Monday, February 21, 2011

Kate Middleton: Oldest Royal English Bride Ever?

Recently, I came across this article promising to deliver five facts about soon-to-be royal bride, Kate Middleton. The video interview and the text on this site declares that Kate Middleton will be the oldest royal bride ever at age 29.

Hmmm...this sounded fishy to me.

What defines a "royal bride" is not specifically stated. Therefore, I created my own search parameters to try and ascertain whether or not this is true. I examined the following:

**The period from William the Conqueror (1066) to Elizabeth Tudor (1558)

**The age at marriage of each royal bride in the direct line of succession during this period

**In the case of a disputed year of birth, I chose the year that most scholars today agree upon.

Here is what I found:

Royal Brides (Possibly) Older than Kate Middleton

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor's exact year of birth is uncertain. Her parents married in 1121, and scholars dispute whether her birth year was 1122 or 1124. The year 1122 has been more widely accepted because she was noted to be over 80 at her death in 1204, because contemporary chroniclers actually undershot her age by two years listing her birth date as 1120, and because the Aquitainian lords swore fealty to her on her fourteenth birthday in 1136. What is known for certain is that she was married to Henry II of England in 1152. This would have made her (possibly) 30 years old.

Joan of Navarre

Joan was the second wife of Henry IV of England (reign 1399-1413). Henry was first married to Mary de Bohun, but she died five years before he became king. Henry IV is credited with the overthrow of Richard II in 1399. He married Joan of Navarre in 1403. Based on the respective birth years of her children by her first marriage, Joan was probably born in 1370. This would have made her 33 when she married Henry. Although 1370 is a disputed birth year, her previous marriage to John V, Duke of Brittany in 1386 would have made her 16. The year 1370 would have to be nearly 4 years off to line up Joan's age with Kate Middleton. This is a pretty big spread--not unheard-of, but it is unlikely. In addition, that doesn't even take into account that she could have been older than 16 by a few years when she first married.

Anne Boleyn

There are two birth years for Anne--1501 and 1507. The most recent scholarship has tended to agree upon the earlier date. The main evidence is a letter Anne wrote and sent to her father from court in Belgium. The letter is dated between 1513 and 1514, and scholars strongly feel that the handwriting suggests an older girl at least in her teen years as author rather than a 6-7 year old child. If we accept 1501 as her birth year, when she married Henry VIII in 1533, she would have been 32 years old.

Katherine Parr

Although unknown, most recent scholarship points to a birth year of 1512 for Henry VIII's last queen. Given their marriage in 1543, she would have been 31 years old.

The Royal Bride OLDER Than Kate Middleton Is:

Mary Tudor (Mary I of England)

Unless the author of this piece of journalism cut out all of the female monarchs in English history wholesale, the claim that Kate Middleton is the oldest royal bride ever comes crashing irrevocably down when we consider the case of Mary Tudor, Henry VIII's oldest living daughter.

Mary I was the daughter of Henry VIII's first wife, Katherine of Aragon. She was born in 1516, and by all accounts, she had a very difficult life. She was bounced around on the royal marriage market throughout her early life. Candidates included Charles V the Holy Roman Emperor, King Francis I of France, and two of King Francis' sons. Not much came of any of this, in part because she was declared illegitimate and tossed out of the line of succession for most of her adult life. After her younger brother, Edward VI, died in 1553 and Lady Jane Grey's administration was overthrown, Mary I became Queen of England.

All that was left for Mary was to choose a husband. She picked Philip II of Spain, eleven years her junior. Mary married Philip in England at Winchester Cathedral in 1554.

Sorry, Kate, Mary I was 38 years, 6 months and 7 days old when she first married. This undoubtedly makes her the oldest royal English bride in this period with an absolutely certain birth date and year.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Tudors Fact Check: Who is Cardinal Reginald Pole

In season 3 of The Tudors, Henry VIII is beset by plots and conflict both within and outside England. One of the main protagonists is Cardinal Reginald Pole. Cardinal Pole is abroad working against Henry because he, a staunch Catholic, is opposed the religious reforms being carried out in England by Henry and Thomas Cromwell. Cardinal Pole publishes and circulates a treatise condemning Henry, and this piques Henry's already risen suspicions. Henry sends Sir Francis Bryan to find Pole and kill him, but Cardinal Pole is supported by the other, Catholic monarchs on the continent and manages to escape every time Bryan begins to close in on him. To strike at him, Henry commits his family to the Tower of London, and they are all later executed.

Why is Cardinal Pole so dangerous? At the beginning of the season, he claims that he is a member of the House of Plantagenet, a ruling dynasty in England ousted by Henry VIII's father.

So, who the heck is Cardinal Pole, and where does his claim to the throne come from?

Who are the "Plantagenets" and why are they important?

Answering this question is a good place to start. Lots of people have probably heard the word "Plantagenet" before, but not everyone knows exactly WHO is a Plantagenet.

"Plantagenet" refers to the official ruling dynasty in England between 1154 and 1485. The first Plantagenet king of England was Henry II. Henry's mother, Matilda, was involved in a long, armed conflict lasting many years with King Stephen of England. Matilda was the only living child of Henry I, and, although he made the barons and lords swear to recognize Matilda's claim to the English throne twice in his reign, Stephen seized the opportunity, and the crown, when Henry I died in 1135. Matilda was in Anjou, France with her second husband, Geoffrey of Anjou, at the time, but many rallied to her cause. In order to end the conflict King Stephen agreed that Matilda and Geoffrey's son Henry would succeed him as king of England.

The name "Plantagenet" wasn't imposed upon the dynasty until the 15th century. The first to assume this name was Richard Plantagenet, the Duke of York in the mid-15th century. The word "Plantagenet" refers to the broom plant (Latin term = Planta genista) that Geoffrey of Anjou supposedly wore in his hat.

What made Cardinal Reginald Pole a Plantagenet?

Cardinal Pole was indeed a member of the House of Plantagenet. So was Henry VIII technically. However, they were related to the same ruling house through different branches of the family tree.

The trunk of this tree, if you will, is Edward III and his wife, Philippa of Hainault. They had a big, unusual problem. In direct contrast with Henry VIII, Edward III had TOO MANY children survive into adulthood.

Of course, as with any ruling family, the most important person is the oldest son. In Edward III's case, this was Edward, known as the Black Prince. Why don't we know this Edward as Edward IV? Because of another of Edward III's unusual problems--he lived a very long time. Edward the Black Prince predeceased his father by about a year. In keeping with the rules of primogeniture, the next candidate would be the oldest son of Edward the Black Prince. Luckily, he had one of those--Richard. Richard II succeeded Edward III upon his death in 1377.

It would be impossible to summarize the outcome, which will inevitably lead to what we call "The Wars of the Roses." Richard II was a very unsuccessful monarch. He was overthrown by Henry IV or Henry Bolingbroke, the son of John of Gaunt, Edward III's third son. There is an unbroken line of the crown passing from father to son between Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI. However, the fact that Henry VI was really not cut out to be a medieval king reminded everyone that Edward III had a SECOND son in there somewhere. This is where Cardinal Pole's family descends from.

Edward III's second son, Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence, only had a daughter, Philippa. She married Edmund Mortimer, and when she did so, he and the family he had with her inherited Lionel's claim to the throne. A son followed this union (Roger Mortimer), and his only child, Anne Mortimer, became the "carrier" of her great-grandfather Lionel's claim to the throne. Like her grandmother Philippa, this claim would transfer to the children she had by whomever she married.

AND THEN, to complicate matters further, Anne Mortimer married a descendant of the FOURTH SON of Edward III, Edmund Langley, Duke of York. Suddenly, you had a family that had not one, but TWO claims to the throne at the same time. It is this branch of the family that becomes the "House of York" in the Wars of the Roses. From this branch will descend the next two kings of England, and the last of the official Plantagenet line, Edward IV and Richard III. However, there were other members of this family, too. Edward IV and Richard III had a brother in between them in the birth order--George, Duke of Clarence. George predeceased Edward so he never became king, but he did have a family. His daughter, and longest living child, was Margaret Pole, the Duchess of Salisbury and Cardinal Pole's mother.

How much of a threat was Cardinal Pole?

The real answer to this question is: not much.

Cardinal Pole was abroad until the reign of Henry VIII's daughter Mary. He certainly worked against Henry while he was abroad, but there is some dispute about whether or not he could actually have claimed the English throne given he was a churchman. He was certainly an unordained churchman, but, when he was invested with the office of cardinal by Pope Paul III, it really was out of the question that Cardinal Pole could rule England as a Plantagenet claimant to the throne.

In The Tudors, Cardinal Pole's family is imprisoned and executed to punish him. They are innocent victims, cut down because Henry VIII failed to hunt down Cardinal Pole. However, in reality, it was Cardinal Pole's family at home in England that represented the greater threat. Cardinal Pole's publication condemning Henry's actions against the church only gave Thomas Cromwell, Henry's chancellor, a reason to watch the Pole family. Henry and his father before him had always been suspicious of the Poles anyway as representatives of the Plantagenets. Once suspicion was aroused, the Poles' days were automatically numbered. The Poles were one portion of a larger set of victims that were executed for treason between 1538 and 1539. All of these victims were somehow related to the previous Plantagenet dynasty. Margaret Pole would wait for her execution until 1541, although she was well-treated and attended by servants while she lived in the Tower.

What happened to Cardinal Pole?

Cardinal Reginald Pole remained abroad for the remainder of Henry VIII's reign and for the brief reign of his son, Edward VI. However, Mary I was a Catholic, and Cardinal Pole returned to England in 1554. He was finally ordained in 1556 and he became the Archbishop of Canterbury. He died in 1558, and it may have been for the best--had he lived any longer, he would have witnessed the accession of the Protestant Elizabeth I, and his job, if not his life, may have been in danger once again.


Mark Hildreth as Reginald Pole in The Tudors

Tomb Plaque of Geoffrey of Anjou. He was buried in St. Julien's Cathedral in Le Mans, France in 1151.

Stained-glass portrait of Edward III in Westminster Abbey

Portrait of an unknown sitter generally thought to be Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury c. 1535

Reginald Pole by Sebastiano del Piombo