We would probably never have heard the name of Margery Jourdemayne if she had not been associated with members of the Royal Court – namely Humphrey Duke of Gloucester and his Duchess Eleanor Cobham, Roger Bolingbroke, Thomas Southwell and John Home (Hum or Hume).
Margery, dubbed ‘the Witch of the Eye next Westminster’, was the wife of a Yeoman, born before 1415. Her maiden name is unknown. She had developed a reputation as a local ‘wise woman’ and purveyor of magical ‘lotions and potions’. It was this reputation that led to her services being sought by people of all social standings.
Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, was the youngest son of Henry IV and Mary de Bohun. His first wife was Jacqueline of Hainault. Serving in her household was Eleanor Cobham. Eleanor is said by some to have availed of the serves of Margery to seduce the Duke. Whether this was true or not, Eleanor became Humphrey’s mistress and is reported by some to have had two illegitimate children with him. Following the annulment of his marriage in 1428, Humphrey married Eleanor, raising her from a mere knight’s daughter to Duchess. Following the death of his elder brother John, who was also regent to the young King Henry, Humphrey became the heir apparent to the throne.
There was at this point in time a very fine line between what was and what was not acceptable when it came to what we today would consider to be ‘the Occult’. Astrology, for example was considered a science and many of the rich and famous employed the services of an Astrologer. In 1440, Roger Bolingbroke, the personal clerk to Eleanor, in the Duke’s household, and Thomas Southwell, possibly Eleanor’s personal physician, produced a horoscope for Eleanor. The horoscope predicted that the young king would suffer an illness in the summer of 1441 from which he would not recover. If this were to happen, then Humphrey would be king. The King’s guardians employed their own astrologers who could find no such prediction. Southwell and Bolingbroke, together with Eleanor’s personal confessor, John Home were interrogated. Southwell and Bolingbroke were charged with treasonable necromancy. Bolingbroke pointed the finger at Eleanor, naming her as the instigator. She was arrested and questioned, during which time she denied all of the charges, but did admit to having obtained potions from Margery Jourdemayne in order to help her to conceive. All were found guilty. Southwell died whilst incarcerated in the Tower of London. Bolingbroke was hanged, drawn and quartered, and Eleanor was to be imprisoned for the rest of her life. She also had to divorce the Duke and to do public penance. Home was found to only have had knowledge of the events and had not actually taken part. He was eventually pardoned.
Some years earlier, Margery had been accused of witchcraft and had been imprisoned in Windsor Castle. She had been released after giving her word that she would not practice her skills any more. In truth it seems likely that she just picked up where she had left off, but became more discreet about her activities. Medieval thinking such that a blind eye would on occasion be turned to such activities when a need was being met within a community, just so long as it was deemed not to be harmful to anyone. Despite her earlier incarceration, Margery is said to have continued to have had notable patronage since the early 1430’s. She is said to have foretold that Edmund Beaufort, 1st (or 2nd depending on the calculations) Duke of Somerset, would die ‘at a castle’. He was mortally wounded at the 1st Battle of St Albans, and died at the Castle Inn. As a repeat offender there was no way that Margery was going to escape a second time. She was found guilty of practising long time witchcraft and heresy. She was sentenced to death by burning and was taken to Smithfield for the sentence to be carried out.