Sunday, May 27, 2007

Eleanor of Castile

Eleanor of Castile and the “Eleanor Crosses”
"whom living we dearly cherished, and whom dead we cannot cease to love"

Eleanor of Castile, daughter of King Ferdinand III of Castile (d.1252) was the wife and Queen of King Edward I of England (d.1307).

When the couple were married (1254), Eleanor brought a number of valuable lands with her – including territories of Ponthieu and Montreuil and claims to Gascony. Theirs, despite being a marriage arranged for political purposes, was an unusually happy marriage and 16 children were born unto them.

Eleanor accompany Edward on many his military campaigns – on Crusade (1270 – 1272), which according to legend she sucked the poison from a wound Edward received and thus saved his life; and on his campaigns north against the Scots.

It was whilst Edward was campaigning against the Scots (a task which would consume most of his later years) that he asked Eleanor to join him. However, Eleanor fell ill on the journey north - she wouldn't join Edward.

Eleanor died at Harby (28th November 1290). Edward was inconsolable in his grief. He ordered her body embalmed, and her viscera (entrails) buried at Lincoln Cathedral. Then, in what could only have been a most somber procession, led by Edward I himself, Eleanor’s body began her journey to Westminster Abbey.

At each place where the procession stopped for the night, Edward had built a memorial cross in her honour. There were 12 “Eleanor Crosses” - Lincoln, Grantham, Stamford, Geddington, Northampton, Stony Stratford, Woburn, Dunstable, St. Albans, Waltham, Westcheap, and Charing. In addition, Edward ordered that two wax candles were to burn beside her tomb – they were finally extinguished at the time of the Reformation.

The Crosses were erected over a period of three years (1291 – 1294) and follow the same style and form. They consist of three tiers – the upper tier consists of the cross and shaft; the middle tier is adorned with a statue of Queen Eleanor; and the lower tier is decorated with the arms of England, Leon, Castile and Ponthieu. The Crosses were originally brightly coloured, gilded, adorned with glass, and painted to look like enamel. In fact, they resembled precious jewelled reliquaries rather than solid stone structures. It was not the intention of the Crosses to make Eleanor appear as a saint; rather they were a memorial to her memory. Three men were responsible for the design and construction: Roger of Crundale, Master Alexander of Abingdon, and the senior royal mason Richard of Crundale.

The Crosses heralded a new period in the reign of Edward I – that of increased royal patronage. In the years following Eleanor’s death, Edward’s focus turned away from military events and focused on the religious. The Royal Palace, Westminster Abbey and St.Stephen’s Chapel received his attention.

Today only the crosses at Waltham Cross (Hertfordshire), Geddington, and Hardingstone (both Northamptonshire) remain – the majority of the Crosses were destroyed by Cromwell’s soldiers (1660).

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 25/9/2006)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Anne of Austria

Anne of Austria
(1601 - 1666)
French Queen Consort (1615 - 1643) and Regent of France (1643 - 1651).

Anne was the daughter of King Philip III of Spain. She was married to King Louis XIII of France.

Louis' reign was dominated by the meteoric rise of power of
Cardinal Richelieu who had achieved his fame as the reputed lover of Louis' mother, Queen Marie de Medici.

Following the death of her husband, Anne assumed the regency for her son, Louis XV. However, she allowed power to be taken from her and wielded by her lover (some say husband),
Cardinal Mazarin.

Anne was the first known French Queen to have her cause of death documented as breast cancer.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 2/9/2006)

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn
(1507 - 1536)
English Queen Consort (1533 - 1536) of King Henry VIII of England.

Anne was related to the powerful Duke of Norfolk, who secured her appointment not only to court, but as future Queen of England. Anne's rise to power was at the expense of Henry VIII's lawful wife, Queen Katherine of Aragon.

Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth - she was said to have been already six months pregnant when married and crowned.

However, like Katherine, Anne's constant failure to provide Henry VIII with a male heir would be her downfall. She was accused of adultery - treason against the King and her execution planned by a secret Commission.

Meanwhile, Henry VIII cast his eye about court and set his sights on the pious Lady Jane Seymour.

Anne was executed on Tower Hill - Henry VIII was said to have brought in a skilled French swordsman to perform the beheading, as some consolation. Anne was buried in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula.

Anne's fall from grace was mirrored in the fall of the Howard family and the rise of the Seymour family.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 2/9/2006)


Empress of Byzantium

Zoe was the younger daughter of Emperor Constantine VIII, the younger sister of Theodora. When her 68yo father (1028) died, 42yo Zoe succeeded the the Byzantine throne. Zoe married 60yo Romanus III Argyropolus and made him co-emperor. The marriage lasted barely six years before Zoe poisoned her husband (1034) and married the epileptic weakling Michael IV Paphiagonian. Constantinolpe was jointly ruled by Zoe and Michael until Michael asserted himeself (1041) and had Zoe cloistered (1042).

This enforced retirement/confinement was shortlived as the Byzantine nobles rebelled against Michael. Zoe was released from her confinement, and Michael was himself cloistered in a monastery by the nobles. Zoe now ruled jointly with her older sister Theodora (1042).

Zoe married again, this time to Constantine IX Monomachus aged 42, and both reign till her death aged 50 (1050). Zoe was succeeded in Byzantium by Constantine IX Monomachus, who then ruled jointly with her sister Theodora.

~~~ Melisende (first pub:1998 - Women of History)


Arsinoe (c.316--270 BC)
Queen of Thrace & Egypt

A Greek-Macedonian by birth, Arsinoe married the aged King of Thrace as his third wife, and had many domains bestowed upon her. Arsinoe was said to have persuaded her husband to execute his own son and heir on false charges in order to further her ambitions for her own three sons. When Arsinoe's husband was killed in battle, she escaped to Egypt, where her brother the weak Ptolemy II reigned with his wife, Arsinoe (yes another one so named).

The first Arsinoe ousted the second Arsinoe (the wife) and married her own brother to become Arsinoe II. Being the dominant of the two, Arsinoe exerted greater influence in Egypt than she had previously in Thrace. Arsinoe was responsible for many of Egypt's military and political successes. It was her head, not the head of Ptolemy, that appeared on the Egyptian coinage of the period. Arsinoe encouraged people to worship her as a Goddess, and her cult became widespread.

~~~ Melisende (first pub:1998 - Women of History)


Hatshepsut(18th Dynasty BC)
Pharoah of Egypt (r. 1503-1483 BC)

Hatshepsut married her half-brother the Pharaoh and was the real power behind the throne of Egypt, ruling openly when he died. Hatshhepsut was sufficiently powerful enough to exercise supreme power when she took over the government as Regent for her husband's six year old son by a concubine.

Hatshepsut surrounded herself with men of outstanding administrative and intellectual ability, and manipulated the council and strengthened her own position by marrying the boy to her own daughter.

Hatshepsut renounced the regency when her position was strong enough, and successfully declared herself Pharaoh. Her 20 year reign was devoted to peace and prosperity (unlike her male counterparts and predecessors whose main occupation was war). She encouraged agriculture and trade, establishing new sea trade routes to replace the long overland journies. Arts and especially architecture flourished - evidenced by her funerary temple at Deir el-Bahri and two obelisks at Karnak.

On her death, her half-nephew cum stepson cum son-in-law, finally became Pharaoh and he systematically smashed all her statues and hid or erased her name from monuments in an attempt to belittle her.

The Story of Hatshepsut

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 - Women of History)


Empress Irene

Athenian wife of Emperor Leo IV (r.775-780) (Kazan). Irene dominated her husband, whom she married when she was aged 17 and poor. Following the death of Leo (780), her 10yo son succeeded as Constantine VI (dc.797) - Irene acted as regent and totally dominated the young Constantine.

She restored image worship, she chose her son's wife and forced him to marry. Irene generally undermined Constantine's authority when he tried to push her aside. Fed up with her son's behaviour towards her, Irene deposed her son (797) - he was seized, flogged and blinded. Irene began her reign as the first Byzantine Empress. Irene did not recognise Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor (800). After the death of his wife Liutgard (800), Charlemagne sought her hand in marriage - but nothing came out of this proposal.

However, the life of an Empress was not all a bed of roses. Revolts against her rule broke out and Irene was deposed by the leading Patricians (802). Irene was then exiled to island of Lesbos, where she supported herself by spinning. Irene died the following year died (803) and her former finance minister succeeded as Emperor Nicephorus I (d.811).

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 - Women of History)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Queen of Cyprus (Jerusalem and Armenia) (c.1458/9 - 1460)

Charlotte was the daughter of King Jean II of Cyprus and Helena Palaeologus, daughter of Theodore Paleaologus, Ruler of the Peloponnese. Charlote was twice married: (1) John, Duke of Coimbra (grandson of the King of Portugal), and (2) Louis, Count of Savoy. She managed to persuade her half-brother Archbishop Jacques to kill a royal chamberlain said to have been implicated in death of her husband John, who had incurred the emnity of Queen Helena and died in mysterious circumstances, though most likely poisoned. Aged 22, Charlotte succeeded father (c.1459).

After her accession, Charlotte married her second husband Louis, Count of Savoy and her cousin (1459). But things did not go as planned - her half brother Jacques declared himself to be heir of Cyprus (1460). In the ensuing dispute for the crown of Cyprus, Charlotte had the support of nobility against Jacques, who landed with Muslim army.

Charlotte retreated to castle of Kyrenia but the castle was surrounded and besieged (1460-1463). Somehow she managed to extricate herself and fled to Rome with her husband (1463). Jacques was declared and crowned King of Cyprus. Charlotte died (1487) bequething sovereignty of Cyprus to Savoy. I am unsure whether her husband was Louis, Duke of Savoy (1440-1465) and therefore mother of Amadeus IX, Duke of Savoy, but considering her bequest of Cyprus to Savoy it is possible.

~~~ Melisende (first pub:1998 - Women of History)

Alice of Jerusalem-Champagne

Alice (Alix) of Jerusalem-Champagne (d.1246)
Queen of Cyprus, Regent of Jerusalem

Alice was the daughter of Queen Isabella and her second husband Henry of Champagne. She was the sister of Philippa of Champagne, and half sister of Maria of Montferrat, and Sibylla and Melisende of Lusignan.

Alice married (1208) Hugh, son of Amalric of Cyprus/Amalric II of Jerusalem (also her step-brother as his father was her mother's fourth husband), the arrangements being made by her grandmother Maria Comnena and dowry provided by Blanche of Navarre, Countess of Champagne.

Alice was the mother of Henry of Cyprus, and Isabella and at least one other daughter. Her husband Hugh took over government of Cyprus (1210/11) from his sister Burgundia and her husband Gautier de Montbeliard, who were regents during his minority. Both she and her husband were crowned in Nicosia.

Although there is no evidence that their marriage was stormy, her husband Hugh was a young man with a fiery temper, and his relations with the papacy, his vassals, and the church were constantly stormy. Her husband was devoted to providing firm government and order in Cyprus. Hugh went to Acre with troops from Cyprus (Sept 1217) and left for Tripoli with the crusading army (3 Nov 1217) under King Andras (Andrew) of Hungary. After the sudden death of her husband Hugh at Tripoli (10 Jan 1218), Alice acted as regent for her 8 month old son Henry in Cyprus (1218). Alice was also the aunt of Yolanda (1225), the daughter of her half-sister Maria of Montferrat, and titular Queen of Jerusalem.

Alice entrusted the government of Cyprus to her uncle Philip of Ibelin, but relations between the two were far from happy, and she constantly insisted that her wishes not taken into consideration. The open breach was not far in the coming (1223), and Alice retired angry to Tripoli. It was in Tripoli that Alice met and married Bohemond V, the eldest surviving son of Bohemond IV of Antioch. Alice attempted to appoint her new husband as "Bailli" (Constable) - but this was not accepted by the nobles. She then offered the position to Amalric of Barlais, however, John of Ibelin was confirmed in his appointment as "Bailli" of Cyprus (1227).

In Jerusalem, Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor was recognized as suzerain but not regent of Cyprus (1228) in his capacity as the husband of the young Queen Yolanda. On the death of Yolanda, Alice travelled to Acre to put forward her claim to Crown of Jerusalem (1229). By now Alice was divorced (1229) on grounds of consanguinity (she and Bohemond were third cousins), and her claims to the throne of Jerusalem were rejected. Alice became reconciled with her Ibelin cousins. She married Ralph, Count of Soissons (1240). As she was the great-aunt of King Conrad of Germany, who succeeded to the throne of Jerusalem but who had failed to come East to accept throne, Alice was entrusted with regency of Jerusalem (1243) - she was then aged 50. The regency passed to her son and heir Henry, King of Cyprus, on her death (1246).

~~~ Melisende (first pub:1998 - Women of History)

Isabella of Ibelin

Isabella of Ibelin
Lady of Beirut & Queen of Cyprus (d.1282)

Isabella was the eldest daughter of John II of Ibelin, Lord of Beirut (dc.1273) and Alice de la Roche of Athens. She had been previously married as a child to the child-King of Cyprus, Hugh II. The marraige was not consummated.

Following the death of her husband Hugh (Dec. 1267), Hugh III of Cyprus hoped to use her as an eligible heiress to attract some distinguished King to the East. Although a virgin-widow, her virginity of short duration, and she became notorious for her lack of chastity. Isabella undertook a brief liaison with Julian of Sidon.

A papal bull was issued urging her to marry. As an act of defiance, Isabella gave herself and her lordship to an Englishman Hamo L'Estrange (or the Foreigner), a companion of Prince Edward of England (1272). On Hamo's death (1273), she put herself and her fief under the protection of Bairbars.

Hugh of Cyprus tried to carry her off. Isabella returned to Beirut, but this time with a Mameluke guard installed to protect her. On the death of Bairbars, Hugh resumed control of the fief. Isabella married twice more (3. Nicholas L'Aleman, and 4. William Barlais) before her death (1282). Beirut the passed to her sister Eschiva, wife of Humphrey of Montfort (d.1283).

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1988 - Women of History)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Philippa of Hainault

Philippa of Hainault
Queen of England.

Philippa was born (24/6/1311) at Valenciennes, Belgium, the daughter of Count Guillaume/William III de Avesnes of Hainault and Holland (d.1337) and Jeanne de Valois (d.1352. Her marriage to King Edward III of England was arranged by Edward's mother, Isabella of France (1326) - they were second cousins. She was married (24/1/1328) at York Minster and crowned two years later (c.1330).

Philippa bore Edward twelve children: son Edward the Black Prince born at Woodstock (1330), Isabella, Joan/Joanna, William of Hatfield, Lionel of Antwerp Duke of Clarence, John of Gaunt Duke of Lancaster, Edmund of Langley Duke of York, Blanche, Mary, Margaret, William of Windsor, Thomas of Woodstock Duke of Gloucester.

Philippa was a competant woman and was appointed Regent of England by her husband Edward when he was absent on the Continent. When the Scots invaded England as far south as Durham (1346), Philippa raised an army, winning the battle of Neville's Cross, and taking the Scottish King David II Bruce (d.1371) prisoner. Philippa was responsible for the introduction of weaving into England. She was the patron of poets and musicians.

Philippa herself survived the Black Death (1348) - but her daughter Joanna, en route to marry the Castilian Prince Pedro the Cruel, was struck down and died (some say fortunately). It was during the reign of her husband Edward III that English became the "official" language (1363).

Philippa died at Windsor (15/8/1369), Edward at her side. She was mourned by her devoted husband and buried at Westminster Abbey. Edward died 8 years later.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 - Women of History)

Isabella of France

Isabella of France
Queen of England

Queen to Edward II of England. She was known as Isabella the Fair, and later as the She-Wolf of France. Isabella was the daughter of King Philip IV of France (d.1314) and Joanna of Navarre. She was the sister of three French Kings: Louis X (d.1316), Philip V (d.1322), and Charles IV(d.1328). Her aunt Marguerite (her father's sister) was married to Edward I, King of England, and she had been promised as the bride of Edward's son - Edward II.

She was married in Boulogne (1308) to King Edward II of England. Isabella then left France for her new life in England. When she landed at Dover she was met by Piers Gaveston, to whom Edward had entrusted the "care" of England. It was here that she first noticed the unnatural relations between Edward and Gaveston.

Isabella immediately wrote to her father but there was really nothing he could do - she just had to put up with it. Edward increasingly antagonised the English nobles over his choice of "friends" and at such times Isabella acted as a mediator between Edward and the barons. Isabella also accompanied Edward when he went warring with Scotland - she was almost captured. Her near escape and her mediation skills made her extremely popular. Isabella very soon gave birth to a son, Edward III (1312) at Windsor; another son (1314) and a daughter (1316). However, Edward was becoming unpopular. Gaveston was banished to his native Guyenne in an attempt to free Edward from his grasp, but he was soon recalled. Edward by now had abandoned him, and Gaveston was tried and hanged. Replacing Gaveston were the Despensers (father and son) who were only after wealth and power. Isabella by now had had enough. It was during the civil war, while awaiting the birth of her child in the Tower of London that she encountered Roger Mortimer, Lord of Chirk and his nephew Roger Mortimer - both imprisoned in Tower under sentance of death. The older Roger died, but the death sentanced was postponed on younger Roger, who then escaped (aided by Isabella?) to France.

Isabella's second brother Philip V was now King of France, her father and older brother had dies (1314 and 1316 respectively): he acted against Edward, confiscating Edward's French possessions. Isabella ostensibley went to France to act as a mediator between her brother and her husband. Once there, she requested that her 15yo son Edward be sent to France to do allegiance to her brother the King. When young Edward arrived in France Isabella announced that neither would be returning to England till Despensers were banished. Edward wrote letters, referring to Isabella's evil behaviour with Mortimer. On reading these letters the King of France refused to support support his sister - she had apparently convinced him she was an innocent victim in this matter.

Isabella landed in England (1326) with her son, her lover Roger Mortimer, Lord William of Hainault (father of Philippa of Hainault, future wife of her son Edward) and almost 3000 men. Many flocked to her cause. Edward tried to escape, but was captured and sent to Kenilworth Castle. The Despensers were duly executed. Edward II was formally deposed and her son was acknowledge as Edward III. Mortimer and Isabella became Regents of England. Then followed the mysterious death of Edward II in Berkeley Castle.

With her husband out of the way, Isabella arranged the marriage of Edward III to Philippa of Hainault. But by now her popularity waning - especially after the death of Edward. Edward III became of age and was now in command (1327). He had Mortimer arrested and hanged. Isabella's wealth was confiscated and her income limited, and she was confined to Castle Rising (Norfolk) - no visitors were permitted. Here at Castle Rising Isabella was to remain for 31 years. It was during this confimnment that she was said to have become derranged (lammenting the loss of the power that she once held). Here Isabella died. Her body taken to Grey Friars and buried beside Mortimer.

Soon after Edward III ascended to the throne of England (1327), Charles IV, King of France died, leaving no direct heir. Edward III claimed throne of France through his mother Isabella (as dead King's sister) - and so began what is known as the Hundred Years' War.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 - Women of History)

Berengaria of Navarre

Berengaria of Navarre
Queen of England

Berengaria was the Queen of Richard I of England. A Princess of Navarre, Berngaria was the daughter of Sancho VI of Navarre. She was said the have been very beautiful and well educated. It was said that Berengaria saw and fell in love with Richard when he was still a prince attending a tournament held by her father. It was as a result of this first "meeting" that she became affianced/betrothed to Richard, to whom she was devoted.

Richard's mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine travelled to Navarre to escort Berengaria to Sicily to join Richard, who had already arrived with the Crusade. There Berengaria was left in care of Joanne/Joanna Plantaganet, widow of King William II of Sicily and Richard's sister. With Joanna, Berengaria travelled by ship toward the Holy Land - but fate stepped in, and the fleet that carried the two women was shipwrecked off the coast of Cyprus. Here they were treated with base discourtesy by the usuper Isaac Comnenus.

Richard arrived with the rest of the Crusader fleet and rescued the two women from certain dishonour. Richard and Berengaria were married in Limassol, Cyprus (1191). After the wedding, Berengaria followed Richard to Holy Land, and stayed in Acre with Joanna. After the failure of Third Crusade, Berengaria set sail, reaching Aquitaine (Poitou) ahead of Richard. It was from here that she learned of Richard's capture and imprisonment, and it was here that she remained during Richard's imprisonment (1192 - 1194), helping to raise the enormous ransom.

Berengaria never went to England - she is the only know Queen of England never to have actually stepped foot in England. When Richard was freed four years later and returned to England to be re-crowned, Berengaria remained in Aquitaine. There was said to have been some marital disharmony - she had to put up with the snide rumours of Richard's alleged homosexuality (though he did father a son). Berengaria was reconciled to Richard on Continent (1196), and from this point onwards they were never parted for long. There were no children from this marriage. When Richard died in France, Berengaria was present at his death (1198). So devoted to Richard, Berengaria never remarried. Instead she entered a convent, and from then-on devoted her life and (considerable) income to charitable works. Berengaria built the Abbey at L'Epau, where she was buried after her death.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 1998 - Women of History)

Valide Sultans of the Ottoman Empire

Valide Sultans – Queen Mothers of the Ottoman Sultans.

These women were the real power behind the Ottoman throne (Constantinople) from the late-15th Century to the mid-17th Century. Even from the seclusion of the Imperial Harem, they wielded considerable power and influence. Valide Sultans typically had one son by the Sultan.

However, such was the power of one concubine, Roxelana (aka:Hurrem) over Sultan Sulyeman the Magnificent that she bore him three sons. And in a huge departure from Harem and indeed Ottoman protocol, Roxelana persuaded the Sultan to enter into a monogamous marriage with her and elevate her to the position of Empress or Sultana. This was unheard of - the laws of Islam forbade marriage with a slave (concubine).

As such, these women devoted their lives to their son, who would be raised within the Imperial Harem. Each mother lived in the hope that one day, her son would outlive and outlast his many brothers, and ascend the Imperial throne. Unfortunately, with the multitude of women available, the Sultan had no shortage of sons – but only one could rule – and the rest were ritually strangled (to remove any future opposition). Harem politics could be and quite often was, extremely ruthless.

Due to the early influence over their sons, these women, if they attained the position of Valide Sultan, could actually influence political decision-making both internally and externally. They could influence the appointment of ministers and favourites – or arrange their “removal”. Many undertook grand building schemes – mosques, hammans (bath-houses), and palaces.

Despite the fact that these women could never sit publicly at the “divan” (diwan - council of state) with the Sultan, they were known to sit behind a decorative screen and communicate with the Sultan – for they could never directly speak with those present (usually males).

These women, who were secluded from the outside world, could literally run the Ottoman Empire. However, by the mid-17th century, the power and influence of the Valide Sultans began to wane.

In addition to Roxelana (Hurrem), only four other women wielded considerable power from with the harem – Valide Sultans Nur Banu, Safiye, Kosem and Turhan - and Kosem would be the most powerful.

~~~ Melisende (pub: 6/2/2007)

Execution of Women

This was a topic much discussed on a "medieval forum", by myself and others. I would like to share some of the examples that I gave of the instances in which medieval noblewomen were executed.

Firstly, this did not just start with Henry VIII lopping off the heads of a couple of unwanted wives; nor both his and his father's attempts to eradicate the last vestiges (male and female) of the House of York to further consolidated their own tenuous hold on the throne of England (picture the 80yo Countess of Suffolk being chased around the executioners block while he hacked away at her trying to remove her head).

Many female rulers have been executed via assassination and murder to remove them from power and influence, or just to prevent them form becoming a rallying point once removed from power. You will find that most preferred form of punishment for nobleborn women was confinement to a nunnery / convent. Very few women were executed whilst holding office, so to speak, as opposed to the number of documented cases of men being assassinated and / or executed. The women were often removed from their position of power, imprisoned / confined and disposed then of on the quiet.
  • Elizabeth Bathory - walled alive until she died - most likely of starvation (August 1614).
  • Anne van de Hoor - buried alive by Inquisition in Netherlands for refusing to recant (accused of witchcraft).
  • Lucrezia de Medici - poisoned by husband Duke of Ferrara (1561) to vindicate her infidelity.
  • Isabella de Medici (sister of above) - murdered by hands of own husband Paolo Orsini (1576) to make his mistress Duchess of Bracciano.
  • Amalasuntha, Queen of the Ostrogoths - deposed then strangled (535).
  • Brunhilda, Queen of Nuestria - torn assunder (614).
  • Elizabeth of Croatia - put to death (1386) by order of widow of Charles III of Durazzo.
  • Mary Queen of Scots - exected by beheading on orders of Queen Elizabeth I (1586).
  • Lady Jane Grey - beheaded (1554).
  • Joanna I, Queen of Naples - deposed, imprisoned and suffocated by Charles III of Durazzo (1382).
  • Ludmilla of Bohemia - strangled (921) and canonised.
  • Martha Romanov - eliminated by her husband who ruled in the name of her son, Michael Romanov (1619).
  • Mary of Antioch - Byzantine Empress - strangled (1182).
  • Empress Wang - imprisoned and later murdered by rival Wu Chao (c.654).
  • Harem Women of Sultan Ibrahim - sewn into sacks and drowned in Bosphorus (1640).
  • Ines de Castro - mistress / wife of Pedro of Portugal, and murdered by order of Pedro's father, King Alfonso IV of Portugal.
  • Valide Sultan Kosem - strangled - repeatedly (she refused to die aged 80yo).
  • Parisina Malatesta - beheaded by husband Niccolo d'Este (1425) for infidelity with his son and heir Ugo.
  • Galswintha, Queen of Franks - strangled by husband's mistress / third wife Fredegunda (568).
  • Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis - was accused by her stepson, King James V of Scotland (1537) of attempting to poison him and of witchcraft, and she was burnt at the stake.
  • Maria Dolgurukaya - wife of Ivan IV "The Terrible", Tsar of Russia, drowned the day after their wedding for not being a virgin.
  • Mother of Boris Telupa - on the orders of Ivan IV (above), she was defiled to death by 100 gunners then fed to dogs.
And this does not even account for the many thousands of women burnt at the stake on charges of heresy and witchcraft, not those who suffered at the hands of Vlad Tepes, "Vlad the Impaler".

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 17/6/2006)

A Queen's Revenge

There is a saying "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" - well how about a woman whose husband / lover has been murdered / assassinated. There are many instances of medieval women extracting the most brutal revenge on the murderers of their husbands and lovers.

I have allowed a fair bit of lee-way with regards to the rank of women I have cited - here's a few examples:

  • Joan Beaufort, Queen of Scotland - following the assassination of her husband, King James I of Scotland, in which she herself was injured, a number of brutal tortures and executions took place, which included members of the royal family - Walter Stewart, 1st Earl of Atholl (James' uncle) and Robert Stewart, Master of Atholl (Walter's grandson).

  • Mary, Queen of Scots - vowed vengeance on those who murdered her Secretary Rizzio - the death of her husband Henry Stewart, Lord Darnely followed shortly after - was she complict or not?.

  • Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem - took out her anger on her husband King Fulk and his followers following the death of her cousin / lover Hugh le Puiset. Not only did she have them followed by the Assassins (a threat in iteself), but she also gained a great deal of power through her admission to the Inner Council.

  • Brunhilda, Queen of Austrasia - waged a forty year war (which included numerous assassinations and murders) against Fredegunda (and Neustria), whom she accused of the murder of not only her sister, Galswintha but her first husband Sigebert.

  • Elizabeth of Gorz-Tyrol, Queen of Germany - following the murder (1308) of her husband, Albert "One-Eyed" (son of Rudolph of Habsburg), the Queen pursuded the murders "with a bitter hatred"; one was eventually brought before her and died "in a terrible fashion". But the Queen's vengeance was not sated and many innocent women and men were tortured and killed.

  • Caterina Sforza, Countess of Forli - yes, not a Queen. Caterina was bloodthirsty in her treatment of her husband's murderers (public executions and secret stranglings). She extracted a similar vengeance upon those involved in the murder of her lover Giacomo Peo (and this included her son).

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 26/2/2006)


Weregild or blood price: a reparational payment usually demanded of a person guilty of homicide or other wrongful death, although it could also be demanded in other cases of serious crime.

Weregild was an important part of early feudal legal society. It was especially prevalent amongst the Northern European nations, including the Anglo-Saxons and Viking cultures.

Weregild typically replaced the other important legal feature of these early societies – the blood feud. The payment of the weregild was made to the family or the clan as reparation for their loss and to appease the victim's family. If payment were not made or was refused, justice was not seen to have been carried out. Then the victim's family could commence a blood feud (which typically could last for many generations). In some cultures, the penalty would be administered by the victim's family or clan upon a member of the offender's family or clan.

The actual amount of weregild was determined by a persons social status or rank, and this was expecially important in cases of murder. The lower down the social scale (slaves, etc) the lesser the value was placed upon life. The amount was also determined according to the type of injury (loss of limb, etc); and also upon the sex (ie: gender) of the victim, for men were considered of more value then women. In some cultures, the amount was also determined upon religious lines.

Payment varied from culture to cutlure – in the early medieval period, when the monetary system as developing, cattle were still highly valued rather than coinage. Payment could also be made in the form of hostages, slaves, silver, or precious jewels. At times, alliances through marriage were considered in conjunction with the payment.

How the exchange of payment took place was entirely dependent upon the culture – was it done at an annual gathering of clans; or during a specially called gathering by the clan chief and elders; or immediately after the offense was proven. Many clans and societies had their own legal structure that would be overseen by the clan chiefs, elders or religious figures (ie: druids).

During the reign of Alfred the Great, for example, part of the weregild would be paid to the monarch himself for the loss of a lord, or to a lord for the loss of his vassal. Alfred the Great was responsible for a set of codified laws for the Anglo-Saxons of England, whilst Hywel Dda of Wales was also renown for his laws, and the Carolingians for their re-development and enlargement of the laws of the Merovingians.

An example from Gregory of Tours (Book XXXI – Feudal Laws):

"it was a privilege belonging to a king's vassal, that whoever killed him should pay a composition of six hundred sous. This privilege was established by the Salic law … … … they gave but two hundred sous for the murder of a person freeborn, if he was a Frank or Barbarian, or a man living under, the Salic law; and only a hundred for a Roman......... "

An example from the Annals of the Four Masters for the year 1168:

"twelve score cows were given to Ruaidhri Ua Conchobhair [High King of Ireland] by the people of Desmond [Munster], as eric for the killing of Muircheartach Ua Briain"

Weregild was known to other cultures and by other names.

Ireland - ericfine or eric (also eineach – honor price).
Wales - galanas.
Slavs - glowczyzna.
Iran – diyeh.
Islam – blood money.
Native America – blood law.

In some modern day cultures, the notion of weregild or blood money has been incorporated into law.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 24/6/2006)

Notes Regarding Female Succession

Succession through a female and the female line was not unheard of nor was it the exception to the rule. There are many instances of females succeeding to landownership either directly as an heiress (ie: no male heir) or following the deaths of male heirs.

In many instances, females assumed the role of regent for their children following the death of their husband, taking upon the role of their husband. There are many notable examples of this throughout medieval and contemporary history.

During the medieval period, the life of the people was more often than not dominated by warfare whether on a local or international scale. The need for strong leadership and the ability to lead an army into battle often took precedence. And whilst the right to succession through primogeniture was common, this did not necessarily mean that it was male dominated or exclusive to males and the male line.

There are instances of medieval women raising armies to personally defend their own lands. The most notable of these women are: Matilda of Canossa, Joan or Arc, Isabella of Castile, Yolande d'Anjou, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Margaret of Anjou to name but a few. Many women in power were obliged to employ a male to lead their army – however, this was not the sole domain of the female. Many Renaissance male rulers employed others to lead their armies into battle for them – Condotierres. And there was no shame in this – after all following the death of King Richard III on the battlefield of Bosworth, no other English monarch actually took to the battlefield and led his army into battle in person.

In the Crusader Kingdoms, succession could and did pass through the female line – however, there was an additional codicil to succession to landownership. In the East, landownership was linked with the provision of military service. And thus, despite succeeding in her own right, a female was obliged to take a husband in order to fulfill this obligation.

Whether we agree or not, it was the common held view that succession through primogeniture was through the senior male line. Following the extinction of all male lines, succession was through the female line. There are many instances in which daughters have been overlooked instead of their sons, sisters instead of a nephew, and so on.

It would appear, at first glance, that the application of Salic Law with regard to succession was more particular to the area of land once occupied by King Clovis' Merovingian Empire – the forerunner of both the Carolingian and Holy Roman Empire. This would include the area of land encompassing much of modern France, Germany, Austria and northern Italy. Thus the idea of Salic Law would be introduced through inter-marriage between the Royal Houses of these Kingdoms, becoming codified with national laws to become the norm.

However, as can be witnessed today, succession through the female line was never eradicated. There are many countries today that recognize the rights of females to succeed not only in their own right but also in the absence of a direct male heir. I have no doubt that it was not the intention of those praticising Salic Law to eradicate female succession, but to restrict its application to what were then considered to be the dominant monarchies of the time.

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 11/6/2006)

Salic Law

Salic Law (Lex Salica) is a body of laws codified at the time of King Clovis (476-96). The laws are primarily concerned with monetary compensation wehrgeld and with civil matters pertaining to landownership by men.

There is a specific Clause 6, Title 9, which is concerned with the rules of inheritance which specifies that in:

"concerning salic lands (terra Salica) no portion or inheritance is for a woman but all the land belongs to members of the male sex who are brothers"

A stipend was added under King Chilperic (c.575) that expanded further the rules of inheritance:
if a man had neighbors but after his death sons and daughters remained, as long as there were sons they should have the land just as the Salic Law provides. And if the sons are already dead then a daughter may receive the land just as the sons would have done had they lived.

Under Charlemange Salic Law underwent further reform. It was still in use throughout the 9th Century before being gradually incorporated into local laws. By the 14th century, the laws were no longer in use.

It was in France that Salic Law came to the fore when it was used to forbid females and those descended from the female line, from succeeding to the French throne The French interpretation of Salic Law does not actually come down from the original law as prescribed by Clovis.

In 1316 the male Capetian line of French Kings died out when King Louis X left only a 6yo daughter, Jeanne, as his heir. His pregnant widow gave birth to a son, who died shortly after. A Regent in the form of Louis' brother Philip had been appointed in the interim, and was regent for both France (inheritance from father) and Navarre (inheritance from mother). Following the death of the baby, Philip proclaimed himself King, being Louis' closest heir, and was duly crowned King of France as Philip V (9/1/1317).

Now, Philip was readily accepted as King of France for a number of reasons, the least being that as a grown man who could successfully govern and defend the kingdom far better than a 6yo child. The second, more important, reason was that there were doubts concerning the legitimacy of the child Jeanne. Louis X had been married firstly to Margaret de Bourgogne, who had become embroiled in a scandalous affair also involving her sisters-in-law (c.1311 - 1314).

When Philip V himself died (1322) his heirs were his four daughters, and so the French throne passed to his brother Charles IV. When Charles IV died, he also left only a daughter as his heir and a pregnant widow (1328).As previous, a regent was appointed – Philip de Valois, who was a cousin of the late King. When Charles' widow gave birth to another daughter, Philip was proclaimed King of France as Philip VI (29/5/1328).

Therefore, in France, the rights of the daughters of Kings Louis X, Philip V and Charles IV were passed over. In addition, the rights to Isabella of France, sister to all three Kings was also passed over. Isabella was the wife of King Edward II of and the mother of King Edward III of England – Edward was required to pay homage to the French King for lands held in France.

And so, under Philip V of France the original form of Salic Law was ignored when Philip created a precedent which ignored the rights of female succession and favoured the rights of male succession Salic Law as formulated by Clovis and Charlemange did not exclude females from the succession, but accepted the rights of females to succeed in the absence of a direct male heir.

In Navarre, the rules of succession took a different turn. The Kingdom was not at ease being incorporated with the French monarchy and wanted their own independent ruler. As such, Jeanne, the daughter of Louis X was acknowledged as Queen of Navarre (1328).Strangely enough, the French monarchy actually endorsed Jeanne's succession to the Navarrese throne (1328). Jeanne was married to Philip d'Evreux, and her son Charles would later attempt to assert his rights, albeit unsuccessfully, to the French throne.

Curiously, Salic Law, as used by the French monarchy, was not applied in any other case – French fiefs passed by the rules of primogeniture through the male line, and then through the female line in the absence of a male heir. Even in Brittany, a female, Constance, succeeded her father to the duchy in the 12th Century. And, after a short war of succession (1341), the duchy of Brittany would eventually be inherited by a female Anne, who succeeded her father as duchess upon his death.

The next time that the French monarchy instituted Salic Law was when the Spanish pressed their claims to the French throne through the marriage of Elizabeth de Valois to King Philip II of Spain. And thus by the late 16th Century, Salic Law was considered to be part of the general laws of the French Kingdom and was not questioned. It was through the acceptance of Salic Law being the norm that the heirs of Jeanne of Navarre would ultimately inherit the French throne by way of Henry IV.

There have been other occasions when the use of Salic Law was responsible for creating Wars of Succession in other Kingdoms. The most notable occurred in Spain when the rights of the female to succeed over those of her nearest male relative were brought into question. In the Wars of the Austrian Succession, Charles VI of Austria used Salic Law to ensure his succession over that of his nieces. However, Charles then attempted to ensure the succession of his own daughter, Maria-Theresa of Austria.

Salic Law was also used, to a degree, in England – most notably in the wars between Matilda and Stephen for the English throne upon the death of King Henry I. Matilda, though she herself did not directly succeed, ensured the succession of her son, Henry II, following the deaths of Stephen and his sons. Later, following the death of King William IV of the United Kingdom and Hanover, the two thrones were separated. In Britain, William's niece Victoria succeeded as monarch, but in Hanover, which recognized Salic Law, William's brother Ernst succeeded.

"Laws of the Salian Franks" by Katharine Fisher Drew (University of Philadelphia Press, 1991).

~~~ Melisende (first pub: 11/6/2006)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Welcome to Women of History

Well, finally I have my own blog.

After managing my own website "
Women of History", I finally decided to "get with it" and start my own blog. I love discussing medieval history - and medieval women - on community forums but finding a sympathetic audience is not always possible - so now I can rant and rave to myself or to anyone who cares to stop by.

So, slowly, very slowly, I will begin to build upon this blog by positing some biographies and other articles that are pertinent - or not.

So, from humble beginnings ....

~~~ Melisende