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Edward IV, Dame Eleanor and the Phantom Web of Impediments

Introduction

The precontract (i.e. prior marriage) between Edward IV and Eleanor Butler, née Talbot, has long been a subject of debate, but what has not previously been claimed is that Edward and Eleanor were so closely related as to have been unable to make a valid marriage without a special dispensation from the Pope.  Recently, however, a writer using the pen name of Latrodecta has claimed (https://ricardianloons.wordpress.com/2018/09/08/the-trial-that-should-have-happened-in-1483/#comment-454)  that they shared a relationship within the prohibited degrees, viz. “3rd degree consanguinity, 3rd degree affinity”.

Latrodecta has identified this impediment as arising from Edward’s mother Cecily Neville being the first cousin of Maude Neville of Furnivall, the first wife of Eleanor’s father, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, and the mother of Eleanor’s older half-siblings. The claim is apparently that – despite the relationship involving no blood tie between Edward and Eleanor – it counts as an impediment of both consanguinity and affinity because half-siblings are included in the prohibited degrees of kinship. The author further claims that “Corroboration can be found in the dispensation granted for the marriage of his son [i.e. Edward IV’s younger son] and her niece [i.e. Anne Mowbray] – the relationship between her sister [i.e. Elizabeth Talbot Duchess of Norfolk] and Edward would have been the same” (that is to say, the same as between Edward and Eleanor herself).

I shall return to these claims, but first it will be necessary to explain these two types of impediment, what they are and how they were calculated at the period under consideration.

Consanguinity and Affinity

Consanguinity and affinity are the chief types of relationship that, under canon law, can produce a diriment (nullifying) impediment to a marriage. Of these, consanguinity is the easiest to understand as it is a simple blood tie: where there is no common ancestor, there can be no impediment of consanguinity. Impediments of affinity arose in those days from sexual intercourse (now only from marriage).[1] The two sexual partners were deemed to have become, as it were, ‘one flesh’. Latrodecta should therefore not have been the least bit surprised to have ‘seen a case where the bridegroom had to obtain a dispensation because he’d already slept with his future mother-in-law’.

It is a common, indeed almost ubiquitous, misconception amongst ordinary historians that the relationship thus formed barred the couple’s respective blood relatives from marrying each other, but this is not so.[2] Prior to 1215, the impediment of affinity had, it is true, been slightly complicated by the rule that a person’s second partner contracted affinity not only with the consanguines of the spouse but also with his or her closest affines (i.e. their new step-kin); at no time, however, had any couple shared a relationship of affinity without one of them having had a prior sexual relationship to cause it; two virgins could never be each other’s affines. Hence, when St. Augustine asked of Pope Gregory: ‘Is it permissible for two brothers to marry two sisters, provided there be no blood ties between the families?’ the great pontiff had replied: ‘This is quite permissible.’[3] The rules had been further simplified by the Fourth Council of Lateran (1215 AD), which had abolished the impediment between certain blood relatives of a person’s two spouses.[4] The unifying principle of the remaining impediments is encapsulated in the maxim affinitas non parit affinitatem (‘affinity does not beget affinity’).[5]

By the 15th century, therefore, there were no longer any step relationships that created impediments other than those (such as stepfather and stepdaughter) that just happened to involve direct affinity. In fact, it was almost de rigueur at this period for a widow and widower to cement their own union with at least one marriage between the offspring of their former marriages.

In the late Middle Ages, both consanguinity and affinity created an impediment to marriage up to the level of third cousins (another rule brought in by the Fourth Lateran Council).[6] The method of calculation in use at the time – the so-called Germanic method – is extremely simple to use.

Edward and Eleanor: Consanguinity

To check for an impediment of consanguinity, one simply draws up two direct-ancestry trees, one for each party to the proposed marriage, with the prospective bride/ groom at one end, their parents (1st-degree consanguines) in the next row, after them their grandparents (2nd-degree consanguines), then their great-grandparents (3rd-degree consanguines), and lastly their great-great-great-grandparents (4th degree consanguines).[7] Then one stands back, looks for any names common to both trees and counts the generations from each partner up to the closest match in any given line. Most often, the common stock, as it is called, (stirps in Latin) will be a couple, but it can also be a single individual, as would occur if an ancestor had married twice and the bride was descended from one of those marriages and the groom from the other. This is what is meant, and all that is meant, by half-siblings counting in the same way as full siblings: the only relevant half-siblings are those who link the couple via their shared ancestor.

I have carried out this very exercise for Edward and Eleanor, highlighting any common ancestors in red. As can be seen, there are none.

Note that Maud Furnivall, identified in the above article as the route to the alleged 3rd-degree impediment, appears on neither Edward’s nor Eleanor’s table; this is because she was only a collateral relation of Edward and no blood relation of Eleanor at all.

Let us now turn to the assertion that the dispensation for Anne Mowbray and Richard of Shrewsbury corroborates this alleged 3rd-degree consanguinity. There are, I fear to say, two problems with this, one of them terminal. First (to be picky) the Anne Mowbray dispensation is for consanguinity in the 3rd and 4th degrees (i.e. one of them was 3 degrees removed from the common stock, and the other, 4 degrees),[8] whereas an even 3rd-degree consanguinity between Edward and the Talbot sisters would have resulted in an even 4th-degree consanguinity between little Richard and Anne. But rather more seriously, Latrodecta has overlooked the salient fact that all children have two parents. As the following consanguinity chart for Richard Duke of York and Anne Mowbray clearly shows, they were indeed related in the 3rd and 4th degrees but Anne’s relationship to Edward’s family lay on her father’s side and in no way involved her Talbot ancestry.

Edward and Eleanor: Affinity

Now let us turn to affinity. By sexual union, the consanguines of the one partner become the affines of the other. So, for instance, if Harry’s previous partner was Sally’s second cousin, then Harry and Sally would be related by affinity in the 3rd degrees. The check for affinity therefore works on the same principle as for consanguinity,[9] except that the bride/groom needs to compare her/his consanguinity tree with that of the prospective spouse’s previous partner(s). This exercise I have carried out for Edward and Eleanor by drawing up this chart showing Sir Thomas Butler’s ancestry. Unfortunately Thomas’s chart is not complete in all areas, and not 100% verified in others, because much of his ancestry is relatively humble and not recorded, but it is highly unlikely that any of these obscure Cheshire ancestors would feature on the table of Edward of March. In short, there was no affinity between them either.

Conclusion

There was no relationship preventing Edward Plantagenet and Eleanor Butler from marrying each other.  Readers do not need to take my word for this: there are plenty of sources available online that set out the different prohibitions and methods of calculating degrees of relationship in use by the Catholic Church at different periods. To be sure one has the correct understanding, all that is needed is to perform a few test calculations on couples whose ancestry and marriage dispensations are both known. Or some may wish to begin, as Edward IV’s councillors must have done in 1464, by checking for (non-existent) common ancestors on the trees of Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville and Sir John Grey.  


[1] The impediment of affinity arising from extramarital relationships was also to be gradually abolished.  The first step was taken in the 16th century by the Council of Trent, which limited its effect to the 2nd degree (first cousins), but it was not until 1917 that this impediment was wholly confined to the consanguines of previous spouses. 

[2] The most notable recent intrusion of this error into late-fifteenth-century English history is Michael Hicks’ claim that Clarence’s marriage to Isabel Neville prohibited Richard’s marriage to Isabel’s sister.

[3] Mary O’Regan, ‘Marriage Dispensations According to St Augustine’, Ricardian Bulletin, Autumn 2008, pp. 34-35.

[4] https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/lateran4.asp, canon 50.

[5] Thomas de Charmes, Theologica Universa ad Usum Sacræ Theologiæ Canditatorum, vol. 7 (1765), p. 357.

[6] https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/lateran4.asp, canon 50.

[7] A particularly clear explanation is given in the 1917 Catholic Encyclopaedia under ‘Consanguinity (in Canon Law)’: ‘Mode of Calculation’ (https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04264a.htm).

[8] ‘Dispensation . . .  notwithstanding that they are related in the third and fourth degrees of kindred’ (Calendar of Papal Register Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, ed. J. A. Twemlow, vol. 13 [London, 1955], p. 236).

[9] Again, The Catholic Encyclopaedia gives a useful summary under ‘Affinity (in Canon Law)’ (https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01178a.htm).

ASTLEY CASTLE – HOME TO SIR JOHN AND ELIZABETH GREY nee WYDEVILLE.

image.pngAstley 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.

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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.

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Astley Castle.  An old photo date 1900 showing the stone archway.

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The same view during renovation works..img_2027.jpg

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 TalbotElizabeth 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.

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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)

image.pngThe 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.

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14th century misericords …

  1. Eleanor the Secret Queen p.8.  John Ashdown-Hill

    2.  Memorials of the Wars of the Roses p.188.  W E Hampton.

 

 

 

A Grey Day

The Grey family, originally from Northumberland, are a consistent feature of English history from the Southampton plot of 1415 to Monmouth’s rebellion nearly three centuries later.

Sir Thomas Grey (1384-1415) of Castle Heaton was a soldier and one of the three principals in the Southampton plot against Henry V, revealed to him by Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March, at Portchester Castle. His connection to the House of York was that a marriage had been arranged between his son and Isabel, the (very) young daughter of Richard of Conisbrough, Earl of Cambridge. The betrothal was cancelled as one of the consequences of the plot’s failure. It may have been related to Grey’s purchase of the Yorkist lordship of Tyndale. (The sale of which demonstrates how relatively hard-up the second Duke of York was at this time.)

Sir John Grey of Groby (1432-61) was the son of Edward Grey, Baron Ferrers of Groby and a grandson of the third Baron Grey of Ruthin . Married to Elizabeth Wydeville, by whom he had two sons, he fought for Henry VI at the Second Battle of St. Albans and was killed there.

 

Lady Jane Grey (1537-54) was the daughter of Henry Grey, who had become Duke of Suffolk on his marriage to Frances Brandon, Henry being Sir John’s

great-grandson. Edward VI had named Jane as his heir and her father, together with John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and Archbishop Cranmer sought to implement this on  Edward’s 1553 death, contrary to Henry VIII’s succession legislation. She married Northumberland’s son Lord Guildford Dudley and planned to create him Duke of Clarence but their coup was thwarted and the principals imprisoned. Wyatt rose in early 1554, apparently in favour of the Grey-Dudley faction, so Jane, her husband, father and father-in-law were beheaded close to the St. Albans anniversary. This “Streatham portrait” is possibly a retrospective of Jane, having been painted years after her death. She was also the great-niece of Viscount Grane, formerly Deputy of Ireland, who was beheaded in July 1541.

Ford Grey, Earl of Tankerville (1655-1701) was also Viscount Glendale and Baron Grey of Werke. As a veteran of the Rye House Plot, he escaped from the Tower and joined the Duke of Monmouth in exile before joining the Duke’s rebellion two years later. At Sedgemoor, he led the rebel cavalry but was captured, whereupon he gave evidence against his co-commanders and his attainder was reversed in 1686. Within another nine years, he was appointed to William III’s Privy Council and served in several other offices.

This genealogy connects Sir Thomas to Henry Grey Duke of Suffolk, Lady Jane Grey’s father, through his Mowbray brother-in-law. This shows Tankerville’s male line descent from Sir Thomas’ grandfather.

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