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The October Queens: the woman who changed English royal history forever

Elizabeth Woodville

When being a queen meant that you had married a king, rather than being a ruler yourself, life stories were told very differently. The queens of yesteryear might have ended up as some of the best known personalities of their time but the start of their stories were often as forgotten as the early years of many of the other women who lived in their realms.  Royal princes may have had their every moment documented but consorts came with a patchy life story that was often rewritten to suit the political aims of their spouses.  So we don’t know the birthdates of many of England’s queen consorts.  But we do know enough to be able to mark the anniversaries of the births of three consorts this month.  Here are the hat trick of royal women who are the October queens.

The first autumnal baby to grow up to wear a consort’s crown was a French princess who had a controversial upbringing and caused even more of a stir once she started making her own decisions.  Katherine of Valois  was born in Paris on October 27th 1401, the youngest daughter of the French king, Charles, VI,who was more commonly called ‘The Mad’ and his wife, Isabeau of Bavaria, who was called many things and not all of them pleasant.  This future queen began her journey at the sophisticated palace called the Hotel de St Pol begun by her grandfather, Charles V.  But some historians believe that little Katherine was ignored by her parents as her father was suffering serious mental health problems and her mother was involved in the power struggles that resulted.

Katherine became Queen of England in 1420 when she married Henry V and her son, Henry VI, became King of both England and France before his first birthday but lost both crowns eventually.  His mother, meanwhile, caused several scandals when – as a young widow – she set her sights firstly on a young nobleman and then on a servant in her household.  She married the latter, a certain Owen Tudor, and their grandson became Henry VII.

Katherine’s eldest son, Henry VI, lost his English kingdom in the Wars of the Roses and the man who replaced him on the throne married the second of the October queens.  Edward IV became the first monarch of the House of York in 1461 following decisive wins against the House of Lancaster but he remained without a queen for three years before shocking everyone – especially his main ally, the Earl of Warwick – by revealing he had secretly wed a Lancastrian’s widow, Elizabeth Woodille.  Elizabeth was born in Northamptonshire in 1437 and her birthdate is usually accepted as being in October although the exact date isn’t known.

Elizabeth was another controversial consort. She quickly helped her family gain power and influence following her marriage and coronation and she ended up living in sanctuary when her husband was briefly deposed in 1470 by his former friend, Warwick.  Edward regained his throne but on his death, Elizabeth’s marriage was declared invalid and her two sons by the king – Edward V and Richard, Duke of York – disappeared.  Her eldest daughter, also called Elizabeth,  eventually became consort of England when she married Henry VII after the Battle of Bosworth making the Tudor dynasty the legacy of two October queens.

The last autumnal baby to be the wife of a king, so far, is Maria of Modena, who made her debut on October 5th 1658 and proved to be every bit as controversial a consort as her two October predecessors.  Maria Beatrice Anna Margherita Isabella was the daughter of the Duke of Modena and his powerhouse of a wife, Laura Martinozzi, whose uncle, Cardinal Mazarin, had helped her make a good marriage.  Laura was equally ambitious for Maria and tried to marry her off to the future King of Spain before settling for a wedding with the heir to the British throne – James, Duke of York.

Maria was fifteen when she married the forty year old duke but this teenage duchess got little sympathy from her new court, many of whom feared that the Catholic James and his Catholic wife would restore a Catholic monarchy – something many high ranking nobles and advisers were deeply against.  Maria became Queen in 1685 but when she gave birth to a healthy son called James in 1688 she set in train a sequence of events that would lead to her and her husband and family fleeing into exile.  Maria would fight for her son to be recognised as king but ended up living in relative poverty near Paris.

The October babies who became queen led tumultuous and controversial lives and all stand out for their strong personalities and determination to do things their way.  They may be few in number but there’s no doubt that royal history has been left changed, sometimes dramatically, by the October queens.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton, a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. June has been a reporter, producer and editor, picking up several awards over the years. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.