Isabella’s hostility and her family’s demands for her return finally convinced Henry IV that she would never marry his son. When she was still only twelve years old, she was returned to France with all the jewels and plate that she had brought with her to England. In 1407 she married Charles, heir to the Duke of Orleans. Like her first, Isabella’s second marriage was destined to be brief and, on 1 September 1410 she bore a daughter, before dying a few hours later. It was a sorry end for a queen who had shown so much promise.

You can read more about Isabella (and all the other queens of England) in my book, 'England's Queens: The Biography)

Saturday 28 September 2013

Textual Cultures in Early Modern Europe

I attended a symposium today at Keble College, Oxford on Textual Cultures in Early Modern Europe. It's a fascinating topic and there was lots of interest, including a discussion of text, image and friendship in diplomatic documents by Dr Tracey Sowerby. I was especially interested to see the royal portraits in some of the documents, which were often based on an official court portrait. There were two early representations of Princess Mary, which I had not seen before.

I was also interested in Dr Tiffany Stern's paper on note-taking audiences at sermons and plays. With the introduction of writing 'tables', people were able to take notes of speech for the first time, allowing them to record and publish what they heard. This often led to official versions of works, such as Hamlet, being published due to concern over the unofficial printed versions that were circulating.

There were also papers on specific textual works, such as the Orlando Furioso. Early published editions of Seneca and also French printed drama were also discussed. Another interesting paper was by Dr Heather Dalton and looked at the communication of New World discoveries in England prior to 1550, focussing on the accounts produced by English merchant adventurers. One of the men was engaged in the search for the north-west passage, an endeavour for which he sought royal funding.

All in all, it was a fascinating day!

Thursday 26 September 2013

Bessie Blount and the Anne Boleyn Papers

Claire over at The Anne Boleyn Files has just posted nice reviews of the Bessie Blount paperback and The Anne Boleyn Papers (which is the paperback version of 'Anne Boleyn in Her Own Words and the Words of those Who Knew Her').

You can read the reviews at:

Thanks Claire!


Tuesday 24 September 2013

Anne of Cleves Talk Tonight

Just a reminder about my talk tonight for the Hounslow and District Historical Society on 'Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII's Discarded Wife'.

Find out the history behind Henry VIII's ill-fated last marriage and his attempts to extricate himself from the match. I will also look at Anne's association with Richmond Palace, which became her home and for which she battled the Privy Council when attempts were made to take it from her.

The talk starts at 8pm and tickets (which can be purchased on the door) are £1.50. I will be signing books afterwards, so, if you attend, do come over and say hello!

Further details and location are at:

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Anne of Cleves Talk

I will be giving a talk on Anne of Cleves for the Hounslow & District History Society next week - Tuesday 24 September at 7.30pm. The talk will be held at the United Reform Church Hall, Chapel Road, Hounslow, TW3 1UL and non-members of the society can attend for £1.50.

If you are in the area, do attend and say hello. I'm going to be focussing on Anne's links to Richmond Palace, where she was sent once Henry VIII had decided to divorce her. It remained her main residence for some years before she was forced to hand it back to her former stepson, Edward VI, during his reign.

I wrote a biography of Anne a few years ago (Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII's Discarded Bride - Amberley, 2009) and am actually currently working on an article on her, which ties in nicely with the talk. Anne is a fascinating character. She is often considered to have happily accepted her divorce, and is commonly believed to have lived comfortably for the rest of her life on her divorce settlement. This is actually far from the truth and, while Anne can be considered the luckiest of Henry's wives, her life was far from trouble free. German sources show that she always considered herself to be Henry's true wife and, with the high inflation of the Tudor period, her fixed income rapidly began to dwindle. She lived an interesting and far from dull life.

Anyway, further details of my talk can be found at:

Monday 16 September 2013

Robert Elms Show today (94.9 fm)

Just to let you know that I will be featured on the Robert Elms Show on BBC London radio today (at around 1.45pm) to discuss progress in my Tudor kitchen garden. You can listen to the show live at 94.9fm or on the BBC I-player.

I posted an update here on the garden only last week, so don't have much to add. I think we've had the last of the beans now, although the cabbage heads are growing well. The turnips are still going strong and I need to remember to ask St John (BBC London's gardening expert) when I should start pulling them up. To be honest, I don't think I've ever eaten a turnip, let alone cooked one, so I'm not sure what to expect!

Saturday 14 September 2013

The Boleyn Women Review

The Herald Scotland have just published a review of The Boleyn Women, which you might want to read. The family produced a number of strong female members, helping them rise socially over the generations.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Tudor Kitchen Garden - Orange and Yellow Carrots

Time for another update on the Tudor kitchen garden project...

The weather has really turned here in the last week. It all feels very autumnal. Some of the beanstalks are still flowering, but have been producing fewer and fewer beans (I only found two today). The cabbage plants have now started producing heads, but they are being decimated by an unidentified creepy crawly (possibly caterpillars?). Otherwise, the turnips are growing, although I don't seem to be very good at root crops - perhaps you can eat turnip leaves? We will certainly be eating the leaves of the third crop of radishes, which are growing well.

The stars of the garden at the moment, however, are the carrots. This is one root crop that I seem to have been successful with and, today, Dominic (aged 3) and I decided to pull some. They are not the prettiest carrots in the world, but they taste great, even if we may have pulled a few too early. Unfortunately, very few purple carrots have grown, but there are a few of the orange variety. The yellow carrots are growing really well. We still have quite a few to harvest in the next few weeks!

The project has now been going on for seven months and has been great. What I particularly like is that I am learning about what vegetables are in season, and when. For Tudor gardeners, where only very little of the produce could be stored for long periods, it was a question of eating your greens (and oranges, yellows and purples!) when they were available. That meant salad leaves and radishes in late spring/early summer, then beetroots and beans and, finally, the autumn crops of carrots, turnips and cabbages. With so much produce, we've been following a similar pattern ourselves. I've tried to use everything that we have grown, meaning that we are only buying a few vegetables from Kingston market to top ourselves up (as Tudor gardeners would, again, have done). Everyone is looking forward to carrots at dinner time tonight!

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Death Records

My article on Death Records is the cover feature in Your Family Tree magazine, issue 134 (October 2013), which went on sale today.

Surprisingly, the records relating to your ancestors' deaths can often tell you the most about their lives. Burial records can help to locate them within their parish, while a grave memorial may be the only tangible reminder of their presence other than documents. Some gravestones even give extra details, such as a gravestone at Walberton in Sussex, which depicts the person commemorated being crushed by a falling tree. Obituaries are an excellent resource, as are records relating to overseas' deaths.

Friday 6 September 2013

Dr Alvin Interview

Just a quick post to let you know that I will be featured by Dr Alvin on his radio show on Monday, discussing my new book, Elfrida: The Frist Crowned Queen of England. We will discuss Elfrida's rle as queen, the background to her marriage to Edgar and her historical importance. The show will be available at

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Catholic Identity in Elizabethan England

I gave a paper today at the European Reformation Research Group's 22nd Conference at Gladstone's Library, Hawarden, Flintshire. The paper, which looks at 'Catholic Identity in Elizabethan England: the example of the Blount family', is a study of the ways in which a Catholic can be identified, and defined, in the period, with an emphasis on the fluidity of the definition and the need to look at the individual's beliefs, rather than merely seek evidence of non-conformity. I also thought about political roles and changing interpretations and definitions of sacred space for Catholics in the period.

I carry out my academic research into the Blount family of Shropshire (of which Bessie Blount is the most famous member). The family's religious beliefs and their responses and reactions to the pressures of the post-reformation period are particularly interesting and will make up a major part of my PhD at King's College, London.

The conference lasts for two days. So far, there have been a number of interesting papers and it has also been great to discuss theories and ideas with other academics. I am particularly looking forward to a paper on the portrayal of women in early modern English murder pamphlets tomorrow.