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Category: Women in History

  1. On This Day: Birth of Mary Tudor, Queen of France

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    On 18th March 1496, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York became parents to a second daughter. The baby girl was named Mary, and like her older sister Margaret and her brother Henry, she would go on to have an interesting marital history.

    Queen of FranceMary Tudor

    Like many English princesses, and like her siblings Arthur and Margaret, Mary was required to play a key role in the political aspirations of her father. England's traditional enemies were Scotland in the north, and France in the south, while the old kingdom of Castile had been both ally and enemy, and the duchy of Burgundy had been a long-term friend and trading partner. It was natural then that Henry would want to bolster England's standing by contracting marriages that would neutralise it's enemies, while bringing it's old friends in to a closer relationship.

    For Arthur it was the famous marriage to Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon. Arthur and Catherine were distantly related, and their marriage was a way of reaffirming England's old ties to Spain. Margaret on the other hand had been earmarked for Scotland in her infancy, a potential marriage between her and King James IV had been discussed for the first time when she was just six years old, and their marriage was celebrated in 1503.

    For Mary there was less certainty. Originally she was betrothed to Charles Habsburg, the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and the nephew of Catherine of Aragon. Mary was four years older than her intended husband, and had to wait until he was considered old enough to marry her. This meant that she was still unmarried at the age of seventeen, when the match was called off in favour of a peace treaty with France. In 1514 the eighteen year old princess married King Louis XII of France, who was fifty two years old and had already been married twice.

    Mary became step-mother to two girls, Claude and Renee, but Louis had no living son at the time of his third marriage. She would no doubt had known that there was a lot of pressure on her, but luckily for Mary she didn't need to face the same worries as her sister-in-law Catherine, as Louis was dead nearly three months after their wedding in January 1501.

    Duchess of Suffolk

    Since Louis had died without a male heir, the French throne went to his cousin Francis. The new King of France was keen to arrange Mary's second marriage in a way that would benefit him, while in England Mary's brother was determined that it would be arranged to suit himself. However Mary took matters in to her own hands and married Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, in secret just months after Louis' death.

    Charles was a close friend of Henry, but originally it looked as if even that wouldn't be enough to save his life. Henry was furious that his sister had been married without his permission, and the English court was horrified by the idea of Brandon marrying a woman with such a high social status. There was even talk of Brandon being executed for his behaviour, but in the end his old friendship with Henry and Mary's own close relationship with her brother won out. He and Mary had to pay an enormous fine, but they were allowed back in the country and were given a second wedding ceremony at Greenwich Palace, with Henry attending.

    Mary settled back in to life in England, spending most of her time on her husband's estate in Suffolk. Through Charles she once again became a step-mother to two girls, and she had four children of her own. When at court she appears to have been a friend of Catherine of Aragon, in later years she would side with the Queen of England against Anne Boleyn. But she didn't live to see her brother's on-going marital dramas. She died in June 1533, and was buried at Bury St Edmunds. It was through her that Lady Jane Grey would eventually make her own claim to the English throne, as Mary's eldest daughter Frances was Jane's mother.

  2. On This Day: Death of Joan of England, Queen of Scotland

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    On this day in 1238, Queen Joan of Scotland died in Havering-atte-Bower. Her relatively short life had been frequently disrupted by the vagaries of English medieval politics, she had been passed from pillar to post as nothing more than a bargaining chip, and at the end of her life her marriage had been in ruins. She was yet another princess whose life was not what she may have hoped for.

    Childhoodjoan of england queen of scotland

    Joan was born on 22nd July 1210, the third child and first daughter of King John and his wife Isabella of Angouleme. Like the rest of her siblings her early life was influenced by King John's on-going war with the English Barons, as the court moved around the country trying to find alliances and support for John. Her life only really settled when, at the age of four, she was betrothed to Hugh X of Lusignan. As part of the betrothal agreement she was sent to Lusignan to be raised in her future husband's court. The betrothal was a peace offering on John's part, Hugh's father had originally been betrothed to Joan's mother Isabella of Angouleme. John had effectively betrayed the elder Hugh by tricking him in to leaving Lusignan and then marrying Isabella himself, leading to a series of battles and recriminations between both sides.

    Hugh the younger was anywhere between 15 and 27 years older than his future wife, but marriage to a Princess was not a deal that could be given up lightly, especially as Joan could instead have been used as a diplomatic deal between England and France. By keeping Joan at the Lusignan court Hugh and his family could at least be certain that John would keep his side of any future bargain, they effectively had his daughter as a hostage should things turn sour. How Joan was treated at the court, as unwanted future bride or honourable guest, isn't known. But in 1216 things changed again when King John died and her brother Henry became King Henry III.

    Up to this point Joan and Henry's mother Isabella had simply gone along with what her husband wanted. She had been 12 years old when she had married him, he hadn't been a brilliant husband to her, and it appears that she had no real love for England or the English. As soon as Henry was crowned and settled she decided to return to the continent, where she had inherited the county of Angouleme. Once she was home she soon became reacquainted with local power struggles and alliances, and in 1220 she usurped Joan's position by marrying Hugh X herself. With no father or brother to arrange her marriage for her, this was clearly a choice made by Isabella alone. It suddenly made Joan's position deeply awkward, with no groom waiting in the wings there was no point in her remaining in Lusignan. But Hugh and Isabella exploited the poor girl's position for everything it was worth.

    Back in England Henry and his advisors were shocked by the turn of events. The union of the counties of Angouleme and Lusignan made a powerful bloc that could upset the delicate political balance on the continent. Hugh and Isabella knew this, and simultaneously refused to place Joan in her brother's custody and threatened to deal with the King of France if their demands weren't met. Isabella wanted the dower that she was due to receive as the widow of a King of England, and Hugh wanted the lands and money that had been promised to him as part of the agreement for marrying Joan.

    The English court had no choice but to agree, they had already been arranging a new treaty with Scotland that was going to be cemented with a new marriage for Joan, this time to King Alexander II. Her sister Isabella was waiting a potential second best, but once again the age difference between bride and groom meant that an older bride was preferred, if only to reduce the amount of time until an heir could be produced. Henry agreed to his mother and Hugh's demands, and Joan was packed off back to England to face a new marriage.

    Queen of Scotland

    Ten year old Joan married the twenty three year old King of Scotland on 21 June 1221 at York. Henry paid for several days of celebrations, attended by nobles from both the English and Scottish courts, and Alexander then escorted his new bride back to his kingdom.

    Joan maintained close contact with her brother for the rest of her life. Although Alexander had granted Joan a "dower" of various lands in Scotland, the money from which was supposed to support her and her household, it does not appear that she was actually given any control over this money. Although she was only a child when she married Alexander, she appears to have been continuously denied her rights once she became an adult. This was alleviated somewhat by Henry, who occasionally granted her lands in England, as well as rights to build property and claim other sources of income that helped her gain a little independence.

    The real problems in the marriage seem to have stemmed from their childlessness. Like all Kings, Alexander was desperate to have a son and heir who would inherit his throne on his death. Even taking in to account the fact that Joan was only ten when they married, a decade later the couple still had an empty nursery. Although Joan had frequently proved her worth on the diplomatic front, frequently exchanging letters with her brother that also included things her husband had told her which helped smooth relations between both sides, to a medieval King her only value came from the sons she would give him.

    In 1237 Alexander and Joan travelled south to York for a meeting between Alexander and Henry. Alexander had been demanding that Henry grant him the county of Northumbria, and a face-to-face meeting was considered to be the best way to resolve the argument. Once things came to a successful conclusion - Alexander dropped his claim in favour of other grants and acknowledgements from Henry - Joan left her husband and travelled down to Canterbury with her sister-in-law Eleanor of Provence. By this time Canterbury was a centre of pilgrimage, and both Queens may have been praying for help getting the sons that both their husbands wanted.

    Joan then spent Christmas with her English family, with no apparent indication that she would return to Scotland any time soon. She was still in England when she fell ill, and she died on 4th March 1238, with her brothers King Henry and Richard Duke of Cornwall at her side. She was buried in Tarrant Crawford Abbey in Dorset, where Henry paid for masses to be sung and for a memorial set up over her tomb. Alexander married Marie de Coucy and by her had a son, the future King Alexander III

  3. On This Day: Birth of Mary I

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    On this day 1516 Catherine of Aragon, Queen of England, gave birth to a baby girl at Greenwich. The girl was Catherine's fifth child by her husband King Henry VIII, but the four previous pregnancies had resulted in miscarriages, stillbirths, and one son who died after two weeks.

    The Only ChildQueen Mary I

    Catherine of Aragon married her brother-in-law, the new King Henry VIII, in June 1509. She fell pregnant quickly, but the baby girl was born prematurely in 1510 and was probably stillborn. In January 1511 she gave birth to a baby boy, who was promptly named Henry and was given the title "Duke of Cornwall", which was a traditional title for the heir to the English throne. The baby appears to have been healthy, he was christened four days after his birth but this wasn't unusual in a society that had a high infant mortality rate. Sadly though he died when he was nearly eight weeks old. No cause of death was ever recorded, but with the high number of illnesses and untreatable infections that were prevalent at the time, it's not unusual that a cause could not be found.

    A third son, again called Henry, was born in November 1513. Unlike his brother this little boy didn't live longer than a few hours as he was premature. A third son was stillborn in early 1515, and does not appear to have been named. Mary's birth and survival in 1516, therefore, were seen as an important sign that it was indeed possible for Catherine and Henry to have a healthy child. Two years later Catherine gave birth to a third daughter, but this time the little girl lived no more than a week. This left Mary as Henry's only surviving child, and during her childhood she was an only child, doted on by her mother, who arranged her education.

    A Little Sister

    While Catherine may have reconciled herself to only have a daughter, Henry was less agreeable. He treated his daughter as a Princess of Wales, even sending her out to Wales to rule as his older brother Arthur had done, but he never formally gave her the title, which would have been an indication that she would be recognised as his heir. Mary had an illegitimate half-brother, Henry FitzRoy, whose presence suggested to her father that any problems with having children didn't stem from him. He was probably already thinking about divorcing Catherine when he met Anne Boleyn, but the fact that his new favourite refused to become his mistress probably prompted him to look closer in to the detail.

    Mary and Catherine were devastated by Henry's actions, and both of them suffered. Mary was frequently ill, but was kept away from her mother by Henry, who refused to let the two women write to each other, let alone see one another. Mary was seventeen when Henry married Anne Boleyn, and the announcement of her pregnancy followed by her coronation were two further blows. Mary was declared illegitimate, and forbidden to use the title "Princess", although she could possibly derive some comfort from the fact that Anne Boleyn gave birth to a baby girl, not the son that was expected. At least this was a healthy child who thrived, showing Henry that healthy children were possible, it was unfortunate for Anne that all of her following pregnancies would end in miscarriages. None of it helped Mary though, who was not only devastated by the death of Catherine in 1536, but who was also estranged from her father as she consistently refused to acknowledge his belief that she was illegitimate.

    A Little Brother

    After Anne Boleyn's execution Henry married his third wife, Jane Seymour. The new Queen was seen as a pacifying influence, and she helped bring a reconciliation of sorts between Henry and Mary. Unfortunately it was at the cost of Mary's principles, she had to accept her father's declaration that she was illegitimate and that her parents had never been married. She was frequently ill, but she was more welcome at court than she had been. Jane argued behind the scenes for Mary to be reinstated in the line of succession, which was unsuccessful, but she did at least manage to have her step-daughter brought back to court. She was granted her own household, given several palaces to call her home, and Henry arranged for her to have her own income so she was free to buy her own clothes and pay for her own entertainments. Letters between her and Queen Jane show that she appreciated her step-mother's help, but they never grew particularly close as Jane died giving birth to a son, Edward, in 1537. Mary's return to court meant that she was now the principal woman in the kingdom, and as such she was both godmother to her little brother, and the chief mourner at Queen Jane's funeral.

    Her life may have been promising at the start, but by the time she was in her early twenties, Mary's life had fallen apart. Her life would continue in a series of rollercoaster-like ups-and-downs. But five hundred years ago today, her parents would simply have been relieved that she was alive.

    If you're a fan of Mary, you can check out her badge!

  4. On This Day: Death of Nellie Bly

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    On 27th January 1922 an incredible woman passed away in New York. Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, who went by the pen name "Nellie Bly", was supposed to write about dresses and parties. Instead she had set a record, patented inventions, led mental health reform and annoyed the Mexican government.


    Nellie became a journalist almost by accident. On reading a misogynistic article in her local newspaper, she wrote a spirited defence to the editor. Her writing style impressed him, leading to first a trial offer and then a full time job as a writer for the Pittsburgh Dispatch. As a woman writer, she was expected to stick solely to the columns dedicated to "women's interest" - which primarily consisted of articles about fashion and beauty, and local celebrity gossip. None of this was of interest to her, so instead she moved to Mexico and began sending home a series of articles about life in the country and it's people. Afer a highly critical article about the Mexican government, Nellie was forced to flee back to America, where she not only published more criticisms on Mexico's politics, but collected her earlier articles and published a book.

    Mental Health ReformNellie Bly

    Back in Pittsburgh, Nellie was quickly reduced once again to the women's interest section. She soon got bored and quit her job to move to New York City, where she eventually managed to get a job interview with the New York World, the newspaper owned by Joseph Pullitzer. The paper had received reports of abuse being carried out at a mental asylum in the state, and Nellie was given the task of infiltrating the asylum to see what she could find. In order to be admitted she faked a bout of insanity, and after being brought before a judge and examined by several doctors, she was committed to the asylum. There she witnessed multiple acts of abuse, patients were beaten if they refused to be quiet, fed food that was either uncooked or had gone off, tied together with ropes and left on benches with no mental stimulation to keep them occupied, and occasionally deliberately drenched in freezing cold water.

    Nellie spent ten days in the asylum, after which her colleagues at the New York World persuaded the judge that it had been an act and that she should be released. She promptly wrote a report detailing her experiences, which was later also published as a book titled "Ten Days in a Madhouse". One of the biggest scandals was that a woman who was completely sane had been deemed otherwise by medical professionals, leading to questions about how many other women had been mistakenly classed as seriously mentally ill. The abuse she witnessed led to a public scandal, which prompted reform in the mental health system of the state. Nellie frequently submitted her own suggestions for changes that should be made, many of which were implemented.

    Eighty Days Around The World

    In the book "Eighty Days Around the World", Phileas Fogg makes a grand attempt to circumnavigate the world in a hot air balloon. On 14th November 1889, Nellie started out on her own version of the journey, publically supported by the New York World. She left New York by steamboat, and proceeded to travel through England, France, Italy, Egypt, Sri Lanka, China and Japan, using boats and railways. She took minimal luggage, carrying just one bag with her, and travelled alone. She was also in direct competition, the New York paper "Cosmopolitan" sent their own woman journalist on the same trip, but in the opposite direction.

    On 21st January 1890, Nellie's boat docked at San Francisco. Bad weather on the final leg of her journey meant that she was a few days behind schedule, but this was soon dealt with by Joseph Pullitzer, who paid for a private train to carry her back to New York from the west coast. She arrived home on 25th January, having travelled around the world in seventy two days, beating the Cosmopolitan's journalist by four days. Nellie only held the record for a few months, but she would always be the first person to travel around the world in less than eighty days, let alone the first woman to complete such a trip.


    On marrying in 1895, Nellie gave up writing to work with her husband (who was fourty years her senior) in his company, the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co. Nine years after they married, her husband died, leaving Nellie in charge of the company. She lodged two patents for products that the company made, but the business eventually collapsed as it was embezzled by employees. In the final decade of her life, Nellie returned to writing.

    Her death in 1922 appears to have gone relatively unnoticed. She was buried in New York, but her grave was unmarked until 1978 when the New York Press Club paid for the erection of a headstone. However in recent years her accomplishments have been noted in numerous plays, tv shows and movies, which have frequently drawn on her work "Ten Days in a Mad-House", and she was the feature of a 2015 Google Doodle.

    If you want to read about more women in history, you can check out my ebook on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com!

  5. On This Day: Birth of Isabella of Valois

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    On this day in 1389 Isabeau of Bavaria, Queen of France, gave birth to a baby girl in Paris. Princess Isabella was the third child and second daughter of the Queen and her husband King Charles VI. Sadly she did not have the best childhood, or the longest life.


    Isabella's parent's marriage had originally seemed like it was divinely blessed. Charles reportedly fell in love with his bride at first sight, and showered her with gifts and a lavish coronation. Their first child was a boy named Charles, who died aged eight, followed by Jeanne and then Isabella.

    But things slowly took the shine off the royal life. Charles developed a mental illness, which first appeared in 1392 when Isabella was three years old. For the rest of his life Charles would swing between lucidity and insanity, a situation that led to various political players attempting to gain control of the country. One of those players was Isabeau, who quickly developed a reputation in the medieval chronicles for neglecting her children.

    Charles' periods of sanity meant that Isabeau continued to fall pregnant, in total Isabella was followed by nine siblings. The Royal nursery was reportedly far from what it should have been, records stated that the children were left to run around in old, dirty clothes, and that if it wasn't for the servants they would have starved, as Isabeau never bothered to arrange supplies. Modern historians have pointed out that the actual records from the court show payments made for toys and clothes for the children, suggesting that even if Isabeau didn't spend much time with them, she certainly didn't neglect them.Isabella of Valois

    Charles' illness also meant that France was vulnerable to attack from outside as well. France and England had been at war for years, but it was a fight that was proving to be increasingly unpopular in England, and in the end Charles and King Richard II negotiated a truce, with Isabella playing a key part. Richard was a widower, his wife Anne of Bohemia died in 1394, and he had no children. The peace with France was sealed with a marriage to Isabella, who was a mere seven years old when the wedding took place in October 1396.


    After the wedding Isabella was taken over the English Channel and deposited safely in the care of two English duchesses and provided with a governess from France. Richard reportedly visited her frequently, when he would take her for walks in the garden. Despite the wealth that she brought with her, she was far from popular with English public or Richard's court, who felt that he should have married a woman old enough to bear children.

    Despite the unconventional home set-up, Isabella appears to have had genuine affection for her "husband". After Richard was deposed by his cousin Henry, the new king decided that the French truce could continue. He had a son, also called Henry, who was closer in age to Isabella, and by marrying his heir she would still eventually be Queen of England. Isabella on the other hand appears to have refused, and went in to official mourning for her husband. After a certain amount of negotiation (Henry was probably stalling in the hope that Isabella would change her mind), she was allowed to return to France with the jewels and other goods that her family had given her for her wedding.

    In June 1406 at the age of fifteen Isabella married for a second time, to her cousin the Duke of Orleans. Four years later she gave birth to her only child, a daughter named Joan, and passed away a few hours later. In her time as Queen of England she had little opportunity to make her mark, and her early death meant that she left little impression on French politics. Her younger sister Catherine went on to take her throne, marrying Henry V in attempt to bind France and England together once more. 

  6. On This Day: Death of Jane Seymour

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    On this day in 1537 Henry VIII's third wife, Jane Seymour, died at Hampton Court Palace. Twelve days earlier she had done what her predecessor, Anne Boleyn, had failed to do - give birth to a living baby boy. Sadly though the birth would end up killing her.


    Jane's exact date of birth isn't known, but she is believed to have been born some time in 1508, mostly likely at her family's home of Wulfhall in Wiltshire. She was one of nine children, of whom six survived, including three of her brothers. Very little is known about her childhood however, her father was Sir John Seymour, but he wasn't a great political player like Anne Boleyn's uncle, the Duke of Norfolk. Unlike Catherine and Anne, she didn't have a reputation for being well-educated or quick witted, which suggests that she may have been taught little more than reading and writing.

    But even with little education, Jane could still attend court. Since her father was a courtier it was natural that a place would also be found for her. She was duly assigned to the household of Catherine of Aragon, and on her downfall, to that of Anne Boleyn. During this time she came to the attention of King Henry himself, who by this point was becoming convinced that his second marriage wasn't going to give him the necessary son, just like the first. Jane wasn't considered to be particularly beautiful, and with her lack of education she wasn't going to be the centre of attention like Anne had been. In fact, that was just what Henry appears to have wanted, a quiet and mild wife.

    MarriageJane Seymour Queen of England

    Jane and Henry were betrothed on 20th May 1536, the day after Anne Boleyn's execution. They were privately married ten days later at the Palace of Whitehall, but Jane wasn't crowned. Historians believe that Henry decided to wait until Jane was pregnant before she was officially given the crown, coronations were large, public and expensive events and he would hardly go to the trouble for a woman that may prove to disappoint him.

    Unlike Catherine in her early days, and Anne during the height of her success, Jane appears to have had little to no power or influence over the King. Several times she appealed for mercy, first for Princess Mary and then later on behalf of an Abbey and for the lives of men involved in a northern rebellion. Henry consistently refused her requests, and at one point reportedly told her to keep Anne in mind, which can't be seen as anything less than a threat. On the other hand Jane was allowed to order her women as she liked, and apparantly banned her ladies from sporting the French fashions which had been so popular under Anne.


    By the spring of 1537 Jane was pregnant. The summer progress - a tour of various counties by the King and Queen so they could get away from sickness in London - was cancelled. After so many miscarriages with the previous Queens, nothing was left to chance with this pregnancy, there would be no travelling if it could be avoided. Jane went in to "confinement" at Hampton Court on 16th September. She went in to labour in the second week of October. It would prove to be a long ordeal, reports from the time suggest it took three days for things to progress, and prayers and hymns were sung for her health. On 12th October, a live baby boy was finally born, and was promptly named Edward. After his christening, three days later, he was returned to Jane's room where she and Henry were waiting to receive the court.

    At first it seemed that Jane had got through her ordeal safely, she was certainly well enough to receive the court in her room. But she soon took a turn for the worst. Despite more prayers in St Paul's Cathedral, and the best attempts of her doctors, she died on 24th October 1537. Her cause of death was most likely puerperal fever, a serious infection that was common in a time when no one understood the concept of hygiene, such as midwives washing their hands.

    She was buried at Windsor Castle in St George's Chapel, and Henry would eventually be buried beside her. Jane's death sealed her in Henry's memory as his perfect wife. She had given her life so that he could have the heir he wanted.

    (If you're a fan of Jane Seymour, you can also check out her badge!)

  7. On This Day: Birth of Margaret of England, Queen of Scotland

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    On 29th September 1240, Eleanor of Provence gave birth to her second child and first daughter at Windsor Castle. The baby girl was named Margaret, probably after her mother's sister, Queen Margaret of France. She was preceded by Edward, the heir to the English throne, and followed by Beatrice, Edmund and Katherine.


    The Royal nursery appears to have been established at Windsor Castle, and despite the wandering nature of the English royal court, was probably the closest place that Margaret had to a home. Eleanor of Provence was unpopular during her tenure as Queen, but as a wife and mother she was thoroughly dedicated to her family (something that may have stemmed from her own childhood, her parents also kept their daughters close by in childhood).Margaret of England, Queen of Scotland

    At the age of eleven Margaret was married to King Alexander III of Scotland, who was a year younger than his new spouse. The bride's father, Henry III, managed to maintain peace with Scotland for most of his reign. King Alexander II of Scotland had been married to Henry's sister Joan. Their childless marriage had ended when Joan died, Alexander III was the King's son by his second wife, Marie de Coucy. At the time of his marriage, the boy had already been king for two years.

    Life in Scotland

    After the wedding, which was held at York Minster, the new royal couple returned to Scotland. But it didn't all go smoothly at first. Margaret had left behind a warm and loving family to move to a court full of people she didn't know, which led to a period of severe homesickness for the young Queen. After writing to her parents complaining that she was badly treated, Henry and Eleanor requested that she be allowed to return home for a visit. The Scottish council who were ruling the country on behalf of Alexander refused the request. In the end Henry and Eleanor gathered an army together and marched north, determined to see their daughter. Margaret was allowed to travel south to visit her parents, and then returned to Scotland.

    She would be allowed to return home again in the future. In February 1261 she gave birth to her and Alexander's first child, a daughter named Margaret. The little girl was born at Windsor Castle, showing the affection that the Queen of Scotland retained for both her old home and the country of her birth. Two sons, named Alexander and David, were born in Scotland in 1264 and 1272 respectively.


    In February 1275, Margaret died at Cupar Castle in Scotland, she was only thirty four years old. Given that her last child was born in 1275, it's highly likely that she fell ill rather than died in childbirth. King Alexander remained a widower for ten years (although it's reported that that didn't stop him having a few mistresses in the intervening period) before marrying a second time to Yolande of Dreux. Margaret's children all died young; Princess Margaret married the King of Norway and died shortly after giving birth to a baby girl, Prince Alexander died childless shortly before he turned twenty, and Prince David died aged nine. In time this would create a succession crisis, and the Scottish interregnum.

  8. On This Day: Birth of Arthur Tudor

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    On this day, 20th September 1486, Elizabeth of York, Queen of England, gave birth to a baby boy at Winchester. He was christened with the name Arthur, and his birth symbolised the hope of the new Tudor dynasty.


    Arthur's birth has caused some historical controversy as his parents were married on 18th January 1486. Over the centuries some have questioned whether Elizabeth of York and Henry VII were lovers before their wedding, citing Arthur's date of birth as proof. Others have argued that he was premature, citing it as a cause for his later illnesses and early death. Regardless, Arthur was given a splendid christening in Winchester cathedral, ordered by his paternal grandmother Margaret Beaufort, with tapestries, carpets, and the font placed on a raised stage so that the crowds could get a good view of their future king. The choice of name was a good propaganda move, as a new king of a new dynasty Henry VII needed to boost the popularity of his line. By naming his son Arthur he was telling the crown that under his family the country would return to the glorious days of Camelot, an extremely popular tale in the medieval period.

    Arthur grew up in Farnham in Surrey, close enough to London for his parents to be able to visit him but far enough away that he was protected from the plague and other virulent illnesses which were rife in the city. As the heir to the throne he was assigned a household to care for him, two years after his birth a woman named Elizabeth Darcy was put in charge of his nursery, she had had a similar role for Arthur's maternal uncle Edward. In time Arthur would be sent to "rule" the principality of Wales, while his siblings (including his brother Henry) grew up at the palace of Eltham.

    Marriagearthur tudor

    The future of the Tudor dynasty, and it's place in European politics, seemed to be cemented when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain proposed a match between Arthur and their youngest daughter Catherine. As the prospective bride and groom were both toddlers at the time it took a while for negotiations to come to a solid conclusion. They finally underwent a marriage "by proxy" in 1499, and in October 1501 Catherine arrived in England. Arthur met her for the first time at Dogmersfield in Hampshire, and would not meet again until their wedding day. Instead Arthur and his father watched Catherine's ceremonial London entry on 12th November from the top floor of a house, out of sight of the Spanish princess.

    On 14th November 1501 Prince Arthur and Princess Catherine were married at St Paul's Cathedral. As with his christening, Arthur's marriage ceremony was held on a specially constructed stage so that all those who had been able to squeeze in to the church could see the heir to the throne. After the ceremony the Royal family travelled to Baynard's Castle for the wedding feast. In the evening the couple were put to bed, an event that would lead to serious controversy several decades later over the question of whether the marriage was consummated or not.


    Within weeks of the wedding Arthur was dispatched back to Ludlow, taking his new bride with him. They resided in Ludlow Castle, albeit in separate sets of rooms. Their marriage ended up being rather short-lived, on 2nd April 1502 Arthur died after a short illness. The illness that killed him is another cause of debate, with some believing that it was the dreaded "sweating sickness" that had cut through swathes of England in recent years. Others argue that it may have been a measles outbreak, and some believe that it may have been tuberculosis.

    Arthur was buried at Worcester Cathedral, where his monument still stands. His throne and his wife both went to his younger brother, Henry VIII. 

  9. On This day: Death of Empress Theodora

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    On this day in 1056, the Empress Theodora passed away. After starting out life as a Princess, spending most of her adult life as a Nun, and then facing the jealousy of her sister, Theodora ended up ruling despite the best attempts at many others to keep her in a subservient position.

    Born into the Purple

    Theodora was the youngest sister of Zoe Porphyrogenita, a word that means "born into the purple". The two girls were the daughters of a reigning Byzantine Emperor, Constantine VIII, who was joint-ruler with his brother Basil II. The death of both men, neither of whom had a son, pushed both Theodora and her sister in to the limelight.Byzantine Empress Theodora

    Theodora appears to have been a woman with her own mind. Her father had arranged for her to marry Romanos Argyros, who was expected to take the throne and rule through his wife. Theodora refused to go through with the marriage, and in the end Romanos married her older sister Zoe.

    In the following years Theodora was implicated in multiple plots against the royal couple. Many historians believe that these were attempts by Zoe to marginalise her sister, and have her removed from any potential power. Although Theodora played no active role in politics, she would never be safe from her sister's jealousy. Eventually she was pushed in to a monastery and forced to become a nun, which should have stopped her from being allowed to rule in the future.

    Coming To Power

    Zoe went through several husbands over the following years, none of whom were particularly popular. After she was displaced by her adoptive nephew, the people of Constantinople rebelled, and both Zoe and Theodora were brought out of their respective places of captivity. Theodora in particular was furious at being pushed back in to power, but to the people she was the balance against her sister's terrible choice in men, both as husbands and heirs. She was crowned as co-Empress with Zoe, who tried to have her sister sent back to the monastery, only to be overruled by the Senate.

    Theodora is believed to be the more capable of the two women, although how much of that is reflected from people's dislike of Zoe is hard to tell. Zoe wasn't inclined towards any actual ruling, but she disliked her sister taking control and getting things done. Yet another marriage meant that Theodora was required to leave the administration of the empire to her new brother-in-law, Constantine IX Monomachos.

    She outlived both her sister and her brother-in-law, and subverted Constantine's attempts to bypass her in the line of succession. She was proclaimed sole "Emperor", and promptly set about assigning her own favourites as ministers. By ruling as an Emperor she offended plenty of people, who felt that a woman shouldn't be allowed to act as a supreme judge in courts, or appoint clerics. But her death led to over twenty years of fighting between numerous noble families, and after a while it must have seemed to her people that even the rule of a woman was better than the lack of stability caused by her death.

    If you'd like to find out more about her sister, Empress Zoe, you can check out my e-book 30 Women in History Volume 2, which contains a mini-biography on her rival for power.

  10. On This Day: Death of Maria Theresa of Spain

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    "This is the first trouble she has ever given me."

    As Maria Theresa lay dying, her husband's words showed the kind of Queen of France that she had been. Quiet, unassuming, supportive to her husband, and loving to their children. King Louis XIV could not have found a better definition of her time with him.

    Princess of Spain

    Maria Theresa was born in September 1638 the daughter of King Philip IV of Spain and his wife Elisabeth of France. France and Spain had been closely connected by marriage in the previous generation, her parents were the siblings of the King and Queen of France, as King Philip's sister Anne had married Queen Elisabeth's brother Louis. Like many such marriages between France and Spain, the weddings had been decided upon in an attempt to bring peace between the two countries, unfortunately it didn't work.

    She grew up in the strict formality of the Spanish court, which encouraged solemnity and serious pasttimes. Her mother died when she was just six years old, and her father remarried several years later. Maria Theresa does not appear to have got on well with her new step-mother, and so may have lacked the kind of warm, affectionate home that her future husband had.

    Queen of Francemariatheresaofspain

    After many years of war a peace deal was brokered between Spain and France, and was to be sealed with a marriage between Maria Theresa and Louis XIV. They were the same age, in fact there were only a few days age difference between them, and the marriage had been hoped for for many years by Louis' mother Anne. Any potential courting between the afianced couple was stifled by Maria Theresa's father, who refused to let his daughter even read a letter from her future groom, and who strictly supervised their first meeting shortly before the wedding (in fact he banned Louis from even being in the same room as Maria Theresa, an order that the King of France tried to evade by lingering in the doorway while his brother chatted to the princess, King Philip continually refused to allow him in to the room).

    It's reported that on their wedding night, Maria Theresa made her husband promise to never spend a night sleeping away from her. Whether or not this was true, it certainly was a habit that Louis stuck to, although it wasn't enough to prevent him having many affairs through their marriage. His wife found herself settling in to her new home, with help from her aunt, who was thrilled to have another Spainiard at court. There was no bickering between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, instead the pair of them frequently prayed and visited convents together.

    In fact Maria Theresa was a little too Spanish for the French court. Her new home was one that loved innovation, fashion, dancing and wit. Her upbringing had left her rather shy, she preferred to keep to herself with a select group of companions, and she wasn't fashionable or quick enough to be a leader of the court. Despite this, she was a good Queen to Louis. She was upset by his frequent affairs, but realised there was nothing she could do to stop them. She even sponsored one of her husband's former mistresses, Louise de la Valliere, when she decided to retire from court and become a nun. Louis in turn protected her from any disrespect on the part of his other women, rebuking them when they declined to show her the deference required by her position. For over ten years her main rival was Athenais de Montespan, whose disrespect as well as her place by the King's side infuriated Maria Theresa.

    If royal marriages were designed to create peace and provide an heir, then Maria Theresa failed in the first part, France and Spain were still consistently at war over the years. But in the second part she succeeded, as she gave birth to six children, of whom three were sons. The first, also called Louis, was born on 1st November 1661. Sadly it was only this eldest child who would outlive her, her eldest surviving daughter lived for five years, and her other children mostly died within weeks of birth.

    Maria Theresa's own death would come as a surprise, as her illness was sudden, and her decline swift. She reporedtly surprised the court by never complaining about the agonising treatments she went through, medical intervention still didn't include any pain relief. She died on 30th July 1683, leaving her husband to utter the simple, but evocative, summation of their life together.

    Interested in biographies of Royal women? You might like my Unlucky Princess blog series.

    Fan of King Louis XIV? He has a badge!