Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester
Born: c. 1400
Sterborough, Kent, England
Died: July 7, 1452
Beaumaris, Isle of Anglesey, Wales (Age c. 52)
Eleanor in History
Little is known of the early life of Eleanor Cobham, and it is certain that she never really stepped into the political spotlight until her marriage to Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and uncle to King Henry VI, in 1428. Eleanor had been Gloucester's mistress during his first marriage to Jacqueline D'Hainault, and the two were more than happy to marry after the former union was annulled. It is believed that the marriage between Gloucester and Eleanor was indeed a happy one, and the couple held a small court at their home in Greenwich, filled with poets, musicians and other patrons of the arts. Eleanor, who most contemporaries and historians considered to be a highly ambitious woman, was thrilled beyond belief when, in 1435, her husband became heir to England's throne (to the so far childless Henry VI), upon the death of Gloucester's elder brother, the Duke of Bedford.
At this point, Eleanor began to consult several astrologers in an attempt to find out if her husband would ever become king. These astrologers included Thomas Southwell and Roger Bolingbroke (both respected and well-educated men) and a witch named Margery Jourdemayne. Although it was not uncommon in those days to consult astrologers, many in the king's court did not think highly of the predictions these particular ones made: that the king should become sick and die in the near future. All those involved, including Eleanor, were arrested and charged with a variety of crimes that ranged from necromancy to treason, an offense punishable by death. In the end, Southwell was imprisoned (where he died); Bolingbroke was hanged; Jourdemayne was burnt; and Eleanor was paraded disgracefully through the streets of London before being exiled. Although Gloucester was not directly implicated in his wife's crimes, the incident provided fuel for his enemies to ultimately bring him down, and he never again held the influence at court that he once had. Six years after his wife's exile, in 1447, Gloucester was arrested for treason and soon after died. Eleanor lived the rest of her life in various prisons before dying in 1452. It was indeed a sad end for a woman who once had such vast hopes and dreams.
Eleanor in Shakespeare
Appears in: Henry VI, Part 2
Eleanor Cobham is portrayed as a highly ambitious woman in 2 Henry VI. She urges her husband Gloucester, who is heir to the throne, to pursue his claim, which he does not go along with. In turn, she consults several astronomers as to the fates of Henry VI and the Dukes of Somerset and York. As the astronomers are giving their answers, York arrives and arrests them all. They are put on trial where they are found guilty of treason. Eleanor is exiled while all the others involved are put to death. As she is being paraded through London's streets on her way to exile, Eleanor and Gloucester share a sad farewell before she is led off.
Harriss, G. L. ‘Eleanor , duchess of Gloucester (c.1400–1452)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/5742, accessed 19 Jan 2010]