During the 15th century, justice was not something anyone sought. Courts were not looking for it and victims did not hope to get it. People lost their lives in highly ridiculous scenarios and the story of the horoscope of Eleanor Cobham is one of the best examples.
It all started in 1440 when the wife of the Duke of Gloucester, Eleanor Cobham, wanted to have her horoscope told. Eleanor was a fascinating person: she was one of the ladies in waiting of the wife of Prince Humphrey, the brother of Henry V. She then became the Prince’s mistress and after a while, when Humphrey ( who has also been the Duke of Gloucester), managed to get his marriage annulled, she married him and became the Duchess.
People could not understand the move Humphrey had made and some people suspected that Eleanor had used some sort of magic to bewitch him. Ten years after the marriage, the couple had not borne children and so, became a bit anxious, Eleanor decided to get her horoscope done to learn when she would conceive. Unfortunately, this hope became her ruin.
The horoscope was done by two of the most famous astrologers of the time, Thomas Southwell and Roger Bolingbroke who was also her personal clerk. The results of the horoscope were shocking and did not answer her real question. According to “the stars”, King Henry VI was supposed to die in less than a year, and since he did not have children (yet), the next in line would be the Duke of Gloucester, or in other words, her husband. The shocking predictions spread fast and it didn’t take long before the King heard about it. During the 15th century, astrologers were considered serious and accurate people so you can imagine how the King felt about his grim future. The first thing he did was to order his own horoscope to be made to contradict the original one. Unsurprisingly, his new horoscope did precisely that. Next, it was time to look for some medieval justice.
The first victims were the original astrologer and Bolingbroke. They were arrested with charges of treason, the result of which could be only the death penalty, which they both received. But it wasn’t a friendly type of death sentence. They were both hanged, drawn and quartered. Which means that they were first dragged through the streets of London tied behind a horse; next, they were hanged, but released before they died. Next, they were disemboweled whilst still breathing, which was the bitter end of it.
Eleanor Cobham was next. First, she was banished to Leeds castle, but then suddenly new charges were brought against her. She was blamed for using a local witch, a woman called Margery Jourdemayne, also known as the Witch of the Eye. Eleanor was probably terrified, being accused of using a witch was not a good omen. In court, she admitted that she did buy some potions from Margery in the hope of conceiving. So now it was time for Margery to explore medieval justice and she was quickly burnt alive.
Now only Eleanor was left. For some reason, she was not executed, but neither was mercy was suddenly granted to her. Eleanor was still punished severely. First, she was forced to divorce her husband, the Duke. Next, she had to walk barefoot in the filthy streets of London as penance ( this was the standard way to punish prostitutes). Finally, she was imprisoned for the rest of her life, spending few years of imprisonment in both Chester and Kenilworth castles. Eleanor ended up dying in prison at the Welsh castle of Beaumaris. Next time you read your horoscope, try to remember that these things could end up very, very badly.
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