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  1. On This Day: Eleanor of Aquitaine's Second Wedding

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    You may remember my blog post a few weeks ago about Eleanor of Aquitaine's divorce from King Louis VII of France. Their marriage had been rocky for years, a split was virtually inevitable. Louis tried to ensure that he still had some say in Eleanor's life, by including a clause that stated that she had to ask his permission before remarrying. In this way he hoped to prevent her from allying herself with someone who would pose a danger to his kingdom.

    Unfortunately for Louis, on this day, 18th May 1152, remarrying without permission was exactly what Eleanor did. Her groom was none other than Henry "Plantagenet", Duke of Normandy, and their marriage united two of the biggest duchies in France, creating exactly the kind of problem Louis wanted to avoid.

    Henry Plantagenethenryplantagenet

    The young groom, who was nine years younger than the bride, was the son of Duke Geoffrey of Anjou and his wife the Empress Matilda, a princess of England by birth and technically the rightful heir to the English throne (once you got past her gender). This was another rocky marriage, but unlike Eleanor it wasn't one that would be put aside. Matilda had originally been married to Henry, the Holy Roman Emperor, and she continued to be known as "Empress Matilda" for the rest of her life. She had no children by her first husband, and his death meant that she had to leave the Empire and return to England.

    Her second marriage, arranged by her father Henry I of England, was designed to prevent the Duke of Anjou from being a pain in the neck. Unfortunately Matilda hated her new husband, and he wasn't exactly taken with her. Henry had to step in several times to prevent them from becoming completely estranged. In the end though they settled down enough to conceive several children, the eldest of whom was named Henry after his grandfather.

    Henry's life was dominated by the war his parents waged against Matilda's cousin, Stephen, the new King of England. To this day historians argue over whether Stephen stole the throne from Matilda, or had been privately acknowledged as Henry I's heir. Either way, Matilda and Geoffrey were not about let an opportunity pass, and while Geoffrey focused on attacking strategic points in Normandy, Matilda travelled to England and waged war with the support of her illegitimate half-brother. "The Anarchy" as it became known, went on for years and decimated the English population. In the end a compromise would be reached, Stephen would reign as King, but his heir on his death would be Matilda's son Henry.

    The Marriageeleanorofaquitaine

    Of course, there was no guarantee that Henry really would be King on Stephen's death, at the time of the wedding it wasn't even much of a consideration. Stephen had sons of his own, and the English nobility may choose to support one of them instead. But Henry had learned a lot about successful warfare from his father, and was quickly gaining a reputation for being both brave and skillful. For a woman who had a Duchy to maintain, against enemies both inside and out, he was the obvious choice. Even as Eleanor was making her way home she had already decided to marry him.

    The journey back was dangerous. In the medieval period a woman's consent to a marriage was considered a technicality rather than a necessity, and
    there were several men who plotted to kidnap and marry her themselves, including Henry's brother Geoffrey, so they could claim Aquitaine. But through a combination of bravery and speed, Eleanor managed to evade the plotters and reach Aquitaine safely. Henry arrived soon after, and the hasty wedding took place at Poitiers.

    Louis instantly reacted by gathering a force to invade Aquitaine. Henry collected his own troops, fully supported by his wife, and was quickly successful. Louis was humiliated twice over, not only was he beaten in the field of battle, but a year later Eleanor gave birth to a healthy baby boy, giving Henry the heir that Louis had always wanted from her, and proving once and for all that if there was a fertility problem then it certainly wasn't hers.

    The enmity between Louis and Henry would continue for decades, and would see Louis successfully turn Henry's sons against him, and lead to Eleanor's imprisonment for supporting them over her husband. But at least on this day in 1152, she would have started to feel safe for the first time in weeks, if not months.

  2. On This Day: Nancy Wake Returns To France

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    On this day (technically the night of 29th April, or the early morning of 30th April depending on your point of view) in 1944, an SOE agent named Nancy Wake was parachuted in to France. She already had a five million franc price on her head, had been captured and freed, and it had taken her six attempts to get out of France in the first place. To say she was returning to the lion's den would be a bit of an understatement. She is also, for many reasons, one of my favourite women in history.

    Before The War

    Nancy Wake was born in New Zealand but raised in Australia. As a teenager she moved to the USA, where she became a journalist, and then on to France, where she met and married a wealthy Frenchman named Henri Fiocca. When Germany invaded France she volunteered with the French Resistance as a courier, while she and her husband let their holiday home be used as a safe house for people trying to escape.

    During The War

    Wake became an absolute pain in the neck to the Gestapo. They named her "The White Mouse", and she was so effective that they issued a 5 million franc reward for her capture. Under increasing pressure as members of her network were arrested, she eventually chose to flee Marseille. Her husband opted to stay behind, and was eventually captured, tortured and executed by the Gestapo. Wake herself was arrested in Toulouse, but was freed after a friend claimed they were having an affair and her secretive behaviour was due to her worry her husband would find out. Had the Gestapo got hold of her they would have done the same to her as they did to her husband.

    She eventually managed to escape France in to Spain, via the Pyrenees, and from there got a ship back to Britain. She promptly volunteered with SOE, nancy-wakewhere she earned high praise for both her attitude and abilities. She was then parachuted in to France, where she met up with a local network. Her role was to oversee the groups finances and handle the division of weapons and supplies dropped by the Allies, but she was soon helping recruit new members, plan and oversee operations, and eventually came to lead over 7000 men. She claimed that her greatest moment was cycling a 300 mile round trip to get new wireless codes. She also killed a German sentry to prevent him raising the alarm, and shot a woman who was a German spy. In total her team killed around 1400 Germans, while suffering only 100 casualties.


    In the years after the war Nancy Wake was awarded multiple honours, including Britain's George Cross. It was only after the war that she found out her husband had been killed by the Gestapo. She spent several years back in Australia where she attempted a political career, returned to England where she met and married her second husband, and then moved back to Australia once again. After her second husband passed away Wake once more returned to England, where she spent the final years of her life. After her death in 2011 her ashes were scattered in the countryside near Montluçon, the French town close to where her team had operated.

    In many ways I think that Nancy Wake is so often forgotten because she survived. Had she been caught and executed she would no doubt be remembered as a valiant heroine who died for the cause. But the fact that she came through the war without being killed doesn't diminish how brave she was. When she escaped to Britain, with a 5 million franc bounty still on her head, she could have simply settled there in relative safety. Instead she chose to join SOE and jump straight back in to danger, and that is why she is one of my favourite women in history.

  3. George Harris and Gallipoli

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    The Cape Helles landings were the starting point of the infamous Gallipoli campaign in the First World War. As the men disembarked on the shores of Turkey, my own brother's namesake was with them.

    George Harris was born in London on 10th July 1890. He was the third son and sixth child of William John and Harriet Louisa Harris, with William John, harris familyAmelia, Alice Maud, James Henry and Kate Harris (my great-grandmother) all ahead of him, and Albert Edward, Harry and May still to follow over the years.

    The Harris family have always been a bit difficult for me to research as they moved around so much, although having such a large family certainly helps them stick out on the censuses! They lived in Chelsea in 1891 and Tothill Street in Westminster in 1901, but while several family members can be found living at Junction Road in Highgate on the 1911 census, George is missing.

    The clue to his disappearance comes in his original army service number; 9941. On his medal card George is showing as serving with the Border Regiment under this number. One historian has done a lot of research in to the sequencing of these service numbers, and through his work I managed to work out that George joined the army in 1911, several years before war broke out. The problem with this comes from the fact that no one in my Mum's side of the family ever mentioned this, I suspect it was a little-known fact that was simply forgotten over the years. But it does mean that George had already seen more of the world than any of his brothers.

    When war broke out the Border Regiment was stationed in Burma, although thanks to a lack of surviving records I can only assume that George was george harris medal cardwith them. They were promptly shipped back to the UK, and after a few months training were ready for deployment. But a lack of surviving service record hasn't stopped me from piecing together some of George's First World War history. His medal card shows that his first "theatre of war" was "2B", army shorthand for "Gallipoli", and that he first entered the war on 25th April 1915. On that date, 25th April 1915, one hundred years ago today, the 1st Battalion Border Regiment, including George Harris, took part in the Cape Helles landings in Gallipoli. It was while he was fighting in Gallipoli that his older brother, James Henry Harris, was killed by a sniper while fighting with the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry in France in September 1915.

    Gallipoli had made casualties, but George wasn't one of them. When the troops were evacuated to Egypt in January 1916 he went with them, and while out there was transferred to the Machine Gun Corp in February 1916. Such as a transfer was quite common as it meant that soldiers already trained in certain weapons, such as machine guns, could replace dead or injured soldiers, and thus keep up battalion numbers. It was also at this point that George's service number changed to 11042, it was only after the First World War that soldiers were assigned one permanent service number during their time in the Forces.

    As part of the Machine Gun Corp George was then sent to France, progressing up to Belgium. At some point in July he was severely injured. On 3rd July 1917 he died of his wounds. His burial place, Canada Farm Cemetery, indicates that he died at a casualty station, rather than passing away during or after transport to a hospital. Family legend has it that one of his brothers was with him when he died, but this is impossible for me to prove.

    James and George were the only two casualties of the Harris family. What's rather surprising to me is that while they fought thousands of miles apart, in death there isn't a great deal of distance between them. James is buried at Fleurbaix cemetery near Lille, George is up near Ypres. Given all the other places he could have died, at least he isn't thousands of miles away from his brother.

  4. Death of Mary of Burgundy

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    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.

  5. Annulment of Eleanor of Aquitaine's Marriage

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    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.


    Fans of Eleanor of Aquitaine should check out her badge!

  6. Burradon Mining Disaster

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    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

  7. The Coronation of Edward VI

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    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. Execution of Catherine Howard

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    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.

  9. Coronation of King Edward III of England

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    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. Wedding of Edward II and Isabella of France

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    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.