Jacquetta of Luxembourg

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Jacquetta of Luxembourg
Duchess of Bedford
Countess Rivers
Spouse John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford
Richard Woodville, 1st Earl Rivers
House House of Luxembourg
Father Peter I of Luxembourg
Mother Margaret of Baux
Born 1415/1416
Died 30 May 1472(1472-05-30) (aged 55–57)

Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Countess Rivers (1415/1416 – 30 May 1472) was the eldest daughter of Peter I of Luxembourg, Count of Saint-Pol, Conversano and Brienne and his wife Margaret of Baux (Margherita del Balzo of Andria). She was a prominent, though often overlooked, figure in Wars of the Roses. Through her short-lived first marriage to the Duke of Bedford, brother of King Henry V, she was firmly allied to the House of Lancaster. However, following the emphatic Lancastrian defeat at the Battle of Towton she sided closely with the House of York. Three years after the battle and the accession of Edward IV of England, her eldest daughter Elizabeth Woodville married King Edward and became Queen consort of England. Jacquetta bore 14 children (all with her second husband) and withstood a trial at court for witchcraft and although exonerated, the accusation haunted her descendants even after her death.[citation needed]

Family and ancestry[edit]

Her father Peter of Luxembourg, Count of Saint-Pol was also the hereditary Count of Brienne from 1397 until his death in 1433.

Peter had succeeded his father John of Luxembourg, Lord of Beauvoir and mother Marguerite of Enghien. They had co-reigned as Count and Countess of Brienne from 1394 to her death in 1397. John had been a fourth-generation descendant of Waleran I of Luxembourg, Lord of Ligny, second son of Henry V of Luxembourg and Margaret of Bar. This cadet line of the House of Luxembourg reigned in Ligny-en-Barrois.

Jacquetta's paternal great-grandmother, Mahaut of Châtillon, descended from Beatrice of England, daughter of King Henry III of England and Eleanor of Provence.[1] Jacquetta's mother, Margherita del Balzo, was a daughter of Francesco del Balzo, 1st Duke of Andria and Sueva Orsini.[2] Sueva descended from Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester and Eleanor of England, the youngest child of King John of England and Isabella of Angoulême.[2]

The Luxembourgs claimed to be descended from the water deity Melusine through their ancestor Siegfried of Luxembourg (b922-d998).[citation needed] Jacquetta was a fourth cousin, twice removed of Sigismund of Luxembourg, the reigning Holy Roman Emperor, and King of Bohemia and Hungary.

Early life[edit]

Most of Jacquetta's early life is a mystery. She was born as the Lancastrian phase of the Hundred Years War began. Her uncle, John II of Luxembourg, Count of Ligny, was the head of the military company that captured Joan of Arc. John held Joan prisoner at Beauvoir and later sold her to the English.

First marriage[edit]

On 22 April 1433 at age 17, Jacquetta married John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford at Therouenne. The Duke was the third son of King Henry IV of England and Mary de Bohun, and thus the grandson of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, himself the third son of Edward III. The marriage was childless and the Duke died on 15 September 1435 at Rouen. As was customary at the time, after her second marriage Jacquetta retained the title of her first husband and was always known as the Duchess of Bedford, this being a higher title than that of countess. Jacquetta inherited one-third of the Duke's main estates as her widow's share.[3]

Second marriage[edit]

Sir Richard Woodville, son of Sir Richard Wydevill who had served as the late Duke's chamberlain, was commissioned by Henry VI of England to bring Bedford's young widow to England. During the journey, the couple fell in love and married in secret (before 23 March 1437), without seeking the king's permission. Jacquetta had been granted dower lands following her first husband's death on condition that she did not remarry without a royal licence. On learning of the marriage, Henry VI refused to see them but was mollified by the payment of a fine of £1000. The marriage was long and very fruitful: Jacquetta and Richard had fourteen children, including the future Queen Consort Elizabeth Woodville. She lost her first-born son Lewis to a fever when he was 12 years old.

By the mid-1440s, the Woodvilles were in a powerful position. Jacquetta was related to both King Henry and Queen Margaret by marriage. Her sister, Isabelle de Saint Pol, married Margaret's uncle Charles du Maine while Jacquetta was the widow of Henry VI's uncle. She outranked all ladies at Court with the exception of the Queen. As a personal favourite, she also enjoyed special privileges and influence at court. Margaret influenced Henry to create Richard Woodville Baron Rivers in 1448, and he was a prominent partisan of the House of Lancaster as the Wars of the Roses began.[4]

Wars of the Roses[edit]

The Yorkists crushed the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton on 29 March 1461, and Edward IV, the first king from the House of York, took the throne. The husband of Jacquetta's oldest daughter Elizabeth (Sir John Grey) had been killed a month before at the Second Battle of St. Albans, a Lancastrian victory under the command of Margaret of Anjou. At Towton, however, the tables turned in favour of the Yorkists. Three years later, in 1464 (allegedly on Jacquetta's instructions),[citation needed] the beautiful, widowed Elizabeth and her two young sons approached the young king as he hunted in Whittlebury Forest near the Woodville manor. Elizabeth pleaded with the King for the estates confiscated from her husband to be restored to her sons. Edward offered to make Elizabeth his mistress, but she held out for marriage.[citation needed] A desperate Edward married Elizabeth in secret, but the marriage was not disclosed for months. Once it became common knowledge, however, the alliance displeased the Earl of Warwick, the King's most trusted ally, and his friends.

With Elizabeth now Queen of England, the Woodvilles rose to great prominence and power. Jacquetta's husband Richard was created Earl Rivers and appointed Lord High Treasurer in March 1466. Jacquetta found rich and influential spouses for her children and helped her grandchildren achieve high posts. She arranged for her 20-year-old son, John, to marry the widowed and very rich dowager Duchess of Norfolk, Katherine Neville. The bride was at least 45 years older than the groom at the time of the wedding. The marriage caused a furor and earned the Woodvilles considerable unpopularity. Ironically, the elderly duchess outlived all her husbands and her children.

The rise of the Woodvilles created widespread hostility. They had deserted the Lancastrian side and were now displacing longtime Yorkists in the King's favour, such as the King's brothers Warwick Richard and George.

In 1469, Warwick openly broke with Edward IV and temporarily deposed him. Earl Rivers and his son John Woodville were captured and executed by Warwick on 12 August at Kenilworth. Jacquetta, broken-hearted, survived her husband by three years and died in 1472, at about 56 years of age.

Witchcraft accusations[edit]

Shortly after her husband's execution by Warwick, Thomas Wake, a follower of Warwick’s, accused Jacquetta of witchcraft. Wake brought to Warwick Castle a lead image “made like a man of arms . . . broken in the middle and made fast with a wire,“ and alleged that Jacquetta had fashioned it to use for witchcraft and sorcery. He claimed that John Daunger, a parish clerk in Northampton, could attest that Jacquetta had made two other images, one for the king and one for the queen. The case fell apart when Warwick released Edward IV from custody, and Jacquetta was cleared by the king’s great council of the charges on February 21, 1470.[5] In 1484 Richard III in the act known as Titulus Regius[6] revived the allegations of witchcraft against Jacquetta when he claimed that she and Elizabeth had procured Elizabeth's marriage to Edward IV through witchcraft; however, Richard never offered any proof to support his assertions.


Through her daughter Elizabeth, Jacquetta was the maternal grandmother of Elizabeth of York, wife and queen of Henry VII.


  1. Elizabeth Woodville, Queen consort of England (c. 1437 – 8 Jun. 1492), married first Sir John Grey, second Edward IV of England.
  2. Lewis Woodville (c. 1438), died in childhood.
  3. Anne Woodville (1438/9 – 30 Jul. 1489). Married first William Bourchier, Viscount Bourchier, second Sir Edward Wingfield, third George Grey, 2nd Earl of Kent.
  4. Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers (c. 1440 – 25 Jun. 1483), married Elizabeth Scales, 8th Baroness Scales, second to Mary Fitzlewis, not married to Gwentlian Stradling, the mother of Margaret.
  5. John Woodville (c. 1444 – 12 Aug. 1469), married Catherine Neville, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.
  6. Jacquetta Woodville (1445–1509), married John le Strange, 8th Baron Strange of Knockin.
  7. Lionel Woodville, Bishop of Salisbury (c. 1446 – Jun. 1484).
  8. Eleanor Woodville (d. c. 1512), married Sir Anthony Grey.
  9. Margaret Woodville (c. 1450 – 1490/1), married Thomas Fitzalan, 17th Earl of Arundel.
  10. Martha Woodville (d. c. 1500), married Sir John Bromley.
  11. Richard Woodville, 3rd Earl Rivers (1453 – Mar. 1491).
  12. Edward Woodville, Lord Scales (1454/8 – 28 Jul. 1488).
  13. Mary Woodville (c. 1456 – 1481), married William Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke.
  14. Catherine Woodville (c. 1458 – 18 May 1497), married first Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, second Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford.[7]

In fiction[edit]

Jacquetta is a main character in Philippa Gregory's 2009 novel The White Queen, a fictionalized account of the life of her eldest daughter Elizabeth.[8] In the novel, Jacquetta is portrayed as having indeed dabbled quite a bit in witchcraft, displaying what would seem to be actual power. She is also the main protagonist in Gregory's 2011 prequel novel The Lady of the Rivers.[9] Gregory's works explore the historical claim by Jacquetta's family that they were descended from the water deity Melusine. Gregory uses Jacquetta's tenuous ties to Melusine and Joan of Arc to further her potential ties to witchcraft. In the 2013 BBC One/Starz television series adaptation The White Queen, Jacquetta is portrayed by actress Janet McTeer.[10]

Jacquetta is also an important character in Margaret Frazer's fifth "Player Joliffe" novel, A Play of Treachery (2009). The story is set in 1435–6, after the death of her first husband, John, Duke of Bedford. This historical novel tells a tale regarding her marriage to Sir Richard Woodville. There is no mention of witchcraft in this novel.

Jacquetta is also a prominent character in The Last of the Barons (1843), a novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803–1873). The book's title is a reference to Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick.



  1. ^ Douglas Richardson. Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study In Colonial And Medieval Families, 2nd Edition, 2011. pg 533-542.
  2. ^ a b Douglas Richardson. Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study In Colonial And Medieval Families, 2nd Edition, 2011. pg 395-402, 538.
  3. ^ Calendar of the Patent Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office, Volume 3 p. 53 Web. 17 November 2014.
  4. ^ Philippa Gregory; David Baldwin; Michael Jones (2011). The Women of the Cousins' War. London: Simon & Schuster. 
  5. ^ Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1467-77, p. 190
  6. ^ "The Richard III and Yorkist History Server". r3.org. Archived from the original on 31 August 2008. 
  7. ^ Alison Weir, Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy
  8. ^ "The White Queen (Official site)". PhilippaGregory.com. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  9. ^ "The Lady of the Rivers (Official site)". PhilippaGregory.com. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  10. ^ "BBC – Media Centre: The White Queen, a new ten-part drama for BBC One". BBC.co.uk. 31 August 2012. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 

Further reading[edit]