King John and His Wives
Here in the Quire is the last resting place of King John. You can see what he may have looked like: the marble effigy on top of his tomb apparently was created in his likeness and is the oldest royal effigy in England.
On his deathbed over 800 years ago at Newark Castle, he requested in his will to be buried here at Worcester Cathedral. Some historians believe King John’s reign was greatly affected by his personal life. His contemporaries said that he was, ‘sinfully lustful and lacking in any piety’. Apparently at least five of his children came from mistresses during his first marriage to Isabella, Countess of Gloucester. Their marriage was annulled and in 1200 in Bordeaux, he married his second wife, Isabella of Angoulême. She was crowned Queen in an elaborate ceremony at Westminster Abbey in London.
At that time, the age at which people could be married was very different to what it is today. When she married John, the blond and blue-eyed Isabella was already renowned for her beauty and has sometimes been called the Helen of Troy of the Middle Ages.
Aged only 12 years, Isabella was much younger than her husband, but she possessed a volatile temper to match his own. However, King John was deeply infatuated with his young, beautiful wife. He actually neglected his state affairs to spend large amounts of time with her. Isabella and John had five children: a son and heir Henry, another son Richard and three daughters, Joan, Isabel and Eleanor.
At the time of Eleanor’s birth, London was in the hands of French forces. John had been forced to seal the Magna Carta and Queen Isabella was in shame. Eleanor never actually met her father; he died when she was barely a year old. She had been promised in marriage to the son of William Marshal: her husband was 34 and she was just nine years of age, but she was widowed before their seventh anniversary and in the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury swore a holy oath of chastity.
She did regret this when, seven years later, she met and fell in love with Simon De Montfort, who was attracted to Eleanor’s beauty and elegance, as well as her wealth and high birth. They married secretly in early 1238 at the King's chapel in Westminster Palace.
The Marriage of Llywelyn, Prince of Wales and Eleanor de Montfort
This royal wedding took place here in the Cathedral 740 years ago. It was the marriage of Llywelyn, Prince of and Lady Eleanor de Montfort, the granddaughter of King John. They were married at the Great West Door on the 13th of October 1278.
It was said to be a love match, despite a considerable age gap: Eleanor was about 26 and Llywelyn around 55. However, these were troubled times. Llywelyn had made an enemy of King Edward I and also Henry III before allying with Simon de Montfort, who was Eleanor’s father. Simon had made a challenge for the throne and Llywelyn had negotiated with de Montfort for a permanent peace and the right to rule Wales. However, at the Battle of Evesham Simon was brutally killed.
Llywellyn and Eleanor had been initially married by proxy three years earlier. That’s a wedding in which the bride and groom are not physically present and usually represented by another person. King Edward took exception to the marriage and when Eleanor sailed from France to meet Llywelyn, Edward hired pirates to cease her ship and she was imprisoned at Windsor Castle until Llywelyn made concessions.
Llywelyn met with Edward and found Eleanor lodged with the royal family here in Worcester and Llywelyn was forced to acknowledge Edward as his Sovereign. He was stripped of all but a small portion of his lands. After agreeing to Edward’s demands, they were given permission and to be formally married in the Cathedral.
Edward gave the bride, who was in fact his cousin, away and paid for the wedding feast. Following the ceremony, Eleanor became officially known as Princess of Wales and Lady of Snowden. She was the first to have used this title.
However, tragedy struck the family. Less than four years later, Eleanor died giving birth to their daughter Gwenllian and later the same year in December 1282, Llewellyn was killed in the battle of Builth Wells. Legends say his severed head was sent to Anglesey and then on to London. It was crowned with ivy to show he was a king of outlaws and then in mockery carried by a horseman on the point of a lance to the Tower of London and set over the gate. It was still at the Tower of London 15 years later.
In a sad ending, Llywelyn and Eleanor’s baby daughter Gwenllian was captured by Edward’s troops. She was interned at a priory in England for the rest of her life, becoming a nun and probably knowing little of her heritage.
Llywelyn was the last Sovereign Prince of Wales before its conquest by Edward I of England and interestingly, Simon De Montfort is remembered as one of the fathers of democracy, with a statue outside the Houses of Parliament in London.
William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway
We are now in 1582 and you are standing in the place where Shakespeare's marriage bond was signed. This is the site of the Consistory Court at that time. Their courtship, it was a scandal. For decades, scholars have been fascinated by the relationship of a man credited with depicting the heights of romance and his plays and sonnets. Although much of their marriage remains a mystery, we do know that Shakespeare's relationship with the enigmatic Anne Hathaway began on a scandalous note.
In 1582, 18-year-old William Shakespeare found himself with quite a conundrum. Three years under the age of consent, he needed to marry heavily pregnant Anne Hathaway, eight years his senior. The scandal of the situation meant both families desired a quick wedding,
but the custom of the day required an intention to be wed announced in church three times on consecutive Sundays, in order that any objections could be discovered. The reading of the bands was necessary to make the marriage legal, but was an unwelcome delay for the couple.
Thankfully for them, there was a faster alternative: permission from the Bishop. The Bishop of Worcester was presented with a fee as well as a sworn statement that there would be no pre-contracts and that the marriage would be legal. When satisfied, the Bishop would issue a marriage bond, confirming the marriage would be lawful. Marriage bonds were not unusual: 98 were issued during 1582 from the Bishop of Worcester’s Consistory Court, which stood at the west end of the Nave. The Episcopal register records that on November 28th, ‘ William Shagspere and one party, Anne Hathwey,’ (yeah, you did hear me right) ‘of the Diocese of Worcester, maiden, may lawfully solemnize matrimony together and in the same afterwards remain and continue like man and wife’.
The mystery lies in the fact that an entry in the same register from the previous day, November the 27th, refers to the marriage of ‘Wm Shaxpere and Annam Whateley’. This entry seems inexplicable and led to a theory that Shakespeare was in love with one Anne but forced to marry another, Anne Hathaway, because of her pregnancy. More likely however, is that the different spellings are simply an error by a careless clerk and the two Annes were one and the same.
Whilst so much of Shakespeare’s life remains a mystery, what we can be sure of is that the Bishop of Worcester played a crucial role in his marriage. By your side in the long cabinet, you can see a facsimile of Shakespeare's marriage bond and there's also an illustration of what a Consistory Court looked like in the day.
William, Duke of Hamilton's Last Love Letter
William II Duke of Hamilton was 33 when he wrote a final letter to his wife Lady Elizabeth, closing it ‘Dear heart, your own Hamilton’. Days before he had charged his horse pistol in hand astonishing all with his daring and valour, showing great courage whilst galloping to Perry Wood in the assistance of his regiment who were engaged in the Royalist fight against Oliver Cromwell's Parliamentarian army.
William was the commander of the Scottish Army, a nobleman and the most senior figure among the Scots Royalists fighting with Charles II, having marched and fought the way down the country into England, ending in Worcester. On the 3rd of September 1651 at the defining and final battle of the English Civil War, he was shot in the leg and his horse killed beneath him. He was carried back to his quarters at the Commandery, which are not far from here, where he wrote to his ‘dear heart’, his wife Elizabeth back in Scotland. His injury proved to be fatal and he died days later.
Charles II and his Royalist army lost the battle. Thousands died and even more were captured, many kept here in the Cathedral until they could be marched south and transported on to the Americas. It is said that Cromwell refused to allow Hamilton's body to be taken back to Scotland, but ordered him to be buried in front of the High Altar here in the Cathedral. Although William was kept from ever making it home, and after all there was no one to take him, it was a great honour to be buried closer to God than the King. William himself was a religious man, a supporter of the Presbyterian cause, and writing to his wife his ‘Dear heart, I find my spirit comforted and supported by the infinite mercies and the great love of my Blessed Redeemer, who will be with me to the end and in the end.’