Jacquetta of Luxembourg: A Significant Figure in the Wars of the Roses

Jacquetta of Luxembourg, the Dowager Duchess of Bedford and Countess Rivers (1415 or 1416 – 30 May 1472), played a crucial role in the Wars of the Roses, despite often being overlooked.

Her alliances shifted throughout the conflict, starting with the House of Lancaster through her first marriage to the Duke of Bedford, brother of King Henry V. However, after the decisive Lancastrian defeat at the Battle of Towton, Jacquetta and her second husband, Richard Woodville, closely aligned themselves with the House of York. Her daughter Elizabeth Woodville later married Edward IV and became the Queen Consort of England.

Jacquetta of Luxembourg faced accusations of witchcraft but ultimately cleared her name. This article delves into the life of Jacquetta of Luxembourg, her family, her marriages, and the significant role she played during the Wars of the Roses.

Family and Ancestry

Jacquetta of Luxembourg was born as the eldest daughter of Peter I of Luxembourg, Count of Saint-Pol, Conversano, and Brienne, and his wife Margaret of Baux, also known as Margherita del Balzo of Andria. Her father, Peter of Luxembourg, held the titles of Count of Saint-Pol and hereditary Count of Brienne from 1397 until his death in 1433.

Early Life and First Marriage

At the age of 17, Jacquetta of Luxembourg married John of Lancaster, the 1st Duke of Bedford, on 22 April 1433 in Thérouanne. John was the third son of King Henry IV of England and Mary de Bohun, making him the grandson of John of Gaunt, the 1st Duke of Lancaster and the third son of King Edward III.

However, the marriage between Jacquetta of Luxembourg and John was childless, as John passed away on 15 September 1435 in Rouen. Despite this, Jacquetta of Luxembourg retained the title of Duchess of Bedford, a higher title than that of Countess, which she acquired through her first marriage. As a widow, she inherited one-third of the Duke’s main estates.

Second Marriage and Political Intrigue

During Jacquetta’s journey to England, she was accompanied by Sir Richard Woodville, who had been commissioned by Henry VI. Their journey proved eventful, as Jacquetta of Luxembourg and Richard fell in love and secretly married before 23 March 1437, without seeking the king’s permission. Jacquetta of Luxembourg had been granted dower lands following her first husband’s death, under the condition that she wouldn’t remarry without a royal license. When Henry VI discovered the marriage, he initially refused to see them. However, they were eventually reconciled after paying a fine of £1000.

Jacquetta and Richard enjoyed a long and fruitful marriage, blessed with fourteen children. Their eldest daughter, Elizabeth Woodville, went on to marry Edward IV and become the Queen consort of England. By the mid-1440s, the Woodvilles had gained significant power and influence.

Jacquetta’s close relations with both King Henry VI and Queen Margaret, coupled with her personal favouritism, granted her special privileges at court. She used her influence to secure advantageous marriages for her children and played a significant role in the rise of the Woodville family.

Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Woodvilles

Following Edward IV’s victory at the Battle of Towton, Jacquetta’s daughter Elizabeth ascended to the throne as Queen of England. The Woodvilles rose to prominence and power, thanks to Elizabeth’s influential position.

Richard Woodville was appointed Earl Rivers and became the Lord High Treasurer in March 1466. Jacquetta of Luxembourg skillfully arranged advantageous marriages for her children and helped her grandchildren secure important positions. Notably, she orchestrated the marriage between her twenty-year-old son, John, and the wealthy and widowed Katherine Neville, Duchess of Norfolk, who was considerably older than him.

The rise of the Woodville family stirred resentment and hostility among the Yorkists, including Warwick and Edward IV’s brothers, George and Richard, who felt marginalized in favour of former Lancastrians. In 1469, Warwick openly rebelled against Edward IV, temporarily deposing him. During this time, Earl Rivers and his son John were captured and executed by Warwick on 12 August at Kenilworth. Jacquetta survived her husband by three years and passed away in 1472 at approximately 56 years of age.

Witchcraft Accusations and Legacy

Shortly after her husband’s execution, Jacquetta faced accusations of witchcraft. Thomas Wake, a follower of Warwick, claimed that she had created lead figurines resembling the king’s family to be used for witchcraft. These figurines were allegedly discovered by Harry Kyngeston of Stoke Bruerne, Northamptonshire, and brought to Warwick Castle.

John Daunger, the parish clerk of Shutlanger, testified to Jacquetta’s involvement in creating the figures. However, the accusations fell apart when Warwick released Edward IV from custody. Jacquetta was ultimately cleared of all charges by the king’s great council on 21 January 1470.

In later years, Richard III revived the witchcraft allegations against Jacquetta and her daughter Elizabeth in the act known as Titulus Regius. Richard, however, failed to provide any evidence to substantiate his claims. These allegations remain part of historical debate without definitive proof.

Issue and Descendants

Jacquetta and Richard Woodville had fourteen children, many of whom achieved prominence and held influential positions. Their eldest daughter, Elizabeth Woodville, became Queen Consort of England after marrying Edward IV. Other notable children included Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers, Lionel Woodville, Bishop of Salisbury, and Richard Woodville, 3rd Earl Rivers.

Jacquetta’s descendants played significant roles in English history. Elizabeth Woodville’s marriage to Edward IV resulted in the birth of Elizabeth of York, who eventually married Henry VII and became the mother of Henry VIII. Many noble families, including the Dukes of Buckingham and the Earls of Pembroke, can trace their lineage back to Jacquetta and Richard Woodville.

Jacquetta of Luxembourg: A Significant Figure in the Wars of the Roses
Image: Two of Jacquetta’s children are depicted here: Anthony and Elizabeth |
Lorenzo Lippi, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In Popular Culture

Jacquetta of Luxembourg has been featured prominently in various works of historical fiction. Philippa Gregory‘s novels “The White Queen” (2009) and its prequel, “The Lady of the Rivers” (2011), explore Jacquetta’s life and depict her involvement in witchcraft. The character of Jacquetta is portrayed as a woman with mystical powers in Gregory’s fictionalized accounts. In the BBC One/Starz television series adaptation of “The White Queen,” actress Janet McTeer brings Jacquetta’s character to life.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton‘s novel “The Last of the Barons” (1843) also includes Jacquetta as an important character, emphasizing her connection to Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick.

Conclusion

Jacquetta of Luxembourg, a significant figure in the Wars of the Roses, played a crucial role in shaping the political landscape of England during this tumultuous period. Her alliances shifted from the House of Lancaster to the House of York, ultimately contributing to the rise of the Woodville family.

Despite facing accusations of witchcraft, Jacquetta successfully defended her innocence and left a lasting legacy through her descendants. Her story continues to captivate audiences through various fictional portrayals, shedding light on a woman who wielded considerable influence in a time of great upheaval.

*Feature Image: Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

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