Has anyone been keeping up with The White Queen television mini-series on Starz lately? I managed to snag the episodes through Amazon Prime and have been obsessed with anything and everything about The War of the Roses! History is just about my favorite subject and I can never help myself from diving in elbows deep in a subject and coming out with my head spinning from the plethora of information I come across, and feeling super excited and flabbergasted about the history of the world, how different it was back then, and how far we’ve come.
The War of the Roses, known at the time as The Cousins War, was a series of conflicts that erupted between twe branches of the Plantagenet family, the Lancasters and the Yorks. That’s it in a nutshell. Beyond that is where it gets all jumbled and it’s difficult to to keep every duke and earl and king that ever had a hand in the war in mind and even after all of the material I have have read in the past month, I can’t keep it all together in chronological order. After the third book that I read, a light bulb went off in my head to create a series here on The Field Guide about three generations of women who made waves, rocked boats, and refused to apologize for their lives.
My first lady in this series is Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford.
Jacquetta of Luxembourg was born sometime during the Hundred Years War, a conflict between the House of Plantagenet of England, and the House of Valois of France. When she reached marriageable age, her uncle arranged for her marry John, Duke of Bedford, the third son of Henry IV of England. This marriage aligned her loyalty with the House of Lancaster, but it ended after two years when John, Duke of Bedford died in 1435.
Shortly after becoming a widow, Jacquetta, in secret, married her late husband’s squire, Richard Wydville, sometime after he escorted her back to England under the order of Henry VI. It was considered a scandelous union, namely because it happend so soon after the Duke of Bedford passed (before 1437) and because they married without a royal license. The Wydevilles were made to pay a fine totaling one thousand pounds to appease the king. During their long marriage, they would change their political alliance to that of the Yorks, and have fourteen children. Their eldest child, Elizabeth Wydeville, would become the Queen Consort of Edward IV (the first Yorkist King of England!) Elizabeth Wydeville, like her mother, would find herself deeply involved in the political alliances that shaped the world of 15th century Britain. She would also make Jacquetta the grandmother of two little boys that would later mysteriously disappear after being taken to the Tower of London when their uncle Richard III usurped the throne. But more about that later!
An interesting fact about Jacquetta and her family is that the Luxembourgs claimed to be descended from Melusina, a water goddess found in European folklore. In The Lady of The Rivers by Phillipa Gregorgy, Jacquetta is described as being a woman who dabbled in magic and who would call upon her ancestor, Melusina, in times of trouble. Jacquetta was actually accused of witchcraft and arrested and even though the charges were dropped and Jacquetta released, the accusations that she suffered were not something people of that period would easily forget. Jacquetta died in 1472 when she was around 56.
I really like this woman. It seems remarkable to me that she was able to take charge of at least a small portion of her life as she did. I imagine her to be an intelligent woman, one that was capable of wading through the world that she was born into, albeit always trailing behind the famous men of the time. Phillipa Gregory does a marvelous job of bringing Jacquetta to life in The Lady of the Rivers. I think I got through that book in about two days, it flowed so magically and fluidly which just the right amount of drama and heart ache, and it was a fabulous post-read to Phillipa Gregory’s short essay found in the book The Women of the Cousins’ War. I definitely recommend reading both!
I should point out that I am not in anyway an expert on The War of the Roses. I’m just incredibly pre-occupied by it! Also, links are affiliate, but also super good reads if you’re ready to geek out with me!