Belle as Belle Rosamonde


Artists are compelled to finish what they started. Despite the tragic obstacles that arose after our meeting at the Wandering Goat, I can not, and will not let anything, or anyone, get in the way of my rendering of Belle Burch, as Fair Rosamond. For fifteen years I have wondered how I would render Rosamond. When Belle first made eye-contact with me with my camera in my face, there it is! The shot! The Pose! This is Belle Rosamonde noticing King Henry for the first time at her father’s castle. This is the beginning of the most celebrated love affair of all time, because it is doomed from the start. This look puts the Rose of the World on a collision course with the Queen of the Plantegnent line, Eleanore of Aquitaine. This is the height of ‘Forbidden Love’. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

The first thing that went wrong was, Belle would not let me capture her image imitating the image she has on a window sill of a woman holding and smelling a rose. When I told her it was painted by Waterhouse, she was impressed. What Belle did not understand I was wanting to employ her in a real War of the Roses.
Jon Presco

Copyright 2014

Yes, “Game of Thrones” has dragons and ice zombies and giant clairvoyant wolves, but for every viewer (or reader) who climbed onto George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy bandwagon for the magical stuff, I suspect there are two of us who are in it for the palace intrigue. Velvet sleeves concealing jewel-encrusted daggers, scheming eunuchs with networks of spies, parvenue commoners outwitting the supercilious aristos and totally, utterly ruthless power plays — what’s not to love?

Martin has always maintained that he’s been influenced at least as much by history and historical fiction as by the traditional epic fantasy of writers like J.R.R. Tolkien. Aficionados know that his novels (collectively called “A Song of Ice and Fire”) are loosely based on the Wars of the Roses, a vicious series of battles of succession that took place in 15th-century England. Martin has also listed Maurice Druon and Thomas B. Costain as models, two mid-20th-century historical novelists who wrote about medieval France, and you can see echoes of that material in his fictional universe, as well.

It would probably surprise several generations of British schoolchildren to learn that the dynastic politics of the late 1400s could be transformed into anything coherent, let alone entertaining. (“It’s worse than the Wars of the Roses!” Lucy Pevensie cries in dismay when someone tries to explain a particularly complicated bit of Narnian history in “Prince Caspian.” She speaks for many.) This, however, hasn’t kept many novelists and historians from trying.

It’s not that there aren’t fabulous characters and nefarious doings in the Wars of the Roses — Secret marriages! Mad monarchs! Vanishing princes! This is a story that concludes with one of the players being drowned in a barrel of wine, after all. But keeping the Wars’ family trees, convoluted legalistic arguments and perpetually shifting allegiances straight is enough to give anyone a headache. It certainly doesn’t help that all the male principles seem to have the same three names (Henry, Richard or Edward) or that they are forever gaining or losing and then gaining again the titles that serve to distinguish them from one another.

For fans who wish to investigate further into the real-life inspirations for Martin’s characters, one of the most lucid popular histories of the conflict is Alison Weir’s “The Wars of the Roses” (originally published as “Lancaster and York”). Some of Martin’s references to the Wars are easy to pick up. For example, the two dueling clans in “Game of Thrones,” the Lannisters and the Starks, have names that resemble those of the two sides in the Wars of the Roses. Like the Yorks, the Starks are northerners, while the Lannisters, like the Lancasters, are famously rich.

Both English families were branches of the House of Plantagenet who vied for the throne after the deposition of the last Plantagenet king, Richard II, in 1399 and before the establishment of the Tudor dynasty in 1485. There’s no one-to-one correspondence between the characters in “Game of Thrones” and actual historical figures, but Martin was clearly inspired by Edward IV in creating, say, Robert Baratheon, the great, strapping warrior who became a stout, ailing king. There’s a dash of Edward, too, in Rob Stark, a brilliant commander who makes an impetuous, disadvantageous marriage.

Cersei Lannister, Robert’s ambitious, conniving widow, is thought by many to have been inspired by the hot-headed Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI, the king Edward IV helped depose. Henry’s bouts of insanity left him frequently unable to rule, and Margaret, a leading Lancastrian, fought ferociously against those she saw as threatening her family’s hold on the crown. Historians view her as a prime driver in the Wars of the Roses, just as Cersei is substantively responsible for the War of the Five Kings in “A Clash of Kings.” Cersei also resembles Isabella of France, an earlier medieval English queen, who conspired with her adulterous lover to dethrone, and possibly to murder, her (bisexual) husband, Edward II, in the 1300s.

Cersei is a crude, incompetent politician, however, which cannot be said of Isabella. Although unpopular in England, where she was nicknamed “the She-wolf of France,” Isabella has acquired some sympathizers over the years, including the indefatigable Alison Weir, who wrote a contrarian biography of her in 2006, “Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England.” Weir has also written novels about various women in the Tudor era, no doubt aspiring to the success of Philippa Gregory, whose romantic historical novels routinely land on the New York Times Bestseller List.

For her own part, Gregory has already published three books in a series set during the Wars of the Roses, “The Cousins’ War” (an apt title, given the intricate blood relationships among the many combatants). The most recent of these, “The Lady of the Rivers,” may even be infused with enough magical elements to appeal to some “Game of Thrones” readers: In it, the character of Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, possesses psychic abilities (the real duchess was tried for witchcraft by her political enemies) and is initiated into the mysteries of alchemy by her first husband. For those who prefer a more grounded view, Gregory collaborated with two historians, David Baldwin and Michael Jones, on a nonfiction book, “The Women of the Cousins’ War: The Duchess, the Queen, and the King’s Mother,” published last year.

You may have noticed that most of these books are about women, despite the fact that, with very few exceptions, the women of the Middle Ages had little power. Much of today’s popular historical fiction about the rulers of the Middle Ages is read by women who are primarily interested in the lives and problems of women. Since the historical record contains next to no information on this topic, fiction has stepped in to fill the breach.

Another, more manly, popular contemporary historical novelist, Bernard Cornwell, has set a series of novels, “The Grail Quest,” during a slightly earlier period. His hero, an archer named Thomas of Hookton who gets caught up in the Hundred Years’ War, is an entirely fictional commoner in search of that fabled relic. What Cornwell’s novels lack in historically based, Machiavellian aristocrats they make up for in action-packed, blood-soaked battle scenes.

For the ultimate in medieval scuttlebutt, however, you can’t do better than Barbara Tuchman’s prizewinning 1978 history, “A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century.” This account of the Hundred Years’ War centers around the life of a French nobleman who married an Englishwoman, but it’s more expansive than any novel, taking in such fascinating details as the bizarre fashion for long-toed shoes in court (so long, they had to be tied up with strings and were inveighed against by puritanical clergymen) to the legendarily brutal rampages of British mercenary John Hawkwood through Italy. If you really want to know how the peasants fared while their rulers skirmished, the peculiar challenges of sewage-management in a stone castle, what the real agenda was behind the Crusades, or just how dastardly the highborn and royal can behave when it suits them, then look no further.

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, 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]

Contents [hide]
1 Possible children
2 Other stories
3 Death and thereafter
4 Fiction
5 See also
6 Sources
7 External links

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 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. Neither was Rosamund’s son. 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 thereafter[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.

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)

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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