Rosamund Clifford

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Fair Rosamund)
Jump to: navigation, search
1917 Oil on canvas painting by John William Waterhouse, titled Fair Rosamund

Rosamund Clifford (before 1150 – ca. 1176), often called "The Fair Rosamund" or the "Rose of the World", was famed for her beauty and was a mistress of King Henry II of England, famous in English folklore.

Rosamund was the daughter of the marcher lord Walter de Clifford and his wife Margaret or Isabel de Tosny. Walter was originally known as Walter fitz Richard (i.e. son of Richard), but his name was gradually changed to that of his major holding, first as steward, then as lord. This was Clifford Castle on the River Wye.

Rosamund had two sisters, Amice and Lucy. Amice married Osbern fitz Hugh of Richard's Castle and Lucy Hugh de Say of Stokesay. She also had three brothers, Walter II de Clifford, Richard and Gilbert.

Rosamund probably first met the King when he passed by Clifford Castle in 1163 during one of his campaigns in Wales against Rhys ap Gruffydd.

Her name, Rosamund, may have been influenced by the Latin phrase rosa mundi, which means "rose of the world."[1]

Possible children[edit]

Historians are divided over whether or not Rosamund's relationship with the King produced children. The question is complicated by the difficulty of separating the facts of Rosamund's life from the profusion of legends surrounding it. Many historians have concluded that Rosamund most likely bore Henry a single child but cannot identify it or even provide a specific date of birth. Some modern writers, including Alison Weir, are of the opinion that Rosamund had no children; but whether this means she never gave birth or merely that none of her children survived remains unclear.

Legend has falsely attributed to Rosamund two of King Henry's favourite illegitimate sons: Geoffrey Plantagenet (1151–1212), Archbishop of York, and William Longespee (17 August before 1180–1226), Earl of Salisbury. Her maternity in these two cases was only claimed centuries later. Henry and Rosamund met about 1163, and their relationship lasted until 1176. Geoffrey and Rosamund would therefore have been about the same age. Further, Geoffrey is directly attested as son of an otherwise unknown Ykenai,[citation needed] presumably another mistress of Henry. William Longespée's maternity was a mystery for many years but the truth was discovered when charters issued by him were found to contain references to "Comitissa Ida, mater mea" (my mother, Countess Ida) (Bradenstoke Cartulary, 1979). She was Ida de Tosny, Countess of Norfolk.

Other stories[edit]

Eleanor prepares to poison Rosamund, a Pre-Raphaelite painting by Evelyn De Morgan, illustrating one of the later myths about her

Little is known about Rosamund, but she is discussed in books about Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry's queen. The legends concerning her life are many, but few hard facts are available. The story that she was poisoned by a jealous Eleanor is certainly untrue, and so is the tale that Henry constructed the hunting lodge at Woodstock for her and surrounded it with a garden that was a labyrinth ("Rosamund's Bower," which was pulled down when Blenheim Palace was built nearby). In the 'French Chronicle of London', she is, oddly enough, described as having been roasted[clarification needed] by the wife of Henry III, Eleanor of Provence. During the Elizabethan era, stories claiming that she had been murdered by Eleanor of Aquitaine gained popularity; but the Ballad of Fair Rosamund by Thomas Deloney and the Complaint of Rosamund by Samuel Daniel (1592) are both purely fictional.

She is thought to have entered Henry's life around the time that Eleanor was pregnant with her final child, John who was born on 24 December 1166 at Oxford. Indeed, Eleanor is known to have given birth to John at Beaumont Palace rather than at Woodstock because, it is speculated, having planned to give birth at Woodstock, she refused to do so upon finding Rosamund there.

Authorities differ over whether Rosamund stayed quietly in seclusion at Woodstock while Henry went back and forth between England and his continental possessions, or whether she travelled with him as a member of his household. If the former, the two of them could not have spent more than about a quarter of the time between 1166 and 1176 together (as historian Marion Meade puts it: "For all her subsequent fame, Rosamund must be one of the most neglected concubines in history"). Historians do seem to agree, however, that Rosamund was Eleanor's opposite in personality and that Henry and Rosamund appear to have shared a deep love.

Rosamund was also associated with the village of Frampton on Severn in Gloucestershire, another of her father Walter's holdings. Walter granted the mill at Frampton to Godstow Abbey for the good of the souls of Rosamund and his wife Margaret. The village green at Frampton became known as Rosamund's Green by the 17th century.[2]

Death and aftermath[edit]

Henry's liaison with Rosamund became public knowledge in 1174; it ended when she retired to the nunnery at Godstow near Oxford in 1176, shortly before her death. Her death was remembered at Hereford Cathedral on 6 July, the same day as that of the king thirteen years later.

Henry and the Clifford family paid for her tomb at Godstow in the choir of the monastery church and for an endowment that would ensure care of the tomb by the nuns. It became a popular local shrine until 1191, two years after Henry's death. Hugh of Lincoln, Bishop of Lincoln, while visiting Godstow, noticed Rosamund's tomb right in front of the high altar. The tomb was laden with flowers and candles, demonstrating that the local people were still praying there. Unsurprisingly calling Rosamund a harlot, the bishop ordered her remains removed from the church: instead, she was to be buried outside the church 'with the rest, that the Christian religion may not grow into contempt, and that other women, warned by her example, may abstain from illicit and adulterous intercourse'. Her tomb was moved to the cemetery by the nuns' chapter house, where it could be visited until it was destroyed in the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII of England. The remains of Godstow Priory still stand and are open to the public.

Paul Hentzner, a German traveler who visited England c.1599 records [3] that her faded tombstone inscription read in part:

... Adorent, Utque tibi detur requies Rosamunda precamur.

"Let them adore ... and we pray that rest be given to you, Rosamund."

Followed by a rhyming epitaph:

Hic jacet in tumba Rosamundi non Rosamunda, Non redolet sed olet, quae redolere solet.

"Here in the tomb lies the rose of the world, not a pure rose; she who used to smell sweet, still smells--but not sweet."

Apollinaire was to use Rosamond as the central character in his poem Rosemonde, taken from the 1913 collection 'Alcools' (citation taken from Garnet Rees 1975 edition of Guillaume Apollinaire's Alcools; The Athlone Press; London)


  • Rosamund Clifford is the subject of Samuel Daniel's 1592 poem, "The Complaint of Rosamond."
  • Rosmonda d'Inghilterra (Rosamund of England) is an 1834 Italian opera by Gaetano Donizetti.
  • Rosamund is a character in the novel Eleanor the Queen (1955, 1983) by Norah Lofts.
  • Rosamund is mentioned in the play and movie versions of The Lion in Winter (1966, 1968).
  • Rosamund appears as "Rose Parrish" in Susan Howatch's family saga Penmarric (1971), a re-telling of the story of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine.
  • Rosamund is a character in the novel The Courts of Love: The Story of Eleanor of Aquitaine (1987) by Jean Plaidy.
  • Rosamund is mentioned in Virginia Henley's romance, The Falcon and the Flower (1988).
  • Rosamund is a character in the novel The Book of Eleanor, A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine (2002) by Pamela Kaufman.
  • Rosamund's affair with Henry II is detailed in Sharon Penman's novel Time and Chance (2002), and continued in Penman's Devil's Brood (2008).
  • The relationship between Rosamund and Henry is a major framing device in Robin Paige's mystery novel, Death at Blenheim Palace (2006).
  • Rosamund appears in the novel The Death Maze (2008). published in the U.S. as The Serpent's Tale, by Ariana Franklin.
  • Rosamund is mentioned as past mistress of Henry II in the novel The Time of Singing (2008) by Elizabeth Chadwick.
  • Rosamund is a character in the novel The Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine (2010) by Alison Weir.
  • A version of Rosamund's tombstone poem is featured in the Book of the New Sun series by Gene Wolfe.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Anthony à Wood The life and times of Anthony Wood: antiquary, of Oxford, 1632-1695, described by himself. Printed for the Oxford historical society, at the Clarendon press, 1891. Page 341.
  2. ^ Victoria County History of Gloucestershire: Frampton on Severn
  3. ^ Hentzner, Paul. "Travels in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth" [1]
  • Biography from Who's Who in British History (1998), H. W. Wilson Company. Who's Who in British History, Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1998.
  • W. L. Warren, Henry II, 1973.
  • Remfry. P.M., Clifford Castle, 1066 to 1299 (ISBN 1-899376-04-6)

External links[edit]