Archive for October, 2011

Who Do You Think They Were

A pun on the show ‘Who Do You Think You Are’. If you are particularly interested in a certain royal or noble, I shall do my best to create a custom family tree of that person. But I am going to need ideas……

There has been much scholarly research within the decade which covers queens and queenship by Jennifer Carpenter, Marjorie Chibnall, Anne Duggan, Mary Erler, Mark Ormond, David Herlihy and Natalie Tomas. Jacqueline Murray’s chapter on ‘Thinking about Gender’ analyses the medieval attitude towards women in general where men and women were ‘contrasted and asymmetrically valued as intellect/body, active/passive, rational/irrational, reason/emotion, self-control/lust, judgement/mercy and order/disorder’[1]. Anne Duggan forthrightly asks ‘how far are we dealing with accounts of female power specifically constructed to channel and confine the feminine according to male centred ideas of what is right and proper conduct for a woman?’.[2] Marjorie Chibnall argues that ‘there was almost no place for reigning queens in twelfth century Western society’ and queens of that age were the ‘wives of kings or kings’ daughters transmitting an inheritance’[3]. Sarah Lambert even analyses the preferences between a queen consort and a queen regnant in regards to the succession of the kingdom of Jerusalem.[4]

However none of them specifically examine consorts who take on the position of regent for their husband, son or brother. Nor do they analyse the duality of the masculine/feminine gender roles within the position of regent these queens faced whilst inhabiting a traditionally masculine role. I believe this is a worthwhile topic in order to have a better understanding of the difficulty they faced as a woman taking on a position traditionally held only by men. There have been no comparisons of the lives of Blanche of Castile and Margaret of Anjou. The lives of these two queens are quite similar; they were both married as a result of peace treaties between France and England, they both bore children, they both used the marriages of their children for political purposes, they both were fiercely protective of their son’s inheritances and both were regents of their respective countries. Yet despite these similarities, it is interesting to note how they have emerged in the accounts of modern historians with vastly different reputations.

There are several historical publications that focus on the time surrounding Blanche of Castile, but the main topic is either her son, Louis IX, the saintly king of France, her uncle John of England or her father-in-law Philip II of France; Blanche only appears in these volumes due to her relationship with the men of her extended family, for example as the mother of Louis IX, the daughter-in-law of Philip II, the wife of Louis VIII and the niece of John I. The only comprehensive biographical publication covering Blanche is by Regine Pernoud, published in 1975, analysing her entire life from her birth in Castile to her death in France sixty four years later.

It is a similar situation with Margaret of Anjou, despite her being an important figure during the Wars of the Roses. Most publications have an overarching analysis of the civil war between the Houses of York and Lancaster and with so many significant stakeholders; it is difficult to concentrate on one individual for too long. Mary Ann Hookham’s Life and Times of Margaret of Anjou and Jock Haswell’s The Ardent Queen trace Margaret’s life from her birth in Anjou, France through her time as the wife of Henry VI, to her exiled return to France after losing the war, her husband and her son.

Several numerous overarching volumes merely outline Blanche’s rise to power and her subsequent actions in regards to the preservation of the throne for her son. Generally, neither her motives nor methods are substantially questioned or analysed in great depth. However, in le Goff’s Saint Louis, he debates whether Louis VIII actually conferred the regency upon Blanche and argues that she took measures to ensure the regency for herself. Le Goff highlights discrepancies in the legality of the documents that confirmed Blanche as regent and paints her as a scheming woman who took the regency, instead of being given it.

The first discrepancy was the date signed upon his will; the year was 1226 but there was no mention of a month or a day.[5] The lack of a specific date is curious, for if there was nothing to hide surely
a full and correct date would have been attached to the king’s will; but what if the date of the will was after the death of the king and therefore not of his hand? It may have meant that Louis VIII did not give Blanche the regency and that she forged the will with the complicity of the archbishop of Sens and the bishops of Chartres and Beauvais. Le Goff argues that Louis VIII ‘never indicated in his testament or in his solemn declaration made before the group of powerful figures assembled around him on 3rd November 1226, whom he designated to rule or at least wished to exercise what we would now call regency’.[6] The last discrepancy lies with the naming of only three of the bishops present at his deathbed than the full five as witnesses to the king’s death.[7]

The Archbishop of Sens and the Bishops of Chartres and Beauvais were named in the will, but there were two others also present. It may have been that these two unnamed bishops refused to be complicit in Blanche’s plans for the regency and this was the reasoning behind their absence in the official document. Bush goes even further to state that Louis VIII did not give Blanche the regency and that she ‘assembled all the most powerful barons who were attached to her’ and in front of those barons had the bishops ‘attested upon oath that in dying he had invested her with that dignity, and pronounced her the guardian of his children’.[8]

It is possible that these discrepancies are mere oversights made by Louis VIII and the assembled clergy in the hastiness of completing the will before the king expired; considering the swiftness of his illness, this is more than plausible. The absence of such minute details would have only been noticed after the fact and subsequently would have been taken advantage of by Blanche’s detractors,
simultaneously creating reasonable doubt in the legality of Blanche’s position and generating a more solid legal ground to their disagreement of the outcome of Louis VIII’s will. Nevertheless, the rebels would later on use other explanations to excuse their rebellion and these ‘discrepancies’ were mostly forgotten by the contemporary insurgents.

In Zoe Oldenbourg’s Massacre at Montsegur, she argues that Blanche had ‘more luck than ability’ because, as a woman, she was able to ‘flaunt the conventions of chivalry whereas her opponents could not’[9]. Oldenbourg accuses Blanche of ‘taking advantage of her sex, for as a woman how was she expected to know the rules of chivalry when she was never supposed to be in a position of power’; Blanche could claim ignorance and use her feminine charms to induce forgiveness. However it is worth noting that Oldenbourg’s book focuses on a massacre during the Albigensian crusade against the French Cathars during Blanche’s regency in March 1244 and would seem to chastise her for not preventing such an atrocity.

Bush’s Memoirs of the Queens of France covers each consort since Queen Basine, wife of the Merovingian king Childeric I (440-482) and distinguishes, within the table of contents, which Frankish or
French queen or empress was merely a consort or became a regent during her lifetime. The publication is dedicated to ‘Her Majesty, Marie Amalie, Queen of the French’ and were ‘inscribed by her majesty’s faithful and obliged servant, Annie Forbes Bush’. It could be argued that the memoir passes a positive or negative judgement on Marie Amalie’s predecessors and outlines the reasons
behind each decision; some were schemers, others were pious and so on. In this sense, Bush’s Memoirs could be compared to Boccaccio’s De Claris Mulieribus, illustrating the positive and negative virtues of femininity, warning the reader with examples of both.

Bush accuses Blanche of being ungrateful towards Theobald of Champagne in the matter of the succession dispute with his niece, Alice queen of Cyprus.[10] This dispute to the Champagne succession arose after Theobald had betrayed Blanche a number of times and whilst Bush calls this ‘ingratitude’[11], it was possible that Blanche was merely teaching her inconstant ally a lesson in loyalty; if he wanted his rights to be upheld, he would have to pay dearly for it. It was also possible that if Theobald’s loyalty threatened to waiver on a later date, he would stand to lose Champagne to his niece; or Blanche was ensuring that Theobald was kept close, but unable to raise another opposing force by taxing him out of his resources. It could be argued that the moral of Blanche’s story that Bush is trying to convey is that a queen should remain loyal to her followers, even if they do not return that loyalty.

Books, articles and pamphlets are not the only historical representations of Blanche and Margaret. It is perhaps a testament to their memories that long after Blanche and Margaret died, they are still being remembered through statues, stained glass windows and portraits, the majority of these being built during the nineteenth century. One of the more famous works to include both Blanche
and Margaret is the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, France, which have a specific garden that is dedicated to ‘the most illustrious women of France’ (see Appendix XXI). It was commissioned by Louis Philippe I de Orleans, King of the French in 1848 and features statues of French queens and saints, complete with their name and dates of birth and death on inscribed plaques[12].

Amongst these honoured women, which include Jeanne III d’Albret of Navarre (1528-1572), Louise de Savoy (Regent for Francois I, 1476-1531), Anne Habsburg (mother and regent of Louis XIII, 1601-1666), Anne de Valois (Regent for Charles VIII, 1461-1522), Laura de Noves (Petrarch’s object of obsession, 1310-1348) and Saint Genevieve (Patron Saint of Paris, 423-512), are both Blanche and Margaret (see Appendix XXII and XXIII). Notable absences from this group include Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204), Anna of Kiev (1024-1075), Catherine de Medici (1519-1589) and Marie Antoinette of Austria (1755-1793), a number of whom, at one time, were regent of France. The grouping of these two categories of women appears to reinforce the traditionally held association between queens
and iconic religious women, as mentioned in the initial chapter of this dissertation.

There are even architectural memorials dedicated to Blanche in the United States of America, a country built on the overthrow of monarchy. In New Orleans, Louisiana stands the Basilica of St Louis, King of France, which, as the name suggests, is dedicated to Blanche’s son. The first building was constructed in 1727, but it was destroyed by fire in 1788; construction on the replacement church would not start until the following year and was completed in 1794.[13] Within the Basilica is a stained glass window of Louis receiving a blessing from his mother, Blanche (see Appendix XXIV). It could be argued that for a country that was born with the rejection of the English royal family, America came to sympathise with the French royal family who had given them militaristic and monetary support to help win the American Revolution. The dedication of this church to their royal patron saint and ancestor could appear to be a tribute to their continental saviours.

Margaret’s lasting commemorations are at Queens’ College; however a number of artistic tributes surrounding and within the college were commissioned during the nineteenth century. Her coat of arms appears in several locations and in several mediums such as plaster and stained glass; Margaret’s coat of arms are distinct and easily recognisable due to the number of quarterings (see Appendix XXV). Within the grounds of the college, a large gilded Coat of Arms sits above an arched entryway (see Appendix XXVI) and in the Oriel Window within the Hall (see Appendix XXVII). Above the elaborate fireplace within the Hall is a tiled motif of the months of the year and ceramic portraits of Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville, the founders of Queens’ College (see Appendix XVIII). Here Margaret sits enthroned as a queen, wearing a crown and holding an orb and sceptre, as if she has just been coronated. Her presentation here is at her best; having just been wed and crowned, she is at the height of her popularity. The symbols of royalty reaffirm her position as a past queen of England and whilst it may be pure coincidence, the smaller tiles depicting swans may be a reference to her son, Prince Edward, whose badge was that of a white swan.[14]

In the local church at Mucklestone, Staffordshire there is a large stained glass window depicting Margaret of Anjou (see Appendix XXIX). The window was commissioned by Sir George Chetwode, 6th
Baronet (1823-1905) and it was customary for a member of the family to be incorporated into the represented figures. It is believed that it is Chetwode’s wife, Alice Jane Bass, whose likeness was used for Margaret of Anjou; this is supported by her name appearing within the Latin inscription on the window. The scene is meant to represent the sadness of Margaret’s life for it was rumoured that within that church tower, she watched the Battle of Blore Heath (23rd September 1459); having witnessed her army’s defeat and fearful of capture, she ordered the local blacksmith to shoe her horse backwards, in order to create a false trail.[15]

Another sad nineteenth-century representation of Margaret is John Gilbert’s ‘Margaret of Anjou taken prisoner after the Battle of Tewkesbury’ which was painted in 1875 (see Appendix XXX). It shows the Queen under guard by Yorkist troops, beaten, defeated, conquered; the town in the distance burns with smoke billowing up into the air. It is a sad image of a once powerful queen who had fought so hard and has now lost everything. During the battle, the Prince of Wales had been cut down and her husband, Henry VI, taken prisoner once more; Margaret would never see him again, for on the very night she enters London on her way to the Tower of London, Henry is murdered in his sleep. This painting depicts Margaret at her lowest when she has fought and lost and lost badly; it would be exactly how the Yorkists would want her to be remembered.

Margaret’s most detrimental historical work is Shakespeare’s play Henry VI where she is portrayed as the power-hungry, scheming and ambitious woman history has come to remember her by. Shakespeare reinforces the popular belief in Margaret’s tarnished reputation with such passages as ‘She-wolf of France, but worse than wolves of France, whose tongue more poisons than the adder’s tooth! How ill-beseeming is it in thy sex to triumph, like an Amazonian trull, upon their woes whom fortune captivates! But that they face is, visard-like, unchanging, made impudent with use of evil deeds, I would assay, proud queen, to make thee blush. To tell thee whence thou camest, of whom derived, were shame enough to shame thee, wert thou not shameless’.[16] The loss of the French provinces of Anjou and Maine are clearly laid at the feet of Margaret, ‘Unto the daughter of a worthless king, having neither subject, wealth, nor diadem. By devilish policy art thou grown great and, like
ambitious Scylla overgorged with gobbets of thy mother’s bleeding heart. By thee Anjou and Maine were sold to France, the false revolting Normans thorough thee disdain to call us lord and Picardy hath slain their governors, surprised our forts and sent their ragged soldiers wounded home’.[17] The fault for the misfortune of England is placed squarely in front of Margaret; for Henry VI was pliable enough to not constitute a threat, it was Margaret who was the troublemaker.

It is not merely the publication of these plays which do not bode well for Margaret’s historical reputation; it is their widespread acclaim, recognition and syndication. Shakespeare becomes a classic playwright and poet of his time and beyond with his works being studied even today. A consequence of this is the continuation of this damning reputation of Margaret’s; how can any reputation
recover from such a public, continual and extensive assassination. It must be noted that the aforementioned lines are said by the Duke of York and Walter Whitmore, the captain of the ship sent to escort Margaret from France to England; the reasonings behind York’s comments stem from Margaret’s stubbornness in preventing him from, as he believed, his rightful place as regent whereas the captain appears to merely exemplifies the sweeping attitude towards the Angevin princess before she has even set foot on English soil.

Blanche’s eternal memory is continuously linked with her religious nature for which she was known for during her lifetime. It is her triumphs that are remembered through her patronage of monastic houses and commemoration in churches’ stained glass and architecture; to be able to channel funds and resources to these projects demonstrates stability in government and monetary management. Even in the remembrance of others, like her son, Blanche is included; it could be argued that this illustrates the extensiveness of her popularity and acclaim across several countries and continents. Blanche is remembered as the mother of the greatest king of France, St Louis and for successfully defending the realm against the rebels of her time. She is seen as a fiercely protective mother who
actions are performed out of love for her son. She is remembered as a pious queen who defended the Christian faith, by supporting the Seventh Crusade by serving as regent for her son during his absence and through the patronage of her monastic houses. She is remembered as the fertile queen, giving birth to thirteen children. She was, in many ways, the perfect queen.

Margaret’s eternal memory is mostly embedded within her defeats, particularly after the Battle of Blore Heath (1549) and the Battle of Tewkesbury (1471) through the stained glass window at Mucklestone and Gilbert’s painting. Despite bestowing a college upon the University of Cambridge, Margaret is more known for her participation in and loss of the Wars of the Roses and her interference within the government of England. The lack of primary commissions by Margaret herself after 1445 is illustrative of the instability of England and her husband’s position as king. Had Henry VI been more sturdily perched upon the throne, Margaret would have had the means and resources to commission more pieces. It was under her command that the Lancastrian armies lost several battles, directly resulting in the deaths of the majority of England’s nobility and indirectly in the deaths of her husband and son. She is remembered as a queen with blood upon her hands and vengeance in her heart. She is remembered for prolonging the war, by refusing to allow her son to be disinherited, at a time when peace was the preferred outcome. She is remembered as an adulterous whore who tried to force the son of another man upon the throne of France.

[1] Murray, Jacqueline. “Thinking about Gender: The Diversity of Medieval Perspectives.”, Ibid., p2

[2] Duggan, Anne. Queens and Queenship in Medieval Europe. London: Boydell Press, 1995, p XV

[3] Chibnall, Marjorie. The Empress Matilda – Queen Consort, Queen Mother and Lady of the English. Ibid., p1

[4] Lambert, Sarah. “Queen or Consort: Rulership and Politics in the Latin East 1118-1228” in Queens and Queenship in Medieval Europe by Duggan, Anne, 153-169. London: Boydell Press, 1995, p153

[5] Le Goff, J. (2009). Saint Louis. Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, p46

[6] Le Goff, Saint Louis, p47

[7] Le Goff, Saint Louis, p47

[8] Bush, A. F, Memoirs of the Queens of France: Volume I, p154

[9] Oldenbourg, Zoe. Massacre at Montsegur. Translated by Peter Green. New York: Weidelfeld and Nicolson, 1961, p245

[10] Bush, A. F, Memoirs of the Queens of France: Volume I, p160

[11] Bush, A. F, Memoirs of the Queens of France: Volume I, p160

[12] Appleton’s Journal. “Famous Gardens – Art Supplement”. Appleton’s Journal of Literature, Science and Art, No 17, 24 July 1869, p7

[13] Kern, Crosby. “History of the St Louis Cathedral”, 2011, [4 August 2011]

[14] Marx, William. An English Chronicle 1377-1461, Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2003, p79-80

[15] Holinshed, Raphael. Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. Vol. III, Ibid., p251

[16] Clark, William George; Wright, William Aldis. The Works of William Shakespeare Volume VII. Philadelphia: George Barrie & Son, 1899 Henry VI, Part III, Act I, Scene IV, Lines 111-120

[17] Henry VI, Part II, Act IV, Scene I, Lines 81-90

Gilbert John, 'Margaret of Anjou taken prisoner after the Battle of Tewkesbury', 1875, Oil on Canvas, Guildhall Art Gallery, London, United Kingdom


First Row: Hungary (Barry of eight, gules and argent), Naples (Azure Fleurs de Lys, gold lambel gules), Jerusalem (Gold Cross potent, between four crosses of the same)

Second Row: Anjou-Valois (Azure sown with lilies and gold border gules), Bar (Azure sown with crosses and two gold bars backing the same), Lorraine (Gold, the band gules, charged with three silver eagles)


Taulet, Ferdinand. Margaret of Anjou 1895, Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, France