An enquiry

Today in 1461, Lady Eleanor Talbot married Edward IV, either on her Warwickshire lands or in Norfolk. As Ashdown-Hill has shown, she was older than Edward, a widow, from a Lancastrian background and the ceremony took place in secret during the spring, five factors that also apply to Edward’s bigamous marriage almost three years later.

It has been suggested that the marriage may have required a dispensation because the bride’s father (John, Earl of Shrewsbury) was the godfather of the groom’s sister (Elizabeth of Suffolk), a relationship that might fall under the doctrine of affinity. This would not have been possible for a secret ceremony of which only Lady Eleanor, Edward and (possibly) Canon Stillington knew at the time.

However, Barnfield has conclusively shown that, although Shrewsbury became part of Elizabeth’s family through this connection and she of his, his family and hers did not merge as a whole. Their nearest common royal ancestor was still Edward I (p.21, Eleanor). In other words, affinity does not beget affinity.

Eleanor, as the Earl of Shrewsbury’s daughter, was a person of some distinction in fifteenth century, for Shrewsbury had been a famous and much-admired warrior, whose reputation was about as high as a reputation could be. Moreover, quite apart from any personal charms she may have had, she was a well-connected lady who was, among other things, first cousin to the Duke of Somerset, whom Edward was trying to conciliate. It is quite possible that Edward saw this as a “marriage of the roses”, intended to take the wind out of certain hostile sails.

It is equally possible that Edward simply could not resist this attractive widow and discovered – as she had a strong reputation for piety – that the only way to get into her bed was to go through a form of marriage with her.

Many people discount the possibility that Edward married Eleanor, and cling to the view that it was something Richard III dreamed up one afternoon in his spare time. The problem with secret marriages (and this is why the Church deplored them) was that by their very nature there was no certain proof. There might or might not be witnesses, but if there were they would certainly have been few in number. It must be appreciated that for even the most formal marriages, celebrated in church, no written record, no certificate was kept. The only “proof” was the word of the parties concerned and of those who witnessed the event.

However, sufficient proofs were submitted to persuade Parliament that the event took place. What proofs these were we can never know, but just because no written evidence is extant, we should not assume that it never existed.


By super blue

Grandson of a Town player.


  1. As stated above:

    “However, sufficient proofs were submitted to persuade Parliament that the event took place. What proofs these were we can never know, but just because no written evidence is extant, we should not assume that it never existed.”

    Parliament was dominated by lords with large followings of armed men. They did not have to accept meekly whatever they were told. For example, in 1460 they rejected Richard, Duke of York’s claim to the throne.

    It *could* be that Richard III dreamed all this up over a weekend, got some clerk to put it in writing, and that the movers and shakers then said “OK, Dick, anything for a quiet life.” I would suggest this is not a very likely scenario in political terms, given that Richard did not have some vast army camped outside to intimidate them. But the truth is, no one knows for sure. It comes down to what you think is probable.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. However, we do have evidence that no evidence was presented. Commynes writes around 10 years after the event that the Bishop of Bath and Wells claimed to have married the couple when no other witnesses were present and that no evidence was presented. At the time of the events 1483 he was a member of the French royal council. He also met the men who had joined Henry Tudor, because he records a conversation with him shortly before they set of from Normandy. So to assume that evidence must have existed is to contradict the only source we have.

    I too, think it is unlikely that Richard could have thought up such a story in such a short time. But Stillington is more likely to have been planning his revenge on Edward IV for any some time and may have offered to use the story previously.


    1. On the contrary, we have evidence that there was evidence and a copy was sent to the near continent. The destruction of Titulus Regius and More’s subsequent attempt to substitute a different lady would have no purpose were the Act not reinforced by copious evidence enough to satisfy those who knew Edward IV’s behaviour. Were it not for the additional witnesses on the second occasion, Edward would have pretended to marry Bona of Savoy as well. Lady Eleanor’s suspicious death and the execution of her sister’s servants have no other explanation either

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am not certain that murder too place at every turn. Lady Eleanor could well have died naturally and if anyone was to be murdered it was probably Stillington!!! There WERE witnesses presented to the council but what they said would never be allowed to survive


  4. I’m not sure evidence was submitted to Parliament (1484). To the lords, etc. in London in June/July 1483-almost certainly.

    But-the evidence was sufficient to convince Stillington, who, despite post-Bosworth and post-Stoke imprisonment, never recanted the story. It may not, however, have looked very convincing to others; which may explain why no “hearings” were held; or presentations not made.


    1. That is because the 1484 Parliament comprised the same people as the 1483 Three Estates – those who had been invited to the postponed 1483 Parliament. They had seen and heard the evidence already.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. If we back up to 1478, we will also notice that no proof or evidence of George, duke of Clarence’s treasonous acts, were preserved in the record of parliament. The trial was never enrolled. All we have is the Crown’s indictment listing the specific charges (also not enrolled), and the Crowland Chronicler’s account wherein he states that “no one argued against the duke except the king; no one answered the king except the duke. Some persons, however, were introduced concerning whom many people wondered whether they performed the offices of accusers or witnesses. It is not really fitting that both offices should be held at the same time, by the same persons, in the same case. The duke swept aside all charges with a disclaimer offering . . . personal combat.” Regardless of these apparent defects in proof, the Crowland Chronicler says: “Those in Parliament, believing the information they had heard to be well-founded, formally condemned him; the sentence was pronounced by Buckingham, newly created Steward of England for the accusation.”

    None of us today know who those witnesses were (aside from the king and the duke) nor what supporting evidence they produced. So we have absolutely no way of weighing the quality or credibility of the witnesses or the evidence presented to substantiate the charges, which alleged some very detailed facts about what had happened in the 1470 “re-adeption” parliament (for which no records exist either, and were probably destroyed) and that Clarence had conspired to send his heir abroad and substitute another false child. What we do have is the verdict declaring him guilty of high treason, the notoriety of Clarence’s actions in 1469-70, and the actions of his servants in abducting and subjecting Ankerette Twynho to a judicial execution in 1477. (I would comment that her judicial execution is probably not an act of high treason under the Great Treason Act of 1352, but treason law had evolved to encompass such actions a hundred years later. But we still don’t know if anyone in Parliament heard or believed that that evidence amounted to high treason in and of itself.)

    R. H. Helmholz, in his article “The Sons of Edward IV: A Canonical Assessment of the Claim that they were Illegitimate” points out that the charge in June, 1483, stated a legitimate basis to declare Edward IV’s sons illegitimate under canon law. As in 1478, the Crowland Chronicler observes: “It was put forward, by means of a supplication contained in a certain parchment roll, that King Edward’s sons were bastards, by submitting that he had been precontracted to a certain Lady Eleanor Boteler before he married Queen Elizabeth and, further, that the blood of his other brother, George, duke of Clarence, had been attainted so that, at the time, no certain and uncorrupt blood of the lineage of Richard, duke of York, was to be found except in the person of the said Richard, duke of Gloucester. At the end of this roll, therefore, on behalf of the lords and commonalty of the kingdom, he was besought to assume his lawful rights.” Dominic Mancini, who was living in London at the time, wrote a similar account.

    What we lack today in assessing the weight and credibility of that charge, is similar to what we lack in the 1478 treason indictment and trial against Clarence. We probably lack much the same in other major transitional events in English history.


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