Portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, painted by Richard Stone in 1986
What do Richard the Lionheart, Henry VII, Queen Victoria, and Her Majesty the Queen have in common? They, along with other monarchs, came to the throne after the deaths of their fathers—and with mothers very much alive and eager to be involved in the running of the country.
The title 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.
9:30–10:45 a.m. 12th–14th Centuries: Nation-Building, the Crusades, and the Wars of the Roses
England became known in the world during the reigns of Crusader and 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.
Eleanor of Aquitaine (Richard I and John I); Isabella of Angouleme (Henry III); Isabella of France (Edward III); Catherine of Valois (Henry VI).
11 a.m.–12:15 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 of brought England from the Middle Ages into the Early Modern period.
Elizabeth Woodville (Edward V and Elizabeth of York); Margaret Beaufort (Henry VII); Margaret Tudor (James V); Mary of Guise (Mary, Queen of Scots).
12:15–1:30 p.m. Lunch (participants provide their own).
1:30–2:45 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.
Henrietta Maria (Charles II and James II); Princess Victoria (Queen Victoria); Queen Alexandra (George V).
3–4:15 p.m. 19th–20th 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 and lived to see her granddaughter crowned Queen Elizabeth II. Her mother, Queen Elizabeth, saw the monarchy become truly modern, from the failed marriages of her royal grandchildren to the public anger following Princess Diana’s death. Her popularity helped the monarchy regain its standing with the British people as she guided the royals into the 21st century.
Stanger is the former manager of visitor education at the Folger Shakespeare Library.