Thursday, August 25, 2016

Q&A: Is it true that the Saxons didn't have queens?

History Extra

A statue assumed to be of Anglo-Saxon king Otto I with his wife, Ædgyth, who was anointed queen. (AKG)

Asser tells us that Eadburh so tyrannised her husband, King Beorhtric of the West Saxons, (whom she eventually poisoned) that she was forced into exile at the court of Charlemagne, king of the Franks.
The story is a myth intended to denigrate the memory of King Offa and Charlemagne. The poisoning of Beorhtric supplied a convenient explanation for the usurpation of the throne of Wessex in AD 802 by King Alfred’s grandfather Egbert of Kent.
This wasn’t the last time that Alfred’s family used the supposed queenlessness of the West Saxons as a political tool. Alfred’s father remarried, and since this new wife, Judith, demanded recognition as ‘queen’, Alfred and his brothers used queenlessness to guard against any claim by Judith’s children to succeed as king. 
Later, it became customary for West Saxon royal brides to be both designated and publicly anointed as queens. What was not allowed was for a woman, either a wife or a daughter, to claim the throne in her own right.
It was not until the time of Matilda, the daughter of the Norman king Henry I of England, that this was first tried, and it was an attempt that led to civil war. By this time, the kingdom of Wessex was part of England.
Only in the 16th century was English custom set aside so that, as a means of preserving the dynasty of Henry VIII, first Mary and then Elizabeth Tudor were crowned as ruling queens. 
Answered by Professor Nicholas Vincent, from the University of East Anglia.

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