Roland de Veleville or Roland de Belleville?

I was reading this interesting summary of the case of Sir Roland de Velville/Veleville – who may or may not have been Henry VII’s illegitimate son – and thought of something.

Nowadays it seems be commonly assumed that ‘Velville’ was originally ‘Vieilleville’, and the only plausible Vieilleville family seems to be the Scépeaux family of Anjou, who were seigneurs of Vieilleville, and became comtes of Durtal in the 16th century.

However, the page above mentions that an early manuscript referred to ‘Roland de Bella Vill’. As I’ve been looking at French genealogy lately, ‘Bella Vill’ made me think of another family I’d noticed right in the middle of French and Breton politics – a family much better connected than the Scépeaux at this time period. The Bellevilles.


First things first: these Bellevilles actually started out as Harpedannes, and the Harpedannes started out as English Harpedons. (Possible alternative spellings: Harpden, Harpeden, Harpsden, Harpenden.)

Sir John Harpedon – apparently originating in Devon, if French genealogy sites are to be believed – is described in Nobiliaire et armorial de Bretagne as ‘connétable d’Angleterre, et capitaine général de l’armée anglaise en Guyenne‘, and the name does occur in Froissart as the seneschal of Bordeaux. Later on Sir John somehow became chambellan to Charles VI of France, and married the well-connected Jeanne de Clisson, heiress of Belleville through her mother. The mother Jeanne de Belleville was famous for her quest for revenge, and known as ‘the Breton tigress’.

The Harpedons inherited the Belleville lands as well as the title of the Belleville seigneurie in Poitou, and according to Histoire d’Olivier de Clisson, Connétable de France by Armand-Désiré de la Fontenelle, the Harpedon family wasted no time in changing their name to Belleville. The book emphasises that the original Harpedon name was promptly dropped; so even if the genealogical databases identify this family as (d’)Harpedanne de Belleville, it seems they only went by ‘de Belleville’ after this.

Jean II, the eldest son of John and Jeanne, is variously described as marrying either Jeanne d’Aspremont or Jeanne de Penthièvre, or both – both of which would have been advantageous marriages with well-connected families. Jean II’s son Jean III married Marguerite, the illegitimate daughter of Charles VI and his mistress Odette de Champdivers. Their eldest son Louis became councillor and chamberlain to Louis XI. By this time the Belleville clan was quite numerous and connected by marriage with a large number of powerful families in Brittany and France.

Not to mention, of course, that through their mother the children of Jean III and Marguerite were first cousins with Louis XI of France, Henry VI of England – and Edmund and Jasper Tudor.

(As an aside: Joseph Foster’s Dictionary of Heraldry mentions two different Harpden knights in the 14th century bearing, respectively, argent a mullet pierced gules; and argent on a mullet gules, a besant charged with a martlet sable. I don’t know if Sir John Harpedon came from a branch of this family or not, but either way, I’m guessing the Harpedanne-Belleville family’s coat of arms, ‘gironné de vair et de gueules de douze pièces‘, was the Belleville arms and was adopted with the name change.

I also don’t know what connection – if any – our Sir John Harpedon had to another Sir John Harpedon, who apparently married Joan de la Pole at some point and died in 1437/8; nor to this William Harpeden.)


Next let us look at the armorial evidence. This, too, is based on the description provided on the same page, which I suggest you read. There seems to be a lot of confusion as to what Roland’s coat of arms actually was like.

If Roland de Veleville was really Roland de Belleville, he doesn’t seem to have been a legitimate member of the family; at least, he doesn’t bear the Harpedenne/Belleville arms at all. Even if he were an acknowledged illegitimate son of a Belleville male, one would expect his coat of arms to reference the Belleville arms in some way.

(For what it’s worth, the Scépeaux/Vieilleville arms aren’t included or referenced at all, either.)

I’m not going to comment on all the different quarterings mentioned on the page I linked to. They might be Breton, they might be Welsh, and a person would go mad trying to hunt them down. (Believe me, I tried!) It’s impossible to guess anything without actually seeing the coat of arms in question. From the description, it is even unclear where exactly these different elements are placed on the coat of arms, or what the original sources were.

But the most interesting possible clue is in the prominent place that is, by all accounts, accorded to the argent, lion rampant gules. Apparently the contemporary Writhe has this as Roland’s personal coat of arms, and does not include the other elements at all. Is it, as the linked text suggests, the arms of the comtes of Poitou? Yes and no. In itself, the d’argent, au lion rampant de gueules is indeed the arms of the comtes of Poitou, which made me wonder about a possible connection to Charles VII of France, whose former mistress Antoinette de Maignelais had after all become the mistress of the Duke of Brittany. (And the Belleville family does have its close associations with the region of Poitou; but obviously one does not inherit a coat of arms that way.) But the other sources named in the linked text mention that the lion is crowned d’or. That makes all the difference. With the crown on top of the lion’s head – not merely on top of the entire coat of arms – it’s no longer Poitou, but Luxembourg-Ligny.

This is where it gets interesting: there was a Guillemette de Luxembourg-Ligny – daughter of Thibaud de Luxeumbourg-Ligny, comte de Brienne – who married Gilles de Belleville, the younger son of Jean III de Belleville above. The lion being marked with a bezant on the shoulder would also fit in with the Luxeumbourg-Ligny family; for instance, another cadet branch of Luxembourg-Lignys was differentiated with a cross or on the shoulder.

According to Père Anselme, Thibaud de Luxembourg-Ligny’s wife died in 1456, and he became a monk after her death; so Guillemette would have been born in 1456 at the very latest. She married Amé de Sarrebruche (or Sarrebruck), seigneur de Commercy, in 1463. She was apparently widowed in 1476, and then went on to marry her second husband, Gilles de Belleville, circa 1478.

The safest bet for the birth of a possible illegitimate son by Guillemette would therefore be this brief period of widowhood, circa 1476-78. Another possibility is that the son might have been born during her second marriage, which would explain the Belleville name, but that something (the date of conception, perhaps?) made it clear that the child couldn’t be her husband’s. (However, a birth date of 1478 or later would seem unlikely in light of Roland’s subsequent career: if Roland de Velville really participated in an expedition to Brittany in 1489, as is claimed, he can hardly have been a child of 11 or younger at the time.) At any rate, Roland certainly doesn’t appear as Gilles’ son anywhere, he doesn’t bear Gilles’ arms, and it seems hardly credible that Gilles – or any other well-connected nobleman, for that matter – would have shipped his own child off to England to live on the local King’s charity instead of marrying him into one of the powerful families back home.

Guillemette also had sisters, but this is where the unreliability of the available sources proves especially frustrating. Anselme tells us Louise, Hélène and Isabel became nuns, and Magdaleine (or Madeleine) married firstly in 1457 Charles de Sainte-Maure, and then in September 1485 Jacques Chabot, seigneur de Jarnac. But Charles de Sainte-Maure is also shown as having a second wife, Catherine d’Estouteville, with whom he had children from the late 1460s onwards – so I’m guessing he and Madeleine were married as children and the marriage was subsequently annulled. Besides annulment, there’s no explanation for them both living on to marry others, unless Anselme is confusing two different Madeleines with each other.

If Madeleine’s first marriage was annulled as a child, and she didn’t make her first proper marriage until September 1485, that’s unusually late for a woman’s first marriage in this time period. She would have been at least 28 by then; probably older. One is tempted to speculate what might have caused Madeleine to tarry until late 1485 before she finally married. Might she have hoped to marry somebody else, one wonders, before she realised it was never going to happen? If Roland were the son of Madeleine, the boy’s ‘Veleville’ name might have been an attempt to pass him off in England as a Belleville cousin. Doesn’t sound like an especially likely scenario – but then, stranger things have happened, and historical romance novels have been written on far weaker premises!


Historical romance or not, the Luxembourg-Lignys would actually have been good marriage material for Henry Tudor in the (early-to-mid) 1470s, assuming he (a) had no thought of aiming for the crown of England yet, and (b) wanted to return to England at some point.

You see, this is where it gets really interesting: Thibaud de Luxembourg-Ligny was Jacquetta Woodville’s full brother, thus making Guillemette, Madeleine and their siblings first cousins with the Woodvilles.

Such a close family relationship would have made a good first step towards reconciliation, don’t you think? At least until 1475, whilst Edward IV was still on good terms with Louis of Luxembourg.

Whether such a match was ever contemplated at all, but never happened because politics intervened, is anybody’s guess. But go on: I double-dare someone to write that speculative novel.


Whoever Roland de Veleville’s father was, I do think this Luxembourg/Belleville connection is a good starting point for finding his real mother. It has so many coincidences: the right location, the right-sounding name, the right(ish) age bracket, and the right coat of arms, too.


Anne Neville’s Portraits

Source: Luton Culture
Source: Luton Culture

(I meant to write this a few days ago, on the anniversary of Anne’s death, but technical difficulties intervened. However, it seems strangely appropriate to be writing this post literally during a solar eclipse, as the day of Anne’s death was the day of a great solar eclipse as well.)

The picture above was kindly sent to me by Luton Culture, when I asked to see a more detailed version of this particular corner of the Luton Guild Book’s frontispiece. (See here in its entirety, but in less detail.) The figures who have been identified on the frontispiece are Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, with Archbishop Rotherham in the foreground; but I believe this piece has other hidden treasures as well.

In short: I believe the lady in blue on the right is Anne Neville – and that would make this the most realistic likeness we have of her.

Let us first consider the pictures we know to represent Anne. None of them are especially satisfactory as portraits, but when you look at them in close detail, they do give more information than the low-quality versions that are usually in circulation. (Click the image to see it in full size.)

Portraits of Anne Neville
First picture: detail from the Rous Roll, cropped from an image purchased from the British Library; second: detail from the Beauchamp Pageant, likewise cropped from an image purchased from the British library; third: taken from my own copy of a facsimile edition of the Salisbury Roll.

What we can gather from the first two is a slender young woman with an oval face; soft features of somewhat child-like proportions; a small straight nose; a smallish pouty mouth; a high forehead; and a rather weak chin (the like of which can also be seen on the effigy of her aunt Joan Neville, Countess of Arundel).

The third picture tells us less. The women on the Salisbury Roll conform to a specific template: the earlier women of the family are practically identical to each other. Anne, Richard, and Anne’s mother (alongside her husband, whose face is covered with a helmet) are later additions, and the artist follows the earlier template, but there’s enough differentiation on the level of detail to show that some small degree of realistic representation is attempted. At the very least, Anne has a smaller chin and nose than her predecessors.

Anne’s hair here is a lighter shade of red than her mother’s, but it’s hard to tell the colour of her eyes; there seems to be a tinge of blue paint in them, but it might also be green. (Richard’s eyes on this picture are, strangely enough, flesh-coloured.)

For the sake of comparison, here are the pictures of her mother, the Countess of Warwick, from the same sources. As you can see, the facial features – though drawn in a simplistic fashion – are quite constant between them.

Portraits of Anne Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick
Portraits of Anne Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick

Another interesting picture is a court scene from Writhe’s Garter Book. (I’ll post other fascinating detail images from this book later on, as I believe it may show a scene from the Garter ceremony of Elizabeth Woodville’s son, the Marquis of Dorset.) Here are the women who are seated on the other side of the King:

Detail from the Garter ceremony scene in Writhe's Garter Book
Source: taken from my own copy of the facsimile edition of Writhe’s Garter Book.

It’s an interesting example of a clumsily drawn picture that nonetheless clearly differentiates between the people it represents. Just as an intriguing example, look at the woman who sits on her own in the background, in the middle of the picture above. She is drawn with a few simple lines, but the proportions of her face, her full lips and her large eyes make her look much like the full-lipped and large-eyed pretty young woman who also appears in the Luton picture. (I’d love to know who she is. As an aside, the woman beside her in the Luton picture bears something of a resemblance to Elizabeth Woodville, so, considering her rank, I think there’s a possibility she might be Elizabeth’s younger sister Catherine, the Duchess of Buckingham.)

The first women in the foreground of the Garter ceremony scene are clearly royal, judging by their apparel and by their position in the picture. At first I took them to be the King’s two sisters, but if the picture does depict Dorset’s Garter ceremony in 1476, the other woman can’t be Anne of York, who had died in January 1476. In that case, the first woman in red, who has a white rose pinned to her headdress, might even be the King’s mother Cecily. (On the other hand, Anne of York might be depicted posthumously as well.)

The next pair of women are arm-in-arm, and I believe them to be the Neville sisters. I admit the other one would be a rather poor depiction of Isabel, but the lady in the red dress does conform to Anne’s facial ‘type’ from the previous pictures.

Now, coming back to the Luton Guild Book. The woman behind the Queen is obviously one of the King’s sisters, judging by the royal coat of arms on her cape. (She also bears a resemblance to the second woman in the picture from Writher’s Garter Book; the one who has either a pearl trim or gold embroidery along the edge of her headdress.) The women behind her would be the ones who are next in rank: the wives of the King’s brothers. I suggest that the woman in red is Isabel Neville, Duchess of Clarence, compared here with her picture from the Rous Roll:

Portraits of Isabel Neville, Duchess of Clarence

I think there is a considerable similarity in the facial features, with a chin and nose much more pointed than Anne’s.

If that one is Isabel, rank-wise it would make sense for the woman beside her to be her sister Anne. The facial features would match as well (again, click the collage to view in full size):


Indeed, I think there is a startling similarity between the last two pictures – potential depictions of Anne, taken from the same angle.


If Anne and Isabel are the ladies in the picture, then there’s a possibility that the Luton Guild Book holds another hidden treasure as well: a picture of Richard as a young Duke of Gloucester, as well as a picture of George, Duke of Clarence. I believe there is a strong possibility that the man in blue is Clarence, and the man in green Gloucester.


This detail is cropped from the image of the frontispiece on Mediaeval Imaginations by the University of Cambridge, but it would be interesting to see this part in closer detail, as well.

Elizabeth Woodville and the Cloisters Deck: Popular Portraits of Royalty

Source for all playing cards: Tor Gjerde
Source for all playing cards: Tor Gjerde

Quite by an accident – as I seem to come across everything interesting nowadays – I found myself looking at pictures of old playing cards, and ran into the Flemish hunting deck, circa 1475. (Also known as the Cloisters deck, as it’s in the Cloisters Collection in New York. Oddly, the Cloisters website suggests that these cards are parodies of Burgundian court fashions: in fact, there’s nothing parodic about these costumes, unless all portraits and manuscript illuminations of this era are likewise parodies. . . )

I was immediately struck by how much one of the Queens – the Queen of the Hunting Horns, pictured above – looked like Elizabeth Woodville. Thanks to Tor Gjerde’s excellent website about old playing cards, I was able to zoom into the lady’s face, and by his permission, I’m using his scans of the reproduction deck in this post. Click on this link to see the deck in its entirety; you can click on each card to see the bigger version in full.

I have Googled and searched high and low, but nowhere did I find anyone else make the suggestion that the Queen above might be based on a portrait of Elizabeth Woodville. So, here I am, then: making that very suggestion.

The facial resemblance alone made me convinced this was Elizabeth, but on top of this her gown and headgear are both typical of English fashions of this time, and her underskirt of red and gold could be seen as referring to the heraldic colours of the crown of England. Most notably of all, of course, the lady is carrying a humongous white rose in her hand!

In the comparison collage below, I decided to include not only the best-known portrait of Elizabeth Woodville, but also a manuscript depiction that is contemporaneous with these cards, from the Luton Guild Book. (Please click on each collage to see the detailed version! The full-sized collages didn’t fit on this page.)

Left portrait: Wikipedia Commons, right portrait: University of Cambridge
Left portrait: Wikipedia Commons, right portrait: University of Cambridge

Comparing the King of the Horns with portraits of Edward IV is more difficult, as Edward had the knack of looking like a completely different person in all portrayals of him. The picture from the left is from the Luton Guild Book, whilst the picture on the right is a later copy of a portrait. But I can think of at least one manuscript depiction of Edward IV as a young man in which he had particularly full lips and bore more of a resemblance to this card. I’ve never seen that picture in circulation on the internet, so I’m going to scan it some other day.

Left portrait: University of Cambridge, right portrait: Wikipedia Commons
Left portrait: University of Cambridge, right portrait: Wikipedia Commons

After thinking about these two, I also became curious about the rest of the figures on these cards. The Queen of the Tethers is a lady whose long hair cascades out of her truncated hennin, in a style that was popular among Burgundian young ladies at this time. (Or, as I also call her, ‘the Young Lady with the Atypically Large Bosom for Her Time Period’. This kind of attention to detail also makes me convinced that the creator of these cards had specific people in mind: compare this curvy young lady to the Queen of the Horns, who is fashionably slim, small-busted, and long-limbed.) She seems to bear a strong resemblance to Mary of Burgundy.

Right portrait: Kathedralenbouwers
Right portrait: Kathedralenbouwers

If the lady above is Mary of Burgundy, then surely the King of the Tethers would be her husband, the dashing young Archduke Maximilian. (Note the dragon spitting fire down his leg: I take this to be a reference to the Order of the Dragon, of the Holy Roman Empire.) There is no identified portrait of young Maximilian that I’m aware of, but below the card is compared with a portrait of a much older Maximilian, who was by then the Holy Roman Emperor himself.

Right portrait: Wikipedia Commons
Right portrait: Wikipedia Commons

(Mary and Maximilian married in the autumn of 1477, and Mary died in 1482 after a riding accident, so I’m guessing this deck of cards dates back to that short period of time.)

If the man above is Maximilian, then it would make sense for the older man with a long German-style beard to be his father Frederick III, the Holy Roman Emperor; and the lady with the German-style turban headdress to be Maximilian’s mother, Eleanor of Portugal, who had died in 1467. Frederick never remarried.

The comparison pictures in the collage below represent Frederick and Eleanor when they were younger (though painted posthumously), although I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a manuscript image of Frederick with a long beard somewhere.

Left portrait: Wikipedia Commons, right portrait: Wikipedia Commons
Left portrait: Wikipedia Commons, right portrait: Wikipedia Commons

The last couple, the King and Queen of the Dog Collars, are more difficult to identify, and of them I’m much less sure. At first I thought the lady looked a bit like a manuscript picture I’d once seen of Charlotte of Savoy, the wife of Louis XI of France; but considering the entire scheme of these cards and their seemingly inter-related houses, and the fact that the King of the Collars is the only one of these figures to wear armour, it would probably make more sense for it to be Mary’s father, Charles the Bold, who had died on the battlefield so recently, in the spring of 1477 – and who seemed to be quite fond of being depicted in armour. Indeed, these cards might have been a souvenir of Mary’s succession and marriage.

In that case the Queen of the Collars would either be Mary’s long-dead mother, Isabella of Bourbon, or Mary’s loving stepmother, Margaret of York: of the two, the latter would probably be more likely, as it would be closer in time and also fit in with Margaret’s brother Edward IV being included in the deck. Comparison pictures of Charles the Bold (as a much younger man, painted by Rogier van der Weyden in 1460; as well as a later portrait that may be posthumous or a copy of an original) and Margaret of York below.

Left portrait: Wikipedia Commons, right portrait: Wikipedia Commons
Left portrait: Wikipedia Commons, right portrait: Wikipedia Commons
Right portrait: Wikipedia Commons
Right portrait: Wikipedia Commons

Interestingly, the knaves – or knights – of this deck also have clearly differentiated facial features: but whether they’re meant to represent famous, recognisable figures is hard to know. All the three knaves or knights wear purple sleeves or pants, so that might imply that they’re closely associated with their respective royal houses. I made some comparisons and wrote down some speculation about these characters, but they were so purely speculative that I decided not to include them, so as not to make the identifications above seem less credible – as I believe them to be quite accurate.

But below are the knaves’ faces side by side, so you can see just how specific and detailed their facial features are.



If this deck of cards does indeed depict recognisable figures of real-life royalty, to me that raises the question: who were these cards meant for? Did the intended audience consist of higher-born people, who might be expected to recognise the likenesses of royalty, both domestic and foreign? Or were these cards sold as popular depictions of royalty, for ordinary people who were curious to know what their celebrities looked like?

This is something I’ve often wondered about, about this era: given that – for instance – manuscript illustrations range from extremely crude and generic to extremely accomplished and detailed, to what extent did common people (even the well-to-do ones amongst them) know what their rulers and other famous people looked like? How many of these popular depictions might there have been in circulation, in different ephemeral forms? It is through sheer luck that this deck of cards has survived, after all.

And the most fascinating idea of all: how many of such popular depictions might actually have survived, and be out there even as we speak – scattered all over Europe or beyond, still unidentified?

Young Henry VIII: A Lost Portrait?

mostaert1 (1)
Source: Wikipedia Commons

In the Czartoryski Museum in Kraków, Poland, there is a painting known simply as ‘Portrait of a Courtier’ by Jan Mostaert (ca. 1475-1552/53). The handsome young man in the portrait is luxuriously dressed in the fashions of the 1510s or 1520s; the leopard skin in itself gives away that this is no ordinary man.

I certainly wasn’t looking for a portrait of Henry VIII, who happens to be one of my least favourite people in history. But I was going through dozens of Flemish paintings for different reasons of my own, and when I saw this one, a little voice in my head said, ‘That’s young Henry VIII.’

The reason for that little voice became obvious to me when I looked at the portrait of a very young Henry VIII, from circa 1509, when he was a teenager:

Source: Wikipedia Commons
Source: Wikipedia Commons

The 1509 portrait is more poorly executed, but I think the similarities in face shape, proportions, brows, eyes, and especially the nose are striking. The nose, in fact, seems to be exactly the same.

The similarities between Henry VIII and Mostaert’s painting are pronounced further when we look at Hans Holbein’s sketch of a much older – and bigger – Henry. The blue eyes have not only the same shape, but also the same expression in them; and obviously the small pouty mouth is something of a trademark in all existing portraits of Henry VIII.

Source: Wikipedia Commons
Source: Wikipedia Commons

Here are the three faces side by side, to make the comparison easier. Click on the image below to see it in full size!

And there is a way to verify this: the coat of arms in the upper left-hand corner of the Mostaert painting. The painting is dark and the photograph blurry so that it’s impossible to say for sure what the coat of arms looks like, but the arms is quartered and the shapes certainly make it an exciting possibility that this is the Royal Arms of England, topped with a crown.

arms_collageWould be very interesting if someone at the Museum could take a closer look at this painting and see what the coat of arms really looks like. If it is indeed the Royal Arms of England, at this time period it could only be Henry VIII as a young King – possibly in his mid-to-late twenties.

Mostaert’s painting has a rather interesting recent history. It was stolen from the Polish Czartoryski family by the Nazis, and it ended up in the Virginia Museum of Art, from whence it was restituted to the Czartoryski Museum in 2004. The painting was originally paired with the portrait of a woman, and the pair were traditionally known as King Charles VIII of France and his wife, Anne of Brittany. Obviously art historians have since realised that it couldn’t be Charles VIII, who had died in 1498, and moreover looked nothing like the man in the picture.

But another exciting possibility comes up. What if the pair were actually King Henry VIII of England and another Anne – a young Anne Boleyn?

Source: Wikipedia Commons
Source: Wikipedia Commons

Here’s a comparison of Mostaert’s painting with portraits that have been identified as Anne Boleyn. Click on the image below to see in full size.

Sources: Wikipedia, Wikipedia, and blog by Conor Byrne

The same woman? You decide. Again, there are similarities in face shape, nose, eyes, mouth, and the woman’s colouring.