Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Question from Patricia - The Wives' last names

Hello. I have been studying the Tudor era in history class, and am curious. I understand that Henry VIII had six wives, but did they all change their last names to Tudor when they became Queens or retained their marriage names? Also, What was Katherine of Aragon's maiden name? Surely, that was a royal title and not a surname.

7 comments:

PhD Historian said...

I'm sure a few writers will disagree with me on this, but monarchs and their consorts do not have last names in the ususal sense. Henry was simply "Henry the King." He never signed his name "Henry Tudor." Katherine was "Katherine the Queen," not "Katherine Tudor" or "Katherine of Aragon." "Of Aragon" indicates that she was from the lineage of the royal house that ruled the Spanish region of Aragon. Her father, Ferdinand, was king of Aragon. (His marriage to Isabella of Castile united Spain into one kingdom.) Ferdinand was of the Royal House of Trastamara, so in modern naming conventions, his daugther was Katherine Trastamara. But historians and many other writers usually refer to historically important royal women only by their maiden names, not their married names. We call her "Katherine of Aragon" to distinguish her more easily from Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr, two of Henry's other wives. The English used only a small set of first or "Christian" names, so to refer, for example, to "Jane" or even "Jane Dudley" can lead to confusion. Do we mean Jane Guildford Dudley, wife of John Dudley of Warwick and Northumberland, or Jane Grey Dudley, briefly queen of England and wife of John Dudley's son Guildford? Referring to them by their maiden names, even though that was not their "legal" name after marriage, just makes it easier for us today, even though it is technically inappropriate. Katherine Trastamara of Aragon was, after her marriage to Henry VIII, properly "Katherine the Queen," without a last name. After her annullment from Henry, she became Katherine, Dowager Princess of Wales, still no last name.

Foose said...

I don't think that female royalty changed their surnames when they married. In any case, many of them would not have surnames as we know them (Smith, Jones, etc. -- Tudor is an exception) but dynastic names originating usually in the territory of a key paternal ancestor -- hence "Catherine of Aragon" identifies her as being of the dynasty of Aragon (her father's dynasty). Technically, both Catherine's father and mother were cousins of the same dynasty, of Trastamara (started by an illegitimate scion of the Castilian house, Henry of Trastamara). Sometimes you see the Castilian monarchs referred to as "of Trastamara," but Aragon's royalty seems to have always firmly been "of Aragon" -- hence Catherine's cousins ruling at Naples were also, confusingly, known as "Ferdinand of Aragon" and "Joanna of Aragon," etc.

Similarly, members of the house of Anjou ruled Hungary, Naples and Poland during the medieval period, and despite being very far from Anjou were always known as "so-and-so of Anjou."

As for the commoner queens, I don't think they ever signed their names or even thought of themselves as "Anne Tudor" or "Jane Tudor." The documents are signed always "Anne the Queen" or "Jane the Queen." Other people referred to them as "the Queen" or "Queen Anne/Queen Jane." Yet, if they had married men of their own rank, I think their surnames would have changed. Jane Parker became Jane Boleyn, as an example.

Interestingly, when widowed Queens subsequently married men of lesser rank, they generally kept their title of Queen and had no reference to their new husbands in their names. Henry VIII's sister Mary Tudor was always "the French Queen" during her marriage to Charles Brandon. Catherine Parr is another example. It worked this way with the nobility, too, so when the Duchess of Suffolk married Adrian Stoke she still retained her title, and was never Mistress Stoke.

I think the Tudors were somewhat anomalous (and perhaps considered rather downmarket by other royalty) in having an actual last name -- a Welsh name! I seem to recall reading that even the Plantagenets did not actually refer to each other as Plantagenets during the Middle Ages, that label came after the dynasty was in its last throes. The early French dynasty also technically had a last name, Capet, but no one seems to have called Edward II's wife Isabella Capet -- she was Isabella of France. It was resurrected as a term of abuse during the French Revolution, in part to remove the mystique of royalty and reduce the king and queen to ordinary citizens subject to legal penalties, hence the "Widow Capet" and "Louis Capet." The Stewarts got their name from an ancestor who was actually a Steward, which people could also be sniffy about.

Foose said...

Hmm, I've been chewing this over during lunch -- did Catherine ever refer to herself as "Catherine of Aragon"? Did others at the time? All the documents I've seen say "Catherine the Queen"; other people seem to have referred to her as "the Queen" or "the Princess Dowager," and possibly, although I may be mistaken, "the princess of Spain" (when she first arrived).

Anne of Cleves signed herself in her divorce documents as "Anna, Daughter of Cleves," which sounds patriotic to a modern ear but she meant "Daughter of (the Duke of) Cleves," her paternal house. Others referred to her as "Madam of Cleves" (the French ambassador) or "the king's sister" (after the divorce). I don't think people used the "so-and-so of such-and-such-a-place" of their queens -- they just used the person's title. "She-Wolf of France" might be an exception, though!

PhD Historian said...

Yes, Katherine of Aragon was occasionally referred to by that full name during her lifetime, but it was only very occasionally, and usually by her detractors.

You are correct, Foose, that the members of the Plantagenet family did not refer to each other by that name, and that it was instead a nickname created later. You are also correct that medieval and early modern dynastic names (York, Lancaster) usually derived from either the individuals geographic place of birth (e.g., John of Gaunt or Ghent) or their principal noble title prior to inheriting the crown. Henry Tudor was indeed the first English monarch (that I know of) to have an actual family surname in the modern sense.

But something that seems to bother many modern people is the fact that legally persons bearing a noble title in their own right do not have a surname, at least not in the modern sense. They have only a Christian name and their titular name. Thus Frances Brandon Grey, Duchess of Suffolk, was known universally as Frances Suffolk, including in all legal documents. I have never seen the name "Frances Grey" in legal documents of the period, even after 10 years of research on her and her daughters. We call her "Frances Grey" today because it conforms to our modern naming conventions, but it is entirely anachronistic.
Even in the modern world, English nobility are known by their Christian name and titular name. Thus the Duke of Bedford signs his name, even in legal documents, "Andrew Bedford" or (more usually) simply "Bedford," not "Andrew Russell." His eldest son is "Henry Tavistock," not "Henry Russell." And while royalty is always a special case in regards to naming, William and Harry both use the "surname" Wales, not Windsor, though Windsor is (strictly speaking) their family surname. But in strictest legal terms, Charles, William, and Harry are simply "Charles", "William of Wales", and "Harry of Wales," not "Charles Windsor", "William Windsor", and "Harry Windsor." Much as we commoners may like to try to attach surnames to nobles and royals, it still remains incorrect.

Foose said...

Thanks, phd! You are a great resource.

I have been also thinking again about that "Anna, Daughter of Cleves." I understood that the letter accompanying that signature was mostly dictated by Henry's commissioners and possibly they dictated that signature as well -- Anne of Cleves might have signed herself differently if it was left to her.

Foose said...

Interestingly, Catherine Parr continued to sign herself KP after she was Queen.

Foose said...

David Starkey says that "From about 1448, [Richard of York, Edward IV's father] adopted the royal surname 'Plantagenet...'", which suggest, contrary to what I've been told, that the name may have been in use in the 15th century. I'd like to learn more about how exactly York used the name, though.