We are always being told that medieval aristocratic marriages (and indeed most medieval marriages) were arranged and did not feature love. The object was to increase property and lands, enhance a family’s reputation and produce as many heirs as was humanly possible. I pity those women who had a child a year throughout their married life. No modern medicine should anything go wrong, just a sad demise and a husband immediately seeking a replacement.
Was it like that? Looking at records you’d certainly think so, yet there are some very famous examples of kings and magnates who fell apart when they lost their queens. I have chosen three such men, Richard II, George of Clarence and Henry VII . Their marriages were dynastic, or at least arranged for profit, yet the brides seemed to have won these men’s hearts and dependence.
Anne of Bohemia wasn’t much of a catch as far as Richard II was concerned, but he chose her over a much wealthier Visconti bride who would have brought a huge dowry and a lot of influence in Italy. Anne, on the other hand, had to be purchased from her brother! She was not a popular choice in England, but by choosing her, it’s almost as if Richard sensed she was the one for him. Yes, a fanciful notion on my part, but the pair were happy together, seemingly from the outset, and when she died he tore down the palace where she had breathed her last. It’s said he would not go anywhere he had been with her, although I think that is probably a myth. He could hardly refuse to go into Westminster Abbey, for instance.
Richard’s interests were in the arts, not warfare, and throughout his life, from being a boy king, he was surrounded my warlike barons and grasping uncles. He was, as the old song goes, “a lonely little petunia in an onion patch”. And those onions were big and generally hostile.
English history would have been very different if Anne had given him heirs. He certainly crumbled when she died suddenly, descending into a state that is always referred to as a tyranny. The petunia grew gigantic and poisonous, developed thorns and began to weed out the onions, spreading itself swiftly into their vacated places. But Richard went too far. His word was never to be trusted and he made some unbelievably bad decisions, so that he eventually lost his kingdom to his cousin, who became the first Lancastrian king, Henry IV. Had Anne’s gentle influence kept Richard in check? I would guess so. Without her, he went haywire.
I would also guess that Isabel Neville had the same soothing effect on George of Clarence, whose notoriously unpredictable and rash temperament eventually led to his death in the Tower, branded a traitor by his brother, Edward IV. The legend of George being drowned in a butt of malmsey may be just a legend, or it might be founded in truth. Did George have a drink problem?
He was certainly a very unhappy man, the middle brother, angry and resentful…and maybe possessed of the knowledge that his elder brother’s marriage was bigamous. That would make George the next trueborn heir to the throne. But the truth never came out, and although he’d misbehaved considerably before Isabel’s death in childbed, he certainly imploded when she was no longer there.
He had married her to get at the enormous inheritance of her father, the Earl of Warwick (whom he also hoped would help him to the throne) but Isabel proved to be good for him. Maybe you will not agree with my assessment of George, but the fact remains that he was never the same again after losing her.
Finally there is Henry VII. He was obliged to marry Elizabeth of York. He’d made a vow before invading England that he would unite the warring houses of York and Lancaster through marriage, and once treachery had made him king, he resented the thought of having a Yorkist bride forced upon him. He delayed as long as he could, until he was told to get on with it. So they were married. What that wedding night was like we will never know, because he was a resentful groom, and she was probably an equally resentful bride. But a son and heir was born eight months later, so they didn’t lie back to back until the morning.
Like Richard II and George of Clarence before him, Henry came to rely on Elizabeth’s gentle influence, and their marriage was certainly successful. She wasn’t the first lady of his realm, his mother had that honour, but Elizabeth was the one who shared his bed…and perhaps his confidences. The one with whom he could relax and enjoy a little welcome privacy.
When she died, he went to pieces. He shut himself away for weeks on end, broken with grief. He was never an easy man, but she had won his heart and his trust, and now he had lost her. The Henry who emerged from hiding was not the same man. All the worst aspects of his character, seemingly held in check when Elizabeth was there for him, now came to the fore with a vengeance. He was cruel, rapacious, spiteful, grasping and hated, and the populace believed he had nothing more on his mind than planning how to screw more money out of them. The royal coffers bulged. The illustration below is probably not far from the truth. He and his notorious henchmen, Empson and Dudley, putting their heads together in some new royal skulduggery or other.
Very few mourned Henry when he finally passed away, leaving England in the tender clutches of his son and heir, Henry VIII, from whom all women should have been immunised!
Now, I do not deny that there were love matches in the medieval period—of course there were—but I do not think they were the majority. Most marriages were a case of gradual respect, affection, and if they were lucky, of love itself. I believe Richard II, George of Clarence and Henry VII loved their wives, and once those ladies had gone, the inner demons took over.
I have only just found the series Bloody Tales of the Tower, previously on National Geographic and now on Channel 5 (http://www.channel5.com/show/bloody-tales-of-the-tower and http://www.natgeotv.com/za/bloody-tales-of-the-tower), and have to say that I enjoyed it very much. The presenters, Suzannah Lipscomb and Joe Crowley, are at ease in their roles and with each other, and do not adopt a patronising, superior attitude, as some do. Suzannah is a Tudor historian, and very sensible with it.
There is a good format of setting the scene and then dividing the tasks in two, then going their separate ways until coming together again toward the end, to weave their discoveries together. Suzannah leads us effortlessly through the story itself and the sources, while Joe discovers how things worked, who did them, what they looked like and so on. It may sound as if it’s aimed at teenagers tops, but it isn’t. I’m no teenager, and it was fine by me.
The most innovative series/presenter at the moment has to be Lucy Worsley, who dresses in costume and blends effortlessly into the docudramas she talks about. She is marvellous. Although a Tudor historian, she didn’t gild the Tudors. There were no controversial remarks for the sake of it. She said it how it was. It was all very natural and flowing. Good informative entertainment. As for all the other presenters of television history documentaries, mostly posing males who think more of their own vanity than their subject matter, they would do well to learn a few lessons from Worsley, Lipscomb and Crowley.
Bloody Tales of the Tower told its stories in compelling docudramas, sometimes set in the very spots where it all happened. Sometimes rather grisly! There are three episodes, Royals on the Block, Death to Traitors and Deadly Love, and each contains three separate stories from various centuries.
In episode one, Royals on the Block, the royals in question are James, Duke of Monmouth, Simon of Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor, and Lady Jane Grey, who was, of course, Queen Jane. I’m not sure how the archbishop is included, unless it is the implication that Richard II’s life should have been forfeit, not Sudbury’s!
James, Duke of Monmouth, was something of a 17th-century superstar and the people’s favourite, but he rebelled against his uncle, James II, because he believed the throne should have been his, even though he was illegitimate. Such was his fame and popularity, that for the huge crowds gathered for his beheading on Tower Green (the programme drew a likeness between his execution and the Wembley Cup Final for crowd-pulling power). There followed a butchering by one Jack Ketch, who was a hangman but not a competent wielder of an axe. Monmouth’s head was finally severed with a knife! Ketch later blamed Monmouth for not presenting his head properly.
Simon of Sudbury was Richard II’s Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor, and when the Peasants’ Revolt began in 1381, he was the object of the mob’s hatred because of all the taxes and unfair laws over which he had presided. He, the king and the court took refuge in the Tower, which was impregnable. Nevertheless the mob got inside and Sudbury (whose head is still preserved) was torn to pieces. How did they get in? Well, Richard II gave the order to let them through all the gates. Richard consigned the old man to his death. A lamb to the slaughter.
The last story in Royals on the Block was that of Lady Jane Grey, another lamb to the slaughter. She was only sixteen, but her cousin, Bloody Mary, sent her to the block. Mary went on to earn the soubriquet Bloody Mary, so I imagined there were soon many in the realm who wished they hadn’t risen to support her against Jane. Oh, well, it’s always easy to be wise after the event. It was pointed out that Lady Jane should be referred to as Queen Jane, because although she did not have a coronation, she was, nevertheless, the queen. Just as was Edward V (cue picture of the urn) and, more recently, Edward VIII. They are always referred to as kings, so why not Jane as queen?
The second part of the trilogy is called Death to Traitors, and covered the tales of Father John Gerard, who survived secretly in Elizabeth I’s Protestant England. He escaped from the Tower and lived to his 70s on the Continent. He wrote his story, which is how we know so much about his escape. (One oddity I noticed during this story was the careful use of white gloves to examine an old copy of Gerard’s story, yet earlier I noticed there were no gloves at all for poking around in a beautifully illustrated copy of Walsingham! Isn’t there a rule on this sort of thing?)
Next we went to Guy Fawkes, whose story was related with overtones of modern terrorism. The blowing up of King James and Parliament was an intended spectacular which would see Catholics triumph over Protestants. We all know it failed—some nasty Protestant informer!—and Guy was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Not a pleasant way to go, but he confounded everyone by managing to fling himself from a ladder and break his neck, so he was dead before they even hanged him, let alone the drawing and quartering. The senior member of the conspiracy were eventually cornered in a country house (they included one Catesby, a descendant of Richard III’s Catesby) and went out in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid style by rushing out into a hail of musket fire.
The third story in Death to Traitors was that of Josef Jacobs, a German spy in World War II. Yes, the last person to be executed in the Tower was in 1941. He was parachuted into England, injured and captured. As he was a military officer, the sentence was death by shooting at the Tower. There he was duly despatched. There was part of this story that seemed to throw all sympathy on Jacobs, a family man who left a wife and children behind. His final letter to them was produced, and his Canadian granddaughter was there with the presenter at his graveside. Yes, the story had a very human side, but should it not have been said that if a British man had been captured in similar circumstances in Germany, he would have suffered the same fate? A spy in wartime is a spy in wartime.
Deadly Love, the final episode of this first series is entitled Deadly Love, and covers the deaths in the Tower of three famous women, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Arbella Stuart. The first two ladies are very well known, of course, and the only thing I would pick out particularly where Anne was concerned was the portrayal of her supposed lover, Mark Smeaton. It seems that he paid the price of arousing jealousy and resentment among his “betters”. He was lowborn, talented and handsome, and had risen very high very quickly. Anne’s fall from grace was a useful way to get rid of him too.
Catherine Howard was young, and yes she was probably a puppet, but she was also very silly. How could anyone think of trying to deceive a bloodthirsty old monster like Henry VIII? Had she never heard of Anne Boleyn? I am afraid she doesn’t earn my sympathy – I feel more for Lady Jane Grey than I do for Catherine.
The story of Arbella Stuart was the most interesting for me, and what a very sad tale it was, especially as although her marriage to William Seymour, 2nd Duke of Somerset, was dynastic at first, I think it soon became a matter of love. But any children would have presented a great threat to the security of James I, the first Stuart king, so Arbella and William were arrested. She was held under house arrest in Barnet, while he was imprisoned in the Tower. By means of an intricate but successful plot involving exchanging clothes with his barber, William managed to escape. Arbella, dressed as a man also escaped and they arranged to meet at Blackwall. They never did. She took to the sea alone, afraid he was not coming, and he arrived too late, two hours later. He escaped to Calais, but she was captured. No Barnet for her this time, it was the Tower, under much stricter conditions than had applied to William.
She gradually succumbed to ill health (maybe porphyria)—or perhaps lost the will to live—and died a few years later. Her death rendered William harmless to James, so he was permitted to return to England. He eventually married again and lived another fifty years. A tragic love story.
An excellent series, and I hope there is another. Bloody Tales of the Tower is well worth watching.
No doubt many of you have read this article before (see link above), but I had not. It’s very interesting to ponder whether Edward IV may have suffered from Type 2 Diabetes. I have to say that his portrait seems a prime example of the “fair, fat and forty” stereotype (of which I too am a prime example, except that in my case you should add another thirty years!)
OK, he’s not fat in this portrait, but he’s not lean either, unlike his brother Richard III. Nor was the portrait painted in his lifetime, but Edward was recorded as being very fat by the time he died. He had to start gaining weight some time before then.
Of course, in the days before insulin and other marvellous medical advances, if Edward had indeed become diabetic, the condition would simply follow its course. Which brings me to wonder if he might not, after all, have suffered from it. My mother, who was not fat, also suffered from Type 2, and she lost weight. A great deal of it. She stopped losing it when insulin injections commenced. So, does Type 2 Diabetes mean putting on weight? Or shedding it? I cannot answer the question, and am not medically trained, so can only be left wondering about Edward. It’s a possibility, but I have yet to be convinced.
By the way, , I’m a bit taken aback by the statement that Derbyshire is the only land-locked county. I can’t imagine that in the 15th century the likes of Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Rutland, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Wiltshire had sandy, wave-kissed beaches. Maybe I’m wrong. (If I am, or have missed a county, I apologise!)
… Channel Five’s http://www.channel5.com/show/secrets-of-great-british-castles, let me reassure you of something.
There really was a king named Richard III and Dan Jones has simply forgotten to mention him.
Episode 2 was about Cardiff Castle, where Richard and Anne have a window devoted to them (seasons-greetings-2016-a-2).
Episode 3 was about the structure at York, or Clifford’s Tower as it is now called, which Richard frequented during his dozen years as Lord President of the Council of the North, whilst the city walls had borne the detached heads of his uncle, father (the Duke of York) and brother. Then again, “King Richard, late mercifully reigning upon us was, through grete treason, piteously slane and murdred to the grete hevynesse of this citie”., as their macebearer John Spooner recorded soon after Bosworth.
So Richard played a very real part in the history of both cities.
There have been a few interesting parts to this series – the “Black Dinner” with James II and the Douglases at Edinburgh Castle, Curthose held and Llewellyn Bren executed at Cardiff, the witchcraft charges against Joan of Navarre and Eleanor Cobham at Leeds, John starving various enemies to death at Lancaster and elsewhere, together with Robert Aske’s execution and Margaret Clitherow’s death in York, although Henry of Huntingdon could have been mentioned in conjunction with the latter. There has, however, been too much posing by Jones in his leather jacket, T-shirt and jeans firing arrows and trying on armour as the camera focussed on the other historians, includding Hutton, Morris and Capwell being older than him, together with too much dramatisatisation of Jones’ tendentious interpretation of events. The myth of Catherine de Valois and Owain Tudor, from the Leeds episode, is another case in point.
This interesting article shows how John Shakespeare, as Bailiff of Stratford-upon-Avon, was forced to paint over some mediaeval murals. As a clue to what really happened, remember that Michael Wood thinks both John and William Shakespeare to have been Catholics.
Let me reassure you that Henry VIII wasn’t still King sixteen years after he died, nor was William Shakespeare born thirty-eight years after he died – and long after his father died. The murals are so truly stunning that they are worthwhile despite the errata.
The above illustration is by Hans Holbein the Younger – Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk (Royal Collection)
This post, about Edward IV’s daughter Catherine, prompted me to post this, about the husband of another of Edward IV’s daughter, Anne, Countess of Surrey. Thomas Howard, eventually 3rd Duke of Norfolk, was the grandson of John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, who fell with Richard at Bosworth. I am not impressed with Thomas Howard, and whether or not he treated Anne well I do not know, but after her death, he certainly did not do right by his second wife. The marriage became a scandal second to none, and if Thomas thought he could do as he pleased with Lady Elizabeth Stafford, he soon learned better. She was made of stern stuff.
I have taken the following from the extremely interesting http://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s=Elizabeth%20Stafford%2C%20Duchess%20of%20Norfolk&uid=1575 , and make no claim to authorship. If you follow the link, you will find more information, and sources.
“Lady Elizabeth Stafford (later Duchess of Norfolk) (c.1497 – 30 November 1558) was the eldest daughter of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, and Lady Eleanor Percy. By marriage she became Duchess of Norfolk. Her stormy marriage to Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk, created a public scandal.
“Before 8 January 1513, when she was only fifteen and he was thirty-five years of age, Elizabeth married, as his second wife, Thomas Howard, then Earl of Surrey. He had previously been married to Anne Plantagenet (2 November 1475 – 23 November 1511), the daughter of King Edward IV, by whom he had a son, Thomas, who died 3 August 1508.
“Elizabeth had earlier been promised in marriage to her father’s ward, Ralph Neville, 4th Earl of Westmorland. The young Elizabeth and Ralph Neville seem to have been mutually devoted, and years later, in a letter to Thomas Cromwell, dated 28 September 1537, Elizabeth recalled that,
“‘He and I had loved together two years, an my lord my husband had not sent immediately word after my lady and my lord’s first wife was dead, he made suit to my lord my father, or else I had been married before Christmas to my Lord of Westmorland’.
“Elizabeth’s father initially attempted to persuade Howard to marry one of his other daughters, but according to Elizabeth, ‘He would have none of my sisters, but only me’.
“Elizabeth brought Howard a dowry of 2000 marks, and was promised a jointure of 500 marks a year, although Howard apparently never kept that promise. In her later letters she asserted that she had been a dutiful wife, continuing to serve at court daily ‘sixteen years together’ while her husband was absent in King Henry VIII’s wars, and accompanying him to Ireland when he was posted there in 1520–22. She bore him five children, and according to Graves, as late as 1524, when he became 3rd Duke of Norfolk, ‘they appeared to be bonded by mutual love’.
“However, in 1527 Norfolk took a mistress, Bess Holland, the daughter of his steward, with whom he lived openly at Kenninghall, and whom the Duchess described variously in her letters as a bawd, a drab, and ‘a churl’s daughter’, ‘which was but washer of my nursery eight years’. It appears the Duchess’ anger caused her to exaggerate Bess Holland’s inferior social status, as her family were probably minor gentry, and she eventually became a lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne Boleyn.
“During the long period in which King Henry VIII sought to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled, the Duchess remained staunchly loyal to Queen Catherine and antagonistic towards her husband’s niece, Anne Boleyn, with whom the King was infatuated. Late in 1530 it was noted that the Duchess was secretly conveying letters to Queen Catherine from Italy concealed in oranges, which the Queen passed on to the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, and at one time the Duchess told Chapuys that her husband, the Duke, had confided in her that Anne would be ‘the ruin of all her family’. In 1531 the Duchess was exiled from court at Anne Boleyn’s request for too freely declaring her loyalty to Catherine.
“According to Graves, the Duchess also quarrelled with Anne over Anne’s insistence that the Duchess’ daughter, Mary Howard, should marry Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy. When Anne Boleyn was crowned on 1 June 1533, the Duchess refused to attend the coronation ‘from the love she bore to the previous Queen’.
“Meanwhile, the Duchess’ own marriage continued to deteriorate. The Duke refused to give up his mistress, and resolved to separate from his wife. Both the Duke and Thomas Cromwell requested the Duchess’ brother to take her in, a suggestion he utterly rejected.The Duchess wrote of her husband’s abuse of her during this period, claiming that when she was recovering after the birth of her daughter, Mary, he had pulled her out of bed by the hair, dragged her through the house, and wounded her with a dagger. In three separate letters to Cromwell the Duchess repeated the accusation that the Duke had ‘set his women to bind me till blood came out at my fingers’ ends, and pinnacled me, and sat on my breast till I spit blood, and he never punished them’. Howard responded to the stream of allegations by writing that ‘I think the apparent false lies were never contrived by a wife of her husband that she doth daily increase of me’.
“Whatever the truth of the allegations, continued cohabitation was clearly impossible, and on 23 March 1534 Howard forced a separation. According to the Duchess, the Duke had ridden all night, and arriving home in a furious temper had locked her in a chamber and taken away all her jewels and apparel. She was sent to a house in Redbourne, Hertfordshire, from which she wrote a stream of letters to Cromwell complaining that [she] was kept in a state of virtual imprisonment with a meagre annual allowance of only £200. At first the Duchess attempted to reconcile with her husband, but when she received no reply to her ‘kind letters’ to the Duke, she declared to Cromwell in a letter dated 30 December 1536 that ‘from this day forward I will never sue to the King, nor to none other, to desire my lord my husband to take me again’. On his part, Norfolk refused to give up Bess Holland, and attempted to persuade the Duchess to agree to a divorce, offering to return her jewels and apparel and give her a great part of his plate and stuff of household, but she rebuffed his offers. She received little or no support from her family. Her eldest son and daughter became estranged from her, while her brother condemned her behaviour
“Forsaken by almost everyone, the Duchess remained obdurate. On 3 March 1539, she wrote to Cromwell that:
“I am of age to rule myself, as I have done these five years, since my husband put me away. Seeing that my lord my husband reckoned me to be so unreasonable, it were better that I kept me away, and keep my own house still, and trouble no other body. . . I pray you, my lord, take no displeasure with me, although I have not followed your lordship’s good counsel, and your letters, as touching my lord my husband for to come home again, which I will never do in my life.
“The Duchess’ entreaties to Cromwell ceased with his fall from power in 1540. She and her brother were eventually reconciled, and at some time before 1547 he sent one of his daughters to live with her, whom the Duchess treated very generously.
“During Henry VIII’s last years Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford, and Henry’s last Queen, Catherine Parr, both of whom favoured the reformed faith, gained influence with the King while the conservative Duke of Norfolk became isolated politically. The Duke attempted to form an alliance with the Seymours through a marriage between his widowed daughter, Mary Howard, and Hertford’s brother, Thomas Seymour, but the effort was forestalled by the provocative conduct of the Duke’s eldest son and heir, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, who had displayed in his own heraldry the royal arms and insignia. On 12 December 1546 both Norfolk and Surrey were arrested and sent to the Tower. On 12 January 1547 Norfolk acknowledged that he had ‘concealed high treason, in keeping secret the false acts of my son, Henry Earl of Surrey, in using the arms of St. Edward the Confessor, which pertain only to kings’, and offered his lands to the King. Norfolk’s family, including the Duchess, his daughter Mary, and his mistress, Bess Holland, all gave evidence against him. Surrey was beheaded on 19 January 1547, and on 27 January 1547 Norfolk was attainted by statute without trial. The dying King gave his assent to Norfolk’s death by royal commissioners, and it was rumoured that he would be executed on the following day. He was saved by the King’s death on 28 January and the Council’s decision not to inaugurate the new reign with bloodshed.
“Norfolk remained in the Tower throughout the reign of King Edward VI. He was released and pardoned by Queen Mary in 1553, and in Mary’s first parliament (October–December 1553), his statutory attainder was declared void, thereby restoring him to the dukedom. He died at Kenninghall on 25 August 1554, and was buried at St Michael’s Church at Framlingham in Suffolk. The Duchess was not named in his will.
“Elizabeth Howard died 30 November 1558 at Lambeth, and was buried in the Howard chapel in the Church of St Mary-at-Lambeth. Her brother wrote a brief but apparently heartfelt epitaph:
“Thou wast to me, both far and near, A mother, sister, a friend most dear.”
This article lists a few errors in two current popular drama series but its criticisms are not as authoritative as they may seem. On “Victoria”, it quotes Professor Jane Ridley, who is a leading expert on that monarch and is a descendant of one of England’s first married bishops, and A.N. Wilson on several points. However, some of the suggestions are not actually attributed to either source.
Professor Ridley insists that Victoria did not have a German accent and a recording may well exist to demonstrate this. She, her father and paternal grandfather were all British-born and raised. As soon as George I succeeded to the British throne, he moved permanently to this country with his heir, so the Hanoverians became principally a British dynasty. Prince Frederick (1707-51) lived in Germany until just after his father’s accession but crossed the North Sea eight years before his marriage and nine before any of his legitimate children were born.
Dramatists do make mistakes with historical programmes but their critics have been known to err as well. Ray Winstone’s Henry VIII (2003) is a case in point – his birthplace is near Henry’s in Greenwich and his accent was probably mis-rendered but one reader thought that he should “sound Welsh”. The “Tudors” was of particular interest to pedants as well.
After the battle of Bosworth, Henry VII married Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth of York. What happened to Edward’s other daughters? Bridget, the youngest, went to a nunnery. Anne married the younger Thomas Howard (which was the marriage proposed for her by Richard III; Thomas Jr’s father Thomas still desired the marriage for his son and eventually permission was granted by Henry Tudor). Cecily’s current marriage was dissolved, and Tudor married her instead to John Welles, Margaret Beaufort’s half brother, tying her into his own family.
That only left Catherine of York.
Catherine was born in August 1479 at Eltham Palace, one of Edward’s later children. Soon after her birth Edward began to arrange a royal marriage for her to the son of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile; however, he died before the proposal was finalised.
Catherine, then a child of less than four years of age, went into sanctuary with her mother and many of her siblings, as the dramatic events of 1483 unfolded. Later, she emerged with her family in March 1484, when Richard III promised their safety, and proclaimed that Edward’s daughters would be treated as honourable kinswomen and eventually be married to gentlemen of birth, giving to each an estate valued at 200 marks. (He also gave Elizabeth Woodville 700 marks to live on, a little more than her own son in law, Henry Tudor.)
Catherine remained unmarried during Richard’s short reign, although her sister Cecily was given to Ralph Scrope and plans were being made for Elizabeth to marry Manuel, Duke of Beja. Under Henry Tudor, it was proposed Catherine would marry into Scottish royalty, taking the Duke of Ross, James Stewart, as her husband. Her mother, Elizabeth Woodville, would at the same time be given in marriage to the Scottish king, James III. However, when King James was killed in battle, his successor never bothered to pursue the prospective English alliances.
So in 1495, aged around sixteen, Catherine instead married William Courtenay, son of Edward Courtenay. The Courtenay family had always been staunch Lancastrians but had not fared particularly well in the dynastic battles of the Wars of the Roses. Thomas Courtenay was taken in battle at Towton and beheaded at York, while his brother Henry was executed for treason in Salisbury marketplace in 1469. Another brother, John, was slain at Tewkesbury. Hugh Courtenay, from a junior branch of the family, also was executed after Tewkesbury; it was his son Edward who then became Earl of Devon, and Hugh’s grandson, William, who married Catherine of York. We do not know if the marriage was a happy one, but together William and Catherine had three children.
However, things turned ugly for the family in 1504. Henry VII found out that Courtenay had been supporting the claims to the throne of Edmund de la Pole, the last Yorkist heir. William was attainted and thrown into the Tower of London, where he remained throughout the rest of Henry Tudor’s reign.
When Henry finally died, his son, Henry VIII, seemed ready to give his imprisoned uncle a rare second chance. Henry was said to be very fond of Catherine from early childhood (it is claimed she loved children and played with him when at court) and he considered her his favourite aunt. He released William from the Tower and allowed him to resume his role in society, even carrying one of the swords of state at Henry’s coronation. A year or so later, he gave William back his title as Earl of Devon—although unfortunately William died only a month or two later, so never got to enjoy it.
Eager to avoid another arranged marriage, Catherine promptly swore an oath of chastity before the Bishop of London, and then retired to her Devon estates. She lived quietly in Tiverton Castle, and also at the remote Bickleigh castle, with its rare thatched Norman chapel.
Catherine died at Tiverton on November 15 1527, aged 48, and was buried in the parish church of St Peter, which stands by the castle ruins. Her arms are still visible above the door, amongst unusual carvings of sailing ships and monkeys. Unfortunately, the chantry dedicated to the Courtenays, which would probably have contained her tomb, no longer exists. She was perhaps fortunate not to lived have seen the execution of her only surviving son, Henry, in 1538–he was beheaded due to his correspondence with Cardinal Reginald Pole.
Catherine is presumed the last of Edward IV’s children with Elizabeth Woodville to die, though of course without knowing the actual fate of the ‘princes’, this may not be the case!
Tiverton Castle can be visited on certain days throughout the summer, and Bickleigh Castle is now an attractive hotel. St James church in Tiverton is well worth a visit and open most days.
This is about to undergo a little refurbishment. The first picture shows the eastern approach to the Cornhill, where heresy executions took place during the sixteenth century, whilst the others are from the monument in Christchurch Park.