Clifford, Rosamund (c. 1145–1176)

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Clifford, Rosamund (c. 1145–1176)

Mistress of King Henry II of England. Name variations: Rosamond; Rosamonde; "Fair Rosamund." Born around 1145 in Wales; died at Godstow convent, England, in 1176; believed to be the daughter of Sir Walter de Clifford, a Norman knight, of the family of Fitz-Ponce (evidence for paternity is only an entry made by the jurors of the manor of Corfham in a Hundred Roll of the second year of the reign of Edward I, great grandson of Henry II); never married; no children (there is no evidence for the belief that she was the mother of Henry's natural son William Longsword, earl of Salisbury).

Rosamund Clifford's affair with King Henry II of England and her death made her a popular figure in legends and ballads in her own time and for centuries afterwards. She was the daughter of Walter de Clifford, a Norman knight in King Henry's service and one of the important marcher lords who kept watch over the border between Wales and England. King Henry, who was well-known for his many affairs, met Rosamund in 1165, probably at her father's castle when he was warring against the Welsh. They soon became lovers, and Henry moved Rosamund, probably about 20 years old, from her childhood home to his own favorite castle of Woodstock in Oxfordshire. At the time, Henry's powerful queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine , posed no threat to their relationship, for she was across the English Channel acting as regent in the province of Angers. Many legends have been told of Henry hiding his beautiful mistress in a secret tower near Woodstock, and of him building a maze around it that he alone could negotiate.

When Queen Eleanor returned to England, she took up residence at Oxford castle and probably first discovered Rosamund's existence at that time. The affair seems to have roused the queen's ire, not because Henry was unfaithful (he had never been faithful), but because Rosamund was accorded the privileges Eleanor herself was owed; in Eleanor's absence, Henry had flaunted the young woman as a wife and queen, allowing her to preside over his court and use Eleanor's throne. It was the insult to her personal power as a monarch that began the royal couple's estrangement and started the processes by which Eleanor later encouraged rebellion by her sons against their father.

Rosamund remained at Woodstock until about 1176, and Henry was abroad much of the time. Although the reasons are unclear, Rosamund then left Henry and Woodstock for the convent at Godstow, probably due to an ongoing illness. Some months later, she died at the nunnery, still a relatively young woman; it is thought she may have taken the veil before her death. Dramatic stories of Eleanor murdering Rosamund out of jealousy were first concocted by Eleanor's feudal enemies and later by chroniclers trying to tarnish the image of this powerful political leader. Actually, at the time of Rosamund's death Eleanor was being held prisoner in Salisbury tower for her treason against Henry and so was probably unaware that Henry's mistress had died.

Rosamund's tomb at Godstow was the cause of some controversy. Whereas some felt she was a great sinner and should not have been buried in sacred ground, the nuns of Godstow had loved her deeply and kept candles burning around the tomb until 1191, when a bishop ordered the tomb moved out of the church, lest other young women become convinced that one could be rewarded in heaven for adultery.

Laura York , Riverside, California

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Clifford, Rosamund (c. 1145–1176)

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