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Edward IV, Dame Eleanor and the Phantom Web of Impediments

Introduction

The precontract (i.e. prior marriage) between Edward IV and Eleanor Butler, née Talbot, has long been a subject of debate, but what has not previously been claimed is that Edward and Eleanor were so closely related as to have been unable to make a valid marriage without a special dispensation from the Pope.  Recently, however, a writer using the pen name of Latrodecta has claimed (https://ricardianloons.wordpress.com/2018/09/08/the-trial-that-should-have-happened-in-1483/#comment-454)  that they shared a relationship within the prohibited degrees, viz. “3rd degree consanguinity, 3rd degree affinity”.

Latrodecta has identified this impediment as arising from Edward’s mother Cecily Neville being the first cousin of Maude Neville of Furnivall, the first wife of Eleanor’s father, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, and the mother of Eleanor’s older half-siblings. The claim is apparently that – despite the relationship involving no blood tie between Edward and Eleanor – it counts as an impediment of both consanguinity and affinity because half-siblings are included in the prohibited degrees of kinship. The author further claims that “Corroboration can be found in the dispensation granted for the marriage of his son [i.e. Edward IV’s younger son] and her niece [i.e. Anne Mowbray] – the relationship between her sister [i.e. Elizabeth Talbot Duchess of Norfolk] and Edward would have been the same” (that is to say, the same as between Edward and Eleanor herself).

I shall return to these claims, but first it will be necessary to explain these two types of impediment, what they are and how they were calculated at the period under consideration.

Consanguinity and Affinity

Consanguinity and affinity are the chief types of relationship that, under canon law, can produce a diriment (nullifying) impediment to a marriage. Of these, consanguinity is the easiest to understand as it is a simple blood tie: where there is no common ancestor, there can be no impediment of consanguinity. Impediments of affinity arose in those days from sexual intercourse (now only from marriage).[1] The two sexual partners were deemed to have become, as it were, ‘one flesh’. Latrodecta should therefore not have been the least bit surprised to have ‘seen a case where the bridegroom had to obtain a dispensation because he’d already slept with his future mother-in-law’.

It is a common, indeed almost ubiquitous, misconception amongst ordinary historians that the relationship thus formed barred the couple’s respective blood relatives from marrying each other, but this is not so.[2] Prior to 1215, the impediment of affinity had, it is true, been slightly complicated by the rule that a person’s second partner contracted affinity not only with the consanguines of the spouse but also with his or her closest affines (i.e. their new step-kin); at no time, however, had any couple shared a relationship of affinity without one of them having had a prior sexual relationship to cause it; two virgins could never be each other’s affines. Hence, when St. Augustine asked of Pope Gregory: ‘Is it permissible for two brothers to marry two sisters, provided there be no blood ties between the families?’ the great pontiff had replied: ‘This is quite permissible.’[3] The rules had been further simplified by the Fourth Council of Lateran (1215 AD), which had abolished the impediment between certain blood relatives of a person’s two spouses.[4] The unifying principle of the remaining impediments is encapsulated in the maxim affinitas non parit affinitatem (‘affinity does not beget affinity’).[5]

By the 15th century, therefore, there were no longer any step relationships that created impediments other than those (such as stepfather and stepdaughter) that just happened to involve direct affinity. In fact, it was almost de rigueur at this period for a widow and widower to cement their own union with at least one marriage between the offspring of their former marriages.

In the late Middle Ages, both consanguinity and affinity created an impediment to marriage up to the level of third cousins (another rule brought in by the Fourth Lateran Council).[6] The method of calculation in use at the time – the so-called Germanic method – is extremely simple to use.

Edward and Eleanor: Consanguinity

To check for an impediment of consanguinity, one simply draws up two direct-ancestry trees, one for each party to the proposed marriage, with the prospective bride/ groom at one end, their parents (1st-degree consanguines) in the next row, after them their grandparents (2nd-degree consanguines), then their great-grandparents (3rd-degree consanguines), and lastly their great-great-great-grandparents (4th degree consanguines).[7] Then one stands back, looks for any names common to both trees and counts the generations from each partner up to the closest match in any given line. Most often, the common stock, as it is called, (stirps in Latin) will be a couple, but it can also be a single individual, as would occur if an ancestor had married twice and the bride was descended from one of those marriages and the groom from the other. This is what is meant, and all that is meant, by half-siblings counting in the same way as full siblings: the only relevant half-siblings are those who link the couple via their shared ancestor.

I have carried out this very exercise for Edward and Eleanor, highlighting any common ancestors in red. As can be seen, there are none.

Note that Maud Furnivall, identified in the above article as the route to the alleged 3rd-degree impediment, appears on neither Edward’s nor Eleanor’s table; this is because she was only a collateral relation of Edward and no blood relation of Eleanor at all.

Let us now turn to the assertion that the dispensation for Anne Mowbray and Richard of Shrewsbury corroborates this alleged 3rd-degree consanguinity. There are, I fear to say, two problems with this, one of them terminal. First (to be picky) the Anne Mowbray dispensation is for consanguinity in the 3rd and 4th degrees (i.e. one of them was 3 degrees removed from the common stock, and the other, 4 degrees),[8] whereas an even 3rd-degree consanguinity between Edward and the Talbot sisters would have resulted in an even 4th-degree consanguinity between little Richard and Anne. But rather more seriously, Latrodecta has overlooked the salient fact that all children have two parents. As the following consanguinity chart for Richard Duke of York and Anne Mowbray clearly shows, they were indeed related in the 3rd and 4th degrees but Anne’s relationship to Edward’s family lay on her father’s side and in no way involved her Talbot ancestry.

Edward and Eleanor: Affinity

Now let us turn to affinity. By sexual union, the consanguines of the one partner become the affines of the other. So, for instance, if Harry’s previous partner was Sally’s second cousin, then Harry and Sally would be related by affinity in the 3rd degrees. The check for affinity therefore works on the same principle as for consanguinity,[9] except that the bride/groom needs to compare her/his consanguinity tree with that of the prospective spouse’s previous partner(s). This exercise I have carried out for Edward and Eleanor by drawing up this chart showing Sir Thomas Butler’s ancestry. Unfortunately Thomas’s chart is not complete in all areas, and not 100% verified in others, because much of his ancestry is relatively humble and not recorded, but it is highly unlikely that any of these obscure Cheshire ancestors would feature on the table of Edward of March. In short, there was no affinity between them either.

Conclusion

There was no relationship preventing Edward Plantagenet and Eleanor Butler from marrying each other.  Readers do not need to take my word for this: there are plenty of sources available online that set out the different prohibitions and methods of calculating degrees of relationship in use by the Catholic Church at different periods. To be sure one has the correct understanding, all that is needed is to perform a few test calculations on couples whose ancestry and marriage dispensations are both known. Or some may wish to begin, as Edward IV’s councillors must have done in 1464, by checking for (non-existent) common ancestors on the trees of Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville and Sir John Grey.  


[1] The impediment of affinity arising from extramarital relationships was also to be gradually abolished.  The first step was taken in the 16th century by the Council of Trent, which limited its effect to the 2nd degree (first cousins), but it was not until 1917 that this impediment was wholly confined to the consanguines of previous spouses. 

[2] The most notable recent intrusion of this error into late-fifteenth-century English history is Michael Hicks’ claim that Clarence’s marriage to Isabel Neville prohibited Richard’s marriage to Isabel’s sister.

[3] Mary O’Regan, ‘Marriage Dispensations According to St Augustine’, Ricardian Bulletin, Autumn 2008, pp. 34-35.

[4] https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/lateran4.asp, canon 50.

[5] Thomas de Charmes, Theologica Universa ad Usum Sacræ Theologiæ Canditatorum, vol. 7 (1765), p. 357.

[6] https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/lateran4.asp, canon 50.

[7] A particularly clear explanation is given in the 1917 Catholic Encyclopaedia under ‘Consanguinity (in Canon Law)’: ‘Mode of Calculation’ (https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04264a.htm).

[8] ‘Dispensation . . .  notwithstanding that they are related in the third and fourth degrees of kindred’ (Calendar of Papal Register Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, ed. J. A. Twemlow, vol. 13 [London, 1955], p. 236).

[9] Again, The Catholic Encyclopaedia gives a useful summary under ‘Affinity (in Canon Law)’ (https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01178a.htm).

Joan of Arc or Boudicca? Boudicca every time for me, I fear….

Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1854

Joan of Arc means a great deal to France, but I’m afraid I have never really cottoned on to her. Perhaps because I’m a little uncomfortable when it comes to people who “hear voices”. Not that I’m saying she deserved her horrible death. Far from it. No one deserves that. But when it comes to great female warriors, I prefer Boudicca/Boadicea. Clearly I will never become St Sandra!

Anyway, today (17th July) in 1429, at Joan’s urgent behest, the Dauphin was crowned Charles VII of France at Reims. Joan was in attendance (see illustration above). It was in the middle of the Hundred Years War, and the English were at the gates, so to speak. The King of England, Henry VI, was a child of about eight, but even if he’d been twenty-eight he wouldn’t have been much good. He was useless. Period. Later, during his long periods of “madness”, he was simply even more useless.  So his uncle, John, Duke of Bedford, was regent. Bedford was a good leader and things were going well…until a peasant girl threw a spanner in his works.

Jeanne d’Arc, known as The Maid of Orléans, came from nowhere, having visions and believing herself to be under the guidance of God’s angels and saints. Dressed in armour as a man, she took command of the French army and caused Bedford a bit of bother. Which the duke did not appreciate, of course.

To cut a long story short, she was eventually captured, tried and sentenced to burn at the stake as a witch. This dire event took place on 30th May 1430

The English get all the blame for this atrocity, but it wasn’t entirely their doing. To begin with, she’d fallen into the hands of Jean II, Count of Luxembourg, who sold her to the English for 10,000 gold livres. see here.

To read more about Joan’s fate, go to the Guardian

And I still prefer Boudicca/Boadicea, I’m afraid.

The black widow that bit herself

Since John Ashdown-Hill’s iconic Eleanor was published eleven years ago, we have seen some desperate attempts to contradict his proven conclusion that Lady Eleanor Talbot contracted a valid marriage to Edward IV before his contract to Elizabeth Widville and many such attempts have rebounded on the denialist in question.

Now a troll naming herself Latrodecta claims that mediaeval canon law was different to that researched by Dr. Ashdown-Hill over several years – the image is the paperback cover from 2016 – and that Maud Neville, Lord Talbot’s other wife, was Lady Eleanor’s stepmother and shared grandparents with Cecily Neville, necessitating a dispensation for his daughter and Cecily’s son to marry. This suggestion clearly wasn’t thought through because:
1) Maud Neville died some time in 1421-3 whilst Lady Eleanor was not born until 1435-6. I have never heard of a deceased previous wife becoming the stepmother of a new child, even when an annulment or (in a later era) divorce has actually taken place. It is a description of a later wife who lives with the child and its father.
2) If this applied then Jacquette‘s first marriage to John Duke of Bedford (d.1435) would make him the stepfather of Elizabeth Widville (b.1437) and EW would be the great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, whilst Edward IV was his great-grandson. This would also necessitate a dispensation for the 1464 “marriage”, which also didn’t happen.

Once again, Edward’s second marriage ceremony would be invalid independently of the validity of the first. He would remain either a bigamist or a bachelor. Latrodecta, on the other hand, simply doesn’t come up to proof when asked to find a common blood ancestor more recent than Edward I for the 1461 couple. Yet another own goal.

Surviving Regalia of King Richard III’s and Queen Anne’s Coronation

(by Annette Carson)

The Ampulla and Coronation Spoon

Perhaps because they are not immediately recognizable as such, these are the oldest items in the coronation regalia and the only two that escaped the systematic destruction of royal regalia and crown jewels after the execution of Charles I. The holy oil (chrism) is poured from the beak of the golden eagle into the spoon and applied to the monarch’s head, breast and palms.

The Coronation Spoon is first recorded in 1349 as preserved among St Edward’s Regalia in Westminster Abbey. Already at this date it is described as a spoon of ‘antique forme’. Stylistically it seems to relate to the 12th century and was possibly supplied to Henry II or Richard I. It is therefore a remarkable survival – the only piece of royal goldsmiths’ work to survive from that century. The small pearls were added to its decoration by King Charles II.

It is unclear from the 1349 inventory whether the spoon at this date was part of the chapel plate. Its length, and the division of the bowl into two lobes, suggest that it always had a ceremonial purpose, and its presence among the regalia means that it has always been associated with coronations. One suggestion is that the divided bowl was designed in this fashion so that the archbishop might dip two fingertips into the holy oil. Hence it may well have been with this spoon that Richard and Anne were anointed in 1483.

The Ampulla is more difficult to date, its antiquity being less obvious at first sight since it has been subjected to frequent redecoration. Its feathering is characteristic 17th-century work, but when the head is removed the comparatively crude threading of the screw at the neck shows that the vessel is far older, and could have been the golden eagle used for the first time at the coronation of Henry IV in 1399. If so, it was this Ampulla which Richard III conveyed to Westminster Abbey the day after his own coronation: ‘an egle of gold garnysshed with perles and precious stones in which is closed the precious relique called the ampulle … to abide and remayne after his decesse within the forsaid monastery among the regalies now beyng in the said monastery for evermore’. By the king’s orders this holy object was to be available for delivery to him whenever he should ask for it.

Information taken from publications by H.M. Government and the Royal Collections Trust (and see Royal Collection website). N.B. Miniature reproductions of these items are commercially available.

A Calendar of Queens –Minus One

Recently I came across an interesting article on Royal Central   listing all the Queens who had anniversaries relevant to June-births, deaths, coronations, marriages and the start of  their reigns. However, I did notice a couple of  things in it that I would query–an error and an omission.

CALENDAR OF QUEENS

First the error. The article mentions that Elizabeth Woodville, who died on June 8, 1492, having been packed off to Bermondsey Abbey,   was the first ‘non-royal’ Queen of England. In fact, she was not. Most of the Queens were not themselves royal but children of the nobility–the daughters of Counts and Earls. Elizabeth’s father was not titled at the time of her birth, so she was neither a princess nor of the nobility,  but she did actually have some royal English ancestry through her mother, Jacquette of Luxembourg, daughter of Peter, Count of St Pol, who was descended  on her father’s side from Henry III via his daughter Beatrice of England,  and on her maternal side from King John via his daughter Eleanor of England.

The omission is Lady Eleanor Talbot, the probable first wife of marry-secretly-in-haste Edward IV who died died sometime in June 1468. Even if you don’t believe in the pre-contract, despite considerable circumstantial evidence including Edward mysteriously paying for repairs  of the church in the village where Lady Eleanor held the manor and handing out loaves of bread to each villager,  she should have been mentioned even if only as a ‘disputed’ consort.

If Lord Guildford Dudley, husband of the short-reigning Jane (Grey) can get a mention as  ‘disputed’ on the Wiki entry about Consorts, Eleanor, I think, deserves at least that much! (Sudeley Castle, which has connections to Lady Eleanor through her Boteler marriage has now embraced her story and has a display about her–hurrah!)

There are other ‘disputed’ consorts later in history, of course, as listed comprehensively  in John Ashdown-Hill’s book Royal Marriage Secrets, and even other bigamous marriages. Most interestingly, perhaps, is  the second wedding of Henry VIII, Edward’s think-alike grandson, to Anne Boleyn–he “married” her in a secret ceremony BEFORE his annulment from Katherine of Aragon was finalised… (And people  still somehow imagine Edward couldn’t possibly have done much the same?)

 

 

 

Lancastrians unfairly condemn another King Richard….

 

taken from the article referred to below

The article that prompts this post is the first of three concerning the history of the House of Lancaster. There are some sweeping statements that are eminently challengeable, but then it’s Lancastrian about Lancastrians, so bias is bound to be present.

The first Lancastrian monarch usurped the throne of his first cousin, Richard II, whom he then had murdered, and he had to justify this dreadful act for the rest of his life. There was, of course, a later Henry (VII) who represented the House of Lancaster and killed the incumbent king, Richard III by treachery in battle. So Lancastrian Henrys seemed to specialise in taking thrones by ridding themselves of the Richards who were already the anointed kings. Biased? Moi? Well, it goes with the territory if you happen to support the other side.

The article claims that Richard II and his cousin, Henry (to be IV) formed a “strong bond” as boys. Well, they were first cousins, but I don’t think they were ever that close. Henry was forever being held up as a shining example of manly strengths and virtues etc, whereas Richard was “…pampered…the coming saviour…compared himself to Christ…had a mean streak…[and] ever inflating ego”. Furthermore “…whilst Richard swanned about court with his young councillors pandering too him, Henry Bolingbroke was fighting in tournaments, learning the art of war, building his prestige”.

Right, well that’s Richard neatly encapsulated as a self-centred weirdo par excellence!

Apparently “Within four years of his reign thousands of angry peasants, led by the rebel leader Wat Tyler, stormed London.” This was Richard’s fault? No, he was a boy of fourteen, it was the magnates and royal advisers who were in charge. Especially Henry’s father, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who was loathed across the land. But mustn’t mentioned that.

Anyway, this is a flavour of the article, which goes on to rip Richard apart while raising Henry on an ever higher pedestal. Like Richard III, Richard II is almost always bad-mouthed by historians, but I don’t think he was the dangerous, tyrannical prat he’s made out to be. On the contrary, there was far more to him than meets the casual eye, and his motives have been misunderstood. He tried hard to change the status quo in England, but in the end he failed. And he deserves better than this pro-Lancastrian article.

One thing. A typo, I trust. “Henry was popular, a military leader and willing to listen to the ascent of parliament, he was everything Richard wasn’t.” One wonders exactly how high Parliament ascended….

 

 

An almost-king born in Jericho….?

Well, according to the Romford Recorder Henry VIII very nearly gave us Henry IX. This would have been his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy, born to the king’s mistress Elizabeth Blount.

Henry Fitzroy is not fiction, but was born in 1519 in the Jericho Priory (see above image) at Blackmore, ten miles north of Romford. The above article states that at one point Henry VIII seriously considered making the illegitimate Henry Fitzroy his heir, brushing aside any legitimate female children the king had. This would have been Mary I, of course, and then Elizabeth I. But Henry Fitzroy died young, and then eventually Henry VIII sired Edward VI on Jane Seymour. Problem solved. For the time being at least, because Edward would also die young and Mary and Elizabeth would eventually reign anyway.

Well, I suppose that Henry VIII would only have been following in Tudor family footsteps…after all his father declared the illegitimate Elizabeth of York legitimate in order to marry her! So why not declare Henry Fitzroy legitimate in order to secure the succession in the male line? The Tudors were a little comme ci comme ça when it came to such inconvenient things.

Elizabeth Wydeville…Serial Killer?

UPDATED VERSION AT sparkypus.com A Medieval Potpourri https://sparkypus.com/2020/06/08/elizabeth-wydeville-serial-killer/

IMG_6008.JPGElizabeth Wydeville The Royal Window Canterbury Cathedral.

Yes,  this is a serious question.  After reading several of the late John Ashdown-Hill’s books, particularly his last one, Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey, I think it’s time to give it some serious thought.  Although prima facie it may appear absurd, after all we are talking about a real actual Queen, not a monster from a Grimms’ fairy story, I think it may be worthwhile to give some actual consideration to this question and its  plausibility.

 

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Edward IV, the Royal Window Canterbury Cathedral.  Did a careless remark made to his wife unwittingly bring about the death of Desmond?

Lets take a look at the first death that Elizabeth has been associated with – that of Thomas Fitzgerald Earl of Desmond.  The first port of call for anyone interested in this would be the excellent in-depth  article co-written by Annette Carson and the late historian John Ashdown-Hill both of whom were heavily involved with the discovery of King Richard IIIs remains in Leicester.  Here is the article.

Their assessment goes very deep but to give a brief summary – Desmond was executed on the 15th February 1468 by his successor John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, a man known for his cruel, sadistic nature and dubbed The Butcher of England by his contemporaries.   The execution was immediately followed by  armed rebellion, the Earl’s elder sons ‘raised their standards and drew their swords to avenge their father’s murder ‘ swiftly followed by  King Edward, both alarmed and displeased in equal measures,  promising  that if the Desmonds laid their arms down they would be pardoned. Edward also assured them that he had neither ordered the execution or had any knowledge of it whatsoever. This begs the question if it was not Edward,  who gave Tiptoft the go ahead to execute Desmond  – as well as it is said his two small sons? This was swiftly followed by extremely  generous grants to James, Desmond’s oldest son,  despite the Act of Attainder against his father.  Included in these grants was ‘the palatinate of Kerry, together with the town and castle of Dungarvan.  This grant may be thought to signify that in Edward’s view an injustice had been done’. This was as well as an ‘extraordinary priviledge’ – that of the Desmonds being free to choose not to appear in person before Edward’s deputy or the council in Ireland but to be able to send a representative instead. Clearly Edward had grasped that the Desmonds were, understandably, extremely wary of putting themselves in the hands of the Anglo Irish authorities.

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Richard Duke of York.  His wise and just reputation in Ireland survived long after his death.  

Various explanations  have been given as to why Tiptoft had Desmond executed.  It was given out that he had been guilty of ‘horrible treasons and felonies as well as alliance, fosterage and alterage with enemies of the king, as in giving them harness and armour and supporting them against the faithful subjects of the king’ as well as the ludicrous charge of plotting to make himself King of Ireland,

Upon Tiptoft’s arrival in Ireland in  September 1467 he had initially co-operated with Desmond and other Irish lords.  This was unsurprising as Edward IV was on extremely friendly terms with the Irish lords.    This friendship carried over from his father, Richard Duke of Yorks time in Ireland where he had been held in high regard and in fact Desmond’s father, James, had been George Duke of Clarence’s godfather.   However on the opening of Parliament on the 4th February a bill was immediately brought forward  attainting Desmond and others including his brother in law, the Earl of Kildare. Desmond was removed from the Dominican friary at Drogheda on the 14th February and swiftly executed. The others managed somehow to avoid arrest and execution until Edward, finding out what had occurred, pardoned them. This also adds to the strength of the theory that the execution had been carried out without Edward’s knowledge. This might be a good place to mention that Desmond had indeed been in England around the time of Edward’s ‘marriage’ to Elizabeth  and when much chatter was going on regarding her unsuitability as a royal bride.  There is a surviving 16th century account of Edward while  having an amicable chat with Desmond, asked him what his thoughts were regarding Edward’s choice of bride.  It is said that Desmond at first wisely held back but pushed by Edward did admit that it was thought widely that the King had made a misalliance.  This was relayed, foolishly by Edward to his new bride, perhaps  oblivious in those early days of  her capabilities. A spiteful, vindictive Elizabeth had stolen the seal from her husband’s purse as he slept and had written to Tiptoft instructing him to get rid of Desmond.  This begs the question of whether Tiptoft himself may have been unaware that the order did not emanate directly from the King.  The rest is history and a dark and terrible day at Drogheda.

Moving forward some 16 years later in 1483 we have an extant letter from Richard to his councillor the Bishop of Annaghdown in which he instructs the said Bishop to go to Desmond’s son, James,  and among other things to demonstrate  (shewe) to him that the person responsible for the murder of his father was the same person responsible for the murder of George Duke of Clarence (1).     As Carson and Ashdown-Hill point out, this is a ‘ highly significant analogy’ because, in 1483, Mancini  had written that contemporary opinion was that the person responsible for Clarence’s death was no other than Elizabeth Wydville.  Elizabeth, no doubt having discovered that her marriage to Edward was a bigamous one –  he already having a wife – namely Eleanor Butler nee Talbot – at the time of his ‘marriage’ to her,  had ‘concluded that her offspring by the king would never come to the throne, unless Clarence was removed and this she easily persuaded the king’ (1). It is highly likely that Clarence, who perhaps was of a hotheaded nature, had also become aware that Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage was null and void having been informed of this fact by Bishop Stillington.  Stillington was imprisoned and Clarence  met the same fate as Desmond – an execution regularly described by historians, of all views, as judicial murder.

IMG_2534.JPGGeorge Duke of Clarence from the Rous Roll. George was only 28 years old when he was executed in what has been described by some historians as a ‘judicial murder’

It should be remembered that shortly before his arrest Clarence had been widowed. Clarence had insisted that his wife, Isobel Neville, had been murdered – poisoned he said.  One of the acts he was accused of at his trial was of trying to remove his small son, Edward, out of England and to safety abroad. He obviously genuinely believed that Isobel had indeed been murdered, why else did he attempt to get his son out of harms way? This story has been told in many places including  Ashdown-Hill’s books, The Third Plantagenet as well as his bio of Elizabeth.  If Isobel was indeed murdered the truth has been lost with time but it can safely be said that Clarence was a victim to Elizabeth’s malice although of course Edward has to take equal blame for that. Hicks, and Thomas Penn, are among the historians who  have described Clarences’ execution as ‘judicial murder’.  Hicks in his bio on George,  states that the trial  held before a Parliament heavily packed out with Wydeville supporters was fixed. George stood not a chance and was led back to the Tower to await his fate.  He did not have to wait too long.  Penn writes ‘…his brothers life in his hands, Edward pondered the enormity of his next, irrevocable command. A week or so later, with Parliament still in session, Speaker Allington and a group of MPs walked over to the House of Lords and, with, all decorum, requested that they ask the king to get on with it‘.  Insisting that the king order his own brother’s liquidation was hardly something that Allington would have done on his own initiative. The source of the nudge could be guessed at (2).  As Penn points out Speaker Allington’s  ‘effusions about Queen Elizabeth and the little Prince of Wales were a matter of parliamentary record; the queen had awarded him handsomely appointing him one of the prince’s chancellors and chancellor of the boy’s administration’.  Thus George Duke of Clarence was toast and it appears the second victim to the malignity of the Wydeville queen. Later it was written by Virgil that Edward bitterly regretted his brother’s ‘murder’..for thus it is described by Penn… and would often whinge when asked for a favour by someone that no-one had requested a reprieve for George (not even the brothers’ mother??? Really Edward!).

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Elizabeth Wydville, The Luton Guildbook.  Cicely Neville, her mother in law is depicted behind her. Cicely’s feelings on one of her son’s bringing about the death of another son are unrecorded.

Another damning point against Elizabeth is that Richard III in the communication mentioned above, granted permission to  James, Desmond’s son to ‘pursue by means of law those whom he held responsible for his father’s death’.   Both Edward and Tiptoft were dead at this time but Elizabeth was still alive and demoted from Queen to a commoner. As it transpired James did not pursue the matter at that time and a year later it was all too late – Richard was dead and Elizabeth had been reinstated as Queen Dowager.  Further evidence regarding Elizabeth’s guilt came to light 60 years later in the 16th century in the form of a memorandum addressed by James 13th Earl of Desmond, Desmond’s grandson, to the privy council.  In an attempt to get property that had been removed from one of his ancestors returned to him James referred to the great privilege that was awarded to his earlier Desmond relatives, that of not having to appear before Anglo Irish authorities that had been granted by Edward IV because ‘the 7th Earl of Desmond had been executed because of the spite and envy of Elizabeth Wydeville”.   This memorandum also contained the earliest written account of the conversation between Edward IV and Desmond regarding Elizabeth’s suitablity as a royal consort,  the repeating of which to Elizabeth had resulted in Desmond’s murder.

It’s now not looking good for Elizabeth at this stage. There are other names, other deaths,  that begin now to  look rather suspicious. After all if Elizabeth could be involved with two deaths could there have been more?

The next deaths that need consideration are those of Eleanor Butler and her brother in law, the Mowbray Duke of Norfolk.  According to Ashdown-Hill who has researched Eleanor in depth, her death occurred while her family and protectors, particularly her sister Elizabeth Duchess of Norfolk, with whom she appears to have been close, were out of the country attending the marriage celebrations of Margaret of York to Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. This marriage had been ‘pushed forward’  by Elizabeth Wydeville (3). Of course her death may have been the result of natural causes although it’s not hard to imagine Edward and Elizabeth breathing massive sighs of relief. However karma is a bitch, as they say, and the spectre of Eleanor would later arise with tragic results and the complete fall of the House of York.

Whether Eleanor died of unnatural causes of course can now never be ascertained.   Ashdown-Hill compares her death to that of Isobel Neville in that after they first become ill it was two weeks before they died (4).  Certainly it was unexpected and must have caused shock and grief to her sister on her arrival back in England – presumably the Duchess may not have left England and her sister if she had been seriously ill and close to death.  In actual fact Eleanor died on the 30th June 1468 while Elizabeth Talbot only begun her trip back to England from Flanders on the 13th July.  Coupled with this, two of the Norfolk household were executed around this time through treasonous activity but nevertheless this must have caused disconcertment and fear to the Duke and Duchess following on so soon from Eleanor’s death. Very sadly, the Duke himself was to die suddenly and totally unexpectedly. The Duchess of Norfolk, now bereft of her husband and sister, found herself forced to agree to the marriage of her very young daughter, the Lady Anne Mowbray, to Elizabeth Wydeville’s youngest son, Richard of Shrewsbury.  This was much to her detriment being forced to accept a diminished dower in order to supplement the revenue of her young son in law.  She thereafter lived out her days in a ‘great’ house in the precincts of the Abbey of the Minoresses of St Clare without Aldgate, poorer but surrounded by loyal and loving friends most of whom had also suffered at the hands of Edward IV and the Wydevilles (5).

In summary, I’m confident that Elizabeth was deeply implicated in  the executions of Desmond, an entirely innocent man, and Clarence whom she feared because he knew or suspected the truth of her bigamous marriage.   Could there have been others? The hapless Eleanor Talbot perhaps?  Of course she was not a murderess in the sense that she actually and physically killed anyone but she did indeed ‘load the guns and let others fire the bullets’ as they say. There is little doubt that Richard Duke of Gloucester came close to being assassinated on his journey  to London and close to the stronghold of the Wydevilles at Grafton Regis, in 1483. This was down to the machinations of the Wydevilles including of course the fragrant Elizabeth who by the time he arrived in London had scarpered across the road from Westminster Palace, loaded down with royal treasure, and taken sanctuary in Westminster Abbey, a sure indication of her guilt in that plot. Richard, in his well known letter, had to send to York for reinforcements “we heartily pray you to come to us in London in all the diligence you possibly can, with as many as you can make defensibly arrayed, there to aid and assist us against the queen, her bloody adherents and affinity, who have intended and do daily intend, to murder and utterly destroy us and our cousin the Duke of Buckingham, and the old blood royal of this realm” (6).

After that dreadful day at Bosworth in August 1485, and a bit of a tedious wait, Elizabeth now found herself exulted once again this time as mother to the new Queen. She would, one have thought, reached the stage where she could at last rest on her now rather blood soaked laurels. Wrong! She was soon  found to be involved in  the Lambert Simnel plot,  which no doubt if successful would have resulted in the death of her daughter’s husband. Whether her daughter, Elizabeth of York, would have approved of this is a moot point and something we shall never know although surely she would hardly have welcomed being turfed off the throne and her children disinherited and my guess is that relationship between Elizabeth Snr and Jnr became rather frosty after that. Henry Tudor, who was many things but not a fool took the sensible  decision to have his mother in law ‘retired’ to Bermondsey Abbey, no doubt to protect her from herself but more importantly to protect himself from Elizabeth and her penchant for plots that mostly ended up with someone dead. And there at Bermondsey, a place known for disgraced queens to be sent to languish and die, she lived out her days no doubt closely watched, Karma having finally caught up with her.

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Terracotta bust of Henry VII. Elizabeth’s son-in-law.  Henry prudently had Elizabeth ‘retired’ to Bermondsey Abbey. 

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John Tiptoft Earl of Worcester.  Effigy on his tomb.  Tiptoft’s propensity for cruelty did not deter Edward from appointing him Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1467 nor did it dissuade Elizabeth to involve him in her plotting to bring about the death of Desmond.  

(1) Harleian Manuscript 433 Vol 2 pp108.9

(2) The Usurpation of Richard III Dominic Mancini. Ed. C A J  Armstrong.

(3 ) The Brothers York Thomas Penn p405

(4) Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey p87 John Ashdown Hill

(5) Ibid  p124 John Ashdown Hill.

(6) The Ladies of the Minories W E Hampton.  Article in The Ricardian 1978

(7) York Civic Records Vol.1.pp 73-4.  Richard of Gloucester letter to the city of York 10 June 1483.

 

 

 

 

Why was Elizabeth of York’s coronation really delayed….?

 

 

 

Image taken from https://www.thoughtco.com/family-tree-elizabeth-woodville-3528162

The following passage is taken from RITES OF PASSAGE: Cultures of Transition in the Fourteenth Century, edited by Nicola F. McDonald and W. M. Ormrod

“….to become ‘mature’ (in every sense of the word) demanded the achievement of progeny. And this, of course, is what Edward III and Queen Philippa had done – ultimately, indeed, spectacularly so. Their case emphasizes most particularly the point I am making about the birth of children in the coming to power of youthful kings, for it was precisely the public disclosure of Philippa’s first pregnancy in 1330 that created an effective fracture in Queen Isabella’s assumed powers of regency. It was held imperative that Philippa be crowned before she gave birth (an interesting perspective worthy of discussion in its own right); and her elevation to the full rank of crowned and anointed royal consort inevitably raised issues about the basis on which Isabella herself continued to exercise royal power….”

While reading the above paper, it occurred to me that maybe there was a little more to the delay in Elizabeth of York’s coronation than I at first thought. Granted, the quoted passage concerns an earlier century, and a more youthful king and queen, but I couldn’t help thinking of Elizabeth’s case.

We all know that ultimately Henry VII’s marriage was a successful one, and probably happy, but it wasn’t necessarily like that in the beginning. Setting aside all the whispers that the birth of their son Arthur only eight months after the wedding meant the pair had anticipated their vows, and that Henry was simply loath to give Elizabeth the position she warranted at his side in case it diminished his own claim to the throne, might there have been another reason for the delay? They were married on 18 January 1486, their first son was born on 20 September 1486, and Elizabeth’s coronation took place on 25 November 1487, almost two years after the marriage.

What if the names in the quoted passage were changed, and it referred to Henry, Elizabeth and Margaret Beaufort, a lady who most certainly didn’t want to give any ground whatsoever to her daughter-in-law. What if it wasn’t Henry who was loath to fully acknowledge his Yorkist wife, but his strong, influential, bitterly determined mother, who at that time was undoubtedly the most important woman in the realm?

It seemed to take Henry a very long time to finally stand up to Margaret and take his wife’s side. Was he a hen-pecked son, too timid to overrule his formidable mother? Margaret would obviously be pleased that a son would cement her son’s hoped-for dynasty, but might she also be jittery because the baby enhanced Elizabeth’s standing? Maybe the last thing Margaret would want was Elizabeth’s coronation, in case the new queen turned out to be stronger than expected. Margaret thoroughly enjoyed being queen in all but crown.

I’m not an expert on these things, but after reading this exceedingly interesting paper, I have to wonder if Margaret’s spoon was at work in this particular royal soup. After all, she knew all about usurpation.

A STRANGE PORTRAIT OF ELIZABETH WOODVILLE

Recently I came across a Victorian piece of art by Ford Madox Brown which is supposed to depict Elizabeth Woodville first appearing before Edward IV with her two small children. It’s rather odd piece and not particularly flattering–I am guessing that the artist was not a Woodville fan? Here, a rather plain-looking Liz W. has  a simpering, slightly smug  expression and is rolling her eyes upwards (perhaps batting her eyelashes at Edward.)

It is, shall we say, not a good look.

Even more perplexing is the fact, she seems to have THREE children rather  than two–and the one crammed in the middle is a rather sinister, saturnine boy with a widow’s peak, who resembles a young Dracula, or Eddie Munster from the Munsters TV series!

I am not surprised that this painting is not more well-known!

 

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