Portrait of Queen Eleanor by Frederick Sandys, 1858 (National Museum Wales)
What do Richard the Lionheart, Henry VII, and Queen Elizabeth II have in common? They, along with other monarchs, came to the throne with their mothers eager to be involved in their lives and in the running of the country.
The title of “Queen Mother” has been used since at least the late 16th century, but the role itself has been significant since the 12th, when Eleanor of Aquitaine participated actively in the reign of her son Richard I. In the centuries since, the mothers of English monarchs have shaped the personalities and reigns of their royal children and influenced the nation they ruled.
Tudor and Renaissance scholar Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger examines the fascinating relationships of kings and queens and their mothers from the 12th century to today, illustrating that although they didn’t hold official public positions, the women who rocked the royal cradle changed the course of English history.
Lloyd-Stanger is the former manager of visitor education at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Her latest book, The Tudors by Numbers, was published in 2023 by Pen and Sword.
10–11:15 a.m. 12th–14th Centuries: Nation-building, the Crusades, and the Wars of the Roses
England became well known in the world during the reigns of Crusader and war hero Richard the Lionheart. But his image and his England was shaped largely by his mother. During the Wars of the Roses, mothers of kings played a similar role, exerting influence from the bedchamber to the battlefield. Examine Eleanor of Aquitaine (Richard I and John I); Isabella of Angouleme (Henry III); Isabella of France (Edward III); and Catherine of Valois (Henry VI).
11:30 a.m.–12:45 p.m. 15th–16th Centuries: The Tudors, Stuarts, and the Reformation
The mothers of the Yorkist and Lancastrian claimants to the English throne orchestrated the end of the Wars of the Roses and the creation of the Tudor dynasty. Their reigns brought England and Scotland from the Middle Ages into the Early Modern period. Lloyd-Stanger looks at Elizabeth Woodville (Edward V and Elizabeth of York); Margaret Beaufort (Henry VII); Margaret Tudor (James V); and Mary of Guise (Mary, Queen of Scots).
12:45–1:15 p.m. Break
1:15–2:30 p.m. 17th–18th Centuries: Civil War, Restoration, and the Establishment of Great Britain and the British Empire
The English monarchy was threatened by the Civil War and execution of Charles I. The restoration of the monarchy through his son Charles II was overseen by the new king’s mother, who influenced the reigns of both her sons. Years later, a German princess made her mark when her daughter became Queen Victoria and began her reign under the watchful eye of her mother. Lloyd-Stanger covers Henrietta Maria (Charles II and James II); Princess Victoria (Queen Victoria); and Queen Alexandra (George V).
2:45–4 p.m. 19th–21st Centuries: British Imperialism, World Wars, and Modern Monarchy
As England entered the 20th century, the world was changing—and so was the monarchy. Edward VIII did the unthinkable by giving up the throne for the woman he loved, and his brother George VI had to step up and lead the country through its darkest hour. Their mother, Queen Mary, directed the monarchy through this threat to the king, assisted by George’s wife, Queen Elizabeth, (later affectionately known as the Queen Mum). The Queen Mum helped her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, make the monarchy truly modern, surviving family crises such as the failed marriages of her royal grandchildren and the public anger following Princess Diana’s death. Queen Elizabeth II restored affection and support for the monarchy, and as a mother prepared her son to become Charles III—the man who is leading the institution into the future.