Friday, 25 May 2012

Marguerite de Valois – La reine Margot

Marguerite of Valois, infamously known as Reine Margot, was born May 14th 1553 at the Château of St. Germain-en-Laye to Henry II of France and his Queen, Catherine de’Medici. Again, a fairytale princess come to life – a beauty with her dark eyes, intelligent with a fabulous fashion sense. But she had a dark side as well – she became well known for her scandals and extra marital affairs and worse still her August 18th 1572 wedding was overshadowed by the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre when the Catholic supporters of her family instigated a wave of terror and violence against the Protestant Huguenots, which was a huge problem considering her husband was the Huguenot King of Navarre. Yeah ... not a great start to the marriage – my family kills your family on our wedding day ... love you! To Marguerite’s credit she did save her husband’s life and the lives of other Protestants by hiding them in her rooms at the Louvre.

Poor Marguerite – it seems as if her life was marked by tragedy after tragedy but her spirit proved to be impossible to break. As a young girl Marguerite was madly in love with Henri de Lorraine, Duc de Guise but her family refused this match – they had much bigger plans for her considering one of her sisters married the King of Spain and the other to the Duke of Lorraine. 

Marguerite and Henry IV

Marguerite was married to her cousin, Henri of Navarre. Neither Marguerite nor Henri were too thrilled with this arraignment and it’s probably not surprising that their marriage was not a happy one considering the events that took place on their wedding day. Both Marguerite and Henri openly took lovers and seemed pretty content with their separate lives. They did however present a united front against Marguerite’s family, whom she seems to have disliked immensely. 

Somehow Marguerite managed to alienate herself from both her husband and her brother Henri III in 1582. Henri III actually banished his sister from his court and had her imprisoned in the Château d’Usson where she remained a prisoner for 19 long years. Even this did not break her ... Marguerite decided to use this time to write her memoirs and no secret was kept and no one was safe. She dished about her own love affairs, the love affairs of her husband and brothers, everything was revealed. 

In 1575, Marguerite’s brother Henri III was assassinated and since he died with no heir the crown of France fell onto the head of her husband, now Henri IV, King of France and Navarre therefore making Marguerite Queen of France and Navarre. Her scandalous lifestyle and lack of children proved to be a problem – now that she was Queen she needed to produce an heir to the throne and she needed to live a life of decorum – one befitting of a Queen, not a harlot. This proved to be too much for Henri and it didn’t take long for him to start the annulment process and plans to marry a younger, beautiful possibly foreign princess and to drop the dead weight of his aging, barren wife.

The annulment didn’t really faze Marguerite and she gave in gracefully to her husband’s request. She continued to stylize herself as la Reine Margot and lived in a magnificent mansion on the banks of the Seine in Paris, and she was even welcomed at court of her former husband and his new bride Marie de’Medici. Marguerite lived out her life in comfort in her mansion and she died on March 27th 1615 at the age of 61.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Cecily Neville, Duchess of York

File:Cecily neville.jpg

Mother of two Kings of England, Queen by Right, Cecily was born the 3rd of May 1415 at Raby Castle in England. She was the 10th child of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland and Joan Beaufort; Cecily was the great-granddaughter of Edward III. Cecily was known as the “Rose of Raby” and “Proud Cis” in her youth, the first for the castle at which she was born and the latter for her pride and temper that went along with it. Cecily was betrothed to Richard Plantagenet, the heir and protector of Henry VI, when she was just 9 years old. The two were married by October 1424. The marriage seems to have been a genuinely happy one as well as being particularly fruitful – they had a grand total of 12 children, however unfortunately only half survived into adulthood.

At the outbreak of the English Civil War, aka the War of the Roses or the Cousin’s War, Cecily decided to remain at her family’s home, Ludlow Castle. The years of civil war would be turbulent for both the House of York as well as the House of Lancaster. Although the Yorkists would prevail multiple times over the Lancastrians, even going as far as capturing the Lancastrian King Henry VI, tragedy would strike at the Battle of Wakefield when the Duke of York (Richard Plantagenet) and his son Edmund were killed. Now a widow, Cecily continued to fight for the House of York, her son Edward became the Yorkist leader and pushed on despite the tragic turn of events. It was in 1461 that the House of York would finally triumph over the Lancastrians as they were turned away from London and later forced out of England which allowed Edward to crown himself King of England.

Once her son was crowned King of England and the war seemed to be over, Cecily could live out the rest of her life in peace, or relative peace at least. She was not content with her son’s choice of a wife as Elizabeth Woodville was a simple commoner, and was not good enough for her son the King. There was also that brief period of time when Henry VI regained control of the crown from 1470-71 that she needed to wait out until her son reclaimed the throne (and possibly murdered Henry while doing so . . .) Then there was the unfortunate event that saw her son George, Duke of Clarence executed in 1478 for plotting against his brother’s throne. Other than that, Cecily had it pretty good as mother of the King until 1483 that is when Edward IV suddenly died and left his crown to his teenaged son Henry V. Well, we all know the story of the Princes in the Tower . . . where Edward and his brother Richard went missing in the Tower of London (they were probably killed but not known for sure) and their uncle Richard became King Richard III. Holy family drama going on here! Cecily’s sons had some serious brotherly rivalry – they all wanted to be King apparently and would stop at nothing - plotting, murder, to get the position for themselves. Despite all of Richard’s efforts to become King, he didn’t last for very long – only 2 years into his reign he was killed at Bosworth by the Lancastrian claimant Henry VII. Upon Henry’s marriage to Elizabeth of York, Cecily’s granddaughter, the Houses of Lancaster and York were forever united and once again Cecily was able to live in Peace. Cecily lived a long life, one that was plagued by civil war and family dysfunction. She died at the age of 80 on the 31st of May 1495 in Hertfordshire.