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Luxembourg, Jaquetta de, duchess of Bedford and Countess Riverslocked

(c. 1416–1472)
  • Lucia Diaz Pascual

Luxembourg, Jaquetta de, duchess of Bedford and Countess Rivers (c. 1416–1472), noblewoman, was the eldest of nine children born to Pierre de Luxembourg (1390–1433), count of St Pol, Conversano, and Brienne, seigneur of Enghien, and vicomte of Lille, and Marguerite del Balzo, or des Baux (d. 1469), daughter of Francesco, duke of Andrea, and Sveva Orsini. Her uncle Louis de Luxembourg was chancellor of France for Henry VI. Little is known of her early years, when she must have lived with her family in Brienne. On 20 April 1433 Jaquetta married the recently widowed John, duke of Bedford (1389–1435), at the cathedral of Thérouanne in France, in a ceremony presided over by her uncle Louis, then bishop. On 18 June 1433 she travelled with her husband to England, where they divided their time between London and the duke's seat at Fulbrook in Warwickshire. On 8 July she was granted denization, and in April 1434 she received the robes of the Order of the Garter. In mid-July 1434 Bedford returned to France for a prolonged stay, and Jaquetta presumably accompanied him, and would therefore have been with him when he died in Rouen Castle on 14 September 1435, two years and five months after their marriage.

Bedford's death left Jaquetta potentially an extremely wealthy widow, entitled to a third of her husband's considerable lands and annuities. She could not establish all her claims, and much was lost in France, but while the relevant entries on the patent rolls do not specify the total monetary value of her dower when she first received it, an estimate can be made from the regrant made by Edward IV on 24 February 1465, after her lands had been confiscated because of her Lancastrian sympathies, which shows that she was still entitled to £817 13s. 5d. annually from rents. Henry VI granted Jaquetta her dower on 6 February 1436, on condition that she did not remarry without his consent. Yet by 23 March 1437, just over a year later, she had married the young and handsome, but comparatively poor, Sir Richard Woodville or Wydeville (d. 1469), and had to pay £1000 for a pardon.

Jaquetta probably spent a considerable amount of time in France during the first years of her second marriage, litigating to secure her dower lands there, while Sir Richard served intermittently in France until at least 1442. In England their main residence was at Grafton, Northamptonshire, which they purchased on 10 June 1440. Their first child, Elizabeth, was born about 1437, and their first son, Anthony Woodville, was born about 1440, having been preceded by two more daughters, Margaret and Anne. Jaquetta's fertility was remarkable. In all she bore fourteen children, seven girls and seven boys, two of whom died young.

In November 1444 Jaquetta formed part of the retinue that escorted Margaret of Anjou to England, and for the rest of Henry VI's reign she was one of the pre-eminent noblewomen at court, remaining loyal to the Lancastrian cause through the turbulent years leading to Edward IV's accession. In February 1461 the mayor and aldermen of London asked her to negotiate with Margaret of Anjou, whose forces stood outside London's gates, to protect the city from pillage. Shortly afterwards, on 29 March, her husband and eldest son were captured at the battle of Towton and sent to the Tower of London. But they were released in July, perhaps partly due to Jaquetta's family ties to the duke of Burgundy, a key ally of the Yorkist cause.

Just over three years later, on 1 May 1464, Jaquetta's eldest daughter, Elizabeth, married Edward IV at Grafton, in a secret ceremony witnessed only by Jaquetta herself and two gentlewomen. This event propelled the family to the heights of royal favour. On 24 February 1465 the king ordered the payment of Jaquetta's dower, suspended since 1461; on 4 March 1466 her husband became treasurer of England, and was made Earl Rivers on 25 May; and her unmarried children were found spouses among the high nobility. Thus her son John was married to Katherine Neville, the elderly dowager duchess of Norfolk, while her daughter Katherine was more suitably matched with Henry Stafford, second duke of Buckingham [[see Woodville, Katherine], under [Stafford, Henry]]. Another son, Lionel Woodville, received a series of ecclesiastical preferments, culminating in the bishopric of Salisbury.

Jaquetta seems to have been close to Elizabeth. On 26 May 1465 she attended her coronation, and in 1466 took part in her churching, following the birth of the future queen Elizabeth of York. On 1 October 1470, shortly after Jaquetta's husband and son John had been executed by order of Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, she accompanied her daughter and her three grandchildren to sanctuary at Westminster, and was presumably there when Elizabeth gave birth to the future Edward V on 2 November.

Jaquetta was often maligned by Warwick and his supporters, who resented the Woodvilles' rise to power. On 12 July 1467 she was the only woman specifically mentioned in a manifesto attached to a petition by Kentish rebels speaking against the

disceyvabille covetous rule and gydynge of certeyne ceducious persones … wheche have cause oure seid sovereyn Lord and his seid realme to falle in grete poverte of myserie, disturbynge the mynystracion of the lawes, only entendyng to thaire owen promocion and enriching.

Halliwell, 46

Shortly afterwards, in allegations probably also originating with the Nevilles, she was reported to have shown herself to be greedy and arrogant, the trial for treason of Sir Thomas Cook in 1468 having stemmed, according to the great chronicle of London, from her resentment that he had not let her have a rich tapestry that she coveted 'at hir pleasure & pryce' (Thomas and Thornley, 207). Still more damagingly, on 19 January 1470 she had to be cleared in the great council of accusations brought by Thomas Wake, one of Warwick's esquires, who claimed that she had fashioned images of lead representing Warwick, the king, and the queen, for use in witchcraft and sorcery. The implication was that Jaquetta had used magical powers to enchant Edward IV into marriage, a claim revived in 1483 by Richard, duke of Gloucester, to support his usurpation of the throne by invalidating Edward's marriage.

Jaquetta died on 30 May 1472. Her place of burial is unknown, and although there is evidence that she made a will, it has not survived. Her coat of arms, illustrated in the Salisbury breviary (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS Lat. 17294), displays the Luxembourg symbol of a lion with a forked tail, impaled with the royal insignia of the three lions and fleur-de-lis of her first husband, the duke of Bedford. A receipt for rents from her land contains her personal signature and her husband's seal. Two surviving manuscripts also contain her signature, as well as her motto Sur tous autres. The first (Pembroke College, Cambridge, MS 307) is an early fifteenth-century copy of John Gower's Confessio amantis, and the second (BL, Harley MS 4431) contains the collected works of Christine de Pisan and was probably presented to Queen Isabella of Bavaria in January 1414. A third manuscript ascribed to her (BL, Cotton MS Otho D:ii), now largely burnt, contained the Itinerarium of Ricold de Monte Croce, an Italian Dominican missionary, and also a text of the legend of Melusine as recounted by Jean d'Arras. She may also have owned the Bedford psalter and hours (BL, Add. MS 42131), since it contains the birth date of her son Anthony's second wife, Mary Lewis.

Jaquetta's life spanned a period of great turmoil in England, which she survived admirably. A foreign noblewoman, married for political reasons and widowed before she was twenty, she used her first husband's fortune and her noble position to her own advantage, thriving under both the Lancastrian and Yorkist courts, and elevating her second husband and many children to the highest spheres of the nobility. Despite the scanty records of her life, the overall impression conveyed by them, and not least by the allegations against her, is of a formidable woman who understood how to navigate the corridors of power and was capable of great resilience, strength, and determination to achieve her objectives.

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