King Henry VI and Queen Margaret of Anjou famously failed to produce an heir for eight years. New records indicate the pair may have brought some experts into the bedroom to help.
While the historical record has long shown that King Henry VI of England and Queen Margaret of Anjou had trouble procreating for over eight years, new historical evidence has come to light suggesting the pair took serious measures to make progress.
Henry VI famously retained his virginity until he married at age 23, thereby bringing a fair amount of inexperience into the bedroom. Historian Lauren Johnson discovered new evidence that suggests the two royals decided to seek help — in the form of discrete courtiers who joined their chambers to guide and instruct them.
“Was it because the famously chaste Henry — who was a virgin until he married — didn’t know what he was doing? I think it’s entirely possible that it had reached a certain point where it perhaps became necessary to make clear to him what he should be doing,” The Guardian reported.
The earliest historical record of royal “bedding ceremonies” dates back to Henry’s predecessor, Henry V, in the 1420s. This tradition consisted of newlyweds being ushered into their bed by wedding guests, as a celebratory function that comprised “the wine cup and the blessing of the bed.”
Of course, these proceedings were merely innocently jovial ones — physical consummation was not commonly carried out with guests observing the royals in their wedding chamber, and guests would leave after joyously carrying them inside.
“While royal ceremonies could involve public blessings and perhaps processions to the bedchamber on the wedding night, after that point no one was in the royal bedchamber when the king and queen were having their marital relations,” said Johnson.
Once King Henry VII and Queen Margaret were alone, however, there seemed to be a years-long span that failed to produce children, which new evidence suggests led the couple to bring trusted courtiers into the room during actual sex.
“This was not just their wedding night,” explained Johnson. “It’s an ongoing thing.”
This newfound evidence was possibly discovered only now due to the extreme privacy and discretion such an endeavor would retain — with a secret such as this spilling out or the sanctity of the king’s chamber being jeopardized likely resulting in notable punishment.
“That couldn’t be done in a public way at all,” said Johnson. “The king’s chamber is the most private place (where) you could be having this conversation or, indeed, checking what was going on.”
Johnson unearthed information pointing toward this royal group effort to procreate in the National Archives, royal household accounts, and various other sources.
The Ryalle Boke (or “royal book”) of court protocol, for instance, suggest that once King Henry VI was in bed, “the king’s chamberlain or a squire for the body (should) come for the queen, and with her two gentlewoman and an usher.”
One witness noted that when “the Kinge and the Quene lie together,” his chamberlain would spend the night “in the same chamber.” Johnson speculates that this person might’ve been the Duke of Suffolk, chamberlain of England, or Ralph Botiller, chamberlain of the household.
“The Ryalle Boke does not make it clear at what point they left, leaving open the intriguing suggestion that they remained to make sure the marriage bed was being properly used,” said Johnson.
“The evidence that there are people staying in the king’s bedroom potentially some years after he is married…is very odd,” she said.
Johnson’s “eyes and ears pricked up” when she discovered this information, the kind that a historian like her surely dreams of finding. As such, she’s preparing to include it in her upcoming book, Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI.
King Henry VI had plenty of enemies, as any monarch with a substantial amount of power naturally did. In his case, however, the sexual inexperience and inability to produce a child provided fodder for his enemies, some of which even spread rumors that the child he eventually did father, Edward (born 1453), wasn’t his but was instead a bastard.
In addition to Henry’s lack of sexual prowess, Johnson’s research has led her to suggest that the queen’s alleged eating disorder was to blame for the trouble in procreating. A 1467 document notes Margaret was “fasting four or five times a week” during her marriage, “ironically, probably to fulfill religious vows in the hope of getting pregnant,” Johnson speculated.
While issues in procreating are commonly seen as a private matter with little to no consequence in terms of social standing or public image — this was not the case in medieval times, particularly for royals. In this case, Johnson suggested, both male and female weaknesses were exploited.
“As the first duty of a queen was to bear children, this had a serious impact on her popularity,” Johnson explained. “Infertility was usually blamed on women, but complaints about royal sterility undermined Henry’s masculinity and his authority.”