Eleanor of Gloucester: Witchcraft at Court

The year he captures is 1441- the painter is Edwin Austin Abbey.  The figure is Eleanor of Gloucester, she is doing penance for necromancy and witchcraft.  I read her name in a book about Anne Bolelyn by Allison Weir.  Both women held power incumbent on their ability of conceive, and both fell tragically.

She was not the first to marry Humphrey,  she was the lady- in- waiting  to his first wife, Jacqueline of Wittelsbach . Incidentally, why is it that while the term lady- in- waiting is used to mean a personal attendant to a noble woman, it can also be used to indicate that the attendant is a lady waiting to be the next head of the household? Certainly this is true of Anne Boleyn and Eleanor of Gloucester.

Eleanor married Humphrey of Gloucester in 1428. She was in her late twenties, and he was closer to forty.  He had to annul the marriage with Jacqueline first. While the challenges of Henry VII would indicate that divorce or annulment was hard to achieve,  the vast array of nobles marrying  several times in one life would indicate the contrary (Jaqueline had two marriages of four annulled).  Humphrey is known to have sired only two children that were not specifically named as Eleanor’s.  Whether this is the triumph of detractors is unknown.   The one certain fact is that Eleanor fell from her high position; on top of her public penance(shaming)  that is displayed by Mr. Abbey, was the command that she divorce her husband.  Her children might have wished to distance themselves from such a mother.

What was her crime? Witchcraft and necromancy. Her opponents wanted her tried for treason, but that she would not allow. Her husband, Humphrey of Gloucester, was brother of Henry V and uncle to Henry VI, for all purposes a powerful man.

The history books paint Humphrey as a humanist, a lover of language, art, poetry and knowledge.  Their court was alive with ideas that scanned the earth and the heavens. Being close to the king, and in a position of power, every action is watched and assessed.

Four people were implicated with Eleanor: Margery Jourdemayne  was known as a woman who could help with  issues of love. In modern day she might be seen as a doctor, but in 1430 her potions and images warranted her the title of witch.   Roger Bolingbroke was an Oxford scholar adept in astronomy, and his colleague in Humphrey’s house was Thomas Southwell, who was a physician and a cannon. John Hume was a secretary and chaplain to the family.

How often Eleanor was informed on her horoscope is uncertain, but part of her fortune warned that Henry VI would die.  This was the axe that would end the life she had spent much of her time creating. Whether she asked or not, the reality was that the answer came from astrology, and witchy craft- made all the worse that the named to die was the head of the country, and her husband was next in line to the throne.

Eleanor was finally tried in 1441, by a ecclesiastical council, she vehemently denied doing anything treasonous.  Her association with Margery  Jourdemayne, she pleaded was simply  to have assistance in conceiving a child by Humphrey. Margery, for her relationship with Eleanor on this offence, and her continued practise of the dark arts, was burned to death on October 27, 1414. Roger Bolingbroke, who might have been the original soothsayer regarding the king was tried for treason.   He was hung drawn and quartered at Tyburn gallows and his head was displayed on London Bridge.  Thomas Southwell, a physician by profession, died in prison, possibly by his own hand. Hume was pardoned- his family was nobility after all, the disenfranchised are usually the ones to die.

Eleanor would go on to live until 1454.  Humphrey and his only son died in 1447. Did they ever write? Was their distance and estrangement forced? Did he believe her to be guilty of the charges, or did he know that it was simply the law of power to destroy opposition?  Was he killed? History doesn’t give up their secrets. It is left to the storytellers to imagine the rest.


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