14th September 2018
Today in 1435 John, Duke of Bedford, died – leaving his second wife Jacquetta of Luxembourg a widow when she was only nineteen years old. Bedford was brother to Henry V, the king who had led England to victory during the Hundred Years War at Agincourt. When Henry V died, his infant son became Henry VI. Bedford acted as regent for his young nephew, but remained focused on the war with France.
For several years, Bedford managed to maintain Henry V’s successes, defeating the French in battle himself, including at Verneuil. It was not until the arrival of Joan of Arc that the tide began to turn against the English. Joan led the French to success, breaking the English siege on the city of Orleans in 1429 and galvanising the French forces. She was with the Dauphin when he was crowned Charles VII, and Bedford sent a scathing letter to him that insulted both Charles and Joan. Of Joan he said that she was ‘a woman of a disorderly and infamous life, and dissolute manners, dressed in the clothes of a man’, which was ‘abominable in the sight of God’.
Joan, by now a symbol of hope for the French, was eventually captured by Burgundian forces. Burgundy were allies to the English – Bedford himself was married to the Duke of Burgundy’s younger sister, Anne. The English negotiated to have her transferred to their custody. Bedford saw Joan as a threat and knew he could strike a great blow to France by not only capturing their symbol of hope, but by discrediting her previous successes and Charles VII himself with accusations of witchcraft. An English backed court was set up to try Joan for heresy. While Bedford was not directly involved in Joan’s trial, the outcome – a conviction of heresy and execution by burning at the stake – is no doubt what he wanted.
In 1432, Bedford’s wife Anne died. While their marriage appeared to be a happy one, they did not have any children. He remarried only five months after her death, something that the Duke of Burgundy found disrespectful. His new bride was Jacquetta of Luxembourg, the seventeen year old daughter of the Count of Saint-Pol, known for her beauty. We do not know much about their marriage or Bedford’s reasons for it, but the ageing Duke was heir to Henry VI, who was still a child. Perhaps thoughts of the succession were on his mind.