ALTHOUGH the County of Southampton was the name of Hampshire until 1959, Winchester has been its capital city since records began. And even when the power of the Anglo-Saxon city had been substantially overtaken by London, Winchester remained essentially a royal setting.

This was the context of a talk recently delivered remotely to the Friends of Winchester Cathedral by Dr Elena (“Ellie”) Woodacre, Senior Lecturer in Early Modern European History at the University of Winchester, and a specialist in queenship and royal studies. Amongst other things, she organises the Kings & Queens conference series, is founder of the Royal Studies Network and edits Royal Studies Journal, which is online and open-access.

She reminded zoomers that Richard The Lionheart was crowned in the cathedral in 1194 – after an earlier coronation at Westminster – in order to purge the shame of his captivity on the continent – and Arthur Tudor was baptised there in 1486. But two events of even greater significance were the weddings arranged between the “usurper” king, Henry IV, and Joan of Navarre in 1403 and that between Queen Mary and Philip II of Spain in 1554.

Winchester was ideally placed between the port of Southampton and London, but even then there were problems. It took Joan four days to cross the Channel in the January before her wedding, and the weather was so dire that she ended up in Falmouth. Henry dutifully took his court west to meet her midway, but when they eventually got back to Winchester he was short of funds – not an unusual situation for a notoriously impecunious monarch.

This was all the more inconvenient as he was obliged to buy an expensive jewelled collar and other jewels for his bride. Fortunately, Bishop William of Wykeham, then an old man in his late 70s, stepped in with a loan of £500 and Prior Thomas Nevyle with a somewhat smaller sum.

Dr Woodacre commented: “I think he [Nevyle] had hoped to be given the bishopric after Wykeham, but that didn’t happen – it went instead to Cardinal Henry Beaufort!”

She explained that Henry was keen to have Joan as his queen as she bolstered the legitimacy of his kingship. Only four years earlier he had seized the throne from Richard II and was desperately insecure. On the other hand, she was well connected with the royal families of Europe on both sides and had already been Regent of Brittany.

Joan of Navarre had good relationships with Henry’s children, even after his death, especially with Henry V, the victor of Agincourt. But his campaigns in France, out of Southampton, were costly and he needed her dowry. As a result, in 1419 he orchestrated a trumped up charge of “witchcraft” and Joan’s fortune was confiscated. She spent the next three years under house arrest in Pevensey Castle and Leeds Castle, until Henry V relented with a “call of conscience” shortly before he died.

The wedding between Henry IV and Joan has never been forgotten in the city. In 1934, as recorded in the Hampshire Record Office, more than 500 years after the event, it was re-enacted in a grand pageant held in the inner close under the direction of Canon Arthur Goodman. Charles Thursby wrote a play, which was performed with Gwendolen du Boulay as Joan and John Mongomery as Henry IV.

Another Winchester landmark is the wedding of Mary Tudor and Philip of Spain in 1554. Dr Woodacre said that “the eyes of the world were on Winchester at a time when Spain was the super-power of the day”. Mary the Catholic had followed Edward VI the Protestant and wanted to secure her position as the first female monarch (except for the Nine Days’ Queen, Lady Jane Grey). For his part, Philip, who was a widower, was merely following the orders of his father and her cousin, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who wanted to draw England into his campaign against France.

Unfortunately it was so soon after the Reformation that many feared that Catholic “Spain would swallow up England” and that Philip would be the de facto king (he was actually made king of Sicily). In the event, explained Dr Woodacre, Philip was constrained, so that only Mary could make appointments and he had to abide by English law. Also he was forbidden from taking “the crown jewels, weapons or the queen” out of the country and unable to pack his court with Spaniards.

The lead-up to the ceremony went according to plan. Philip arrived safely in Southampton and proceeded to Winchester where he rode through the city “on a fair white horse in a rich coat embroidered with gold”. After the ceremony the couple stayed 10 days in the city before going on to London.

Winchester “did well” out of the event, according to Dr Woodacre, and received many gifts. One of these was Abbey Gardens, which still stands as an enduring souvenir of the last great wedding in the city.

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