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Rosamund Clifford

Rosamund Clifford (born about 1150; died about 1176), often called "The Fair Rosamund" or the "Rose of the World," was the long-time mistress of King Henry II of England. The daughter of Walter Clifford (who assumed the surname after taking possession of Clifford Castle on the river Wye), she first met the king when her father performed some service for him in the course of Henry's campaigning in Wales. The association may not have turned into a sexual relationship immediately, and historians are divided, with some believing she bore him no children and others believing she was the mother of two of Henry's favorite illegitimate sons: Geoffrey Plantagenet (1151-1212), Archbishop of York, and William Longsword (1176-1226), Earl of Salisbury. Henry's liaison with Rosamund continued until she retired to the nunnery at Godstow (in 1176) shortly before her death, and in 1174 it had become public knowledge.

Henry and Rosamund's family paid for her tomb in the choir of the convent's church and an endowment for it to be tended by the nuns, and it became a popular local shrine until 1191 (two years after Henry died). That was when St. Hugh of Avalon, Bishop of Lincoln, happened to visit Godstow and saw Rosumund's tomb right smack in front of the high altar and with flowers and candles on it showing people were still praying there: Calling Rosamund a harlot, he ordered her remains removed from the church, so her tomb was moved outside of the abbey church itself to the cemetery at the nuns' chapter house next to it, where it could still be visited until it was destroyed in the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII of England.

The legends concerning Rosamund's life abound, but few hard facts are available. The story that she was poisoned by Henry's jealous wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, is certainly untrue, and so is the tale that Henry constructed the hunting lodge at Woodstock for her and surrounded it with a garden that was a labyrinth ("Rosamund's Bower," which was pulled down when Blenheim Palace was built nearby). During the Elizabethan era, the stories gained popularity, but the Ballad of Fair Rosamund by Thomas Delaney[?] and the Complaint of Rosamund by Samuel Daniel (1592) are both purely fictional.

Did Rosamund have children?

Not much is known about Rosamund, but she is discussed in books about Eleanor of Aquitaine, several of which have been written (or reissued) since the 1970s, as the developing field of women's studies has generated public interest in the part individual women played in history, and as modern research tools have made old data more accessible to writers.

Traditionally, Rosamund Clifford was said to have been the mother of two of Henry II's sons, Geoffrey, Archbishop of York, and William, Earl of Salisbury, but tradition also repeated the stories about her labyrinthine bower and her being poisoned by Eleanor. Most historians who stuck to the facts, instead of the legends, said Rosamund had borne Henry one child but could not say who that was or when. Some modern writers, including Alison Weir, are of the opinion that Rosamund had no children but do not make clear whether they mean she never gave birth to one at all or merely not to one that survived.

This is one of those minor mysteries of history that may not ever be answered, but it is possible to sort some of the facts from fiction: Henry met Rosamund in about 1166, when she was still a child, and their liaison lasted until 1176. Geoffrey of York was born (in about 1151) before Henry married Eleanor and was almost certainly the son of Ykenai, who some writers have said was a low-class prostitute, but that seems to be an error, based on the remarks Henry's advisors made about her when he insisted on recognizing Geoffrey as his son when he became king of England -- they were apparently talking about her manner rather than her birth, because there are records of dealings with some of her family real estate years later. So Geoffrey was as old as Rosamund was and could not be her son.

Some authors, including Amy Kelly, Marion Meade, and Desmond Seward, believe William of Salisbury was born around the same time as Geoffrey of York, which would make him too old to be Rosamund's child, too. Other authorities believe William was born around 1176, which would fit better with his being married in 1198 and dying in 1226. Rosamund's affair with Henry did not become public knowledge until 1174, and William's name has not been found in any records before about 1188, so it is possible William was Rosamund's son and that his existence was kept quiet, just as she herself stayed quietly out of sight; it is even possible that William's birth was what shattered Rosamund's health so that she went into Godstow in 1176 and died within months. That would make many of the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

Another point on which the authorities differ is whether Rosamund stayed quietly in seclusion at Woodstock while Henry was back and forth to his continental possessions (in which case they could not have spent more than about a quarter of the time between 1166 and 1176 together) or whether she traveled with him as a member of his household. The two points on which everyone seems to agree are that Rosamund, who came into Henry's life just as Eleanor lost the ability to bear children, was Eleanor's exact opposite and that Rosamund really was the love of Henry's life.



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