Rosamund Clifford

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Rosamund Clifford
Fair Rosamund in her Bower.jpeg
Fair Rosamund in her Bower by William Bell Scott (after 1854)
Bornbefore 1150
Godstow Abbey, Godstow
Diedc. 1176
Godstow Abbey, Godstow
CompanionHenry II of England
FatherWalter de Clifford

Rosamund Clifford (before 1150 – c. 1176), often called "The Fair Rosamund" or "Rose of the World" (Latin: rosa mundi), was a medieval English noblewoman and mistress of Henry II, King of England, who became famous in English folklore.


Early life[edit]

The ruins of Clifford Castle, where Clifford grew up

Rosamund Clifford, born before 1150, is usually assumed to have been the daughter of Walter de Clifford (born Walter FitzRichard; 1113–1190), a Marcher Lord, and his wife Margaret. He gained his surname from his major holding, Clifford Castle in Herefordshire, where he was first steward then lord. She had three brothers, Walter (circa 1160–1221), Richard and Gilbert, and two sisters: Amice, who married Osbern FitzHugh of Richard's Castle, Herefordshire and Lucy, wife of Hugh de Say of Stokesay, Shropshire. Her name likely came from the Latin phrase rosa mundi, meaning "rose of the world."[1]

Clifford was first raised at his father's Clifford Castle, then sent to a convent of Benedictine nuns in Godstow Abbey for education.[2]

Henry II's mistress[edit]

Clifford was reputed as one of the greatest beauties of the 12th century.[3] Her relationship with Henry II, King of England (1133–1189) supposedly started when his wife, Queen Eleanor (circa 1122 – 1204) was pregnant with their last child, John (1166–1216) in 1166, but the king publicly acknowledged the affair for the first time in 1174.[citation needed] The queen is thought to have given birth to John in Beaumount Palace instead of Woodstock Palace because Clifford lived at Woodstock. Accounts differ on whether Clifford stayed in Woodstock while the king was travelling between England and his continental lands or accompanied him. If she did not go with him, they could not have spent more than about a quarter of the time between 1166 and 1176 together.[citation needed]

Later life and death[edit]

The ruins of Godstow Abbey

When her relationship with the king ended, Rosamund retired to Godstow Abbey.[citation needed] She died there around 1176, before the age of 30, and she was buried there.[citation needed] Her death was commemorated at Hereford Cathedral on 6 July, the same day on which Henry II died 13 years after her.[citation needed] The king and the Clifford family paid for her tomb to be cared for by the Bendedictine nuns of the convent.[citation needed] Her resting place became a popular shrine among locals, which was noticed by Hugh of Lincoln, the Bishop of Lincoln in 1191. Seeing the flowers and candles that covered the tomb, he ordered her remains to be moved and buried outside, "with the rest, that the Christian religion may not grow into contempt, and that other women, warned by her example, may abstain from illicit and adulterous intercourse".[citation needed] Complying with the bishop's request, Clifford's body was moved to the cemetery by the nuns' chapter house and was destroyed during the Dissolution of the monasteries (1536–1541) under Henry VIII.[4] The ruins of the abbey still stand and are open to the public.

Paul Hentzner, a German traveller who visited England around 1599, recorded that her faded tombstone inscription read in part:

"(...) Adorent (...) utque tibi detur requies Rosamunda precamur ("Let them adore... and we pray that rest be given to you, Rosamund"), followed by a rhyming epitaph: "Hic jacet in tumba Rosamundi non Rosamunda, non redolet sed olet, quae redolere solet ("Here in the tomb lies the rose of the world, not a pure rose; she who used to smell sweet, still smells—but not sweet").[5] Accounts from the time of its destruction report that, along with other engravings, the tomb contained the depiction of a chalice.[citation needed]

In folklore[edit]

In English folklore, Rosamund's legend states that the king did everything to hide his affair from his wife, Queen Eleanor (circa 1122 – 1204). He only saw Rosamund in the middle of a complicated underground labyrinth in the park of Woodstock Palace in Oxfordshire. Following rumours, the queen made her way through the labyrinth and confronted her rival, forcing her to choose between a dagger and a bowl of poison; Rosamund chose the latter and died.[6][7] Contemporary chronicler John Brompton did not recount this incident in his account of the events,[6] and it first appeared in the 14th century French Chronicle of London.

Another version tells that Rosamund was roasted between two fires, stabbed, and left to bleed to death in a bath of scalding water by the queen.[8] During the Elizabethan era, such stories gained popularity, leading to the writing of the Ballad of Fair Rosamund by Thomas Deloney (1612) and the Complaint of Rosamund by Samuel Daniel (1592), both being purely fictional. The underground labyrinth was added to the tale in 1516 (although Robert Gambles cites a 1231 reference to "Rosamund's chamber", with gardens, a cloister and a well).[8] The cup of poison first appears in a ballad in 1611.[8]

According to most medieval chroniclers, Queen Eleanor had been imprisoned by 1173 for raising her sons to be rebellious against their father, making a direct confrontation between the two women highly improbable.[8]

Depictions of the legendary confrontation between Queen Eleanor and Rosamund Clifford
An illustration from an 18th century chapbook
Edward Burne-Jones' painting from 1861
Evelyn De Morgan's Pre-Raphaelite painting from between 1880 and 1919

Possible issue[edit]

Historians are divided whether Clifford's relationship with Henry II produced children. Legends have attributed to her two of the king's illegitimate sons, Geoffrey, Archbishop of York (circa 1152 – 1212) and William Longespée, 3rd Earl of Salisbury (circa 1176 – 1226).[6] However, Geoffrey was born before the king and Clifford even met from an otherwise unknown woman (possibly called Ykenai or Hikenai), and William was the son of Ida de Tosny, Countess of Norfolk (died after 1181).[9][10]

Fair Rosamund's Well in the park of Blenheim Palace

Fair Rosamund's Well and Rosamund's Green[edit]

According to local tales, "Rosamund's bower" (probably an early version of the labyrinth) was demolished when Blenheim Palace was built.[3] Today, Fair Rosamund's Well (51°50′42″N 1°22′04″W / 51.845070°N 1.3677058°W / 51.845070; -1.3677058) is a paved spring in the park of Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire. It is located to the south of the Grand Bridge on the western shore of The Lake, sometimes called Brown's Lake after 18th century landscape architect Capability Brown. According to a 2014 BBC article, "[T]he well had become 'somewhat overgrown and at risk of becoming damaged'".[11]

Rosa mundi rose

Rosamund is also associated with the village of Frampton on Severn, Gloucestershire, another of her father's holdings. Walter de Clifford granted the mill there to Godstow Abbey for the good of the souls of his wife and daughter. The village green of Frampton became known as Rosamund's Green by the 17th century.[12]

Rosa mundi rose[edit]

A cultivated variation of rosa gallica with striped pink blooms is commonly known as rosa mundi.[13] Its connection to Rosamund Clifford dates to the 16th century.[citation needed]

In fiction[edit]

"A Lamentable Ballad of Fair Rosamond, Concubine to Henry II" (c. 1825)
Fair Rosamund by John William Waterhouse (1917)

In literature[edit]

In cinema[edit]

In theatre[edit]

In opera[edit]


  1. ^ Anthony à Wood The life and times of Anthony Wood: antiquary, of Oxford, 1632–1695, described by himself. Printed for the Oxford historical society, at the Clarendon press, 1891. Page 341.
  2. ^ Bingham, Jane. The Cotswolds: A Cultural History, Oxford University Press, 2010 ISBN 9780195398755
  3. ^ a b "'Fair Rosamund' well to be restored at Blenheim Palace", BBC News (Oxford), July 20, 2014
  4. ^ Cole, William. The Unfortunate Royal Mistresses, Rosamond Clifford, and Jane Shore, Concubines to King Henry the Second, and Edward the Fourth, London, 1825 p. 8
  5. ^ Hentzner, Paul. Travels in England during the Reign of Queen Elizabeth
  6. ^ a b c Matthews, W.H., Mazes and Labyrinths, Chap. XIX, Longmans Green and Co., London, 1922
  7. ^ Gardner, Martin More Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions p. 88, Penguin Books (1966)
  8. ^ a b c d Gambles, Robert. Great Tales from British, Amberley Publishing Limited, 2013, ISBN 9781445613499 p. 61
  9. ^ Notes and Queries. Oxford University Press. 1887.
  10. ^ Smith, David Michael; Lovatt, Marie; Academy, British; Kemp, B. R.; Harper-Bill, Christopher (1980). English Episcopal Acta 27, York 1189–1212. OUP/British Academy. ISBN 978-0-19-726293-1.
  11. ^ "'Fair Rosamund' well to be restored". BBC News. 22 July 2014. Retrieved 5 January 2019.
  12. ^ Victoria County History of Gloucestershire: Frampton on Severn
  13. ^ "BBC plant finder – Rosa mundi". Retrieved 31 May 2013.
  14. ^ Apollinaire, Guillaume (1913); Rees, Garnet (ed.) (1975) Alcools London, Athlone Press.


  • Biography from Who's Who in British History (1998), H. W. Wilson Company. Who's Who in British History, Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1998.
  • W. L. Warren, Henry II, 1973.
  • Remfry. P.M., Clifford Castle, 1066 to 1299 (ISBN 1-899376-04-6)