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A Time for Truth, a Time for Lies…or for Pretended Obliviousness and Bullying Tactics

Riding the medieval pre-contract horse into the ground.

Riding the medieval pre-contract horse into the ground.

 My thanks to everyone at Murrey & Blue who helped with this article. It was very much a team effort, and you know who you are.

An Elizabethan Professor Introduced Me to Richard

A long time ago, at a university far away, I took a class on medieval history from a professor who thought Elizabeth I walked on water. He assigned a paper, and I didn’t know what to write about. He suggested Richard III, about whom I knew nothing. Our text didn’t mention him, and the professor’s lectures hadn’t, either, so off I went to the uni library to correct that deficit in my education. There are times I’m grateful to him. There are other times I wish he’d given me another, less controversial subject to write on.

The first source I consulted was Thomas More. Because hey, he was a knight and a saint, and surely he could be trusted? Ten minutes in, I had the same reaction to him that I had to Frank Harris’s biography on Oscar Wilde: This reads like backstairs gossip. I went looking for other sources. And thus I learned that all sources are not alike, and the difference goes far beyond whether a source is primary or secondary.

There are historians and other writers whose research and conclusions you can trust when it comes to Richard III, and there are those you have to approach with squinty eyes. You stick the latter’s work under a mental microscope because their research and their conclusions are suspect, if not twisted, by a prior agenda, or by the ruler under which they wrote, or because they must publish or die as an academic and have to adhere to whichever slant is fashionable at the time. Seldom do you find a gem in the form of independent researcher who has the time and the independence to research original 15th-century documents, relay the facts, and doesn’t twist what they find into personal fantasy.

I learned to appreciate and respect the gems, and to treat the others like especially nasty viruses because their brand of Whisper-Down-the-Alley tended to replicate itself in books, articles, treatises, and novels from the 1500s on down to the present day.

In that long ago time, I had only to contend with academic journals and library holdings. Now there’s The Internet, which provides a whole other world-stage for untrustworthy writers and bloggers who do sloppy or selective research on Richard III, slap down some sentences, upload them to their blog, and want to call it Case Closed. I learned that even if someone considers themselves an historian – armchair or otherwise – they often write with personal prejudice. A few of these writers are mean and nasty, grow bully-fangs, and sharpen their teeth on those who don’t agree with them.

It would go so much better for these people if they could frame a proper argument, but most of them can’t. Come to that, most don’t even quote their sources. Perhaps they can’t be bothered. Perhaps they don’t know how to use citations. Perhaps they’re happy to shout their position over and over – as if they do it often and long enough, their selective stance will become The Absolute Truth – in blog post after blog post. Perhaps they’re just happy hiding behind a computer and thwack anyone who challenges what they say.

Silly bloggers. There are no Absolute Truths when it comes to history. Any history, not just Richard’s. The fun is in the debate, but some people don’t know how to have fun, except by bullying others.

Before Shooting Yourself in the Pre-Contract Foot, You May Want to Do Your Research

If you’re wise, you’ll stop reading this article and go read Annette Carson’s blog post entitled, “Proof … evidence … report … gossip … rumour,” and then get thee a copy of her Richard III: The Maligned King.

Remember how I said above that there are historians and other writers whose research and conclusions you can trust when it comes to Richard III? You can trust Annette Carson. Why? Because she’s a respected professional who lives up to her own words:

I always urge interested enquirers to research for themselves and not take my word for anything. My book Richard III: The Maligned King makes a serious effort to enumerate and summarize as many relevant sources as possible so that readers may consult them and reach their own conclusions.

Another blog post to examine regarding proof vs. evidence of the goings-on in the spring of 1483 and how to frame a proper argument regarding same is Matthew Lewis’s “Evidence, Evidence, Evidence.”

If you’re still with me (oh, Foolish Mortal), then onward we go, to beat a very dead horse called “The Pre-contracted Marriage of Edward IV.”

I’ve written about this before, and recently. I’d like to go on to other things, like researching the structure of the Prince’s Tower at Middleham Castle, because I can’t figure out its three- or four-story layout. Or investigating Richard’s shoe size since his skeleton doesn’t have feet. Or holding a séance to ask him whether he’s had enough of everyone discussing him. But noooo, I seem to be stuck endlessly discussing the stupid marriage Edward contracted with Eleanor Talbot-Butler because a Certain Blogger With a Mean Reputation is making a great many people roll their eyes in exasperation because of her inability to frame a decent argument or engage in an honest debate when it comes to this subject.

I present the following points for your consideration when you want to frame a valid argument regarding Edward’s prior marriage.

Do your medieval and renaissance research. This includes knowing who said what and when regarding the pre-contract; thoroughly acquainting yourself with the medieval Church canon law directing marriages and impediments to same; knowing the clerical members of Edward V’s council; and knowing the members of Richard III’s Parliament.

All of this so you can intelligently weigh and argue your points regarding:

  1. What is contemporary source material and what is not
  2. How unreliable some sources are due to personal agendas
  3. How and why medieval Church law would have declared Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville invalid, and why their children were declared bastards
  4. Which members (cleric, merchant, or noble) of the king’s council in May 1483 and of Parliament in January 1484 would or would not have been receptive to Richard of Gloucester manipulating or threatening them (and why), and which members (if any) profited through Richard after he became king
  5. Who Robert Stillington was, why his career and positions under Henry VI and Edward IV mattered, which chronicler cites him as the source of the pre-contract marriage accusation, whether Stillington was a witness to the marriage or if he only brought hearsay to Edward V’s council table, and why he was not a two-bit player on the contemporary stage, and how the king’s council would have reacted to his revelation. You’ll also need to know why and how all of this matters. And you might also want to look into Stillington’s family because they had some personal connections with the Talbots.

Yes, that’s a lot. You want your position and your arguments to be taken seriously? Then do the footwork and pay your dues. Take the time to learn what you need to know to frame a decent argument, and don’t take someone else’s bloggy or published word for it. And please, I beg you, cite your sources like you were taught to do when you wrote your first term paper at the age of twelve.

Realize there is a difference in genres: writing about history is not the same as writing an historical or fantasy novel

If you are writing fiction, you can change historical facts as you go along. If you do so, you are writing a subgenre of historical or fantasy fiction known as alternate universe or alternate history.

If you are writing about actual historical fact, medieval canon law is not open to your changes. Nor is it open to your interpretation. Medieval canon law existed for over four hundred years, and its tenets are clear. Its requirements for the dissolution of marriages and the declaration of bastards is written in stone. No one’s opinion can alter these facts. If you want to alter the facts, invent your own world and write a fantasy novel. Your world, your rules. Medieval world, medieval rules.

If you cared to research medieval law and Lady Eleanor Butler-Talbot, you’d learn that the woman conducted herself legally like a wife and not a widow long after the death of her first husband because a widow was free to make a will, but a wife was not unless she had her husband’s permission. And so it was that only a few weeks before her death, Eleanor did not will her lands to her sister Elizabeth, but deeded them outright to her. As for those who might have known about Eleanor’s marriage to Edward IV, Eleanor’s father, John Talbot, died in 1453, so he didn’t know about the marriage. Her mother Margaret, Countess of Shrewsbury, did not die until 1468, so she may or may not have known about Edward’s marrying her daughter. But you can be sure that other members of her family were alive and well, and they likely knew that she had a second husband, however secret that husband wished to be. There may also have been land in Wiltshire bestowed from Edward IV to Eleanor.[i]

You could posit that Edward IV conducted himself as a bigamous husband three years after his marriage to Eleanor. How’s that? Consider:

  1. Edward did not marry Elizabeth Woodville openly, he did not seek his councilors knowledge or the Church’s support.
  2. Edward married Elizabeth in secret, with only a priest (or Bishop Stillington) and Jacquetta Woodville, Countess Rivers, present.
  3. Why did Edward marry in secret [twice]? When a couple did this, it was usually to avoid the prohibition of authority, be that father, brother or king. Obviously this did not apply to Edward who was the king. So we have to look around for another motive.
  4. Either he was scared of offending Warwick, or he was acting in bad faith (initially with Elizabeth and for years with Eleanor).
  5. The truth was bound to emerge if he kept Elizabeth as a wife, Edward could avoid offending and/or humiliating Warwick (who was in negotiations for Edward to marry a foreign bride) only in the short term.
  6. Either way, Edward was acting in bad faith with Elizabeth. Again we have to ask why.
  7. One reason might be that he was determined to bed Elizabeth at all costs and thought he could repudiate the ceremony without much trouble. This wasn’t an unusual medieval scenario when a man already had a wife.
  8. If Edward intended Elizabeth to be his queen, he acted with gross irresponsibility when he married her in private, clandestinely, without witnesses rather than openly, in a grand royal wedding inside a cathedral, with all of his leading advisers present.
  9. There can be absolutely no doubt that Edward knew, since he was born and raised in the medieval Church, that he was making a marriage (or two marriages) that canon law decreed irregular. His marriage(s) also had issues under the English laws of inheritance.
  10. I’ll leave it to you to think up other reasons why Edward felt it necessary to marry in secret and present those arguments if you so choose.

Stillington was said by one chronicler to have conducted the marriage between Eleanor Butler and Edward IV. Which chronicler? It shouldn’t be hard for you to find out, if you want to. I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t More, the Croyland Chronicle, or Mancini. I’ll also leave it to you to find out why an eye witness to an event was valid evidence to a 15th-century court or king’s council. Again, you’ll need to know such things if you want to frame a valid argument regarding such things.

Saying Bishop Robert Stillington was no one of consequence does not make it so.

Men of no consequence do not become Keeper of the Privy Seal for seven years, nor serve twice as Lord Chancellor. Men of no consequence could not and did not influence the Three Estates.

The Three Estates, which included several bishops and archbishops, at the very least decided in the spring 1483 that the allegation of bigamy against Edward IV matched what they knew of the king’s character and behavior. To suggest that Stillington adduced[ii] no evidence is wishful thinking, a deliberate attempt to mislead your reader, or a desperate act of denial. There was evidence, it was recorded at the time, and the conclusions drawn by the Three Estates are clearly outlined in the Act of Settlement (commonly known as Titulus Regius), recorded and still preserved in the original sewn parchment roll of Richard III’s Parliament of January 1484.

The fact that Edward V’s council records are missing do not negate their original existence, just as the fact that many town, city, county and other royal records are missing do not negate their original existence. Medieval England’s archives were not like the Library of Congress which has the wisdom to vault their original materials far underground in a dry, temperature-controlled environment, safe from mildew, insects, and fire. You also seem ignorant of the fact a 16th-century fire in Westminster took out a great many medieval records.

The only reason we have one of Richard’s expense books is because someone had removed it from the Westminster archive and had it in his possession when the fire occurred. It does not logically follow that the reason we have only one of Richard’s expense books is because there weren’t any others, just as it does not logically follow that the reason we do not have the records of Edward V’s council meetings is because there weren’t any. Edward’s records and Richard III’s records aren’t the only ones missing. Some may have been deliberately destroyed, others may have been victims of time, mould, fire, or whatever else fate came up with.

We work with what is left, and we frame possibilities and probabilities. If we’re wise, we do not frame absolutes because that is not possible. Even if you choose a side, the fun is in the ongoing debate…if you let it be.

Richard, His Spies and His Minions Must Have Worked Round the Clock

Have you any idea of the logistical burden and collateral deceivers you created when you suggested out of your imagination that Richard came up with a ‘false bride’ for Edward IV?

In only a few days in the spring of 1483, with less than three weeks to go before Edward V’s coronation and while managing to govern England as Protector of the Realm through endless meetings, dictating drafts of documents and correspondence, reviewing and changing documents, reviewing and signing final versions of documents, and other sundry responsibilities and claims on Richard’s time that none of us can begin to imagine, the Duke of Gloucester would have had to:

  1. Violate Church law and the English common laws we know Richard was sworn to keep and worked to uphold all of his adult life, first as Constable of England; secondly in weekly, if not daily, councils and courts in the North; and finally as Lord Protector.
  2. Come up with a woman of suitable pedigree.
  3. Make sure her surviving family, friends, and servants were willing to enter into the deception.
  4. Coerced witnesses or forged written evidence – both of which had to hold up to the scrutiny of Edward V’s unfriendly, suspicious, learned council.

The possibility of the truth leaking out in such a scenario is obvious. Also, Richard was a child when Edward married Eleanor Butler-Talbot, so it’s doubtful that adult Richard could make a list on his own of likely candidates from 20+ years past. At the beginning of his scheme, he’d have to ask someone to recommend suitable imaginary brides – alive or dead. He’d then have to contact her and/or her family and make the necessary arrangements – promises delivered like a villain in a Disney musical for a scheme that might or might not work with the Three Estates:

I know it sounds sordid, but you’ll be rewarded
When at last I am given my dues,
And in justice deliciously squared…

So prepare for the coup of the century,
Prepare for the murkiest scam.
Meticulous planning, tenacity spanning,
Decades of denial is simply why I’ll
Be king undisputed respected, saluted,
And seen for the wonder I am

More than a few people would know of the matter. Others would have been asked to commit perjury, and for what? No evident or sure reward from a royal duke who’d spent the last twelve years in the North, and at great risk to themselves, their families, their present and future security?

Why Seek to Become King When You Were Already Going to Be Given the Quasi-Regency of England?

Annette Carson points out that Richard’s appointment as Protector and Defender of the Realm was not meant to end with the coronation of Edward V on 22 June. The king’s council had assigned John Russell (Bishop of Lincoln and Lord Chancellor, and no admirer of Richard), to draft a sermon to be presented at the opening of Edward V’s Parliament on 25 June. This 14-page sermon makes it clear that the king’s council wanted Richard to not only continue defending the realm, but also to take over the teaching and oversight of the boy-king until he reached his majority. Richard’s Protectorship was to be extended, in Carson’s words, to “take on the nature of a quasi-regency.”[iv]

There isn’t space here to reiterate all that Carson has researched and revealed about protectorships and regencies, and not just Richard’s. You would do well to consult her work – all of her work – before framing any future rebuttals.

What Did Stillington Gain from Speaking Out?

The French diplomat Philippe de Commines never met Richard or Stillington, and de Commines is the one who says Stillington brought the pre-contract to Richard’s attention.

This man had served both Henry VI and Edward IV as Lord Chancellor for a great many years. When Stillington came forward, he was effectively retired on a very comfortable pension. Did he obtain additional goodies from Richard for his trouble? One would think so.

That would be a no. There is no evidence that Richard rewarded Stillington in any way.

Mocking an Historian’s Sexual Orientation is Not a Valid Premise

Arguing canon law by directing homophobic jokes and cartoons at an acknowledged and honored historical expert is no argument at all. It only reflects badly upon your own character.

What About that Professor of Mine Who Adored Elizabeth I?

My professor was so enamored of The Virgin Queen, his office seemed a shrine to her. She looked down from her lofty poster when I, a baby-researcher when it came to Richard III, submitted my paper to my professor.

“Do you think he did it?” I asked.


That was all my professor said, and he was kind enough to give me an “A” on the paper. He could have sneered at my arguments, shafted my conclusions, and sent me back to researching until I agreed with him. But he was a professional who managed to respect even the opinions of lowly undergraduates.

I like professionals. They’re the ones who teach you not to take anybody’s word for anything. They teach you to go and see for yourself, to make up your own mind, and not simply regurgitate what you’ve heard before or read on badly written blogs.



[i] A good place to begin researching Edwards possible grant(s) to Eleanor are two works by John Ashdown-Hill. The first is a book he wrote called Eleanor the Secret Queen: The Woman Who Put Richard III on the Throne. Pages 91-94 specifically deal with Edwards grants to Eleanor. The second is paper Ashdown-Hill wrote called, “Lady Eleanor Talbot: New Evidence; New Answers; New Questions,” which can be found on the Richard III Society page here:

or downloaded direct by copying the following URL into your browser:

Click to access 2006_vol16_ashdown_hill_lady_eleanor_talbot.pdf

[ii] Please note the deliberate use of the word adduced. The verb means to bring forward in argument or as evidence; to cite as pertinent or conclusive.

[iii] “Be Prepared,” from The Lion King. Lyrics by Tim Rice.

[iv] Carson, Annette. Richard, Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England, Imprimis Imprimatur, Horstead, 2015. Discussion regarding the contents of Russell’s planned sermon and the council’s planned quasi-regency for Richard is on pages 57-60. The sermon draft is on pages 101-106. The entire volume is invaluable.

Even by Tudor and Stuart Standards, Edward IV’s Marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was Invalid


BARNABY: You really believe, don’t you, that the normal rules of society don’t apply to people like you. COLQUHON: We are the old families of England. We own most of the country’s land and its wealth and have done for generations. And we make up our own rules. BARNABY: But not the rule of law, sir. –Midsomer Murders, “Blood Wedding” (Photo Credit: Erdenbayar/Morguefile)

I’ve discovered a wonderfully detailed monograph written by a 21st-century professor of history (whose specialty is the social history of early modern England) that illustrates very nicely that the medieval canon laws governing pre-contracted marriages that resulted into the dissolution of Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville survived, intact and without alteration, through the Reformation.

The book is David Cressy’s Birth, Marriage and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England, published by Oxford University Press in 1997, when Cressy was Professor of History at California State University in Long Beach. An extensive preview is available for viewing at Google Books.[i]

Cressy’s specialty is the social history of early modern England. For those who do not know, “early modern England” roughly corresponds to the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. On his current faculty page at Ohio State University, Cressy shares a few of his credentials:

“I was born and educated in England, and received four degrees from the University of Cambridge. I came to the United States on a two-year teaching contract, before I finished my Ph. D., and have been here ever since. I am a naturalized U.S. citizen. I taught at liberal arts colleges in California, and at California State University, Long Beach, before joining the Ohio State University History Department in 1998. I am currently Humanities Distinguished Professor of History and George III Professor of British History.” [ii]

What Constituted a Legal and/or Church-Approved Marriage in the Middle Ages Through Stuart Times?

The medieval Church’s[iii] “obligations” for persons seeking to be married involved posting marriage banns, obtaining licenses to marry in special situations, and confronting challenges to the legitimacy of marriages due to pre-contracts. These same obligations were inserted into the original 1549 edition of the Anglican church’s Book of Common Prayer, and into subsequent editions as well. This means the same obligations were in force in England from the medieval period to the Tudor period, and on through Stuart England. What this means is that anyone in denial regarding:

  1. Why Edward IV’s previously contracted marriage to Eleanor Butler (née Talbot) made his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville invalid;
  1. What contemporary evidence was required by the archbishops on the king’s council to declare Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville invalid;
  1. What right the archbishops on the king’s council had to declare Edward and Elizabeth’s children were illegitimate;

can consult Cressy’s detailed work (which was written by a Tudor and Stuart historian, and which includes extensive notes for each chapter and cites a multitude of contemporary sources) and come to understand precisely why the Church declared Edward IV’s second marriage invalid and the children of his marriage illegitimate. Illegitimate children were known as bastards, and by law bastards could not inherit anything. This included their parents’ lands, wealth, titles, and thrones.

Readers of Cressy’s monograph will also discern that unless the Constable of England or the Protector of the Realm had been a first-hand witness (meaning, unless he could testify “I was there…I saw…I heard…”) regarding any past events involved in a challenge to a pre-contracted marriage, he was powerless to influence the outcome of that challenge. Medieval Church and the Anglican canon law that echoed it dictated that Richard of Gloucester had no power to declare any marriage invalid, nor could he declare illegitimate the children of any marriage. The medieval Church and the Anglican church both reserved the exclusive right to dissolve marriages, and their decisions were based solely upon eyewitness evidence brought before medieval Church/Anglican church officials.

What Was Necessary for Edward IV to Have Done, to Marry Eleanor Butler?

Cressy devotes an entire chapter to clandestine and irregular marriages[iv], both of which terms apply to Edward IV since he married twice in secret when he was king, without the asking of banns at mass. Cressy’s summary of the “problem of ‘clandestine’ marriages in Tudor and Stuart England” can be applied whole cloth to the problem of Edward IV’s clandestine marriages.

Please read the following carefully – especially the second paragraph quoted – for at first glance it may seem that medieval law and early modern social practice were at odds when they were not. Cressy writes:

“Confusion has set in because some scholars have failed to differentiate late medieval legal principle from early modern social practice, and have mistaken ‘clandestine’ and irregular marriages for informal unions that rested on mere consent. This chapter sets out to review the problem of ‘clandestine’ marriage in Tudor and Stuart England, and to show that despite obvious technical defects they were, for the most part, conformable to social and legal expectations.

“In principle, a marriage existed if the man and the woman committed themselves to each other by words of consent expressed in the present tense. It would be enough to say, ‘I N. do take thee, N, to be my wedded wife/husband.’ A marriage was technically made valid in law by this contract or spousals per verba de presenti [words in the present tense], providing there were no overriding impediments. A contract de future, made in the future tense (such as ‘I will marry you’) became immediately binding if followed by sexual intercourse. Such was the core of medieval law, that was not changed in England until Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1753.[v] [Bold mine.]

This means that if while Edward was laying siege to Eleanor, if she whispered, “I, Eleanor, do take thee, Ned, to be my wedded husband,” and Edward said something in reply, something as innocuous as, “Mmm hmm. Sure, whatever my lady” as he wasn’t paying attention, or if she pressed him as to his true intentions, and he offhandedly said, “Of course I will marry you,” and sexual intercourse followed, then voila! The two of them were married.

No priest was needed to make such a marriage legal and binding, though Eleanor may have told her family afterward and wanted to consult a priest and confine herself to a nunnery once she heard King Edward had subsequently married Lady Elizabeth Grey.

What, Exactly, Does “Pre-Contract” Mean?

Many people who haven’t taken the time to research medieval/Tudor/Stuart marriage laws don’t understand what “pre-contract” means, and why it was such a serious accusation with serious consequences in 1483. The uninformed seem to assume that the term means what it might mean in the 21st century – that Edward IV had merely been engaged to Eleanor Talbot and only a broken engagement was revealed in 1483. That’s no big deal in our time, so why were Edward’s children declared bastards and disinherited over such a small thing?

A “pre-contract” is not an engagement. The term means a previous marriage. It means a previous marriage took place, one which invalidates a second marriage or a man or woman’s intent to make a second marriage.

Edward IV stood accused of having previously married Eleanor Talbot. Such an accusation could only be assessed by the archbishops on the king’s council in the spring/summer of 1483. History shows those archbishops found the accusation to be true, which that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had never been valid because by both medieval Church and later Anglican law (and even by modern law), no man can have more than one living wife at one time.

  • Edward married Elizabeth Woodville on 1 May 1464.
  • Eleanor Talbot did not die until 30 June 1468.

Even if the Archbishops Had to Dissolve Edward and Elizabeth’s Marriage, Why Didn’t They Protect Edward V’s Right to the Throne, or His Siblings and His Mother’s Status?

This is where it gets complicated, unless you think in terms of what Edward IV should have done but did not do, at the very least, to ensure the rights of his heir to inherit his hard-won throne.

It wouldn’t have solved anything if Edward had confessed his bigamy and remarried Elizabeth publicly after his first wife Eleanor’s death in an effort to make all marital things new again. Nothing Edward could have done – except to have clung to life until he had outlived everyone who knew about his earlier marriage, which likely included not only Stillington but members of the Talbot family – would have changed the bastardy of Edward’s children because nothing could change the fact that those children had been conceived and born under an invalid, bigamous marriage.

In medieval/Tudor/Stuart England, [the churches] required that on three separate Sundays or holy-days, during the mass and in the presence of all the people attending mass, the priest had to “ask the banns.” That is, he had to ask the congregation whether anyone could give a reason why a couple could not lawfully be married.

“The banns,” writes Cressy, “were a safety device to prevent those who were ineligible from attempting the passage into matrimony”. Further on, Cressy says, “Church court records capture some of the drama of a challenge to the banns of marriage, though they barely hint at the heartbreak and embarrassment that some irregularities entailed. William Mead and Margaret Rame were ready to be married at Great Waltham, Essex, in 1577 after the banns were asked openly in church on two successive Sundays. But on the third Sunday ‘they were forbidden by Nicholas Satch, who claimed marriage’ to Margaret by virtue of an alleged pre-contract.


“Legally, a pre-contract was a fatal impediment to marriage. If one intending partner was already contracted to another the wedding was not supposed to proceed. And if such a person forgot or concealed a pre-existing contract, the marriage, if solemnized, could be declared invalid.[vi] [Bold mine.]

Medieval and Anglican canon law both dictated that:

  1. If banns were asked by a priest three times in public as [the churches] dictated; and,
  1. If no one came forward at that time with reason(s) why a couple should not be married; or,
  1. If someone came forward at a later time with valid reason(s) why the marriage was unlawful and should be dissolved; then,
  1. Regardless [the churches] dissolved the marriage, any children of the marriage were not and could not be declared illegitimate because their parents had followed the dictates of [the churches]. [The churches] could and would then extend [their] protection to the children to ensure their legitimacy and ability to inherit under English law.
  1. If banns had not been asked, if [the churches] had not been involved in the run-up to the marriage, if [church] procedure had not been followed, then the children of a dissolved marriage could not and would not be protected by [either church]. They would be declared bastards, and bastards could not inherit under English law.

Stillington revealed the pre-contract between Edward IV and Eleanor Butler in June 1483. At that time, Elizabeth Woodville, her son Richard of York, and all her daughters were in sanctuary within Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth had easy access to multiple canon-law experts who could have defended her marriage before the king’s council. Experts who knew how to challenge and negate the testimony of witnesses appearing before the council.

Likewise, Elizabeth had access to canon-law experts who could have told her it was impossible to negate the testimony offered, or to correct the grave mistakes Edward IV had made, not only by marrying Elizabeth when he was already married to Eleanor Talbot, but also by marrying Elizabeth in secret and not involving the Church whose law could have saved her children from the wreck of illegitimacy and at the same time upheld Edward V’s right to inherit his father’s throne.

The historical events of June 1483 indicate that Elizabeth Woodville prepared no defense against the dissolution of her marriage. Nor did she offer any protest against the king’s council declaring her children bastards, nor against the council’s removing Edward V’s right to succeed his father. Elizabeth appears to have sat silent in sanctuary while witnesses were called and testified before the council, while the council’s archbishops debated, and while her marriage to Edward IV was dissolved due to his previous marriage to another woman.

There is much more in Cressy’s monograph of interest to anyone interested in digging through medieval laws and traditions that carried over into Tudor and Stuart times. It would serve anyone in denial about the marital errors Edward IV made that resulted in Edward V’s being barred from the throne to consult this book. It does much to explain exactly why Richard of Gloucester had no power to control the ultimate consequences of bigamist Edward IV’s secret marriages to Eleanor Talbot and Elizabeth Woodville.





[iii] Please note that before the Reformation there was but one church in the Western world, with people referring to it only as “the Church.” I’ve followed that tradition here.

[iv] Chapter 11: Clandestine and Irregular Marriages

[v] Statutes of the Realm, 26 Geo. II, c. 33; Outhwaite, Clandestine Marriage in England, 75-97.

[vi] Cressy, David. Birth, Marriage and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 306-307.

All Souls’ Day

by Merlyn MacLeod


All Souls’ Day is Sunday, November 2nd. Beginning in 998, it was the day the ancient church set aside to pray for the dead — not just for your relatives, but for anyone you loved.

In medieval England, children and the poor went “a-souling” on All Souls Day; going door to door, they begged for soul cakes, each one marked with a cross. If you received one, you were supposed to pray for the dead, to help shorten his or her time in Purgatory. Bells were rung and candles were lit to comfort dead souls languishing in darkness.

The tradition is still alive today as the Catholic church celebrates All Souls’ Day (Commemoration of the Faithful Departed). Candles are lit, special masses are said, and prayers are offered for the souls of the faithful departed, to assist them on their journey from Purgatory to Heaven.

Whether or not you’re Catholic, you can visit any local parish church this week and add the names of those you love who have passed on to the parish’s list of souls, and they will be prayed for on All Souls’ Day. If you’re a more private person, you might light a candle and offer a prayer in private.

In the Midst of a Usurpation — A Knightly Summons & a Dog That Did Not Bark

While searching for something else related to Richard III, I happened to notice a few interesting details I hadn’t noticed before, pertaining to the chronology of events leading up to his taking the throne. (Please note that the items below are a partial chronology of events.)

1. Late May/early June 1483. Years later, Phillippe de Commynes (a writer and diplomat in the courts of Burgundy and France) claimed that Robert Stillington (Bishop of Bath and Wells, who was also a member of Edward V’s council), went to the Council and provided evidence that Edward IV had been pre-contracted to another woman before marrying Elizabeth Woodville. However, Simon Stallworthe, reporting the events of the Council meeting in question immediately after the meeting took place, reported that nothing unusual had happened.

de Commynes is also the writer who states that Bishop Stillington privately told Richard of Gloucester about his deceased brother’s pre-contracted marriage to Eleanor Butler.

If this pre-contracted marriage was true, per medieval canon law it would have made Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville bigamous, and any children of that marriage illegitimate.

2. ~16 May 1483. In her book Richard III: The Maligned King, Annette Carson writes: “In the British Library Harleian record of items that passed under Richard’s personal seal of signet, there is a writ dating to about 16 May 1483. In it King Edward V, via the protector, calls upon Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury, to summon at St Paul’s a convocation of the southern clergy to consider ‘certain difficult and urgent matters closely concerning us and the state of our realm of England and the honour and benefit of the English Church’. Further matters were to be raised at the time of the meeting.”

There is no record of this meeting actually taking place. Annette suggests that Richard and the boy-king’s Council may have decided “such explosive matters were best discussed by a more discreet private gathering of clerical experts on canon law.”[i] It should be noted that the Council itself had ecclesiastical members on it who were well-versed in canon law.

3. 16 May 1483 – 8 June 1483. Information was gathered and organized regarding all aspects of the alleged pre-contract.

4. 19 May 1483. Edward V moves into the Tower in anticipation of his coronation scheduled for 22 June 1483. Traditionally, kings and queens processed from the Tower to Westminster Abbey on the morning of their coronation. Additionally, at that time the Tower was a royal residence without the violent, bloody reputation it gained in Tudor times.

5. 5 June 1483. Through his Protector, Richard of Gloucester, Edward V summoned 50 persons by writ, commanding them, “to prepare and furnish yourselves to receive the noble order of knighthood at our coronation.”

Below is a complete list of the esquires summoned to become Knights of the Bath on the eve of Edward’s coronation, as it appears in The Knights of England.[ii] There was no summons for candidates to become Knights of the Garter under Edward V.

  1. OTES GILBERT, esquire.
  5. [1483, June.] WILLIAM GARRAUNT.
  18. GRAVILE.
  20. THOMAS BUTTELER, of Beawsey.
  24. Lord DORMOND [?Sir John Drummond, afterwards 1st lord Drummond]
  25. EDWARD (SUTTON alias Dudley), 6th lord Dudley, or lord Sutton de Dudley.
  26. [EDMUND] CORNEWALL, lord of Burford.
  27. [GEORGE] NEVILL, son of, and afterwards 5th lord Abergavenny.
  28. JOHN BROWN, of Stamford.
  29. [1483, June.] [GEORGE] (GREY), lord Grey, of Ruthin, afterwards 13th [sic] earl of Kent. (NOTE: Lord Grey was actually the 2nd earl of Kent)
  31. WILLIAM CHENAY, of Shepay.
  32. ROBERT WHITE, of Southwarne Borrowe.
  33. GERVASE CLYFTON, of Oddisake.
  35. WILLIAM BERKELEY, of Beverston.
  38. GRENE
  41. [? THOMAS BROOKE], son and heir of lord Cobhain.
  42. TH. HAMDEN, of Hamden.
  46. HENRY COLET, alderman of London.
  50. JOHN EOGER, of Frefolke.

6. 9 June 1483. Four-hour Meeting of the Great Council, with lords temporal and spiritual. Note that this was not merely a meeting of the boy-king’s Council; note also how long the meeting lasted.

Simon Stallworth (a member of the household of John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln and currently Lord Chancellor) wrote a letter to William Stoner reporting on the meeting. He mentioned that the dowager queen, Elizabeth Woodville, and her brother, Bishop Lionel Woodville, and others were still in sanctuary. He then went on to say, “My lorde Protector, my lorde of Buckyngham, with all other lordys as wele temporal as spituale wer at Westminstre in the councelchamber from 10 to 2 butt there wass none that spake with the Qwene. There is gret busyness ageyns the Coronacione wyche schalbe this day fortnyght as we say.”[iii]

Please note that the word ‘ageyn'” more often meant ‘again’ rather than ‘against’ as some writers have assumed.

Richard Grafton (the King’s Printer under Henry VIII and Edward VI) in his Chronicle at Large stated that Richard brought before the Council “authentic doctors, proctors and notaries of the law, with depositions from divers witnesses”.[iv] Of course, since Grafton was writing under Tudor monarchs, he also repeats the Tudor lie that Edward IV had pre-contracted himself to Elizabeth Lucy, rather than to Eleanor Butler.

All privy writs in the name of Edward V ceased on this day. The last was sent by Edward V’s secretary Oliver King this same day.

7. 16 June 1483. Richard of York joins his brother, Edward V, in the Tower.

Surely, by 16 June, Elizabeth Woodville would have known that the Council had decided her marriage to Edward IV was invalid and her son would not be crowned King of England on 22 June 1483? Yet she released young Richard of York into his uncle’s care on 16 June.

There is a Sherlock Holmes story called “Silver Blaze,” wherein the following exchange takes place:

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

In the story, a race horse was removed from a stable in the dead of night, yet the dog that lived in the stable did not bark. The dog’s silence was an important clue in solving the mystery of who removed the horse.

Regarding Elizabeth Woodville, her silence is an important clue in solving the mystery of whether Edward IV’s pre-contracted marriage with Eleanor Butler was invented or actual. The widowed queen had easy access to religious canon expects while in sanctuary for weeks at Westminster Abbey, yet she failed to mount a defense. The fact that she did not strongly suggests that she knew very well that her marriage to Edward IV was indefensible — that it was indeed bigamous.

Elizabeth remained silent as her marriage to Edward IV was declared invalid and their children were declared bastards. Even after Henry Tudor took the throne as Henry VII, Elizabeth had every opportunity to denounce Richard III and proclaim to all and sundry that a ruthless usurper had invented the pre-contract, that his ill-conceived fantasy had accommodated his stealing her oldest son’s throne. Beyond that, Elizabeth also had the opportunity to reveal that Richard III had murdered Edward V, his brother Richard, and Elizabeth’s own brother, Anthony Woodville. Instead, she said nothing.

What explanation is possible for the former queen’s failure to mount a defense of her marriage and an accusation of child-murder against Richard III – before or after his death — other than that she already knew that Edward IV had pre-contracted marriage with Eleanor Butler?

Richard acceded to the throne on 26 June 1483 when he sat on the Marble throne. He was crowned on 6 July 1483, a mere four weeks after issuing the summons for Edward V’s prospective Knights of the Bath. Below is a list of those he summoned to become Knights of the Bath on the eve of his own coronation. It should be noted that the last two names were on Edward V’s list as well.[v]

  1. EDMUND DE LA POLE, afterwards 3rd duke of Suffolk.
  2. JOHN [sic for George] GREY, son of and afterwards 13th earl of Kent.
  3. WILLIAM ZOUCHE, brother of John, lord Zouche.
  4. WILLIAM or HENRY [sic for George] NEVILL, son of and afterwards 5th lord Abergavenny.
  6. WILLIAM BERKELEY of Beverston.
  7. HENRY [ ? William] BANINGTON [Babington].
  9. THOMAS BOLAYNE or Boleyn.
  10. EDMUND BEDINGFIELD [Beningefeld].
  11. GERVASE or BREWAS of Clifton.
  14. THOMAS [James] LEWKENOR.
  17. WILLIAM BARKELEY of Wyldy.
  18. EDMUND CORNWALL, baron of Burford.
  20. GEORGE, LORD GREY OF BUTHEN, afterwards 2nd earl of Kent.

The last person on the list — George, Lord Grey of Buthen — was married to Elizabeth Woodville’s sister, Anne. He later became the 2nd earl of Kent and prospered under Henry VII. I could find no trace of William Garraunt — perhaps he lurks in the historical record under another surname.

After considering the chronology of events above, we may conclude that on 9 June 1483, after considering witness testimonies and the evidence presented, the Great Council concluded that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was indeed bigamous, which meant that under canon law the children of their marriage were illegitimate, which in turn meant that Edward V was not eligible to take the throne.

We may also conclude that at least through 5 June 1483, when Richard of Gloucester, acting as Protector, summoned 50 esquires in his nephew’s name to be made Knights of the Bath — esquires who were undoubtedly loyal to Edward rather than to his uncle — Richard was not acting to usurp his nephew’s throne. From all indications, Richard was still planning to see Edward of York crowned Kind Edward V a mere 17 days later.



[i] Richard III: The Maligned King, Annette Carson, The History Press, Gloucestershire, 2009, pgs 76-77.

[ii] The Knights of England: A complete record from the earliest time to the present day of the knights of all the orders of chivalry in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and of knights bachelors, incorporating a complete list of knights bachelors dubbed in Ireland (1906). The document is in the public domain and can be downloaded in many formats here: . The complete list of the esquires to be made knights at Edward V’s coronation is on page 138 in the text version.

[iii] Stonor Letters and Papers, 1290-1483, ed. C.L. Kingsford (1919), ii, pp 1590-60.

[iv] Grafton’s Chronicle, Or History of England: To which is Added His Table of the Bailiffs, Sheriffs and Mayors of the City of London from the Year 1189, to 1558, Inclusive: in Two Volumes; Volume 2, London, (1809) (Google eBook available at Quoted in Richard III: The Maligned King, pg 78.

[v] The Knights of England. The complete list of the esquires to be made knights at Richard III’s coronation is on page 141.


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