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  1. One of the things I enjoy about London is the number of small, out-of-the-way museums that are tucked away in random corners of the city. When I moved down here four years ago I bought a book about London Museums, and promptly made a list of those that I would like to visit. Last weekend my boyfriend and I decided to tick another one off the list, and headed out to Clerkenwell to visit the Museum of the Order of St John.

    stjohn3 stjohn5

     What is the Order of St John?

    The old Order of St John was a medieval military order or society that was created after the First Crusade, when a hospice was created in Jerusalem to serve pilgrims that had travelled to the city and fallen ill. As the situation in the area deteriorated, the pilgrims needed military escorts in order to travel through the surrounding area to Jerusalem safely. The Order therefore served to both protect the pilgrims from attack, and look after those who fell sick or were injured.

    When Jerusalem fell in the 13th century the Knights moved on to Cyprus and then Rhodes, where they remained for three hundred years before finally relocating to Malta. From both locations the Knights fought frequent battles against pirates and Muslims, but they also continued to run hospitals and infirmaries, where they accepted anyone who was in need of medical help.

    In England the Order's work came to an end during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries, when the Order's English properties were confiscated bystjohn4 the Crown. However in the 1800s the Order was reformed as a chivalric order, with a new hospitaller organisation created thirty years later. The Order founded a series ambulances, aptly named "St John's Ambulance", which were designed to give members of the public lessons in first aid. The rapid industrialisation in Great Britain had not been accompanied by an increase in helping people work safely, and certain industries such as railways and mines often had high casualty rates. By offering first aid to workers and the public, it was hoped that someone who had been injured could be kept alive long enough to be taken to hospital or seen by the local doctor. It's from this that the modern St John's Ambulance organisation grew.

    The Museum

    The Museum of the Order of St John can be found in the old St John's Gate. You simply go round a corner and suddenly find yourself facing a medieval gate surrounded by far more modern buildings. The gate is the only surviving part of the old Priory of the Knights of the Order of St John, and was purchased by the new Order in the 1800s. Although it is mostly a Victorian restoration, it still looks suitably medieval.

    You can take part in a guided tour, which I understand shows you more of the building, or you can simply pop in to the Museum itself. There is no entrance fee, but there is a suggested donation of £5 for the tour. Since there was two hours to wait until the next tour, we decided to simply have a look around the museum itself. Going through the doorway takes you in to the gift shop and visitor services area, and we were then pointed through the next door which leads to the display gallery. Following this takes you through the history of the medieval Order, including it's times in Cyprus, Rhodes and Malta, before you then double-back on yourself to past a few videos that tell you more about the Order's revival in England in the 19th century.

    Going through another doorway then takes you through to the final section, with a display of artefacts about both World Wars, including displaying their stjohn6"Roll of Honour" of members who died in the First World War, and more information about the first aid work of the modern St John's Ambulances, including it's work at the eye hospital in Jerusalem and training people in first aid in Africa.

    While the Museum was small it was very well organised and the displays were very interesting, for such a small space they managed to pack a lot of information in through a combined of display cases and videos, and using blank wall space to talk about the overall history. If memory serves it's wheelchair accessible through the fire-exit door (although you'll need to ask a member of staff to open it from the inside), and there were toilets towards the back of the gallery. There was also a sign outside about booking the rooms above for events and weddings, and as we were leaving there was clearly a group gathering for some kind of celebration, so you may find it's a bit more crowded at weekends. If you're in the Clerkenwell area and have an hour to kill then I would really recommend visiting this place.

  2. Death of Mary of Burgundy

    On this day in 1482, Mary of Burgundy died from injuries she suffered after a fall from her horse. Her early death was the last tragedy of a life that had suffered many such encounters.

    Mary of Burgundy was born in February 1457. Her father, Charles the Bold, was the Duke of the wealthy duchy of Burgundy, while her mother was maryburgundyIsabella of Bourbon. Her mother died in 1465, leaving Charles with Mary as his only heir. The general view at the time was that a girl couldn't possibly rule, and therefore Charles decided to remarry. In 1468 Mary acquired a step-mother, Margaret of Burgundy, the sister of King Edward IV (and later, Richard III) of England. Margaret and Charles never had a child, but Mary became close to her step-mother, and it was Margaret who guided Mary's steps when tragedy struck again in 1477, when Charles died in the Battle of Nancy.

    Charles had spent most of his life fighting against the French, and King Louis XI wasn't about to let sympathy for an orphaned girl stop him taking advantage of the situation. Luckily for Mary her step-mother was still alive, and she advised Mary to follow the marriage plans her father had set in place before his death. In August 1477, eight months after her father's death, Mary married Maximilian of Austria. They became co-rulers, with Margaret assisting in the background as both a mother figure to Mary and a popular Dowager Duchess to the people.

    In July 1478 Mary gave birth to a son, named Philip, thereby ensuring the succession for her family. A daughter named Margaret followed in 1480, and another son called Francis in 1481, who died within a few months. Philip and Margaret would go on to have a double marriage with Infanta Juana and Infante Juan of Spain, the sister and brother of Catherine of Aragon.

    Sadly though, Mary would never see her children's marriages. While out hunting in March 1482, Mary's horse fell, throwing her from the saddle, the resulting injuries left her in agony for several days before she died on the 27th March, aged just 25. Philip and Margaret were 4 and 2 years old respectively, and had to learn to rule Burgundy without their mother's advice.

  3. On this day in 1152, Eleanor of Aquitaine officially became a single woman. Her fourteen-year marriage had begun when she was just a teenager, now she was a mother of two daughters, and Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right. Her now former husband, King Louis VII of France, made sure that part of the divorce meant that Eleanor would have to ask his permission to remarry. Unfortunately for Louis, it wouldn't work out that way.

    The Marriage

    Eleanor and Louis had married in July 1137, within months of her father's death. As the eldest surviving daughter, with no brothers, Eleanor was the eleanorofaquitainenew Duchess of Aquitaine. Prince Louis' father spotted an opportunity to increase his kingdom, and promptly dispatched his son and heir to marry her.

    Their marriage was not a happy one. There was a strong clash of personalities and cultures, there was a big difference between Louis' French court and the Aquitainian lifestyle that Eleanor was used to. Louis was also extremely devout, while Eleanor simply followed more traditional piety. They had one child, a daughter named Marie, before they went on Crusade together. While they were in Antioch, rumours flew around that Eleanor was having an affair with her uncle Raymond. Sources state that she suggested to Louis that they divorce, but he refused.

    On their eventual journey home they visited the Pope, who worked to reconcile the arguing couple. Eleanor became pregnant with her second child, which turned out to be another daughter. This little girl's birth is probably what saved her from continuing her marriage to Louis, as the French court helped persuade him to divorce her, so that he could marry another woman who would give him a son. The annulment was granted on 21st March 1152 on the grounds of consanguinity, meaning that the Church felt the couple were too closely related. Eleanor once again became Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, but Louis had to approve any future marriage she might consider. Their daughters were also left to be raised in the French court, rather than sent to Aquitaine with their mother.

    The Aftermath

    Eleanor raced back to Aquitaine, escaping several attempts to capture her and force her in to marriage. The fact that she travelled as quickly as she did shows that she was well aware of the danger she was now in, while travelling at all shows just how brave and determined she was to make her own life from now on.

    In fact she was so determined that she ignored the requirement to see permission from Louis, and remarried eight weeks after her divorce. Her choice of groom was Duke Henry of Normandy, their marriage combined two large Duchies to create the kind of border problem that Louis had wanted to avoid. Henry was everything that Louis wasn't; brave, decisive, quick to take action. She and Henry would go on to have five sons and three daughters, and become King and Queen of England.

    While the ending of her marriage to Henry was far from positive, at least the start of it was better than her marriage to Louis.

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    Fans of Eleanor of Aquitaine should check out her badge!

  4. In my review of Alison Weir's "Elizabeth of York", I mentioned that it was a Christmas present. What I should have mentioned was that it was one of several books I received about incredible women in history. My Dad even commented that "all your books have a running theme", which is now a themed shelf on my bookcase.

    Leonie Frieda's book "Catherine De Medici" is another book in the same vein as Elizabeth of York. Catherine was a Queen of France as the wife of King Henri II of France, although at the time of their marriage it was his older brother who was due to inherit the throne.

    The Life of Catherine De Medici

    Catherine's life cannot be described as a particularly happy one. Orphaned within weeks of her birth,  her fortunes swung from being the adored relation of a Pope through to hated scion of Florence's foremost family. Caught between the peculiarities of medieval geopolitics, when today's enemy could be tomorrow's friend, she had several potential husbands waiting in the wings until Henri was picked. Their marriage would not be a happy one, her husband was obsessed with his mistress, and it took so long for Catherine to conceive a child that an annulment was considered on the grounds of infertility. Not only that, but her dowry was never paid as the De Medici Pope died a year after the wedding, and his successor refused to pay it.

    In the end though, Catherine and Henri had ten children, including several sons. Most of them suffered from poor health and the eldest, Francis, was fifteen when Henri died in a jousting accident. His own death eighteen months later meant that his younger brother, Charles, became king at the age of nine. Catherine effectively became Regent while her son grew up, and continued to give her advice and use her influence in many years to come. She is chiefly remembered for the St Bartholomew Day's Massacre, in which thousands of people, mostly Huguenots, were killed after the wedding of her daughter Margot.

    The Book

    Leonie Frieda's book covers the whole of Catherine's life, from the tumultuous childhood through to her death and the years that followed. Her evidence catherinedemediciincludes Catherine's own letters, which were preserved as her belongings were auctioned off after her death to pay her debts, as well as sources from archives in France and Italy, and earlier scholarly work. She includes family trees, lists of the main historical figures, and maps of France and Italy so you can go back and refer to them if you get mixed up (useful for me as I kept forgetting where La Rochelle is).

    The best thing about this book is that Frieda manages to make an excellent balance between discussing Catherine's life and explaining the actions of the men that were around her. Many books about women get very caught up in explaining the male side of things, and then return to explain the effect it had on the woman they're writing about. With this there was no point when I felt that Catherine was being forgotten in favour of her husband or sons. Her relationships with all her children are brought in and explained at various points, along with her various alliances and suspicions about France's other noble families. Since I know very little about French history, I found her explanations about the various Wars of Religion very informative, without being too confusing.

    If there is one fault with this book, it's the lack of pictures. Catherine's lack of beauty is mentioned several times, but with no pictures to refer to it's difficult to work out how she looked. The same can be said for some of the surviving buildings in Paris that were built in her time, while many were remodelled by later Kings, if there were any surviving floor plans or etchings, they would have been nice to see to add a bit of context.

    Pictures though is a very small point, even without them this book is still an excellent read. I would really recommend it for anyone that wants to learn more about Catherine, or just a well-known woman in history.

  5. 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

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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)

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    You can also check my Catherine Howard badge.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.