Over the years there has been lots of fiction written about Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville and of course Richard III. However, there is one one figure in their story who often gets a mention, but is rarely portrayed as a living person, with the events long after her death in 1468 taking the forefront instead. This, of course, is Eleanor Boteler, or more correctly, Eleanor Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury. Possibly the only novel in which Eleanor has played a major role is John Crowne’s THE MISERY OF CIVIL WAR, which first appeared in 1680! (In this work, very strangely, Eleanor dies at Edward’s hands at Barnet, after first cursing him!)
In SECRET MARRIAGES, a new short novel, Eleanor takes the forefront through most of the book, although some chapters are from Edward’s point of view and still others from Elizabeth Woodville’s. Amongst other things, the novel covers Eleanor’s heritage, which has been rather ignored by certain ‘historians’, many novelists and the general public (when the latter know about her at all). I recall one blogpost where someone stated ‘Ricardians say she was the daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury’. Well, ‘Ricardians’ don’t ‘say’ anything–for that is exactly who she was without question! And her ancestry is far more complex than just being the Earl’s daughter–few seem aware, in fiction or otherwise, that Warwick was her uncle by marriage, and Anne and Isabel, his daughters, her cousins. Eleanor’s mother was Margaret Beauchamp, half-sister to Warwick’s wife, Anne Beauchamp. She also had distant royal descent–certainly not a ‘nobody’ as some have tried to make her.
She had living relatives of high status too. Her sister, to whom she seemed close, was none other than Elizabeth, the Duchess of Norfolk, mother of Anne Mowbray, who was married as a child to Richard of Shrewsbury, the younger of the ‘Princes in the Tower,’ but died at a young age. (Her coffin was found in the 60’s in a demolition site which stood on top of the medieval remnants of the Poor Clare’s convent. Interestingly, this was not Anne’s original burial site; she’d been interred in Westminster Abbey, but good old Henry VII had shunted her body out to the nuns when he pulled down St Erasmus’ chapel to build his own chapel.) Anyway, Duchess Elizabeth attended the Coronation of Richard III, and there was no protest from her or her family that Eleanor had been ‘slandered’ or the story ‘made up.’.
SECRET MARRIAGES also tries to give a picture of where, with the the scanty surviving evidence as teased out by the late Dr John Ashdown-Hill, Eleanor may have lived and where the marriage with Edward may have taken place (thought to be sometime around June 1461). One likely candidate is scenic Burton Dassett in Warwickshire, with its fine church filled by interesting medieval carvings. The story goes on to show Eleanor’s patronage of Corpus Christi College in Cambridge (a carving of a Talbot hound still adorns the buildings) and attempts to recreate the bustle of medieval Norwich and the House of the Carmelites where she was laid to rest, now sadly destroyed save for a ruined archway, although the magnificent and perhaps unique entrance portal still survives, although not in situ, inside the Courts of Justice across the river.
Hopefully, SECRET MARRIAGES, can bring Eleanor Talbot a little more into the light–the Queen who might have been. And for the naysayers about Edward’s first marriage, look at Edward IV’s history with Elizabeth Woodville–he kept that marriage secret for months after it took place. Do you really think he might not have done the same thing before?