Lady Cecily Neville, Duchess of York

4 Jun

Lady Cecily Neville, Duchess of York was born on May 1415, and would later become the wife of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, and the mother of two Kings of England: Edward IV and Richard III.
Lady Cecily Neville was a daughter of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, and Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland. Her maternal grandfather was John of Gaunt, thus she was a decendant of Edward III of England.
She was the aunt of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, the most powerful peer and military commander in 15th-century England, where he was also known as “The Kingmaker”. She was also the great-great-great-aunt of Queen consort Catherine Parr, sixth wife of her great-grandson, King Henry VIII.


Cecily was called “the Rose of Raby”, because she was born at Raby Castle in Durham, and “Proud Cis”, because of her pride and a temper that went with it. Historically she is also known for her piety. She herself signed her name “Cecylle”.
In 1424, when Cecily was nine years old, she was betrothed by her father to his thirteen-year-old ward, Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York. Ralph Neville died in October 1425, bequeathing the wardship of Richard to his widow, Joan Beaufort. Cecily and Richard were married by October 1429. Their daughter Anne was born in August 1439 in Northamptonshire. When Richard became a king’s lieutenant and governor general of France in 1441 and moved to Rouen, Cecily moved with him. Their son Henry was born in February but died soon after.

Her husband, the Duke of York

The future King Edward IV was born in Rouen on 28 April 1442 and immediately baptised privately in a small side chapel. He would later be accused of illegitimacy directly by his cousin, Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, and by his own brother, George, Duke of Clarence; this was probably because George and Warwick were in dispute with Edward and seeking to overthrow him. The claims would later be dismissed. Some modern historians use Edward’s date of birth as an evidence of illegitimacy: the Duke had been away in the calculated days of conception and the baby’s baptism was a simple and private affair (unlike that of his younger brother, George, which was public and lavish). Although some historians suggest that the baby was prematurely born, there are no surviving records of this. Other historians point out that Cecily’s husband could easily, by the military conventions of the time, have returned briefly to Rouen, where Cecily was living at the time. In any case, Richard acknowledged the baby as his own, which established legal paternity.
Around 1454, when Richard began to resent the influence of Edmund Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, Cecily spoke with Queen consort Margaret of Anjou on his behalf. When Henry VI suffered a nervous breakdown later in the year, Richard of York established himself as a Protector.
After the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, Cecily remained at their home, Ludlow Castle, even when Richard fled to Ireland and Continental Europe. At the same time she surreptitiously worked for the cause of the House of York. When a parliament began to debate the fate of the Duke of York and his supporters in November 1459, Cecily travelled to London to plead for her husband. One contemporary commentator stated that she had reputedly convinced the king to promise a pardon if the Duke would appear in the parliament in eight days. This failed and Richard’s lands were confiscated, but Cecily managed to gain an annual grant of £600 to support her and her children.

Her eldest son and King, Edward IV

After the Yorkist victory at the Battle of Northampton in July 1460, Cecily moved to London with her children and lived with John Paston. She carried the royal arms before Richard in triumph in London in September. When the Duke of York and his heirs officially recognized as Henry VI’s successors in the Act of Accord, Cecily became a queen-in-waiting and even received a copy of the English chronicle from the chronicler John Hardyng.
In the Battle of Wakefield (30 December 1460), the Lancastrians won a decisive victory. The Duke of York, his second son Edmund, Earl of Rutland, and Cecily’s brother Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, were among the casualties. Cecily sent her two youngest sons, George and Richard, to the court of Philip III, Duke of Burgundy. This forced Philip to ally with the Yorkists.
Her eldest son Edward successfully continued the fight against the Lancastrians. When Cecily moved to Baynard’s Castle in London, it became the Yorkist headquarters and when Edward defeated the Lancastrians, she became an effective Queen Mother.
During the beginning of the Edward’s reign, Cecily appeared beside him and maintained her influence. In 1461 she revised her coat of arms to include the royal arms of England, hinting that her husband had been a rightful king. When Edward married Elizabeth Woodville, he built new queen’s quarters for her and let his mother remain in the queen’s quarters in which she had been living.
In 1469, her nephew, the Earl of Warwick, father-in-law of her sons George and Richard, rebelled against Edward IV. Warwick also begun to spread rumours that the king was a bastard and that his true father was not the Duke of York but an archer named Blaybourne at Rouen, evidence of which has been assembled. By some interpretations, that would have meant that Clarence was the rightful king. Warwick had earlier made similar accusations against Margaret of Anjou. Cecily said little about the matter in public, despite the fact that she had been accused of adultery. She visited Sandwich, possibly trying to reconcile the parties. When the rebellion failed the first time, she invited Edward and George to London to reconcile them. Peace did not last long and in the forthcoming war she still tried to make peace between her sons.
Edward IV was briefly overthrown by Warwick and Margaret of Anjou, and for about six months (October 1470 – April 1471) Henry VI was restored to the throne. The breach between Edward and his brother George was apparently never really healed, for George was executed for treason in the Tower of London on 18 February 1478. Edward IV died suddenly on 9 April 1483, leaving two sons aged 13 and 10. Cecily Neville’s youngest son Richard, their uncle, was appointed their protector by Edward’s will, but he had them placed in the Tower, whence they were never to emerge. The subsequent enquiry found that that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had been invalid: their children were thus illegitimate, making Richard the legal heir to the crown. The Princes in the Tower were declared illegitimate by Act of Parliament in 1483 to allow their uncle Richard to be crowned Richard III on 6 July 1483. The Princes in the Tower were supposed to have been murdered around this time.

Her youngest son and King, Richard III

Cecly was on good terms with Richard’s wife Anne Neville, with whom she discussed religious works such as the writings of Mechtilde of Hackeborn. Richard’s reign was brief, as he was defeated and killed on 22 August 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field by the last Lancastrian, Henry Tudor. Thus by 1485, Cecily’s husband and four sons had all died, although two of her daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, still lived. On 18 January 1486, Cecily’s granddaughter, Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of Edward IV, married Henry VII and became Queen of England. Cecily devoted herself to religious duties and her reputation for piety comes from this period.
Cecily Neville died on 31 May 1495 and was buried in the tomb with Richard and their son Edmund at the Church of St Mary and All Saints, Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire, with a papal indulgence. All subsequent English monarchs, beginning with Henry VIII, are descendants of Elizabeth of York, and therefore of Cecily Neville.

Jeanne la Flamme, Duchess of Brittany

23 May

Joanna of Flanders was born in 1295, she was the daughter of Louis I, Count of Nevers and Joan, Countess of Rethel, and the sister of Louis I, Count of Flanders.
She married in 1329 the future John IV, Duke of Brittany, with whom she had two children.


When John’s half-brother (the Duke of Brittany) died in 1341 without male issue, his niece Joanna of Penthièvre and her husband Charles of Blois claimed Brittany. John claimed Brittany for himself, and went to Paris to be heard by King Philip VI of France. Philip was an uncle of Charles, and he imprisoned John, despite having given him a promise of safe conduct.
Joanna then announced her infant son leader and true heir to Brittany. She mustered an army and captured Redon. From there she went to Hennebont, to prepare it for a siege, and then asked King Edward III of England for aid. This, Edward was eager to give, since he had been claiming the French crown for himself, and he was therefore at odds with Philip. If he could get Brittany as an ally, this would be of great advantage for future campaigns.


In the siege of Hennebont by Charles of Blois in 1342, she took up arms and, dressed in armour, conducted the defence of the town, encouraging the people to fight, and urging the women to “cut their skirts and take their safety in their own hands”. When she took a look from a tower and saw that the enemy camp was almost unguarded, she led three hundred men on a charge, burned down his supplies and destroyed his tents. After this she became known as “Jeanne la Flamme”. Charles of Blois tried to starve the people in Hennebont. During a long meeting the bishop of Leon tried to persuade Joanna to surrender, but from the window she saw the ships of Sir Walter Manny’s ships from England sailing up. Hennebont was strengthened with English forces and held out.


By the treaty of Malestroit in 1343, her husband John was released and hostilities ceased. When her husband died in 1345 in the midst of the Breton War of Succession, she again became the leader of the Montfort party to protect the rights of her son John V against the party led by Charles of Blois and Joanna. In 1347, Joanna’s forces captured Charles of Blois in battle. She was, however, forced to retreat to England. In England, she succumbed to a mental illness, and spent the rest of her life in confinement at Tickhill Castle.
Joanna was later celebrated for her exploits in Breton folklore, in particular in a ballad collected in Barzaz Breiz.
She was later known as an earlier patron for women in Brittany, and a possible influence to Joan of Arc of France.

Yolande of Aragon, The Queen of Four Kingdoms

21 May

Yolande of Aragon was a throne claimant and titular queen regnant of Aragon, titular queen consort of Naples, Duchess of Anjou, Countess of Provence, and regent of Provence during the minority of her son. Yolande played a crucial role in the struggles between France and England, influencing events such as the financing of Joan of Arc’s army in 1429 and tipping the balance in favor of the French. She was also known as Jolantha de Aragon and Violant d’Aragó. Tradition holds that she commissioned the famous Rohan Hours.
Yolande was born in Saragosa, Aragon, on 11 August 1384, the eldest daughter of King John I of Aragon by his second wife, Yolande of Bar, the granddaughter of King John II of France. She had three brothers and two sisters, as well as five older half-siblings from her father’s first marriage to Martha of Armagnac. Yolande later played an important role in the politics of the Angevin Empire, France, and Aragon during the first half of the 15th century. As the surviving daughter of King John I of Aragon, she claimed the throne of Aragon after the deaths of her elder sister Joanna, Countess of Foix, and her uncle, King Martin I of Aragon. However, unclear though they were, the laws of succession for Aragon and Barcelona at that time were understood to favour all male relatives over the females (this is how Yolande’s uncle, Martin of Aragon came to inherit the throne of Aragon). Martin died without surviving issue in 1410, and after two years without a king, the Estates of Aragon elected Ferdinand de Antequera as the next King of Aragon as Ferdinand I. He was the second son of Queen Eleanor of Aragon and King John I of Castile.

Her husband, Louis II of Anjou

The Anjou candidate for the throne of Aragon was Yolande’s eldest son Louis III of Anjou, Duke of Calabria, whose claim was forfeited in the Pact of Caspe. Yolande and her sons regarded themselves as the heirs with the stronger claim, and began to use the title of Kings of Aragon. As a result of this additional inheritance, Yolande was called the “Queen of Four Kingdoms” – the four being Sicily, Jerusalem, Cyprus and Aragon (another interpretation specifies Naples separate from Sicily, plus Jerusalem and Aragon). However, the reality was that Yolande and her family controlled territories in the said kingdoms only at short intervals, if ever. Their true realm was the Anjou fiefdoms across France: they held uncontestably the provinces of Provence and Anjou, and also at times Bar, Maine, Touraine and Valois. Yolande’s son René I of Anjou became ruler of Lorraine through his marriage to Isabella, Duchess of Lorraine.
In the emerging second phase of the Hundred Years’ War, Yolande chose to support the French (in particular the Armagnac party) against the English and the Burgundians; she supported the claim of the Dauphin Charles who, relying upon Yolande’s resources and help, succeeded in becoming crowned Charles VII of France. As Charles’ own mother, Isabeau of Bavaria, worked against his claims, it has been said that Yolande was the person who protected the adolescent Charles against all sorts of plots on his life and acted as a substitute mother. She removed Charles from his parents’ court and kept him in her own castles, usually those in the Loire Valley, where Charles received Joan of Arc. Yolande arranged the marriage of Charles to her daughter Mary of Anjou, thus becoming Charles’ mother-in-law. This led to Yolande’s personal, and crucial, involvement in the struggle for the survival of the House of Valois in France.
Yolande’s marriage to Louis II of Anjou, at Arles in December 1400, was arranged as a part of long-standing efforts to resolve contested claims upon the kingdom of Sicily and Naples between the houses of Anjou and Aragon. Louis spent much of his life fighting in Italy for his claim to the Kingdom of Naples. In France, Yolande was the Duchess of Anjou and the Countess of Provence. She preferred to hold court in Angers and Saumur. She had six children, and through her second son Réne was the grandmother of Margaret of Anjou, the wife of King Henry VI of England.

Yolande, Dowager Duchess of Anjou, with Dauphin Charles

With the victory of the English over the French at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the Duchy of Anjou was threatened. The French king, Charles VI, was mentally ill and his realm was in a state of civil war between the Burgundians and the Orleanists (Armagnacs). The situation was made worse by an alliance among the Duke of Burgundy, John the Fearless, the English, and the French queen, Isabeau of Bavaria, who submitted to the Duke of Burgundy’s scheme to deny the crown of France to the children of Charles VI. Fearing the abusive power building behind the Duke of Burgundy, Louis II had Yolande move with her children and future son-in-law, Charles, to Provence in southern France.
In the years 1415 and 1417, the two oldest surviving sons of Charles VI of France died in quick succession: first Louis, then Jean. Both brothers had been in the care of the Duke of Burgundy. Yolande was the protectress of her son-in-law, Charles, who became the new Dauphin. She refused Queen Isabeau’s orders to return Charles to the French Court, reportedly replying, “We have not nurtured and cherished this one for you to make him die like his brothers or to go mad like his father, or to become English like you. I keep him for my own. Come and take him away, if you dare”.
On 29 April 1417, Louis II of Anjou died of illness, leaving Yolande, at age 33, in control of the House of Anjou. She acted as regent for her son because of his youth. She also had the fate of the French royal house of Valois in her hands. Her young son-in-law, the Dauphin Charles, was exceptionally vulnerable to the designs of the English King, Henry V, and to his older cousin, John the Fearless, the Duke of Burgundy. Charles’ nearest older relatives, the Dukes of Orléans and of Bourbon, had been made prisoners at the Battle of Agincourt and were held captive by the English. With his mother, Queen Isabeau, and the Duke of Burgundy allied with the English, Charles had no resources to support him other than those of the House of Anjou and the smaller House of Armagnac.
Following the assassination of John the Fearless at Montereau in 1419, his son Philip the Good succeeded him as Duke of Burgundy. With Henry V of England, he forced the Treaty of Troyes (21 May 1420) on the mentally-ill King Charles VI. The treaty designated Henry as “Regent of France” and heir to the French throne. Following this, the Dauphin Charles was declared disinherited in 1421. When both Henry V of England and Charles VI of France died in 1422 (on 31 August and 21 October, respectively), the Dauphin Charles, at age 19, legitimately became Charles VII of France. Charles’ title was challenged by the English and their Burgundian allies, who supported the candidacy of Henry VI of England, the infant son of Henry V and Catherine of Valois, Charles’ own sister, as king of France. This set the stage for the last phase of the Hundred Years’ War: the “War of Charles VII”.

Charles VII, her protégé

In this struggle, Yolande played a prominent role in surrounding the young Valois king with advisors and servants associated with the House of Anjou. She maneuvered John VI, Duke of Brittany, into breaking an alliance with the English, and was responsible for a soldier from the Breton ducal family, Arthur de Richemont, becoming Constable of France in 1425. Yolande’s early and strong support of Joan of Arc, when others had doubts, suggests her possible larger role in orchestrating Joan’s appearance on the scene. Yolande unquestionably practiced realistic politics. Using the Constable de Richemont, Yolande was behind the forceful removal of several of Charles VII’s less desirable advisors. The worst, La Trémoille, was attacked and forced from the court in 1433. Yolande was not averse to recruiting beautiful women and coaching them to become the mistresses of influential men who would spy on them on her behalf. She had a network of such women in the courts of Lorraine, Burgundy, Brittany, and her son-in-law.
The contemporary chronicler Jean Juvenal des Ursins (1433–44), Bishop of Beauvais, described Yolande as “the prettiest woman in the kingdom.” Bourdigné, chronicler of the house of Anjou, says of her: “She who was said to be the wisest and most beautiful princess in Christendom.” Later, King Louis XI of France recalled that his grandmother had “a man’s heart in a woman’s body.” A twentieth-century French author, Jehanne d’Orliac, wrote one of the few works specifically on Yolande, and noted that the duchess remains unappreciated for her genius and influence in the reign of Charles VII. “She is mentioned in passing because she is the pivot of all important events for forty-two years in France”, while “Joan [of Arc] was in the public eye only eleven months.”
Yolande retired to Angers, and then to Saumur, where she died at the Château de Tuce-de-Saumur on 14 December 1443.

Lakshmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi

19 May

Lakshmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi was the queen of the Maratha-ruled princely state of Jhansi, situated in the north-central part of India. She was one of the leading figures of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and a symbol of resistance to the rule of the British East India Company in the subcontinent.
Originally named Manikarnika and nicknamed Manu, Lakshmibai was born at Kashi to Moropant Tambe and Bhagirathibai Tambe, a Maharashtrian couple. She lost her mother at the age of four. Her father worked at the Peshwa court of Bithoor; the Peshwa brought her up like his own daughter, and called her “Chhabili” for her light-heartedness. She was educated at home.
Because of her father’s influence at court, Lakshmibai had more independence than most women, who were normally restricted to the zenana. She studied self-defence, horsemanship, archery, and even formed her own army out of her female friends at court. Tatya Tope, who would later come to her rescue during the 1857 Rebellion, was her mentor.


Lakshmibai was married to Raja Gangadhar Rao Newalkar, the Maharaja of Jhansi, in 1842, and thus became the queen of Jhansi. After their marriage, she was given the name Lakshmibai, and the Raja was very affectionate towards her. She gave birth to a son, Damodar Rao, in 1851. However, the child died when he was about four months old. After the death of their son, the Raja and Rani of Jhansi adopted Anand Rao. Anand Rao was the son of Gangadhar Rao’s cousin, and was later renamed as Damodar Rao. However, it is said that the Raja of Jhansi never recovered from his son’s death, and he died on 21 November 1853.
Because Damodar Rao was adopted, the British East India Company, under Governor-General Lord Dalhousie, applied the Doctrine of Lapse, rejecting Rao’s claim to the throne and annexing the state to its territories. In March 1854, Lakshmibai was given a pension of 60,000 rupees and ordered to leave the palace and the Jhansi fort.
On May 10, 1857 the Indian Rebellion started in Meerut. This began after the rumour that the new bullet casings for the Enfield rifles were coated with pork and beef fat and unrest began to spread throughout India. During this chaotic time, the British were forced to focus their attentions elsewhere, and Lakshmibai was essentially left to rule Jhansi alone, leading her troops swiftly and efficiently to quell skirmishes initiated by local princes. With the city relatively calm and peaceful in the midst of the unrest in northern India, she conducted the Haldi Kumkum ceremony with great pomp and ceremony before all the women of Jhansi to provide assurance to her subjects and to convince them that the city was under no threat of an attack.


Up to this point, Lakshmibai had been hesitant to rebel against the British, and there is still some controversy over her role in the massacre of Company officials, their wives and children on 8 June 1857 at Jokhan Bagh. This was done to reduce her popularity amongst the countrymen and villagers. Her hesitation finally ended when British troops arrived under Sir Hugh Rose and laid siege to Jhansi on 23 March 1858. An army of 20,000, headed by Tatya Tope, was sent to relieve Jhansi but failed to do so when his forces engaged with the British on 31 March. Along with Sir Hugh Rose there was an Indian general who betrayed Rani Lakshmibai. Three days later the besiegers were able to breach the walls and capture the city. The Rani escaped by night with her son, surrounded by her guards, many of them women.
Along with the young Anand Rao, the Rani decamped to Kalpi along with her troops, where she joined other rebel forces, including those of Tatya Tope. The two moved on to Gwalior, where the combined rebel forces defeated the army of the Maharaja of Gwalior after his armies deserted the rebel forces. They then occupied a strategic fort at Gwalior. However, on 17 June 1858, while battling in full warrior regalia against the 8th (King’s Royal Irish) Hussars in Kotah-ki Serai near the Phool Bagh area of Gwalior, she was killed and someone burnt her. The British captured Gwalior three days later. In the British report of the battle, General Sir Hugh Rose was reported badly hurt and he commented that the Rani was “remarkable for her beauty, cleverness and perseverance” and had been “the most dangerous of all the rebel leaders”.


However, the lack of a corpse to be convincingly identified as that of Lakshmibai convinced Captain Rheese that she had not actually perished in the battle for Gwalior, stating publicly that: “[the] Queen of Jhansi is alive!” It is believed her funeral was arranged on the same day near the spot where she was wounded. Lakshmibai was memorialized in bronze statues at Jhansi and Gwalior, both of which portray her on horseback. Other equestrian statues can be seen in Agra and Pune.
Her father, Moropant Tambey, was captured and hanged a few days after the fall of Jhansi. Her adopted son, Damodar Rao (formerly known as Anand Rao), fled with his mother’s aides. Rao was later given a pension by the British Raj and cared for, although he never received his inheritance. Damodar Rao settled down in the city of Indore, and spent most of his life trying to convince the British to restore some of his rights. He and his descendants took on the last name Jhansiwale. He died on 28 May 1906, at the age of 58 years.

Aphra Behn, the fair triumvir of wit

16 May

Aphra Behn was a prolific dramatist of the English Restoration and was one of the first English professional female writers. Her writing contributed to the amatory fiction genre of British literature. Along with Delarivier Manley and Eliza Haywood, she is sometimes referred to as part of “The fair triumvirate of wit.”

One of the first English women to earn her livelihood by authorship, her life is difficult to unravel and relate. Information regarding her, especially her early life, is scant, but she was almost certainly born in Wye, near Canterbury, on 10 July 1640 to Bartholomew Johnson, a barber, and Elizabeth Denham. The two were married in 1638 and Aphra was baptized on 14 December 1640. Elizabeth Denham was employed as a nurse to the wealthy Colepeper family, who lived locally, which means that it is likely that Aphra grew up with and spent time with the family’s children. The younger child, Thomas Colepeper, later described Aphra as his foster sister.

In 1663 she visited an English sugar colony on the Suriname River, on the coast east of Venezuela (a region later known as Suriname). During this trip she is supposed to have met an African slave leader, whose story formed the basis for one of her most famous works, Oroonoko, widely credited as the book which first brought home to England a sense of the horrors of slavery.

A sketch of Aphra Behn by George Scharf from a portrait believed to be lost

Though little is really known about Aphra’s early years, evidence suggests that she may have had a Catholic upbringing. She once admitted that she was “designed for a nun” and the fact that she had so many Catholic connections, such as Henry Neville who was later arrested, would certainly have aroused suspicions during the anti-Catholic fervor of the 1680s. Her sympathy to the Catholics is further demonstrated by her dedication of her play “The Rover II” to the Catholic Duke of York who had been exiled for the second time.

Behn was firmly dedicated to the restored King Charles II. As political parties first emerged during this time, Aphra was a Tory supporter (who believed in absolute allegiance to the king, who governed by divine right). Aphra often used her writings to attack the parliamentary Whigs claiming

“In public spirits call’d, good o’ th’ Commonwealth…So tho’ by different ways the fever seize…in all ’tis one and the same mad disease.”

This was Aphra reproach to parliament which had denied the king funds. Like most Tories, Aphra was distrustful of Parliament and Whigs since the Revolution and wrote propaganda in support of the restored monarchy.

Shortly after her return to England in 1664 Aphra married Johan Behn, who was a merchant of German or Dutch extraction. Little conclusive information is known about their marriage, but it did not last for more than a few years since her husband died soon.

By 1666 Aphra had become attached to the Court, possibly through the influence of Thomas Culpepper and other associates of influence, where she was recruited as a political spy to Antwerp by Charles II. Her code name for her exploits is said to have been Astrea, a name under which she subsequently published much of her writings. The Second Anglo-Dutch War had broken out between England and the Netherlands in 1665. Her chief business was to establish an intimacy with William Scott, son of Thomas Scott, the regicide who had been executed 17 October, 1660, since William was ready to become a spy in the English service and to report on the doings of the English exiles who were plotting against the King.

Portrait of Aphra Behn, aged approximately 30, by Mary Beale

Aphra’s exploits were not profitable, however, as Charles was slow in paying (if he paid at all) for either her services or her expenses whilst abroad. Money had to be borrowed for her return to London, where a year’s petitioning of Charles for payment went unheard, and she ended up in a debtor’s prison. By 1669 an undisclosed source had paid Aphra’s debts, and she was released from prison, starting from this point to become one of the first women who wrote for a living. She cultivated the friendship of various playwrights, and starting in 1670 she produced many plays and novels, as well as poems and pamphlets. Her most popular works included The RoverLove-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister, and Oroonoko. In 1688, the year before her death, she published A Discovery of New Worlds, a translation of a French popularisation of astronomy, Entretiens sur la Pluralite des Mondes, by Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle, written as a novel in a form similar to her own work, but with her new, thoughtful, religiously-oriented preface.

Aphra Behn died on 16 April 1689, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Below the inscription on her tombstone read the words:

Here lies a Proof that Wit can never be / Defence enough against Mortality.

She was quoted as once stating that she had led a “life dedicated to pleasure and poetry.

In author Virginia Woolf’s reckoning, Behn’s total career is more important than any particular work it produced. Woolf wrote,

“All women together, ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn… for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.”

Vita Sackville-West called Behn

“an inhabitant of Grub Street with the best of them, . . . a phenomenon never seen and . . . furiously resented.”

She was, as Felix Shelling said,

a very gifted woman, compelled to write for bread in an age in which literature . . . catered habitually to the lowest and most depraved of human inclinations. Her success depended upon her ability to write like a man.”

She was, as Edmund Gosse remarked, 

“the George Sand of the Restoration, and she lived the Bohemian life in London in the seventeenth century as George Sand lived it in Paris in the nineteenth.”

Ironically then, it was after a hiatus in the 19th century (when both the writer and the work were dismissed as indecent) that Behn’s fame underwent an extraordinary revival. She dominates cultural-studies discourse as both a topic and a set of texts. Much early criticism emphasized her unusual status as a female writer in a male-dominated literary world; more recent criticism has offered more thorough discussions of her works.

A writer, a Tory supporter, a spy, a wife: she was quite busy indeed! A true example of fierceness and passion.

Queen Sibylla of Jerusalem

6 May

Sibylla of Jerusalem was born a princess in 1160; she would be a daughter, sister and mother of Kings of Jerusalem.
She was born into the Frankish noble family of the House of Anjou. Sibylla was raised by her great-aunt, the Abbess Ioveta of Bethany, sister of former Queen Melisende of Jerusalem.
In 1174, her father sent Frederick de la Roche, archbishop of Tyre, on a diplomatic legation to Europe to drum up support (martial and financial) for the Crusader states, and to arrange a suitable marriage for Sibylla. As her only brother Baldwin suffered from an illness later confirmed as leprosy, Sibylla’s marriage was of paramount concern. Frederick convinced Stephen of Sancerre, a well-connected young nobleman, to come east and marry the princess. Shortly after his arrival in Jerusalem, however, Stephen changed his mind (the reason is not known) and he returned to France.


On their father Amalric’s death, Baldwin IV became king in 1174. In 1176, Baldwin arranged for Sibylla to marry William Longsword of Montferrat, eldest son of the Marquess William V of Montferrat, and a cousin of Louis VII of France and of Frederick Barbarossa. Princess Sibylla was created Countess of Jaffa and Ascalon (previously held by her mother Agnes), the title increasingly associated with the heir to the throne. In autumn they were married. William died by June the following year, leaving Sibylla pregnant. In the tradition of the dynasty, Sibylla named her son Baldwin.
The widowed seventeen years old princess remained a prize for ambitious nobles and adventurers seeking to advance themselves and take control of Jerusalem. Philip of Flanders, a first cousin of Sibylla (his mother, Sibylla of Anjou, was her father’s half-sister), arrived in 1177 and demanded to have the princess married to one of his own vassals. By marrying Sibylla to his vassal, Philip could control the kingship of Jerusalem. The Haute Cour of Jerusalem (the feudal council of the kingdom, led by Baldwin of Ibelin), rebuffed Philip’s advances. Affronted, Philip left Jerusalem to campaign in Antioch.
Sibylla did not remarry until 1180. For a long time, popular narrative histories favoured an account from the 13th century Old French Continuation of William Tyre, partly attributed to Ernoul (author of a chronicle of the late 12th century dealing with the fall of the crusader kingdom), and associated with the Ibelin family. It claims that Sibylla was in love with Baldwin of Ibelin, a widower over twice her age, but he was captured and imprisoned in 1179 by Saladin. She wrote to Baldwin, suggesting they wed when he was released. Saladin demanded a large ransom: Baldwin himself could not pay the ransom, but was released with the promise to pay Saladin later. However, Agnes of Courtenay advised her son to have Sibylla married to the newly-arrived Frankish knight Guy of Lusignan, brother of her personal constable, Amalric of Lusignan, who Ernoul claims was her lover. By this — so this narrative alleges — Agnes hoped to foil any attempt by Raymond III of Tripoli (the former regent) from marrying her daughter into the rival court faction, led by the Ibelins. It claims that Baldwin of Ibelin was still in Constantinople and unable to wed Sibylla. With pressure mounting to have the Heir Presumptive wed, the marriage was hastily arranged, and Sibylla — whom the author depicts as fickle — easily transferred her affections to the younger man. This account strongly favours the Ibelins, and shows influence from romance.

Top: Baldwin IV betrothes Sibylla to Guy; Bottom: Sibylla and Guy are married.

However, this is not supported by the more contemporaneous and less fanciful accounts of William of Tyre and others. A plan to marry Sibylla to Hugh III of Burgundy had broken down. At Easter 1180, Raymond of Tripoli and Bohemund III of Antioch entered the kingdom in force, with the intent of imposing a husband of their own choice, probably Baldwin of Ibelin, on Sibylla. However, a foreign match was essential to the kingdom, bringing the possibility of external military aid. Baldwin IV himself arranged the marriage to Guy, whose brother Amalric, well-regarded and able, had first come to court as Baldwin of Ibelin’s son-in-law and was now constable of Jerusalem. With the new French king Philip II a minor, Guy’s status as a vassal of the King and Sibylla’s first cousin Henry II of England – who owed the Pope a penitential pilgrimage — was useful in terms of offering a source of external help. Baldwin of Ibelin was in Jerusalem at the time of Sibylla’s marriage, and did not go to Constantinople until later in the year — contradicting the claims in the Old French Continuation. Also in 1180, Baldwin IV further curtailed the ambitions of the Ibelins by betrothing the eight-year-old Isabella (his half-sister) to Humphrey IV of Toron, removing her from the control of her mother and the Ibelins, and placing her in the hands of her betrothed’s family – Raynald of Châtillon and his wife Stephanie of Milly.
Sibylla bore Guy two daughters, Alice and Maria (their years of birth are unknown). Initially Baldwin IV vested much authority in Guy, appointing him his regent during times of his own incapacitation. But within a year the king was offended and enraged by Guy’s behaviour as regent. Baldwin IV deposed Guy as regent in 1183 and had Sibylla’s son crowned as co-king as Baldwin V, thereby passing over her and Guy in the succession. He also attempted to have Sibylla’s marriage annulled throughout 1184. Her son was to succeed with Raymond III of Tripoli as regent. If Baldwin V were to expire during his minority, his “most rightful heirs” would succeed to the regency until his maternal kinsman the King of England and paternal kinsmen the King of France and the Holy Roman Emperor, and the Pope should adjudicate between the claims of Sibylla and Isabella. Though her husband was in disgrace for his behaviour as regent, it does not seem that Sibylla herself was held in disfavour.
Throughout these internal political conflicts, an even greater external threat was on the horizon: Saladin, the sultan of Egypt and Syria, who was steadily building up his power-base in preparation for invasion. Meanwhile, Agnes died in Acre, sometime in 1184.
Baldwin IV died in spring 1185, leaving Sibylla’s son as sole king, Raymond as regent and the boy’s great-uncle Count Joscelin III of Edessa as guardian. Baldwin V’s grandfather, Marquess William V of Montferrat, had also now arrived in the kingdom to give his support. However, the young king, never a healthy child, died in Acre in the summer of 1186. Neither Sibylla’s nor Isabella’s party seems to have been prepared to accept the terms of Baldwin IV’s will, to install a regent and wait for a decision by Baldwin V’s relatives in England, France and Germany.
Joscelin and the Marquess William escorted the king’s coffin to Jerusalem. Sibylla attended her son’s funeral, arranged by Joscelin. For security an armed escort garrisoned Jerusalem. Raymond III, who wanted to protect his own influence and his political allies, the dowager queen Maria Comnena and the Ibelins, went to Nablus — Maria and Balian’s home — where he summoned those members of the Haute Cour who supported Isabella. Meanwhile, Sibylla was crowned queen by Patriarch Eraclius. Raynald of Châtillon gained popular support for Sibylla by affirming that she was “the most evident and rightful heir of the kingdom”. Sibylla’s detractors resurrected the claim that Sibylla was illegitimate and intended to hold a rival coronation for Isabella. However, in 1163 the Latin Church of Jerusalem had ruled Sibylla was a legal heir and successor to her father. Either way, Sibylla’s claim held strong as the Haute Cour negotiated to recognize her as queen. Sibylla’s position was further strengthened when Isabella’s husband, Humphrey IV of Toron left Nablus to swear fealty to Sibylla and Guy.
Sibylla was crowned alone, as sole Queen. Before her crowning Sibylla agreed with oppositional court members that she would annul her own marriage to please them, as long as she would be given free rein to choose her next husband. The leaders of the Haute Cour agreed, and Sibylla was crowned forthwith. To their astonishment, Sibylla immediately announced that she chose Guy as her husband, and crowned him.
Of Queen Sibylla’s right to rule, Bernard Hamilton wrote “there is no real doubt, following the precedent of Melisende, that Sibylla, as the elder daughter of King Amalric, had the best claim to the throne; equally, there could be no doubt after the ceremony that Guy only held the crown matrimonial.”
Sibylla had shown great cunning and political prowess in her dealings with the members of the opposition faction. She had some support from her maternal relations, the Courtenay family (the former dynasty of the County of Edessa) and their allies and vassals, while her rivals were led by Raymond of Tripoli, who had a claim to the throne in his own right, the Ibelin family and the dowager queen in Nablus on behalf of Isabella.
Queen Sibylla’s chief concern was to check the progress of Saladin’s armies as they advanced into the kingdom. Guy and Raymond were dispatched to the front with the entire fighting strength of the kingdom, but their inability to cooperate was fatal, and Saladin routed them at the Battle of Hattin on July 4, 1187. Guy was among the prisoners. The dowager queen joined her stepdaughter in Jerusalem as Saladin’s army advanced. By September 1187, Saladin was besieging the Holy City, and Sibylla personally led the defence, along with Patriarch Eraclius and Balian of Ibelin. Jerusalem capitulated on October 2, and Sibylla was permitted to escape to Tripoli with her daughters.
Guy was released from his imprisonment in Damascus in 1188, when Saladin realized that returning him would cause strife in the crusader camp and that Guy was a less capable leader than certain others who now held sway. The queen joined him when they marched on Tyre in 1189, the only city in the kingdom that had not fallen. Conrad of Montferrat, brother of Sibylla’s first husband William, had taken charge of the city’s defences. However, he denied them entrance, refusing to recognise Guy’s claim to the remnant of the kingdom, and asserting his own claim to hold it until the arrival of the kings from Europe (in accordance with Baldwin IV’s will). After about a month spent outside the city’s walls, the queen followed Guy when he led a vanguard of the newly arrived Third Crusade against Muslim-held Acre, desiring to make that town the seat of kingdom. Guy besieged the town for two years.
There, during the stalemate in July or August, possibly July 25, 1190, Sibylla died in an epidemic which was sweeping through the military camp. Her two young daughters had also died some days earlier. Acre was afterwards conquered in July 1191, mostly by troops brought by Philip II of France and Richard I of England.
Bernard Hamilton wrote “had Sibylla lived in more peaceful times she would have exercised a great deal of power since her husband’s authority patently derived from her”, and that only the conquest by Saladin brought her rule to a speedy end. Her legal successor was her half-sister Isabella, who was forced to end her marriage to Humphrey of Toron and instead to marry Conrad, but Guy refused to relinquish his crown until an election in 1192.

The wives of Frederick IV of Denmark and Norway

18 Apr

Frederick was the son of King Christian V of Denmark and Norway and Charlotte Amalie of Hesse-Kassel, and was born a prince in 1671. At the age of 28, he succeeded his father to the throne; on account of his ruling he was deemed a man of responsibility and industry — often regarded as the most intelligent of Denmark’s absolute monarchs. He seems to have mastered the art of remaining independent of his ministers. Lacking all interest in academic knowledge, he was nevertheless a patron of culture, especially in art and architecture. His main weaknesses were probably pleasure-seeking and womanizing, which sometimes distracted him.

Frederick at his time as Crown Prince

He married his first wife, Louise of Mecklenburg-Güstrow, in 1695. The bride was 28 years old, 4 older than the groom, but her impressive family tree had secured her position as future Queen. She had 6 children, but only two would reach maturity: the future King Christian VI of Denmark and Princess Charlotte Amalie of Denmark.

She was expected to accept his affairs without protests, as all wives were. Louise lived quietly at the Danish Court and unlike Frederick IV she never gained popularity with the population. Louise figured in her role as queen at official ceremonies, but was otherwise ignored at court, and her isolated and quiet life has made her less known in history. Apparently, she had a bad temperament and suffered because of her husband’s infidelity, which caused embarrassing scenes at the Court.

Louise of Mecklenburg-Güstrow, painted by J. S. du Wahl

Frederick even entered two morganatic marriages; in 1703, he committed bigamy with Elisabeth Helene von Vieregg, and in 1712 with Anna Sophie Reventlow. Despite his bigamous relationships, the queen, ever mindful of duty, continued to bear him children. She was strongly influenced by Pietism and she sought solace in religion. Her main interest was reading religious books. Her collection of 400 books, which was donated to the royal library after her death, was mainly composed of ascetic religious literature in German.

Elisabeth Helene von Vieregg was a Danish noblewoman and was made lady-in-waiting to Princess Sophie Hedevig of Denmark in 1699 and entered in to a relationship with Frederick, who became King the same year.

Elisabeth Helene von Vieregg

The relationship was initially a secret, but was discovered in 1701 after a letter from her father, defending their relationship, was made public. On 6 September 1703, she was given the estate Antvorskov and the title Countess of Antvorskov and secretly married to Frederick, who thereby committed bigamy. The church authorities had not forbidden the king to engage in polygamy, as there were doctrines based on biblical polygamy of Hebrew patriarchs. She gave birth to a son, Frederik Gyldenløve, and died in childbirth. She was given an elaborate public funeral by Frederick. After her death, she was replaced as royal mistress by her lady in waiting, Charlotte Helene von Schindel.

Anne Sophie Reventlow was daughter of Conrad, Count Reventlow who served Frederick as Chancellor of Denmark between 1699 and 1708. In 1711, the King fell in love with her at a Masquerade Ball and wanted her as his mistress. Her mother refused to allow this. Nonetheless, Frederick carried off the 19 year-old from her home in Clausholm near Randers on 26 June 1712 and secretly wed her at Skanderborg. At that time he accorded her the title “Duchess of Schleswig”, derived from one of his own subsidiary titles.

Three weeks after Queen Louise’s death in Copenhagen on 4 April 1721, he married Anne Sophie again. This time, the wedding was formal and conducted under grand ceremonies. He declined to make this marriage morganatic, although it was regarded as highly scandalous by the noble subjects and foreign rulers alike, as it flouted the era’s standards that royals marry regular noblewomen, their own subjects (the requirements of so-called Ebenbuertigkeit). The King had Anne Sophie recognized as Queen, and had her crowned in May 1721. She has been referred to as the first non-royal to be Queen of Denmark: she was in reality the first since Ulvhild Håkansdotter. Three children were born of this marriage, but each of them died at or before one year of age. This was seen by the royal court as punishment for the bigamy they had committed.

Anne Sophie Reventlow

Crown Prince Christian, who had been very close to his mother, detested her strongly. Her brother-in-law, Prince Charles, and sister-in-law, Princess Sophia Hedwig, left the court in protest, although her stepdaughter Charlotte Amalia showed her kindness. In 1725, the King made a will where he ensured the right of Anne Sophie after his death and made his son sign it.

Anne Sophie’s relatives, popularly known as the “Reventlow Gang”, people from the Reventlow and Holstein families, were placed in high positions. Her sister, the Salonist Countess Christine Sophie Holstein, who was called Madame Chancellor, exerted influence over the affairs of state. Anne was blamed for the nepotism, but it is not known whether she actually affected him politically, or if it was he who wanted to assure her position this way. Her recommendation was important for anyone who wished something from the King. Due to her donations to widows and the poor, she was called The protector of the poor classes, but there is no information about whether she was popular or unpopular with the public.

After Frederick IV’s death in 1730, she was expelled from Copenhagen to her birth place, the manor house Klausholm near Randers. She was styled “Queen Anne Sophie”, not Queen Anne Sophie of Denmark and Norway or Queen Dowager. She was placed virtually under house arrest on her estate the rest of her life, not allowed to leave it without permission from the king. She spent the rest of her life in strict religion. Upon her death, King Christian VI allowed for public mourning, and arranged to have her buried in Roskilde Cathedral, although to keep her from being buried with her husband in the retroquire, he purchased the Trolle family chapel in the west end of the cathedral, and arranged for her and her children to be buried there.

In Frederick’s times, marrying the royal mistress was a bold move, let alone doing so while there still was a Queen! I guess he simply wasn’t afraid of the example history provided him with (Henry VIII and the end of the Tudor dynasty) and carried on with his own plans. That’s courage, is it not?