Even by Tudor and Stuart Standards, Edward IV’s Marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was Invalid

BARNABY: You really believe, don’t you, that the normal rules of society don’t apply to people like you. COLQUHON: We are the old families of England. We own most of the country’s land and its wealth and have done for generations. And we make up our own rules. BARNABY: But not the rule of law, sir. –Midsomer Murders, “Blood Wedding” (Photo Credit: Erdenbayar/Morguefile)

I’ve discovered a wonderfully detailed monograph written by a 21st-century professor of history (whose specialty is the social history of early modern England) that illustrates very nicely that the medieval canon laws governing pre-contracted marriages that resulted into the dissolution of Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville survived, intact and without alteration, through the Reformation.

The book is David Cressy’s Birth, Marriage and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England, published by Oxford University Press in 1997, when Cressy was Professor of History at California State University in Long Beach. An extensive preview is available for viewing at Google Books.[i]

Cressy’s specialty is the social history of early modern England. For those who do not know, “early modern England” roughly corresponds to the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. On his current faculty page at Ohio State University, Cressy shares a few of his credentials:

“I was born and educated in England, and received four degrees from the University of Cambridge. I came to the United States on a two-year teaching contract, before I finished my Ph. D., and have been here ever since. I am a naturalized U.S. citizen. I taught at liberal arts colleges in California, and at California State University, Long Beach, before joining the Ohio State University History Department in 1998. I am currently Humanities Distinguished Professor of History and George III Professor of British History.” [ii]

What Constituted a Legal and/or Church-Approved Marriage in the Middle Ages Through Stuart Times?

The medieval Church’s[iii] “obligations” for persons seeking to be married involved posting marriage banns, obtaining licenses to marry in special situations, and confronting challenges to the legitimacy of marriages due to pre-contracts. These same obligations were inserted into the original 1549 edition of the Anglican church’s Book of Common Prayer, and into subsequent editions as well. This means the same obligations were in force in England from the medieval period to the Tudor period, and on through Stuart England. What this means is that anyone in denial regarding:

  1. Why Edward IV’s previously contracted marriage to Eleanor Butler (née Talbot) made his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville invalid;
  1. What contemporary evidence was required by the archbishops on the king’s council to declare Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville invalid;
  1. What right the archbishops on the king’s council had to declare Edward and Elizabeth’s children were illegitimate;

can consult Cressy’s detailed work (which was written by a Tudor and Stuart historian, and which includes extensive notes for each chapter and cites a multitude of contemporary sources) and come to understand precisely why the Church declared Edward IV’s second marriage invalid and the children of his marriage illegitimate. Illegitimate children were known as bastards, and by law bastards could not inherit anything. This included their parents’ lands, wealth, titles, and thrones.

Readers of Cressy’s monograph will also discern that unless the Constable of England or the Protector of the Realm had been a first-hand witness (meaning, unless he could testify “I was there…I saw…I heard…”) regarding any past events involved in a challenge to a pre-contracted marriage, he was powerless to influence the outcome of that challenge. Medieval Church and the Anglican canon law that echoed it dictated that Richard of Gloucester had no power to declare any marriage invalid, nor could he declare illegitimate the children of any marriage. The medieval Church and the Anglican church both reserved the exclusive right to dissolve marriages, and their decisions were based solely upon eyewitness evidence brought before medieval Church/Anglican church officials.

What Was Necessary for Edward IV to Have Done, to Marry Eleanor Butler?

Cressy devotes an entire chapter to clandestine and irregular marriages[iv], both of which terms apply to Edward IV since he married twice in secret when he was king, without the asking of banns at mass. Cressy’s summary of the “problem of ‘clandestine’ marriages in Tudor and Stuart England” can be applied whole cloth to the problem of Edward IV’s clandestine marriages.

Please read the following carefully – especially the second paragraph quoted – for at first glance it may seem that medieval law and early modern social practice were at odds when they were not. Cressy writes:

“Confusion has set in because some scholars have failed to differentiate late medieval legal principle from early modern social practice, and have mistaken ‘clandestine’ and irregular marriages for informal unions that rested on mere consent. This chapter sets out to review the problem of ‘clandestine’ marriage in Tudor and Stuart England, and to show that despite obvious technical defects they were, for the most part, conformable to social and legal expectations.

“In principle, a marriage existed if the man and the woman committed themselves to each other by words of consent expressed in the present tense. It would be enough to say, ‘I N. do take thee, N, to be my wedded wife/husband.’ A marriage was technically made valid in law by this contract or spousals per verba de presenti [words in the present tense], providing there were no overriding impediments. A contract de future, made in the future tense (such as ‘I will marry you’) became immediately binding if followed by sexual intercourse. Such was the core of medieval law, that was not changed in England until Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1753.[v] [Bold mine.]

This means that if while Edward was laying siege to Eleanor, if she whispered, “I, Eleanor, do take thee, Ned, to be my wedded husband,” and Edward said something in reply, something as innocuous as, “Mmm hmm. Sure, whatever my lady” as he wasn’t paying attention, or if she pressed him as to his true intentions, and he offhandedly said, “Of course I will marry you,” and sexual intercourse followed, then voila! The two of them were married.

No priest was needed to make such a marriage legal and binding, though Eleanor may have told her family afterward and wanted to consult a priest and confine herself to a nunnery once she heard King Edward had subsequently married Lady Elizabeth Grey.

What, Exactly, Does “Pre-Contract” Mean?

Many people who haven’t taken the time to research medieval/Tudor/Stuart marriage laws don’t understand what “pre-contract” means, and why it was such a serious accusation with serious consequences in 1483. The uninformed seem to assume that the term means what it might mean in the 21st century – that Edward IV had merely been engaged to Eleanor Talbot and only a broken engagement was revealed in 1483. That’s no big deal in our time, so why were Edward’s children declared bastards and disinherited over such a small thing?

A “pre-contract” is not an engagement. The term means a previous marriage. It means a previous marriage took place, one which invalidates a second marriage or a man or woman’s intent to make a second marriage.

Edward IV stood accused of having previously married Eleanor Talbot. Such an accusation could only be assessed by the archbishops on the king’s council in the spring/summer of 1483. History shows those archbishops found the accusation to be true, which that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had never been valid because by both medieval Church and later Anglican law (and even by modern law), no man can have more than one living wife at one time.

  • Edward married Elizabeth Woodville on 1 May 1464.
  • Eleanor Talbot did not die until 30 June 1468.

Even if the Archbishops Had to Dissolve Edward and Elizabeth’s Marriage, Why Didn’t They Protect Edward V’s Right to the Throne, or His Siblings and His Mother’s Status?

This is where it gets complicated, unless you think in terms of what Edward IV should have done but did not do, at the very least, to ensure the rights of his heir to inherit his hard-won throne.

It wouldn’t have solved anything if Edward had confessed his bigamy and remarried Elizabeth publicly after his first wife Eleanor’s death in an effort to make all marital things new again. Nothing Edward could have done – except to have clung to life until he had outlived everyone who knew about his earlier marriage, which likely included not only Stillington but members of the Talbot family – would have changed the bastardy of Edward’s children because nothing could change the fact that those children had been conceived and born under an invalid, bigamous marriage.

In medieval/Tudor/Stuart England, [the churches] required that on three separate Sundays or holy-days, during the mass and in the presence of all the people attending mass, the priest had to “ask the banns.” That is, he had to ask the congregation whether anyone could give a reason why a couple could not lawfully be married.

“The banns,” writes Cressy, “were a safety device to prevent those who were ineligible from attempting the passage into matrimony”. Further on, Cressy says, “Church court records capture some of the drama of a challenge to the banns of marriage, though they barely hint at the heartbreak and embarrassment that some irregularities entailed. William Mead and Margaret Rame were ready to be married at Great Waltham, Essex, in 1577 after the banns were asked openly in church on two successive Sundays. But on the third Sunday ‘they were forbidden by Nicholas Satch, who claimed marriage’ to Margaret by virtue of an alleged pre-contract.


“Legally, a pre-contract was a fatal impediment to marriage. If one intending partner was already contracted to another the wedding was not supposed to proceed. And if such a person forgot or concealed a pre-existing contract, the marriage, if solemnized, could be declared invalid.[vi] [Bold mine.]

Medieval and Anglican canon law both dictated that:

  1. If banns were asked by a priest three times in public as [the churches] dictated; and,
  1. If no one came forward at that time with reason(s) why a couple should not be married; or,
  1. If someone came forward at a later time with valid reason(s) why the marriage was unlawful and should be dissolved; then,
  1. Regardless [the churches] dissolved the marriage, any children of the marriage were not and could not be declared illegitimate because their parents had followed the dictates of [the churches]. [The churches] could and would then extend [their] protection to the children to ensure their legitimacy and ability to inherit under English law.
  1. If banns had not been asked, if [the churches] had not been involved in the run-up to the marriage, if [church] procedure had not been followed, then the children of a dissolved marriage could not and would not be protected by [either church]. They would be declared bastards, and bastards could not inherit under English law.

Stillington revealed the pre-contract between Edward IV and Eleanor Butler in June 1483. At that time, Elizabeth Woodville, her son Richard of York, and all her daughters were in sanctuary within Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth had easy access to multiple canon-law experts who could have defended her marriage before the king’s council. Experts who knew how to challenge and negate the testimony of witnesses appearing before the council.

Likewise, Elizabeth had access to canon-law experts who could have told her it was impossible to negate the testimony offered, or to correct the grave mistakes Edward IV had made, not only by marrying Elizabeth when he was already married to Eleanor Talbot, but also by marrying Elizabeth in secret and not involving the Church whose law could have saved her children from the wreck of illegitimacy and at the same time upheld Edward V’s right to inherit his father’s throne.

The historical events of June 1483 indicate that Elizabeth Woodville prepared no defense against the dissolution of her marriage. Nor did she offer any protest against the king’s council declaring her children bastards, nor against the council’s removing Edward V’s right to succeed his father. Elizabeth appears to have sat silent in sanctuary while witnesses were called and testified before the council, while the council’s archbishops debated, and while her marriage to Edward IV was dissolved due to his previous marriage to another woman.

There is much more in Cressy’s monograph of interest to anyone interested in digging through medieval laws and traditions that carried over into Tudor and Stuart times. It would serve anyone in denial about the marital errors Edward IV made that resulted in Edward V’s being barred from the throne to consult this book. It does much to explain exactly why Richard of Gloucester had no power to control the ultimate consequences of bigamist Edward IV’s secret marriages to Eleanor Talbot and Elizabeth Woodville.



[i] http://tinyurl.com/birth-marriage

[ii] https://history.osu.edu/directory/cressy3

[iii] Please note that before the Reformation there was but one church in the Western world, with people referring to it only as “the Church.” I’ve followed that tradition here.

[iv] Chapter 11: Clandestine and Irregular Marriages

[v] Statutes of the Realm, 26 Geo. II, c. 33; Outhwaite, Clandestine Marriage in England, 75-97.

[vi] Cressy, David. Birth, Marriage and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 306-307.


  1. Excellent article. I would like to include this article in our next register. If interested, please contact me at info@r3.org

    Joan Szechtman, Editor
    Richard III Society, American Branch Publications

    Liked by 4 people

  2. A brilliantly set out explanation. I wasn’t in doubt before, because I did not for a single moment think Richard would have behaved as he did unless he was certain of being right in every detail, Now I see why he was so certain that he had no choice but to accept the crown. He is vindicated. Thank you so much merlynmacleod, for a really riveting read.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thanks for your kind comments, viscountessw. The more I dig, the more I realize Richard knew the law and upheld it as duke and king.

      The law of the Church and the law of the land were entirely separate things. Richard never would have been offered the crown if the Church (the bishops on the king’s council) hadn’t decided Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage was not valid.

      I only wish we knew what Stillington and whatever witnesses he had presented to the bishops on the council. If the pre-contract evidence hadn’t been there, the Church would have said so, and Edward V’s coronation would have taken place.

      Those who blame Richard for the pre-contract mess might want to look a little more closely at Edward IV’s recklessness, and at the medieval (and Anglican) Church’s reservation of the right to dissolve marriages. What startled me was that medieval Church laws regarding courtship, marriage, and dissolution survived the Reformation. They were part of the fabric of society, and the Anglican church carried them forward intact, I suppose because they worked.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Any reason why John of Gaunt could have his children legitimated by Pope and Parliament when they were born prior to his marrying Katherine Swynford at all, if Edward IV couldn’t have done the same with his children by Elizabeth Woodville? Was there a change in canon law?


    1. No, but the cases are different. John of Gaunt, with Catherine de Roet, committed adultery on four or possibly three occasions.
      Edward IV, with Elizabeth Woodville, committed adultery a few times and bigamy.
      Children conceived in adultery could occasionally be legitimised but those born of bigamy could not.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. There was no change in Church law between Gaunt’s time and Edward IV’s time. The key to any matter regarding children of an irregular union is IF the couple had involved the Church before they were married.

      John of Gaunt involved the Church in legitimizing his children who were born of an *adulterous* relationship. If you check the dates, I think you’ll find that the Pope legitimized the children before Parliament did, because Church *always* trumped State in matters of marriage/legitimization…straight through to Stuart times.

      (As an aside, the Anglican church tried to tighten church controls on marriage even more after the Reformation because irregular unions influenced by societal tradition created painful messes for the couples and children involved, a la Edward and Elizabeth; the Anglican clergy came to demand that marriages be handled *only* by the church. Unfortunately, a lot of people disregarded or didn’t get the message, and the old medieval traditions continued. I don’t know when the old traditions died and the State involved itself in marriages/dissolutions, but medieval marriage law continued into the Stuart period.)

      John of Gaunt committed adultery, not bigamy. When the time came that he was a widower and could marry his mistress, he and his mistress were married by the Church (after the asking of banns), and he asked the Church to legitimize his children.

      Per medieval law, if the Pope had refused to legitimize the children, then Parliament wouldn’t have, either. I suspect the Act of Parliament acknowledges the legitimization of the children by the Church/Pope and goes on to confirm the rights the children have under English law.

      Liked by 4 people

  4. This monograph sounds most interesting, although I didn’t notice anything in the summary that most Ricardians are not already familiar with; see various articles cited in chapter 4 of ‘Maligned King’, including Helmholz ‘The Sons of Edward IV’ which is very illuminating. Cressy’s sources, if additional, would no doubt be helpful to anyone planning a piece of written work.

    As to the question of legitimating the offspring of Edward IV, the Beaufort legitimation would have been the most relevant precedent, and a highly embarrassing one at that! First, the children’s illegitimacy would have to be publicly admitted (no turning back after that). Second, legitimation must be sought from the pope (Rome never hurried, and did not always say yes) and from Parliament (but who was to open Parliament when the quondam king was admitted to be a bastard?). Third, what would happen during the interregnum, with a hostile France and a hostile Scotland busily forming alliances against England and whipping up old Lancastrian enmities in order to destabilize the regime? Fourth, the act of legitimation would need to specify precisely the privileges it bestowed: in the case of the Beaufort legitimation they were not permitted the privilege of inheriting anything from their natural father, not even his Plantagenet surname (that’s what I meant by embarrassing). And fifth, John of Gaunt’s illegitimate offspring had not been sitting around waiting to be crowned.

    Edward V was a 12-year-old child who was too young to rule and, aside from inheritance, had no other qualification to reign. Yes, in the mediaeval world a child could inherit, but a child could not govern; nor (I would venture to guess) were the political class sentimental enough to place the entire government of the realm in question while they moved heaven and earth to try to arrange for an illegitimate child to wear the crown legitimately, as opposed to a known, competent, powerful adult: think of Edmund Mortimer in 1399, and he wasn’t even illegitimate.

    I would also have a lot of questions myself about the process of legitimation, especially if the father was deceased and consequently unable to testify (or offer penitence, if that was part of the deal). Since the allegation of precontract could be brought only by those parties directly affected, who would be qualified to sue for legitimation? That wasn’t the province of the Church. Elizabeth Woodville could do so, presumably; but she and her family had leapt to oppose the protectorate from day one, and by early June, if not yet actually suborning treason, had certainly lost the sympathy of the Council (see Russell’s speech to Parliament).

    Somebody – David Starkey, I believe – claimed that the very act of succession wiped out the stain of illegitimacy, but clearly this is wishful thinking: it wasn’t the case in 1483 because we all KNOW it wasn’t the case in 1483, otherwise they’d have gone ahead with the coronation and the Parliament. Likewise in 1685, Charles II’s brother succeeded to the crown rather than the king’s bastard son the Duke of Monmouth, and I don’t recall any attempt to legitimate the latter. I suppose they just didn’t think a technical process like legitimation was adequate when applied to the succession.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Perhaps Starkey should have said that the very act of conquest, rather than succession, wipes out the stain of illegitimacy. Because it certainly was meant to in 1485.

      Considering how obsessed royal and noble medieval families were about their pedigrees, and how careful the law was to state that bastards could not inherit as legitimate heirs could, I don’t understand what historical sources Starkey would use to back up his statement.

      Wishful thinking, as you say.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. I agree that Edward V could not be legitimated after Edward IV’s death; I was only curious as to why Edward IV didn’t try to legitimate his kids after Eleanor Talbot’s death. I would have thought that John of Gaunt’s case gave him an example. I think Starkey’s opinion that succession wipes out illegitimacy is based on his research into the Tudors … Parliamentary decrees that both Mary and Elizabeth were illegitimate didn’t affect the opinion of the English people as to the rightful heir.


      1. He couldn’t because the bigamy had polluted his relationship with Elizabeth Woodville – even children born to her after Lady Eleanor’s death could not be legitimised by a subsequent legal marriage.
        John of Gaunt really isn’t a good example here as he never pretended to be married to Catherine de Roet while Blanche of Lancaster or Constanza of Castle were alive and all of his marriages were public.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Well, anyone who has studied Ricardian history knows that Richard was fascinated with the law and dedicated to carrying it out to the letter. I often wish, as Duke or King, he could have become a lawyer. What an addition he would have been. Excellent article.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. What fascinates me about Cressy’s monograph is that it proves very nicely (though it wasn’t Cressy’s intent) that pre-contract law and the consequences of an irregular marriage weren’t something Richard pulled out of his ear, or something that the bishops sitting on the king’s (Edward V’s) council were unfamliar with. The same consequences happened elsewhere in society (i.e., a marriage being invalidated and children being bastardized because of a prior marriage), from medieval to Stuart times.

      I was absolutely floored to discover these laws existed long before Richard was born, and were still in use in Tudor and Stuart times, especially since I’ve seen arguments that the pre-contract was something Richard surely invented to make a grab for the throne. So often, the denialists of the pre-contract behave as if it were something foreign to the time. And yet…and yet…the monograph makes it clear the law was in place long before Richard was born, and was still in place after the Reformation. Cressy inadvertently provides the sources for the medieval Church law that the bishops on the king’s council were upholding.

      Cressy also does an excellent job in explaining exactly what pre-contracts were, how they occurred, and precisely why they blocked couples from marrying. Not to mention exactly why Edward IV’s children were disinherited by both the church and Parliament.

      I’ve never seen so extensive a discussion as Cressy has presented. I was absolutely floored to discover a reliable, knowledgeable Tudor/Stuart scholar writing about canon law that reached back, intact, to Richard’s time.

      The law itself isn’t new to those who have studied the pre-contract accusation and what it meant. What is new, I think, is that it’s hard for denialists of the pre-contract to argue with a Tudor/Stuart scholar who outlines clearly the laws whereby Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage would have been dissolved, and their children declared illegitimate, clear through Stuart times, because of the perfect “irregular marriage” storm Edward’s bigamy created.

      I don’t think the denialists expect a Tudor/Stuart scholar to explain, in extensive detail, the exact medieval laws whereby Edward IV’s actions came back to haunt his surviving family. I think Cressy’s work helps to put the responsibility for what happened in 1483 squarely on Edward IV’s shoulders. If he had followed the Church’s rules (which were there to protect spouses and children) and made an honorable, regular marriage, the chaos and crisis of 1483 would never have happened.

      Liked by 9 people

  6. Thank you for this excellent discovery – I’ve added Cressy to my reading list.

    What puzzles me is that historians seem to be aware of the pitfalls of medieval marriage customs, but don’t seem prepared to consider them in the context of Edward IV. For example, Helen Castor’s TV programme “A Good Marriage” acknowledged that 6-7 out of 10 marriage litigation cases were to do with whether the marriage was actually valid in the first place, but no mention of the “biggie”.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. There was a reason why the Beauforts were legitimated by both Pope and Parliament. Under English law (as opposed to canon law) they were ineligible to inherit from their parents, as their parents had not been married at the time of their birth. A statute was needed to change this state of affairs. The Pope’s measure would not have done, of itself. In other words, both Pope and State needed to perform special measures before they became ‘fully legitimate’. In effect, post 1397, they were as ‘legitimate’ as Bolingbroke.


    1. Actually (to Sighthound6) to the best of my knowledge the Beaufort legitimation did not permit them to inherit anything from their natural father, although they were enabled to receive honours/titles when bestowed and transmit them to heirs.


  8. Apologies to Esther for misconstruing her comment to mean legitimating Edward IV’s offspring AFTER his death. Whether before or after, the possible legitimation of Edward of Westminster is a very interesting topic, and one to which I’ve given much puzzled thought. It was my understanding, from comments by people who know more canon law than I do, that although Edward IV could not have legitimated his Woodville offspring through the normally available court procedures, he could have made an application for this to the pope – so I’d be grateful to have it explained if and why this couldn’t happen (does Cressy explain it?). Kings did routinely have access to greater consideration from Rome than ordinary mortals, especially if the transaction were greased by large amounts of cash.

    In such a case, if the king had managed to procure sanction from the pope to regularize his second marriage, then who knows? – he might (because he was a reigning king) have secured better terms of legitimation, including inheritance, than John of Gaunt did.

    I have also wrestled with Esther’s question on a practical level. I’m no follower of Peter Hancock’s theory that mediaeval lawyers felt able to pass on their clients’ most sensitive and confidential information, but I do have to assume that there must have been a handful of people among the royal family and the Talbot family, not Stillington alone (and who was Edward’s confessor?), who knew of the precontract. Those people, although they could do little or nothing themselves, would have realized that Edward was storing up trouble ahead, and those who were close (including Stillington) would surely have raised it and tried to explore what solutions were available.

    It’s in this kind of area that the genius of fiction writers is so invaluable, because those of us who try to draw on known facts have nothing to go on. I don’t have the gift of writing fiction, but I do try to imagine how things happened, literally trying to visualize an enactment in my mind’s eye. And I struggle to reconstruct the kinds of interactions between Edward and his family and advisers when it came to this particular quandary.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Presumably Edward IV knew all this perfectly well, and when Eleanor died, could have rectified the situation by confessing the truth and marrying Elizabeth Woodville properly. That wouldn’t have solved the problem of their existing children, but he might reasonably have hoped for more children with her, born legitimately. But that reckless wishful-thinker took a chance that it would all go away without his doing anything. What a mess.
    I didn’t know that about the banns being a protective measure for such cases. Interesting.


    1. No, because Edward and Elizabeth had “married” in secret, they could never have married properly, even after Lady Eleanor’s death. They could never have had legitimate children together. Had their original ceremony taken place in church, after the banns, this would have been different and all of their sons could have been legitimised.
      Robert II is surely a good case here, as is Pedro.


      1. Canon law. Elizabeth Woodville had been the mistress of a married man and this, together with the secrecy of their “marriage” polluted their relationship in the eyes of the Church.


    2. Not sure that he ‘knew all this perfectly well.’ I think he simply forgot that he had been married to Eleanor. Man can’t be expected to remember everything, can he? Eleanor WHO? 😉


  10. I can’t help but think that Edward IV expected to live at least another 10 years or more and simply assumed that none of this would matter. If Edward V had been 23 instead of 13, then, with Stillington safely dead, the chances of any of this coming out would have been small.

    Edward was careless. There were things he could have done. I suspect the problem with approaching the Pope was that it would have been a big ask for any Pope to dispense bigamy. It would also have been quite embarassing. He could on the other hand have very easily passed a statute entailing the crown on his children. He didn’t even bother to do this.

    On the other hand, if he did *not* marry Eleanor Talbot, he could very easily have got his irregular marriage regularised. It was a relatively simple business, and he had the perfect example before him of his own grandparents, Richard of Conisbrough and Anne Mortimer, who had obtained just such a dispensation. If these were the true circumstances, he was either lazy or plain irresponsible.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Also as we know from Presidents to Prime Ministers to Kings, they grow accustomed to power and the pleasure of abusing it. I’m sure Edward thought he was safe simply because he was king.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Indeed, Maire. And we need to remember that Edward was not head of a ‘democratic’ state with checks and balances. He was a dictator with certain limitations on his power, most of which vanished when he discovered a way to rule without calling Parliaments. It really makes me laugh when people ask why Eleanor did not speak up (if indeed she was married to Edward.) To me it’s obvious why not! I agree we have no ‘proof’ of the marriage, and such ‘proof’ is impossible to obtain, but to discuss the matter one has to make assumptions. And if the Edward/Elizabeth marriage was legit., I do (sorry about harping on the same string) wonder why Edward could not be bothered to regularise it.


    1. Being a wordsmith by trade, I wouldn’t use an epithet like ‘dictator’ which carries a lot of 20th-century baggage . I’d say that Edward was an absolute monarch, as all English monarchs were up to the Commonwealth. But there were checks and balances, and I recommend S.B. Chrimes as excellent reading on this subject (‘English Constitutional Ideas in the 15th Century’). And indeed Cressy’s publication seems a good place to examine the checks and balances applied by God’s (canon) law.

      Also 500 years ago they argued about interpretation of the law just as we still argue today. I personally took a case as far as the ECHR in Strasbourg and the judges were divided 11 votes to 6: that’s quite a difference of opinion among the EU’s top judges. I’m no apologist for Edward IV, but looking at it rationally there is always the possibility that he received conflicting advice and didn’t know which course of action was the right one.

      I agree that ‘proof’ in this case is an impossible criterion to apply. Nor do we have any ‘proof’ that Edward IV ever went through any form of marriage with Elizabeth Woodville (or, it’s alleged, that there was a moon landing in 1969). We just have to piece together evidence, if we can find it, and see how convincing it is.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I thought absolute monarchy is not considered to have existed in England, at least not until the Tudors? The fact that the powerful nobles had standing armies, i.e. the monarch had no absolute control over the military and had to rely on the support of the nobles and maintain their favor, makes it a feudal monarchy rather than an absolute one?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well, you probably know better than I do – I studied history over half a century ago and historians’ ideas are seldom constant. Call it what you will, I think we can agree on the point I was making about the term ‘dictator’.


  12. Edward V was the acknowledged King, the only person that had legal authority over him in family law was the pope, not some subject of his, or his council. Parliament did not have the authority to declare a sitting king a bastard, neither did the royal council, or the Church of England, only the Pope had that authority.

    Show me a papal bull dissolving Edward IV’s marriage with Elizabeth Woodville and I will become a Richardian, but until then I will always consider him a usurper, who has been made to look evil, when he probably wasn’t. He was probably just a man in a corner, who thought the only way out with his life was committing treason against his underage nephew and betraying the memory of his dead brother, a despicable act, but a lot of good men have committed them.


    1. Actually, Edward V was subject to Church law, as was Richard of Gloucester, Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville, and all of England in the 15th century. Civil law (and kingly decree) never trumped Church law…then.

      If you’d care to research medieval Church canon law, you’d find that Richard of Gloucester had *no* authority to dissolve marriages. Neither did Edward IV or his son Edward V…any more than Henry VIII had the authority to dissolve his own marriage *under medieval Church canon law*. This lack of authority and impotence is precisely why Henry VIII broke with Rome and decreed himself to be the head of the Church of England, because the pope refused to dissolve his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. However, as noted in the above article, the Church of England created by Henry VIII in the 16th century preserved the same medieval laws (for laypersons) as were in effect in Richard III’s 15th century.

      Henry *forced* the dissolution of his own marriage to accommodate his adultery with Anne Boleyn. He replaced Church authority with his own authority, but you must note that he and subsequent Tudor rulers left the dissolution of [lesser] marriages to Church of England authority. Again as pointed out in the article above, the medieval marriage/dissolution laws remained unchanged until Stuart times. At that point, the government took on the civil authority to divorce couples, but whatever the legal stance, the Catholic Church *has never* changed its marriage laws; they are in effect and used to this day. You can get a civil divorce, but if you want a Catholic wedding, or to have your marriage blessed, you must obtain an annulment from the Church.

      You’re right: no king’s council had authority to dissolve a marriage; the dissolution of a marriage was a power reserved for the Church, not the government in the 15th century. Given this, please note that this means the Church canon-law experts (i.e., the multiple bishops/archbishops) serving on Edward V’s council *had CHURCH authority* to dissolve a marriage based on the evidence put forward of the marriage’s invalidity. If those canon-law experts on Edward IV’s council — the highest Church authorities in England — had said, “Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was valid,” then Richard of Gloucester would been bound to accept that, and Edward V’s coronation would have gone forward.

      A papal bull and a marriage annulment are two different things. The pope does indeed issue bulls, but bulls are not related in any way to marriage annulments. Even today, Catholic church canon lawyers review annulment applications and grant or refuse annulment requests. The same applied in the medieval/renaissance age — not much has changed.

      By Edward IV’s own choice, his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had been made in secret, outside the Church. This meant the marriage could enjoy *no* protections from the Church, again as outlined in the above article. It all boils down to the evidence and witnesses Stillington presented to the bishops and archbishops.

      If evidence existed that Edward IV had made a previous marriage with Eleanor Butler, then his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was invalid, and the children of the latter marriage were illegitimate. If Edward and Elizabeth had married *in the church* and not in a private ceremony, then the Church would have protected the children of that marriage *if evidence was subsequently put forth that their father had been a bigamist*, and the children would not have been declared illegitimate.

      I’d advise you to take a closer look at medieval canon law and consider that Edward IV himself laid the foundation for the subsequent illegitimacy of his children precisely because he did not obey Church canon law. Civil law could not help Edward IV in 1483, any more than it could help Elizabeth Woodville (who had access to canon-law experts while she was in sanctuary and her marriage was under review), any more than it could help Richard of Gloucester “usurp” the throne.

      There are multiple reasons the Three Estates set aside Edward V and formally asked Richard of Gloucester to assume the throne. It has nothing to do with betrayal…unless you consider that Edward IV betrayed his family by marrying two women and setting the stage for a group of bishops and archbishops to declare Edward’s heir a bastard according to Church law, and therefore unable to inherit anything from his father under civil law. To say, “Richard of Gloucester betrayed his brother and his nephew and usurped the throne” is to simplify a crisis of succession and ignore the tangle of events and the multitude of men in authority and deeply involved at the time.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. My only matter is in matter of Kings the king’s subject do not have jurisdiction only the pope. I can not find one precedent of a local church council dethroning a king by declaring him a bastard. Family matters of kings was the jurisdiction of the pope. Who’s permission did Henry VIII seek to annul his marriage to Catherine, his local archbishop, a local council, no he needed the popes permission, at least until he broke with Rome. Local church councils could only make recommendations to the pope when it came to kings.

        Kings were supposedly divinely ordained, so only the highest church authority, Pope or maybe a general council of the church, could make ruling on him.

        If you want to convince me that I’m wrong show me canon law, or precedent giving a national council jurisdiction over their own king. All clergy in england owed fealty to Edward V, they were not his religious or secular superiors, he was theirs, and the only one who outranked him was the pope. At least from what I understand, of national and church law I am correct.

        I am not the best researcher, far from it, but I have seen no order, decree, ect from the pope declaring Edward V a bastard, therefore he wasn’t. Even if Edward IV was precontracted it doesn’t really matter, because the church acknowledged the marriage as valid when elizabeth woodville was crowned queen, the only one who could undo that was the supreme pontiff.


      2. That is utter denialist nonsense and has no sources. Other European monarchs achieved their marital aims without direct reference to the Pope or his equivalent.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. This is for Jeffrey; I’m not sure I’m replying in the right place.

        Let me take this point by point.

        1. You write, “My only matter is in matter of Kings the king’s subject(s) do not have jurisdiction only the pope.”

        Kings and queens turned to the pope, not because Church code or dogma specified royalty had to seek a dissolution of marriage from the pontiff, but because royal divorces usually involved international politics. (See *Dissolving Royal Marriages: A Documentary History, 860-1600* by David d’Avray for a detailed and authoritative discussion on multiple royal marriages, including Henry and Catherine’s, but not Edward and Elizabeth’s.)

        A king’s desire to end his marriage to a foreign princess often provoked a period of intense political wrangling, as both Church and state struggled to reach a mutually satisfactory outcome. The international aspect of the wrangling meant the pope got involved because, for example, France wouldn’t accept an English convocation deciding the fate of their princess’s marriage, any more than England would accept a French convocation deciding the fate of their king’s marriage. There was also the little matter that a king *had* to have an heir, and a queen who couldn’t provide one was a dynastic problem…and so rulers turned to popes for out of necessity, not out of Church commandment.

        That said, the historical record shows that Henry VIII didn’t immediately contact the pope when he wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon. (More on that below.)
        If a foreign spouse wasn’t involved, matters were often handled locally, as in the case of Louis VII’s marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine being dissolved by a council made up of his own kingdom’s prelates (i.e., French ecclesiastics of a high order – bishops/archbishops).

        Please note two things: (1) Elizabeth Woodville was not a foreign princess; (2) there was no direction in medieval Church canon law that stated a ruler had to seek a divorce from the pope. Medieval politics dictated the pope’s involvement, not canon law.

        2. You write, “If you want to convince me that I’m wrong show me canon law, or precedent giving a national council jurisdiction over their own king.”

        I don’t know what you mean by “national council”, but I just gave you an example of Louis VII subjecting himself to a Church (not a civic) council made up of his own kingdom’s bishops and archbishops when he wanted to divorce his queen.
        As for the Code of Canon Law, it hasn’t changed since the medieval age, and you can access it online through the Vatican archives. The section covering the “Dissolution of the [marriage] Bond” is here:


        You will not find any dictate within Canon Law that any ruler must have the pontiff personally dissolve his marriage. You might also consider that the pope is also known as the Bishop of Rome. Per Church dogma, he derives his authority in a direct line from the apostle Peter, who was given his by Christ; the other bishops and archbishops derive their authority from the same source. The pope is not all-powerful; he shares power with the other bishops/archbishops, and those bishops/archbishops have power and authority to act in their dioceses.

        That said, let’s pretend for a moment that medieval things were as you suggest: the Church dictated that the marriage of a (live or dead king) could only be dissolved by the pope. No exceptions possible, not even for a dynastic emergency such as England faced, when they couldn’t realistically or securely wait months to receive a decision from Rome. (And please keep in mind that the witnesses had to be heard and the testimonies taken in England, where they would still be heard by local English prelates, who would make recommendations and suggestions to the pope.)

        Who, exactly, do you think heard the witnesses brought forth to support or shoot down Stillington’s accusation?

        Per Annette Carson’s *Richard III: The Maligned King* (pg 98-99, 2009 paperback edition), according to J.C. Wedgwood’s register volume of the *History of Parliament*, a full complement of the Three Estates was 32 lords temporal, 66 knights, and 30 ‘others elected’ (commons), and 44 lords spiritual. These members of Parliament had been called to London, first for a Parliament, and then when it was canceled, for the coronation.

        At the time the quasi-Parliament assembly met on 25 June 1483 (likely to debate the constitutional crisis presented by Stillington’s accusation that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was invalid), approximately 44 lords spiritual were ‘well nigh all’ represented.

        Those 44 lords spiritual were bishops and archbishops of England. Among them were canon law experts. If they were bound as servants of Christ to obey canon law – laws they believed were given by Christ himself and whose servant they were – and that law had said, “The pope must be consulted regarding Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville’s marriage,” do you seriously believe that Richard of Gloucester could manipulate, threaten, bribe, cajole, or otherwise influence 44 bishops to ignore canon law (which was to ignore Christ and imperil their immortal souls) at his Machiavellian whim?

        2. You write, “I can not find one precedent of a local church council dethroning a king by declaring him a bastard. Family matters of kings was the jurisdiction of the pope.”

        You are confusing the religious with the secular. The Church did not dethrone kings; it did, on occasion, excommunicate kings, which was a far worse fate.
        Canon (religious) Law very clearly defined who was a bastard and who was not; bishops and archbishops (and popes) upheld, preserved, and enforced the Law.
        Medieval inheritance Law (secular) very clearly dictated that a bastard could not inherit anything from his father – including thrones if the bastard’s father was a king.

        A bastard could, however, go to war and win a kingdom by conquest (see William the Conquerer).

        I can give you an instance where two heirs of a king were declared bastards and unable to inherit their father’s throne by “local church council” (if by this you mean local religious authority), by the head of a church, and by multiple acts of Parliament.

        When Anne Boleyn’s marriage to Henry VIII was declared null and void, both Elizabeth and her half-sister Mary were declared illegitimate by the head of the Church of England and deprived of their places in the line of succession.
        Henry VIII passed three Acts of Succession covering the matter. The First Act made declared Princess Mary (daughter of Catherine of Aragon) a bastard and Elizabeth the rightful heir. (This Act also required all subjects, if commanded, to swear an oath to recognise this Act as well as the King’s supremacy. Anyone who refused to take an oath was subject to a charge of treason.)

        The Second Act was issued after the conviction and execution of Anne Boleyn. It wiped out the First Act, declared Elizabeth a bastard, and removed *both* Mary and Elizabeth from the line of succession. As a result, Henry was left without a legitimate heir until Prince Edward was born in 1537.

        Henry’s Parliament in mid-1543 passed the Third Succession Act. It restored Mary and Elizabeth’s legitimacy and returned them both to the line of succession behind Prince Edward.

        Please note that as far as the original medieval Church was concerned, Elizabeth was always a bastard because Henry never managed to get his marriage to Catherine annulled.

        3. You wrote, “Who’s permission did Henry VIII seek to annul his marriage to Catherine, his local archbishop, a local council, no he needed the popes permission, at least until he broke with Rome. Local church councils could only make recommendations to the pope when it came to kings.”

        I’m afraid you’re mixing canon-law apples with oranges; Henry VIII’s situation was never like Edward IV’s. In Henry VIII’s case, historical events made him turn to *two* popes for assistance, and he ultimately rejected their decrees because he wanted Anne Boleyn so badly. But canon law has never decreed that a royal marriage can only be dissolved by the pope.

        * Medieval politics were set in motion by Henry VII after Prince Arthur died, and Henry VII wanted Prince Henry (later Henry VIII) to marry his brother’s widow – Catherine of Aragon, who was a Spanish princess and not an English subject.

        * Marriage dispensations had to be sought from Rome if a man and a woman were related by affinity or quasi-affinity. This is why there were marriage dispensations for Isabel and George, and for Richard and Anne, among many others.

        * Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon did not apply for a marriage dispensation from Rome as they were not related within the dictated degree of affinity.

        * Medieval canon law forbade a man to marry his brother’s widow (based on a scripture in Leviticus), which meant canon law forbade Prince Henry to marry his brother Arthur’s widow…unless a papal dispensation was granted. (That common, pesky rule about being related by affinity or quasi-affinity was now rearing its head.)

        * Catherine testified in England (likely to the archbishop of Canterbury) that her marriage to Arthur had never been consummated, which meant the marriage was not valid. If the marriage was invalid, Catherine and Prince Henry were not related by affinity or quasi-affinity, and there was nothing to prevent Henry and Catherine from marrying.

        * In the summer of 1503, Henry VII (NOT Henry VIII) sent a request to Rome for a special dispensation that would annul the marriage and allow Prince Henry to marry Catherine.

        * Pope Julius II issued the dispensation, but he did not publish it (i.e., he didn’t issue a papal bull). Catherine’s mother, Queen Isabella, was ill and wanted to see Catherine betrothed to Prince Henry, so she pressured the pope to publish his decision.

        *In 1504, Pope Julius sent a hastily prepared brief to Isabella in Spain. A few months later, he issued a papal (public) bull permitting the marriage between Prince Henry and Catherine. So two papal documents permitted the marriage: one a brief, and one a public bull.

        * Henry VII didn’t let his son marry in his father’s lifetime; Catherine remained in limbo in England for eight years because Henry VII ended up changing his mind about an Anglo-Spanish alliance (via marriage), but at the same time he didn’t want to return Catherine’s dowry to Spain.

        *When the 18-year-old Henry VIII ascended the throne in 1509, he immediately made use of the 1501 papal dispensation (not the bull; they are two separate documents) allowing him to marry his dead brother’s wife.

        * When Henry wanted his marriage to Catherine annulled, he didn’t immediately involve Rome, because there was no need…initially.

        * Henry ran into a brick wall in the form of Catherine of Aragon. First she refused to retract her testimony that her marriage to Arthur had been unconsummated (which would have resulted in the dissolution *by English canon-law authorities* of her marriage to Henry). Next, she refused to take vows and retreat into a holy order (“I will if he will” is her reported answer to the king’s request).

        * Henry VIII secretly arranged for Cardinal Wolsey and Archbishop Warham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to summon Catherine and Henry to an inquiry at which they were asked to defend their marriage. Catherine testified once again that her marriage to Arthur had never been consummated. And so, the English inquiry could do little but find Henry’s marriage to Catherine valid and Henry had to drop his suit for a divorce via English church authority.

        * Catherine backed Henry into a corner: he was left with no choice but to approach Rome. But Rome was never his first or only solution. And what Henry VIII did was innocent or above board, any more than what Edward IV did was innocent or above board. Both men manipulated and then ignored canon law to suit themselves.

        * Henry sent an appeal to Rome/Pope Clement VII via his ambassador, William Knight. Henry did not tell Wolsey he was doing this. (You might note that Wolsey

        * Knight was to ask the pope to grant Henry permission to have two wives simultaneously (i.e., he was asking the pope to give him permission to do what Edward VII did). If the pope refused, then Knight was to get permission (if his marriage to Catherine was declared null) for Henry to marry *any* woman — even one with whom he had contracted an affinity, and even if that affinity were contracted through an illicit union.

        (Oh, what a tangled web we weave….)

        * Wolsey intercepted Knight in France and modified Henry’s request. Knight was to ask for the pope to dissolve Henry’s marriage to Catherine on the grounds that the bull issued by Pope Julius II was obtained under false pretenses. (This is where politics makes its jagged entrance.) Julius had dismissed the affinity impediment on the grounds that Henry and Catherine’s marriage would serve the greater peace of Christendom. Wolsey now suggested (dishonestly?) that no such threat to international relations had existed at the time.

        * Wolsey didn’t mess with Henry’s request to get a dispensation from any affinity (even an affinity contracted through adultery and/or fornication), but the request revealed to Wolsey something he hadn’t known before then: that Henry wanted to set aside Catherine for Anne Boleyn.

        * Henry’s saying, “I want a dispensation to marry anyone, no matter my affinity with them, even if that affinity was established through adultery” reveals his treacherousness and duplicity, much as the revelation of Edward’s secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville revealed his treacherousness and duplicity after his death. Edward married twice in secret, knowing full well that secret marriages were not sanctioned or protected by the church: Henry was seeking permission to do a thing that was not permitted under Church law to *any* member of the Church — kings included.

        * Henry’s wanted to put away his first wife based on the argument that it was forbidden by Leviticus. At the same time, he was seeking permission from the pope to contract a marriage that would have been forbidden by the same passage. Henry had fornicated/committed adultery with Anne’s older sister, Mary Boleyn, and was now seeking permission to marry Anne.

        * Henry was being candid about his adultery…but he was also requesting that Clement declare that Julius should not have granted the same kind of dispensation Henry now wanted from Clement.

        4. You wrote, “Clergy in england owed fealty to Edward V, they were not his religious or secular superiors, he was theirs, and the only one who outranked him was the pope. At least from what I understand, of national and church law I am correct.”

        Clergy swore fealty to *no man*. They were bound to Christ. As far as any medieval was concerned, Christ was Edward V’s superior – not any man, and certainly not the pope.

        The clergy and the king were bound first to Canon Law, then to civil (king’s) law, but God trumped man, even if the man were a king. (Why do you think bishops and archbishops got away with committing treason and weren’t severely punished before the Tudors came on the scene? They had to be turned over to *God* in the form of a Church tribunal; not even a king was allowed to execute a man of God.)
        The king himself vowed to *serve God* first, then to be a steward over the land (which was also God’s), and then to serve his people. This is akin to a knight who swore fealty first to serve God, then to serve his king, and then to serve his family.

        5. I am not the best researcher, far from it, but I have seen no order, decree, ect from the pope declaring Edward V a bastard, therefore he wasn’t.

        You have seen no order or bull from the pope that declared Edward V a bastard *because one wasn’t needed*. The reason Edward V was declared a bastard is because a group of qualified bishops and archbishops:

        * Were confronted with a dynastic/constitutional crisis via Robert Stillington’s accusation that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was invalid;

        * Had the power and authority in England (invested in them by the medieval Church) to listen to the witnesses summoned, consider the evidence presented, and rule (using canon law as their one and only guide/consideration) as to whether Stillington’s accusation was justified.

        * Discussed and debated and could easily have ruled Edward IV and Elizabeth’s marriage *was* valid…if evidence hadn’t existed the marriage was invalid

        * The issue wasn’t, “Let’s declare Edward V a bastard so Richard of Gloucester can have the throne.” The issue was, “Was the late King Edward IV already married to one woman when he married another?” The issue was, “Did Edward IV violate *Church canon law against polygamy* (which is still in the Vatican Canon Law record cited above, if you’d care to look)?

        * IF Edward IV was a bigamist, THEN his marriage to EW was invalid because a man can only be married to one living woman at a time. THEN Canon Law (not Richard of Gloucester, not the pope, not Stillington, not any of the bishops or archbishops who sat on that council) dictated that the children of the invalid marriage were illegitimate.

        This isn’t some rule Richard or anyone else pulled out of the air to accommodate a “usurpation”. This is a decision that was made per Church law that was based on Judaic law and the recorded words of Christ.

        6. Even if Edward IV was precontracted it doesn’t really matter, because the church acknowledged the marriage as valid when elizabeth woodville was crowned *queen, the only one who could undo that was the supreme pontiff.

        Please try to understand this: in that age, medieval Church law trumped civil law. The Church *took it for granted* (it did not “acknowledge”) the marriage as valid, regardless the marriage been made in secret *because the Church had no evidence at the time that Edward IV had been previously married to another woman, and Edward IV and Eleanor Butler/her family kept their mouths shut.

        EW being crowned queen has nothing to do with the validity or non-validity of her marriage to E4.

        The accusation of a precontracted marriage mattered in 1483 to the ~44 lords spiritual. It also mattered to the lords temporal, the knights, and the commons. The evidence presented mattered. Without the evidence, there would have been only a false accusation, and Edward V would have been crowned.

        The precontracted marriage mattered to Elizabeth Woodville and to her children fathered by Edward IV. I say again that she had every opportunity to consult her own canon-law experts in Westminster where she was in sanctuary, every opportunity to present her own evidence and save her children from being declared bastards if her marriage to Edward had been valid. The fact that Elizabeth made no effort to defend her marriage against Stillington’s accusation is perhaps the loudest witness of all to Edward IV’s bigamy.

        Liked by 4 people

  13. I actually came to this site to be convinced that Richard was the lawful king, because I have always be sympathetic to Richard, the loyal brother who was supposedly a horrible villain, who brought about the usurpation of Henry VII. There were some fair points, but the more I researched, when I was proven partially wrong, the more I realized that the case against Richard was clear and convincing.

    1) Richard III was the true king of england when he died.
    a. It is indisputable once his nephews died, that he was king.
    b. He was anointed King.

    2) Edward V was the undisputed King, before the claim on his father’s bigamy.
    a. Richard on multiple occasions swore to uphold his nephew’s succession, and broke that oath.
    b. Parliament did not have the authority to dethrone a King, there was no precedent in law. They had the right to deprive an heir apparent or heir presumptive, but not of someone who had already inherited the throne.
    c. If the bigamy charge was ruled true be the church, Richard had the right to seize the Crown, not have it bestowed on him, if he was released from his oaths by the church.

    3) The Bigamy charge was never ruled upon by the church.
    a. the proper jurisdiction to make a ruling was the Commissary Court of Diocese of Canterbury, not the Great Council, even though many of the same actors would be the judges, they acted in their capacity as Lords Spiritual of the Realm and not ordinaries of the universal church.
    b. Even if the Commissary Court would of ruled that it was bigamy, which I doubt, not because the charge was untrue, but because the burden is to prove that there was a defect in the marriage, and one witness was almost never accepted., Edward V had every right to appeal to the pope on the matter.

    4) Richard was responsible for the death of his nephews, he was their guardian their sworn protector, and the died. The only question is the degree of culpability from negligent homicide to premeditated murder.
    b. This does not really matter in succession unless he was attainted before the murders. He was the indisputably at least the clear heir presumptive of Richard of Shrewsberry.

    I actually think it was probably an overzealous member of Richard’s affinity that killed the young king and his brother, but I can think of a good reason for Richard to have ordered it, which goes to the argument he would of had to been stupid to kill his nephews. Edward V was a deposed king, with a highly debatable instrument giving legitimacy to his Uncle. He was also the son of a highly popular warrior king. If he reached the age of majority there would most likely be rebellion led by Edward V, which might of garnered a a lot of support. Even if Edward himself did not lead a rebellion, if he begot heirs male, the throne would most likely be in dispute between Edward V’s heirs, and Richard III’s heirs, possibly causing another long term dynastic dispute. What if Richard III, believing and being in a strong position, thought he would cause a short term instability that he thought he could win, by disposing of his rivals, to achieve long term dynastic stability? You could even argue he seized the throne and sacrificed his personal honor, to create stability from a minority rule with a disputed protectorate which could of led to civil war.

    Well this is probably the last time I will post here. Even though I didn’t achieve my initial objective of becoming a Richardian, the research I did because of the responses to my post did help me cement my views on this time in history. Which are Richard III was an ambitious man that when trying to secure his righful protectorship, ran into problems with his nephews maternal relatives, and after executing his young King’s half brother and uncle legally probably, probably had a hostile king, and didn’t like his future prospect so moved to seize the throne. His grounds of bigamy of his brother, which could of been true, were not properly litigated under canon law, probably couldn’t of been proven to satisfaction of a court. So Richard, initially usurped the throne, but became the lawful king on the death of his nephews, and probably would of been a pretty good king, maybe even a great one, if he hadn’t been usurped himself by Henry VII, but karma you know is sometimes a bitch.


    1. (This comment should follow the next one – WordPress is dumb!) Plus even if you follow the view that he did the deed, if you think he was not the wholly evil person the Tudors portrayed, and had some positive qualities and good reasons for his actions, you can still be a Ricardian. All Ricardians have slightly differing theories.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Actually, I think “Jeffery” is the most entertaining troll we have come across for a while, since “david” invented a Latin word for childhood, described a dead Queen addressing Parliament and an unborn Bishop witnessing a letter.
        First, he claimed that only a Pope can pronounce on the marriage of a King but then we produced several counter-examples.
        Then, he claimed that Parliament cannot pronounce on claims to the throne, but it did in 1327, 1399 and 1460. After all, More (a lawyer) told Rich that Parliament could make anyone King.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. “Parliament did not have the authority to dethrone a King, there was no precedent in law. ”

      Except it had done that already two times – with Edward II and Richard II – and would go on to do it again long after Richard’s time.

      Ironically, Thomas More was one of those who disagreed with you:

      ” Sir Thomas was also examined at other times by the Lord Chancellor, Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, Mr. Secretary, and others of the Privy-Council, who press’d him, with all the Arguments they could think of, to own the King’s Supremacy in direct and open Terms, or plainly to deny it; but he being loth to aggravate the King’s Displeasure, would say no more than that the Statute was like a two-edged Sword, for if he spoke against it, he should be the Cause of the Death of his Bo­d ; and if he assented to it, he should purchase the Death of his Soul. Those Examinations being over, Richard Rich, newly made Sollicitor Ge­neral, and afterwards Lord Rich, with Sir Ri­chard Southwell, and Mr. Palmer, Secretary Crom­well’s Man, were sent by the King to take away his Books. Rich pretending Friendship to him, and protesting he had no Commission to talk with him about the former Affair of the Supremacy, he put a Case to him thus: If it were enacted by Par­liament that Richard Rich should be King, and that it should be Treason in any body to deny it, what Offence it were to contravene that Act? Sir Thomas Moore answered, That he should offend if he said so, because he was bound by the Act; but, that this was casus levis. Whereupon Sir Tho­mas said, he would propose a higher Case: Sup­pose it were enacted by Parliament, Quod Deus non sit Deus, and that it were Treason to contra­vene, whether it were not an Offence to say it according to the said Act,? Rich reply’d, yea; but said withal, I will propose a middle Case, be­cause this is too high: The King, you know, is constituted supreme Head of the Church upon Earth; why should not you, Master More, accept him for such? as you would me, if I were made King by the aforesaid Supposition. More answered, the Case was not the same, because, said he, a Parliament can make a King, and depose him; and that every Parliament Man may give his Consent hereunto, but that a Subject cannot be bound so in the Case of Supremacy.”

      Out of curiosity, Jeffrey, do you think that all monarchs of England and Scotland since 1688 have been usurpers? You should, if you are consistent in your views.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sorry, I felt I had to reply to this one. The constitutional framework of Britain and it’s English predecessor is sovereignty is possessed by King in Parliament. That has only been violated twice the commonwealth and Edward V, all other monarch’s deposed by parliament were abdication if only legally fictive ones. Edward II abdicated, Richard II abdicated, heck even James II abdicated according to parliament, even though that is mostly a convenient fiction.

        The King in Parliament may decide dynastic rights, not parliament decide the king’s fitness to reign. All other cases except Edward V that were “deposed” by parliament there was a abdication, or at least a fictive abdication.

        To answer your question, no, i do not think the modern monarchy is a usurper. Even though technically, there is an argument to that effect and even a stronger argument if you talk about Scotland alone.


      2. Frankly, I don’t know why you bothered as you haven’t a clue.

        Only 23 years earlier, Parliament confirmed the Duke of York, who was the dynastic heir of Richard II, as Henry VI’s heir, although the latter’s wife would have much preferred her son to continue in that position. The Duke claimed the throne in Parliament.

        Every point you make has been rebutted so I suggest you keep your promise not to contribute again.


  14. I don’t know what research you have done, but it seems to be selective. Can you quote your sources? Plus, you are making a lot of assumptions. The main one being point 4 – there is not one shred of proof that they died then. Although your opinion of the motives of Richard could be right, that is only one explanation. If he disposed of them, he would have displayed their bodies, otherwise anyone could lead a rebellion claiming to be them – killing them and then keeping it secret doesn’t make sense, and Richard was always sensible. Plus it contradicts his character up ’til then. He was an upholder of the Law and honour and what he is accused of flies in the face of this. He never executed women or clerics,even when they were proven treacherous. What makes you think he would do away with two innocent children, his own beloved brother’s children?

    The matter of the oath is irrelevant if Richard did not know about the pre-contract at the time, because supposing it was true, Edward was the legal heir. Yes, he had been acclaimed as king, but he was never annointed, was he which is a big difference. Lady Jane Grey was also acclaimed Queen, but deposed, so this could obviously happen in special circumstances. In fact, Richard could be thought to be acting honourably because a bastard could not inherit so Richard was then duty bound to take the throne.

    You say he was ambitious, but he had been quite content as Lord of the North and hardly ever visited Court. If he was that ambitious surely he would have wanted to be where the power was, just as ‘wannabes’ of today move in the circles in which they want to rise.

    How do you know there was only one witness to the bigamous marriage? Many of Eleanor’s relatives were alive and may have had evidence, but we can’t know this one way or the other – we can only go by the fact that it was accepted by the Three estates and later, Parliament at the time.

    Elizabeth Woodville never appealed to the Pope – she was the one involved as it was her ‘marriage’ in question, so up to her to appeal. That should tell you something.

    Regarding Parliament’s ability to dethrone a king and precedents, why does there have to be one? This was a unique situation and so can’t and couldn’t possibly have a ‘precedent’. They had been able to decide that Richard of York couldn’t be king, but could be heir to Henry VI, that Henry Bolingbroke could be king, etc so I am sure they could decide in this case; the Pope is neither her nor there and couldn’t decide on such matters as succession.

    Most of your arguments are based on assumptions. The point is we don’t know Richard’s thoughts, or the exact way events proceeded, but I, for one, would rather err on the side of Richard being presumed innocent – that is the only fair judgement, without the evidence. I suggest that, if you haven’t read it, you look at the works of Annette Carson, e.g, The Maligned King. She is both well-researched and sensible.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Interesting comment about succession in Tudor times in an article in History Today. Leading courtiers apparently talked of Edmund de la Pole or the Duke of Buckingham as Henry VII’s successor ‘but none of them…spake of my lord prince’ (Henry VIII). So it seems in many cases it was not as cut and dried as one might think.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. The problem with this article is that it provides lots of detail about the law and the information that it had not changed between 1483 and the Stuarts. It then begs the question on the subject of Edward IV’s earlier marriage. Perhaps a better title would have been ‘If Edward and Eleanor’s marriage did occur AND if there had been evidence of it AND the evidence had been presented to a canon court, the court may well have pronounced his marriage to Edward invalid.

    We do have some indication of the nature of the evidence produced on the fact of the pre-contract. Commynes wrote that the bishop of Bath claimed to have married them in private, when only the three were present. No witness was produced and no other evidence was presented.

    The argument that Parliament had the right through precedence to overthrow a king does not apply. The body of people who deposed Edward V was not a parliament – evidence for the doubts about its legality can be found in the preamble to Titulus Regius, passed in 1484.


    1. The Three Estates comprised the same men as as would a Parliament but could not be called such until there was a crowned monarch. When they had, on the evidence of a witness to Edward’s marriage, petitioned someone to become King, he called a Parliament and it largely consisted of the same men. They passed Titulus Regius to confirm their earlier petition.

      The quasi-Parliament freely attested to their belief in the marriage, based on their knowledge of Edward IV as well as Stillington’s testimony. QED.

      Liked by 2 people

  17. http://thehistoryjar.com/2016/01/22/drat-the-wrong-duke-in-yesterdays-post/


    I know that Dan Jones has merrily set us all off again, and has this bad habit of being selectively inclusive when it suits his purpose! its been a while since Richardian FB sites have been as pro-active active or as pragmatically ordinary. I myself felt a degree of pleasure upon doing once again a link to an online petition for a York statue to RIII when i saw the very same link being repeated by the admin person of a well known RIII site! I likewise notice that Dan Jones sidestepped Titulus Regius last nite, even while rapping RIII on the knuckles for the way he worded himself when stepping up to the throne. —– We all don’t have to 100% agree with J.A-H’s prose as in always, but respect the man for his diligence and attention to detail! He sometimes spots things others don’t! the 1/21/16 TheHistoryJar blogging namedrops Warwick as in Warwick the Kingmaker… there is a blood connect. J.A-H perhpas has read the situation correctly. This suggests there is more to the story than Richard’s brother George being deceitful, fickle and feckless, even if Warwick the Kingmaker and/or Clarence are not sources for Bishop Stillington and what he said in 1483 to everybody!!!


  18. merlynmcleod Your article is excellent but I wonder if you could clarify “ecclesiastical court”. You mention that canon law would have bastardised his children and canon lawyers had the final say. Were the lords spiritual empowered to declare a marriage null and void ? If this is the case then why do I endlessly hear that the decision was not ruled on by an ecclesiastical court and even that Richard prevented a referral because he knew it would not hold water in said court?
    I am sorry if this is a late addition to this post but I would like clarification. Who ultimately decides?



    1. > I wonder if you could clarify “ecclesiastical court”.

      1. An “ecclesiastical court” (aka court Christian or court spiritual) was a medieval Church court that had jurisdiction over spiritual or religious matters. For more information on the court, see:

      a. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecclesiastical_court
      b. https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=5231

      …or just google for “medieval ecclesiastical court”.

      In the case of Edward IV’s marriage, the bishop of the Westminster diocese would have had the authority to appoint an ecclesiastical court, because every bishop had had the right to judge Church matters in his diocese. Since the matter of Edward IV’s marriage was a serious one, the bishop would have appointed five men who were experts on Church canon law (which, at the time, consisted of 1,483 years of accumulated catechism, Tradition, and scripture).

      2. In the medieval age, the Church (think priests and bishops) handled all marriage/divorce issues because marriage was one of the seven Church sacraments. (Not much has changed in the 500+ years since. The Catholic church still has the same canon laws, and still strongly encourages marriage in the church. Bishops still appoint ecclesiastical courts with canon experts to oversee marriage dissolution petitions.)

      > You mention that canon law would have bastardised his children and canon lawyers had the final say. Were the lords spiritual empowered to declare a marriage null and void?

      Yes. Because if some or all of the lords spiritual (bishops and archbishops) were canon-law experts empowered (i.e., selected to form an ecclesiastical court) by the bishop of the diocese of Westminster (who was the spiritual authority over Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville), they then were empowered to declare Edward IV’s (and any other marriage, for that matter) null and void.

      We know of three lords spiritual (i.e., bishops and archbishops) who had served on E4’s King’s Council and might have been serving on E5’s King’s Council at the time Stillington raised the issue of E4’s precontract to Eleanor Butler. There may have been others. The ones listed by J R Lander, in “Council, Administration and Councillors, 1461 to 1485,” Historical Research, 32; 138-180 (1959) are:

      1. John Alcock, bishop of Rochester (1472-); Worcester (1476-); Ely (1486-1500). Died 1 Oct 1500. First mentioned as being on the King’s Council on 7 Sep 1469.

      2. Richard Bell, prior of Durham (1464-); bishop of Carlisle (1478-96). Died 1496. First mentioned as being on the King’s Council on 26 Aug 1471.

      3. Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury (1454-86). Died 30 Mar 1486.

      There may have been others.

      If the bishops/archbishops on the King’s Council were not canon experts, there were others at hand at Westminster Abbey and likely elsewhere in London whom the Bishop of Westminster (and the King’s Council) could appoint to hear Stillington’s evidence.

      In a non-crisis time, an ecclesiastical council appointed by the bishop of the diocese would have heard the evidence of the invalidity of E4’s marriage and had the final say. The matter of legitimacy/illegitimacy of Edward IV’s sons became a crisis of accession as soon as it was brought to Edward V’s [King’s] Council. Canon-law experts were either serving on E5’s council, or they were only a few feet away at Westminster Abbey.

      The right thing to do by canon law was for E5’s lords spiritual to have consulted with the Bishop of Westminster. He would have called (or approved) an ecclesiastical court which met alongside E5’s council to hear Stillington’s evidence/witness(es). Remember the four- or five-hour private council meeting during which “the queen wasn’t consulted”? If she wasn’t consulted (didn’t give testimony), it may have been because she had no evidence to present which legitimized her marriage to E4, or which would have proven her children were legitimate under canon law.

      We’re missing so many official records from this time, the absence of evidence doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. If you know canon law, all it would take is for the Bishop of Westminster to assist the Council in forming an ecclesiastical court to deal immediately with the crisis of legitimacy/accession to the throne.

      > If this is the case then why do I endlessly hear that the decision was not ruled on by an ecclesiastical court

      Because there are no surviving official documents stating that an ecclesiastical court was formed by the Bishop of Westminster, and that it met, heard evidence, debated, and then proclaimed E4’s marriage to EW to be invalid according to Church canon law.

      > …and even that Richard prevented a referral because he knew it would not hold water in said court?

      I don’t know why people say this. The King’s Council at the time was Edward V’s Council, not Richard’s. The Duke of Gloucester had no power to prevent the lords spiritual or the lords temporal (neither those serving on E5’s Council, or those in London who participated in the quasi-Parliament that decided to offer Richard the crown) from handing the entire matter over to the Bishop of Westminster, who would have been the absolute ecclesiastical authority for this matter.

      In Richard’s day (and far beyond), all spiritual matters (including marriages) were handled by the Church. No one in a temporal position (including the Lord Protector/Constable of England/Duke of Gloucester) could override the medieval Church’s authority. E5’s Council could not rule on the validity of any marriage. Spiritual matters were solely the Church’s domain of power.

      I think if those saying “Richard prevented a referral” understood medieval Church law, they’d know how impossible it would be for Richard (or anyone else) to strong-arm the bishops and archbishops serving on E4’s/E5’s council into casting aside E4’s children without an ecclesiastical ruling, and making Richard king. What in the world do they think Richard threatened or held over the heads of the ecclesiastics who were in secular as well as spiritual power — and not just on E4/5’s council — at the time?

      > Who ultimately decides?

      The Church, via an ecclesiastical council hearing and declaration, had exclusive power to decide whether a marriage — any marriage — was valid or invalid. That power could not be challenged…as Henry VIII himself found out a few decades later.

      To get rid of his first wife and marry Anne Boleyn, Henry had to rebel and break away from [the power of] the Church and start his own church. By the medieval Church’s standards, Henry started a new religion to accommodate his adultery. Ironically, Henry and the rest of the Tudors kept intact medieval Church canon law regarding birth, marriage, and death.

      Liked by 2 people

  19. The ‘Act of Union’ was part of the intensification of the sovereignty of the crown – the essence of what Geoffrey Elton described as ‘the Tudor Revolution’. An even more central part of that revolution was Henry VIII’s abolition of the authority of the Pope within his territories, for, in doing so, the king was declaring that his kingdom was a totally sovereign state.


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