Category Archives: Historical Femme Fatales

Hurrem Sultan “Roxelana” (c. 1500 – 1558) – House of Osman – First of the Sultanate of Women

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Hurrem Sultan

Known by her Slavic people as Roxelana, Alesksandra Lisowska, became the ruler of the most powerful and successful ruler of his age, by great talent in using her great beauty. Suleiman I of the Ottoman Empire, known as “Suleiman the Magnificent” in  the west and “Suleiman the Lawgiver” in the east, came to throne in 1520 at the age of 26 and ruled until 1566 with great success in peace and war. While Suleiman won his great victories, capturing Rhodes from the Knights of St. John in 1521, taking Hungary in 1526, and besieging Vienna with an army of 200,000 men in 1529, another war was waged in his harem. The Ottoman sultans had the tradition of never marrying: their children were the offspring of harem women and slaves. The reason why was that the queen of an earlier ruler of their line had been captured by enemies, and the humiliation had been so great that the dynasty resolved to prevent a repetition by having no more queens. So instead the ruler kept up to 300 girls in his harem, most of whom had been captured as spoils of war, or bought in the slave market. When they expected a visit from their master, they dressed in their finest robes and stood in line to receive him. He placed his handkerchief upon the shoulder of the one who pleased him most, a retired with her. The next morning she would be presented with cloth of gold, to make a dress, jewels, and her allowance would be increased. She would then be moved to more lavish apartments to reside among the Sultan’s favorites. A harem girl who did not catch the Sultan’s eye by the age of 25 was freed and released to marry elsewhere. Sometimes these marriages were arranged by the Sultan’s mother with other important men of the kingdom, and a nice dowry was provided for the bride. (Keep in mind that in Islam the bride is given the dowry, not the husband.)

Catching the Sultan’s eye was the road to fortune, but those who had his favor worked hard to keep it. In the early days of Suleiman’s reign the favorite concubine was a Circassian noble woman known as “The Rose of Spring” (Mahidevran). By her, Suleiman fathered Mustafa, his only son at the time, and heir apparent, who was a very talented youth. Mahidevran defended her position when a young Ruthenian (Russian) captive, Aleksandra, renamed Hurrem (One Who Brings Laughter/Joy) by the Sultan, was favored by the Sultan. Aleksandra came to the palace as a slave, she was captured by Tartar raiders who killed her entire family and kidnapped her. She was sold into slavery to the Crimea palace, and then given to the Sultan as a gift upon his ascension to the throne. Aleksandra was recognized for her beauty, gaiety, and cleverness and was favored by the Sultan at once. Mahidevran ordered that the girl never let the Sultan see her face again. Harem favorites often enforced such orders by bribing the Eunuchs and/or the use of poison: their servants were ready to kill in order to defend the position of their mistress. But Hurrem refused to obey. After her face was marked in a fight with Mahidevran, she managed to be seen by Suleiman, who inquired into the cause of her disfigurement. Hurrem’s triumph, and the disgrace of her rival followed.

Now the acknowledged favorite, she wanted more. In 1533, Mehmed, her son by Sultan Suleiman, died. She and the emperor both felt great grief, and Suleiman gave her rich presents to console her. She used them to build a mosque; but when she asked if she was acquiring credit in heaven, the ministers told her that all good deeds done by a slave are credited in heaven to her master. Suleiman freed her, on hearing this, and she also eventually converted to Islam; then she refused to sleep with him, since Islamic law said only a wife or slave could morally sleep with a man. The Emperor found himself forced to marry her and make her is empress, in 1544, even though the act was contrary to the policy of his dynasty.

Hurrem worked to improve her position. Suleiman’s faithful and talented servant was his principal minister, his brother-in-law the Grand Vizier Ibrahim, a Greek convert. He was not only a servant, but also a close friend and confidant to his master. With the aid of Suleiman’s gifts an favors, he began to rival the Sultan in magnificence. Hurrem hinted that the servant might desire to become the master, planting the seed of doubt into the Sultan’s mind and heart. She continued to repeat her warnings until Suleiman finally believed them. In 1536, Ibrahim Pasha was found strangled in his bed. The Sultan had him drugged and arranged his death so that he would never know what was happening to him.

Hurrem’s next objective, having chosen a protege to replace Ibrahim as Vizier, was to have one of her sons declared as heir to the throne. This could be easily done as the Ottomans did not practice primogeniture, in which the eldest son becomes the next ruler. The Ottoman Sultan’s could name any son heir, giving them the opportunity to chose the most able of their sons to succeed them. In addition to hating Mustafa, the son of her rival Mahidevran, she needed to get rid of him completely to make her sons secure. It was also common practice that the new Sultan’s typically murdered their brothers as they were potential rivals to the throne, and potential leaders of rebellions. She got Mustafa, who was beloved by the troops and the people, exiled to be governor of Diyarbekir, and began to whisper into the Sultan’s ear that Mustafa was so popular because he was building a party to rebel against his father.

Once Suleiman suspected this, Mustafa’s fate was sealed. Suleiman assembled an army, which he pretended was for Mustafa to command against the Persians. He summoned Mustafa, who came with Cihangir, the youngest of Hurrem’s sons, who was his closest friend, and who feared for Mustafa’s safety. Only Mustafa was admitted into the royal presence, he was disarmed first, while his brother waited anxiously outside. When Mustafa was brought before his father the Sultan, four slaves strangled him as his father watched. When the body was displayed publicly as a warning to traitors, Cihangir killed himself, saying to his father as he stabbed himself, “Monster, neither you nor my guilty mother deserves children like us.”

It is said that after Mustafa’s death, Hurrem, who was thorough, had his young son Ibrahim, by an unknown slave, killed as well. She sent an Eunuch to do the job, he separated the boy from his mother and left him dead.

Hurrem continued intriguing. Her older son, Selim, was adopted as his father’s heir, but she preferred her younger son, Bayezid, who was handsome, ambitious, clever, fawning, and deceitful. She sought ways to make him the heir, and no doubt only her own sudden death saved Selim and Suleiman. She died of a violent colic in the arms of her trusting husband.

Sultan Suleiman had three known wives (possibly four), but only one official wife, Hurrem.

Suleiman had three known consorts:

Gulfem Hatun, daughter of an Albanian Bey;

Mahidevran Hatun, daughter of Mizra Abdullah Haydar Bey and his wife Nazan Hatun;

Haseki Hurrem Sultan, daughter of Ruthenian (what is now parts of Ukraine, Russian, and Poland) Orthodox priest, Havrylo Lisovsky and his wife Leksandra Lisovsky.

Sultan Suleiman had ten known children:

Sehzade Murad – son with Gülfem

Sehzade Mustafa – son with Mahidevran

Sehzade Ahmed – son with Mahidevran

Raziye Sultan – daughter with Mahidevran

Sehzade Mehmed – son with Hürrem

Mihrimah Sultan – daughter with Hürrem

Sehzade Abdullah – son with Hürrem

Sultan Selim II – son with Hürrem

Sehzade Bayezid – son with Hürrem

Sehzade Cihangir – son with Hürrem

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Marie-Madeleine d’Aubray (1630-1676)

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Madame De Brinvilliers

Maddie, learned as a child to get what she wanted- pleasure, pretty things, status, and the money with which to buy these. A pretty, precocious child, she had the charm and the intelligence to manipulate people. In 1650 she persuaded her father to arrange for her the marriage she wanted with Antoine Gobelin, Marquis de Brinvilliers, a rich nobleman of the family which owned the famous Gobelin tapestry works.

The marriage was a step up in the world for Marie-Madeleine: now in high society, she learned to spend money fast for the pleasures she wanted. She gambled for high stakes, and took lovers: her husband, who had his own mistress, did not object.

In 1659 her husband introduced her to a young Gascon adventurer, his friend the Chevalier de Sainte Croix. They quickly became lovers- openly and scandalously so. In 1663 her father, who hated scandal, used his official connections to get a “lettre de cachet,” an order for the arrest and confinement of Sainte Croix. These were readily available to persons in positions of influence, and were often used to deal with family scandals. After his arrest Sainte Croix was imprisoned in the Bastille for six weeks. There he shared a cell with Exili, a well-known Italian prisoner. Exili was used by statesmen for a period as part their policy, but at the moment the government thought him to dangerous to be at large. In their enforced intimacy, Exili and Sainte Croix became friendly: apparently Exili told Sainte Croix many of his secrets, and suggested to him that a man could make a good living by arranging the removal of unwanted people.

Sainte Croix had already dabbled with alchemy, his period’s ancestor of chemistry. When he was released, he set up a laboratory and began working seriously with poisons. Marie-Madeleine dropped the affair with her childrens’ tutor which she had begun to amuse herself with while Sainte Croix was absent, and followed her lovers new interest. They decided to prevent further paternal interference with their lives by poisoning Papa d’Aubray, a step which would also provide Marie-Madeleine with money to pay her debts.

But before undertaking a murder where their motive would be so apparent, the two decided to experiment with the effects of poison. Marie-Madeleine began to visit the Paris charity hospital, the Hotel-Dieu; she began bringing delicacies from her own kitchen to some patients, her “special children,” as she called them. Some died rapidly, some slowly: at length she was satisfied that she understood her poisons.

In 1666, her father fell ill. Marie-Madeleine was summoned, and went to help nurse him. Despite her devoted care, he became worse and worse. After twenty-seven to thirty doses of poison he died, thanking his daughter for her care with his last breath. the sudden legacy reduced her debts, but half of her inheritance went to Sainte Croix; she also resented that three-quarters of her estate went to her sister and her two brothers, when she had done all the work.

By now she seems to have become intoxicated with the sense of power she felt. Just to test the effects of the poison, she gave some to her maid, and to her own daughter (she disliked her anyway). They survived, since she was also testing her antidote.

Sainte Croix, alarmed by her recklessness, took away her poisons, but agreed to accept her as a client for his thriving poison business: he would arrange the deaths of her two brothers, who lived together, and Marie-Madeleine would inherit another nice chunk of money. Her part was to persuade her brothers to hire a servant, La Chaussee. They did not know that Sainte Croix had trained the man as a poisoner. Soon after her entered the d’Aubray household, the brothers fell ill: they vomited, their insides burned. La Chaussee nursed them devotedly, night and day, but they got worse. Both died: they left La Chaussee legacies, to thank him for his care.

Marie-Madeleine’s financial problems were solved, but only temporarily. Her extravagance outran all expenses. And she had other problems: La Chaussee blackmailed her into sleeping with him, and she quarreled with Sainte Croix, who tried to poison her. Recognizing the symptoms, she took the antidote. His business expanded to the point where discovery was inevitable before long.

Sainte Croix escaped discovery by dying in his laboratory in 1672, apparently poisoned by something he was making. When the police examined his laboratory, they found various poisons labelled as belonging to Madame de Brinvilliers. La Chaussee broke under torture, and told everything he knew.

But Marie-Madeleine had fled when he was arrested. She had taken refuge in a convent in the independent state of Liege. When Louis XIV’s army occupied Liege, she was lured out of her convent and arrested. Enraged at having been tricked, she tried to kill herself by biting a piece from her wineglass and swallowing it. When this failed, she tried to seduce the soldier of her guard.

After her trial, she was condemned to be taken in a dung cart to the place of execution, where she would be beheaded, and her body would be burnt. This was actually a merciful sentence during those times. The dung cart annoyed her: it offended her pride. The mob howled with rage as she was carted to the scaffold. She spent an hour kneeling there with her head on the block, while the executioner cut her long hair to prepare her for his stroke. The priest comforted her while she waited. At sunset the executioner removed her head with one stroke of his long sword.

Frances Howard, Countess of Somerset (1590 – 1632)

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Frances Howard

Like all ladies born to powerful noblemen, Frances Howard, was destined to be used as a political pawn for her family to gain more power. At the age of 14 she married 13 year old Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex. They were separated after the wedding, probably so the union would not be consummated. Sometimes this was done, when either the bride or grooms parents did not trust the other family so much. That way, if the other family becomes troublesome, or does not follow through on promises made, pay dowries, or a better match comes along, the marriage can be easily dissolved. Of course they used the excuse as “they are so young.” However, at the time, young people their age (or even younger) got married and had babies all the time. It was obvious there were some misgivings about the match from the beginning.

While Frances’s husband was away, learning the things young Lords learn: like how to be a competent knight and kill in the name of the King… The young and beautiful Frances Howard met and fell in love with Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset. 1st Earls are always interesting characters… To be a 1st of anything, you must have pleased your King. Usually favorites are 1st “this or that.” Robert Carr, must have been a political catch… (And he even had the same name as Frances’s husband. Pretty convenient considering she did not have to worry about saying the wrong name if she ever had to suffer her husband’s attentions.)

Ahhhh young love! Of course this ruined her relationship with her husband… Most likely when he came back, he found his young bride not interested in him at all, cold, and disgusted… How could she possibly like him, when she was in love with another man? Rumor was, she even made love to Robert Carr and was no longer a Virgin.

Seeing as becoming the wife of the King, James I of England, (and VI of Scotland’s), buddy was very good indeed, Frances’s power hungry father and uncle began to petition to annul her marriage. They claimed she was still a Virgin; that even though she tried to consummate the marriage with her husband, it was declared publically he that could not perform his duties. She accused her husband of being impotent, which is the most shameful thing for a man. One can suspect, they both could not stand each other for things to get so ugly in the end. However, it’s kind of expected, given their circumstances.

Devereux was humiliated, but he lashed right back out at his wife and her self seeking family. He began getting on with prostitutes and other willing ladies. He made it known that he was fully capable of the act. It was just he could not with Frances. Frances was a known beauty of her time according to the ideal beauty of her era, so it wasn’t that she was unattractive. It was the fact that she reviled her husband, calling him names and she was very mean to him. Completely understandable as she was very young and deeply in love with another man.

The quickest way for an annulment was to prove that no consummation took place and that Frances was still “Virgo Intacta.” A bunch of nuns came to visit and examine her. There was some question though… Was she a Virgin still? There were rumors that she and Carr were lovers. It was also interesting that the lady was shy and asked to be veiled during the procedure… It’s not far fetched that some young maiden took her place in the examination. All that is known was that she was found to be untouched. As the King of England was also the head of the church ever since uncle Henry VIII broke with Rome, it is a no brainer that the annulment was eventually granted so the King’s best friend could marry his lady.

When a friend and advisor of Carr, was trying to warn him against the marriage. he suddenly found himself imprisoned in the tower and mysteriously poisoned. It was revealed that the Countess of Somerset was responsible. She wasn’t going to let anyone get in the way of getting what she wanted. Both the Earl and Countess were imprisoned in the tower and convicted of murder. They were spared execution and later pardoned then released. See? It’s nice to have friends in high places.

She earns a place among History’s Femme Fatales.

Catherine De Medici (1519-1589)

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Catherine De Medici

Catherine De Medici was Queen Consort of France, and Countess of Auvergne.

Niccolo Machiavelli argued in his “Prince,” (I highly recommended reading by the way), that a ruler should pursue his objectives without worrying whether his methods were moral: he dedicated the book to Lorenzo de’ Medici, whose daughter Catherine followed this advice. She spent a lifetime using murder as a weapon in attempting to keep power, rule France, and put her children on thrones. A very dedicated mother indeed.

Catherine had a troubled childhood. Within a year of her birth in Florence, both her parents died of the ravages of syphilis. She survived several battles while growing up. In 1533 her uncle the Pope arranged her marriage to Henri, Duke of Orleans, son of the King of France, who became King Henri II in 1547. For the first ten years of their marriage, Catherine was unable to produce children. She was unimportant and powerless. But her position improved when she presented her husband with an heir in 1543- Francis. (Interesting that she miraculously started having children after a decade of marriage… one can ponder, and that is exactly how rumors start flying.) What is even more spectacular was that Francis was the first of ten children, of whom only two survived Catherine herself. Her children were sickly, suffering from the inheritable diseases transmitted by her parent’s and Henri’s. (Or was it something else?) Gradually Catherine won status and power, for before that the King’s mistress, the amazingly beautiful Diane de Poitiers, was the most powerful woman in the Kingdom. However, having legitimate royal babies changes everything. In 1559, Catherine briefly lost power when during a tournament, a sliver from a broken lance lodged into Henri’s eye, and killed him.

Her oldest son was now King Francis II at sixteen. Sickly and not terribly intelligent, Francis was easily dominated and influenced by his wife, young Mary Stuart, Queen of the Scots, and likewise, Mary was dominated by her powerful uncles who were apart of the Guise family of Lorraine. But their dominance and Catherine’s eclipse ended when Francis II died in 1560. The crown was passed onto Francis’s brother and Mary Queen of Scots was sent packing back to Scotland, after her mother, Marie de Guise, who was ruling as regent, was murdered.

The new King, Charles IX, was only ten, and although the French disliked being ruled by a woman, and often complained of “the Italian woman,” she became the ruler, taking the title of king’s governante, by which she signed herself for the rest of her life. She was at this time a short, very stout woman with bulgy eyes and a strong jaw, who always dressed in black, mourning her husband. Full of energy, she loved to work, and enjoyed being in power. She was always cheerful, which was as well: she needed optimism to deal with her situation, as she and her children were caught between two powerful families, each of which wanted to control the government, using religious controversy between Catholics and Protestants for its own purposes. At this point perhaps a third of the French adhered to the new religion, Protestantism. The Bourbon family, next heirs to the throne, after Catherine’s children, had become Huguenots, as the French Protestants were called, and had the backing of this party. The guise family, on the other hand, were extreme Catholics who favored persecuting all Protestants, and used the Catholic cause to gain the power they wanted. Catherine pursued a policy of peace between the religions, and balance between the rival families, trying to keep either from becoming powerful enough to dominate the country. She threaded her way through eight different religious wars of the reign, indifferent to which religion predominated so long as she held power and her children prospered. Protestants massacred Catholics, Catholics massacred Protestants. All good Christians demonstrated their love for their religion by their willingness to dedicate the blood of their neighbors to the glory of God. (It’s an age old story as old as time.)

Catherine alternately favored and persecuted each party. When the Guises became too powerful, the head of the family was killed by an assassin. Catherine may have had a hand in his death: her comment was, “Behold the work of God. Those who wished to destroy me are dead.” When the Huguenots became too powerful, she tried to kidnap their leaders.

Catherine, who believed all quarrels could be settled by a dynastic marriage, proposed a new truce with the Huguenots. Her daughter Marguerite would marry young Henri of Bourbon, King of Navarre, the titular King of the Huguenot cause, in the presence of Admiral de Coligny, their most respected leader. Although all good Catholics were scandalized and the Pope refused to consent to the marriage, Catherine promised the Huguenots would be safe, and they came to Paris for a royal wedding.

King Charles wanted to make himself independent of his mother’s dominance. He found a father figure in Coligny, who wanted to end the religious wars in France by uniting the two sides against a foreign enemy. He filled Charles with the idea of winning glory by defeating the Spanish in Flanders. Catherine opposed the idea: she always favored peace, and doubted the French could beat the Spanish. She and coligny battled for control of the King. Coligny would gain the advantage in her absence, but when she returned her poor son could never stand up to her. A tubercular youth, he used up his frustrated energy in violent exercise and violent hunting. Charles liked the sight of blood, and when too ill to go hunting, would kill domestic animals about the court.

Catherine decided that she could retain her control of the King and the country by letting the Guises assassinate Coligny, after which she expected that the Protestants, seeking revenge, would rid her of the Guises. Machiavelli would have approved the plot, but not its execution. The assassin whom Catherine loaned to the Guises only wounded the Admiral. The King ordered a royal investigation and swore revenge. The failure of Catherine’s plot endangered her. She decided to save herself. At a meeting in the Tuilleries Gardens, she planned the murder of the Protestant leaders. After sending out orders to the royal troops, and to the people of Paris, who hated the Huguenots, Catherine went to her son the King. She told him that he must either allow her plan to be carried out, or arrest her as one of the Admiral’s assassins. Charles fought his mother, wanting to save his Protestant friends and preserve his Royal promise to protect the guests at the wedding, but his strength was not great enough to defeat his mother. He yelled, “Kill them all, so that no one will be left to reproach me afterwards! Let them all be killed!”

On the morning of St. Bartholomew’s Day, the massacre began with the murder of Coligny, who was stabbed in his room, thrown out a window, and kicked in the face as he was dying. His body was carried through the streets of Paris, with everyone stabbing at it. Then murder broke out in the streets, and even in the Louvre, the Royal Palace, where many Protestant wedding guests had been offered hospitality and protection. Henri of Navarre, the royal bridegroom, was saved on Catherine’s orders, as a future counterbalance to the Guise power, but was forced to renounce his religion. His friends were slaughtered in the corridors, or massacred in the courtyard, where the King looked down as they were pleading for his mercy. Charles IX was even said to have shot from his window, hunting Protestants running through the streets.

The Paris mob took up the pursuit of Protestants, private enemies, and loot. The massacre continued in the streets until the 30th. In the provinces massacres continued some time longer. The final death toll was perhaps 3,000 in Paris, perhaps 10,000 in the rest of France. No one knows exactly. Catherine’s comment over the whole bloody episode was, “Better that it should happen to them than to us.” But the massacre did not solve France’s problems. Charles died at the age of twenty-four, in a bloody sweat, tortured by remorse. His last words were, “Ah, my mother.”

He was succeeded by his brother Henri, the last Valois King. Henri liked to dress in woman’s clothing. (You can see him depicted in Shekhar Kapur’s film “Elizabeth,” as one of the suitors of Queen Elizabeth I of England.) When he was not associating with his perfumed favorites, known as the “mignons”, he walked in religious processions in which he whipped the back of the courtier in front of him, while the one behind the king tore his back with his whip. The guises wanted Henri to call the Inquisition into France: Henri replied, “I prefer a heretic to a corpse. I won’t have religion become a butchery, and the alter of God’s sacrifice a shambles.” The Guises pressured him: Catherine negotiated on his behalf with them.

At this point Catherine betrayed Henri, her only remaining son. He had confirmed as his heir Henri of Bourbon. She wanted her grandson, a Guise, the son of her daughter Claude, named heir. Encouraged by her astrologers, she believed that she would live many more years, and she planned to run the country again while her grandson grew up. Henri refused the treaty she had negotiated on his behalf, and had to flee Paris. Most of France was controlled either by Huguenots, or by Guisards. To preserve his throne, Henri had the Duke of Guise killed while he watched. The country rose against the King, and Catherine, seeing that all her life’s work had resulted only in the death of a great many people, fell ill. She died thirteen days after the murder of Guise. No one had time to mourn. her last son, Henri III, was stabbed the same year.

Catherine’s youngest son, Henry the Duke of Anjou, depicted in Shekhar Kapur’s film Elizabeth.

Why did most of the Medici children Perish? This article may shed some light on the dangers of growing up in the Renaissance.

Did the Medici Children Suffer from Rickets?

 

Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482)

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Margaret of Anjou2

Marguerite d’Anjou, of the House of Valois, became Queen Consort of England when she married Lancaster King, Henry VI. Although from very noble lineage (Margaret’s father was not only Duke of Anjou, but he was also titular King of Sicily, Naples, and Jerusalem) she was pretty much without wealth. The fact that her parents could not provide a dowry for her marriage to Henry VI meant it had to be kept secret, unless the Lord’s of the of England revolt in protest against the match. Royal brides should bring something of value to the table after all. However, the English King desired the match. When they married she was fifteen years old and he was 23. She may have been beautiful, but she was not the ideal beauty of the time. During these times, plump, curvy, well endowed women were desired. Margaret’s nickname was “La Petite Creature.” Also golden hair was also valued, and Margaret despite what some pictures show her as, could have been darker like Mediterranean people tended to be.

Regardless of her looks it was a well known fact that she was a very educated, strong willed, and had a dominating personality. This was in many ways both admired and hated in her, (or any Queen for that matter). The thing was, Henry VI was weak and overly zealous when it came to his religion. Also, he suffered from bouts of insanity just like his maternal grandfather, Charles VI of France. Henry VI’s father, Henry V, was a great soldier and leader of men; everything his son who succeeded him was not. Henry V, famously ended the Hundred Years War with France when Charles VI’s Queen, Isabella of France, was forced to relinquish the crown to him upon her husband’s death and married her daughter, Catherine of Valois to him. If Isabella of France was blamed for giving the Crown of France to Henry V of England, then Henry V’s son’s wife, Margaret of Anjou was blamed for losing the French claim to the French crown by way of key territories to the French… Ironic? Maybe…

Margaret only produced one son with Henry VI. Soon after Prince Edward was born, the King slipped into complete madness. Immediately a fight for power ensued. Lancasters against the Yorkist Plantagenets. The Lancasters had for their sigil a red Rose, the Yorkists a white rose. This bid for power turned into what was famously known as “The War of the Roses.” The Lancasters, of course supported the King and Queen, for the King was a Lancaster. The Yorkists supported the powerful and wealthy Plantagenet Lords who ruled before the Lancasters. During her time as Queen, Margaret was always fighting with the Earl of Warwick, known as “The King Maker,” for control over her husband.

During this civil war the Lancasters were defeated and Henry VI taken prisoner by the Duke of York and The Earl or Warwick. The Yorkists now had the King in Check and under their control. However the Lancasters in turn defeated the Yorkists and freed their King. The Queen could no longer pretend the King’s disabling madness was only temporary, she quickly seized power for her infant son, Edward. If the King was unable to rule then the crown would go to the Prince and as he was only a child, she his mother and the Queen, would rule as regent. People did not like women rulers back then so they did not make it easy for her.

In order to raise money for her armies, Margaret sold some key pieces of Land in France that made it impossible for England to keep control of the French. She lost some strategic ports. She lost many brownie points with the English people and lost the claim French crown just as quick as it was won by her husband’s father. She earned a lot of hatred for this folly and gave substance to the stereotype that women make terrible rulers. Also, this made Margaret seem disloyal. She was French after all, and this move made her seem like she had only cared for France’s interests, not England’s.

There was a period when England had two Kings, Edward IV (Plantagenet), and insane Henry VI (Lancaster). Once again Henry VI was a prisoner of the Yorkists and Margaret was forced to flee into Scotland with her son. It wasn’t until Edward IV angered the Earl of Warwick by his marriage to the commoner Elizabeth Woodville, that Henry VI was restored (or more like Margaret was restored) to power. However, as she returned to England they were attacked by Yorkists and the Prince was killed. Shortly after, it is suspected that Henry VI was murdered. The Yorkists now had complete undisputed control, (for a time), and Edward IV was the only King of England. Margaret was taken prisoner, but was eventually thrown back to France. Her power snuffed out completely.

Henry VI and Maragret of Anjou

Isabelle of Bavaria (c. 1370 – 1435)

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Isabelle of Bavaria

Isabelle “Isabeau” of Bavaria, was baptized Elizabeth Wittelsbach. She was a descendant of Charlemagne and came from a very noble house. Bavaria was also one of the most powerful German states at that time. She was an ideal match, for any King or Prince, for daughters of prince’s were born to build powerful alliances among the greatest Kingdoms or Duchies around the World.

When Isabelle was 15 or 16, she was sent to France to marry the young French king, Charles VI. Charles was a strong, athletic, and passionate; Isabelle was beautiful and eager for marriage. They immediately liked each other and were married about 3 days after their first meeting. Immediately, their passions began to produce children. About a year after marriage, Isabelle presented the King with a Prince. They would have 12 children (6 princes and 6 princesses), but only one son survived into adulthood, and five daughters. This was very common at the time and infant mortality was extremely high. 6 surviving children was commendable.

The happy marriage actually did not last very long. The King began to slip into periods of madness. During these fits, the Lords of the realm struggled for power over the King. Something the strong willed and shrewdly intelligent Isabelle would not allow. She immediately allied herself with her husband’s brother, the Duke of Orléans. Together, they took over the Kingdom whenever the King became indisposed. However, it became often and the fits became more erratic. It is documented that the King would not even recognize his own wife and once demanded that she be arrested and charged with witchcraft, ranting and raving that she was trying to use black magic on him and take over the Kingdom. This was dangerous, and some of the Lords who did not like Isabelle or the Duke wanted to feed that insanity into the King so they could gain control of governing of the Kingdom. The thing is, foreign women who married foreign men had their own agendas. They were their fathers (or brothers, uncles, or cousins) most able ambassadors. They were almost always working for the interest of their family. This caused many Queen reagents or Queen mothers to be disliked or seem untrustworthy with the running of their husband or son’s Kingdoms. Women had to fight, and fight hard to maintain their power and positions in these type of situations.

Soon rumors began to surface that the Queen was having a love affair with the Duke of Orléans. As the Kings brother, not only was this considered treason, it was also considered incest. It is not certain if those were just rumors started by the enemy Lords. It is very likely, but it is also possible the Queen took comfort in the strength and protection the King’s brother provided her. The King most of the time verbally abused the Queen and treated her most vile due to his illness. However, devout Christians of the age considered relations with a husband or wife’s siblings the same as relations with ones own siblings. It’s kind of hard to tell, not knowing just how devout Isabelle and the Duke were. Most likely they were, so the rumors seem most likely just rumors. Even so, the Duke was set upon by a mob of some men of the enemy Lords and assassinated. Isabelle was now on her own to deal with a civil war that broke out within the realm.

By the time all Isabelle’s older sons died, leaving the youngest Charles heir, the rumors about her and the Duke as lovers began to haunt her. Even the King was convinced or manipulated into believing that Charles was not his son, but his brother’s. He disinherited his son after he caused much trouble in a Civil War. When Henry V invaded France, the chaos that was taking place within made it easy for him to gain control. It was at this time that the famous Treaty of Troyes was drawn up that would set England and France against each other for centuries. It is Queen Isabelle who is held responsible for it, as she was acting for her mentally disabled husband.

Her son had been disinherited and the next heir by the law at the time was the Duke’s oldest son, the King’s nephew. However, the Duke’s son was a prisoner in London. Henry V stepped into a country that had no heir and an insane King who was incapable of producing more children. Instead of surrendering France completely to Henry V, Isabelle agreed to give her daughter, Catherine of Valois, in marriage to him. Then, if the King of France died without any legitimate heir, Henry V, will be the next rightful heir to the throne of France. Basically all Henry V had to do was wait. The King of France actually outlived Henry V, dying few months after him. However, Henry V had a son with Catherine of Valois, who became Henry VI, King of France and England. This was the reasoning behind the English King’s claim to the Crown of France up until the 19th Century.

Joanna I of Naples (1326 – 1382)

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Joanna of Naples

Joanna Anjou, Queen of Naples; Countess of Provence and Forcalquier; Queen Consort of Mojorca, titular Queen of Jerusalem, and Sicily; and Princess of Achaea, was obviously a very wealthy and powerful woman. In fact she became Queen of Naples at the age of 13. Despite being Queen, this was a dangerous time for women to rule. Women heiresses of the nobility were always at risk for being abducted, raped, and forced into marriage. It was very hard for them to hold onto their inheritances on their own. There was always some man trying to take what was rightfully theirs which made these women hard as stone.

Joanna was no different. In fact, she was betrothed to the King of Hungary’s son, Prince Andrey, when she was 8 years old. They were actually raised together. It could be said that the boy was a sort of political hostage when Joanna’s grandfather was alive, who was the King of Naples at that time. Prince Andrey’s father tried to lay claim to the Kingdom of Naples as the heir next in line, but Joanna’s grandfather disagreed. He named his Grand-Daughter as his heir, and betrothed her to the Hungarian Prince as a way to shut his father up for awhile. The Prince then had to live in Naples to further ensure the Hungarian King’s good will. However, there were some arguments about whether Andrey would become King or only be King Consort. The King of Naples did not even want him to be consort, which did not sit well with the Hungarian’s who felt they were entitled to the throne anyway. When the King of Naples died, the Neapolitan’s acted quickly, for they knew Hungary would. Prince Andrey tried to find a way to flee, but he found himself stuck. Joanna was crowned Queen, and Prince Andrey was soon dead. The Hungarian King insisted Joanna marry his other son, Prince Stephan, but she declined. Naples now had an absolute enemy in Hungary.

Joanna decided she would marry Louis of Taranto, a fierce warlord and shrewd advisor. Joanna was shrewd herself and new she needed the protection of a man in order to keep other men away. She was willing to let Louis be her King in return for his protection. So they married, but were attacked by Louis’s brother Robert. They soon found themselves in a fight with Sicily and Hungary.

After her husband died, she married twice more. However, she never granted them title of King. She also took any lover she wanted, and if someone displeased her, she had them dealt with, as she did the Hungarian Prince. Although she ruled with the sword, it really was the only way. There were just too many men trying to take power from women. Regardless of her stone cold ruthlessness at times, she is considered one of Naples greatest rulers. Crime was at an all time low during her reign, she protected business, and she was the patron of art and culture.