Jacquetta of Luxembourg was born around 1416 as the daughter of Peter I of Luxembourg, Count of Saint-Pol, Conversano and Brienne, and his wife Margaret of Baux. She probably spent her childhood in the north of France, which was then part of England.
In 1422, King Henry V of England died and was succeeded by his nine-month-old son King Henry VI as King of England. The young King also became King of France a month later upon the death of his grandfather Charles VI of France and under the terms of the Treaty of Troyes. A long regency was now required by the King’s uncles – Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester in England, and John, Duke of Bedford in France. Jacquetta’s uncle Louis went on to serve John as his chancellor from 1425 until 1435.
Unfortunately, we know very little of Jacquetta’s early childhood. By the age of 14, she was part of marriage negotiations, and her marriage was arranged by her uncle Louis. The Duke of Bedford was in need of a new wife after his first wife, Anne of Burgundy, died in November 1432 of fever. Just five months later, the 43-year-old John married the 17-year-old Jacquetta at the bishop’s palace at Thérouanne. The timing was awkward, to say the least, and Anne’s brother the Duke of Burgundy was outraged that a year of mourning was not held.
Jacquetta now became the first lady of France, and they lived in the Hôtel de Bourbon, near the royal palace of the Louvre. Just two months after their wedding, Jacquetta travelled to England for the first time. They stayed in England for more than a year, but while there Jacquetta received the news that her father had died of the plague. He had only been Count of Luxembourg for three years. By July 1434, John wanted to return to France, and so they did – first staying in Paris before leaving for Rouen in early 1435. By then, John was already struggling with his health. From his deathbed, he appointed Sir Richard Woodville as lieutenant of Calais and as he lay dying, Richard and the soon-to-be widowed Jacquetta grew close. John, Duke of Bedford, died on 14 September 1435 and he was buried at Rouen.
Jacquetta had been left nearly everything in his will and was now a very wealthy 19-year-old widow. She and John had had no children together. However, she remained at the command of the King of England and King Henry VI sent for her to return to England. She was granted her dower on the condition that she did not marry without royal permission, but by then it may already have been too late. Jacquetta and Sir Richard travelled to England and confessed to having been married in late 1436 or early 1437. Jacquetta was ordered to pay a fine of £1,000, but the King forgave her. They were officially pardoned in October 1437, just in time for the birth of their first child Elizabeth. As was customary, Jacquette continued to be known as Duchess of Bedford. They went on to have at least 14 children, though their first son Lewis would die in childhood. Richard was often away as he continued to serve as deputy commander of Calais.
Shortly after Margaret of Anjou arrived in England as the new Queen, Jacquetta – who was related to her by marriage as her younger sister Isabelle had recently married Margaret’s uncle – became friends, and she became one of Margaret’s chief ladies-in-waiting. In 1448, Jacquetta’s husband was made Baron Rivers. By 1452, Jacquetta had arranged for the marriage of her eldest daughters to Sir John Grey. Jacquetta would find herself in a difficult situation in the coming years. As King Henry VI had periods where he was completely without speech or movement, Jacquetta stood by her Queen. Jacquetta was there when Margaret gave birth to her first and only child – Edward of Westminster. Once out of confinement, Margaret proposed herself as regent for the “sleeping” King, but she had very little support. Richard, Duke of York, was appointed as protector and defender of the Kingdom. After nearly a year and a half, King Henry VI recovered.
By 1455, the King was again ill, and Jacquetta probably left court to be with her daughter Elizabeth who was due to give birth to her first child. In 1457, Jacquetta’s husband was made constable of Rochester Castle, and they went to live there. The situation of King Henry VI spiralled out of control as different factions battled for power. A particularly terrifying episode saw Jacquetta, her husband and eldest son held in captivity. Richard, Duke of York, was eventually killed in battle and his claim was taken up by son Edward, Earl of March. Jacquetta’s eldest daughter Elizabeth was widowed by the events of the Second Battle of St Albans in 1461, and the ensuing Battle of Towton saw King Henry VI removed from the throne by Edward, who became King Edward IV.
Margaret and her son fled from York and Jacquetta, her husband and son probably left the city at once to return home. Jacquetta’s husband and son – who had fought for King Henry VI – were pardoned in July. Her daughter Elizabeth had difficulty receiving money from her mother-in-law, and so she returned home to parents with her two young sons where her family could argue her case to the King. In early 1464, Edward met the widowed Elizabeth and was so taken with her that they were married – in secret. It wasn’t revealed until September 1464, and the family saw a swift rise in their fortunes. As in-laws of the King, Jacquetta’s husband became Earl Rivers and their children made excellent marriages with the greatest nobles in the land.
Tragedy struck when Edward’s former ally the Earl of Warwick went rogue and captured Jacquetta’s husband and her son John, and they were beheaded side by side. Edward himself was also captured, and Jacquetta was also taken from her home to be charged with witchcraft. Jacquetta was formally tried, and witnesses were called of her supposed acts of witchcraft. In the end, she was not executed – perhaps due to her relationship with Margaret – but it was a scary time for her. Edward was eventually restored to the throne, but it was too late for Jacquetta’s husband and her son John.
In 1470, in another attempt by Margaret to regain the throne, Jacquetta, a pregnant Elizabeth and her three young daughters were forced to flee into sanctuary. In the crypt of a church, Elizabeth gave birth to a son named Edward. It wasn’t until after the Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury that Edward was firmly back on the throne. Margaret’s son Edward was killed in battle, and King Henry VI was murdered shortly after. Margaret was eventually sent home to France as a poor relation of the King.
Jacquetta saw her son-in-law and daughter restored to the throne with a new generation to follow them. Jacquetta died on 30 May 1472 at the age of around 56 after what can only be described as an eventful life.1