Sarah Stook

Consorts (Part 2)

Eleanor of Aquitaine

  • Life: c.1122-1st April 1244
  • Reigned: 19th December 1154-6th July 1189
  • Spouse(s): Louis VII of France (m.1137), Henry II (m.1152)
  • Children: Two with Louis VIII, eight with Henry Il including Richard I and John
  • Parents: William X, Duke of Aquitaine and Aénor de Châtellerault
  • Origin: France

Early Life:  Eleanor of Aquitaine was born in around 1122 in Poitiers, France. Her parents were William X, Duke of Aquitaine and Aénor de Châtellerault. Eleanor was extraordinarily well-educated, even more so than royal men at the time. She not only learned domestic skills, but her curriculum ranged from language and arithmetic to history and astronomy. The death of her brother and mother led her to become her father’s heir.

William died in 1137, leaving Eleanor the wealthiest girl in Europe at only fifteen. She held more lands than even the King of France. William had been worried about Eleanor being unprotected so made Louis VI of France her protector. Louis knew that Eleanor could bring a lot of wealth to the crown, so decided to marry her off. His eldest son Philip had died several years before so second son Louis had become his heir.

Marriages and Children: Eleanor married Prince Louis on 25th July 1137. They had two daughters, Marie and Alix. Both married noblemen. Whilst Louis was initially besotted with Eleanor, tensions soon rose and their marriage became unstable. The failure of the Crusades, Louis’ weaknesses, Eleanor’s headstrong nature and the lack of sons allowed the marriage to crumble.

Eleanor married Henry II in 1152, only weeks after her annulment. Their marriage was also turbulent and would eventually lead to Eleanor overthrowing her husband.

Her relationship with her children was somewhat better. Eleanor favoured her son Richard above the others but was close enough to each of them. She was able to closely monitor the upbringing of her daughters and ensure the marriages of her children. Richard trusted her enough to be regent whilst being away from England- he only spent six months in his kingdom during his ten year reign.

Pre-Reign and Queenship: They were Duke and Duchess of Aquitaine for about a week before discovering that the King had died. Eleanor chafed in the dull Paris castle that was now her residence, but found that the besotted Louis did anything she asked. She would use that to her advantage.

Louis soon became embroiled in war and scandal. His actions caused the death of thousands and the destruction of land. In 1145, the pair embarked on a Crusade. It was an absolute disaster and Eleanor started pushing for an annulment. The birth of a second daughter left Louis with no sons. Whilst the infertility of a spouse was grounds for annulment, having no sons wasn’t. Instead, they asked for an annulment on grounds of consanguinity as they were third cousins. This worked in 1152 and their daughters were under their father’s custody.

Concerned about her position, Eleanor decided to marry Henry, Duke of Normandy. This pleased Henry, as he was ready to be King of England and needed all the support he could get. They married on the 18th May 1152. Eleanor bore their first child, Henry, less than a year later.

In 1154, King Stephen died and Henry became Henry II. Despite having eight children together, Henry and Eleanor frequently argued. Henry was frequently unfaithful and had bastard children, with Eleanor swinging between annoyed and indifferent. One major conflict occurred when Eleanor was unhappy with the appointment of Thomas Becket as Archbishop of Canterbury. Eleanor was supported by her mother-in-law the Empress Matilda, a formidable woman in her own right.

The chroniclers of the time do not mention Eleanor’s political involvement but one would assume she had her say, despite being consistently pregnant. In 1167, Eleanor moved to Poitiers with her youngest son John. She was over forty at this point and having five sons meant that the succession was secure. Henry escorted her there.

It is said that Eleanor created the idea of Courtly Love whilst in Poitiers but there is no evidence for this. It is known that she encouraged music, literature and the arts. This era of peace ended in 1173 when her son Henry the Young King decided to rebel against his father. He travelled to Eleanor and encouraged his brothers to join him. This year and a half long rebellion ended in disaster.

Eleanor was captured by her husband and brought to England. She spent the next sixteen years as a prisoner. Whilst she was kept comfortably and enjoyed many luxuries, she was still a prisoner. Eleanor was allowed to move somewhat freely after the death of Henry the Young King but always had a ‘chaperone’ with her.

Post-Queenship: Henry II died on the 6th July 1189. Richard, Eleanor’s favourite son, was now king and had her released. With Richard away in England for all but six months, Eleanor was trusted to run the kingdom. She raised the ransom for Richard when he was captured in 1192. When Richard died, Eleanor was tasked with marrying off her granddaughters.

Eleanor retired to a convent before her death in 1204. She’d lived until her 80s, extremely unusual for the time. Eleanor had outlived all but her two of her children as well as both husbands. She is buried with her husband and Richard.

Personality: As a person, Eleanor was extremely intelligent, academic, strong-willed and headstrong. Her toughness outshone the weakness of her husbands. Eleanor was a good mother to her children but was ready to anger her husbands. She was a trusted ruler in her own right.

Legacy: Eleanor of Aquitaine is remembered as one of the most famous Queens of England. Her push to overthrow her husband did fail, but her strength is remembered. She has been commemorated on stage and screen, most famously by Katharine Hepburn in The Lion of Winter. Two of her sons would become King and her daughters married into nobility.

Margaret of France

  • Life: 1158-18th September 1197
  • Reigned: 27th August 1172-11th June 1183
  • Spouse(s): Henry the Young King (m.1170), Béla III of Hungary (m.1186)
  • Children: William with Henry the Young King
  • Parents: Louis VIII of France and Constance of Castile
  • Origin: France

Early Life: Margaret was born sometime in 1158 to Louis VIII of France and Constance of Castile. Her father had previously been married to Eleanor of Aquitaine so she shared half-sisters with her future husband. Louis cared deeply for his wife Constance and was devastated by her death, but married again only a month later as he’d been desperate for a son.

The birth of Louis’ son and Margaret’s half-brother worried Henry II, so he had his son Henry betrothed to Margaret.

Marriages and Children: Henry and Margaret married in around 1170. When Henry was crowned Junior King in 1170, she was not crowned with him. This infuriated Louis, so Henry II had Margaret crowned in 1120 to pacify him.

We know little of Henry and Margaret’s relationship. It’s believed Henry may have wanted an annulment in regards to her apparently infertility. What they were like as a couple is unknown.

Margaret bore one child, William, when she was about nineteen. He died a few days later. His birth seemingly left Margaret unable to have any more children.

Margaret remarried in 1186 to Béla III of Hungary. We do not know what their relationship was like.

Queenship: Henry was never officially king, so Margaret was classed as a Junior Queen. Rumours circulated that she was having an affair but this is highly unlikely. We know next to nothing about her reign and it doesn’t look as though she had any real power.

Margaret was widowed in 1183.

Post-Queenship: Margaret, still young, married in 1186. Her new husband was Béla III of Hungary, making her the Queen of Hungary. She bore him no children though he already had heirs, so it was not as important. He died after ten years of marriage. Margaret died a year later aged about thirty-nine. She is buried in the Cathedral of Tyre, Lebanon, though it no longer stands.

Personality: With almost no historical records, we know nothing of Margaret as a person.

Legacy: Again, lack of records means that Margaret has no lasting impact. Many do not know that she was even a Queen (kind of). As she had no living children, she is not an ancestor of any royals.

Berengaria of Navarre

  • Life: c.1165-1170-23rd December 1230
  • Reigned: 12th May 1191-6th April 1199
  • Spouse: Richard I (m.1191)
  • Children: None
  • Parents: Sancho VI of Navarre and Sancha of Castile
  • Origin: Spain

Early Life: Berengaria was born between 1165 and 1230 to Sancho VI of Navarre and Sancha of Castile. She was the eldest of six children. There is no information on her early life so we do not know anything about it. The only thing we know is that Berengaria met her future husband Richard at a tournament years before their betrothal.

Marriage: Richard’s mother Eleanor of Aquitaine promoted an alliance with Navarre due to its strategic locations. He had been engaged to the sister of the French king, but his own father had taken her as a mistress so the engagement was broken off. Alys, the princess, was the half-sister of Richard II’s half-sister.

Richard and Berengaria wed on the 12th May 1191. She was in her early to mid twenties, which was very old for a noble bride of the era. The pair rarely spent time together due to Richard’s role in the Crusades and his apparent disinterest in his bride. They had no children, believed to be down to either infertility or lack of time together. Some believe that the marriage was never actually consummated.

Queenship: Berengaria joined Richard in the Holy Lands following the wedding. The failure led Berengaria and her sister-in-law Joan to head back to France. It would be another three years before husband and wife saw each other again. Berengaria spent her time in France during her husband’s captivity, helping her mother-in-law raise the ransom. She continued to live there upon Richard’s release as he returned to England and then shored up his lands on the continent.

The Church was angered at Richard seemingly ignoring Berengaria and the Pope told him to reconcile with her. Once Richard was finished with his business, he returned to Berengaria. He’d accompany her to church once a week but they still did not have a child.

Post-Queenship: Richard died on the 6th April 1199, leaving Berengaria a widow. She was not at his bedside upon his death and had not even been summoned by Eleanor of Aquitaine. Berengaria retired to her dower lands, but found that most of them had been seized by John. She asked her mother-in-law and the Pope to intercede on her behalf. They did, but Berengaria would only be paid back upon the ascension of John’s son. 

Berengaria entered a convent in 1129 and died one year later. She was buried in Les Mans but her burial place has been moved more than once.

Personality: We know extremely little of Berengaria. One contemporary called her ‘elegant and prudent,’ whilst noting her musical talent. She joined her husband on the Crusades, so she was likely a tough and devout woman.

Legacy: Berengaria is barely remembered to this day. She is called the only English queen to never enter the country, though she likely visited after her husband died. Berengaria did not have any children that would go on to be ancestors of Europe.

Isabella of Angoulême

  • Life: c.1186/1188- 4th June 1246
  • Reigned: 24th August 1200-19th October 1216
  • Spouse: John (m. 1200), Hugh X of Lusignan (m. 1220)
  • Children: Five with John, including Henry III, and nine with Hugh
  • Parents: Aymer, Count of Angoulême and Alice of Courtenay
  • Origin: France

Early Life: Isabella was born around 1186-1188 to Aymer, Count of Angoulême and Alice of Courtenay. She was the only surviving child of her parents but little else is known about her early life. Through her mother, she was related to the French monarchy. She was originally engaged to Hugh IX of Lusignan and was sent to his court.

Marriages and Children: John of England had previously been married to Isabel of Gloucester. Their marriage was annulled on grounds of consanguinity, they were so closely related that they weren’t allowed to have sex. John cast his eye on Isabella for two reasons: her renowned beauty and to prevent her from marrying the powerful Hugh.

John was besotted by Isabella and reportedly neglected his duties to be with her. She was a high-spirited and headstrong woman with a personality to match his own. Unfortunately, John was also cruel and took mistresses. He blamed Isabella for his own failures.

They had five children together, the first born seven years after their marriage. Henry III would be King of England, Richard King of Rome, Joan Queen of Scotland, Isabella Holy Roman Empress and Eleanor, a prominent noble.

Queenship: Isabella did not have the most enjoyable time as Queen. Hugh of Lusignan was not thrilled about John having stolen his fiancée and kicked up a stink. The King of France then took John’s French possessions and gave them to Hugh. John blamed this on Isabella, despite him having pushed to marry her. Isabella was blamed by the elites for John’s misadventures despite her being a child. They called her a seductress and a Jezebel.

In 1203, Isabella’s castle was besieged by rebels. John set out to rescue her but was scared of being captured himself, so he sent out a force. A year previously, he’d personally rescued his mother. She would spend most of the years from 1207 pregnant. Her children would be raised away from her and she wasn’t allowed a government role. Whilst John abducted noblewomen and had illegitimate children, rumours of Isabella’s adultery made her extremely unpopular.

Post-Queenship: Isabella was forced to live under guard as French forces made ground in England. On the 18th October 1216, John died. This may have been a relief for Isabella on a personal level but her son was still underage. In order to cement her son’s claim, Isabella took him to Gloucester and had him crowned. Her unpopularity meant that she was not part of his regency council.

Isabella then headed to France to take control of her lands. Her daughter Joan was engaged to Hugh IX’s son Hugh X and had been sent to live at their court. When Hugh X saw Isabella, he decided to marry her instead. Joan was promised to the King of Scotland. The English were furious that Isabella had not sought their permission and took away her dower lands. Isabella retaliated by threatening to keep Joan in France. Alexander of Scotland wanted his bride, so a settlement was reached.

Isabella would have nine children with Hugh. This marriage was likely better for Isabella as Hugh included her in governance and both of their signatures were found on documents. She did not have a good relationship with the sons from her first marriage, especially as it was decades before she saw them again. Isabella also resented having to defer to other women even though she was the former Queen.

After being snubbed by the King of France’s mother, Isabella started plotting against him. After she was implicated in an attempted poisoning, Isabella fled to an abbey for protection in 1244.

Isabella died on the 4th June 1246, aged between 58 and 60. She was little mourned in England, but her son did ensure she was moved from the abbey to be buried with his grandparents.

Personality: Isabella was a strong and tenacious woman who didn’t hesitate to get what she wanted. Contemporaries called her a Jezebel and overly ambitious, blaming her for affairs that may not even have happened. Isabella was also very young at the time. She ultimately wanted some happiness after being married off as a child bride and blamed for her husband’s misdeeds. Though contemporaries may have been overly critical of her, Isabella did steal her daughter’s fiancé and threatened to keep her away. She also left her children to look after themselves.

Legacy: Isabella is poorly remembered due to her apparent poor behaviour and being a seductress. We must remember that women of the time were overly blamed for everything and that she was also a CHILD at the time. Isabella did her duty in that she provided an heir and all of her royal children married well.

Eleanor of Provence

  • Life: c.1223-24/25th June 1291
  • Reigned: 14th January 1236-16th November 1272
  • Spouse: Henry III (m.1236)
  • Children: Five, including Edward I
  • Parents: Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Provence and Beatrice of Savoy
  • Origin: France

Early Life: Eleanor was born in Provence in about 1223 to Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Provence and Beatrice of Savoy. She was the second of four sisters, all of whom would marry kings. Margaret would become the Queen of France, Sanchia Queen of Germany and Beatrice Queen of Sicily. Sanchia’s husband was Henry III’s younger brother.

It seems that Eleanor was well-educated, with a zeal for reading and poetry. Little is known about her early life, though it’s known her father was a generous and shrewd man, whilst her mother was very intelligent.

Marriage and Children: Eleanor’s family worked to marry her off to Henry III. Henry had been king for ove twenty years after attaining the throne at a young age. It worked and Eleanor set off to England, marrying Henry on the 14th January 1236.

The two enjoyed a loving marriage. Eleanor was intensely loyal to her husband and Henry is not believed to have had any mistresses, a rarity for the time. They spent a lot of time together and Henry trusted Eleanor to act as regent. Discord did occur when Eleanor attempted to intervene in favour of an uncle, causing Henry to banish her from court and seize her lands. They eventually reconciled.

Eleanor and Henry would have five children, four of whom lived to adulthood. Their eldest son Edward would become Edward I and daughter Margaret would wed the King of Scotland. She seemed to have a good relationship with her children and was instrumental in their upbringing. The pair were devastated when their daughter Katherine died at only three years old.

Queenship: As Queen, Eleanor set out to bring a cultural renaissance to England. She likely found England dull and dry compared to her home. Eleanor encouraged literature, poetry and the arts. She was also seen as fashionable and brought many new trends over from the continent. On top of that, Eleanor enjoyed gardening.

Unfortunately, Eleanor was deeply unpopular. She tended to be interested and involved in politics, which was seen as unbecoming for a Queen and a foreigner. Eleanor also brought a large retinue with her, angering the people and those at court. The nobles at court were worried about foreign influence, whilst the common people worried about cost. Eleanor was once booed and pelted with food as she headed through London. She also invited unpopularity with her lands and willingness to tax.

Post-Queenship: Henry III died on the 16th November 1272. Eleanor was not active politically as Dowager Queen, instead focusing on her family. She helped raise her grandchildren, including Edward’s son Henry. So close was their relationship that Eleanor tended to Henry during his illness and was with him when he died at the tender age of six.

In 1286, Eleanor followed the trend of many queens and retired to a convent. She lived there with two of her granddaughters.

Eleanor finally died in June 1291. She was buried in an unmarked grave and is thus the only Queen whose burial place remained unknown.

Personality: Eleanor was principally a lover of the arts, with poetry being her greatest joy. She was also a deeply loyal wife and loving mother, enjoying a mutually faithful relationship with her husband. Eleanor also cared deeply for her grandchildren. She was intelligent and erudite, enjoying the privilege of being her husband’s regent when he was abroad. Surviving letters show a sense of compassion. Unfortunately, Eleanor could be ruthless. She was happy to tax her subjects highly, hated the Londoners and expelled all Jews from her lands.

Legacy: Eleanor is primarily remembered for her cultural and fashionable activities, particularly poetry. Many letters from her survive, which give historians a great insight into Eleanor as a person.


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On The Foreign Aid Sector

Foreign aid is a somewhat controversial subject.Those in favour argue that as a developed nation, we are morally obligated to help those who need it. They argue that it will improve the lives of others and that it is a great use of soft power. Opponents argue that charity should begin at home, that we have our own problems to deal with and that it has done nothing.

Regardless of your view on the matter, you cannot deny one thing- that the foreign aid sector is in need of dire reform. It’s not the sector that its advocates promise us that it is. It’s a sector rife with sexual violence, corruption, the spreading of illness, mistreatment of children and misallocation of resources. A movement that should be helping others is doing the complete opposite.

Let’s Talk About Sex (Violence)

One problem with the aid sector is the sheer amount of sexual violence that occurs within it. A person only needs to browse articles about UNICEF and others to see the deluge of scandal.

Women are encouraged to sleep with aid workers in order to obtain jobs. Children and women are raped, used as prostitutes. There are illegitimate children and abortions. It is not just one or two workers or just a single organisation. Numerous men and organisations were named by a variety of women.

One Congolese women died after a botched, illegal abortion. The man who’d impregnated her ghosted her after she told him. Who’s going to tell her children?

Haiti was another victim of deviance.

It is a country that has suffered political instability, dictators, and natural disasters for years. Even before the tragic 2020 earthquake, aid rushed to Haiti, so did those who sought to violate the innocent. For years, peacekeepers raped and abused Haitian citizens. Children as young as seven were raped. One report found 265 children whose mothers were abandoned after falling pregnant. These women suffered as family and neighbors cast them out. Peacekeepers took advantage of the poverty by offering food and money to minors in exchange for sex.

Even if these things were done to a consenting adult, it is a gross abuse of power and sexual manipulation. Sri Lanka, the country where most of the offenders came from, eventually paid up. The UN also took its sweet time to apologise, eventually owning up in 2016.

Let us not forget the famous whistleblower Kathryn Bolkovac. The former American police officer discovered a huge sex trafficking ring in the war-torn Bosnia, with young children involved. Further digging from Bolkovac revealed that those involved were foreigners, with many aid workers included. These crimes were actively ignored or covered up by the powers that be. After attempting to blow the whistle, Bolkovac was demoted, then fired. She luckily eventually gained help and did reveal it to the world, but barely anything was done. Whilst Bolkovac would eventually win money for wrongful dismissal, the company would not do much else. Even years after Haiti, Congo and Bosnia, cases are frequently dug up today.

Money, Money, Money

In 1983, a devastating famine hit the African nation of Ethiopia. News cameras from around the world broadcast images of devastation and starvation to the homes of millions. Donations poured in from average citizens. ‘We Are the World’ and ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ topped the charts. Live Aid gave us classic performances from the biggest acts of the age.

Most of it didn’t go to the starving Ethiopians. A large portion went to arming militants and the dictatorial government of the day.

We all hear jokes about how palaces are built with aid money and sadly, it’s not incorrect. Aid to Afghanistan went to the Dubai holiday homes of the elite. Rebels, politicians and tribal chiefs are stealing money destined for the starving population in Yemen. A sixth of foreign aid ends up in the bank accounts of the wealthy and the powerful.

Who can forget the Oil-for-Food scandal in Iraq?

Just look at how much the heads of charity organisations are on. Since taking on the role of CEO of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), David Miliband has seen his pay treble in eight years. A recent £20K pay rise has seen him with a new salary of £768K. That’s over $1M. This money, as one would expect, is helped by taxpayers’ money.

We can wax lyrical about the pay of CEOs in private charitable organisations, but it’s still pretty darn shady. When it’s coming from taxpayers, well, still not great. Over $1M could pay for malaria treatment or schooling for a child. Instead, it all goes to rich fat cats.

Ineffective Bureaucracy

Aid isn’t easy. You don’t just dole out cash to a hospital or a school. Aid creates bureaucracy. There are multiple layers, not least in the ground. You must pass through so many people- it may create jobs, but it also creates problems. Before it reaches those who need it, it’s gone.

In countries with mass amounts of corruption, money is siphoned off to numerous individuals. Politicians and those in charge often get kickbacks in order to get things moving. It changes hands far too often.

The world was horrified by Biafra in the 60s, Ethiopia in the 80s and Haiti in the 10s. Yet, years later, we still see adverts for starving children being forced to walk for miles for water. International aid has not found a way to break decades of issues. It is not necessarily their fault- wars and disasters are pretty hard to predict- but the point still stands.

Where are the schools? The water pumps? The hospitals?

Sometimes it’s not safe for aid workers. It just might not be feasible. They also need to pull their fingers out. How can they help when they’re based in cities? How can they help when the assistance of officials is based on bribery?

Take Indonesia for example. The country has attempted to put themselves in the forefront of the international aid community with a pledge for millions. That’s all well and good, but it’s a conversation that’s been going on for years. Bureaucracy has prevented management and funds being properly allocated.

As the government argues with itself on the merits, or lack thereof, of international aid, they need to look at reform first. We cannot support a sector that rapes children, can’t allocate resources and takes money from the mouths of the needy.


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Predictions for 2023 (Magazine Excerpt)

The 2022 midterms should have been a bloodbath. It should have been a huge sweep for the Republicans, relegating the Democrats to the depths of minority rule. Instead, the Republicans managed to win the House only respectably, whilst the Dems kept the house. It’s widely believed that better candidates could have kept the house.

Good candidates do exist. Ron DeSantis managed to make gains in Florida. Glenn Youngkin flipped Virginia. Brian Kemp safely won re-election in Georgia. Unfortunately, there were also many poor candidates. A competent Republican could have beaten John Fetterman in Pennsylvania. Somebody else could have beaten Katie Hobbs.

The same is true for Presidential elections. The Republicans have only won one election in the 21st century outright, with both the Electoral College and popular vote – George W. Bush in 2004. 2000 and 2016 both saw Electoral College wins but popular vote losses. Whilst external events came into play, it’s not a great look.

That being said, it almost seems that the Republicans like losing. They’re not making any real attempt at winning. Whilst they might choose decent candidates, there’s a high chance they won’t.

This is an excerpt from “Provenance”. To continue reading, visit The Mallard’s Shopify.


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Roe v Wade Reaction

The news that the US Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade has divided opinion. Here is our first debate piece on the issue: we have two different views from two different young women about the issue.

Pro-Choice:

Olivia Lever is the director of Blue Beyond. You can follow her at @liv_lever on Twitter:

‘I feel very annoyed and frustrated. A woman should have the right to choose in the 2022, and the state should never have interference over a woman’s body – it is very similar to the vaccine debate, the state should have no say in what you do with your body. In a practical sense, sex education and social infrastructure in the States is very poor.

On a post note, there is no mention of social infrastructure being made better to help those that have to have babies not be struck down by the financial burden or making sure that these children don’t have less of a life than they should. The whole thing is so poorly thought out, plus the US is supposed to be secular. It’s the constitutional principle. We could lose same-sex marriage and gay marriage. It’s stupid to lose contraception seeing as it prevents abortion.’

Pro-Life:

@BeatriceSEM takes the opposite view:

‘Absolutely delighted and feeling pretty emotional. The number of babies who will now be given a chance at life is massive! I hope very much other countries follow suit!’


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Royal Mistresses P.1

Not every monarch has been an upstanding spouse. Many of the men ruling our kingdom have had a bit on the side whilst remaining married. Some had quick flings whilst others had longstanding partnerships.

It was a different era- royal men were expected and allowed to have mistresses. Their marriages were rarely ever for love. Those who were lucky enough to love their spouses only did after they’d married. Their wives were expected to be naive virgins who would only be there to have children. Kings might have insatiable appetites and want something more. So long as they weren’t too open about it, they could have as many women as they wanted.

Some queens, such as Queen Alexandra, tolerated affairs. Others, such as Isabella of France, did not. There wasn’t much they could do- some were forced to accept the mistresses as their ladies-in-waiting. The luckiest of them got to choose who their mistresses were.

It could be unfortunate. A king who spent more time with his mistresses wouldn’t give his wife a child. Catherine of Braganza suffered three miscarriages and never had any children due to her husband, Charles II, preferring other women. Charles had no legitimate heirs with poor Catherine, but had at least twelve illegitimate children.

Here are some of the most notable women who caught the eye of British kings:

Rosamund Clifford (c. 1150-1176)

Mistress to: Henry II

Time: Pre- 1174-1176

Husband: None

Children: None

As with many women of the era, we know shockingly little about Rosamund Clifford. Ancient lore describes her as the most beautiful woman of all time, the Helen of Troy of her day. We know that she was not yet thirty when she died, yet her name lives on years later.

Rosamund was the daughter of Walter Clifford and the former Margaret de Toeni. Historians estimate her birth to have been between 1148 and 1150. The affair between Henry and Rosamund was publicly acknowledged by the King in 1174, but it’s believed that it has been going on a good deal longer.

Whilst Henry had initially had a happy marriage with his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. The pair had eight children, including five sons, so Eleanor had fulfilled her duty in medieval eyes. Still, his eyes wandered and Rosamund was one of the women who he noticed.

A common legend, one that is almost undoubtedly false, states that Henry built an elaborate maze so that he could rendezvous with Rosamund. Eleanor reportedly discovered her and forced her to either drink poison or take a dagger to her chest. Rosamund, according to legend, poisoned herself. It is more likely that Rosamund simply died of one of the many illnesses that occurred at the time.

Since so little is known about her, we cannot build an accurate picture of Rosamund. Contemporaries would often exaggerate the beauty of noble and famous women, as beauty was seen as goodliness, so Rosamund may not be the angel that we’ve been taught. That being said, as she was a mistress, society may have been harder upon her so they may be honest in their view.

Eleanor of Aquitaine was also widely reviled at the time as ‘unwomanly’ due to her strong character and political nature. It’s no wonder that it’s rumored Eleanor poisoned her love rival. Rosamund would possibly be described as so beautiful because she was comparatively good and feminine in society’s eyes.

Alice Perrers (1348-1400)

Mistress to: Edward III

Time: 1366-1377

Husbands: Janyn Perrers (1360-1364), William de Windsor (1376-1384)

Children: John, Jane, Joan (believed to be with Edward)

Whilst Rosamund Clifford was the picture of beauty, kindness and grace, our next mistress had quite the opposite reputation.

Alice Perrers was widely reviled as a conniving gold-digger who preyed upon an old, grieving king. The wife of Edward III, Philippa of Hainault, was an extremely beloved queen for her graciousness, charity and acts of mercy. Alice had started an affair with Edward towards the end of Philippa’s life but it was not open until after the Queen died.

She’d been first married at the age of 12, shocking for us but very normal for the time. Alice was only 18 when she arrived at court, whilst Edward was 55. We know nothing about when the affair started but they were discreet until after Philippa died. Edward did genuinely love his wife and whilst affairs were tolerated, a king couldn’t afford to be too open about it.

It was this openness that really angered society. Alice was showered with gifts and money from the older king, becoming one of the richest women of the time. Most controversially, Edward presented Alice with jewellery that had belonged to his late wife. If that wasn’t bad enough, he overrode her will, as Philippa had stated that those jewels should have been given to a friend.

Another shocking breach of protocol and etiquette occured when there was an event at Smithfield. Edward presented Alice as ‘The Lady of the Sun,’ and had her sit with him. The senior lady at the event should have either been the wife of his eldest son or one of his daughters. A mistress should never have such an honour.

When enemy powers decided that Alice needed to be out, the King was unable to stop them. Alice was banned from both court and her lover, but this lasted only three months or so. In order to protect herself, Alice had eloped with William de Windsor several months before. She knew that once Edward died, she’d have no protection so she needed to wed. Both strenuously denied it. Edward believed her.

Ultimately, Alice turned out to be right. Edward’s death afforded her nothing, and there were even rumours she’d stolen the ring from his finger as he died. Courtiers got the new boy king, Richard II, to sentence her to exile. Fortunately, Windsor came out and admitted the marriage. This loophole allowed Alice to stay in the country, but Windsor got all of her properties and fortune. Considering women had no legal recourse against their husband, it’s probably what Alice should have expected.

Alice was widowed in 1384. With no children, Windsor made his nephew his beneficiary. Windsor had left Alice a trust, but the nephew did not bother to provide for her. Alice fought it legally but never saw it resolved. Her acknowledged children with the king had been brought up separately from the court. John had already died, whilst the women were married. We do not know anything about their relationship.

It’s believed that Alice died between 1400 and 1401. Historians view her better than her contemporaries, noting it was her business acumen that got her where she was, whilst also noting that Edward did spoil her somewhat.

The contemporary view of Alice probably stems from the deep popularity of Queen Philippa and the age discrepancy between the two lovers. This is somewhat strange, as there were many couples with large age gaps in this period. Perhaps it is because they believed Edward to be old and senile- 55 was a pretty good age back then. Whilst there is no doubt Alice was probably ambitious and cunning, she also probably isn’t the villain they’d like you to think.

Elizabeth ‘Jane’ Shore (c. 1445-c. 1527)

Mistress to: Edward IV

Time: 1476-1483

Husband: William Shore (?-1476), Thomas Lynom (1484-?)

Children: Julianne (with Lynom)

Born Elizabeth but known as Jane, Jane Shore was yet another mistress not treated kindly. From a wealthy family, Jane was afforded an education better than many girls of her era. Her intelligence and beauty made her a popular candidate for marriage. Eventually, Jane’s father had her married to a wealthy banker named William Shore. Whilst Shore seemed to care for his wife, Jane did not seem to reciprocate. She had the marriage annulled, ostensibly because of Shore’s apparent impotency:

‘She continued in her marriage to William Schore […] and cohabited with him for the lawful time, but that he is so frigid and impotent that she, desirous of being a mother and having offspring, requested over and over again the official of London to cite the said William before him to answer her concerning the foregoing and the nullity of the said marriage…’

It is believed Jane met Edward IV after he returned from France. Jane’s beauty and intelligence captivated Edward and she became the favourite out of his many lovers. Unlike the others, he did not discard her quickly and the relationship lasted. Other mistresses, however, had been given many gifts. Edward was married to Elizabeth Woodville but was known to have affairs.

Jane wielded a fairly large amount of power at the time, though did not initially receive the same level of hate. She was known to request the reprieve of allies who had been imprisoned. Jane was widely praised as a lively, intelligent and funny woman to be around. The power she wielded only increased after Edward’s death.

During the role of the Protector, the later Richard III, Jane was incriminated in a plot against the government. She’d been in romantic relationships with the men who cared for the boy king Edward V. Jane used those relationships to ensure alliances. Richard, the then-Duke of Gloucester accused her of conspiracy, sorcery and witchcraft.

Jane was imprisoned and required to do a public act of penance. Their had not been enough evidence to charge her with sorcery, so Jane was charged with prostitution. As penance, Jane was forced to walk the streets of London barefoot in a special garment and carrying a taper. The public sympathised with her quiet dignity throughout the ordeal.

Whilst she was imprisoned, Jane became close to Thomas Lynom, Solicitor General. Despite Richard’s misgivings, the romance blossomed and Lynom married Jane. Jane lived the rest of her life in relative comfort and prosperity. Sir Thomas More wrote that she remained somewhat beautiful in old age. Jane died at the impressive age of 82.

Unlike Alice Perrers, Jane’s political actions did not cause her to be disliked. Jane was perhaps more feminine and traditional when influencing the king, as it was expected wives and other powerful women ask for ‘soft’ favours. Her wit and humour also likely offset any issues; Alice Perrers was accused of being haughty and overly ambitious.

Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Blount (c.1498-c.1540)

Mistress to: Henry VIII

Time: Around 1519

Husbands: Gilbert Tailboys, 1st Baron Tailboys of Kyme (1522-1530), Edward Clinton, 1st Earl of Lincoln (1533/34-c.1540)

Children: Henry FitzRoy (with Henry), Elizabeth, George, Robert (with Tailboys), Bridget, Catherine and Margaret (with Clinton)

Bessie Blount may be one of the most impactful mistresses we’ve ever had and it’s not through politics.

Born to minor nobles, Bessie became an attendant to Catherine of Aragon. As with others, the only thing known of Bessie is that she was very beautiful. Henry VIII was known for being lustful and it’s unsurprising that he began an affair with Bessie. Bessie was smart enough to know she’d only ever be a mistress and not a wife and was seemingly content with her position. There is no evidence that Bessie was at all political.

Bessie’s greatest contribution was the birth of Henry’s illegitimate son, Henry FitzRoy, on the 15th June 1519. Henry was thrilled with having a healthy son and bestowed many gifts upon the boy. The affair soon ended- probably because of Mary Boleyn- so Henry set Bessie up to be married. Bessie had three children with her second husband and three with her third. She died at about 42 years old.

Interestingly, Henry kept this affair discreet. Until his affair with Anne Boleyn, Henry was ‘respectful’ of wife Catherine and kept his liaisons quiet.

Whilst this seems like a rather more uninteresting mistress, Bessie did do one important thing. Illegitimate children were common in history, especially ones sired by kings, so Henry FitzRoy is definitely not special. Still, he was a healthy son. Henry hadn’t had any of those up to that point and wouldn’t for a while. He began to believe that if he could sire healthy sons, then the problem clearly lay with Catherine of Aragon. So began the seeds of discontent.

Bessie was widely lauded at the time for managing to show that Henry VIII could sire healthy sons. She was also uncommonly beautiful, graceful and musically talented.

Mary Boleyn (c.1499-1543)

Mistress to: Henry VIII

Time: Around 1520

Husbands: William Carey (1520-1528), Sir William Stafford (1534-1543)

Children: Catherine, Henry (with Carey), Edward and Anne (with Stafford)

Known as ‘The Other Boleyn Girl,’ Mary was on the scene earlier than her sister was.

It’s most likely that Mary was the eldest daughter and before Anne became Henry’s paramour, she was also the most infamous. She started life in comfort before being sent to France with Mary, Henry VIII’s sister, who was to become Queen of France. Mary Boleyn remained in France after the Queen was widowed quickly into the marriage. Whilst historians believe her promiscuity was exaggerated, Mary was definitely sleeping with King Francis.

Mary had quite the reputation when she returned to England. Francis had called her ‘his English mare.’ Again, whilst her promiscuity was exaggerated, society would have thought ill of her anyway.  Francis did call her the greatest whore after all.

She married a man named William Carey in 1520. It was around this time that Henry and Mary began their affair. Carey was showered with gifts and positions, as was Mary’s father Thomas. Some believe Henry fathered Mary’s children but the King never acknowledged them. When Henry did move onto Anne, he requested dispensation for their marriage as he’d previously slept with her sister.

Mary was provided with a generous pension upon the death of her husband, but a secret marriage to a poor nobleman and soldier caused scandal. She had not asked for royal permission and the man in question, Sir William Stafford, was her social inferior. The new couple were sent away from court and cut off. Anne did send Mary some help after she was in dire straits.

There is little information on Mary after she left court. We know nearly nothing about Mary’s reaction to her siblings’ fall from grace and subsequent execution. It is likely that Mary’s marriage saved her from any problems, as she had been sent away before the scandal occurred. Some historians state that Mary tried to beg for her family but was turned down.

Mary lived a life of obscurity from then on. Her marriage was very happy but she died relatively young. Still, this is a much better deal than Anne or their cousin Catherine Howard got. Mary’s time as a mistress clearly influenced Anne, who refused to go down the mistress route straight away and become just another lover. Anne instead went for power and got it.

Lucy Walter (c.1630-1658)

Mistress to: Charles II

Time: 1648-1651

Husband: None

Children: James (with Charles), Mary (with Theobald Taaffe, 1st Earl of Carlingford)

Did Lucy Walter marry Charles II secretly? Well, historians are divided.

She isn’t as remembered as Barbara Villiers or Nell Gwyn, but is still important enough here. Charles first met Lucy when he was the King on the Continent, having fled from England upon the Civil War. Lucy’s family had similarly fled. The two soon met and began an affair. Charles would not be married for another two decades and Lucy was similarly unwed. Lucy would bear Charles’ son James in 1649. Charles recognised James as his.

When Charles was away fighting, Lucy had an affair with a married man and had a baby. Upon Charles’ return, the affair was ended. Lucy then lived a life of debauchery on the continent, causing scandal and problems wherever she went. She was lured back to England with her children, but was arrested as a spy and placed in the Tower of London. There was a huge outcry and Lucy managed her way to outfox her captors. Lucy returned to the continent and continued to cause embarrassment.

Lucy was only around 27 to 28 when she died, probably as a result of her lifestyle.

Their son, James, was made 1st Duke of Monmouth. Enemies of Catholicism and Queen Catherine of Brazanga proclaimed that Charles had secretly married Lucy and that James was thus air to the throne. They worried that Catherine would provide Charles with a Catholic heir or that his unpopular brother James would become King.

Upon his father’s death, James arrived back in the country. He attempted to mount a rebellion and used his claim as the king’s first son in hopes of gaining the crown. James was captured and given an audience by his uncle, the new King James II. Unfortunately, King James was not merciful and had his nephew executed.

Lucy lived a short but eventful life. She was described as very cunning, as evidenced by her ability to get out of sticky situations. Lucy lived a very different life to one expected of a 17th century woman- she was sexual, cunning and hedonistic when women were thought to be chaste, demure and modest.


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