Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Did King Richard III Want To Marry His Own Niece, Elizabeth of York?


The people at court quickly stifled their gasps when they saw the young and beautiful Princess Elizabeth dressed like Queen Anne. As she was of ‘the same shape and complexion’ it was obvious that she was wearing one of the Queen’s dresses. Although Princess Elizabeth had been invited to court for the Christmas celebrations, she had effectively been declared illegitimate, and only royals were permitted to wear rich gold and purple silks. Why was she dressed in one of the Queen’s gorgeous dresses? More importantly, why was King Richard III paying her so much attention at these Christmas celebrations? Magnates and prelates were reportedly astonished.

King Richard, frightened by his rival Henry Tudor, had been attempting to reconcile with the powerful Woodvilles, the former Queen’s family, even with some of those formerly declared traitors, such as Robert Radcliffe. Even Thomas Grey, Princess Elizabeth’s half-brother fled from Henry Tudor in Europe, presumably intending to join Richard. He was taken into custody at Lyon Castle by Henry’s troops.

Who lent the eighteen-year old Princess the magnificent clothes, and why? Probably King Richard himself lent her the clothes, people thought, because the Queen was supposed to be the most finely dressed woman at the celebrations, so it was unlikely to be her. The Queen may have been naïve, intending to be kind. However, it was all very odd.

Gossip About The Relationship Grows

When Queen Anne became ill soon afterwards, and Richard was known not to be sleeping with her, gossip went through the roof. Speculation arose that the King even wanted to annul the marriage, or even wanted her to die, so that he could marry Elizabeth. Vergil wrote that Queen Anne cried and asked Richard ‘why he wanted to be rid of her’. However, Richard consulted doctors about her illness, and he probably did not want to be close to her because the disease was perhaps contagious.

King Richard and Elizabeth certainly had reasons to want the marriage. By marrying Elizabeth, Richard would legitimise his kingship, probably get rid of his rival, or strike him a big blow. He would be likely to have more sons as well. (His only son had died). The prospect of being Queen probably looked attractive to young Elizabeth, who had had a fraught life so far. Her mother was regarded as ambitious, as well.

Marriage between an uncle and a niece was forbidden under canon law, but could be granted for ‘great and pressing reasons. In 1496 Ferdinand II, King of Naples, received a dispensation to marry his aunt.

King Richard gave or lent the young princess two books, Tristan, and Boethius. In Boethius she wrote the King’s motto in her handwriting, Loyaulte me Lie. She made a mistake despite careful handwriting and corrected it later, inserting the ‘y’. Perhaps she had accepted him as King?

The alleged letter sent by the Princess to John, Duke of Norfolk in 1485 is yet more evidence, according to some. This was shown to the antiquary, George Buck, in the 17th century, but the original was never found, and there are different versions of the wording. Apparently, according to Chris Skidmore’s extract of the letter, she wrote that she was Richard’s, ‘in body and in all’, and intimated that she feared that the Queen would never die. In the language of the time, ‘in body and in all’ may have just meant that she was completely loyal to the King. However, she referred to negotiations in ‘the cause of the marriage with the King’, which may have meant that he was making negotiations for her marriage to someone else. King Richard had secretly begun negotiations to marry Joanna of Portugal, and for Elizabeth to marry a Portuguese prince. According to Chris Skidmore, he was clearly looking elsewhere for a wife. It is hard to take a letter like this too seriously when the original was not found.

The King Denies The Rumours

Queen Anne died on March 11, 1485, on the day of a great eclipse of the sun. She was not buried at the Neville family mausoleum, and her funeral only cost a few hundred pounds. However, the Crowland chronicler wrote that she was buried with honours befitting a Queen, so we should not read too much into her funeral costs and burial place.

Rumours quickly spread that Richard had poisoned his wife, however, intending to marry Elizabeth. The gossip even travelled to France. Richard felt the need to defend himself to the council. Ratcliffe and Catesby warned him that the people of the north would rebel if the marriage took place, and that they had twelve Doctors of Divinity to tell him that the Pope would not grant a dispensation.

Richard even denied the rumours in public in the hall of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in front of the mayor, aldermen and several people, expressing his grief and displeasure. He said loudly and clearly that he had never thought of marrying Elizabeth, and that anyone who spread these lies would be punished by the mayor. He also had letters denying the rumours sent across the country.

Soon afterwards, King Richard was killed at the Battle of Bosworth and Henry Tudor became King Henry VII. He married Princess Elizabeth of York in 1486, beginning the Tudor dynasty.


Skidmore, Chris. Richard III Brother Protector King. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. London, 2017.

Weir, Alison. Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen. Jonathan Cape. London.2013






(The video is from the crazy and wildly inaccurate series, but very enjoyable "The White Queen").







Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Beautiful May Queen of Italy

Monza, September 1930. Princess Maria-José of Belgium steps down from Borzacchini's Alfa Romeo car with the help of Prospero Gianferrari.

Queen Maria Jose of Italy was probably pleased when the first results of the referendum to decide whether Italy would retain the monarchy came out, but disappointment soon followed. The people voted for a republic in this referendum held after the Second World War, swayed by the former King Vittorio Emmanuell's links with Mussolini's hated and feared regime. His abdication in support of his son King Umberto II made no difference. The government sent the Savoys into exile and forbade the heirs from coming back for several years.

'The May Queen' was born in 1906, the daughter of King Albert 1 of Belgium and Duchess Elisabetta. Although her old aunt, the former Queen of Naples, told her not to marry that 'little Umberto of Savoy,' her parents planned for the marriage from when she was a child. They sent her to an Italian school and she also had a Florentine governess so that she would learn to speak Italian fluently. Young Maria Jose was not keen on an arranged marriage, but did her duty. The beautiful blue-eyed bride married the handsome army officer in 1930 in the Paolina Chapel at the Quirinale Palace in Rome.

Unfortunately, it was not a happy marriage, and the couple constantly bickered. However, they had four children, Maria Pia, Vittorio Emmanuel, Maria Gabriella and Maria Beatrice. Maria Jose hated Mussolini's Fascist regime and Mussolini had his chief of police keep her under surveillance. According to The Exiled Belgian Royalist, she was the kind of woman that Mussolini's regime disapproved. She was 'too thin, her hair was too short, she was too fashionable and she was too independent'. Maria Jose became President of Italy's Red Cross in 1939. During the Second World War, her relationships with famous people and her links with the Vatican helped her to forge ties with the Allies, but her pleas to Hitler to allow food supplies into Belgium and release Belgian POW's were in vain, as was her effort to broker a peace treaty with the US.

King Umberto only ruled for 27 days. After the war, the former Queen separated from him and lived in Switzerland with her daughters, and then in Mexico, while Umberto lived in Portugal. She wrote books about the House of Savoy and, an accomplished pianist herself, started a prize for musical composition. She returned to Italy in 1988. She died in 1994 in 2001.

Did Queen Maria Jose Have An Affair With Mussolini?

In 2011 an article in an Italian magazine suggested that the Queen had an affair with Mussolini! The evidence for this was in a letter to a journalist from the former dictator's youngest son Romano to a journalist in 2011. The affair was only short, but it was allegedly known to Mussolini's wife Rachele and caused her a lot of pain.

Another story appears to dispel this tale completely. Mussolini told his mistress Claretta Petacci that Maria Jose tried to seduce him on the beach at a seaside resort in 1937 but she was too thin and he didn't fancy her so he declined! Claretta thought that he would have boasted about an affair, if he had had one.

As the beautiful Queen hated Mussolini's regime and let her opinion be known and Mussolini often bragged about his mistresses, the story of this affair seems quite unbelievable. I think that we should give her the benefit of the doubt!

Beautiful song "Terra Promessa" about the May Queen by Petra Berger

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Queen's Official Birthday Celebrations

This is a bit late, I am sorry. It was sad to watch the Queen enjoying her birthday in such a lonely way.

Monday, April 6, 2020

The Queen's Broadcast During the War

When she was a young girl, the Queen (then Princess Elizabeth) and Princess Margaret spoke to evacuated children during Children's Hour in the depths of the Second World War in 1940. The Queen said yesterday that her inspiring speech about coronavirus reminded her of that first broadcast.

The Queen's Inspiring Speech about the Coronavirus

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Prince Albert's Model Cottages

Prince Albert's Model Cottage Chloe Bowles [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Prince Albert told his audience at a public meeting about the horrors of working-class conditions that 'wealth is an accident of society' and that those who are wealthy 'should intervene to ameliorate 'the evils produced by other accidents'. He had resolved to speak, in spite of being warned against it by Lord Russell, the PM, and the Queen actually helped him rehearse his address.

 In the mid-nineteenth century the working-classes certainly endured many evils, such as overcrowded conditions, long working hours, low wages and the dangers of nasty diseases, such as typhoid, cholera and rickets.  Moving to the cities for work meant that most lived in slums with several children sharing a room. Sometimes whole families lived in one room.  Poor relief was apparently not much help.After a tour of working -class conditions, Prince Albert was naturally horrified, and he resolved to do something about it. According to the historian Katy Layton-Jones, the Prince believed that if you could raise the quality of life for the working-classes, this would help to lessen social problems and social conflict. 1.

The Prince had been nominal president of the Society for Improving the Conditions of the Labouring Classes since 1844 but it was 1848, and he decided that it was time to act. He commissioned the construction of model working-class flats financed with his own money, and designed by the great architect Henry Roberts.  These buildings were extremely innovative, and became extremely influential, beginning the advance of improved public housing in Great Britain, America, and many other countries.

The neo-classical flats were built in a type of red brick, which had several advantages. It was fire-proof, damp-resistant, non-porous and cheap. Each flat had two levels, two living-areas, three bedrooms, a scullery, an airing cupboard and even an indoor toilet. The cottages also featured a central open staircase, and modern domestic appliances. The parent's bedroom was very large for the time. Comfort and privacy were emphasized.

These cottages were shown at Prince Albert's highest achievement, the Great Exhibition in 1851, where they could be seen free-of-charge.  The cottages were outside the Exhibition grounds but this didn't prevent 250,000 people visiting them! Visitors included the Queen and Charles Dickens. Soon after the model cottages were built, institutions such as the Peabody Trust, started construction of social housing based on this model. 

One model cottage may still be seen on Kennington Park Road, on the very spot where the Chartists gathered to fight for democratic reforms.

1. How Prince Albert Changed Britain for the Better

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