Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Duchess of Bedford and Countess Rivers

There is no known surviving portrait of Jacquetta. This is a depiction of a 15th century Burgundian woman by the artist Petrus Christus dating from 1450-1460

Jacquetta of Luxembourg was the great-grandmother of King Henry VIII. She was the daughter of one of the oldest families in Luxembourg and northern France and could claim descent from Charlemagne. She would defy convention by marrying for love and beneath her station in life. While her daughter Elizabeth Woodville would become Queen of England, she tragically lost several members of her family due to the vagaries of the Wars of the Roses.

Jacquetta of Luxembourg or Jacquetta of St. Pol was born c. 1416. She was the eldest child of Pierre de Luxembourg, Count of St. Pol, Conversano and Brienne, seigneur of Enghien and Vicomte of Lille. Her mother was Marguerite des Baux (or del Balzo in Italian). We know nothing of her early life but she probably lived with her family in Brienne and received an education commensurate with her status.

At the time of Jacquetta’s birth, France and England were engaged in the Hundred Years War. The Treaty of Troyes of 1420 had brought relative peace and named King Henry V of England and his successors as the heirs to the throne of France upon the death of King Charles VI. Starting in 1422, the brother of Henry V, John Duke of Bedford began serving as regent in France on behalf of the English government in the name of King Henry VI. In 1423, he married Anne, sister of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. It was to be a happy marriage that produced no children and Anne died in 1432.

Isabeau of Bavaria and Charles VI of France at the Treaty of Troyes. Illuminated miniature from Jean Froissart’s Chroniques, BL Harley 4380, c. 1470

Bedford was convinced to marry again by Louis, Bishop of Thérouanne, the French chancellor for the Duke from 1425-1435. The chosen bride was the bishop’s niece Jacquetta. At the time of her marriage, she was seventeen and described as lively, beautiful and gracious. Louis performed the wedding in the cathedral of Thérouanne on April 20, 1433. The match was offensive to Bedford’s former brother-in-law, the Duke of Burgundy as Bedford had failed to ask for permission, married quickly after the death of his first wife and for other political reasons.

That summer, Bedford’s brother Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, regent for their nephew King Henry VI, requested Bedford come to England to answer questions of negligence regarding his job as regent in France. Bedford was also in need of more funds for war. On June 18, Jacquetta and her new husband sailed for England. On July 8, she requested and received denization, giving her the rights of English citizenship. That same year, her father died and a funeral service was held in Old St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. In April of 1434, she received the robes of the Order of the Garter.

While they were in England for a year, Jacquetta and Bedford lived in London and Fulbrook in Warwickshire. When they returned to Paris, they lived in the Hôtel de Bourbon near the Louvre and later moved to Rouen. The Duke of Burgundy, still smarting from Bedford’s marriage to Jacquetta, abandoned his alliance with the English and made a pact with the French. During this time, Bedford appointed Sir Richard Woodville lieutenant of the garrison at Calais. He was doing his best to rule the English territories in France as he became increasingly ill. He died on September 14, 1435 and was buried in Rouen.

John, Duke of Bedford, praying before St George; from BL Add MS 18850, f. 256v (the “Bedford Hours”)

Jacquetta’s uncle Louis was the executor of Bedford’s will. The Duke granted her a generous amount of goods worth twelve thousand livres and she inherited his library. Bedford tried to give her a life interest in his income and lands but this proved impossible due to inheritance laws. However, on February 6, 1436, King Henry VI allowed her the usual dower of one-third of Bedford’s property, the resulting value of which was £1,333 with an income of £817 per annum. She also had claim to some properties in France. The agreement allowed her to return to England on the condition that she obtain the king’s permission before remarrying.

Sometime before the spring of 1437, she married Sir Richard Woodville. Richard was a young and handsome gentleman from Northamptonshire who had served in the retinue of the Duke of Bedford in France. We don’t know how or when their romance started but Jacquetta probably knew him well and they most likely wanted to marry right away. Perhaps the difference in their social standing made them hesitate. Within a year of receiving her dower, the marriage was made without the permission of the king and was shocking due to a woman of status marrying a mere gentlemen of little means.

Jacquetta was forced to ask the king’s pardon and pleaded that the fine not be too exorbitant. On March 23, 1437, Parliament recognized the marriage and ordered the couple to pay the Crown a fine of £1000. She raised the money by selling some of her west country manors to Cardinal Beaufort, the king’s wealthy half great-uncle. The couple received a full pardon on October 24. Jacquetta brought land, wealth and generous income to the marriage.

Richard’s career went forward despite the unorthodox marriage. He worked in various positions in England. He served under the Duke of Somerset and later under the Richard Duke of York in France until 1442. He gained an international reputation as a premier jouster. Jacquetta probably spent much of the first years of her marriage in France overseeing legal matters regarding her dower lands. Jacquetta maintained contacts with her relatives in France and Burgundy.

Sir Richard Woodville depicted on the Order of the Garter Stall Plate in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor

The family made their primary home in Grafton Regis beginning in late 1436. They most likely leased the home but eventually purchased it on June 10, 1440 after the owner died. Jacquetta was remarkably fertile. She would bear fourteen children, seven sons and seven daughters. Twelve would live to adulthood. The birth dates and order of her children were not recorded. They are listed in a contemporary source as follows: Anthony, Earl Rivers, Richard, Elizabeth who married King Edward IV, Louis, another Richard, Sir John Woodville, Jacquetta, Anne, Mary, another John, Lionel, Bishop of Sarum, Margaret, Jane, Sir Edward Woodville and finally, Katherine, Duchess of Buckingham.

In 1444, Jacquetta and her husband, along with a large party, were chosen to escort King Henry VI’s new bride Margaret of Anjou from France to England for the wedding. Jacquetta’s sister Isabel was married to Margaret’s uncle Charles, Count of Maine. Jacquetta was in high favor with the new queen. She became an important member of Henry VI’s court and would serve in various capacities for Queen Margaret. On May 8, 1448, Jacquetta’s husband was elevated to the peerage and chose the title Baron Rivers.

Jacquetta and her eldest daughter Elizabeth were very close. In 1452, Elizabeth married Lord Grey of Groby who was a member of a Lancastrian family. She would have two boys during this marriage. On November 18, 1453, Jacquetta attended the churching of Queen Margaret after the birth of her son Edward of Lancaster. In the summer of 1456, Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou went on progress and Jacquetta was with the queen upon her entry into Coventry in the Midlands. In November 1457, Sir Richard was made constable of Rochester Castle and Jacquetta accompanied him to live there. They were not there to defend the coast from the French but to defend from an attack by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick who was now Constable of Calais.

Although the reign of King Henry VI was weak and misguided, the Woodville family would remain staunch supporters of the House of Lancaster in the civil strife that broke out between Lancaster and York. This conflict would become known as the Wars of the Roses. In 1459, Queen Margaret ordered Jacquetta’s husband to assemble a fleet at Sandwich to come to the aid of the Duke of Somerset, who was fighting for the King against the Earl of Warwick. Warwick was attacking ships of the Hanseatic League, disrupting trade. Jacquetta joined her husband in Sandwich along with their eldest son Anthony.

On January 19, 1460, one of Warwick’s men attacked the English fleet and dragged Rivers, Jacquetta and Anthony from their beds. Jacquetta remained in Kent but Rivers and Anthony were taken to Calais where they were harangued and castigated by Warwick and Edward, Earl of March, son of Richard Duke of York. But the men were never charged with a crime or imprisoned and they were eventually released.

The civil strife between Lancaster and York was now escalating. In February 1461, Queen Margaret’s troops had a victory at the second Battle of St. Albans. Unfortunately, Jacquetta’s daughter Elizabeth’s husband, Sir John Grey was killed in the battle and Elizabeth returned home with her two sons to live with her parents.

After the battle of St. Albans, Queen Margaret tried to gain entry into London. The gates remained closed to her. The City of London recruited Jacquetta, Lady Scales and Anne, dowager Duchess of Buckingham to plead with Margaret that she do no harm to the city. Margaret promised not to punish the city and it was agreed a small Lancastrian force would be allowed in. But the city was so pro-Yorkist the gates were barred even to a small contingent. Margaret realized she would not gain entry and withdrew her troops to the north. The city did open its gates to the Yorkists and Edward, Duke of York was proclaimed King Edward IV.

Sometime after the Yorkist victory at the bloody Battle of Towton in March of 1461, King Edward made his way from the north to London and stopped at Grafton Regis to spend a couple of nights. This may be when he met Jacquetta’s beautiful daughter Elizabeth Grey and got to know her. Jacquetta’s husband Richard and son Anthony had been captured at Towton and imprisoned in the Tower. But in July, King Edward pardoned them and they returned to Grafton.

By 1464, the formerly Lancastrian Woodville family had come to an understanding with the Yorkist king Edward IV. Sometime in the spring or late summer, King Edward married Elizabeth Grey secretly with the help of Jacquetta. She was one of a handful who witnessed the ceremony. When the marriage became known, Jacquetta once again had a premier place at court. She attended the coronation of her daughter and dined at the subsequent magnificent banquet. She attended the christening at Westminster Abbey and stood as godmother to Elizabeth’s first child, Elizabeth of York who was born on February 11, 1466. When Elizabeth was “churched” a few weeks later, Jacquetta attended the ceremony.

Queen Elizabeth Woodville in her coronation robes (Worshipful Company of Skinners’ Fraternity Book)

In 1469, for various reasons, the Earl of Warwick rebelled against King Edward. After the Yorkist defeat at the Battle of Edgecote Moor, Warwick seized control of the king and held him in custody. Jacquetta’s husband and her son John were taken prisoner and following a hasty show trial, were executed at Kenilworth on August 12.

Warwick had Jacquetta arrested on charges of witchcraft. Thomas Wake, a Northamptonshire man, reported she manufactured two obscene leaden figures representing King Edward and her daughter Elizabeth and practiced black arts to bring about their marriage. She was also accused of making another figure representing the Earl of Warwick and conspiring his death.

Jacquetta immediately defended herself, writing to the Lord Mayor of London, recalling her service on the city’s behalf and asking for his protection. The Lord Mayor forcefully defended her. After investigation, it was revealed that the witness had been bribed and charges were dropped. By February of 1470, Jacquetta was cleared of all charges. However, the accusations of witchcraft were revived against her after her own death when King Edward IV died.

Warwick eventually relented and released King Edward. He returned to London and a joyful family reunion. Warwick went to France and made an alliance with the former Queen Margaret to return King Henry VI to the throne. In September of 1470, Warwick invaded England. King Edward IV was forced to flee the country and Queen Elizabeth entered sanctuary in Westminster Abbey with her children and Jacquetta joined her there. Queen Elizabeth gave birth to her son Edward while in sanctuary. King Edward returned to England with troops and defeated the Lancastrians at the Battle of Barnet in April of 1471. Warwick was killed in the battle. Edward returned to London and Queen Elizabeth came out of sanctuary.

But Margaret of Anjou had come to England and although she was dismayed that Warwick had been killed and defeated, she decided to continue the fight. Queen Elizabeth and Jacquetta took refuge in the Tower of London as Edward fought at the Battle of Tewkesbury. King Edward won the battle and Margaret’s son Edward, Prince of Wales was killed. While Elizabeth and Jacquetta were in the Tower, they came under attack but survived. King Edward returned to London victorious. Henry VI was murdered in the Tower next few weeks.

Jacquetta brought lawsuits to court against the Earl of Warwick for the unlawful deaths of her husband and son but none of these actions amounted to anything. Her children would make brilliant marriages among the English nobility. She loved culture and the arts and passed this love on to her children. Among her books was a manuscript of the “Book of the City of Ladies” by Christine Pizan. Jacquetta died on May 30, 1472. There is evidence she made a will but the document has not survived and her place of burial is unknown. Jacquetta was a formidable woman with resilience, determination and strength. She was a survivor.

Further reading: “The Last Medieval Queens” by J.L. Laynesmith, “Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses” by John A. Wagner, “The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family” by Susan Higginbotham, “Elizabeth Wydeville: The Slandered Queen” by Arlene Okerlund, “Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower” by David Baldwin, entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography on Jacquetta of Luxembourg written by Lucia Diaz Pascual

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