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 Adulterous Queens

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Mipp



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PostSubject: Adulterous Queens   Tue Apr 08, 2008 9:58 am

Queens committing adultery is a common motif in medieval literature, which is to be expected in a society so obsessed with legitimacy and feminine purity. What intrigues me, as a historian, is that accusations of adultery were very common, and yet very few medieval queens seem to have been guilty of adultery. Certainly few took the risks Isabella did by taking up with Mortimer.

From a purely practical standpoint, have an adulterous relationship was next to impossible for medieval queens. They were surrounded at all times by courtiers, and the penalties for both the queen and her lover would've been harsh, even fatal. I highly doubt most of the queens accused of adultery were ever actually guilty of it; it seems to have been a charge leveled against them to discredit them, possibly even to make it easier for a king to divorce a barren queen. Isabelle of Angouleme, the queen of King John, was accused of adultery and incest among other crimes. King John had already dumped one barren wife and may not have done anything to stop such rumors in case he needed a reason to divorce Isabelle.

The Holy Roman Emperor Heinrich IV decided to get rid of his wife, Bertha of Savoy, after a few childless years of marriage. According to Bruno's Buch von Saxonkreig, Heinrich hired a man to seduce Bertha, but she caught onto the scheme and beat Heinrich with a chair-leg in retaliation (!!!!). Heinrich and Bertha remained married and eventually produced several children.

The only example I'm aware of in which a medieval queen bore a child of questioned paternity is that of the unfortunate Eufemia of Kiev, second queen of King Kalman of Hungary. He allegedly caught her with a lover and sent her home in disgrace, where Eufemia gave birth to a son, Boris. She claimed to the last that Boris was legitimate, and he caused plenty of trouble in trying to enforce a claim to the Hungarian throne as an adult.

Everything Isabella would've ever heard regarding the subject of queenly adultery would've been extremely negative -- adulterous queens are cursed, their lovers are killed, their children are disinherited, etc. Not to mention the example of her sisters-in-law! By taking Roger Mortimer as her lover, Isabella was going against everything she would've been taught, and she had to have been aware of the incredible risks.
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Alianore
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PostSubject: Re: Adulterous Queens   Tue Apr 08, 2008 9:07 pm

Mipp - welcome!!

Who was it who accused Isabelle of Angouleme of adultery, or was it a fairly widespread rumour? I've heard the story that John hanged her lovers from her bed, but I've no idea if there's any truth in that, or if it's only a lurid story.

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Anejre

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PostSubject: Re: Adulterous Queens   Tue Apr 08, 2008 9:54 pm

Queens - or any lady from 'good blood', knew their duty was to marry and provide an heir. They knew the danger of being accused of 'polluting' the line of succession, by bearing a child whose legitmacy could be questioned, which would bring shame on their families. I wonder if there were any desperate queens or titled ladies who conceived a child with another man in order to keep their position.
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Anejre

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PostSubject: Re: Adulterous Queens   Tue Apr 08, 2008 9:56 pm

As for John's Isabelle, how typical that as well as being accused of adultery, incest was thrown in for good measure. Just add witchcraft to the list, and her reputation would be totally blackened queen
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PostSubject: Re: Adulterous Queens   Tue Apr 08, 2008 9:59 pm

To rid himself of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII accused her of adultery - but by including her own brother, he made her seem so vile that no man was beyond her lust. Of course, with her brother and her supporters included, it wiped out her faction at court. Throw in accusations of witchcraft and threats to poison the King's children, and she was finished.
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PostSubject: Re: Adulterous Queens   Tue Apr 08, 2008 10:05 pm

Mipp wrote:
Everything Isabella would've ever heard regarding the subject of queenly adultery would've been extremely negative -- adulterous queens are cursed, their lovers are killed, their children are disinherited, etc. Not to mention the example of her sisters-in-law! By taking Roger Mortimer as her lover, Isabella was going against everything she would've been taught, and she had to have been aware of the incredible risks.

Isabella would surely have turned her unique situation into an 'excuse' for her behaviour - claiming the role of the neglected queen, spurned by her husband who preferred men, and with the disasters that befell Edward's reign, feeling justified she couldn't have been any more cursed than him. As Despencer was drunk on the power he held, and made bold, Isabella was perhaps the same and felt fully justified in her actions.
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Mipp



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PostSubject: Re: Adulterous Queens   Wed Apr 09, 2008 9:48 am

Alianore wrote:
Who was it who accused Isabelle of Angouleme of adultery, or was it a fairly widespread rumour? I've heard the story that John hanged her lovers from her bed, but I've no idea if there's any truth in that, or if it's only a lurid story.

Matthew Paris definitely accused Isabelle of adultery -- More Jezebel than Isabelle. The incest charge makes me roll my eyes. The only person she could possibly have committed incest with was her half-brother, Pierre of Joigny, who visited her in England several times. It was probably xenophobia, and the English chroniclers' hatred of grasping foreign relatives, that drove that accusation. I suspect that King John encouraged the rumors, or at least did nothing to stop them, so he'd have grounds to divorce Isabelle if need be.

Isabelle and John's relationship was quite complicated. She was no more than twelve, possibly younger, when they married, and it was seven years before they had a child. He seemed to like to give her wines and beautiful clothes, but allowed her no freedom or power. Her half-brother Pierre was one of the very, very few kinsmen and countrymen allowed to visit Isabelle. In addition, his ex-wife Isabel of Gloucester actually lived with them in Winchester castle until 1207, when Isabelle gave birth to Henry. This is something that seems to have been overlooked by historians until recently, since so many were invested in maintaining that 'evil prince John' legend, and the image of John casting out his barren wife, weeping and barefoot, and replacing her with a kittenish child-bride worked wonderfully with that. But Isabel of Gloucester continued to live with John after their divorce, and he lavished £50-80 a year on her. To put this in perspective, the average baron's annual income of that time was about £200!
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Judith

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PostSubject: The adultery of the wife of the heir to the throne   Wed Sep 17, 2008 10:26 am

Mipp wrote:
Queens committing adultery is a common motif in medieval literature, which is to be expected in a society so obsessed with legitimacy and feminine purity. What intrigues me, as a historian, is that accusations of adultery were very common, and yet very few medieval queens seem to have been guilty of adultery.

It seems to me that the risks were so great for queens and wives of future kings that the likelihood of adultery would not be high. Additionally if the women were to be the source of future heirs they would have been carefully protected.

I cannot help wondering whether the wives, Margarite and Blanche, of the sons of Phillipe le Bel were guilty of adultery. I have seen no one questioning their guilt but observing how the charge of adultery has been used to get rid of inconvenient women elsewhere opens up the possibility that they were falsely accused.

For Isabelle, on the other hand, followed up her adultery with the removal an anointed king. She certainly was a powerful woman who was not risk averse and clearly her father's daughter.
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PostSubject: Re: Adulterous Queens   Wed Sep 17, 2008 1:46 pm

I think with regards to Isabella's sisters-in-law, their removal instigated by Isabella' herself. Possibly out of jealousy - feeling herself to be in a loveless marriage with no suitor pressing his cause for her whilst her sister-in-law were presumed to be having the time of their lives.

I believe that Margaret's marriage to Charles was dissolved to ensure the succession - she was alleged to have been quite promiscuous - so any child she bore may have had doubtful paternity. Look later at the relationship with Charles VII and his mother Isabeau of Bavaria. She constantly taunted him about his paternity! Many at the time had no doubts as to who his father was - and it wasn't the King!

And didn't Margaret give birth to a child whilst in prison, reputedly that of her gaoler. Proof of her "chasteness" - or lack thereof.

I guess Isabella had publicly declared herself a widow - therefore not married - so she may even had considered her relationship with Mortimer NOT as adultery but possibly as a genuine "love affair" between two single people - possibly that's how she justified it to herself.
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Alianore
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PostSubject: Re: Adulterous Queens   Wed Sep 17, 2008 4:19 pm

Welcome to the forum, Judith!

Marguerite of Burgundy was married to Louis, eldest son of Philip IV. She died in 1315, and Louis (by then king of France) married Clemence of Anjou 5 days later. Charles's wife was Blanche, and yes, there is a story that she had a baby by her jailer! She was released in 1325, as far as I remember, and died not long after.

Roger Mortimer's wife Joan was very much alive in 1325/26 - she lived until 1356 - so Isa's relationship with him was adultery, however she might have tried to justify it to herself by pretending she was a widow. That's assuming they had a sexual relationship, of course.

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Lady D

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PostSubject: Re: Adulterous Queens   Wed Sep 17, 2008 10:59 pm

On Isabella - I wonder whether the thought of what happened to her sisters-in-law ever came back to haunt her on those long dark nights beside Mortimer? Hmmmmmm
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Anejre

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PostSubject: Re: Adulterous Queens   Thu Sep 18, 2008 8:47 pm

hehehe! I doubt it - she was too busy:) I guess she learned from their 'indiscretions'.
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