DESCRIPTION: ""'I have a sister,' young Clifford said, 'A sister no man knows...." "...I would not for ten thousand worlds Have King Henery know her name." But Henry overhears, and writes a letter to her. The ending appears confused
EARLIEST DATE: 1826 (Lyle-Crawfurd1)
KEYWORDS: love royalty disguise
1154-1189 - Reign of Henry II
c. 1176 - Death of Rosamund Clifford
FOUND IN: US(NE) Britain(Scotland(Bord))
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Lyle-Crawfurd1 18, "Fair Rosanne"; Lyle-Crawfurd1, pp. 234-235, "Fair Rosamond" (2 texts)
Linscott, pp. 193-195, "Fair Rosamond, or Rosamond's Downfall" (1 text, 1 tune)
cf. "Queen Eleanor's Confession" [Child 156] (subject)
cf. "Rosamund Clifford" (subject)
NOTES: For the confusing history of Rosamund Clifford and King Henry II, see the notes to Queen Eleanor's Confession" [Child 156]; there is also a small amount of material in "Rosamund Clifford."
It's interesting to note the extreme lustiness attributed to King Henry II here. This seems to be an exaggeration. Henry obviously was not a dutiful husband to Eleanor of Acquitaine, but neither did he set a record for extra-curricular activities. We do have records of illegitimate children as early as the 1150s, and he was charged with having affairs with many women -- including even Alice/Alys, the daughter of the King of France who was betrothed to Henry's son Richard. But the number of illegitimate children he acknowledged seems to have been fairly small.
According to Warren, p. 601, "the great love of his life, Rosamund Clifford, with whom he had lived openly since the great war [of 1173], died about 1176, and although Henry undoubtedly took mistresses after her death there was no one to match her in his affections or threaten to depose Eleanor as his wife." But as Tyerman, p. 218, points out, "Discernable political influence she had none, as Henry recognized by not divorcing Eleanor in 1175."
That Rosamund was the great love of Henry's life is certainly disputed, but the mere fact that it is disputed shows that Henry can't have had too many other affairs. Similarly, the affair with Alice of France was only a rumor (Gillingham, p. 105), substantiated mostly by Richard's later claim that she had slept with his father -- a claim which Richard used to get rid of her, so it is clearly suspect.
I'm going to suggest that the lust of King Henry arises by confusion with his grandfather Henry I, who had on the order of fifty illegitimate children by nearly the same number of mothers.
Sadly, after Rosamund died, her body was not allowed to rest in peace. Originally buried in Godstow nunnery, once Henry was dead, Bishop Hugh of Lincoln moved from before the alter to an ordinary cemetery on the grounds that "she was a harlot" (Tyerman, p. 218). Boyd, p. 173, reports that he had it inscribed with a verse which he translates
The rose of the world lies here
But not too clean, I fear
Not perfume, but stenches
She now dispenses.
Owen, p. 121, attributes the song of Rosamund Clifford/Fair Rosamund to Thomas Deloney, a sixteenth century weaver and poet, but because there probably were multiple Rosamund songs, I have not listed him as the author. Owen then goes on to devote two dozen pages (pp. 124-148) to various poems, plays, and other non-traditional works about Rosamund. She probably qualifies as the most famous mistress in English history prior to at least the Stuart dynasty. - RBW
Last updated in version 2.7
- Boyd: Douglas Boyd, April Queen: Eleanor of Aquitaine, 2004; I use the 2011 History Press edition
- Gillingham: John Gillingham, Richard the Lionheart, Times Books, 1978
- Owen: D. D. R. Owen, Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen & Legend, Blackwell, 1993
- Tyerman: Christopher Tyerman, Who's Who in Early Medieval England (1066-1272), (being the second volume in the Who's Who in British History series), Shepheard-Walwyn, 1996
- Warren: W. L. Warren, Henry II, 1973 (I use the 1977 University of California Press paperback edition)
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