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?)
Elizabeth Wydeville The Royal Window Canterbury Cathedral.
Yes, this is a serious question. After reading several of the late John Ashdown-Hill’s books, particularly his last one, Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey, I think it’s time to give it some serious thought. Although prima facie it may appear absurd, after all we are talking about a real actual Queen, not a monster from a Grimms’ fairy story, I think it may be worthwhile to give some actual consideration to this question and its plausibility.
Edward IV, the Royal Window Canterbury Cathedral. Did a careless remark made to his wife unwittingly bring about the death of Desmond?
Lets take a look at the first death that Elizabeth has been associated with – that of Thomas Fitzgerald Earl of Desmond. The first port of call for anyone interested in this would be the excellent in-depth article co-written by Annette Carson and the late historian John Ashdown-Hill both of whom were heavily involved with the discovery of King Richard IIIs remains in Leicester. Here is the article.
Their assessment goes very deep but to give a brief summary – Desmond was executed on the 15th February 1468 by his successor John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, a man known for his cruel, sadistic nature and dubbed The Butcher of England by his contemporaries. The execution was immediately followed by armed rebellion, the Earl’s elder sons ‘raised their standards and drew their swords to avenge their father’s murder ‘ swiftly followed by King Edward, both alarmed and displeased in equal measures, promising that if the Desmonds laid their arms down they would be pardoned. Edward also assured them that he had neither ordered the execution or had any knowledge of it whatsoever. This begs the question if it was not Edward, who gave Tiptoft the go ahead to execute Desmond – as well as it is said his two small sons? This was swiftly followed by extremely generous grants to James, Desmond’s oldest son, despite the Act of Attainder against his father. Included in these grants was ‘the palatinate of Kerry, together with the town and castle of Dungarvan. This grant may be thought to signify that in Edward’s view an injustice had been done’. This was as well as an ‘extraordinary priviledge’ – that of the Desmonds being free to choose not to appear in person before Edward’s deputy or the council in Ireland but to be able to send a representative instead. Clearly Edward had grasped that the Desmonds were, understandably, extremely wary of putting themselves in the hands of the Anglo Irish authorities.
Richard Duke of York. His wise and just reputation in Ireland survived long after his death.
Various explanations have been given as to why Tiptoft had Desmond executed. It was given out that he had been guilty of ‘horrible treasons and felonies as well as alliance, fosterage and alterage with enemies of the king, as in giving them harness and armour and supporting them against the faithful subjects of the king’ as well as the ludicrous charge of plotting to make himself King of Ireland,
Upon Tiptoft’s arrival in Ireland in September 1467 he had initially co-operated with Desmond and other Irish lords. This was unsurprising as Edward IV was on extremely friendly terms with the Irish lords. This friendship carried over from his father, Richard Duke of Yorks time in Ireland where he had been held in high regard and in fact Desmond’s father, James, had been George Duke of Clarence’s godfather. However on the opening of Parliament on the 4th February a bill was immediately brought forward attainting Desmond and others including his brother in law, the Earl of Kildare. Desmond was removed from the Dominican friary at Drogheda on the 14th February and swiftly executed. The others managed somehow to avoid arrest and execution until Edward, finding out what had occurred, pardoned them. This also adds to the strength of the theory that the execution had been carried out without Edward’s knowledge. This might be a good place to mention that Desmond had indeed been in England around the time of Edward’s ‘marriage’ to Elizabeth and when much chatter was going on regarding her unsuitability as a royal bride. There is a surviving 16th century account of Edward while having an amicable chat with Desmond, asked him what his thoughts were regarding Edward’s choice of bride. It is said that Desmond at first wisely held back but pushed by Edward did admit that it was thought widely that the King had made a misalliance. This was relayed, foolishly by Edward to his new bride, perhaps oblivious in those early days of her capabilities. A spiteful, vindictive Elizabeth had stolen the seal from her husband’s purse as he slept and had written to Tiptoft instructing him to get rid of Desmond. This begs the question of whether Tiptoft himself may have been unaware that the order did not emanate directly from the King. The rest is history and a dark and terrible day at Drogheda.
Moving forward some 16 years later in 1483 we have an extant letter from Richard to his councillor the Bishop of Annaghdown in which he instructs the said Bishop to go to Desmond’s son, James, and among other things to demonstrate (shewe) to him that the person responsible for the murder of his father was the same person responsible for the murder of George Duke of Clarence (1). As Carson and Ashdown-Hill point out, this is a ‘ highly significant analogy’ because, in 1483, Mancini had written that contemporary opinion was that the person responsible for Clarence’s death was no other than Elizabeth Wydville. Elizabeth, no doubt having discovered that her marriage to Edward was a bigamous one – he already having a wife – namely Eleanor Butler nee Talbot – at the time of his ‘marriage’ to her, had ‘concluded that her offspring by the king would never come to the throne, unless Clarence was removed and this she easily persuaded the king’ (1). It is highly likely that Clarence, who perhaps was of a hotheaded nature, had also become aware that Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage was null and void having been informed of this fact by Bishop Stillington. Stillington was imprisoned and Clarence met the same fate as Desmond – an execution regularly described by historians, of all views, as judicial murder.
George Duke of Clarence from the Rous Roll. George was only 28 years old when he was executed in what has been described by some historians as a ‘judicial murder’
It should be remembered that shortly before his arrest Clarence had been widowed. Clarence had insisted that his wife, Isobel Neville, had been murdered – poisoned he said. One of the acts he was accused of at his trial was of trying to remove his small son, Edward, out of England and to safety abroad. He obviously genuinely believed that Isobel had indeed been murdered, why else did he attempt to get his son out of harms way? This story has been told in many places including Ashdown-Hill’s books, The Third Plantagenet as well as his bio of Elizabeth. If Isobel was indeed murdered the truth has been lost with time but it can safely be said that Clarence was a victim to Elizabeth’s malice although of course Edward has to take equal blame for that. Hicks, and Thomas Penn, are among the historians who have described Clarences’ execution as ‘judicial murder’. Hicks in his bio on George, states that the trial held before a Parliament heavily packed out with Wydeville supporters was fixed. George stood not a chance and was led back to the Tower to await his fate. He did not have to wait too long. Penn writes ‘…his brothers life in his hands, Edward pondered the enormity of his next, irrevocable command. A week or so later, with Parliament still in session, Speaker Allington and a group of MPs walked over to the House of Lords and, with, all decorum, requested that they ask the king to get on with it‘. Insisting that the king order his own brother’s liquidation was hardly something that Allington would have done on his own initiative. The source of the nudge could be guessed at (2). As Penn points out Speaker Allington’s ‘effusions about Queen Elizabeth and the little Prince of Wales were a matter of parliamentary record; the queen had awarded him handsomely appointing him one of the prince’s chancellors and chancellor of the boy’s administration’. Thus George Duke of Clarence was toast and it appears the second victim to the malignity of the Wydeville queen. Later it was written by Virgil that Edward bitterly regretted his brother’s ‘murder’..for thus it is described by Penn… and would often whinge when asked for a favour by someone that no-one had requested a reprieve for George (not even the brothers’ mother??? Really Edward!).
Elizabeth Wydville, The Luton Guildbook. Cicely Neville, her mother in law is depicted behind her. Cicely’s feelings on one of her son’s bringing about the death of another son are unrecorded.
Another damning point against Elizabeth is that Richard III in the communication mentioned above, granted permission to James, Desmond’s son to ‘pursue by means of law those whom he held responsible for his father’s death’. Both Edward and Tiptoft were dead at this time but Elizabeth was still alive and demoted from Queen to a commoner. As it transpired James did not pursue the matter at that time and a year later it was all too late – Richard was dead and Elizabeth had been reinstated as Queen Dowager. Further evidence regarding Elizabeth’s guilt came to light 60 years later in the 16th century in the form of a memorandum addressed by James 13th Earl of Desmond, Desmond’s grandson, to the privy council. In an attempt to get property that had been removed from one of his ancestors returned to him James referred to the great privilege that was awarded to his earlier Desmond relatives, that of not having to appear before Anglo Irish authorities that had been granted by Edward IV because ‘the 7th Earl of Desmond had been executed because of the spite and envy of Elizabeth Wydeville”. This memorandum also contained the earliest written account of the conversation between Edward IV and Desmond regarding Elizabeth’s suitablity as a royal consort, the repeating of which to Elizabeth had resulted in Desmond’s murder.
It’s now not looking good for Elizabeth at this stage. There are other names, other deaths, that begin now to look rather suspicious. After all if Elizabeth could be involved with two deaths could there have been more?
The next deaths that need consideration are those of Eleanor Butler and her brother in law, the Mowbray Duke of Norfolk. According to Ashdown-Hill who has researched Eleanor in depth, her death occurred while her family and protectors, particularly her sister Elizabeth Duchess of Norfolk, with whom she appears to have been close, were out of the country attending the marriage celebrations of Margaret of York to Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. This marriage had been ‘pushed forward’ by Elizabeth Wydeville (3). Of course her death may have been the result of natural causes although it’s not hard to imagine Edward and Elizabeth breathing massive sighs of relief. However karma is a bitch, as they say, and the spectre of Eleanor would later arise with tragic results and the complete fall of the House of York.
Whether Eleanor died of unnatural causes of course can now never be ascertained. Ashdown-Hill compares her death to that of Isobel Neville in that after they first become ill it was two weeks before they died (4). Certainly it was unexpected and must have caused shock and grief to her sister on her arrival back in England – presumably the Duchess may not have left England and her sister if she had been seriously ill and close to death. In actual fact Eleanor died on the 30th June 1468 while Elizabeth Talbot only begun her trip back to England from Flanders on the 13th July. Coupled with this, two of the Norfolk household were executed around this time through treasonous activity but nevertheless this must have caused disconcertment and fear to the Duke and Duchess following on so soon from Eleanor’s death. Very sadly, the Duke himself was to die suddenly and totally unexpectedly. The Duchess of Norfolk, now bereft of her husband and sister, found herself forced to agree to the marriage of her very young daughter, the Lady Anne Mowbray, to Elizabeth Wydeville’s youngest son, Richard of Shrewsbury. This was much to her detriment being forced to accept a diminished dower in order to supplement the revenue of her young son in law. She thereafter lived out her days in a ‘great’ house in the precincts of the Abbey of the Minoresses of St Clare without Aldgate, poorer but surrounded by loyal and loving friends most of whom had also suffered at the hands of Edward IV and the Wydevilles (5).
In summary, I’m confident that Elizabeth was deeply implicated in the executions of Desmond, an entirely innocent man, and Clarence whom she feared because he knew or suspected the truth of her bigamous marriage. Could there have been others? The hapless Eleanor Talbot perhaps? Of course she was not a murderess in the sense that she actually and physically killed anyone but she did indeed ‘load the guns and let others fire the bullets’ as they say. There is little doubt that Richard Duke of Gloucester came close to being assassinated on his journey to London and close to the stronghold of the Wydevilles at Grafton Regis, in 1483. This was down to the machinations of the Wydevilles including of course the fragrant Elizabeth who by the time he arrived in London had scarpered across the road from Westminster Palace, loaded down with royal treasure, and taken sanctuary in Westminster Abbey, a sure indication of her guilt in that plot. Richard, in his well known letter, had to send to York for reinforcements “we heartily pray you to come to us in London in all the diligence you possibly can, with as many as you can make defensibly arrayed, there to aid and assist us against the queen, her bloody adherents and affinity, who have intended and do daily intend, to murder and utterly destroy us and our cousin the Duke of Buckingham, and the old blood royal of this realm” (6).
After that dreadful day at Bosworth in August 1485, and a bit of a tedious wait, Elizabeth now found herself exulted once again this time as mother to the new Queen. She would, one have thought, reached the stage where she could at last rest on her now rather blood soaked laurels. Wrong! She was soon found to be involved in the Lambert Simnel plot, which no doubt if successful would have resulted in the death of her daughter’s husband. Whether her daughter, Elizabeth of York, would have approved of this is a moot point and something we shall never know although surely she would hardly have welcomed being turfed off the throne and her children disinherited and my guess is that relationship between Elizabeth Snr and Jnr became rather frosty after that. Henry Tudor, who was many things but not a fool took the sensible decision to have his mother in law ‘retired’ to Bermondsey Abbey, no doubt to protect her from herself but more importantly to protect himself from Elizabeth and her penchant for plots that mostly ended up with someone dead. And there at Bermondsey, a place known for disgraced queens to be sent to languish and die, she lived out her days no doubt closely watched, Karma having finally caught up with her.
Terracotta bust of Henry VII. Elizabeth’s son-in-law. Henry prudently had Elizabeth ‘retired’ to Bermondsey Abbey.
John Tiptoft Earl of Worcester. Effigy on his tomb. Tiptoft’s propensity for cruelty did not deter Edward from appointing him Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1467 nor did it dissuade Elizabeth to involve him in her plotting to bring about the death of Desmond.
(1) Harleian Manuscript 433 Vol 2 pp108.9
(2) The Usurpation of Richard III Dominic Mancini. Ed. C A J Armstrong.
(3 ) The Brothers York Thomas Penn p405
(4) Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey p87 John Ashdown Hill
(5) Ibid p124 John Ashdown Hill.
(6) The Ladies of the Minories W E Hampton. Article in The Ricardian 1978
(7) York Civic Records Vol.1.pp 73-4. Richard of Gloucester letter to the city of York 10 June 1483.
The arms of Ralph Boteler, Lord of Sudeley ..
Take a trip to the lovely Cotswold town of Winchcombe and there you will find Sudeley Castle. Some of those that lived in the castle are well known such as Queen Catherine Parr and the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey. Their stories are well documented elsewhere and I won’t touch upon them here as I want to focus on an earlier owner Ralph Boteler, Lord of Sudeley who was born around 1393 and was to become father-in-law to Lady Eleanor Boteler, or Butler as she is more commonly called, nee Talbot. Eleanor was married to Ralph’s son Thomas.
Ralph, from aristocratic stock, led an illustrious life. He had rebuilt Sudeley after fighting in the France where its most likely he would have met John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, Eleanor’s father. Among the titles he held were Baron Sudeley, Captain of Calais, Lord high Treasurer of England and Chamberlain of the King’s Household. He was also a generous benefactor to St Peter’s Church, in Winchcombe, enabling it to be rebuilt in 10 years after the earlier church fell into disrepair.
John Talbot, lst Earl of Shrewsbury – father to Eleanor Butler nee Talbot. Both `John and Ralph fought in France.
As Eleanor was only a child of about 13 when she married Thomas, who was a fair bit older than her at about 28, their marriage would not have been consummated immediately and therefore she would have lived with her in-laws at Sudeley for the first few years of her marriage. It would seem an affection grew between her and her father in law, for later, after the death of Thomas, it would appear that she either persuaded her second, and secret husband, the young Edward IV to act generously towards her former father in law, or he did so to make his new bride happy for, within 6 months of the secret marriage, which took place around February 1461, Edward issued a grant – ‘exemption for life of Ralph Botiller, knight, Lord of Sudeley, on account of his debility and age from personal attendance in council or Parliament and from being made collector assessor or taxer….commissioner, justice of the peace, constable, bailiff, or other minister of the king, or trier, arrayer or leader of men at arms, archers, or hobelers. And he shall not be compelled to leave his dwelling for war’. Three months later Edward further granted ‘Ralph four bucks in summer and six in winter within the king’s park of Woodstock’ ( 1 ) Sadly all this good will evaporated on the death of Eleanor in 1468. Historian John Ashdown-Hill has described this volte-face as a ‘hostility’ resulting in Ralph having to surrender his properties, including Sudeley, which went in the main, to the voracious relatives of his new and bigamous ‘wife’, Elizabeth Wydeville. For following a pardon granted to Ralph on the 17 December 1468 when two properties Griff and Burton Dassett, taken earlier by Edward, were returned to him, Ralph was ‘induced to issue the following grant:
‘Know all men present and to come that I, Ralph Boteler, Knight, Lord Sudely, have given, granted and by this my present charter have confirmed to Richard, Earl Rivers, William, Earl of Pembroke, Anthony Wydevile, Knight, Lord Scales, William Hastings, Knight, Lord Hastings, Thomas Bonyfaunt, Dean of the Chapel Royal, Thomas Vaughn, one of the Esquires of the King’s body and to Richard Fowler, the castle domain and manor of Sudeley, with all its belongings in the county of Gloucester, and all lands, rent etc., in Sudeley, Toddington, Stanley, Greet, Gretton, Catesthorp and Newnton and also the advowson of the church or chapel of Sudeley, to hold the same to them and their assignees’ ( 2)
Sadly , Edward, not content with taking Ralph’s properties he may have, according to John Ashdown-Hill also sent him to prison, where he died in 1473 (3). People (and history) will have to judge for themselves the true reason Edward took such a heavy hand with Ralph after Eleanor’s death and whether it was, as some say, because of his loyalty to the Lancastrian cause (having supported the redemption of Henry VI) or did it perhaps have something more to do with Ralph being privy (or a reminder) to the illegality of the Wydeville marriage?
Sudeley Castle, Winchcombe, Gloucestershire. Rebuilt by Ralph Boteler ..
St Peter’s Church, Winchcombe. Ralph Boteler gave generously enabling the church to be rebuilt after the original one fell into a ruinous state.
St Mary’s Church at Sudeley Castle..
( 1 ) Elizabeth Widville, Lady Grey p38 CPR 1461-1467, pp.72,191. John Ashdown-Hill.
( 2) Eleanor: The Secret Queen p150. Close Roll 8 Edward IV, no.3. dorso, 23 February 1469. John Ashdown-Hill.
(3) Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey p51. John Ashdown-Hill.
It seems that some of the denialists are becoming even more sensitive than before and dislike being called Cairo dwellers. One Michael Hicks acolyte went to the point of giving Matthew Lewis well-researched biography of Richard III a one-star review. Sadly for “Alex Brondarbit”, the introduction to his own latest book (below) by the Professor has also appeared. Although the length and phraseology differs, few will believe that Hicks didn’t “inspire” the secondary effort.
In his review, Hicks cites his own mentor, Charles Ross, describing his work as the definitive biography – and herein lies the problem. Ross wrote nearly forty years ago, reciting all of the old discredited sources, ending by stating that Richard’s body was dumped in the Soar after the Reformation. Hicks has written at least a dozen books about Richard III in that time, still based on Ross’ research, but the history and the science have moved on.
In fact, we at Murrey and Blue have drawn attention to this stasis on several occasions, pointing to:
Barrie Williams‘ painstaking research in the Portuguese archives that proved Richard’s remarriage plans soon after Anne Neville’s death, thereby contradicting the hoary old myth about Richard and Elizabeth of York,
Marie Barnfield‘s proof that “affinity does not beget affinity” and that Richard and Anne had all the dispensations they required,
The conclusive identification of Richard’s remains, which were still under the former Greyfriars and nowhere near the river Soar, through research initiated by John Ashdown-Hill and others,
Ashdown-Hill’s work on the pre-contract, restoring Lady Eleanor to her rightful place in history as Edward IV’s legal wife.
The evidence adduced by Wroe, Carson, Fields and Lewis, inter alia, suggesting that either or both “Princes” survived beyond 1485 together with Ashdown-Hill’s discovery of their mtDNA.
As one who has read both Kendall and Ross on several occasions, it is surely the case that the former captures Richard III’s essence far better, notwithstanding the fact that it was the earlier book. We have a whole series of posts based on the book Kendall could have written today and we can be confident that he would take account of this new learning were he still alive. Ross both wrote and died more recently but I doubt that he would have changed a word, just as Hicks’ mind is unchanged in that interval, even as the evidence points in a different direction. He evidently has a lesser opinion of amateurs, as many of the above are, but it is they who have made the great discoveries since 1980. It is the amateurs who have conducted original research here and not relied on the flaws inherent in Mancini, Vergil and More.
As the Arabs, including those in Cairo, say: The dog barks, but the caravan moves on.
This Channel Five documentary has just completed a second series, with Alex Langlands and Raksha Dave, late of Time Team, in place of Helen Skelton. One particular episode was about Auckland Castle, where the “Prince Bishops” of Durham have lived for centuries and where archaeology is being carried out around the building.
One of these influential Bishops was William Bek who, surprisingly for a cleric, co-commanded the English army against William Wallace at Falkirk, shortly after Wallace and Moray’s victory at Stirling Bridge. Consequently, Langlands and Dave visited a few other venues associated with the story, including those in Scotland.
The series has also covered the lost Roman town of Silchester and HMS Invincible, as well as the Catterick garrison and Sudeley Castle.
They are: Edward IV, Charles II (buried today in 1685) and William IV, all of whom had a large number of illegitimate children, but none left a legitimate heir.
Edward IV (1442-83) had twelve to fifteen children by various mistresses, including Elizabeth Wydville, but none by Lady Eleanor Talbot, his only legal wife, whose probable remains (CF2 in Norwich) show no signs of pregnancy – thus Richard III was his legitimate heir.
Those ten were purported, until 1483 to be legitimate and not all of the others were recognised during Edward’s lifetime.
Charles II (1630-85) fathered about fourteen children, of whom only James, Duke of Monmouth could possibly have been legitimate. The Duke’s mother, Lucy Walter died before Charles’ marriage to Catherine Braganza, sister of Pedro II, King of Portugal – thus James VII/II was his legitimate heir.
Catherine’s only known pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.
William IV (1765-1837) had ten illegitimate children by the Irish actress Dorothea Bland (“Mrs. Jordan”), whose descendants thrive today, as do Edward IV and Charles II’s lines – thus Victoria was his legal heir.
His marriage to Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen resulted in five children but three were stillborn, one died after a few hours and the other at three months.
Astley Castle and church..photo taken 1976. Courtesy of Will Roe, Nuneaton Memories.
Astley Castle, Warwickshire, was the marital home of Sir John and Elizabeth Grey nee Wydeville. Sir John often comes across as a shadowy figure, outshone in eminence by his wife, and later widow, who went on to catch the eye of a king. This story is of course well known and documented and I won’t go into it here but rather focus on Astley Castle itself. Astley has a long and rich history. Beginning life as a Manor House in 1266, the then owner, Warin de Bassingbourne was given a licence to crenellate and enclose with a moat. The medieval house was much added to during the 17th century but I’m sure John and Elizabeth would still have been able to recognise the old and original features.
Medieval fire place in Astley Castle..
In the 1960s the parts that had survived the centuries were in use as a hotel and perhaps the rooms used by John and Elizabeth deployed as rooms for paying guests. Alas in 1978 a disastrous fire took hold and Astley, reduced to a shell , was abandoned. Various proposals to rebuild proved to be too financially prohibitive and the ruins were declared a Scheduled Ancient Monument. However in 2005 the Landmark Trust came forward with a solution and what was left of Astley was saved by the novel idea of building and incorporating modern accommodation within the ruinous walls. Astley arose, like a Phoenix out of the flames, as they say, and today its possible to stay in what was once the marital home of the Greys.
Astley Castle. An old photo date 1900 showing the stone archway.
The same view during renovation works..
Built of local red sandstone. Although altered in the 16th century some original 12th century elements still remain incorporated in the building.
By a somewhat strange coincidence the church at Astley, St Mary the Virgin, has some interesting burials and monuments, for a Talbot lies buried there. Elizabeth Talbot later Viscountess Lisle, was a niece to Eleanor Butler nee Talbot, Elizabeth Wydeville‘s very own nemesis. This Elizabeth Talbot was to become the heiress to John Talbot, lst Viscount Lisle. John Talbot was the son of that staunch warrior, John Talbot lst Earl of Shrewsbury, Eleanor’s father and known in history as Great Talbot. Both father and son perished at the Battle of Castillion. Elizabeth Talbot, having married our John Grey’s brother, Edward, was also Elizabeth Wydeville’s sister-in-law. Elizabeth Talbot, having lived until 1487, saw the disastrous outcome of her former sister-in law, Elizabeth Wydeville’s bigamous ‘marriage’. What her thoughts on the matter were, frustratingly we will never know.
Elizabeth Talbot Viscountess Lisle. Historian John Ashdown-Hill suggests this portrait was painted in Flanders during the wedding ceremonies of Margaret of York (1). Certainly the likeness is very similar to Elizabeth’s effigy in the church. See below. Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz Gemaldegalerie, Berlin. (no.532)
The effigy of Elizabeth Talbot Viscountess Lisle now lies between those of Cecilia Bonville, Marchioness of Dorset (wife to Thomas Grey, son of John and Elizabeth Grey nee Wydeville) and her husband Edward Grey. These effigies were not originally one monument and have been unfortunately moved together at some time (2). Thanks to Caroline Irwin for photo.
Astley Church was once much larger than it is now but some of the misericords have survived as well as the above effigies.
14th century misericords …
2. Memorials of the Wars of the Roses p.188. W E Hampton.
I’ve decided to have a little go at some YouTube stuff. My first foray is a breakdown of my Top 10 problems with Sir Thomas More’s story of Richard III. It’s so full of problems that I’m left dismayed that academic historians I speak to still insist on relying on More’s evidence even today. There is a lingering insistence that More was a contemporary source, or at least had the chance to speak to witnesses so that he’s as good as primary material.
In truth, More was 7 during the events of 1485 and wrote 30 years later. He can’t possibly have remembered the complex political events of 1483 with clarity, or have been witness to any of the moments he describes in excruciating detail. Anyone he spoke to in Henry VIII’s England had reason to distance themselves from Richard III and his reign. Richard was already the monster from which the Tudors had rescued England. Who would have been brave enough to offer a different narrative?
I also think More, like Shakespeare, was never writing history in the way that we would recognise it – as a literal, factual retelling of events. He wrote allegory, a humanist exercise in moral tales veiled behind a convenient trope. More wrote about murderous tyranny and the dangers it posed, both to the kingdom and the king who indulged in it. In the years just after Henry VIII’s accession, when he had executed Empson and Dudley for following his father’s instructions, who might More have been really writing about? He could hardly name the king and risk his wrath. Richard offered a convenient front for what More had to say. Like Shakespeare, it has been wrongly accepted as the truth.
What else is wrong with More’s Richard III? Plenty. My top 10 problems are outlined here.
“….[executed in the Tower of London was] William Hastings, who tried to support the claims of Edward VI [sic] children to the throne in 1483….”
The above is a quote from this link – which contains boo-boos, as you can see from my quote. Well, was that why Hastings was executed? For trying to support the claims of Edward IV’s children, not those of the precocious Edward VI, who died at fifteen? Let’s be honest, no one really knows what Hastings did to warrant swift trial, sentence and execution, so such a broad statement is a little OTT, although the crime must have been pretty serious. Despite the history as claimed by traditionalists, Richard III was not a man to react in such a way lightly. His record of head-lopping was relatively small, unlike many other kings, who notched up quite a total in just as short a time. Nor was Richard the sort of man who would gladly murder his brother’s children, of that I feel certain. So why does he get all the opprobrium?
Forget the heartstring-plucking story of the boys in the Tower. No one knows what happened to them – certainly not that Richard had them exterminated in their beds.
There were may reasons why Hastings might plot against Richard, and one (in my opinion) was the realisation that in Richard’s reign he, Hastings, wouldn’t enjoy anywhere near the same position and influence as he had in Edward IV’s. The Hastings nose was out of joint, perchance?
He might also have known about Edward IV’s pre-contract with Lady Eleanor Talbot…which was what made Edward’s sons and daughter illegitimate and led to Richard ascending the throne. If that was the case, it wouldn’t be Richard who wanted him out of the way. Indeed, Richard would be one of the last people to sweep him into eternity. Step forward any number of Woodvilles, who wanted to be back in power and couldn’t be if someone could prove there’d been a pre-contract.
There’s also the possibility that supporters of Henry Tudor wouldn’t want Hastings around if he knew about the pre-contract. Very inconvenient when Henry pledged to marry Elizabeth of York and unite England’s warring Houses of York and Lancaster. Well, that was his noble claim, of course. In fact he resented having to marry her and just had a fancy to usurp the throne. He had to legitimise her and her siblings, and thus her missing brothers, giving them a much better claim to the throne than his own.
Hmm, Hastings was therefore an exceedingly inconvenient presence if he could somehow prove she was definitely illegitimate – um, not that Henry’s family history erred on the side of legitimacy, come to think of it. They may have been legitimised by Richard II and confirmed as such by Henry IV, but the latter also made a point of barring them from the throne. Henry VII’s blood claim was therefore very washy, and he relied upon conquest to justify his usurpation. Having to marry Elizabeth in order to satisfy the strong Yorkist element among his nobility must have stuck in his craw.
That’s not to say the ensuing marriage did not become a happy one, but I doubt very much if it started out that way. It wouldn’t have started out at all if Hastings had put his oar in and strengthened Richard’s case. With him vouching for the existence of a pre-contract, far more wavering Yorkists would have accepted in 1483 that Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Edward IV’s last remaining brother, was indeed the rightful occupant of England’s throne.
So, we have the Woodvilles and Henry VII as Hastings’ likely enemies. Who knows what “horrible plot” they may have cooked up and seen that Richard heard about it? That he believed Hastings was scheming against him is quite clear. He thought/accepted that his own life was in danger because of whatever it was Hastings was supposedly up to. Only a fool would do nothing about it, and stand idly by until the Grim Reaper struck. But contrary to traditionalist insistence, Hastings was not hauled out immediately and executed over a tree trunk or whatever. There was a trial, conviction and sentence.
No doubt many of you will not agree with my reasoning, but it’s what I genuinely think.