Searching for England’s queen consorts…

Who were they and what happened to them?

On balance, I do wonder if being the wife of an English king might not have been one of the worst jobs in history. Ever since reading my first historical romance way back when, I’ve been fascinated by the women who ended up at the centre of many key events, but whose stories and view points we rarely hear. Married to a variety of men/boys, ranging from passing normal to certifiably weird, with the primary purpose of providing them with heirs – preferably male – these women, many coming from far away, foreign cultures, were thrown in at the deep-end of royal politics and largely left to sink or swim.

You’d think that considering all the things they had to put up with during their life-times, there might be more left behind to commemorate them. But sadly, we know only too well, that history was for so long, the preserve of men, who for some inexplicable reason thought that women, even those at the pinnacle of society, were not worth mentioning unless perhaps to occasionally complain about their foreignness. What truly annoys me, is the way in which if they out-lived their husband, history seems to totally ignore them. Arrrgh!

As a small act of homage to this neglected group, I’d had it in mind for a while to make a list of where all the queen consorts are buried. As I started to put the list together, I became more and more fascinated by the individuals I was tracking. Naturally you’d expect them to be a varied bunch of characters – and you wouldn’t be wrong, but it became frustratingly common to find myself repeatedly wanting to know what they thought about the people and events in their lives – and yet hearing practically no voice from them. Which leaves us with so many unanswered questions, it just breaks my heart.

So, then, here is a list of the queen consorts from the first five hundred years after the Norman Conquest, with the location of their graves, along with a few of the basic details the history books don’t all include…

Matilda of Flanders – wife of William the Conqueror. Buried at L’Abbaye aux Dames, Caen. Died in November 1083, aged 51.

Matilda of Scotland - Henry I

Matilda of Scotland – Henry I

Matilda of Scotland – first wife of Henry I. Buried in Westminster Abbey. Died in 1118. Aged 38.

Adeliza of Louvain – second wife of Henry I. After Henry’s death, she married in 1138 William d’Aubigny, Ist Earl of Arundel, having 7 children. In 1150 she retired to the convent at Affligem and died there in 1151. Possibly buried in Affligem Abbey, Brabant, although some sources claim Reading Abbey with Henry I.

Matilda of Boulogne – wife of Stephen. Outlived Stephen. Died at Hedington Castle, Essex in 1152 aged 46. Buried at Faversham Abbey (now demolished). Matilda played an important support role to her husband during the civil wars of his reign.

Eleanor of Aquitaine - Henry II

Eleanor of Aquitaine – Henry II

Eleanor of Aquitaine – wife of Henry II. Died at Poitiers in April 1204 aged 81.Buried at Fontevraud Abbey, France. A splendid tomb effigy remains. It might have something to do with watching The Lion in WInter when I was young, but I’d really love to have met Eleanor – what a feisty woman. She was still travelling long distances and supporting her surviving children right up to her death at over 80.

(Margaret of France – wife of Henry the Young King). Buried in Tyre – died aged 39 in 1197 on pilgrimage . The Young King died before his father. Succession was still a murky business in those days After young Henry’s death, she married Bela III of Hungary and was widowed in 1196.

Berengaria of Navarre - Richard I

Berengaria of Navarre – Richard I

Berengaria of Navarre – wife of Richard I. Outlived Richard, and died aged 60 in December 1230. Buried in the Abbey of L’Epau, Le Mans.

Isabella of Angouleme - King John

Isabella of Angouleme – King John

Isabella of Angouleme – wife of King John. Isabella married John when she was 12 and gave birth to 5 children with him. After his death in 1216, she married Hugh X of Lusignan and had another 9 children. She died aged 58 in 1246. She is buried in Fontevraud Abbey. Tomb effigy survives. Isabella led what I think we’d call a colourful life, but being married to John can’t have been easy!

Eleanor of Provence - Henry III

Eleanor of Provence – Henry III

Eleanor of Provence – wife of Henry III. Died in 1291 aged approx. 68. Buried at the Abbey of St. Mary & St.Melor, Amesbury – not known exactly where.

Eleanor of Castille - Edward I (first wife)

Eleanor of Castille – Edward I (first wife)

Eleanor of Castille – first wife of Edward I. Married to Edward aged 13 in 1254. She died aged 48 in 1290. Buried in Westminster Abbey, although her viscera are in Lincoln Cathedral and her heart in Blackfriars, London! This is the queen for whom the Eleanor Crosses were erected.  Edward has a reputation for his ferocity and military strength, strange then that he seemed to have been devoted to Eleanor his wife of 36 years and even went on to have a happy marriage with his second wife, Margaret of France.

Margaret of France - Edward I (second wife)

Margaret of France – Edward I (second wife)

Margaret of France – second wife of Edward I. Married aged 20 to the 60-year-old widower Edward, she nevertheless gave birth to 3 children with him and refused to remarry after his death. Margaret died at Marlborough Castle in February 1318. She was buried at the Greyfriars Church, Newgate, London. Destroyed by Great Fire of London, then by the Blitz – now a public garden. If the carving is a likeness, I think she looks serene.

Isabella of France - Edward II

Isabella of France – Edward II

Isabella of France – wife of Edward II. History likes to call her the She-Wolf because she was involved in the deposition of her husband, but she must have been a very strong character indeed. Having been married aged 13 and having to endure immense problems caused by her husbands favourites. She acted as Regent for her son until he took control, after which she retired to her castles. She died at Castle Rising in 1358 aged 62. She was buried in the same church as Margaret (see above) – I find it poignant that this amazing woman has no memorial, but I suppose others might not agree.

Phillippa of Hainault - Edward III

Phillippa of Hainault – Edward III

Phillippa of Hainault – wife of Edward III. Married aged 14 to Edward III. Gave birth to 14 children. Died in 1369 aged 55. Buried in Westminster Abbey (with a surprisingly unflattering effigy in my opinion).

Anne of Bohemia - Richard II

Anne of Bohemia – Richard II

Anne of Bohemia – first wife of Richard II. They were married in 1382 when she was aged 16. She died of plague aged 28 in 1394 at Sheen Manor. Buried in Westminster Abbey with her husband. Apparently their tomb once had them holding hands.

Isabella of Valois - Richard II, second wife.

Isabella of Valois – Richard II, second wife.

Isabella of Valois – second wife of Richard II. Married aged 6 to Richard II in 1396. After the death of Richard, she refused to marry Henry V and returned to France. She married Charles Duke of Orleans in 1406 and died in childbirth aged 19 in 1409. Buried first in Blois, then Celestines, Paris.

Mary de Bohun - Henry IV (first wife, mother of Henry V, died before husband became king)

Mary de Bohun – Henry IV (first wife, mother of Henry V, died before husband became king)

(Mary de Bohun not actually a queen, but a mother of a king – first wife of Henry IV. She was the mother of Henry V, but died aged approx. 26 in childbirth in 1394, before Henry IV usurped the crown. Buried in St. Mary de Castro, Leicester).

Joan of Navarre - Henry IV (second wife)

Joan of Navarre – Henry IV (second wife)

Joan of Navarre – second wife of Henry IV. Joan was the widow of John V Duke of Brittany, by whom she had 9 children. In 1403 she married the widowed Henry IV. She was widowed in 1413 and died in 1437, aged 66. Buried with Henry IV in Canterbury Cathedral.

Catherine de Valois - Henry V

Catherine de Valois – Henry V

Catherine of Valois – wife of Henry V (then Owen Tudor – and the rest is history!). Catherine married Henry in 1420 aged 19. After his death in 1422, she became attached to Owen Tudor. It isn’t entirely sure if they ever married. She had 6 children with him and died in 1437 aged 35. Buried in Westminster Abbey. One of the historic fiction writers’ favourites.

Margaret of Anjou - Henry VI

Margaret of Anjou – Henry VI

Margaret of Anjou – wife of Henry VI. Another of the ‘She-Wolves’. Margaret was the force behind the throne during the reign of her weak husband Henry VI. Very active during the Wars of the Roses. Married in 1445 aged 15, she outlived her husband and son, dying in poverty in France in 1482 aged 52. Buried in Angers Cathedral, Anjou, which was destroyed during the French Revolution. Another lady I’d have loved to meet.

Elizabeth Woodville - Edward IV

Elizabeth Woodville – Edward IV

Elizabeth Woodville – wife of Edward IV. Elizabeth had famously been married to Sir John Grey before he was killed during the Wars of the Roses. Edward wrecked his relationship with Warwick the Kingmaker by marrying Elizabeth in 1464. She outlived her husband and both sons – the Princes in the Tower. She lived to see her daughter Elizabeth become queen. Died aged 55 at Bermondsey Abbey in 1492. Buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor. The real White Queen. Did she know what happened to her boys?

Anne Neville - Richard III

Anne Neville – Richard III

Anne Neville – wife of Richard III. During the War of the Roses Anne was used as a pawn, being married to the Lancastrian heir – Edward of Westminster. After he was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury, she was married to Richard of Gloucester (date not known). She died in 1485 aged 28. Buried in unmarked grave on the right of the High Altar in Westminster Abbey, although there is now a plaque courtesy of the Richard III Society. One of the most difficult queens to find any imagery for). A shadowy historic figure, which amazes me as she was right in the centre of the politics of the Wars of the Roses.

Elizabeth of York - Henry VII

Elizabeth of York – Henry VII

Elizabeth of York – wife of Henry VII. At the centre of an extraordinary web of characters from this turbulent period of English history, yet still largely a mystery as far as her own attitudes are concerned. Married to Henry VII in 1486 following the Battle of Bosworth. She was the mother of Henry VIII. Died in childbirth aged 37 in 1503. Buried in a splendid tomb with Henry VII, in Henry VII’s chapel, Westminster Abbey. I’d really like to know what she thought of Richard III, and what she knew about her brothers.

And last but not least – perhaps the most famous six wives…

Catherine of Aragon - Henry VIII (first wife)

Catherine of Aragon – Henry VIII (first wife)

Catherine of Aragon – first wife of Henry VIII. Married to Henry in 1509 (having previously been married to his elder brother Arthur). Divorced in 1533 and died aged 50 in 1536. Buried in Peterborough Cathedral.

Anne Boleyn - Henry VIII (second wife)

Anne Boleyn – Henry VIII (second wife)

Anne Boleyn – Second wife of Henry VIII. Married to Henry VIII in 1533. Beheaded in 1536. Anne’s age is not known, probably between 28 and 35 at death. Buried in the church of St. Peter Ad Vincula, the Tower of London.

Jane Seymour - Henry VIII (third wife)

Jane Seymour – Henry VIII (third wife)

Jane Seymour – third wife of Henry VIII. Married Henry VIII days after the execution of Anne Boleyn. Died in childbirth aged 28 in 1537. Buried (with Henry) in St George’s Chapel, WIndsor.

Anne of Cleves - Henry VIII (fourth wife)

Anne of Cleves – Henry VIII (fourth wife)

Anne of Cleves – fourth wife of Henry VIII. Married in 1540 after Henry fell for the girl in this picture. Subsequently divorced! Died in 1557, aged 41. Buried in Westminster Abbey.

Catherine Howard - Henry VIII (fifth wife)

Catherine Howard – Henry VIII (fifth wife)

Katherine Howard – fifth wife of Henry VIII. Married to Henry VIII aged around 16 in 1540. Executed in 1542 aged 18. Buried in the church of St Peter Ad VIncula, the Tower of London.

Katherine Parr - Henry VIII (sixth wife)

Catherine Parr – Henry VIII (sixth wife)

Catherine Parr – sixth wife of Henry VIII. Catherine had been widowed twice before she married Henry VIII in 1543, aged 31. After Henry’s death, she married Sir Thomas Seymour, but died in childbirth at Sudeley Castle aged 36 in 1548.Buried in the chapel of Sudeley Castle.

What I wouldn’t give to have a little insight into the character of these remarkable women – how tantalising to see their world through their eyes.

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10 thoughts on “Searching for England’s queen consorts…

  1. Helen Devries says:

    This is fascinating!
    I lived not far from Fontevraud and remember when the effigy of Richard I had his sword still on the tomb – it disappeared after a film was made there!
    The last home of Margaret of Anjou was near Saumur, not far away either…there was a post about it on the ‘Days on the Claise’ blog recently.

    Are you going to do the later Queens too?

    • Anny says:

      Thank you , yes, that’s the plan, although it might take a while to pull it all together – there’s considerably more info available for the later queens.

      I see you call it Fontevraud – I’ve been seeing both – which is the correct spelling?
      Will have a look at the blog reference – thank you.

  2. Jo Woolf says:

    Wow, what a fantastic post, Anny! A tremendous amount of work and research. All truly amazing women, some much more redoubtable than others! It’s strange because I was just reading a post about Mary II who married William of Orange – she was 15, and she cried during the marriage ceremony as she had no wish to marry him (despite being happily married thereafter, apparently). She died of smallpox in her 30s.

    • Anny says:

      Thanks Jo. I think it’s getting marginally better now, but when I was first becoming interested in English history, it was nigh-on impossible to find out much about any medieval queen. But so much of their lives remains a mystery – we can only guess what they thought. I’ll try and put the more recent consorts post together soon, I have the basics already, but once I start, I find myself going off on tangents!

  3. Perpetua says:

    This was so interesting, Anny. You’ve obviously done a great deal of research and I found myself fascinated by your tantalisingly brief biographical notes on these women, whose names crop up quite regularly in the historical novels I enjoy reading. I remember gazing at the tomb of the first of them – Matilda of Flanders – when we visited L’Abbaye aux Dames at Caen.

    • Anny says:

      Glad you liked it. What I’d really like to do, is to try and travel round and visit all the possible sites, but that’s something I think will have to wait until the girls are a bit older. A trip to France would certainly be on the agenda – one day I WILL see the Bayeux Tapestry!

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