Failures: Spinsters & Old Maids in Victorian England

By , December 9, 2010 2:34 pm

An Unmarried Woman was a Failure

The proper purpose of a Victorian woman’s life, of whatever class, was to marry suitably.

It was not essential for the marriage to be happy, but marriage in itself was, “the crown and joy of a woman’s life – what we were born for.”

Victorian England became concerned about what one charming Victorian gentleman described as the “redundant women” problem for middle or upper class women, for whom education was limited and (respectable) employment almost impossible.

A woman who did not marry became a spinster, old maid or maiden aunt, a figure of fun, pity and derision.

Put simply, a woman who failed to marry was a failure.

The “Surplus Women” in Victorian England

Punch cartoon about spinsters marrying

(Lady, recently married, in answer to congratulations of a visiting lady friend) "Thank you, dear. But I still find it very hard to remember my new name" Friend, "Ah, dear, but of course you had the old one so long!"

The Victorians became particularly exercised about redundant women after the 1851 Census showed that there were nearly 1.5 million spinsters, aged between about 20 and 40, and 350,000 old maids over 40.

In the 1851 Census, there were 104 women for every 100 men in England and Wales.

Victorian England was also about the British Empire. Although, as now, more men wore born than women, boys were more likely to die than girls in childhood, and men more likely than woman to die young.

Men emigrated, to the old and new commonwealth, America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, India and other places in the British Empire. For every woman who emigrated, three men did so.

Men also served time abroad either as colonial administrators or as soldiers.
There was an increasing tendency for middle and upper class men to marry later. Between about 1840 and 1870, the average age at marriage for middle and upper class men was 30. At the age of 30, however, a spinster was definitely past her sell-by date.

Life for the Victorian Spinster

About the only respectable forms of employment that any middle or upper class Victorian spinster could undertake were as a teacher, a governess, or a companion.

Many couples with large families liked to keep an unmarried daughter at home to tend to their every whim and care for them in their old age. Although often obliged to do so, the unmarried stay at home daughter was nevertheless incomplete. She’d failed to undertake her primary duty, to be a wife and mother.

Charlotte Bronte, Victorian author, spinster, and old maid....

Charlotte Bronte, Victorian author, spinster, and old maid....

Many women who didn’t marry in Victorian England lived first in their parents’ house, and when their parents died, in the house of a brother or nephew. Although such women tended to work extremely hard, provided a useful second mother and unpaid housekeeper, they were undervalued.

Spinsters and old maids in the middle and upper classes were financially dependent in many cases on their fathers, uncles, brothers or nephews. They were economically and socially vulnerable, and faced considerable exploitation.

Of course, very many single Victorian woman lived happy and fulfilled lives in the houses of their relatives. Nevertheless, the lack of power meant there was nothing they could do about it if the life was distinctly unhappy and unfulfilled.

Although until the Married Woman’s Property Act in 1868 a wife had no separate legal existence from her husband, and did not own property unless he chose to allow her to do so, nevertheless a married woman had a social status and respect that her single sister would always struggle to achieve.

How Surplus Women were a Social Evil

The National Review in the 1860s described spinsters in the following terms,

a number quite disproportionate and quite abnormal; a number which, positively and relatively, is indicative of an unwholesome social state

Anne Bronte, a Victorian spinster and writer

Anne Bronte, a Victorian spinster and writer

An individual spinster or old maid could be pitied and patronised. As a group, spinsters were damaging to society, and redundant.

Although it was rarely mentioned specifically, there was a general view that celibacy in women was unnatural.

Of course, an old maid or a spinster was according to social norms considered to be a virgin. That was unnatural, and a waste.

Edward Gibbon talked about single English women as, “growing thin, pale, listless and cross”.

Thackeray described Charlotte Brontë as, “a noble heart longing to mate itself and destined to wither away into old maidenhood”.

John Stewart Mill argued against the spinster stereotype and said that the problem was that women were badly educated. A woman who did not marry,

… is felt both by herself and others to be a kind of excrescence on the surface of society, having no use or function or office there.

Forced Emigration?

Many, such as WR Gregg, urged that single women be almost obliged to emigrate. WR Gregg went on to discuss the semi forced emigration of women that he proposed,

England must restore by an emigration women that natural proportion between the sexes in the old country and in the new one, which was disturbed by an emigration of men, and the disturbance of which has wrought so much mischief in both lands

Spinsters and Steroetypes in Victorian Literature

The Spinster got a pretty bad press in Victorian England.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

In Charles Dickens’ novels, the spinsters and old maids who appear are usually mad, desiccated, boring or secluded.

Miss Haversham in Great Expectations is an example, a woman who fell in love and was jilted on the day of her wedding.

She lived for the rest of life in her wedding dress, with one shoe on, a wedding cake uneaten on the table, and the clock stopped at the time she found out that her husband-to-be had deserted her.

In Nicholas Nickleby, Fanny Squeers is 23, and ugly, and full of fears that she is about to be left on the shelf.

Then there is Miss Sarah Brass, who in many ways runs the company formerly belonging to her brother. She is referred to as a “dragon” in the book, and rebuffs an attempt by Daniel Quilp to propose to her. And there is the charming Miss Dartle who is extremely thin, has a scar on her lip, and is unpleasant and aggressive.

Thackery

Spinsters were also humiliated and seen as unnatural, dried up, and failures. Jane Osborne in Vanity Fair is a good example. Her sister, who has succeeded in marriage, snubs her, her father is rude to her directly, although she’s acting as her father’s unpaid housekeeper.

The Brontes and other Women Writers

The literary Brontë sisters often wrote about women who did not marry in their books. None of them married, and they were themselves brought up by a spinster aunt, after the early death of their mother.

Charlotte Brontë turned down four separate marriage proposals as she was determined not to live with a man she did not think her intellectual moral equal.

The difficulties that respectable but impoverished women faced in Victorian England is clear from Charlotte Brontë’s second book, Shirley.

In Shirley, one of the main characters, Caroline Helstone, is the daughter of a mother who is missing and a father who is abusive.

Living with her uncle, a clergyman, Caroline is wasting away and is emotionally deprived. Caroline has no respectable way to earn a living, and does not have the sort of money easily to attract a husband.

By the end of the novel, Caroline is fortunate enough to marry her cousin, Robert Moore, but it’s very clear from the book that she has escaped a repressed and oppressed state.

Shirley makes it very clear that the lot of a spinster woman without private means is an extraordinarily difficult one. Caroline, in her spinster life in her uncle’s household, has a miserable time of it. But it was not just the case that women had a difficult time if they did not marry.

Being a spinster did not only involve economic insecurity and precarious dependence on male relatives. But a woman was unable to bring about marriage on her own behalf. As Charlotte Brontë said in Shirley:

A lover masculine so disappointed can speak and urge explanation: a lover feminine can say nothing; if she did the result would be shame and anguish, inward remorse for self treachery.

In The Professor, Frances is made very aware that being an unmarried woman in England would be a serious mistake for her. She says in the book:

An old maid’s life must doubtless be void and vapid, her heart strained and empty; had I been an old maid I should have spent existence in efforts to fill the void and ease the aching I should have probably failed, and died weary and disappointed, despised and of no account, like other single women

Marry or else!

Florence Nightingale - one of the very few Victorian spinster women who got away with being unmarried

Florence Nightingale - one of the very few Victorian spinster women who got away with being unmarried

In summary, being a spinster or an old maid in Victorian England was generally pretty grim.

There were of course the exceptions, such as Octavia Hill or Florence Nightingale (see right).

But they were the exceptions that proved the rule.

For most spinsters, they were failures. They had failed to marry, and were pitied and derided individually, and seen as a social threat, redundant, surplus and unnatural as a group.

Compared with this status, putting oneself into the legal limbo of a married woman could almost seem like a good bet.

Top Ten Most Common Pub Names in England

By , November 28, 2010 1:46 am

.

Public houses, better known as pubs, are a ubiquitous and important feature in England’s community life. And each pub has a name.

Roaming around the country, the same pub names crop up again and again, along with the unusual and unique.

Many pub names are centuries old.

This article tells you what the ten most popular pub names are in England, and the origins of each name.

.

1. Crown

The Crown is, perhaps not surprisingly in a Kingdom, the most popular name for a pub in England. There are 704 pubs in England called The Crown, according to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).

The origin is, as might be supposed, a demonstration of loyalty to the Crown, The name became particularly popular for public house owners after the Restoration in the 17th century, when King Charles II returned to his throne following the Commonwealth lead by Oliver Cromwell.

There are other variations on the same theme which are common, such as the popular pub names Rose and Crown and Three Crowns. When I was a teenager, I used to visit the Crown and Anchor, in London Bridge, with my mates.

John of Gaunt's Coat-of-Arms, featuring red lions

John of Gaunt's Coat-of-Arms, featuring red lions


.

2. Red Lion

Lions are common animals in heraldic symbols, and many pubs were named after a local noble’s coat-of-arms.

It never hurt to keep the local powers-that-were happy, so naming the local inn or tavern after Lord Such-and-Such’s arms or heraldry was a common practice.

The 668 Red Lion pubs in England therefore probably have several origins, including John of Gaunt’s coat of arms, and King James I’s liking of the symbol.

Once again there are variations on the name – a pub near where I live is called Old Red Lion, for example.

The Old Red Lion pub stored Oliver Cromwell’s body overnight, when King Charles II had it dug up from Westminster Abbey so he could stick it on a spike on London Bridge.
.

Son of Royal Oak

Son of Royal Oak

3. Royal Oak

This is another popular pub name with strong links to the Restoration of the Monarchy.

In 1649, Charles I was executed. His son, the future King Charles II, carried on the fight against the Puritans, led by Oliver Cromwell.

Two years later, Charles lost the battle of Worcester, and his army was thrashed by the Puritan New Model Army.

In the course of his escape, Charles II spent 24 hours hiding in the branches of an oak tree in Boscobel Wood, while the nearby Boscobel House was searched by Commonwealth troops.

The Royal Oak itself is no more, but Son of Royal Oak and Grandson of Royal Oak continue in the family tradition, growing cheerfully in Boscobel Wood.  The picture to the right of this text is of Son of Royal Oak.

As well as pubs, the Royal Navy has had 8 different ships called HMS Royal Oak since the Restoration.

There are, CAMRA claims, 541 Royal Oak pubs in England.

To read more about the Battle of Worcester, which preceeded Charles II hiding up the Royal Oak, see the Battle of Worcester Society’s website.
.

The Standard of Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, featuring a white swan

The Standard of Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, featuring a white swan

4. Swan

The Swan is both a royal bird, and a common feature on heraldic symbols.

King Henry IV’s mother, Mary de Bohun, had a swan on her coat-of-arms, and the Lancastrian Kings adopted the swan as one of their symbols.

The Swan was also used by the Earl of Warwick, and the Duke of Buckingham, among others.

There are 451 Swan pubs in England, and others with the word in their names, such as Black Swan and Swan With Two Necks
.

5. White Hart

The White Hart was part of the heraldic symbols of Richard II. King Richard II was not a particularly popular King.

King Richard II's Coat-of-Arms, with two white harts

King Richard II's Coat-of-Arms, with two white harts

He came to the throne in 1377, on the death of his grandfather, King Edward III, when he was aged 10.

In 1399, he was deposed by his first cousin, King Henry IV, son of John of Gaunt.

It might therefore appear surprising that White Hart pubs are the fifth most common – there are 431 of them in England.

However, it was during the reign of Richard II that a statute was passed saying that all public houses and taverns had to have a sign outside. As a result, many of the inns, pubs and taverns of the time put up a sign showing the White Hart.
.

6. Railway

Number six on the list is the Railway pub. The origins of this are, I hope, entirely obvious! There are 420 pubs in England called the Railway.
.

7. Plough

The 413 pubs in England called the Plough are named after the farming implement, or after the constellation of stars known as the Plough. Pub signs, therefore, can have either the farming tool, or 7 stars, painted on them.

There are also pubs with other agricultural names, such as the Harrow pub, and the Seven Stars pub at the back of the Royal Courts of Justice in London is named after the same constellation.
.

the Uffington White Horse in Berkshire, seen from above

the Uffington White Horse in Berkshire, seen from above

8. White Horse

The 379 pubs in England called the White Horse are named after one of three things. Firstly, the name is particularly common in the county of Kent, south-east of London. Kent’s symbol is a rearing white horse.

Others are named after the hill drawings across southern England which feature horses.

From the Iron Age onwards, people have carved giant white horses in the chalk downs and hills, by removing the grass and top soil to reveal the white chalk underneath.

Coat-of-Arms of the House of Hanover, featuring a white horse

Coat-of-Arms of the House of Hanover, featuring a white horse

The Uffington Horse is a famous example, and there are about 14 white chalk horses in Wiltshire.

When Queen Anne died, the House of Hanover came to the throne in the person of King George I.

The Hanoverian coat-of-arms included a white horse, and some pubs were named after it, to demonstrate how overjoyed the public house’s landlord was with the new regime.

If you want to read more about Queen Anne and why the Stuarts gave way to the House of Hanover, read this article:

Queen Anne’s Tragedy: 18 Pregnancies, no Children & Hanover Kings
.

9. Bell

The 378 pubs in England named the Bell are named after the country’s ubiquitous church bells.

Variations are also common, such as the Smarden Bell, or the Bell and Clapper.
.

New Inn, Tresco, Isles of Scilly

New Inn, Tresco, Isles of Scilly

10. New Inn

There are many places or buildings called “New” in England which are anything but. Some of the 372 New Inn pubs are among them.

New College Oxford, for example, where my brother-in-law studies medicine, is one of the oldest colleges at Oxford University, founded in 1379. But it’s not the oldest college, hence the name.

The picture to the right is of New Inn on Tresco, one of the Isles of Scilly, 30-odd miles to the west of Land’s End in Cornwall.
.

Note on the Most Common Pub Names

Exactly what is a pub, as opposed to a restaurant, hotel, or B & B, is open to debate. So different organisations vary as to their views on which are the most common pub names in England.

The list, and figures above for the number of each name, are taken from the Campaign for Real Ale’s figures. You can find CAMRA’s website by clicking here.

The Inn Sign Society has a different top ten list, namely:
1 Red Lion
2 Crown
3 Royal Oak
4 Rose & Crown
5 Kings Head
6 White Hart
7 Queens Head
8 Railway
9 Bell
10 Swan
.

.

.

From Catherine of Valois to Kate Middleton: The First English Queen Catherine

By , November 26, 2010 4:25 am

Introduction

Kate Middleton is to marry Prince William on 29th April 2011, and will, in the fullness of time, become Queen Catherine.

Kate is far from the first to enjoy that title. From Queen Catherine of Valois onwards, there have been women who have been called Catherine and enjoyed (or suffered) the role of Queen of England, and later Queen of the United Kingdom.

This blog post is the first in a series which tells you about the Queen Catherines in English history, who they were, who they married, their lives, and children.

It is about Catherine of Valois, Queen of England for only 2 years, who gave birth to a son who became a King, and who by her second marriage founded the later Tudor dynasty.

Of the six women who were, or will be, Queen Catherine (including Kate Middleton), half of them were married to King Henry VIII. Which means, approximately, that at least half of English Queen Catherines probably regretted their marriages….

Queen Catherine of Valois, 1420 – 1422

Family and Upbringing

King Henry V, a 16th century painting

King Henry V, a 16th century painting

The first Queen Catherine, Catherine of Valois, was French. (Her name is also sometimes spelt “Katherine of Valois”, but usually it’s “Catherine”.)

She was born in Paris in 1401, the daughter of the French King Charles VI, who is (rather confusingly) known both as Charles the Beloved and Charles the Mad.

Charles VI suffered repeated episodes of mental illness, probably schizophrenia, and went through periods of failing to recognise his wife, and of beliving he was made of glass and might break.

Catherine’s mother was Isabella of Bavaria, also known as Isabeau of Bavaria.

Charles VI and Isabella had 12 children, of whom 4 died as children. Another 5 died in young adulthood, aged between 17 and 30.

Catherine was the third from youngest. One of her older sisters, Isabella, married King Richard II of England, at the age of 6.

Marriage to King Henry V

Contemporary engraving of the marriage of King Henry V and Catherine of Valois

Contemporary engraving of the marriage of King Henry V and Catherine of Valois

Richard II was deposed by his cousin, King Henry IV.

After winning the Battle of Agincourt, Henry IV’s son Henry V, negotiated a marriage treaty with Charles VI, and married Catherine of Valois in June 1420. Catherine was then 18, and Henry V was 32.

Queen Catherine of Valois visited England for the first time after her marriage, and was crowned Queen in Westminster Abbey on 23rd February 1421.

Catherine became pregnant, and the future King Henry VI was born in December 1421.

Henry V had by that time returned to the fighting in France, and did not meet his son and heir, as he died on campaign in August 1422.

Catherine of Valois had been Queen for just over two years, and was now a 20 year old widow.


Marriage to Owen Tudor

17th century engraving of Catherine of Valois

17th century engraving of Catherine of Valois

Catherine embarked in about 1423 on a relationship with the Welsh Sir Owen Meredith Tudor, whose name in Welsh was Owain ap Maredudd ap Tudur.

This caused a great deal of concern about the influence a dowager Queen’s husband might have, and by a law passed in 1427, the Queen could only re-marry with her son’s permission, once her son was an adult. He was only 6 years old at time, so the law was clearly meant to delay any marriage for decades.

The couple nevertheless appear to have married in secret. Henry VI later declared that his mother had married and that her children by Owen Tudor were legitimate.

The couple had six children who lived past childhood. Thomas Tudor and Owen Tudor were monks, Edmund Tudor married Margaret Beaufort and fathered Henry Tudor, later King Henry VII, Jasper Tudor married Catherine Woodville, sister of Elizabeth Woodville, who married King Edward IV, and two other daughters became nuns.

Death and burial

The wooden funeral effigy of Catherine de Valois, made for her funeral

The wooden funeral effigy of Catherine de Valois, made for her funeral

Catherine of Valois died in January 1437 at the age of 35, shortly after giving birth to a daughter who died as a baby. She was buried in Westminster Abbey.

In a frankly revolting episode, Catherine of Valois’ tomb was damaged in the early 16th century, and her body exposed.

No-one got round to doing anything about it for about 350 years, and her body remained visible for the entire period.

It became a kind of bizarre tourist attraction, to view the corpse of the long-dead Queen.

Samuel Pepys noted in his diary that he went to the Abbey on his 36th birthday and held and kissed the Queen’s body. He wrote:

On Shrove Tuesday 1669, I to the Abbey went, and by favour did see the body of Queen Catherine of Valois, and had the upper part of the body in my hands, and I did kiss her mouth, reflecting upon it I did kiss a Queen: and this my birthday and I thirty-six years old and I did kiss a Queen.

I think kissing skeletons is the matter upon which he should have reflected.

Languages of the British Isles – Welsh

By , October 17, 2010 1:39 am

Local tongues

Although by far the most common language spoken in the British Isles is, and has been for many centuries, English, there are other local languages, too.

Some are living languages, such as Welsh and Gaelic, others are extinct, such as Manx and Cumbric.

The most widely-spoken of these today is Welsh, spoken mainly in Wales, and also on the boundary with England. “Welsh” is the name in English – the name of the language in Welsh is “Cymraeg”.

The word “Welsh” came from the Anglo-Saxon for “foreign speakers”.

Percentage of people in each Welsh county who are Welsh-speaking

Percentage of people in each Welsh county who are Welsh-speaking

There is a Welsh Language Board, called Bwrdd yr Iaith Gymraeg, whose website can be found here.

This is the first in a series of articles looking at local tongues spoken in the British Isles.

This post will look at the current number of speakers, where they live, how the language is used, and what type of language and linguistic family Welsh belongs to.

Welsh is the Celtic language I am most familiar with; my family today has a Welsh surname and a scattering of Welsh first names.

My great-grandparents on my father’s side were native Welsh speaking, but left north Wales for Liverpool, as many Welsh people did at the end of the 19th century.

A Celtic Language

Welsh evolved from the Celtic language known now as Brythonic or British, a language which was probably first spoken in the British Isles in the Iron Age.

Celtic languages are usually divided into two sets, P-Celtic and Q-Celtic, and British (and therefore Welsh) is P-Celtic, along with Cornish, Breton, Gaulish and Pictish.

A page from the Early Welsh poetry, the Book of Taliesin

A page from the Early Welsh poetry, the Book of Taliesin

Irish and Scottish Galic, Manx and Celtiberian (spoken in what is now Spain) are Q-type Celtic languages.

A Brief History of Welsh

During the Iron Age and Roman Period, British or Brythonic was probably spoken in most of what is now England and Wales, and probably a lot of Scotland and Ireland, too.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, and the gradual invasions of Saxons, Danes, Vikings, and other tribes from the east, British speakers became isolated in patches of the British Isles.

The common British tongue slowly separated into separate languages over time; the precise difference between a dialect of British and a new language being open to interpretation.

Gerald of Wales, a 12th century cleric and chronicle writer, who wrote extensively about Wales

Gerald of Wales, a 12th century cleric and chronicle writer, who wrote extensively about Wales

By about 600AD, Welsh was probably already well distinct from Cornish and Breton, although the language across Cumbria and southern Scotland was probably still very similar to what was spoken in Wales.

“Old Welsh”, from about the 7th / 8th to the 11th centuries, was a written language, in Wales and Cumbria. Poetry and prose survives in Welsh from this time.

Middle Welsh, from the 12th to 15th centuries, bequeathed a lot of writing that can be read today.

A modern Welsh speaker can generally get the gist of it, although there have been changes. It’s apparently quite similar to the difference between Chaucerian and modern English.

Early modern Welsh was established at about the time that William Morgan, the Bishop of Llanduff, translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Welsh, in 1588.

The first Welsh dictionaries and grammar books date from the 19th century.


Welsh speakers today

Welsh is a thriving, living language. Children living in Wales learn the language up to the age of 16, and there are Welsh-medium state schools. About 20% of primary schools are Welsh medium, but only two secondary schools.

William Morgan, Bishop of Llandaff and Bishop of St. Asaph, who translated the Bible into Welsh in the late 16th century

William Morgan, Bishop of Llandaff and Bishop of St. Asaph, who translated the Bible into Welsh in the late 16th century

The most detailed recent report is the 2004 Welsh Language Use Survey, which looked in detail at the use of Welsh, levels of fluency, ages of speakers, business and public use, education, and literacy.

The survey found that 21.7% of the population in Wales spoke Welsh, and of those, 57% were fluent speakers. That meant that there were 611,000 Welsh speakers, of whom 315,000 were fluent. 88% of them spoke Welsh daily.

58% of speakers could write Welsh very well, and another 31% could write it well.

Welsh speakers are found more in the west than the east, and more in the north than the south. Therefore, not surprisingly, the heaviest concentration of Welsh speakers is in the north-west, in Angelsey (Ynys Môn in Welsh) and Gwynedd.

Welsh is a growing language – 37% of 3 to 15 year olds are Welsh speaking, 22% of 16 to 29 year old speak Welsh, but only 16% of those in their 40s and 50s are Welsh speakers, and 19% of those over 65 are Welsh speaking.

There is also a small group of Welsh-speaking Argentines, descendants of settlers in the 19th century, who set up a Welsh colony in Patagonia. There are an estimated 5,000 Welsh speakers there today.

Welsh media and publications

By law, the public sector must produce much of its material in both Welsh and English. For example, if you visit the main Home Office website here, you will find a button at the bottom right which says Cymraeg and gives you the Welsh translation.

Road signs, banks and major shops all tend to have signs in both languages, too.

There is a Welsh-only television station, S4C, whose (English language) page can be found here. The BBC produces some television programmes in Welsh, too.

The BBC has a Welsh radio station, Radio Cymru, and there are about 10 other radio stations that broadcast partly or mostly in Welsh.

To hear Welsh, spoken over pictures of Wales, see this youtube video: Spoken Welsh

The 5 Longest Reigning Kings & Queens: George III, 2nd Place

By , July 28, 2010 3:12 am

King George III – 59 years, 3 months and 2 days

Some English (and British, after the accession of King James I of England & VI of Scotland in 1603) managed to keep their backsides firmly on the throne for longer than the average birth to death life expectancy of their subjects.

This post is one of a series about the 5 longest reigns – all of which were (or are, in the case of Elizabeth II) over 50 years.

For obvious reasons, they were all young when they came to the throne, but not all were children.

George III when Prince of Wales, aged 13

George III when Prince of Wales, aged 13

For the fifth-longest English reign, see King Edward III in the 14th century, for the fourth-longest reign, see King Henry III in the 13th century, and for the third-longest, see Queen Elizabeth II.

The second-longest reign is that of mad King George III in the 18th century.

King George III reigned from 25 October 1760 until 29th January 1820, a total of 59 years, 3 months and 2 days. From the date he ascended to the throne until 1 January 1801, he was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland.

After 1801 George was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until he died.

He was also Prince Elector of Hanover until October 1814, when he became King of Hanover, and was Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg.

Although the third of the King Georges of the House of Hanover, he was the first to be born in the United Kingdom and to speak English as a first language.

King George III at the time of his coronation.

King George III at the time of his coronation.


Unlike the other two, who spent most of their time in Hanover, he never actually visited the place at all.

King George’s reign was tumultuous. The first British Empire came to an end when the American War of Independence led to the establishment of the United States of America.

On the other hand, in long running battles against France, Napoleon was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Family and Childhood

The Hanover Kings had distinctly odd families. King George III was the grandson, rather than son, of the preceding monarch King George II.

King George II’s oldest son was Frederick Prince of Wales. George II disliked his eldest son the Prince of Wales and there was very little communication between George II and Frederick.

King George II, George III's grandfather and predecessor

King George II, George III's grandfather and predecessor

King George III’s parents

Prince Frederick Louis was the eldest son of Prince George, later to be King George II, and George’s wife, Queen Caroline, born Wilhelmina Charlotte Caroline of Ansbach.

Prince George August and Caroline married in August 1705 and their first child, Prince Frederick, was born in February 1707.

When George I took the British throne in 1714, Prince George and Princess Caroline moved to the United Kingdom, leaving their 7 year old son Frederick behind in Hanover. They did not see him for another 14 years.

A large number of younger children had been born to the couple by the time Frederick arrived in England, and George and Caroline referred to their eldest son as a foundling, and nicknamed him “Griff” or “Griffin”.

In 1736 Prince Frederick married 16 year old Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. The couple had a total of 9 children, the last, a daughter, being born posthumously.

King George III

Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of King George II and father of King George III

Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of King George II and father of King George III

George William Frederick was born on 4 June 1738 in London at Norfolk House. He was 2 months premature, but grew into a healthy although shy child.

George was, unlike many of the Hanover royal children, well-educated.

He could read and write in both English and German by the age of 8, and also studied astronomy, chemistry, physics, mathematics, French, Latin, history, music, geography, agriculture and constitutional law.

When George’s father died suddenly in 1751, King George II decided to take an interest in his grandchildren for the first time. 3 weeks after Frederick died, George II created Prince George as the Prince of Wales.

Marriage and Family

Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III and mother of King George IV and William IV

Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III and mother of King George IV and William IV

King George II died at the age of 76 on 25 October 1760.

A wife was clearly needed for the new King George III, and on 8 September 1761 the King married Duchess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.

At the time of their marriage, George III was 24, and Charlotte was 17.  The couple met for the first time on the day they married.

A fortnight after the wedding, the King and Queen were crowned together at Westminster Abbey.

Despite an extremely arranged marriage, the couple appeared to have been genuinely happy.  George III is not known to have had a  mistress at any time, unlike the vast run of Hanoverian royals who were knee deep in mistresses and illegitimate children.

King George III and Queen Charlotte had 15 children in total.  13 of these children survived to adulthood.

Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, Princess of Wales, mother of King George III

Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, Princess of Wales, mother of King George III

1. George IV born 12th August 1762

2. Frederick, Duke of York, born 16th August 1763

3. William IV born 21st August 1765

4. Charlotte, Princess Royal born 29 September 1766

5. Edward, Duke of Kent born 2nd November 1767

6. Princess Augusta Sophia born 8th November 1768

7. Princess Elizabeth born 22nd May 1770

8. Ernest Augustus I of Hanover, Duke of Cumberland born 5th June 1771

9. Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex born 27th January 1773

10. Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge  born 24th February 1774

11. Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester born 25th April 1776

12. Princess Sophia born 3rd November 1777

13. Prince Octavius born 23rd February 1779

14. Prince Alfred born 22nd September 1780

15. Princess Amelia born 7th August 1783

The three youngest daughters of King George III, Princesses Mary, Sophia, and Amelia

The three youngest daughters of King George III, Princesses Mary, Sophia, and Amelia

The two youngest sons died before they were 5 years old, and the other 13 children lived to adulthood.

What those children didn’t do was marry and produce legitimate heirs for the British and Hanover thrones. For more on this see

George III’s lack of Heirs: 15 Children, but no Grandchildren….. and  A Funeral & Four Weddings: Princess Charlotte & Succession Crisis

King George and Queen Charlotte were the first of the royal family to live in Buckingham House, which later became known as Buckingham Palace.

It was originally intended as a private retreat for the King and Queen, and was known as the Queen’s House.

St James’ Palace remained the official and ceremonial royal palace in London.  14 of the couple’s 15 children were born at Buckingham House.

Queen Charlotte was possessive of her children, in particular her daughters, and kept them close by her side and refused to allow them to marry until they were in their 30s or 40s.  None of the King and Queen’s daughters had children.


King George III’s Reign

King George III in 1762

King George III in 1762

It is unnecessary to write much of a summary of the most important political events of George III’s reign.  Suffice it to say, that his reign saw the end of the first British Empire, when the American War of Independence began in April 1775.

King George III’s reign had, as the Declaration of Independence put it, “abdicated government here, plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.”

After Lord Cornwallis’ surrender at the siege of Yorktown in 1781, King George III drafted an abdication notice, although he never acted upon it.  The King accepted, finally, the defeat in North America and authorised peace negotiations.

The treaties of Paris were ratified in 1783 and the United States of America became an independent country recognised throughout the world.

King George III told John Adams, American Minister to Britain in 1785 that:

I was the last to consent to the separation, but the separation having been made and having become inevitable, I have always said, as I say now, that I will be the first to meet the friendship of the United States as an independent power.

King George’s reign also saw the Napoleonic Wars, culminating in the Duke of Wellington’s famous victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 (which he described as “a damn close run thing”).

What King George III was like

King George IV at his coronation in 1821

King George IV at his coronation in 1821

George III was extremely interested in agriculture and science.

During his reign the agricultural revolution really kicked off, allowing the release of a huge number of previously agriculture workers to become the workforce for the industrial revolution, in which Britain led the world.

He was nicknamed by pamphleteers and caricaturists as, “Farmer George” but the nickname later became an affectionate one, especially as his sons ran up huge debts and failed to do anything very useful.  By comparison, George III’s interests in agriculture and science came to be seen as positively virtuous.

George collected large numbers of scientific instruments, which can now be seen at the Science Museum in London, and funded the largest ever telescope built at that time, which was 40 feet.

The Madness of King George

By 1788, King George III was suffering from the first spell of mental illness, which later took over his life.  It is now thought likely that the illness from which he suffered was Porphyria, a genetic illness.

King William IV, also known as the "Sailor King"

King William IV, also known as the "Sailor King"

In 1788, he began to suffer a particularly acute episode of the illness.  At the end of the summer in 1788 he went to Cheltenham Spa.  Although only 100 miles from London, this was the furthest King George III had ever ventured in his life.

By November George had become seriously ill, speaking for hours without pausing for more than breaths, foaming at the mouth, and becoming increasingly unwell.

Arguments between parliamentarians were underway and the Regency Bill was introduced in parliament in February 1789 authorising Prince George, the Prince of Wales, to act as Prince Regent whilst his father was incapacitated.

However, before the Bill could be passed into an Act of Parliament George III recovered.

King George  suffered another serious episode of mental illness in 1804, which lasted for approximately 9 months.

In 1810, King George III was almost blind, from severe cataracts, and also suffered from bad rheumatism which left him in constant pain.  The death of his youngest daughter, Princess Amelia, triggered another severe episode of mental illness.

King George III in old age

King George III in old age

The Regency Act 1811 was passed, and Prince George, Prince of Wales (the future George IV) acted as Regent for the rest of George III’s reign.

By November 1811, King George III had become permanently insane.  He lived at Windsor Castle, secluded from the public and the world, for the next 9 years.

His illness was so severe that he was unaware that he became King of Hanover in 1814, or that Napolean was defeated at Waterloo in 1815, and was similarly unaware that his wife died in 1818.

He was completely blind, almost completely deaf, and suffered severe mobility problems.  He died in January 1820 at Windsor Castle.

King George III was followed on the throne by two of his sons, King George IV and King William IV, and both of whom who died without legitimate children.

The throne was then inherited in 1837 by King George III’s granddaughter, Queen Victoria, the child of George III’s fourth son, Edward Duke of Kent.

William the Marshal: 1st Earl of Pembroke & Regent of England

By , July 6, 2010 10:55 pm

William Marshal 1146 – 14th May 1219

William Marshal unhorsing an opponent in a joust, from Matthew Paris' "History"

William Marshal unhorsing an opponent in a joust, from Matthew Paris' "History"

This is the second article about William Marshal, covering his years of service to King Richard I, King John, and King Henry III, and his two periods as Regent / co-Regent of England.

It also considers William’s marriage to the great heiress, Isabel de Clare, and their children.

The first article details his rise  from the obscurity of being a 4th son of a minor knight through being renowned across Europe as a tournament fighter (and winner) to his service to Henry the Young King and then King Henry II.  William the Marshal: The Greatest Knight.

William Marshal and King Richard I

Richard I, also known as Richard Lionheart (Richard Coeur de Lion) was crowned Duke of Aquitaine on the 20th July 1189, and King of England in Westminster Abbey on 3rd September 1189.

Although William the Marshal had been supporting King Henry II, Richard’s father, throughout their wars in 1188 and 1189, Richard

King Richard I, also known as Richard Lionheart, or Richard Coeur de Lion

King Richard I, also known as Richard Lionheart, or Richard Coeur de Lion

valued William’s loyalty to his father, and William immediately swore an oath of loyalty to Richard and was set high in Richard’s household and esteem.

After William Marshal had shot off to England to release Richard I’s mother, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, from her 16 year imprisonment, King Richard fulfilled his father, Henry II’s, offer of the marriage and estates of Isabel de Clare.

King Richard the Lionheart on Crusade

King Richard I had always been interested in going on a crusade. As Count of Poitou, he had taken the cross 2 years earlier. He prepared extensively to leave for the Holy Land on the 3rd crusade.

Later in 1189, King Richard left England on his way to the 3rd crusade, and appointed a Regency Council to govern the kingdom in his absence. He named 6 people as members of the Regency Council while he was absent, include William the Marshal.

Pembroke Castle, mostly built by William Marshal, as 1st Earl of Pembroke

Pembroke Castle, mostly built by William Marshal, as 1st Earl of Pembroke

The leader of the regency council was William Longchamp, who bought the office of Chancellor of England for £3,000, and was also appointed as Bishop of Ely.

Longchamp also became a papal legate in England. Longchamp appeared to be keen to draw in revenue, marginalised other officials appointed by King Richard I, and brought in fellow Normans to fill offices.

In 1190, Richard Longchamp fell out with King Richard I’s younger brother, Prince John.

As a consequence of this Longchamp besieged Lincoln Castle because the Castellan would not surrender the castle and be replaced by Longchamp’s man. The Castellan had sworn allegiance to Prince John, so John then besieged and took 2 castles himself.

Striguil Castle, now known as Chepstow Castle, build by William Marshal

Striguil Castle, now known as Chepstow Castle, build by William Marshal

William the Marshal supported Prince John in his struggle with Longchamp. Longchamp was eventually stripped of many of his offices and tried to flee from Dover disguised as a woman.

During the hostilities between the Council of Regency on the one hand and Prince John in the other, William Marshal fought against Prince John. William’s older brother, John Marshal, died defending Marlborough Castle on behalf of Prince John.

Richard granted the Marshalsea to William, and also the paternal lands of Hampstead Marshal.

When King Richard I was captured by the Duke of Austria on return from his third crusade, Prince John joined forces with King Philip of France, trying to prolong Richard’s imprisonment. William Marshal refused to support John in this, as he had given his oath to King Richard who was still king.
William Marshal was a prime mover in raising the necessary funds for the vast ransom that had to be paid to the Duke of Austria for Richard’s release.


Marriage of William Marshal and Isabel de Clare

The Great Hall at Striguil Castle, now known as Chepstow Castle

The Great Hall at Striguil Castle, now known as Chepstow Castle

Upon the marriage in August 1189, William Marshal went from being a landless knight to being one of the wealthiest and most powerful barons in England, Wales and Ireland.

He also became by right of his wife, Isabel, Earl of Striguil and Overlord of Leinster. He did not inherit the earldom of Pembroke until King John’s reign.

At the time of the arranged marriage, William was 43 years old, and Isabel was 17.

The marriage appears to have been happy, and Isabel travelled extensively with her husband.

The couple had 10 children who survived to adulthood, 5 sons and 5 daughters.

Oddly, each of their 5 sons inherited the Earldom in turn, William, Richard, Gilbert, Walter, and Ancel / Anselm became the Earls of Pembroke in turn. Each of the 5 sons died without a legitimate heir.

The 5 daughters, Maud / Matilda / Mahelt, Isabel, Sibyl, Joan and Eva, all married and had many descendents.

Both Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, 2 of the wives of King Henry VIII, were descended from William Marshal and Isabel de Clare, as is the current royal family.

Death of King Richard I

King John

King John

King Richard I died in April 1199 as a result of an arrow injury sustained when he was besieging a castle. At the time of Richard’s death, he had no legitimate heirs.

The choice for the next king lay between his next brother Geoffrey’s son, Arthur, Duke of Brittany, and his youngest brother, Prince John.

When Richard died, William Marshal was in Normandy, and was a principal supporter of the right of King John to inherit the throne.

At a time when a king or a duke led his forces and his personality in person were extremely important for the exercise of power, many English and Norman barons preferred an adult over a 12 year old boy.

Arthur of Brittany was also closely associated with the French throne, and many of the English and Norman barons disliked the influence King Philip had over Arthur and Brittany.

On King Richard I’s deathbed he designated William Marshal as the custodian of Rouen and of the Royal Treasury.

William Marshal and King John

Tomb effigies of William Marshal and his sons in Temple Church, London

Tomb effigies of William Marshal and his sons in Temple Church, London

As King John took his throne, in 1199, there were major offensives by the French King, Philip, against the Duchy of Normandy and the Duchy of Aquitaine.

William Marshal was in Normandy for most of the time between 1200 and 1203, taking charge of the king’s army.  He was on King John’s ship when John abandoned the Duchy in December 1203.

However, John and William Marshal fell out when William paid homage to King Philip of France for his lands in Normandy.

King John had the ability to fall out with almost everyone, especially the barons and leading earls.

In 1207, King John made moves against many of the major Irish barons.

John’s Irish Justiciar invaded William Marshal and Isabel de Clare’s Irish lands, burning his town of New Ross, and trying to assault his castles.

William Marshal remained estranged from John’s Court until he was summoned back in 1213.

King Henry III

King Henry III

During the First Baron’s War, which ended with the signature of the Magna Carta at Runnymede in June 1215, William Marshal was one of the very few English barons who remained loyal to King John.

When King John died in November 1216, William the Marshal was named by John as Head of the King’s Counsel, and protector of John’s eldest son, the 9 year old King Henry III.

By the time John died, the grip on the English throne was precarious.  The son and heir of King Philip of France, Prince Louis, had invaded at the invitation of the rebel barons and had been offered the throne.

Much of the barons’ support for the French claim fell away when King John died, but war continued for a couple of years afterwards.


William the Marshal and King Henry III

13th century depiction of the Battle of Lincoln in 1217

13th century depiction of the Battle of Lincoln in 1217

William Marshal was, by the time he was named as the King’s Protector in 1216, about 70 years old.

William was, nevertheless, not only the King’s Protector but was leader of the King’s Armed Forces.

There was a major battle in May 1217, at Lincoln.  Prince Louis had taken and held the city of Lincoln, but the castle remained in the hands of the King’s men.

William the Marshal led an army to Lincoln, and attacked the north gate of Lincoln while the rest of his force attacked other gates.

William was not directing from a distance, but at the head of the armed knights who battled into the City of Lincoln on horseback.

The British Museum's copy of the Magna Carta signed in 1215 by King John

The British Museum's copy of the Magna Carta signed in 1215 by King John

The Battle of Lincoln essentially ended the attempt by Prince Louis to claim the throne of England, and shortly thereafter in a peace negotiated by William Marshal, Prince Louis and his remaining mercenaries and supporters left England.

William was an admirer of the Magna Carta and the liberties set out therein.

In early 1217 and again in late 1217 he reissued the Magna Carta, signed by King John two years earlier, and signed it as one of the witnessing barons.

For more about King Henry III’s long reign, see  The 5 Longest Reigning Kings & Queens – Henry III, Fourth Place

Final Years , Death and Burial

William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke: effigy in Temple Church, London

William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke: effigy in Temple Church, London

William Marshal began to fail in February 1219, and a month later left the Tower of London, resigning the Protectorship at his estate in Caversham in Oxfordshire.

A meeting was held – the main barons, King Henry III, the papal legate, Pandulf Masca, the Royal Justiciar, de Burgh, and the Bishop of Winchester all attended.

The papal legate was named as William Marshal’s replacement as Regent of England.

William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke: effigy in Temple Church, London

William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke: effigy in Temple Church, London

In early May 1219, William renounced his marriage vows and became a Templar Knight, apparently fulfilling a promise he had made when he made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem after the death of Henry the young king.

On 14 May 1219 he died at Caversham, in Oxfordshire, and was buried in Temple Church, London, as a Templar Knight.

William’s effigy, and those of his 3 of his sons who were also buried in Temple Church, can be seen to this day.

Tomb effigy of Gilbert Marshal, son of William Marshal, in Temple Church, London

Tomb effigy of Gilbert Marshal, son of William Marshal, in Temple Church, London

William was succeeded by his son, also called William, who became the 2nd Earl of Pembroke.

Although Isabel de Clare was 25 years younger than her husband, she outlived him by only a year, dying in 1220.


William the Marshal: The Greatest Knight

By , July 3, 2010 10:44 am

William Marshal 1146 – 14th May 1219

William Marshal unhorsing an opponent in a joust, from Matthew Paris' "History"

William Marshal unhorsing an opponent in a joust, from Matthew Paris' "History"

William the Marshal’s life is astonishing, and shows him as one of the towering giants of Medieval England.

William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, rose from the obscurity of being a 4th son of a minor knight, to serving Kings and Queens of England and the Duchies of Anjou, Normandy, Maine &  Aquitaine, and was then Regent of England.

He was known across Christendom as “the Marshal”, and even went to Jerusalem as a pilgrim.

William’s loyalty and commitment were legendary, and enabled him to serve successive Kings who loathed and fought each other (despite the fact that those Kings were father / son or brothers).

Knights jousting, from René d'Anjou's "Livre des tournois"

Knights jousting, from René d'Anjou's "Livre des tournois"

William was a powerhouse of military skill and strength, winning prizes and acclaim throughout Europe.

He also won a reputation as being a loyal, chivalrous and honourable knight, who made his name on the tournament circuit, and was still leading an army at the age of 70, when his forces won the Battle of Lincoln on behalf of Henry III.

William married one of the greatest available heiresses, Isabel de Clare, who was 17 years old to his 43, and yet appears to have had a happy marriage, fathering many children.

This is the first of two articles about William. This one looks at his family, childhood, early exploits, and service under Henry the Young King and King Henry II.

The second looks at William’s services to King Richard I and King John, his role as governor of England, and as  the Regent who ruled while King Henry III was a child, and can be found by clicking on this link:

William the Marshal: 1st Earl of Pembroke & Regent of England

Family and Childhood

The Empress Matilda, also known as the Lady of the English

The Empress Matilda, also known as the Lady of the English

Born During the Anarchy

William was born half-way through the time called “The Nineteen Year Winter”, a bitter civil war which started in 1135 when King Henry I died without a male heir.

The following 19 years saw a battle between King Stephen, Henry I’s nephew, and Empress Matilda, Henry’s daughter, which ended only when Stephen died in 1154 and was succeeded by King Henry II, Matilda’s eldest son, and Henry’s Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

For more about this Civil War, see this article: Empress Matilda v King Stephen: When Christ and His Saints Slept.

William suffered directly and personally in the Civil War.

John FitzGilbert the Marshal – William Marshal’s Father

William was the 4th son of John FitzGilbert the Marshal, also known as just John the Marshal. The Marshal post was a mostly hereditary job in the Royal Household.

Originally the Marshal (or Maréchal in the Norman French spoken by the top levels of society) was in charge of the King’s horses and stables (the Marshalsea), but the post expanded to include organising the King’s household and soldiers in general.

The remains of Marlborough Castle, held by John the Marshal, and probable birthplace of William Marshal

The remains of Marlborough Castle, held by John the Marshal, and probable birthplace of William Marshal

John’s father, Gilbert, had also been a royal marshal, for King Henry I. (John’s often-used surname, FitzGilbert, means “son of Gilbert” in Normal French).

John the Marshal married firstly Aline Pipard, and they had two sons, Gilbert and Walter. His marriage to Aline was annulled, and he then married Sybilla of Salisbury, by whom he had four more sons, John, William, Henry and Ancel (or Anselm), and two daughters.

John was renowned for being extremely tough and a fierce opponent. He was described as being “a limb of hell and the root of all evil”.

During a battle John was imprisoned in a burning church, and molten lead dripped down his face and body, caused horrific burns. Despite the injuries, he escaped and recovered to fight again.

John became Marshal to King Henry I when his father died, in about 1130, and when King Henry himself died in 1135 AD, he became King Stephen’s Marshal in turn.  John held Hamstead Marshal as his own inheritance, and was granted the castles of Marlborough and Ludgershall nearby – all are in Berkshire and Wiltshire.

Sybilla of Salisbury – William Marshal’s Mother

Sybilla was the sister of Patrick, Earl of Salisbury, and daughter of Walter of Salisbury. Her family and John the Marshal’s had been local enemies, and the marriage was designed to keep the peace so that both families could join together and harass others instead of themselves.

William Held as a Hostage

King Stephan of Blois, from Matthew Paris' early 13th century chronicle

King Stephan of Blois, from Matthew Paris' early 13th century chronicle

John the Marshal was on the Empress Matilda’s side, and built an adulterine castle, one which was not permitted or licensed, on his lands at Hamstead Marshal, near Newbury.

In 1152, when William was 5 or 6 years old, King Stephen and his army besieged Newbury. A truce was agreed, so that John Marshal could seek permission to surrender the castle, and his young son William was given as  a hostage for John’s good behaviour.

Instead of surrendering, John took the opportunity offered by the truce to re-fortify and re-supply the castle, so that it could continue to hold against the siege.

King Stephen threatened to hang the boy and catapult his body over the castle walls if John did not surrender, and John replied:

I still have the hammer and the anvil with which to forge still more and better sons!

Fortunately for William, but to the disgust of his allies, King Stephen couldn’t bring himself to kill a small boy, and William survived.

For more about Newbury Castle, see Hamstead Marshall Castles.


Military Training

At the age of 11 or 12, William was sent to be a page, then squire (training to be a knight) in a relative’s household in Normandy, in William de Tancarville’s care. He late moved, once knighted, to his maternal uncle’s household, Patrick of Salisbury.

Later Medieval Tournament illustration (15th century)

Later Medieval Tournament illustration (15th century)

He started to fight as a Knight from about 1166, aged 20, and attended his first tournament in 1167.

He became a very successful tournament fighter: tournaments and jousts at this time were extremely dangerous events, with many competitors dying or suffering serious injuries.

Knights who were caught by another competitor lost their horse and armour, and if rich, had to pay a ransom to the captor. So a tournament fighter could both make and lose vast sums of money, and William tended to win.

See this article for more about Medieval Armour.

First contact with Royalty

In 1168, the rebellious rebels, the de Lusignans, killed William’s uncle, Patrick of Salisbury, and captured William in an ambush near Poitiers, in Aquitaine.

The group was on business for Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Duchess of Aquitaine and wife of King Henry II. Eleanor paid William’s ransome, and he entered royal service as a knight.

William Marshal and Henry the Young King

King Henry II

King Henry II

King Henry II had decided to follow the French example of crowning the heir to the throne during the King’s lifetime. Henry, the oldest surviving son of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, was therefore crowned in August 1170, when he was 15 years old.

William the Marshal was appointed as the Young King’s tutor and an important part of his household.

In 1173 Henry the Young King joined his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and his brothers Geoffrey and Richard, in rebelling against King Henry II.  A bitter family war ensued, with father aligned against 3 of his sons and his wife, their mother.

William Marshal supported his lord and master, Henry the Young King, although by 1174 King Henry II had triumphed, making peace with his sons and capturing and imprisoning his wife, Queen Eleanor (she remained in captivity until Henry II died in 1189).

After peace broke out in 1174, William Marshal lead the Young King’s tournament team, and they competed across France, Normandy, Anjou, Aquitaine, Picardy and Flanders from 1174 until 1182. William devised the team’s tactics, and acted as guard for Henry the Young King, as Henry’s being captured and held for ransom would have lead to serious embarrassment all round.

By 1179, William was wealthy enough to run his own team of knights in tournaments.

In 1182, William and Henry fell out, for reasons that are not entirely clear, but probably owed much to others’ jealousy of William’s influence over the Young King, and increasing wealth and prestige from martial sports. William left the Young King’s household in the summer of 1182.

Henry the Young King

Henry the Young King

Some 6 months later, the Young King recalled William to his service. Henry was once again rebelling against his father, King Henry II, and this time also fought against his brother Richard, heir to the Duchy of Aquitaine.

Henry the Young King died of dysentery, or the bloody flux as it was then known, in June  1183. Henry had started to raid monasteries and shrines to pay mercenaries to fight against his father and brother, and many saw his death as a sign of divine displeasure. Fearful of damnation on his deathbed, the Young King asked William Marshal to take his cloak on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to fulfil the Crusader vow he had taken and not carried out.

After Henry the Young King’s death, William Marshal, with King Henry II’s approval, made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and returned 2 years later, to join Henry II’s household.

William Marshal and King Henry II

King Richard I, also known as Richard Lionheart, or Richard Coeur de Lion

King Richard I, also known as Richard Lionheart, or Richard Coeur de Lion

William basked in royal favour from 1185 onwards. He was given estates in the north-west of England, in Cumberland (now Cumbria), and the wardship of a Cumberland heiress, Heloise.

Late in 1188, Henry II’s sons, Richard and Geoffrey, rebelled against their father again. William Marshal acted as captain of Henry II’s troops, and accompanied Henry II as he travelled to fight the revolt.

On one occasion, William became the only man ever to knock Richard off his horse, as Richard and his soldiers chased after Henry II.

By mid 1189, Henry II was unwell. He promised William the heiress Isabel de Clare, one of the greatest heiresses in any of Henry II’s domains.

But before the marriage could take place, and the transfer be formalised, Henry II died in August 1189, mourning because his youngest son John had joined the rebellion of his older brothers.

Although William Marshal had fought against him on behalf of Henry the Young King and later Henry II, Richard valued the loyalty and prowess William had shown in the service of his brother and father.

Richard I, also known as Richard the Lionheart, appointed William Marshal to his own household, and sent him urgently to England, to release his long-held mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Read on for part two! William the Marshal: 1st Earl of Pembroke & Regent of England


Empress Matilda v King Stephen: When Christ and His Saints Slept

By , June 29, 2010 8:58 am

Introduction to the “Nineteen Year Winter”

When King Henry I died in 1135AD  without a male heir, all hell broke loose.

The following two decades saw civil war in England, between Henry I’s daughter, the Empress Matilda (also known as Maud) and Henry’s nephew, Stephen of Blois.

As well as the battles between the opposing Claimants to the throne, local barons took the lack of firm control as an opportunity to grab land, build unlicensed castles, settle old scores, and start new feuds.

King Henry I, from one of Matthew Paris' early 13th century works

King Henry I, from one of Matthew Paris' early 13th century works


The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle described the period as the time “When Christ and his Saints Slept”, and it is also known as “The Nineteen Year Winter” and “The Anarchy”.

King Henry I’s Family and Children

Father and Inheritance

Henry was the fourth son of the first Norman King, William the Conqueror.

When William died, he left the Duchy of Normandy to his eldest son, Robert, and the English Crown to his third son, William II, also known as William Rufus. The second son, Richard, died before his father.

As the fourth son, Henry Beauclerc (so called because he was the best-educated of William the Conqueror’s sons, and at one time destined for the Church) inherited only money.

William the Conqueror, father of King Henry I and grandfather of King Stephan and Empress Matilda, shown in the Bayeux Tapestry

William the Conqueror, father of King Henry I and grandfather of King Stephan and Empress Matilda, shown in the Bayeux Tapestry

William Rufus died in a very suspicious hunting accident, killed apparently by a stray arrow, in 1100.

Robert, Duke of Normandy, was on crusade at the time, and Henry took the opportunity, which he may have created or helped to create, to take the throne and become King Henry I. Henry was then about 31 or 32 years old.

Marriages and Children

Henry had no problem siring children. His problem was fathering legitimate offspring, who could inherit the throne.

After he ascended to the throne in August 1100, Henry married Edith, daughter of the King of Scotland, and therefore added the Anglo-Saxon royalty to his children. She changed her name from the very Saxon “Edith” to “Matilda”, which was a much more Norman name.

Henry and Matilda had two children who died as infants, and two who lived past childhood, one son, William, and a daughter, Matilda, Maude or Maud.

William Adelin died in the infamous sinking of the White Ship in November 1120, when he was 17 years old. That left Henry I without a legitimate male heir.

Queen Matilda had died in 1118, and Henry re-married, to Adeliza, a German Duke’s daughter, but had no more children.

Henry I also had between 20 and 30 acknowledged bastard children, including Robert, Earl of Gloucester.

Empress Matilda / Maude / Maud

The Empress Matilda, also known as the Lady of the English

The Empress Matilda, also known as the Lady of the English

Matilda was born in 1102, probably in Winchester. At the age of 7, she was betrothed to Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor, and was sent to live at her future husband’s court the following year.

Henry and Matilda married in 1114, when he was 28 and she was 12 years old. They had no children, and Henry V died in 1125; Matilda returned to England.

The 23 year old Matilda was, after 1120, King Henry’s only surviving legitimate child. Henry  arranged a second marriage for his daughter, in 1128, to the 15 year old Geoffrey, Count of Maine and Count of Anjou.

In status terms, a Duke was a comedown after an Emperor, and Matilda continued to be known as the Empress Matilda, or Lady of the English.

The marriage was marked by frequent arguments, separations and dislike, but the couple nevertheless had three sons, Henry, Geoffrey, and William.

Stephen of Blois was one of ten children. His parents were Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror, and Stephen, Count of Blois.  He held the title of Count of Mortain, and also later Count of Boulogne, by right of his wife, Matilda.

Stephen was brought up at the court of his uncle, King Henry I. He was the first of the barons to swear allegiance to Matilda as the heir of Henry I.

The Succession Crisis

King Stephan of Blois, from Matthew Paris' early 13th century chronicle

King Stephen of Blois, from Matthew Paris' early 13th century chronicle

King Henry I named his daughter, Matilda, as his heir. He demanded that all his barons swore allegiance to Matilda, and that they accepted her as his heir.

Henry died in Normandy in December 1135, from a surfeit of lampreys (a type of eel). Matilda had two sons by then, but they were very young: Henry was 2 years old, and Geoffrey was a baby.

Three people appeared to have a potential claim to the throne, all with certain difficulties. Matilda had the best claim, by blood and by the oaths sworn to her, but she was a woman.

Stephen of Blois was the nephew of King Henry, and grandson of William the Conqueror, but was not a direct heir to Henry, and had an older brother, Theobald Count of Blois (who did not claim the throne).

Robert of Gloucester, an efficient and popular Earl, was the son of King Henry I, but was illegitimate.

When Henry I died, Stephen sprang into action. He rushed from Normandy to England, gathered support from the barons, had himself crowned, and grabbed the treasury. He was given strong support by his younger brother, Henry Bishop of Winchester.

Once King Stephen was crowned, the Pope decided to absolve the English and Norman barons of their oaths to Matilda, and Stephen became the de facto King of England and Duke of Normandy.

Matilda herself was in Anjou, and was overtaken by events. Stephen made his claim to the throne a fait accompli, helped by the fact that the English and Norman barons strongly disliked the idea of a woman on the throne.


Civil War

King Henry II, son of Empress Matilda and Geoffrey of Anjou

King Henry II, son of Empress Matilda and Geoffrey of Anjou

Matilda’s cause was championed by her illegitimate half-brother, Robert Earl of Gloucester.  King David of Scotland, Matilda’s uncle, also invaded from the north in her support, but was beaten back.

By 1139, King Stephen had alienated many barons and bishops, and did not focus on the administrative detail of actual running the government.

Matilda and her husband, Geoffrey of Anjou, invaded Normandy and managed to take much the Duchy between 1135 and 1138. Fighting continued thereafter, but in 1144 Geoffrey captured Rouen, and Geoffrey and Matilda were proclaimed as the Duke and Duchess of Normandy.

Matilda arrived in England in 1139, and took Arundel Castle, and later joined Robert of Gloucester at his main castle in Bristol. Fighting continued across the country, and in 1141, Matilda’s cause took a significant step forward when her armies captured Lincoln Castle. Trying to reclaim it, King Stephen was captured and imprisoned.

Matilda travelled to London, taking the title “Lady of the English” and ruled for some months. She was not particularly popular, however, and the struggle continued, directed by Queen Matilda (another one!), wife of King Stephen.

When Robert of Gloucester was captured in September 1141, an exchange was arranged, and both Robert and Stephen were released.

In December 1142, Matilda was trapped in Oxford Castle, and besieged. She made a daring and renowned escape across ice and snow at night, and evaded Stephen’s army. A year later, she also had to escape from Devizes Castle, this time disguised as a body being taken for burial.

Oxford Castle, from where Empress Matilda made a daring night-time escape

Oxford Castle, from where Empress Matilda made a daring night-time escape

Unrest and battles continued, until Robert of Gloucester died in 1147, and Matilda left England and returned to Normandy in 1148. Geoffrey of Anjou then returned to Anjou and Maine, leaving their eldest son, Henry, as acting Duke of Normandy.

Henry invaded England several times, in 1147, 1149 and 1150. He was precocious and ruthless, a great military commander, as can be seen by his leading invasions from the age of 14.

Matilda’s superior claim to the throne came to be embodied in her son Henry, who was not only gifted, intelligent and successful, but was (crucially) male.

In 1153, King Stephen agreed a treaty with Matilda and Henry, agreeing that after his death, the throne would pass not to his own children, but to Henry. Stephen died the following year, in 1154, and Henry became King Henry II, at the age of 21.

The Country during the Anarchy

King Stephen was often said to be a good man, and a bad King. He was derided as being soft and too forgiving, and he certainly appears to have paid insufficient attention to running the country.

The Anglo-Saxon chronicle says of his taking the throne:

Meanwhile was his nephew come to England, Stephen de Blois. He came to London, and the people of London received him, and sent after the Archbishop William Curboil, and hallowed him to king on midwinter day. In this king’s time was all dissention, and evil, and rapine

Among King Stephen’s failings as a King were his inability to execute child hostages, such as William, son of John the Marshall, and his forgiveness, often more than once, of those who rebelled against him.

When the young Henry first invaded, at the age of 14, and then ran out of money, King Stephen paid for him to return to Normandy.

The First Page of the Peterborough version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

The First Page of the Peterborough version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

The Chronicle says:

When the traitors understood that he was a mild man, and soft, and good, and no justice executed, then did they all wonder.

All the armies and groups of armed men wandering the country from 1135 to 1153 did no good at all, plundering, looting after winning battles, taking what they wanted.

But the problems were greater than this. The barons became over-mighty subjects, building castles without permission, taking land from other barons, smaller landholders, and the church, and there was a lack of law and order that was universal.

When in control of an area, King Stephen was not able to impose the rule of law, one of the reasons subjects rebelled against his rule.

The Chronicle paints a grim picture of King Stephen’s reign:

Never yet was there more wretchedness in the land; nor ever did heathen men worse than they did: for, after a time, they spared neither church nor churchyard, but took all the goods that were therein, and then burned the church and all together. Neither did they spare a bishop’s land, or an abbot’s, or a priest’s, but plundered both monks and clerks; and every man robbed another who could.

To till the ground was to plough the sea: the earth bare no corn, for the land was all laid waste by such deeds; and they said openly, that Christ slept, and his saints. Such things, and more than we can say, suffered we nineteen winters for our sins.

Queen Anne’s Tragedy: 18 Pregnancies, no Children & Hanover Kings

By , June 21, 2010 9:18 am

.

Introduction

Queen Anne, the younger of James II’s surviving daughters from his marriage to Lady Anne Hyde, was born at St. James’ Palace in London on 6th February 1665.

Most unusually for Stuart and Hanoverian royal children, their parents were not related to each other.

The clandestine marriage between the then Duke of York and the Chancellor’s daughter produced 8 children, but 6 died in infancy.

Anne and her older sister Mary were the only two children to grow to adulthood.

Queen Anne in 1705

Queen Anne in 1705, aged 40

Medieval and early modern statistics on pregnancy and infant mortality tend to make any modern mother wince and be grateful for health care and antibiotics.

But Anne was particularly unfortunate, and her obstetric history was a real tragedy.
.

Accession to the throne

Anne’s older sister took the throne as Mary II in 1689 after their father, James II, was deemed to have abdicated during the Glorious Revolution.

Queen Mary ruled as joint monarch with her husband, William, Prince of Orange.

Queen Mary II married William of Orange, her first cousin, when she was only 15 years old, in an arranged marriage.

Queen Mary II, Queen Anne's older sister

Queen Mary II, Queen Anne's older sister

Mary was pregnant 3 times, and suffered two miscarriages and a stillbirth.

King William III and Queen Mary II reigned jointly until Mary’s death from smallpox on 28nd December 1694. William of Orange then ruled alone until his own death on 8th March 1702.

As William and Mary had no children, Anne inherited the throne.
.

Queen Anne’s Marriage

When she was 18 years old, in July 1683, Anne married her second cousin, Prince George of Denmark.

George was suitably protestant, which was essential given the dislike and fear of Catholics which still prevailed in the country. George was not a member of the Church of England, and never became one – he was a Lutheran.

George, Prince of Denmark, Queen Anne's husband

George, Prince of Denmark, Queen Anne's husband

The marriage was arranged by Anne’s uncle, Charles II (Anne’s father’s older brother).

George was blond-haired, blue-eyed, and considered fairly good-looking. He was also monumentally dull, and not over-blessed with brains.

Charles II said of him after the marriage, I have tried him drunk, and I have tried him sober; and there is nothing in him.

George also suffered from asthma, and a contemporary said that his heavy breathing was the only thing which confirmed he was alive.

Anne herself was not particularly attractive (see the portraits on this page and judge for yourself).

Both George and Anne ate and drank with enthusiasm, and became extremely large.

George and Anne’s marriage appears to have been a happy one, despite the frequent tragedies. When George died in 1708, Anne mourned him sincerely and deeply.
.

Queen Anne’s Pregnancies, Miscarriages and Stillbirths

Queen Anne aged 18, at the time of her marriage to Prince George of Denmark

Queen Anne aged 18, at the time of her marriage to Prince George of Denmark

Different sources quote different numbers of miscarriages and stillbirths, as the line between one and the other is not always clear.

What does appear to be the case is that Queen Anne was pregnant 17 or 18 times, with 18 or 19 children, between the ages of 18 and 34.

1. Stillborn daughter, 12th May 1684

2. Mary, 2nd June 1685

3. Anne Sophia, 12th May 1686

4. Miscarriage, January 1687

5. Stillborn son, 22nd October 1687

6. Miscarriage, 16th April 1688

7.  William, Duke of Gloucester 24th July 1689

8. Mary, 14th October 1690

9. George, 17th April 1692

10. Stillborn daughter, 23th April 1693

11. Stillborn child, 21st January 1694, about 7 months gestation, and a 3 month foetus (dead twin)

Queen Anne in 1700, aged 35

Queen Anne in 1700, aged 35

12. Stillborn daughter, 18th February 1696

13. Miscarriage, 20th September 1696

14. Stillborn daughter, 25th March 1697

15. Miscarriage, December 1697

16. Charles, 15th September 1698

17. Stillborn daughter, 25th January 1700

There was also another probable miscarriage in 1688.
.

Queen Anne’s Children

As can be seen from the list above, Queen Anne gave birth to 6 living children.

Of those 6, the 3 born in the 1690s, Mary, George and Charles, all died within 24 hours of birth.

Mary and Anne Sophia, born in 1685 and 1686, were healthy girls. They both died of smallpox in February 1687, within a few hours of each other.

Prince William, Duke of Gloucester

Prince William, Duke of Gloucester: Queen Anne's longest-lived child

Prince William, Duke of Gloucester: Queen Anne's longest-lived child

William, born on 24th July 1689, was the only one of Queen Anne’s children to survive infancy.

A British Medical Journal Article from 1982, For the want of an heir: the obstetrical history of Queen Anne states that he suffered from a mild form of hydrocephalus, also known as water on the brain.

The article is available online at the BMJ free, although you must register to read it.

This is based partly on portraits (see to the right, for example) and partly on medical descriptions of the boy when he was alive.

William had a large head, and had some trouble learning to walk. He was not a particularly healthy child. He was of normal intelligence and development otherwise, though.

At the age of 11, William caught a fever and possibly pneumonia as a result, and died on 30th July 1700.
.

What was the Cause of Queen Anne’s Tragedy?

There is little doubt that, even by the standards of the worst maternal care and infant mortality, Queen Anne and Prince George were desperately unlucky.

The couple produced only 3 healthy children out of 18 or 19 in total. The fact that none of those three lived to adulthood is not attributable to any obvious cause – the girls were in perfect health until they died of smallpox, which was a common and deadly illness – Queen Mary II,  the girls’ maternal aunt, died of it too.

 Queen Anne and her son, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester

Queen Anne and her son, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester

Prince William may have been sickly as a small child, and certainly had an odd head, but neither seemed to kill him; rather, it was the result of a fever and pneumonia, which could and did kill many children at the time.

The 14 or 15 children who were miscarried late, stillborn, or died very shortly after birth does seem to suggest a problem, however. It is a statistically significant number.

There are two explanations often given. The first is that Queen Anne was Rhesus factor negative, and Prince George was rhesus factor positive.  If that was the case, then after the first rhesus positive baby, Anne’s body would have been inclined to reject rhesus positive babies, leading to the large number of ante-natal and short-lived deaths.

The BMJ article referred to above suggests that Queen Anne may have suffered from the auto-immune disease disseminated lupus erythematosus. The article refers to the severe gout she is said to have suffered from the age of 33 (rare in pre-menopausal women), the face rashes she had at the same time as the gout attacks, the dropsy (oedema) she suffered from periodically, and the eye problems she had from the age of 5.

Lupus is also strongly associated with increased and increasing difficulty in carrying healthy children to term in pregnancy.

Queen Anne was also massively obese from the age of about 30, which is not helpful for healthy pregnancies either.
.

Lack of Heirs and the Hanovers

Whatever the reasons, Queen Anne’s childbearing and pregnancies must have been almost unbearable for both her and her husband.

It caused problems for the country, too. After Queen Anne’s death at the age of 49, the House of Stuart was extinct, and the throne passed to the Hanover Kings – George I, George II, George III, George IV, and William IV.

Taken as a group, the Hanoverian royals were dull, boring, not intelligent,badly educated, often illiterate, and prone to wasting absolutely huge sums of money and running up enormous debts.

As the childhood rhyme has it:

Of all the Georges, George the First

Is said by most to be the worst

But then again, by some t’is reckoned,

Even worse was George the Second

But of the three, so I have heard,

The greatest fool was George the third

When George the Fourth to hell descended

Thank the Lord the Georges ended!

There are many different versions of this poem – this one is my Dad’s favourite take on it. The original was, I believe, by Thackeray:

George the First most vile was reckoned;

Viler still was George the Second ;

And what mortal ever heard

Any good of George the Third ?

When George the Fourth to hell descended,

God be praised! the Georges ended!
.

Oldest English Royal Bones – Queen Ædgyth’s 1000 year old Skeleton

A Thousand Year Old Royal Skeleton

The oldest bones which are confirmed as being those of an English royal have been identified this week.

The skeleton uncovered in January 2008 in Magdeburg Cathedral was thought to be Queen Ædgyth’s, and the coffin was labelled as such, but it had been moved more than once, and confusion was entirely possible.

Scientific tests confirmed that the skeleton was indeedthe Saxon Princess, Ædgyth’s, bones.

Statue of Queen Ædgyth / Eadgyth from Magdeburg Cathedral

Statue of Queen Ædgyth / Eadgyth from Magdeburg Cathedral


This article is about Ædgyth / Eadgyth / Edith, who she was, her life and times, and the tests which confirmed her remains were definitely the earliest-known royal bones from an English house.

Ædgyth’s Ancestry and Family

Ædgyth was the daughter of the Saxon King, Edward the Elder, and granddaughter of the best-known Saxon King, Alfred the Great.

Alfred the Great was King of Wessex from 871AD to 899, and the only King in England or Britain to be accorded the suffix “the great”.

Alfred married Ealhswith, daughter of Aethelred Mucil, who was from what is now Lincolnshire. Alfred and Ealhswith had at least 5 children, including Æthelflæd, who became Queen of Mercia, and Edward, Ædgyth’s father.

King Edward the Elder was the second child and oldest son of Alfred and Ealhswith. He was born between about 847 and 877. He became King of Wessex, and King of the Saxons, after Alfred died in 899.

Statue of King Alfred the Great in Winchester

Statue of King Alfred the Great in Winchester

Edward married three times, and had at least 16 children. His first wife (who might have been more mistress than wife) was supplanted by 901 by Ædgyth’s mother, Ælfflæd (also written as Elfleda), daughter of Æthelhelm, ealdorman of Wiltshire.

Edward and Ælfflæd / Elfleda had 6 daughters, one of them Ædgyth, and two sons. Ædgyth / Eadgyth was born in about 910.

William of Malmesbury’s De antiquitate Glastonie ecclesiae, written in the early 12th century, suggests that the marriage of Edward and Ælfflæd / Elfleda ended in divorce, and that Ælfflæd / Elfleda was still alive after Edward the Elder’s death.  This may or may not be the case, and is not mentioned in sources before the Norman Conquest.

Whether because of death or divorce, Edward the Elder remarried in about 919. His third wife was Eadgifu, the daughter of Sigehelm, the ealdorman of Kent.

King Edward the Elder died in 924, when his daughter Ædgyth was about 14 years old, and was succeeded by Athelstan the Glorious (also known as Æthelstan), Edward’s son by his first marriage.

King Athelstan the Glorious is usually said to be the first King of England.

Ædgyth’s Marriage

The tomb of King Athelstan the Glorious in Malmesbury Abbey

The tomb of King Athelstan the Glorious in Malmesbury Abbey

In about 928, an ambassador arrived at the English Royal Court, seeking a bride for Otto, son of King Henry I of Germany.

King Athelstan sent two of his half sisters on approval Otto, Duke of Saxony was given the option of either, and chose to marry Ædgyth, and their marriage took place in 929.

Otto, who was born in 912, was the  son of Henry I the Fowler and Matilda of Ringelheim. In 936, Otto’s father died, and Otto became King of the Saxons, also known as King of Germany.

An ambitious and successful man, Otto also later became the Holy Roman Emperor, and claimed the title of King of Italy, too. Ædgyth / Eadgyth was anointed as Queen in 936, upon the accession of her husband.

Otto and Ædgyth founded a Benedictine monastery, known as the Monastery of St Maurice Magdeburg in 937.

The couple had two children who lived past infanthood, a son, Liudolf, and a daughter, Liutgarde.


What was Ædgyth like?

Sources from the German royal courts give some details of Ædgyth. Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, a literate nun and poet, wrote that was calm and sincere, and “she was so very highly regarded in her own country that public opinion unanimously rated her the best woman who existed at that time in England”.

Of her death, Hrotsvit wrote:

the whole of the German nation mourned her with an intense grief -a foreign race that she had come to cherish with kindness. Their dearly beloved mistress was thus entrusted to the earth, to lie in the tomb until she could rise again.

Ædgyth’s death and burial

Queen Ædgyth / Eadgyth and her husband King Otto I

Queen Ædgyth / Eadgyth and her husband King Otto I

Queen Ædgyth died in January 946, aged 35 or 36.  Her death was apparently sudden, not preceded by lengthy illness.

Ædgyth was buried, and her bones (and those of her husband, Otto, who was later buried with her) were buried in the monastery of St. Maurice, that they had founded. The skeletons were  moved at least three times.

In 1510, a memorial was built King Otto and Queen Ædgyth  in Magdeburg Cathedral. It was long thought that this was a memorial only. In 2008, however, the tomb was opened.

A coffin within was labelled EDIT REGINE CINERES HIC SARCOPHAGVS HABET which, translated, says, The remains of Queen Edith are in this sarcophagus.

When opened, the coffin contained a skeleton, laid sideways in the coffin, bent at the knees, and covered in a silk shroud. Parts of the skeleton were missing, including bones from the hands and feet, and part of the skull.

Scientific Tests on the Bones and Teeth

Examination of the Bones

Queen Ædgyth / Eadgyth's bones being examined

Queen Ædgyth / Eadgyth's bones being examined

Anthropological examination of the bones undertaken in Mainz confirmed that the skeleton was that of a woman aged between 30 and 40 at the time of her death.

The femurs showed that the woman was a frequent rider, which pointed to her being a member of the nobility.

The bones also suggested that the woman had suffered either from serious illness or an eating disorder as a 9 or  10 year old child, which was the age at which Queen Ædgyth’s mother either died or was divorced by Ædgyth’s father.

Further tests on the molecular make-up of the bones suggested that the woman had eaten a high protein diet, including a lot of fish, which also suggested a wealthy upbringing.

Tests on the teeth

Deposits in the enamel of teeth can tell a lot of detail about where a person lived from birth until the age of 14. Isotopes of strontium and oxygen are mineralised in teeth as a person grows, and the precise nature of these mineral deposits depends on the geology of the area where the person lives.

The isotopes in the skeleton’s upper teeth showed that the woman had not been brought up in Magdeburg, or Germany. Instead, the isotopes pointed definitively to the chalk uplands of southern England. They also showed that until the age of 9, the woman had moved regularly between different parts of south England, but that after the age of 9, she had lived in one place until she was about 14.

The results are entirely consistent with what is known of Queen Ædgyth’s childhood and upbringing.

You can read about the University of Bristol’s scientific tests here.

Panorama theme by Themocracy