History Blog

 RSS Feed

  1. On the afternoon of 2nd March 1860, the village of Burradon in Northumberland was shaken by an explosion underground. As residents ran towards the nearby colliery, they would all have been aware that something terrible had happened.

    In the 1800s safety in such mines was terrible. The coal miners were men from poor families, the mine was their only chance of a wage, coal was the only economy in the area. Small agricultural communities were transformed on the sinking of a mine, they were paid more than working in the fields, but still not much. This meant that the men wouldn't complain about conditions too loudly, in case they were told to leave the mine and never come back, which would push them and their families in to poverty.

    burradonThis was slowly being balanced off by the development of Unions. But for the men of Burradon, this was still a long way away. Instead they were supported in their efforts by a local newspaper, The Daily Chronicle. In particular they were keen to start a fund that would help the widows and orphans of men who died down the mine. Before the disaster the men were trying to come to an agreement with the coal company, each man would pay 2d a week in to the fund, they wanted the company to contribute a further 1d per man each week. However the coal company was reluctant to take part.

    For several weeks before the disaster, the miners had been complaining about the build-up of firedamp. This gas, found in coal mines, is primarily made up of methane and highly flammable. Once ignited it can cause massive explosions, and is followed by the presence of afterdamp, composed mostly of carbon monoxide. Those miners that survived such explosions often died shortly after, suffocatedby the carbon monoxide. This would prove to be the case at Burradon.

    A small explosion had taken place around 2:30 in the afternoon. Those that had realised what had happened tried to flee, with one of the overseers trying to stop them leaving, assuring them that it was over and the mine was safe enough to continue working. The second explosion happened around twenty minutes later, and knocked them all flying. Several groups of men managed to escape, bleeding from minor wounds or suffering concussion and the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning.

    Seventy six men never made it out alive. It took several days for all the bodies to be brought back to the surface. They found one group of men had tried to escape, but had been blocked by debris, their bodies were found huddled together. One body found close to the source of the explosion could only be identified by a mark on his cap.

    It's probably the aftermath of the disaster that put Burradon on the map, rather than the disaster itself. With seventy six men dead, many wives and mothers suddenly found themselves with no income to support their families. The colliery owner paid for the funeral, but his contribution towards a relief fund was considered to be nowhere near enough to support so many people. Instead a public outpouring, led by the newspapers in Newcastle, helped the bereaved families cover their living expenses without having to resort to the dreaded workhouses.

    The inquest that followed also received scathing comments from the newspapers. The owners of the colliery lied in court about the procedures in place to help ventilate gas, and in the end the jury never drew a proper conclusion.

    I grew up with the occasional mention of the Burradon Mining Disaster, because my grandad Avery was a coal miner from Burradon. For him, his brothers and his Dad, they would have gone down the mine every day knowing that disaster had struck there once before. Sadly my grandad died when burradon2I was eighteen, and I never got round to asking him if any of his family had been living in Burradon at the time. One of the deceased was a Francis Smith, and a Thomas Smith is listed as one of the survivors, but Smith is a very common surname and I can't prove if they were related to my grandfather's family at all.

    In 2011 a memorial was created in Burradon-Camperdown to commemorate the disaster. Today marks 155 years since it happened. There's also a further memorial (shown on the right) dedicated to all the men and boys who died during the years the mine was in operation.

    If you're interested in reading more about the disaster, most of what I've learned has come from the fantastically detailed account written by Alan Fryer, you can find the shorter version here and the longer version here. There's also a list of the deceased and their families available on the Burradon-Camperdown community website

  2. Back in the autumn me and my boyfriend paid a visit to Anglesey Abbey. Contrary to it's name, it's not actually on the island of Anglesey. It's just north of Cambridge, near Newmarket. I've visited Wimpole Hall, which is also in Cambridgeshire, plenty of times, but this was my first visit to Anglesey.

    The History of Anglesey Abbey

    Anglesey Abbey is a former priory that was originally founded during the reign of Henry I. Like many religious houses it was closed down on the orders of Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and then became a private residence.

    In 1926 Anglesey Abbey was sold to the Broughton brothers, who were from a very wealthy American family. The eldest brother, Huttleston, became sole owner when his brother Henry married. Huttleston was a collector of art and antiques, and used the house as both a country retreat, where he entertained various Royals, and a showcase for his collections. He set about restoring both the house and the gardens to their former glory, and on his death left the house, it's contents and the gardens to the National Trust.

    The Abbey Building

    Anglesey Abbey is a property that has benefitted from customer-friendly amendments over the year. The car park is tarmaced, with spaces for campervans towards the back and disabled spaces at the top. You can pay for your ticket or buy National Trust membership in the visitor centre, which also hosts the shop, café and toilets. You will be offered a map, and given the size of the gardens I highly recommend that you accept it!

    Once you're all paid up you walk through the gardens towards the Abbey building itself. Entrance is through one of the side doors, rather than through the main entrance. Even though it wasn't a particularly wet day we were asked to put carpet protectors over our shoes, and with that done we were allowed in to the building proper. Like many National Trust properties you follow a one-way system that leads you through some of the rooms, but not all of them. As you go around there are various paper-based guides that you can read, or volunteers who will answer your questions.

    The rooms that we saw were very well kept, and the various pieces of artwork and beautiful antiques were nicely displayed. My favourite room was the library, partly because of all the books, and partly because the volunteer pulled back the curtains to show the initials of various illustrious guests, carved in to the glass panes of the window. Upstairs one of the volunteers explained how various members of the Royal family stayed as over night guests when attending the races at Newmarket. Back on the ground floor we were about to descend a staircase in to another room when another volunteer stopped us to ask if we were both able to get back UP said stairs. The room had no doors or windows, and apparantly people frequently went down who then announced they struggled to get up stairs and would need some assistance! She also asked us to mind our steps as people fall down them as well. However the room was well worth it as it had some gorgeous examples of carved jade in green and purple.

    The Gardens

    The house is nestled in a lovely set of gardens, which have various areas hedged off to great smaller gardens, such as a rose garden. There's also various statues dotted around the place, and winding walks along gravelled paths. If we had had more time we probably would have seen more of the garden, but as we had been to Wimpole that morning we were both worn out. Instead we settled for a stroll outside the front of the house, followed a path down the side which led to a lovely lawn and some benches, and after a rest we walked along the river to Lode Mill, then went back via another path towards the house.

    Lode Mill

    Lode Mill is a working flour mill that is in the Abbey gardens. The National Trust states that "most of it's working parts are 150 years old", and also points out that a Mill was recorded on the site in the Domesday book. When we went it was covered in scaffolding as the outside was being repainted, but visitors were still allowed inside. It is still used to make flour to this day, which can be purchased from the gift shop back in the visitor centre. Even if you're not interested in the mill itself, it's still worth a walk up along the river due to the lovely view.

    Overall me and my boyfriend really enjoyed our visit, and once I get National Trust membership again I'll be popping back for another walk around the gardens. If you're near Cambridge then I highly recommend you give this property a try, just not when you're tired!

  3. On 20th February 1547, the young king Edward VI was officially crowned. He was the third, and would prove to be the last, Tudor king of England.

    His father, Henry VIII, had only died a few weeks earlier, and his mother Jane Seymour had died shortly after his birth. His next nearest relatives were his two half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, and then several cousins including Lady Jane Grey. While the king had been a sick man for many years, it must still have come as a shock to Edward to suddenly become king, he was only nine years old. Henry’s funeral was held on 16th February, and he was buried at Windsor next to Edward’s mother.

    edwardviEdward was young, he couldn’t lead his troops in to battle against the French (a guaranteed way to gain some popularity) or marry a beautiful princess with a rich dowry (a wedding was also a good way to cheer the people). His regency council, who had been named in Henry’s will, were quick to get him crowned as it gave both him and them legitimacy. While the organisation may have been rushed, the coronation itself was still a splendid display of Tudor wealth.

    The day before the coronation ceremony, Edward travelled through London, from the Tower to Westminster, where he frequently stopped to view the pageants that were put on display for him. This process was a traditional part of the process, it let the new king be seen by his subjects, while the displays showed everyone that England could really put on a show. The next day saw the ceremony itself, which was shortened so that it wouldn’t tire him out too much. But it was still the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, who officiated, and who encouraged Edward to continue the reformation of the church.

    Edward was not the first boy-king in English history. Henry III and Richard II had been around the same age when they had inherited the throne, the uncrowned Edward V had been twelve years old, Edward III had been in his early teens, and Henry VI had been a toddler. However out of these five, three had been deposed and Henry III had faced the DeMontfort rebellion. Most of Edward III’s problems had come later on in his reign, but generally he had been a popular king.

    Edward VI never lived long enough to show whether he could be popular like Edward III or potentially overthrown like Richard II and Henry VI. His reign was dominated by his uncle, Edward Seymour, and then John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. England was crippled by expensive wars and then an economic crisis. Had he lived, perhaps he would have been able to find some middle ground with both Scotland and France, and created an economic policy to increase trade and bring wealth back to the country. Or perhaps he would have failed miserably and been booted out by his subjects.

    In the end Edward died aged fifteen, having never really ruled on his own.

  4. On this day in 1542 Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, was beheaded at the Tower of London. Her execution was the final chilling parallel to the reign of Anne Boleyn, Henry's infamous second wife, who was related to Catherine.

    How were Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn Related?

    The actual family relationship between Catherine and Anne is pretty straightforward, despite the multiple marriages of various Howards. Anne's mother, Elizabeth Boleyn, was the younger sister of Catherine's father Lord Edmund Howard. Anne and Catherine were first cousins through a shared grandfather, and nieces of the powerful Lord Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, who was high in King Henry's favour for most of his reign, and did his best to ensure that he stayed there.

    How Similar Were They?

    Apart from the manner of their deaths and their marriage to Henry, there's very little similarity between Catherine and Anne. The exact years of birth of both women aren’t certain, but the age gap could be somewhere around twenty years. Anne's father, Thomas Boleyn, was a diplomat from a wealthy family. Thomas used his connections to ensure that his children were given good educations in some of Europe's greatest courts. Anne herself served in the courts of Burgundy and France before she returned to England, where her mother and sister were serving Catherine of Aragon.catherinehoward

    Catherine's father on the other hand was almost constantly in debt, he served at Henry's court but doesn't seem to have had the same flair and abilities as his older brother, or his brother-in-law. He eventually fled to Calais, often a stopping point for men whose debts were more than they could handle. Unable to raise his children himself, he had them farmed out to various wealthy relatives. Catherine, who was five years old when her mother died, was sent to live with Agnes Howard, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk and step-mother to Thomas, Edmund and Elizabeth (making her a step-grandmother to Anne and Catherine).

     

    Their backgrounds affected their education. Anne spoke several languages, played the lute, composed songs and could argue a theological case with the King with ease. Catherine, whose education was seriously neglected, could read and write. She was taught to dance, and had some music lessons with a man named Henry Maddox (with whom she also had a relationship), but she far from the educated, sophisticated woman that Anne was.

    Their Marriages and Deaths

    Their courtships by King Henry VIII were also very different. Anne had to wait six years before she was able to marry the King, as he was already married to Catherine of Aragon, and she refused to consent to a divorce. When Anne and Henry did marry it was in secret, Anne was already pregnant so speed was required, but her grand coronation was meant to make up for it. Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, and had several miscarriages before she was arrested and put on trial. She was charged with adultery and incest, and had to go through the ordeal of a public trial before she was found guilty and executed. In total she was married to Henry for three years, although their relationship had been going for nine years if you count the time it took to get a divorce.

    In comparison Catherine had a relatively short tenure. She joined the court as a maid in waiting to Anne of Cleves, Henry's fourth wife, sometime in early 1540 when Anne came to England for her wedding. By July 1540 Henry had divorced her, a much quicker process when the wife doesn't argue against it, and Catherine became Henry's wife on 28th July 1540. Theirs was a quiet wedding, and Catherine was never formally crowned so there was no coronation to make up for it. It's generally believed that she never conceived, she certainly never gave birth and there's no mention of any miscarriages in historical sources. In November 1541 Catherine was arrested and imprisoned in Syon Abbey. Instead of a public trial she was found guilty of adultery by a "Bill of Attainder". At the time of her execution she had been married for less than two years, and probably hadn't even reached her twentieth birthday.

    The final difference between these  two women is their guilt. Many historians now argue that Anne certainly wasn't guilty of incest with her brother, and probably wasn't guilty of incest with the other men executed alongside him. On the other hand it's generally believed that Catherine was guilty of having an affair with Thomas Culpeper, although many historians continue to debate just how far they had gone, and whether they were in love, or if Culpeper was using Catherine's affections for him to manipulate her.

    After she was beheaded Catherine was buried near her place of execution, in the in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London.  This was also where Anne Boleyn and her brother George were laid to rest after their executions. These two women, who lived their lives with so many parralels, now continue the pattern in death.

    (Image used above is one that is believed to be of Catherine Howard. This particular image was from WikiCommons)

    ____________

    You can also check my Catherine Howard badge.

  5. What do you do when you've booted your husband off the throne? Name your teenager son as king and crown him as quickly as possible!

    On 1st February 1327, Isabella of France did just that. After years of humiliation thanks to her weak husband and his favourites (you can read about her wedding here), she had led a rebellion against King Edward II, ably assisted by her lover Roger Mortimer. Isabella won, Edward senior was captured, and suddenly the Queen was left with a massive problem.King Edward III

    Since she was both a woman and French, Isabella couldn't claim the throne in her own right. Nor could Roger Mortimer, he wasn't a member of the royal family, and him ruling would lead to a serious civil war. Instead they decided to skip the key point of English succession, which required the former king to be dead, and had Edward junior named king. With his father bullied in to giving up the throne to his son (no English king had abdicated before), the fourteen year old boy was declared King Edward III on 25th January 1327.

    The fact that the coronation was held a week later shows that Isabella needed to move fast. It wasn't the first rushed coronation, Henry III had to be crowned so quickly that there was no actual crown, his mother had to use a gold collar in it's place. But like Henry, Edward was facing problems within his own country. While many had hated his father, they weren't too happy about him being removed by a French woman and her lover. Not only that but at fourteen it was obvious he was too young to be allowed to rule on his own. Edward III's coronation simply showed the world that he was a puppet king, with mummy pulling the strings.

    As it turned out, Edward III would go down in history as one of England's greatest kings. His fifty year rule saw changes to English law and culture, and with his wife Philippa of Hainault he had a large family, unique among those of his ancestors in that his sons actually got along with both him and each other.

    Proof then that a rushed coronation didn't necessarily lead to a bad king.

  6. On 25th January 1308, a young French princess walked up the aisle in the church at Boulogne in northern France. At only twelve years old she would have no inkling of how her life would turn out, all she was probably hoping for at the time was a kindly groom.

    That princess was Isabella, daughter of King Philip IV of France, and the groom was the new king of England, Edward II. The match had been arranged several years before between Edward's father, King Edward I, and Philip. The wedding and attendant celebrations lasted for over a week, the French knew how to put on a good show, and Isabella was loved by her father, who wanted to see her off with a grand display. For the beloved princess it must have looked as if everything was going to be fine.

    Sadly though this is one Royal marriage that will always go down in English history as a total disaster. When Edward and Isabella were crowned a month after their wedding, the young bride was almost completely ignored by her husband in favour of Piers Gaveston, his favourite. Historians have debated the nature of Edward's relationship with Piers for centuries, but regardless of whether he was bisexual or homosexual, Edward's actions were humiliating to the poor girl. Not only was she ignored by her husband, but Piers' activities stole the spotlight firmly away from the Queen, he even had tapestries bearing his coat of arms, in place of those of Isabella, decorating the banqueting hall for the post-coronation celebrations.

    In the years that followed, Isabella and Edward really would have many instances of "for better or worse". While twelve was the canonical age for girls to marry in medieval law, biology didn't necessarily follow suit. Isabella finally fell pregnant four years after the wedding, but made up for it in the minds of the people by giving birth to the all-important son first time round. The boy would one day become King Edward III of England. She had to contend with Piers and then, after his death, the Despensers. Edward failed to protect her and provide for her, and eventually pushed her in to taking a lover (Roger Mortimer) and instigating a rebellion.

    But in 1308 she could never have predicted any of that. Instead, on this day over 700 years ago, Isabella could only have imagined a glittering future.

  7. One of my Christmas presents was Alison Weir's book "Elizabeth of York". This is the second of Weir's books on medieval women that I've read and reviewed, the first being her work on Katherine Swynford. I was really excited about this book as I was thoroughly disappointed by Philippa Gregory's "The White Princess", and really wanted to read something that gave a true picture of Elizabeth and her life.

    Elizabeth of York

    For those of you who are less historically inclined; Elizabeth of York was a daughter, wife and mother of Kings of England. Her father was King Edward IV, she was his eldest child by his wife Elizabeth Woodville (which Weir gives the old spelling; Wydville). Her husband was Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII, and by him she had several children including the future Henry VIII.

    Elizabeth is believed to have been a rather submissive figure, weighed down by her husband's paranoia and his mother's dislike of her. While she certainly appears to have been more passive than her predecessors, Weir gives a much more rounded view of her, and explains some of the circumstances around her life that may have helped shape that side of her.

    york1The Book

    Weir starts this book in the tumultuous years leading up to Elizabeth's birth. The Wars of the Roses, Edward IV claiming the throne and his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville are all dealt with in the first chapter. Each chapter follows a similar pattern for the first part of Elizabeth's life, Weir sets the contextual scene and then explains how the events affected the young princess. In some cases she is able to use direct sources, but mostly it has to be conjecture based on other sources of the time. As a princess of England, Elizabeth was a valuable dynastic match. As a girl however she was of little interest to our sources, featured only in relation to her father's plans for her.

    This changes about a third of the way through the book. Edward IV died when Elizabeth was a young woman, and her role starts to become more prominent due to her age and her sudden significance in the reigns of Richard III and her husband Henry VII.

    One thing I like about this book is that Weir doesn't shy away from trying to get to the bottom of common controversies about Elizabeth. She doesn't just explain her own theories, she also explains what sources others have previously used to support the controversial viewpoints. Her pro-Elizabeth bias is obvious in certain parts, but she doesn't ignore the arguments of others. You start to understand where such legends and controversies come from, and how prevalent they have been over the centuries. Reading this book, I certainly came to see it as dismissing some of the things that Gregory put in "The White Princess". Whether Weir read it while she was writing this book, or merely heard about it, I can't say. But to me at least, I suspect she was as annoyed by the book as others are.

    So what didn't I like about this book? Like her book on Katherine Swynford, Weir dedicates a large amount of page space to the men in Elizabeth's life, to the point where parts of it more a biography of Henry VII than his wife. I know that this is because many of her readers need the context, and there are limited sources on Elizabeth herself, but there were parts where I wanted to skip ahead to where Elizabeth was next mentioned. I also wish she had mentioned more about Elizabeth's relationship with her children. Although she comments that Elizabeth regularly visited them, there's no other indication of what kind of parent she was. Again, this is probably due to lack of evidence, but I would have preferred it if there had been some acknowledgement of this. There were also one or two fact and spelling errors that should have been caught before publishing, but when you've been working on something for a while you do become a bit blind!

    Overall this is a really good read, and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in Elizabeth of York. Weir does a really good job of writing a biography that is very readable, and even though it's quite big you'll still struggle to put it down!

  8. On 7th January 1536, Catherine of Aragon passed away at Kimbolton Castle in Cambridgeshire.

    As her name "of Aragon" shows, Catherine was a Spanish "Infanta" by birth, the daughter of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile. Her parents had united Spain and driven out the Muslims, and then married off their children to various European Royal families to cement alliances. Two of her sisters were married to Kings of Portugal, one sister was married to the powerful Habsburg family, and Catherine herself was sent to England to marry Prince Arthur Tudor.

    catherinearagon2As any student of Tudor history will know, that was a marriage that did not last long or end happily. Catherine spent several years as a widow before marrying King Henry VIII within weeks of his father's death. There followed over twenty years of heartbreak as Catherine frequently miscarried, gave birth to stillborn babies or lost live children within weeks of their birth, with only one daughter name Mary surviving in to adulthood. To this day the reasons why the family was hit by so many tragedies has baffled scientists, especially as it then continued with Anne Boleyn (Jane Seymour had one live son but died herself, Henry's following three wives never had children by him).

    Many people blame Anne Boleyn for Henry's attempts to divorce Catherine, despite evidence showing that he was considering getting a divorce before Anne was on the scene. Catherine was a strong woman, the daughter and sister of Queens, she fought Henry's divorce attempts with every weapon she had. But in the end Henry left her for Anne and she was moved from the comfort of beautiful palaces such as Greenwich, to cold stone castles in the damp East Anglian countryside. Her household was reduced, she was banned from seeing her daughter Mary, and she was spied upon. Eventually she succumbed to illness and died in Kimbolton Castle. Rather than bury her in Westminster Abbey, among other late Queens, she was interred in Peterborough Cathedral.

    In a further piece of historical scandal, when the embalmers discovered a black growth on Catherine's heart. To the highly superstitious people of Tudor England, this was a clear sign that their beloved Queen had been poisoned, perhaps on the orders of her angry husband, or Catherine's long-term enemy Anne Boleyn. Nowadays it's safe to say that her cause of death was cancer, and even if Henry had kept her as his wife she would have died from it.

    catherinearagon1

    You can visit Catherine's grave at Peterborough Cathedral, where many tourists stop by to see one of England's best-loved queens. Nowadays the Cathedral holds an annual "Katharine of Aragon" festival, which includes laying flowers at her tomb and children dressing up in Tudor costume. You can find out more about it at their website. And if you're a fan of Catherine, we have a badge just for her supporters (or one for Henry)!

    (Images from WikiCommons)

  9. Last Christmas I got a lovely collection of history books, and I've recently re-read one by Elizabeth Norton. The full title of this book is "She Wolves: The Notorious Queens of England", and as you can probably tell it focuses on a cross-section of England's Queens. You won't find anything about Adeliza of Louvain or Jane Seymour in this book, instead Elizabeth Norton focuses on those Queens whose terrible reputation has been maintained down the centuries.

    This book is divided in to several parts and from there in to chapters under titles such as "Incestuous Queens", "Arrogance & Pride" and "Witchcraft". shewolvesnortonSome of these chapters encapsulate several Queens in one go, others are dedicated purely to one woman (such as "Witchcraft" which is about Joan of Navarre). Each part includes an introduction of a few pages before delving in to the chapters themselves, in total 19 Queens are analysed and discussed in this book, starting with the Anglo-Saxons and finishing with Mary I. 

    The book itself is an interesting read. Norton sets the Queens out in proper chronological order, which I much prefer over jumping backwards and forwards across centuries. Along with setting the background of each Queen discussing their actions, Norton also gives explanations for their actions and for the hostility of our sources. For readers that aren't used to reading about the medieval world, it brings you firmly out of the modern mentality of "women can do anything", and reminds you that while these women COULD do anything, they weren't actually supposed to.

    I also like that Norton didn't just jump straight into post-Conquest England and instead wrote about some Anglo-Saxon Queens. While many people think that the English monarchy began solely with William the Conqueror, in reality there were plenty of Anglo-Saxon kings. The major problem with this is that Queens are generally ignored by the sources in those times, unless they were "Bad Queens". By including them, Norton reminds us that there were notorious Queens before 1066.

    While I mostly enjoyed reading this book, where was something about it that just didn't sit right with me. For example in her summing up of Elizabeth Woodville she describes her as a "wailing Cassandra". Since Cassandra was a rather ineffective Greek "heroine", this epithet effectively casts Elizabeth Woodville in to the role of passive bystander, when in reality we know that she frequently took control of her own life and plotted against two Kings. It feels that with some of these women she is very quick to condemn them, and with others she takes all responsibility for their actions out of the women's hands, and places it firmly with the men in their lives.

    Being pedantic I also dislike the minor inconsistency of the chapter titles. As said above, each chapter has a title such as "Witchcraft", with the exception being the chapter about Anne Boleyn. It's only a small thing, but it just seems a bit lazy, as if a new title just wasn't possible when "Witchcraft" and "The Seductress" had been taken by others.

    Finally I felt that this book was just a bit too short. At 242 pages for these women it certainly isn't short, and yet several of the chapters seemed rather short for women who had led such varied and interesting lives.

    Overall I think this is a good read, but perhaps it's better off as an introduction to some of England's Queens, than as a book for those of us who have already read plenty of other titles on the subject. 

  10. On 19th December 1490, a young woman named Anne was married by proxy to Maximilian, son of the Holy Roman Emperor.

    Anne was the new Duchess of Brittany, her father had died in 1488 leaving his 11 year old daughter as his only heir. France had been trying to incorporate the Duchy of Brittany in to it's Kingdom for years, and with a girl as Duchess this had suddenly appeared to be a lot easier than anticipated. Had the late Duke had a son then it would have involved a longer war, with no potential of success if the boy proved to be clever, or lucky. But a woman would never be able to lead or command an army, she would have to leave such things to either one of her lords, or to her husband.

    A husband was exactly what Anne needed, which was why the proxy ceremony was held. As the son of the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian was an enemy of France, and for Brittany the enemy of their enemy should have been their friend. Maximilian's father agreed to the match, spotting for himself the same opportunity to frustrate the plans of his life-long enemies. Maximilian had already been married to one heiress, Mary of Burgundy, who had died in 1482. By marrying the Duchess of Brittany, it was hoped that Maximilian would be able to incorporate yet another set of lands in to the Habsburg empire.

    However despite the proxy marriage, Maximilian never followed through by travelling to Brittany for a proper wedding. On this day over 500 years ago, Anne must have thought that it would all work out. Her new husband would come to Brittany, lead an army and vanquish her enemies, keeping her beloved Duchy safe from the French. Instead the Holy Roman Empire was already stretched, Maximilian and his father had too many other things to focus on than to worry about Brittany. Six months later Anne was besieged in the city of Rennes by a French army, and less than a year after her proxy marriage to Maximilian she was married to Charles VIII of France.

    The Holy Roman Emperor protested to the Pope, Anne was technically married to his son and Charles had been betrothed to Maximilian's daughter Margaret, therefore their wedding was illegal. But the fact of the matter was that the Emperor and Maximilian had failed to back up their plans with an army, and Anne had no choice but to go through with the marriage or watch the French army overrun her Duchy and kill more of her people.

    In the end Anne would remain a Queen of France, marrying Louis XI after Charles' death, and her efforts to keep Brittany independent would ultimately fail. Maximilian went on to marry Bianca Maria Sforza. It was not a happy marriage.

    You can read more about Anne of Brittany through Volume 1 of my eBook series.