Friday, October 29, 2021

Was Edward IV's Marriage to Elizabeth Woodville Valid?


Unknown author, Anglo-Flemish School, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Was Edward IV’s Marriage Valid?

The beautiful golden-haired widow pleading with him for the return of her lands impressed the young King Edward IV. How brave she was to talk to the King herself! Her family fought on the Lancastrian side in the recent wars, the opposite side to him, but she dared to see him alone.

Edward soon fell in love with the lovely Elizabeth Woodville, but legend has it that when he tried to seduce her she suddenly threatened him with a knife, telling him that it was marriage or nothing. Determined to have the young woman, Edward married her in secret in 1464, not openly in the face of the church, as no banns were declared. There were rumours that he had even hired a pretend priest, so that he could have his way with Elizabeth, and that he’d done this before with other women!

However, Edward soon told his family about the marriage. They were furious about an alliance with the ambitious Woodvilles, and regarded Elizabeth’s status as too low for Edward. The Earl of Warwick, the powerful ‘Kingmaker’ was especially displeased when the King suddenly declared that he couldn’t marry the French Princess Bona, because he was already married. Princess Bona, the sister-in-law of Louis XI and the daughter of the Duke of Savoy would have been a much more prestigious match for Edward than an English widow with two sons already, even if she had an important mother, the Duchess of Bedford. Elizabeth’s father was a middle-ranking knight. Edward’s brothers, Richard and Clarence were ‘assuredly displeased’. The new Queen was not even a virgin, and a politically important treaty with Louis XI which included the arranged marriage with Princess Bona was ruined.

A Happy Marriage

Edward and Elizabeth were happily married for nineteen years, although handsome Edward had several mistresses, and had ten children. However, after Edward died suddenly in 1483, his brother Richard based his claim to the throne on the marriage being invalid,  because of the secrecy concerning it, the lack of evidence of its legitimacy, and because the King may have already had a pre-marital contract or even been married to Lady Eleanor Butler, making his children illegitimate.

Eleanor, the daughter of the first Earl of Shrewsbury, was also a young widow. She had been married to Sir Thomas Butler who died in battle in 1461. According to the chronicler Comynes, Edward promised to marry her after sleeping with her. He made this promise in front of Robert Stillington, the Bishop of Bath and Wells. This was enough to be a pre-marital contract, according to the decretals of Pope Alexander III.

The big flaw in this argument is that Eleanor came from a powerful family, and neither she nor they protested about his marriage to Elizabeth. Eleanor’s sister was the Duchess of Norfolk, and her mother was Margaret Beauchamp, oldest daughter of the Earl of Warwick, so they could have made a fuss.

The Bishop’s supporters presented a petition to Parliament, later called the Titulus Regius,setting out the argument that the marriage to Elizabeth was invalid, because of the pre-contract. The petition called this marriage ‘ungracious’ and ‘pretensed’, even suggesting that it may have been attained by the ‘sorcery’ and ‘witchcraft’ of Elizabeth and her mother, Jacquetta. This enabled Richard to become King.

There are still questions about the legitimacy of the marriage, even today, but as Edward made Elizabeth his Queen, and Eleanor’s family didn’t protest his marriage to her, I think that it was very likely to have been a valid match.




Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Norwegian Queen of Hearts. Princess Märtha of Norway

Märtha with her husband and daughter Ragnhild

Tears came to Princess Märtha's eyes as she stood on the deck of the American Legion watching Norwegian sailors on nearby boats recognised her and started to sing the Norwegian anthem "Yes We Love". She held the little Prince Harald (now King Harald V) high for them. She didn't know or even if when she would see her beloved country, now invaded by the Nazis, again.

The American Ambassador to Norway Florence Harriman had helped arrange Princess Märtha's escape from Norway through Sweden (where the King was pro-Nazi and not keen to provide accommodation) to America. She often watched as the young princess played with her two young daughters and her son in all kinds of weather, apparently never feeling seasick. The princess couldn't give in to her feelings in front of the children but she may have sometimes cried at night over Norway's fate in a dark, Nazi-dominated Europe.

The princess and her husband Crown Prince Olav first met President Franklin Roosevelt when they went to the U.S. to dedicate the Norwegian exhibit in 1939, and they became friendly. They probably held several conversations about the looming crisis in Europe with the President at Hyde Park and the White House. During their extensive ten-week tour they visited many states, including Virginia and Milwaukee. 

King Haakon refused to surrender to the Germans, and he and Prince Olav helped to support the Norwegian government in exile in the UK, but it was decided that Princess Märtha separate from them, because of fears that her children could be kidnapped. Quisling, whose name is synonymous with treason, named himself Prime Minister after the Norwegian government fled to the U.K. along with the King and his son, to help their country. President Roosevelt offered her asylum, and she and the children stayed at the White House while looking for a suitable residence. The President enjoyed driving around the countryside with the princess looking at houses, and playing with the children, but his attentions to her apparently made Missy, his secretary and perhaps his girlfriend, annoyed, according to many accounts. 

Finally, it was decided that the family could stay at Pook's Hill in Maryland, an attractive Tudor residence not far from the White House. The house was owned by Merle Thorpe, who named it after a collection of stories by Rudyard Kipling. He didn't like the New Deal policies, and was quite frosty about the situation! The Norwegian government bought the house in 1941. 

Princess Märtha and the President often met for dinners, and outings, and there are even rumours about a possible romance. Roosevelt's son James said that his father may have had a romance with her. The President was certainly very attached to her beautiful looks, and warm personality. He thought that she looked 'exactly as a princess should', but she was very much in love with her husband. They may have been flirtatious, but it is hard to believe that there was an actual romance. Prince Olav visited the Princess  from the UK occasionally during the war years, spending Christmas with her on one stay.

The President was extremely impressed by her extensive work to promote Norway's interests. She worked for the Red Cross, gave speeches and lectures, and helped refugees, even though she hated public speaking! The Crown Princess  Märtha thanked the President in a speech supporting the Norwegians when he presented the exiled Norwegian forces with the submarine chaser HNoMS King Haakon VII in 1942.

Princess Märtha died when she was only 54, without becoming Queen. However, the brave princess was much loved by the Norwegian people. The Bishop of Oslo said that: 'In our hearts, she has long been our Queen, and she will be so forever'.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

God Save Norway. King Haakon VII’s Dramatic Escape


Gustav Borgen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

King Haakon VII made a dramatic speech to his people from the inn in a small village near Elverum where he and Crown Prince Olav were staying in April 1940. He said that he could not tell them where he, the Crown Prince and the Government hid, for fear of attack by the German forces. He told them that: ‘High explosive and incendiary bombs and machine-gun fire were used against the civilian population and ourselves in the most unscrupulous and brutal fashion’. The attack could only have one object, the King informed them – to ‘annihilate all of us who were assembled to resolve questions in the best interests of Norway’.  He thanked all those fighting for Norway’s ‘independence and liberty’, and to remember those who had given their lives for the country. Finally, he parted with the moving words: ‘God save Norway.’

Norway, a neutral country, watched hopelessly as much of Europe fell to the Nazis like ten-pins, knowing that the Germans needed its iron-ore for their munitions, so it was strategically important. Sweden was also neutral, but Denmark soon fell to the Nazis, and the Danish King, King Haakon’s brother, ceded to their demands. The dark days of Nazi occupation were on the horizon. Luckily, the sinking of the heavy cruiser Blücher by the naval forces at Oscarbserg Fortress delayed the German advance into Oslo, enabling the royal family and government to flee capture.

The King, Crown Prince Olav and his family, and the government had already made a dramatic escape from the Royal Palace in Oslo in the early hours of April 8, after being told that the Germans were on their way. They headed to Hamar on the train but hearing the explosions of bombs falling nearby, they closed the curtains, lying on the floor in fear. Forced to get off the train because of the German attack, they resumed their journey, eventually reaching a tiny village near Elverum, where the King made his broadcast.

A few days after they fled the royal family made the sad decision to split up, considering the paramount importance of the young Prince Harald (now King Harald V of Norway), the heir to the throne. Crown Princess Märtha and the children travelled to her home country of neutral Sweden, and eventually went to America for the duration of the war.

The King met with the German envoy Curt Bräuer in Elverum, who pressured him to accept a new government headed by Quisling, who had staged a coup d’état, and was friendly with the Nazis. The King told him that he would ask his government to decide, disgusted that he’d left the entire responsibility on his shoulders. Supported by Prince Olav, the King threatened to abdicate if the government agreed to having Quisling as their leader, but they sided with King Haakon. According to King Haakon VII: The Man and the Monarch by Tim Greve, they were all deeply moved.

 Finally, escaping heavy bombing and the German advance they arrived at Tromso where Sir Cecil Dormer sadly informed the King about the withdrawal of Allied help, and the King and Crown Prince were requested to go to Britain where they could help the Norwegian cause. The Crown Prince offered to stay but he was strongly advised against it for fear of the royal house falling into German hands. The King’s last words to his Cabinet were: ‘God save our dear Fatherland’.

The King and Prince Olav left for London on June 2, 1940 on the Devonshire. Interestingly, the occupation government even requested his abdication in a letter to England, which he adamantly refused.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Another Birthday Video


Happy Birthday to Her Majesty

 It will probably be rather a sad, bittersweet birthday for the Queen without the love of her life, but I hope that it is as happy as possible!

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