Edward IV and Elizabeth Wydeville. Original 15th century stained glass panels. Royal Window North West Transept Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral, of all the cathedrals I have managed to visit, remains firmly on my ‘favourites’ list. I lived there for a while many years ago, having been entranced by the city and cathedral on one visit. In those far off days as it was free to visit the Cathedral, which was very handy as money was in short supply, I spent many a happy lunchtime wandering about that wonderful place and grew familiar with its many interesting spots, such as where Thomas Becket was slain, where Cardinal Morton, Good King Richard’s nemesis, once lay buried, his grave now empty and the beautiful tomb of Edward the Black Prince. But my favourite spot was to stand and gaze up at the glorious windows, known as the Royal Windows, depicting Edward IV and his family. From their likenesses in those windows they all appeared to be very good looking, quite beautiful in the Queen’s case, and the people of that time who visited the Cathedral must have been proud of their handsome royal family. Of course it was to end tragically but that is covered elsewhere and so…. back to the windows..
Edward commissioned these windows, which were glazed by William Neve, about 1480, having been a frequent visitor to Canterbury. They were badly damaged in 1643 by an over zealous and obnoxious Puritan, Richard Culmer, who left a description of himself in the very act of destruction ‘on top of the citie ladder, neer 60 steps high, with a whole pike in his hand ratling down proud Becket’s glassy bones’.(1). Later this odious man relieved himself in the Cathedral as he was too afraid to leave being in fear of the crowd which had gathered outside and was ready ‘to knock out his brains’(2 )
Antiquated, in a run down state, and at 600 years old, the old bridge had reached its self by date and was demolished in 1832. Of course it was inevitable but at the same time, a place so steeped in history, surely a tragic loss. This bridge had seen some of the most momentous occasions in London’s history and there could have been few Londoners who had not crossed over at some time in their lives. It was the site of pageants, jousts, battles and even coronation processions. It consisted of 19 arches of varying widths with piers supported on great starlings and crossing just over 900 feet of water. The Southwark end was protected by the Great Stonegate which had a portcullis which could be closed and barred. At the seventh arch from the southern end was a functional drawbridge before the Drawbridge Gate, where a toll keeper collected tolls from passengers on the bridge and from ships which required the drawbridge to be raised. It was upon Drawbridge Gate that the heads of traitors were displayed.
There had been many manifestations of the bridge prior to this particular one, among them a wooden one which had been brought down by a tornado in 1091, but it is this particular one most people think of when Old London Bridge is mentioned. Designed by Peter de Colechurch, a priest, chaplain and architect, building work begun in 1176 and was commissioned by Henry II who was suffering pangs of guilt since the murder of his old friend Thomas Becket. To this end one of the first buildings on the bridge was a chapel dedicated to Thomas – The Chapel of St Thomas the Martyr on the Bridge – and was the starting point for pilgrimages to Thomas’ shrine at Canterbury. This chapel was completed in 1209 and was in use until 1548 when it was dissolved and begun a new life as a dwelling place, surveyers being instructed by the Common Council that the chapel upon the same bridge ‘be defaced and be translated into a dwellyng-house with as moche spede as they convenyentlye may’. The upper story was demolished in 1747 when it continued in use as a warehouse until final demolition in 1832.
Peter de Colechurch died 4 years before the completion of the bridge and was buried in the crypt of St Thomas’ chapel (1). Sadly nothing is known of what became of his bones after the demolition and it may be they were simply tossed aside or even into the Thames itself.
Richard Shrewsbury Duke of York was the second son of King Edward IV. We don’t know a lot about him because he was not the heir to the throne but notwithstanding this, he is one of the most investigated historical characters being him one of the well known “Princes” in the Tower.
We have not a certain date of birth for him but his mother Elizabeth Woodville was heavily pregnant when she visited Shrewsbury in August 1473 and apparently she gave birth to her second son in the Dominican Friars of Shrewsbury on 17th August.
As soon as he could barely crawl, six months after his birth, his father King Edward, created Richard Duke of York, a Knight of the Bath in 1474 and Knight of the Garter in 1475. When he was just two years old, Richard was already very rich having in his hands the lands once belonged to the Willoughbys, the lordships of Grantham, Stamford and Fotheringhay plus other lands from the duchy of Lancaster.
However, the best opportunity was still to come for him when John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk unexpectedly died aged 32 leaving behind him a 5 year-old girl, Anne his only heiress. It was the great occasion for Edward. The king saw the opportunity and asked Anne as a bride for Richard who was only 4 years old. The Dowager Duchess was very demanding. Apart a massive dowry for her daughter, she also asked Edward to disinherit William Lord Berkeley and John Howard so that she could have her personal revenge on them. Edward didn’t hesitate to accomplish the Duchess’ desire and accepted the conditions. John Howard had been a loyal Yorkist all his life but this didn’t stop Edward from disinheriting him. John Howard never rebelled against Edward but remains a Yorkist and died in the Battle of Bosworth fighting for Richard III. Thank to this, Richard of York was incredibly wealthy as he received the Dukedom of Norfolk and the Earldoms of Varenne and Nottingham.
The marriage between Richard Shrewsbury and Lady Anne Mowbray took place at Westminster on 15th January 1478. During the wedding procession, she was accompanied by many eminent noble men including Richard Duke of Gloucester. The ceremony was followed by a rich feasting with countless noble guests. The new couple was of course not allowed to live together with regards to their age but Richard started to patronise some priories also on his wife’s behalf.
But the two children were not meant to be a couple for long. The child bride died at 8 on November 1481. Having King Edward established that his son would have life interests in the Mowbray properties, Richard inherited a great portion of Anne’s fortune.
As regards his physical aspect, witnesses said he was a good-looking boy, a real talent in music, he could sing very well, he enjoyed good health and he could manage sticks and swords.
The life of Richard was a happy one and he lived with his family while his brother Edward, who had to be the successor of his father’s throne, lived almost in Ludlow with his own household.
Everything changed for him and his brother on 9th April 1483 when Edward IV unexpectedly died. Richard was only 9 years old. His brother became king under the Protectorate of his paternal uncle Richard Duke of Gloucester. His mother, the dowager queen, took sanctuary with her children including little Richard. His uncle Gloucester found not suitable for them to stay in the sanctuary and offered the queen and her family an alternative declaring the sanctuary was not a good solution. In Polydore Vergil’s account, Richard Gloucester pointed out that the Duke of York was not happy to live like a refugee and that he had asked to join his brother Edward at the Tower of London to play a part in his coronation.
On 8th June 1483, Bishop Robert Stillington declared that Richard of York and his brother were illegitimate as their father was already married when he tied the knot with Elizabeth Woodville. The woman was Lady Eleanor Talbot sister of Elizabeth, the mother of Anne Mowbray the deceased child bride of Richard Shrewsbury. Now Richard was the bastard son of the former king. On 16th June, he was taken out of the sanctuary and accompanied to the Tower by Cardinal Bourchier and other noble men under Gloucester’s command. From this account, it appeared that Richard was happy to go. The story of the Duke of York being sick and reluctant to leave his family is stated only in Thomas More to make Richard of Gloucester appear an insensitive tyrant with no consideration towards his young nephews.
Notwithstanding the precontract issue, it was not still official that Edward V could lose his throne but nobody wanted a minority or a Woodville king. On 25th of the same month Richard Duke of Gloucester was offered the crown that he accepted on 26th June.
The boys were seen playing and going around in the Tower. They were at some point moved to an inner place. This does not mean that their uncle imprisoned them but simply they had to leave the royal apartments once Gloucester had to occupy them to prepare for his coronation. Apparently and according to some accounts, they were less seen until they disappeared from view.
As we very well know, lots of theories arouse around their disappearance and also around the appearance of a certain “Perkin Warbeck” who entered the scene as the grown up Richard Duke of York. For centuries, historians have debated about the identity of “Perkin” and the majority of them have believed he was an imposter but which mystery is behind enigmatic character? New evidence reopened the debate: what if “Perkin” was actually who he said he was?
Another subject that Cairo dwellers frequently pontificate about is Henry “Tudor”‘s marriage to Elizabeth of York. We do know that he promised, on Christmas Day in 1483 at Rennes Cathedral, to wed her and we know that he obtained a dispensation for the purpose. The denialists claim that this shows her and her mother’s knowledge and consent to the eventual union but the evidence for this is wafer-thin.
Ashdown-Hill’s The Pink Queen, ch.18, pp.169-173, as a biography of Elizabeth Wydeville, fully investigates this subject. Firstly, under the 1475 treaty of Picquigny, Edward IV had agreed with Louis XI that his eldest daughter marry the Dauphin Charles (VIII). Louis abrogated this, by negotiating Charles’ alternative marriage to Margaret of Austria, only in 1482-3. Ironically, Charles actually married a third princess.
The source that suggests cooperation between the families of Elizabeth of York and of Henry “Tudor” is Thomas, Lord Stanley and now Earl of Derby, who was Henry’s stepfather and made this claim in 1486, some months after Bosworth. Ashdown-Hill quotes Derby’s testimony, which noted the couple’s close relationship, verbatim on p.169. Polydore Vergil (left) also quotes this and implies consent from the lady in question. These witness claims, to James, Bishop of Imola, were probably about countering accusations that Elizabeth and her family weren’t able to demonstrate their consent because Elizabeth was being kept in MB’s household. Note that Elizabeth was only able to give evidence to the tribunal via proctors, and they may well have been chosen for her. There were no Wydevilles amongst the witnesses called.
Griffith and Thomas’ The Making of the Tudor Dynasty, pp.91-3, make a similar assertion, involving Margaret Beaufort’s physician, Dr. Lewis Caerleon, but the evidence is notable, once again, only by its absence as Vergil is their only source. Only Vergil suggests that Caerleon was also Elizabeth Woodville’s physician and she was known to employ a different one.
Vergil’s statement continues that the plan was to marry Henry to Elizabeth or Cecily if Elizabeth was already married, as Barrie Williams reminds us was that she was to be to Joao II’s cousin. Whatever the truth of the this matter, she wasn’t crowned until today in 1485 or married until 18th January. Both of these events post-date the repeal of Titulus Regius, which arguably legitimised those born to Edward IV’s bigamous “marriage”.
Henry, before and after his coronation, obviously saw Edward’s daughters as pawns, one of whom he would promote to a queen, with or without her consent or that of her mother. This was only possible by relegitimising Elizabeth and her sisters, after which their mother was disposable.
If you go to this link this article you’ll find an interesting if challengeable article about “Perkin Warbeck” and whether he could or could not have been Richard of Shrewsbury. Well, there were enough people who thought he was, and to make Henry Tudor’s existence thoroughly miserable. Pleasant thought. The article also discussed who might really have disposed of the boys in the Tower, if indeed they were disposed of.
At the beginning, as an example of how important naming names can be to a lot of people, there is a comment about the novelist Patricia Cornwell paying a lot to try to prove the identity of Jack the Ripper, inspired by a now (apparently) debunked theory. Well, I’m as interested in Jack the Ripper as the next person, but to be honest, in his case I don’t know that I want to know who he actually was. The mystery is the thing, especially as the royal family itself is implicated in one of the other theories.
But when it comes to the boys in the Tower, I’m definitely interested in knowing who did what, simply because it matters when Richard III’s name is hauled around in the mire. I’m convinced he didn’t do anything to his nephews, but either got them away somewhere safe, or was caught up in the consequences of someone else’s conspiracy, during which they died.
So it’s always intriguing to read someone else’s thoughts on these thorny matters, and some hoary old myths always make an appearance of course. Including in the above link. The first is that Hastings was bundled straight from the privy council meeting to a convenient log and had his head lopped. No trial, no nothing, just instant retribution. Well, that’s silly. Of course Hastings had a trial. It’s Tudor propaganda that he didn’t. Anything to blacken Richard’s character. One thing’s certain, if Hastings hadn’t been plotting against Richard, he’d have survived. But he was, so he didn’t.
And if Richard were really evil, would he really have just sentenced Jane Shore, or whatever her name really was, to walk barefoot through the streets? I think not. She’d been up to her pretty neck in scheming against Richard…if he’d been a Tudor, she too would have been hauled off to that bloody log! So don’t blame Richard, look to the Tudors as the instigators of nasty things happening to women. They made a speciality of the art.
Mancini is believable because he “had no axe to grind”. Well, not that we know of, anyway. But does he tell the truth? And he was an Italian without great command of English, so how much did he mishear/misinterpret? If there’d been a plot involving Hastings, to do away with Richard and put Edward V on the throne, Richard would have been pretty stupid not to secure Edward somewhere solid and safe. The Tower — in the royal apartments, not the deepest, darkest, dampest, direst old dungeon below the low water level of the Thames! And whatever else Mancini may say, he doesn’t actually accuse Richard of murdering the boys. How could he? No one knows even now what happened to them, if anything. They might well have been taken abroad…or they may have died of natural causes. There was always some disease or other circulating in medieval times.
Then we come to the “it’s Buckingham wot done it” bit. Well, I’m prepared he believe he did. He wanted to be rewarded more by Richard than he already had been, and when the riches weren’t forthcoming quickly enough, he raised a rebellion. Which was tied up with Henry Tudor, courtesy of John Morton, Margaret Beaufort, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all…. The usual traitors in fact. Well, what I don’t think is that Buckingham rebelled in order to put Tudor on the throne. What? Why the heck would he? He was genuine through and through blue-blooded royal, Richard’s first cousin, why on God’s own earth would be conspire to put a Beaufort nonentity like Henry Tudor on the throne. I think it more likely that Buckingham found out the hard way that they weren’t supporting him, but he was supporting them. Not flaming likely, thought he, but then the British weather put paid to the entire enterprise, and he was captured, tried and beheaded. And good riddance to the ingrate! He was no loss to Richard, or to England.
Sir James Tyrell is considered next, because he apparently confessed to the boys’ murder later on in Henry VII’s ill-gotten reign. If Tyrell did confess, it was wrung out of him by means of the vast and novel array of implements in the Tudors’ extensive torture repertoire. Besides, there is a Tyrell family story, firmly believed, that the boys stayed briefly on their East Anglian estates and were then helped to escape to safety at Richard’s behest. If Sir James had murdered them, I think the Tyrells would have kept their heads down, not preserved a heroic story of their involvement in the boys’ escape.
To move on, did a Lancastrian faction try to rescue the boys in a botched attempt that ended with the boys’ death? Hmm, I’m afraid I have a problem with the thought of Lancastrians “rescuing” the sons of a Yorkist king. The Woodvilles would want to put Edward V on the throne, and possibly some disgruntled Yorkists, but not any Lancastrians, surely? Anything the latter did would be a cover for extinguishing the boys, not saving them. My opinion only, of course.
Next, if the boys died of natural causes, why didn’t Richard put their bodies on display? Well, perhaps he would if he could, but he didn’t have them. I think he spirited them away to safety, maybe through the Tyrells, but then something befell them. Maybe even a shipwreck on their way to Richard’s sister, their aunt Margaret in Burgundy. You can’t produce what’s lying at the bottom of the North Sea. And who would believe their uncle had acted for their safety anyway? Don’t forget we were soon to have the Tudor Propaganda Machine chugging along with supreme success. I’m sure it could have taught Saatchi & Saatchi a lesson or three in advertising!
Did Elizabeth Woodville ever actually claim her children were legitimate? Not as far as I’m aware, and I’m sure that if she did, then her dear son-in-law, Henry VII, would have spread it with a thousand fanfares. He needed those children to be legitimate (and the boys dead!) because he was marrying the eldest daughter. Perhaps their mother’s silence was enough? Somehow I don’t think so. Henry would have wanted her to stand up on her hind legs and bray that she and Edward IV were legally married. She didn’t. Nor did Henry’s queen, Elizabeth of York, ever condemn her wicked Uncle Richard. Nor did the next sister, Cicely, who was married off p.d.q. to Henry’s half-uncle, John Welles, Viscount Welles. (Yes, she was this viscountessw’s inspiration.) For an interesting speculation tha Elizabeth Woodville eventually died of the plague, look here
Bishop Stillington supposedly witnessed, or at the very least knew about, what passed for a clandestine marriage ceremony between Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV. I don’t recall hearing of him repeating the precious lines Henry endeavoured to drum into him, no doubt aided by a ruler over the devout knuckles. Nor did the family of Lady Eleanor Talbot, who seems to have been Edward’s first and very legal wife. How selfish of her not to have turned up her toes before her spouse moved on to Elizabeth. Thus Eleanor’s survivl for four years after the Woodville match, made the second ceremony bigamous. I don’t recall hearing the Talbots utter a single word, either to deny or confirm the first marriage. Like everyone else, they stayed silent as mice.
I can’t imagine that John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, set about murdering the boys so he could claw back the Norfolk inheritance (of the Mowbray dukes) from the younger one. Why would he when Richard had already returned the Mowbray inheritance to him two days after acceding to the throne?
As for John de la Pole murdering them, well, he’d have to murder Richard’s son, Edward of Middleham, as well. It begins to look like mass murder. And if Edward of Middleham was eventually murdered, as many think he was, I don’t believe it was John de la Pole’s doing. But yes—oh yes!—I believe it of Tudor, Margaret Beaufort, John Morton et al. It suited them very nicely indeed to rob Richard of his only legitimate child. I’ll bet they toasted themselves with the very best plonk for a job well done.
And when it came to Bosworth, another of their slimy creatures, Sir William Stanley (and sort-of/maybe/perhaps aided by his crafty fence-sitting brother, who incidentally, was also Henry’s stepfather) all but stabbed Richard in the back by turning on him at the vital moment. The Stanleys had pledged themselves to be Richard’s men, for Pete’s sake. With such friends, who needs enemies? I think it was a salutary lesson to Henry Tudor…who never trusted anyone, except his Mum. One of the best things he ever did was later in his reign to chop off Sir William’s Janus head! Pity he didn’t do the same to both Stanleys.
Right, I’m well aware of how biased I am in favour of Richard III, but then this blog bears the name of the Yorkist colours and his portrait, both of which are a bit of a clue. The blog is quite clearly aimed at people like me, so posting something anti-Richard is unthinkable.
Mary of York Royal Window, Northwest Transept, Canterbury Cathedral
Mary Plantagenet or Mary of York was the second daughter of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Wydville. She was born at Windsor Castle in August 1467 and died at her mother’s favourite palace of Greenwich 23 May 1482 aged just 14 years. Strangely enough another royal child, even younger than Mary, Anne Mowbray Duchess of Norfolk, her sister in law – being the child bride of her brother Richard of Shrewsbury – had also died at Greenwich just six months earlier on 9th November 1481. Even at a time when child mortality was high it must have been heart rending to have 2 deaths so close together for the royal household and by horrible coincidence in the same royal apartments. Elizabeth Wydeville’s whereabouts at that time are unknown so its impossible to say if she was at Greenwich at the time of Mary’s death although it is known that her father had visited Canterbury on the 17th May and was back in London on the 23rd and thus it is possible he may, perhaps accompanied by the queen, have seen his daughter as she lay dying (1).
A print by an unknown artist now in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich depicting the Palace c 1487.
A view of Greenwich Palace from a print published by the Society of Antiquaries 1767
The Royal Window, Canterbury Cathedral. Elizabeth Wydeville and her daughters. Mary is shown as the last figure on the right hand side.
The cause of death of neither of the girls is known. While Anne’s body had been taken by barge to her burial place in Westminster Abbey Mary’s was taken by stages to St Georges Chapel, Windsor, where she was interred next to her 2 year old brother George who had died in March 1479 possibly of the plague. Several Wydeville ladies were among the mourners including Jane, Lady Grey of Ruthin, sister to the queen and Jacquetta, another sister’s daughter, Joan Lady Strange, wife of George Stanley. Another niece, Lady ‘Dame’ Katherine Grey, possibly the daughter of Jane Wydeville was also present. Dinner for the funeral group was at the palace after which Mary’s body was taken from Greenwich parish church where it had been taken and begun its last sad journey to Windsor (2).
Over time the exact location of the graves became forgotten and lost but in 1810 during the course of building work their coffins were discovered in the area known then as Wolsey’s Chapel and now as the Albert Memorial Chapel. These were easily identifiable because George’s lead coffin was inscribed with “serenissimus princeps Georgius filiustercius Christianissimi principis Edvardi iiij” and it was known that Mary had been laidto rest alongside her little brother – her funeral accounts tell us that she was “buried by my Lorde George, her brother”. When Mary’s coffin was examined she was found wrapped in numerous folds of strong cerecloth (waxed cloth used for wrapping a corpse) closely packed with cords ( 3)
Mary and George were then reburied in the small vault close to their father’s. Their mother’s remains, a skull and pile of bones found lying on top of Edward’s coffin along with the remains of her cheap wooden coffin had disappeared between the time of Edward’s vault being discovered and resealed in 1789 (4). Edward’s remains had been thoroughly poked about and no doubt Elizabeth’s were appropriated by the dreaded Georgian souvenir collector along with numerous locks of Edward’s hair. A slab was already in place with their names on it as mistakenly it was believed they had already been buried close to their father in the small vault adjoining his.
St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Yorkist Mauseoleum photo @Roger Simon
Its not surprising that little is known about Mary of York a child of 14 who was hardly here ere she was gone. She was mentioned along with her sister Elizabeth in the will her father made prior to leaving for France in 1475 – ‘Item we wil that oure doughtre Elizabeth have x ml marc towards her marriage and that oure doughtre Marie have also to her mariage x ml marc , soo that they bee gouverned and rieuled in thair mariages by oure derrest wiff the Quene and by oure said son the Princeif Godfortune him to comme to age of discrecion’ but ‘if either of oure said doughtres doo marie thaim silf without such advys and assent soo as they bee therby disparaged, as God forbede, that then she soo marieing her silf have noo paiement of her said x ml marc, but that it bee emploied by oure Executours towards the hasty paiement of oure debtes and restitucions as is expressed in this oure last Will’ (5). Ah man makes plans while the gods laugh as they say for we all know how differently things panned out. However its rather gratifying to know, at a time when so many ancient and royal remains have been lost that at least Edward has two of his children with him.
Mary of York ‘Royal Window’ Canterbury Cathedral
If you enjoyed this post you might be interested in my post on Mary’s parents at
The Royal Funerals of the House of York at Windsor p58 Anne E Sutton & Livia Visser-Fuchs
D. & S. Lysons, Magna Britannia, vol. I, pt. I, Berkshire (reprint of an 1806 publication), p. 471
Elizabeth had requested a modest funeral and that is exactly what she got. Even the herald reporting on the funeral was shocked The Royal Funerals of the House of York at Windsor p68 Anne E Sutton & Livia Visser-Fuchs
Excerpta Historica : Illustrations of English History p369 edited Samuel Bentley
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). 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. 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.’ 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. The unifying principle of the remaining impediments is encapsulated in the maxim affinitas non parit affinitatem (‘affinity does not beget affinity’).
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). 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). 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), 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, 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.
 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.
 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.
 Mary O’Regan, ‘Marriage Dispensations According to St Augustine’, Ricardian Bulletin, Autumn 2008, pp. 34-35.
 ‘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).
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.
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.
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?)