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Edward IV, Dame Eleanor and the Phantom Web of Impediments


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 (  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.


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], canon 50.

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

[6], canon 50.

[7] A particularly clear explanation is given in the 1917 Catholic Encyclopaedia under ‘Consanguinity (in Canon Law)’: ‘Mode of Calculation’ (

[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)’ (

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.

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.


Give this Knight Errant a miss….!

knight errant - wilkins

If you support Richard III and believe history has “done him wrong”, for heaven’s sake do not read The Last Knight Errant: Sir Edward Woodville and the Age of Chivalry by Christopher Wilkins.

I made the mistake, and it soon struck me that the author had learned by rote every single myth about Richard, and then served them up as fact. Although, to be fair, he does dispense with the “two years in the womb, long hair and full set of teeth at birth” yarn. We don’t have the withered arm either. I suppose even Wilkins sensed these things would be going too far. After all, he’s aiming at a modern audience, not the Tudors. I will assume that the murder of Edward of Lancaster at Tewkesbury was a crime of Richard’s that Wilkins somehow overlooked.

So, let me see. Here is some of this rubbish about Richard-

  • He murdered Henry VI.
  • He poisoned Anne in order to marry his niece.
  • Joanna of Portugal wouldn’t marry him, because he would be dead within a year anyway.
  • Richard intended from the outset to be rid of his nephews.
  • His marriage was “between brother and sister-in-law” and therefore invalid. There was no dispensation applied for anyway. Thus Edward of Middleham was illegitimate.
  • Elizabeth Woodville wasn’t plotting against Richard, she was merely afraid of him.
  • Elizabeth Woodville had a nervous breakdown, which explains her agreement to let her daughters go into Richard’s care.
  • Richard bullied the old Duchess of Oxford into giving him her estates.
  • There is no evidence that Edward IV ever wanted Richard to be Protector.
  • Stillington only revealed the untrue yarn of the pre-contract because Richard promised him his bastard son could marry Elizabeth of York.
  • History has “demonstrated” Richard’s ruthlessness.

That’s enough! Too much even. A load of old tosh, I fear, and so untrue in these important areas that I doubt the author’s portrayal of that thieving traitor Sir Edward Woodville is much better, except that it will be the other swing of the pendulum, halo and all. Can’t be bothered to finish the book to find out.

By the way, the back cover blurb even refers to Richard as ‘that genius of propaganda’! Richard? Has Wilkins never noticed the suffocating blanket coverage by the Tudors? Bah! I don’t mind honest debate, and accept that not everyone believes Richard was a good man, but I do object to this tommyrot. Trotting out the Tudor fairy tales of Thomas More, Shakespeare and the like is not good scholarship!

Richard and “Incest”

In BBC History, Richard III Special Edition, Professor Hicks returns to his theory that Richard III’s marriage to Anne Neville was incestuous because of the prior marriage of his brother, George Clarence, to Isabel Neville.

I have to confess to surprise that a historian of Professor Hicks’ fame and academic stature is still chasing this particular cat down the alley. He must surely be aware from his extensive reading that such marriages were not uncommon in the later middle ages.

For example, Edmund of Langley married Isabel of Castile, despite the undoubted fact that his brother, John of Gaunt, was already married to her sister, Constance of Castile.

In the 1430s, Richard Neville (later to be the ‘Kingmaker’) married Anne Beauchamp. At roughly the same time (possibly on the same day, I don’t remember) his sister Cecily, or Cecille, married Anne’s brother, Henry Beauchamp, Lord Despenser,  later Duke of Warwick.

These are two relatively famous examples. There were plenty of similar cases lower down the social scale.

Were Edmund of Langley and Warwick the Kingmaker incestuous and their children illegitimate? Were their parents really so careless when arranging their marriages? I think we should be told.

See also this Marie Barnfield article. Affinity does not beget affinity. QED.



To avoid any confusion:

When Edward IV married Lady Eleanor Talbot in spring 1461, they were not more closely related than fourth cousins, through her mother, Margaret Beauchamp (see Eleanor, fig.11). Under the rules of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 (p.112), such distant blood relations were permitted to marry without a dispensation. It no longer amounted to consanguinity.

Fig. 12 can be misread by those who see “Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick” at the top with Lady Eleanor as the first cousin of Isobel and Anne. Of course, this Richard was not Richard III’s father-in-law the “Kingmaker”, who was Richard NEVILLE Earl of Warwick in jure uxoris, but his grandfather-in-law. The Beauchamps and Nevilles were unrelated until Richard Beauchamp’s younger daughter, Anne, married Richard Neville, after which her elder brother, Henry Duke of Warwick, died without issue.

Richard Neville’s marriage would not, in the eyes of the Church, make his wife’s niece into his blood niece, any more than Anne Neville would be the Duke of Gloucester’s sister because their siblings had married each other. Barnfield’s article in the 2007 Ricardian ( conclusively demonstrates this point. “Affinity does not beget affinity”.

Of course, if it did, then Jacquetta’s first marriage to the Duke of Bedford would make Elizabeth Woodville an effective great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, thus Edward IV’s undispensed second cousin. So, whether you understand Barnfield’s point or not, the second “marriage” is scotched.

Another reason for the myth of Owain Tudor

Catherine de Valois’ first husband was Henry V, who was clearly the grandson of John of Gaunt. Edmund Beaufort, later Duke of Somerset, is traditionally regarded as Gaunt’s grandson as well, although his father may have been a legitimate Swynford.

Quite apart from the 1420s legislation banning royal stepmothers such as Catherine from remarrying without her adult son’s consent – and we know that she died before he attained his majority – this created an additional barrier of affinity in that her late husband and new partner were apparently first cousins. Such a marriage, quite apart from being illegal in England, would have required a dispensation. No wonder it was more convenient to portray her servant Owain Tudor as the father of her children.

See here for a further complication.

Richard’s Affinity and Good Lordship as Duke of Gloucester 1468-1483

(This article originally appeared in the Ricardian Register, the journal of the Richard III Society American Branch, and has been reproduced here with its permission.)

Allegation: Richard was an ambitious man, hungry for power and ultimately aiming for the Crown. He kept his intentions close to the vest, but in retrospect it’s apparent that he was forming a formidable power base upon which to usurp the Throne and weaken traditional power magnates like the Stanleys and Percies.   His infringement into these traditional regional hegemonies was meddlesome, divisive and ultimately the cause of his undoing as King.

Rebuttal Synopsis: (1) Richard was introduced to his “power base” with the sanction and approval of his brother Edward IV, as the result of a series of betrayals and forfeitures that occurred during the years 1468-1471; if anything, Richard ultimately chose to surrender spheres of influence that could have drawn him closer to the Westminster court circle. In all, Richard was “King Edward’s man” and his most powerful agent in the North, but did not seek to expand his influence in East Anglia, Lincolnshire or Wales, despite holding lands there. (2) Richard’s use of the powers and lands granted to him by Edward IV reflects nothing more than a strong talent for forming a medieval affinity, employing it effectively, maximizing its reach and capacity, and expressing the quintessential ideal of medieval “good lordship” to his retainers. (3) Richard’s use of his affinity in areas traditionally within the orbits of the Percy and Stanley families was a result of Edward IV’s national policy of containing but placating regional magnates. The nature of Richard’s land and office grants from the King placed him in an inevitably provocative position with regards to such regional magnates. On balance, the evidence shows that he frequently abandoned his interests in deference to such magnates and was largely able to work effectively within them without creating lasting divisions. For this, his ascension to the Crown in 1483 was largely supported by the Percies and other regional magnates with whom he had developed productive working relationships.

NOTE: this paper is largely based on Rosemary Horrox’s seminal 1989 text “Richard III: A Study of Service”. Unless otherwise stated, all quotations are hers. Professor Horrox is at Cambridge University and is a scholar of medieval history and affinity. She ranks among the generation of scholars inspired by Charles Ross, and is a contemporary of Michael Hicks. These individuals are not considered to be pro-Richard by any means.


Richard, as Duke of Gloucester, created what has been described as “one of the great affinities of the Middle Ages, both in scale and cohesion”. (Horrox, RIII: Study of Service, p. 87-88.) However, this was not a foregone conclusion merely because he was born into a powerful and rich family. As so movingly described by Dr. Livia Visser-Fuchs:
“In his early twenties Richard of Gloucester himself recorded that he had been ‘nakedly born into this wretched world, destitute of all possessions, goods and inheritance’ and that it had been God’s ‘infinite goodness’ that had granted him his ‘great possessions and gifts’. This claim was only partly rhetorical, for he was born the fourth [and youngest] surviving son of his parents and had no grand titles to look forward to. It is, in fact, possible that he was destined for the church, and no one could have predicted that he would die king of England. It was only when his brother Edward took the throne and recalled his young brothers, George and Richard, from exile in the Low Countries that Richard’s fortune changed dramatically: on 1 November 1461 (at age 9), Richard was created Duke of Gloucester and shortly after elected a Knight of the Garter.”(Richard the Third Society, webpage.)

Being made a Duke did not automatically bring any affinity, power, land or offices along with it. Indeed, while Richard had been given certain national titles at a very young age (Admiral of England, Ireland and Aquitaine at age 10; Constable at age 17; Great Chamberlain at age 19) these titles really did not bring any basis upon which to build an “affinity” or a retinue of supporters. Being the youngest son, Richard would have to be able to build upon whatever lands and offices would come to him through means other than inheritance; in this manner, all of Richard’s power as Duke derived from his brother King Edward IV, who used his younger brother for the purpose of extending his own royal authority and executing his own national policy.

At the age of 16, Richard would have come into his “majority” age, and he was starting from scratch. “A newcomer to the political scene whether lord or man, could not hope to operate outside this existing network” of affinities of patronage and retainership. All barons and the gentry operated within the system, and many powerful families were able to pass on their retainers to their heirs. Because Edward IV obtained the entirety of the Yorkist affinity held by his father, Richard was left to secure the service of men who were already servants of others. To do this on a significant scale, he had either to supersede or outrank another lord. But personality played a large part too, because a lord taking over a forfeited estate could not take for granted the good will of the existing retainers of an attainted lord. In this, Richard exemplified all the characteristics of “good lordship” but showed no desire to assert his own ambition for anything greater than being “the King’s agent” and most loyal and trusted servant.



Richard’s affinity was shaped by three major events: grants of attainted lands from the King in 1470-71; distributions from his wife Anne Neville’s inheritance of the Beauchamp estate; and transfers of Clarence’s northern holdings following his execution in 1478. The lion’s share was certainly from the hand of the King, as the other distributions merely enhanced what Richard already possessed.

The first record of Richard receiving land was in 1468, when he was 16 and had participated in the treason trial of Henry Courtnay and Thomas Hungerford. Richard got the attainted Hungerford lands, and, in bold yet gallant fashion, he entered into an agreement with the widow by which he promised to protect her dower rights and to be her “good and gracious lord”.   In 1469, the King then granted a very large parcel of royal Duchy lands scattered throughout Lancashire and Cheshire — the heart of Stanley influence.   Moreover, the King gave Richard “all offices and rights” that came with those lands, much to the great antagonism of the Stanleys who viewed them as being within their family prerogative. According to Rosemary Horrox, the King simply did not have the resources or available land in 1469 to give to Richard, and he was willing to discomfort the Stanleys in order to give Richard an entrée into the political world.   Most of the King’s significant land gifts had already gone to George, Duke of Clarence, who was heir apparent, and there was not much else to give Richard.

In making Richard chief steward of duchy lands in North Lancashire, the King effectively put Richard at the head of the royal affinity there, and left him to deal with the Stanleys — who were ambivalent about the Yorkists to say the least. Richard awarded the best duchy farms, fees and offices to the King’s household men. While Richard was able to develop his own smaller retinue, it is the considered opinion of historians like Professor Horrox that in this geographic sphere, what was good for Richard was doubly good for the King and his household.

Unlike his brother George, Richard undertook his role with enthusiasm. At age 17, Richard was observed in the Paston papers to have been recruiting men in East Anglia to assist in putting down the Robin of Redesdale rebellion. Despite his youth, Richard had successfully recruited into his affinity John Howard and Sir John Say, the latter of whom had already submitted a dispute to Richard for resolution. He was already proving to be adept at the politics of securing the service of prominent lords.

With the death of William Herbert at the hands of the “Kingmaker” Earl of Warwick, in May 1469, Richard was given possession of his first important sphere of influence when he was given all the offices and lands in South Wales formerly held by Herbert, Earl of Pembroke. Richard put considerable energy into his new role, retaining the service of men – some of whom would die at Barnet in Richard’s service. But Herbert’s surviving son had the right to re-take all the lands and titles upon his attaining majority age. Perhaps knowing this, Richard showed no signs of desiring a power base here, and ultimately he relinquished this sphere of influence.

Richard’s fortunes changed dramatically with the betrayal of Warwick and Clarence in 1469-70, and following the death of Warwick and the outcome at Tewkesbury, Richard was amply rewarded for his steadfast loyalty to the King. He was given Warwick’s lordships of Middleham, Penrith and Sheriff Hutton amongst other Neville lands. This substantial grant came at a cost: Richard surrendered many of the Duchy offices in Lancashire and Cheshire he had been given earlier in 1469, in deference to the Stanleys. Later, Richard would acquire additional northern and Welsh lordships through his wife’s Beauchamp inheritance, and his brother Clarence’s execution. Nonetheless, these Neville lordships would form the core of Richard’s “great affinity”, and it was expected that he would place himself at the head of the now-leaderless Neville affinity.

By undertaking to lead Warwick’s affinity, Richard was not necessarily expressing over-sized ambition on his part. Indeed, the placement of Richard in the north advanced the King’s objectives. The region was hard to control from London, was England’s only land border with another country, and was a notoriously difficult place to exert royal authority given the presence of strong regional loyalties to local lords. After Warwick’s defection, and the practiced ambivalence of the Percy and Stanley families, the King had to decide how best to exercise royal authority in the north and what should be done with the attainted Neville estates. He used Richard for both.   As such, Richard was viewed as virtually the King’s agent there, as well as heir to Warwick’s affinity.

Richard’s role as leading royal agent in the north brought a merging of his connections with those of the Crown.   He had added power because of his connections to the King. “It is often claimed that a lord on the spot was of more immediate relevance to local men, especially in outlying regions, than the king at Westminster.” (Horrox, p. 60) Richard thus filled a “double role” of acting as good lord on local matters and representing his retainers’ interests with the King.

At the same time, Richard proved himself uninterested in building his affinity in such a way as either to usurp royal power or craft a way towards the throne for himself. This is exemplified in two areas, Wales and East Anglia, where Richard also held extensive lands and lordships. The Prince of Wales had his court in Ludlow, near Richard’s lordship of Abergavenny. As royal duke, Richard sat on the Prince’s council, but he did not play an active role on it; indeed, there is no evidence that he ever attempted to dominate or influence it in any way.   He showed himself willing to suborn his interests to those of the Prince’s affinity, and, significantly, he did not attempt to create a sphere of influence by building his own competing affinity there. Professor Horrox describes Richard’s presence in Wales as tertiary to his northern affinity. (Horrox, pp. 81-83)

In East Anglia, Richard was the beneficiary of the 1471 attainder of the Earl of Oxford and forfeiture of the deVere holdings in Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, and Essex. Richard also obtained lands in Lincolnshire following the attainders of other Lancastrian supporters. The location of these possessions brought him into direct contact with the Queen and her brother Anthony, who maintained their affinities in this region. Rather than compete with these two powerful figures from the Court, Richard instead showed himself willing to suborn his interests to theirs. He gave the Queen all but 4 manors he had acquired in Essex and Lincolnshire. He gave the Suffolk manors to John Howard. London similarly did not tempt him. The deVere London townhouse that he received in 1471 was sold. While Richard maintained land holdings in Cambridgeshire, Professor Horrox states that his conduct in East Anglia shows that he was “resigning any political role”, and simply preserving his financial interests.



Richard was uniquely talented in the way he leveraged the offices and lands given to him by the King in the north of Lancashire. In the early days of his possessing the Duchy estates and offices, he was aware that he was expected to place himself at the head of existing officials, but he also grasped the concept of being selective and judicious in distributing the rewards and benefits that came along with his offices. In addition to being chief steward, which was the prime influential position from which to hand out benefits, he had also been granted numerous offices of forestry and sheriffdoms, and therefore he was charged with assigning rights to logging and other similar ventures that came along with local resource management, as well as handing out key posts in the legal and civil administration.

As stated above, Richard chose to reward the King’s household men with the prime benefits, but by doing so he was making connections beyond his own limited sphere. These provided him a valuable opportunity for him to win over some of the King’s men to his own retinue. For example, he attracted the allegiance of Charles Pilkington and Robert Harrington, both of whom remained steadfastly in his retinue through 1483 and beyond. (Interestingly, Hastings had been expected to do the same by being vested with duchy lands and offices elsewhere, but he did not nearly succeed in doing what Richard accomplished.)

There was nothing suspicious about Richard recruiting the King’s household men to his own retinue. After all, most junior royal sons would be given “secondments” from the king’s royal household staff in which to establish their own households. The King had done the same with Clarence. While there may have been some ambiguity with retainers recruited in this manner, the ultimate beneficiary was the King, as he could rely on Richard to assert the royal prerogative notwithstanding local counter-pressure. And for the retainers themselves, they would find they had a key ally in Richard when they had a matter that needed to be presented to the King. This was an essential ingredient of showing “good lordship” in the medieval period.

Richard’s ability in building his affinity is probably best demonstrated by the continuity he was able to achieve when succeeding to Warwick’s sphere of influence in the north in 1471. As best summed up by Professor Horrox (p. 52):

“Such continuity was valuable to Gloucester, but it is important not to exaggerate the extent to which he simply took over a ready-made connection. Although Neville men were predisposed to look to the duke, Gloucester still had to work at being a good lord in order to give substance to the relationship. Nor was Gloucester’s northern connection ever just that of the earl of Warwick. Noble affinities were in any case constantly evolving as their members came of age, married and died, but Gloucester’s lordship brought other changes. As he acquired further land and offices in the north, the affinity inevitably widened. Not only were men from other areas drawn into Gloucester’s circle but, by a cumulative process, the duke’s new interests made him a more attractive lord within the Neville lands themselves.”

Richard achieved this continuity of service by being generous with whatever political tools he had within his reach. He promised pardons for Warwick’s men prior to the battle of Barnet, and as a result many of them turned out for the King that critical day. He rewarded prominent Warwick supporters, such as Sir John Conyers, by doubling his wages, making him steward of Middleham and constable of its castle. Thomas Witham, and his brothers Robert and George, all from Sheriff Hutton, became Richard’s men even though commissions of arrest had been issued for them as late as June 1471. When Sir William Parr of Kendal declared for Edward IV in 1471, his past loyalty to Warwick was not held against him. As a result, Parr recruited his brothers-in-law to Richard’s service, and they were later recruited to steward and bailiff of Penrith. By doing all this, Richard was able to prevent former Warwick men from being attainted and losing their estates. Indeed, one of the most notable things about the fall-out of 1471, is the relatively low number of attainders compared to what usually followed armed rebellions. As a result, Richard inspired trust and loyalty.

Another aspect of Richard’s affinity was the unity and cohesion in which he employed it, despite his land holdings being scattered across many parts of England and Wales. His retainers could be gainfully employed throughout his sphere of influence, and he did not hesitate to bring in men outside the locality in order to get a project accomplished. For example, when outfitting his ship the “Anne”, Richard captained the craft with a northerner, but had it victualed by a southerner from Hampshire. His retainers thus found many rewards by being in his service, because they could migrate between localities and pick up work elsewhere when it was lacking at home.

Because Richard was willing to work at being a good lord, he found his influence growing exponentially, but he recognized a wider responsibility to those other than his own servants. Richard was much in demand as an arbiter and as a person willing to give considered legal redress, and it is clear he also took that seriously and was viewed as a firm but neutral decision-maker. He once said in a proceeding “We intend, nor will none otherwise do at any time, but according to the king’s laws”. On at least one occasion, he was prepared to rule against one of his retainers. On behalf of the city of York, he supported its petition to the King to protect its economic interests. He understood that even small matters, like the fish-garths in the River Ouse, deserved his attention because they had real impact on local populations.   As stated by Professor Horrox, a good lord brought to the role his own abilities and charisma. While there were material advantages in being Richard’s retainer, there is no doubt that his personal attractions and charisma drove people to seek his service.

By the mid-1470s, Richard was undoubtedly the most significant lord in the north. Richard’s domination there “is unique in the Middle Ages” and the novelty of his position is reflected in the creation, in the Parliament of 1482-3, a northern county palatinate for him – the first one to have been created since Lancashire was made one in 1351. This new area would be comprised of as much land as Richard could win in the Scottish dales and along the West March. He was made hereditary warden of the West March for his life and heirs, and was given all royal lands and rights in Cumberland, along with 10,000 marks. One historian even questioned the King’s mental state in making such a huge grant. Professor Horrox believes, however, that the grant only served to strengthen royal authority in the region rather than to diminish it, and that the award was merely just restating what was already Richard’s fait accompli.

The King’s implicit trust in Richard is also reflected in how his role as Constable and Admiral of England was broadened. Richard was active in both capacities. While the Constable’s traditional competence lay in military and chivalric matters, by 1478 the Constable was the established authority in cases of treason and those involving a raised war against the king. The King was also observed to have been interested in broadening Richard’s jurisdiction as Constable, to cover other forms of treason and disaffection.



Because the King used Richard as a political counterweight in the North, it would be inevitable that lines of friction would develop with regional magnates. Yet, on balance, the dominance of Richard’s affinity helped to reduce rivalries that had previously existed there.

One of the frequent charges laid against Richard is that he antagonized Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland by “poaching” his retainers.   According to Professor Horrox, that is not true. Percy had been attainted following Towton, but that attainder was later reversed with Percy restored to his Earldom in 1470.   During that intervening ten-year period, Percy’s own affinity fragmented and therefore he faced a daunting challenge in reassembling it, especially given that John Neville (during his tenure as Earl) had undoubtedly introduced elements of the Neville affinity there. Not surprisingly, Richard – being the King’s brother whose star was “on the rise” – had an easier time gaining the upper hand in expanding his affinity in the early part of the decade.

In 1474, an indenture was drawn up in which Richard undertook to be Percy’s good and faithful lord, and promised not to claim any office or fee granted to the earl by the King, or to take into his service any men retained by Percy. In effect, Richard was to be Percy’s lord, and therefore Percy’s retainers were in a sense Richard’s men. According to Professor Horrox, this pact successfully diffused any tension and there is no suggestion after 1474 that Richard was “poaching” Percy’s retainers. However, some men with Percy affiliations would naturally come into Richard’s service through his presence as Warwick’s heir (e.g., in Knaresborough, where Richard had influence through his Lancashire duchy connections and where Percy held some nearby land).

Despite the wording of the 1474 pact, it still left open the possibility of other forms of shared allegiance between Richard and Percy. Different members of the same family, for example, could have links with both lords. This was not unusual in the medieval period. Hugh Hastings of Fenwick, a Percy man, came into Richard’s orbit in 1471 when the duke made him deputy steward of Snaith because he had property in south Yorkshire.   On the other hand, there were occasions when Richard’s men would go into Percy’s service. Edmund Hastings of Pickering, despite being Richard’s councilor, placed his son in Percy’s household. Richard used his affinity to produce advantageous marriages for Percy’s retainers. This blurring of allegiance was nothing negative. Indeed, it provided both Richard and Percy with an opportunity to show “good lordship” to their respective retainers.

The most contentious friction line between Richard’s affinity and a regional magnate’s, was that with Thomas Lord Stanley. As already discussed above, the King granted to Richard in 1469 extensive duchy lands and offices in the heart of Stanley’s sphere of influence; this grant was retracted in 1471 and Richard was left with significantly fewer holdings there. Despite the King’s retraction, Stanley was not satisfied.

In July, 1471, the King ordered Stanley and his servants to cease meddling in the offices granted to Richard. In fact, Richard was likely exercising just a portion of his offices. For example, he only exercised 2 of the 6 foresterships he had been granted by the King in 1471, the rest being deferred to Stanley’s men. In another remarkable display of intransigence, Lord Stanley simply ignored the King’s 1471 grant of the stewardship of Halton to Richard, and continued to pay the fee to himself based on a grant from 1461. Richard was even willing to give William Stanley his lordship of Chirk in northeast Wales, in exchange for the former Clifford estate in Skipton where Stanley had little influence. Rather than confront an intransigent magnate and pursue his rights to their full extent, Richard simply focused on his duchy holdings in a narrow portion of eastern Lancashire, and “elsewhere he yielded to the Stanleys”.

Whether this friction produced a long-held grudge in Lord Stanley is a matter of some speculation. Even the Hornby affair, where Richard supported the Yorkist Harrington family in opposition to Stanley, was definitively resolved by 1475 without any evidence of an ongoing dispute. There is a “local tradition” that Stanley came to blows with Richard during the early 1470’s, and that he later hung Richard’s banner to glorify in his conquest in 1485. But, again, it would be speculation to think that Richard’s affinity was a motivation for Stanley’s treason at Bosworth.   Stanley was richly rewarded with titles and lands under Richard as King, and never opposed him even in battle. The history of the Stanley family, to be sure, is one of practiced ambivalence, and it is hard to interpret Stanley’s motivations solely through the lens of a feudal loyalty when affinities were constantly changing and evolving.

Richard’s dominance in the north actually reveals that his presence served to reduce tensions, not exacerbate them. Perhaps two of the most intriguing retainers recruited by Richard are Ralph Lord Neville, nephew and heir to the Earl of Westmoreland, and George Lumley, son and heir to Lord Lumley, a retainer of the Earl of Salisbury. As Professor Horrox states, this allowed Richard to extinguish an internecine feud within the Neville house that had stubbornly persisted for decades, much to the grief of local citizens. Richard also was generous to former attainted families; for example, in 1471, he granted a fee to one of the surviving Clifford brothers. By promising to be Percy’s good and gracious lord, by making marriage connections between their retinues, and by being a capable successor to Warwick’s affinity, Richard had not only ended the division within the Neville family but through his relationship with Percy, he had also “called a halt to the long-standing hostility of Neville and Percy”.

Either in his own right or through links with other lords, Richard dominated the entire northeast and northwest counties of Westmoreland and Cumberland. In these areas, Richard’s appointment in 1480 as the King’s “lieutenant in the north” did not do much more than recognize existing loyalties. This grant was made in context of the King’s projected campaign in Scotland and was designed to avoid damaging disputes over military authority by setting Richard firmly above other peers. When seen in the proper light, it becomes clear that Richard was the King’s most powerful agent for the application of royal authority in a region fraught with hazards. Professor Horrox states that Richard “was at the heart of Edward IV’s royal authority, not outside of it”. As such, his affinity and his use of it cannot be construed as a gambit for the crown or an attempt to disempower his brother’s influence.


By examining his affinity, we shed a very powerful light on an important aspect of Richard’s personality. While some may describe the intensity of his work ethic as “control freakery”, it was probably seen then as a highly desirable characteristic to someone in his service. There were obligations that a lord owed to his retinue; if these obligations were hollow, then so was the service. If anything, Richard showed himself loyal to the King and to the concepts of reciprocity that were a foundation of affinities during the 15th century and a cornerstone of social structure.


(1) Rosemary Horrox, “Richard III: A Study of Service” (1989) chapters 1 & 2 (pp. 1-88) (Cambridge University Press)

(2) Livia Visser-Fuchs, “As A Great Magnate”, Richard III Society webpage,

(3) A.J. Pollard, “Governor of The North”, Richard III Society webpage,

(4) Bennett, M., “The Battle of Bosworth” (1985), p. 76 (Gloucester)

(5) K. B McFarlane, “England in the Fifteenth Century: Collected Essays” (1981) (The Hambledon Press)

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