Here, at 45:12, he discusses Edward’s legal marriage, his bigamous marriage and his (other) mistresses.
Here, at about 49:00 , he disscusses Edward’s (hitherto little known) relationship with Henry, Duke of Somerset and his visits to Leicester.
Here, at 45:12, he discusses Edward’s legal marriage, his bigamous marriage and his (other) mistresses.
Here, at about 49:00 , he disscusses Edward’s (hitherto little known) relationship with Henry, Duke of Somerset and his visits to Leicester.
Our primary source of gossip about Edward IV’s mistresses is attributable to the pen of Thomas More (1478–1535), knight and latterly saint. While writing about Richard III, More found space for a lengthy diversion into the career of ‘Mistress Shore’, perhaps Edward’s most notorious extra-marital concubine, about whose present and past conditions the writer claimed much knowledge. Unfortunately it appears he never thought to consult the lady on the accuracy of what he wrote, strewn as it is with avoidable errors of fact.1 This article will refer to her by her proper name, Elizabeth Lambert. Her brief marriage to the London mercer William Shore was annulled in 1476 on grounds of non-consummation. And although she is almost always referred to as ‘Jane’, this forename was given her arbitrarily in the two-part True Tragedy of Edward IV (written around 1600 by Thomas Heywood), the writer being clearly ignorant of her proper Christian name and being concerned, like More, only with her notoriety. The prominence of his ‘Jane’ character may have led to the play afterwards being referred to as Jane Shore.2
Despite the high esteem in which More is held by historians, he was clearly too young to have had personal knowledge of reigns earlier than the Tudor period, and his family’s history reveals no intimacy with fifteenth-century royalty; whatever he wrote about them can only have been hearsay. Moreover, in the opinions of leading literary scholars Thomas More’s dissertation on Richard III was conceived and executed as a bravura exercise in satirical drama to which the facts of history had no particular relevance. Nevertheless, More’s reference to Edward and his ‘three mistresses’ is continually retold as if he had a direct line to the full facts. The relevant passage occurs after he has devoted several pages to Elizabeth Lambert:
“The king would say that he had three concubines, which in three diverse properties diversely excelled: one the merriest, another the wiliest, the third the holiest harlot in his realm, as one whom no man could get out of church lightly to any place but it were to his bed. The other two were somewhat greater personages, and nevertheless of their humility content to be nameless and to forbear the praise of those properties. But the merriest was this Shore’s wife, in whom the king therefore took special pleasure. For many he had, but her he loved …” (etc.).
That the king had three concubines is almost certainly an understatement, but More helpfully gives the name of one other as ‘Dame Lucy’. She appears in More’s questionable version of an incident from as far back as 1464 which seems to have become an urban myth. The original surviving record of this incident was related by the Italian Dominic Mancini in 1483 after visiting England for a few months: even so, nearly twenty years after the event itself.
Mancini’s story tells of how Edward IV’s mother Cecily, Duchess of York, was so scandalized by the king’s secret marriage to the widowed commoner Elizabeth Woodville, who became his queen, that she vowed the Duke of York was not the father of this disgraceful son. As the story ran in Mancini’s day, the duchess insisted she would voluntarily testify that Edward IV was no son of York.3 Mancini had been asked to write down, for the benefit of the French royal court, all that he had discovered about Richard III’s dramatic accession to the throne – which he admitted was little enough – so he was given to embellishing his narrative with extraneous details which we now know contained inaccuracies. Although we can accept it was probably based on a kernel of truth, we need to bear two things in mind: first, he may have been given a highly coloured account of some considerably less dramatic reality; and second, it suited him to disparage English royalty for his French readers and hence, like many writers of history before and since, he tended to exaggerate for effect. We have no idea how many tongues had embroidered the story between 1464 and 1483, so the wisest course is to reduce it to its essence: the duchess flew into a fury and went so far as to threaten some kind of legal challenge.
Edward IV’s affairs with women subsequently embroiled all England in a crisis, when it was discovered after his death and later confirmed by Parliament that his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was not his first such secret wedding. Some years earlier he had secretly married Lady Eleanor Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury. Briefly summarized, under the laws of the Church this meant that Lady Eleanor was still his wife when he secretly and bigamously married Elizabeth, and this combination of illicit actions rendered the children of his Woodville marriage illegitimate. The government of the day elected to offer the crown to Richard III as the senior qualified heir.4
Such high matters of state, of Parliament and of canon law were scarcely understood by the majority of Englishmen, and moreover they impugned the honour and dignity of the late king and his abandoned first wife; doubtless they were spoken of in hushed tones by those in the know. Thus the name of the long-deceased Lady Eleanor became consigned to obscurity. England soon had greater concerns when the pretender Henry Tudor revealed his designs on the English crown, eventually mounting a successful invasion under the patronage of France in 1485 when against all probability King Richard was killed. Since the new king had to devise some believable grounds for his invasion and some legitimate reason for aspiring to the throne, he declared Richard’s accession unlawful. He repealed the Act of Parliament which had set out Richard’s right to succeed, insisting it be repealed unread and every copy destroyed. His aim was to remove from history what was probably the only official government document that articulated Richard’s legitimacy as king, together with the grounds for setting aside Edward IV’s offspring owing to their father’s prior marriage (in legal terminology ‘precontract’) to Eleanor Talbot.5 Since Henry planned to appease Yorkist partisans by marrying Edward IV’s eldest daughter, this process was vital to removing public knowledge of her illegitimacy.
A century would pass before records began to be found which revealed the truth, but by then Richard III was indelibly cast as a usurper in the national consciousness. It was with this certainty that Thomas More embarked upon his literary polemic for which he chose Richard III as his exemplar of tyranny. This was more than fifty years after the Woodville marriage that caused Cecily so much wrath, and more than thirty years after Mancini wrote his tale of her angry outburst. Incidentally, we need not believe she ever volunteered to swear publicly to her own adultery! It is not difficult to conceive of at least one possible legal challenge she might have considered bringing against the match … but in all probability her real grounds of objection never formed part of the story picked up by Mancini. Nevertheless he would have been aware of a certain malicious calumny Louis XI delighted in putting about, that Edward IV was the bastard son of an archer named Blaybourne, so maybe it was Mancini who supplied this extra flourish knowing it would appeal to his readers.
If we turn to what More says about the same incident, we find that after three decades of Tudor rule the story has vastly changed. It is still recognizably a version of Mancini’s tale of the duchess raging and threatening to resort to law. But what makes this new version interesting is that it conflates some vestige of recollection that a precontract to an earlier wife was involved. Perhaps it had been thought politically advisable to incorporate this persistent memory into the well-known tale of ‘Proud Cis’ and her rage against her son, at the same time using it to repudiate that there ever was anything untoward about his Woodville marriage. It takes up a lot of space in More’s Richard III, with plenty of dialogue to and fro between mother and son debating her objections. At last, and as a ‘pretext’ says More, plainly undermining the integrity of the duchess’s final argument, she protests that Edward ought instead to marry ‘one Dame Elizabeth Lucy, whom the king had also not long before gotten with child’ making him in consequence ‘her husband before God’. So this ‘Elizabeth Lucy’ is duly called and ‘solemnly sworn’, says More. This portion of his tale obviously echoes the ‘public enquiry’ mentioned in the earlier Mancini version, only this time it is Dame Lucy who is subjected to examination and denies the precontract which Cecily is trying to foist on her son.6 With our current knowledge we can see this as a transparent ruse to discredit the existence of Edward’s genuine precontract with Eleanor Talbot. But thanks to More its effect is fully achieved: he declares it proves the falsity of the charges made in 1483 against Edward’s marriage.
There is another feature that also shows this to be a manufactured story: the incident supposedly occurs before Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, with Cecily trying to prevent it. The Mancini version correctly places Cecily’s outburst after their marriage, which famously took place in secret and remained totally unknown for several months. More is so much deceived as to write that the king’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was celebrated ‘with great feast and honourable solemnity’!
It has been important to emphasize how very little Thomas More really knew about the women in Edward IV’s life, because our next step demonstrates how thoroughly his stories have misled historians and commentators.7 Dispensations to marry granted by the Church are extremely helpful in establishing genealogies, and a recent article by Marie Barnfield and Stephen Lark cites one that adds new information to what was previously known, deduced or assumed about some of Edward IV’s mistresses and children.8
One of the king’s most well-known bastards was Arthur, later Viscount Lisle, hitherto almost universally believed to have been fathered on ‘Elizabeth Lucy’. However, references to Dame Lucy place her and her child in Edward’s life prior to his Woodville marriage. Whereas what is known of Arthur Plantagenet’s life and career is scarcely compatible with a birth date before mid-1464.9
If we seek an alternative identity for Dame Lucy’s child we find a much better candidate in a bastard daughter attributed to Edward hitherto known as Elizabeth, later Lady Lumley, thought to have been born in the 1460s. It has now been established that this child’s Christian name was not Elizabeth (as erroneously claimed in a herald’s visitation of 1530) but Margaret (in a grant dated 1479 where she is identified as the wife of Thomas, later Lord Lumley). Further genealogical research supports this identification.
These indications about the daughter have opened up more opportunities to identify her putative mother. The problems in pinning down information about Dame Lucy have always been compounded by assumptions about her. Copious evidence exists that Arthur, Lord Lisle, was certainly connected with the Wayte family, therefore he was known as a Wayte and it was assumed his mother was too. On the general presumption that his mother was Dame Lucy, she was automatically assigned the maiden name of Wayte. For example, this was propounded by Sir George Buck who described her as ‘the daughter of one Wayte of Southampton, a mean gentleman, if he were one. And she was the wife of one Lucy, as mean a man as Wayte. … And she was the mother of the bastard Arturus.’10 Arthur Plantagenet had verifiable links with the Waytes of Segenworth, near Southampton, but genealogical records cannot reconcile Dame Lucy as a member of the Wayte family at all, nor is there any evidence of any Wayte family member having links with a family named Lucy or even mentioning the name Lucy in correspondence. Which again strongly suggests that Arthur was not born to a mother surnamed Lucy.
It now appears that Dame Lucy may ALSO have been a Margaret misnamed Elizabeth! Her correct maiden name, if so, was Margaret FitzLewis, and she was the young widow of Sir William Lucy of Dallington and Richards Castle (d. 1460). This would fit with the child she bore Edward being not his bastard son Arthur but his bastard daughter Margaret, later Lady Lumley, born in the 1460s some time before Margaret FitzLewis’s own death in 1466. Contrary to Buck, the title ‘Dame’ Lucy suggests her husband was a knight or baronet, not a mean man.11 Other than Sir William Lucy of Dallington there existed one other knighted Lucy at that time, viz. Sir William Lucy of Charlcote (d. 1466). This Sir William Lucy certainly did marry an Elizabeth, but she was Elizabeth Percy who died in 1455; he remarried and was survived by a widow, but her name was Agnes.
It is impossible to be certain, of course, but the result of all this would suggest two distinct ladies who were erroneously conflated:
* Edward IV’s early mistress before his Woodville marriage. Dame Lucy, née Margaret FitzLewis (misnamed Elizabeth), daughter of Sir Lewis John (or John Lewis) of Welsh parentage, and widow of Sir William Lucy. Her probable liaison with Edward would have occurred after her husband’s death in 1460, resulting in a daughter Margaret Plantagenet in the early 1460s (also misnamed Elizabeth) who married Sir Thomas Lumley (c. 1458–1487).
* Edward’s later mistress during his Woodville marriage. She was a Wayte, probably a Wayte of Segenworth, and gave birth to Edward’s bastard son Arthur Plantagenet (who jousted with the young Henry VIII in 1510, married for the first time in 1511, was created Viscount Lisle in 1523, and died in 1542). It has been suggested that her father was a Thomas Wayte of Hampshire (d. 1482), but as far as we know Thomas died without legitimate issue (he left one bastard daughter, Alice); if he had any other children they must have predeceased him without legitimate issue of their own. Several other factors in the research by Barnfield and Lark also militate against Thomas as her father, including the obscurity of his family and its extreme southern location.
This leaves just one more mistress of whose existence we know, namely Elizabeth Lambert, married name Shore, misnamed Jane. She was current at the time of the king’s death but no offspring have been directly attributed to her. It is not impossible that Thomas More, sufficiently taken with this lady to devote several pages to her, may well have superimposed her name of Elizabeth on the ‘Dame Lucy’ of his false precontract story. Misled by his reputation as some kind of authority on fifteenth-century royalty, writers of history duly copied him unthinkingly.
Doubtless other mistresses existed, and indeed other bastards. But the purpose of this essay is not to rehearse the tedious details of Edward IV’s amours – nor yet to claim knowledge of precisely who they were – it is simply to demonstrate how easy it was (and is) for history to be misrepresented by placing uncritical faith in false prophets.
1. He failed even to verify the full name of her later lover William Hastings, whose gifts to her became the subject of a court case reported by The Great Chronicle.
2. Appreciation to Dr A.N. Kincaid for this information.
3. Mancini, ed. C.A.J. Armstrong, De Occupatione Regni Anglie per Riccardum Tercium, Gloucester 1989, pp. 60–62: ‘Even his mother fell into such a frenzy that she offered to submit to a public enquiry, asserting that Edward was not the offspring of her husband the Duke of York but was conceived in adultery and therefore in no wise worthy of the honour of kingship.’
4. This matter is fully covered in Carson, Richard III: The Maligned King, Stroud, 2013, pp. 75–88.
5. Nor (perhaps unsurprisingly) has any official record survived of the deliberations of the King’s Council during that crucial succession crisis of 1483 when Edward IV’s bigamy and the illegitimacy of his children were debated.
6. More pp. 63–67.
7. Clearly More knew nothing of Lady Eleanor Talbot (married name Butler), pace R.S. Sylvester who supposed Eleanor was one of the ‘three mistresses’ More referred to; we now see Sylvester was also probably wrong in stating definitively that Dame Lucy was the mother of Arthur Plantagenet: The History of King Richard III, Yale University Press 1976, p. 57 fn. 3 and p. 65 fn. 2.
8. ‘The Paternity of Lady Lumley: Some New Evidence’, The Ricardian, Vol. XXVI, June 2016, pp. 113–20. Readers are referred to that article and its footnotes for sources of the information summarized here.
9. David Grummitt’ (ODNB) offers a birth date ‘before 1472’ but this is based on a reference in royal household accounts to ‘my Lord the Bastard’, unidentified, which may refer to some other person; a suggested birth date of 1462-1464 is rightly discounted as too early to be compatible with the known events of his life and career. Grummitt states without comment that ‘most authorities’ identify his mother as Elizabeth Lucy, ‘probably the daughter of Thomas Waite of Hampshire’.
10. Buck did know the truth that the lady of the precontract was Eleanor Talbot and realized that the alleged precontract with Dame Lucy was false; but he accepted Thomas More’s claim that Dame Lucy was Arthur’s mother: Sir George Buck, The History of King Richard the Third, ed. A.N. Kincaid, Gloucester, 1979, pp. 181–2. It is not correct that he named her as Lady Lumley’s mother.
11. And More in his Latin text states that she came from a noble family.
There are some very good biographies of Edward IV, by the likes of Pollard, Ross, Kleinke and Santiuste but surely none have tracked his movements, sometimes month by month, like this book does. This is not a full biography and it does not claim to be, but focuses on Edward’s romantic life – his known partners including his legal wife, Lady Eleanor Talbot, Henry Duke of Somerset (!), Elizabeth Lambert and Elizabeth Woodville, as well as the more … elusive … ones.
Edward had other children, apart from those born to Elizabeth Woodville, and Ashdown-Hill tries to identify their mothers. Two of these children were Lady Lumley and Arthur Wayte.
Having devoted much of his nine previous books to explaining the context of the Three Estates offering the throne to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the writer now goes further into the mystery of “Princes” through an excellent appendix by Glenn Moran, which takes their female line forward to a lady who died earlier this year. It also encompasses the complication of someone who definitely ended his life in the Tower about sixty years later and whose mtDNA would almost certainly be identical.
Together with this discovery, we know somewhere else that Edward V and his remaining brother cannot be found. It seems that we only have to wait for the urn to be accessible to determine its contents, one way or the other.
Edward IV’s first marriage probably took place in the Warwickshire estates of Lady Eleanor Talbot, his bride, on 8 June 1461 (1). However, this ceremony was not to become public knowledge until twenty-two years later, by which time both had died. Indeed, Edward only revealed his change of status in September 1464, by then claiming to be (bigamously of course) married to Elizabeth Wydeville, when the Earl of Warwick made an effort to find him a foreign wife.
Edward IV has unwittingly inspired several later prominent people, for privacy or image reasons, but I have chosen John Lennon to illustrate the point. He had a relationship with Cynthia Powell from about 1959 and she was his first wife from 1962-8. As many of the Beatles’ fans were young and female, Lennon and his colleagues were encouraged, by their manager Brian Epstein, to keep their relationships secret for several years. Note that his opening marriage took place almost exactly five centuries after Edward’s and ended at a similar point in the relevant century.
(1) The Private Life of Edward IV, Ashdown-Hill, p.59.
No, no – do not be put off by this dry old illustration, for it but masks the workings of an over-active mind. Mine!
Does anything about the following sound familiar?
“…The nickname John of London, given to Richard [II], alludes to a report spread by Henry that Richard was the illegitimate son of the Princess of Wales [Joan of Kent] by a canon of Bordeaux; (see Froissart;) but Mezeray remarks, that that reproach might have been cast upon Henry [IV] with more reason, seeing the queen his mother, on her death-bed, had confessed to a bishop that she had substituted him [Henry] in the place of her own true son, whom she had suffocated by accident, charging him [the bishop] to discover the secret if he [Henry] were likely to inherit the crown. (Mezeray, 983, fo. Paris, 1643)” Taken from Chronique de la Traison et Mort de Richart Deux, Roy Dengleterre.
OK, so the story was related by a Frenchman 250 years or so after the death of Richard II, whom the Black Prince certainly acknowledged as his son. And when it comes to Henry IV…his mother was never Queen. Blanche of Lancaster was Duchess of Lancaster.
Mezeray is therefore a hardly reliable source, but the scenario he paints is thought-provoking to someone like me. He wrote after the 15th century, when proof of some sort had come to light of Edward IV’s bigamy . Was a version of the Mezeray scenario then enacted? Was Stillington, or someone else in the know, charged to only reveal the proof of the Eleanor Talbot marriage if there was a chance of Edward V being crowned? And if so, who charged him? Who was in a position to make such a decision? How many of them were there? I know, I know, it sounds like The da Vinci Code, with some manipulative and arcane secret society pulling strings.
Perhaps whoever it was had hope that fate would step in and remove the need for such a revelation? The natural deaths of the boys, perhaps? Premature death was a common enough fate back then. And so was murder, of course. And the girls might well have been safely married to husbands no one would accept on the throne of England? International royal marriages were all very well when it was an English prince marrying a foreign princess, but not the other way around. Elizabeth of York, for instance, was at one time betrothed to Charles, the Dauphin of France. And Cecily was betrothed to the future James IV of Scotland. Grand contracts, but unsuitable for the English crown. If those marriages had taken place, I cannot believe either gentleman would be rapturously greeted in London. Another James of Scotland would eventually be crowned in Westminster Abbey, but not in the 15th century. So, if not the boys or the girls…who then?
Was the pre-contract being kept hidden as a contingency plan? Something to produce if and when the need arose? I do not know who might be behind such a thing. Certainly not Richard, who was in Yorkshire and did not even know Edward was on his deathbed until it was all over. If he’d been in on a secret masterplan, he’d have been ready and waiting in London. Maybe he wasn’t even the one the masterplanners had in mind. He just got in the way when the masterplan suffered a hiccup, and he was most inconveniently ended up as Richard III, which was NOT in the script. I don’t think Henry VII was the intended monarch either. When push came to shove, he was too lowly and unroyal, and so was another very inconvenient intrusion. The whole masterplan began to go pear-shaped when Edward IV died so suddenly, and from then on things did not go as the conspirators intended. Then, after Bosworth, I think they ripped up the whole idea up in disgust, walked away and let history take its Tudor course. Thank you, chaps.
Right, ladies and gentlemen, I can’t think why anyone conspire to such patient and determined lengths, or what their purpose might have been, but if there was a masterplan, who might they have intended to be the ultimate King of England? And who might have been the masterplanners?
On the understanding that there are holes in my reasoning (or lack of it), and that the above could be a suggestion for a movie, please let me know your suggestions for the actual identities of all these mysterious, shadowy figures. Answers on a postcard, please…
John Ashdown-Hill’s Eleanor, the Secret Queen was first published in 2009, detailing Lady Eleanor Talbot’s family and early life, the circumstances in which she married Edward IV, her similarities to his mistress Elizabeth Woodville (they were dark haired, older and widows of Lancastrian-inclined men), canon law and how it affected Edward’s relationships and children together with the Clarence attainder, Stillington’s translation to Bath and Wells in 1461, his imprisonment and Titulus Regius 1484. Then it described the attempted cover-up of Titulus Regius (before a copy emerged through Buck), Catesby’s execution, More’s attempt to write another lady into the story, Chapuys’ knowledge of the case and the emergence of remains that may be Lady Eleanor in Norwich, judged by her age, status and the dental evidence. It proved the marriage almost completely to the satisfaction of most open minds.
Seven years later, it has been reissued in paperback with even more evidence. We can now know, with confidence, exactly where and when Edward married Lady Eleanor. Our attention is additionally drawn to the circumstances of her death and the arrest of two of her sister’s servants a few weeks later, such that there are reports of their executions, whilst the discovery of Richard III’s skeleton leads to further deductions about the dental evidence in Norwich. The case for the 1461 marriage is now proven, even if her corpse cannot yet be conclusively identified.
One of Cairo’s biggest trolls claimed, last week, that the Fourth Lateran Council banned secret weddings, thus Edward IV’s June 1461 marriage to the dark-haired, older, Lancastrian widow Lady Eleanor Talbot could not have been valid.
There are only two problems with this claim, from the clown who confused “June” with “youth”, had Katherine de Valois addressing Parliament after she died and Bishop Leslie of Ross meeting “Perkin Warbeck” thirty years before his own birth. The first is that those who understand canon law* disagree with the impact of the Fourth Lateran Council, at least in fact if not intent. The second is that Edward’s 1464 secret ceremony was also with an older Lancastrian widow, who probably had dark hair. If the claim was true then this “marriage” would also, of necessity, be invalid.
So Edward IV either married at least twice – there may be other cases we do not know about – or not at all. He was either a bigamist or a bachelor “until his dying day” but his children were illegitimate either way.
This is all so exciting! Wouldn’t it be marvellous if the remains did indeed turn out to be Lady Eleanor? The woman whose status and existence made a king of Richard of Gloucester. And to think, it’s not that long ago that we didn’t even know her name for certain. Now John Ashdown-Hill knows even more than he did ten years ago and has a reconstruction of her face: