While Elizabeth I’s reputation as the Virgin Queen has been in question since her own lifetime, the ladies around her certainly didn’t aspire to the virginal state, despite their mistresses repeated lectures on the matter. It’s not known exactly why Elizabeth shied away from taking a husband, though theories range from witnessing her father’s violently unsuccessful marriages, a fear of pregnancy, or for the political implications of raising a man above her to the throne. Whether personal or political, Elizabeth’s negative opinion of marriage did not just apply to her own and she was notoriously unimpressed by romantic dalliances among her ladies, unless it was she who had orchestrated them. Elizabeth demanded absolute loyalty, requiring her ladies to devote their time solely to their duties in her service, at the expense of family life. Ladies who left court to have children were expected to return as soon as they were physically able to, leaving the child with a wet nurse far from court. The Queen’s reactions to court romances were sometimes so extreme that many of those around here conducted their affairs, and subsequent weddings, in secret, only to suffer Elizabeth’s increased displeasure when the marriage was discovered. Towards the end of her reign her attendants were so concerned with marrying in secret that the Spanish ambassador remarked the Queen discovered a new match each week. Here are some of the more unfortunate women who incurred Elizabeth’s wrath through their choice of husbands, though I’ve left out the most obvious; Lettice Knollys who married Robert Dudley, solely because the relationship between Lettice, Dudley and Lady Douglas Sheffield is worthy of a piece all of its own. Continue reading
Spoiler warning: Game of Thrones Season 5 finale.
I love The Tudors, I probably shouldn’t, but I really do. The history is so ridiculous and mashed together and I wonder why at various times they make up stuff when the actual history is far more interesting and dramatic, but the acting is good and the costumes are stunning. It would take far, far too long to take apart every instance of artistic licence in this highly dramatised series, but here are some examples of the outright fictionalised aspects.
The Mistresses of Henry VIII attests that while the lives and personalities of Henry VIII and his six wives are well documented, Henry was involved in numerous affairs with women who have been largely forgotten by history. Hart’s book claims to ‘rescue’ these women from ‘obscurity’ relating the tales of Henry’s lesser known lady loves. How far she succeeds in this endeavor however, is debatable. Continue reading
The position of royal mistress, even a recognised maîtresse en titre was fraught with difficulties. The lucky, or perhaps more aptly, unlucky woman would have to work tirelessly to maintain the king’s interest. She would have to dispose of rivals without reducing herself to nagging the king or displeasing him in any way lest she herself be dismissed. Her political adversaries would be constantly trying to replace her and this was without the most basic demand of satisfying the king’s every whim. It is no wonder that some mistresses made bids for the throne, some successful others less so. At least as queen she was, in theory, unassailable or at the very least granted a measure of security her previous position would not have allowed her. Here we take a look at some of the women who tried to make the leap from first lady at court to first lady of the land, some of whom succeeded, others however were less than successful. Continue reading
In an ambitious project, Dawn B. Sova put together The Encyclopedia of Mistresses in 1993, which as you might expect is a collection of encyclopaedic-esque entries for women who have gone down in history as ‘the other woman,’ covering an impressive time period; from the early Greek age to the 20th century. Although I bought this book for my first thesis (a look at the position of the ‘mistress’ in Medieval England up to Anne Boleyn) it is in no way academic and very accessible to any reader. Continue reading
‘The Merry Monarch’ was very merry indeed. Known for his love of partying and women Charles II brought fun back to England in a big, big way. Even before his return to England however, Charles was having fun in his own way, mostly with women. He acknowledged over a dozen illegitimate children with several mistresses, though he had several others with whom he had no children. Unlike many monarchs Charles maintained a number of mistresses at any one time rather than a single maîtresse en titre (official mistress at court). Unsurprisingly, considering the larger than life personality of the king, the women who captured his heart were also strong characters in themselves and as most of them were in ‘service’ to the king at the same time there was plenty of opportunity for conflict. Continue reading