What is one of the first things we say on seeing a new baby? Something along the lines of how much the new arrival takes after his/her father/mother/uncle/aunt/grandfather etc. etc. For those of us with a great interest in history, it is almost irresistible to compare various historical figures in the same way. For instance, we think of Edward IV, 6’ 4”, handsome, glamorous and so on. Then we think of his grandson, Henry VIII, who was much the same. And the looks of both deteriorated abysmally as they aged. Birds of a feather.
I won’t even mention Henry VII and his mother, Margaret Beaufort, who were completely interchangeable!
The very proper Lady Eleanor Talbot was a well-connected widow for whom it seems the young King Edward IV fell so heavily that he was prepared to promise marriage in order to get her into his bed. It was the only way he’d have his wicked way. But when he consummated this promise, he made it a marriage in fact. Edward must have thought he had this inconvenience covered. His vows with Eleanor were exchanged in secret, and the whole clandestine marriage was kept under wraps afterward. Then he fell for another attractive widow, Elizabeth Woodville, who, the legend goes, waylaid him on the highway, wearing black, her arms around her fatherless sons. She would not give him what he wanted either, unless he married her. Aha, the incorrigible Edward no doubt thought, I’ll pull the same trick as before. This time, however, he chose the wrong lady. Elizabeth Woodville and her large family were a whole new ball game, as the saying goes.
Edward came clean about this dubious marriage, probably to spite the Earl of Warwick (the Kingmaker). Eleanor, the injured wife, said nothing, even though she lived on for four years after this unlawful second marriage. Elizabeth Woodville was never any more than Edward’s mistress, and all her children by him were illegitimate. The rest, they say, became England’s history.
I was asked to take two portraits—apparently reliable likenesses created by modern science—of two particular medieval ladies, Eleanor Talbot and her niece, Anne Mowbray (see The Mythology of the “Princes in the Tower”, figs. 5-6)—to see if such a swap-over brought out any family likeness. Well, this particular tweaking was beyond my capabilities because the angles of the faces were too different. So my next thought was to see if these ladies bore any likeness to other members of their families. By examining their families, I mean parents and grandparents. If I try to go further, far too many of England’s aristocratic lines will be drawn into the equation. And what with there being so many remarriages and half-families, it can very quickly get out of hand.
I am very conscious, too, that all of these people can only be assessed from contemporary descriptions, tomb effigies, portraits or drawings. The first portrait of a king of England that is known to be a true likeness, is that of Richard II in Westminster Abbey. We know it’s accurate because he wanted it to be, and approved the result, complete with those strange, heavy-lidded eyes. Richard’s tomb effigy is therefore accurate as well, because the same features are there.
The Westminster Abbey effigy of his grandfather, Edward III, was clearly taken from a death mask, and shows his mouth with the droop that indicates a stroke. Accuracy, it seems. But what of Edward III’s eldest son, Richard II’s father, Edward of Woodstock, known to history as the Black Prince? Well, we have his effigy in Canterbury Cathedral, but it seems stylised. . .except, perhaps for the same heavy-lidded eyes? Or am I seeing something that isn’t actually there? Edward III does not seem to have resembled his grandson at all.
But these are royalty, with a capital R. Just how much accuracy was involved amid the nobility in general is impossible to assess. However, being a game lass, I’m prepared to have a go at detecting the all-important family likeness when it comes to Eleanor and Anne Mowbray, and Elizabeth Talbot, Eleanor’s full sister and Anne’s mother.
Let us discuss what is known of Eleanor and Elizabeth’s appearance. Eleanor appears to have been striking, with a large nose, longish face, slanting eyes and small chin. She has been given almost black hair and eyebrows. To me, Elizabeth has the same shape of face as Eleanor. Her portrait is from a medieval stained glass window, but there is, of course, no way of knowing if the creator of that window was attempting to produce a true likeness. The long face appears in turn to have been inherited from their father, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. His tomb effigy, although damaged, seems to depict the same facial structure as Eleanor and Elizabeth. The only thing that can be said is (provided the effigy is meant to be accurate) he had a long face and fairly strong chin. Unless, of course, the chin is actually meant to be a small beard. I cannot tell, having only seen photographs.
One thing we do know about him is that he had dark, almost black hair. Here are three other likenesses of him that show this, albeit his hairstyle being that awful crop worn so unflatteringly by Henry V. By the time of John Talbot’s death, his hair was long again, or so his effigy suggests. Of the three images, the two smaller ones show the long face. The large one does not. Two out of three? I’ll go with the long face.
Subsequent Talbot Earls of Shrewsbury were of the half-blood to Eleanor and Elizabeth, descending from their father’s first marriage. Trying to work out which illustrations are of these earls, or more of the 1st earl, has proved most unsatisfactory. I thought I’d found the 2nd and 3rd earls, only to discover the same illustrations elsewhere claiming to be of the first John Talbot. So I left well alone, and stuck to likenesses that I know are of Eleanor and Elizabeth’s father, the 1st earl.
All in all, I feel it very likely that Eleanor—and maybe Elizabeth too— had John Talbot’s dark hair. Not necessarily, of course. My mother had very dark hair, and my father was blond. I am blonde. And Lady Anne Mowbray had red hair. Where did that come from? Eleanor and Elizabeth’s mother, Margaret Beauchamp? Or her own father, John Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk? Or somewhere else entirely, after all she had Plantagenet blood too. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a reliable likeness of Margaret, but There is one source that shows us almost certainly the appearance of Margaret’s father, Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick. I refer to his amazing chapel at St Mary’s in Warwick.
So, was he a prime example of the Beauchamps in general? Did they even have a “look”? Maybe they were all different. In his tomb effigy, we see him with that dreadful cropped hairstyle (albeit with curls) made famous by the best known portrait of Henry V. In Beauchamp’s case it’s hard to tell if it’s the cut that gives him a high, wide forehead, or if he did indeed have a high, wide forehead. His chin is small, his mouth thin and straight, and his nose small and pointed, but he too has rather heavy-lidded eyes. Or so they seem to me. And what colour was his hair? Red, perhaps? If there is a likeness between the 13th Earl of Warwick and little Anne Mowbray, it seems unlikely that her looks have anything to do with her Talbot or Mowbray blood, but come from her maternal grandfather, Richard Beauchamp. Yet who knows? The case is unproven.
Warwick married twice, and Margaret Beauchamp was the offspring of his first wife, Elizabeth Berkeley. What was she like? Hard to say. There are a number of mourners depicted on Warwick’s tomb, little figures swathed in robes. Is Elizabeth Berkeley one of them? They are not named, except for two, one being Richard Neville, the Kingmaker, and the other his sister. Both were the children of Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury. She was the wife of Richard Beauchamp’s son and heir, Henry Beauchamp, Duke of Warwick, whose early death brought greats riches and titles to her brother, the Kingmaker, who was married to Richard Beauchamp’s only other child, Anne Beauchamp.
Anne was the only child of John Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk, and on his unexpected and early death, she became a great heiress. Was it from him, not Richard Beauchamp (or both) that she gained her red hair? I cannot find a portrait of John Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk, but this is a representation of another John Mowbray (the 2nd Duke) that seems fairly reliable as being him. It is from Doyle’s ‘Official Baronage,’ after an engraving by W. Hollar, from a window in St. Mary’s Hall, Coventry. There is no way of knowing if he typifies the Mowbray “look”, and I do not detect him in Anne’s likeness.
Anne attracted the avaricious interest of Edward IV, who had had been her aunt’s husband. Eleanor Talbot had passed away in 1468, a few years before Anne’s birth. Edward IV decided to snap Anne up for his younger son, Richard, Duke of York (who would became one of the so-called “Princes in the Tower”. Both were still small children when they became husband and wife. She died shortly afterward, and Edward IV held on to her entire inheritance for her widower, Richard. The following illustration is imagined, of course!
Her Plantagenet kin are well-known to us all, of course, and I can’t say I look at her and think of any of them. In the picture below, one of the ladies on the left is Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, mother of Edward IV and Richard III. I do not see any of these ladies as resembling Anne Mowbray. But then maybe these likenesses are run-of-the-mill, not serious attempts at portraits.
The next illustration is of Thomas Berkeley, 5th Lord Berkeley, who was Eleanor and Elizabeth’s maternal grandfather. His nose looks rather obviously repaired (invented, even) so his looks cannot really be assessed. He and Lord Lisle, one of the Talbots, were at each other’s throats for a long time, until he finally defeated and killed Lisle at the Battle of Nibley Green on 20th March 1469/70. Incidentally, Lisle was the brother of Eleanor and Elizabeth, but his tomb effigy looks like a carbon copy of the Black Prince’s at Canterbury.
Below is a drawing from the tomb of Henry Bourchier, 1st Earl of Essex, who was the son of William Bourchier, 1st Count of Eu and Anne of Gloucester. He was, therefore, Anne Mowbray’s great-uncle (I think!) Again, if there is a likeness that has passed down to Anne, I cannot perceive it.
So here is my conclusion. If there is a resemblance between Anne Mowbray and her aunt Eleanor, it is not evident to me. They do not seem in the least alike. Eleanor and her sister Elizabeth are Talbots through and through. Little Anne Mowbray is not a Mowbray or a Talbot, but a Beauchamp. I see a definite resemblance to her maternal great-grandfather, Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick.
I see no likeness between Richard Beauchamp and his granddaughters, Eleanor and Elizabeth, but his echo surely sounds strongly in little Anne. In Richard and his great-granddaughter I see the same high, wide forehead, small nose and chin, and general similarity, albeit between adult male and female child.
I anticipate that many who read this will disagree with my assessment, and I look forward to seeing comments. There will be no argument from me, because I know it all has to be conjecture.