The medieval rebel princesses

Medieval England’s royal women had the power to shape the world around them, and they weren’t afraid to use it, writes Kelcey Wilson-Lee

A rocky relationship: Eleanor of Woodstock with her husband, Reginald II of Guelders. (Photo by Alamy)

This article was first published in the April 2019 edition of BBC History Magazine

Eleanor of Woodstock, Edward II’s eldest daughter, was 24 years old when she stripped herself nearly naked before the dignitaries gathered at her husband Reginald II’s palace. The year was 1342, and the young Duchess of Guelders had been absent from Reginald’s court (in Nijmegen, the modern-day Netherlands) for months – banished to a house on the other side of the city on the pretext of suspected leprosy. Eventually, rumours spread to the English princess that Reginald was planning to divorce her on the grounds of her supposed illness. A divorce would ruin Eleanor financially, threaten her two sons’ inheritance, and rupture one of England’s most critical military partnerships in its war with France. But Eleanor knew she had the power to stop it.

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