The stories of Joan of Navarre, Elizabeth Woodville, Jacquetta of Luxembourg and Eleanor Cobham have been overshadowed by accusations of witchcraft.
Joan of Navarre was born around 1368 as the daughter of King Charles II of Navarre and Joan of France. Her first marriage was to John IV, Duke of Brittany and they went on to have eight children together, though not all would live to adulthood. Joan was widowed on 1 November 1399, and she was left as regent of Brittany for her minor son. By then, she had already met the man who would become her second husband, and it is likely to have been a love match. On 2 April 1402, Joan married the future King Henry IV of England by proxy, but she was widowed again in 1413. On 27 September 1419, Joan, who had always been on good terms with the new King, was deprived of all her possessions and revenue and four days later, she was arrested on charges of witchcraft. The charges were probably an attempt at claiming her wealth and Joan had no actual dealings with witchcraft. When Henry V lay dying in 1422, he ordered that she be released and have her goods returned to her. Joan resumed her life as a wealthy widow. She is recorded as having gone on a pilgrimage to Walsingham in 1427 but virtually disappears from the records otherwise.
Elizabeth Woodville and her mother Jacquetta of Luxembourg were both accused of witchcraft. Jacquetta had previously been to John, Duke of Bedford, brother of King Henry V before marrying Sir Richard Woodville, Elizabeth’s father. Elizabeth had two children with her first husband Sir John Grey of Groby before he was killed at the Second Battle of St Albans. Though the meeting of Elizabeth and the new King Edward IV has been romanticised by series such as the White Queen, we do not know exactly when and where they met or when the King decided to marry her to the surprise of many. They went on to have ten children together, though not all would live to adulthood. Edward IV died in 1483, and their two sons disappeared from the Tower of London. With Edward’s brother declared King Richard III, Elizabeth fled into sanctuary. Richard III revived the allegations of witchcraft against the then dead Jacquetta when he claimed that she and Elizabeth had procured Elizabeth’s marriage to Edward IV through witchcraft. Elizabeth would emerge somewhat victorious when her eldest daughter married King Henry VII of the Tudor Dynasty.
Eleanor Cobham was born around 1400, probably in Kent, England, as the daughter of Reginald Cobham, 3rd Baron Cobham, and his wife, Eleanor Culpeper. Eleanor first appeared on the scene in the early 1420s, when she was a lady-in-waiting for Jacqueline of Hainaut, the wife of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. Humphrey was the fourth and youngest son of King Henry IV of England. His oldest brother, Henry V of England, died in 1422, leaving behind an infant son, Henry VI. Humphrey left Jacqueline in 1425. Around this time, Eleanor became his mistress. Humphrey and Eleanor married sometime between 1428 and 1431. It was later alleged that Eleanor used witchcraft to get the duke to fall in love with her. In 1441, she was arrested and admitted that she was using services from Margery Jourdemayne, known as “the Witch of Eye”. These services included seeking a potion to help her conceive. Eleanor was found guilty of witchcraft and sorcery and was sentenced to do public penance and imprisonment. She died on 7 July 1452.
Royal Witches: From Joan of Navarre to Elizabeth Woodville by Gemma Hollman tells you these women’s stories from the witchcraft angle, and it shows only all too well how witchcraft accusations could destroy a woman’s life and take away any credibility and power she had. It is well-researched and easy to read as it also included the backstories of the women. I would highly recommend it.
Royal Witches: From Joan of Navarre to Elizabeth Woodville by Gemma Hollman is available now in the US and the UK.
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