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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).

Ralph Boteler, Lord Sudeley, father-in-law to Lady Eleanor Talbot.

UPDATED POST ON sparkypus.com A Medieval Potpourri https://sparkypus.com/2020/06/01/ralph-boteler-lord-sudeley-father-in-law-to-lady-eleanor-talbot/

image.pngThe 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.

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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?

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Sudeley Castle, Winchcombe, Gloucestershire.  Rebuilt by Ralph Boteler ..

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St Peter’s Church, Winchcombe.  Ralph Boteler gave generously enabling the church to be rebuilt after the original one fell into a ruinous state.

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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.

ST PETER’S CHURCH, WINCHCOMBE AND THE BOTELERS OF SUDELEY

Sudeley Castle is a beautiful castle in Gloucestershire, once the marital home of Lady Eleanor Talbot (Boteler) and once owned by Richard III, who built the banqueting hall, although most famed for being the burial place of Henry VIII’s last wife, Katherine Parr.

So great are the attractions of the castle that many visitors miss out on the attractive nearby village of Winchombe and the interesting church of St James, which has many connections with the Boteler family.

The original church on the site was raised in Saxon times; later, there was a 12th century building raised on the site,  but by the 15th c it had grown ruinous. It was completely rebuilt in 1452-62 by Ralph Boteler, Lord Sudeley, the local Abbot, two churchwardens and the Town Bailiff. Ralph Boteler’s ancestors were buried in the earlier church’s ruins so he was eager to build a chantry chapel for them, and  for the use of his family.

At the time the church was rebuilt, the area in which is stands looked very different to today. It stood in the shadow of a large monastic building–Winchcombe Abbey, which was completely destroyed in the Reformation. Not one stone of the Abbey remains visible today above ground, although several stone coffins from the abbey now lie in the present church and one of the doors bears the initials of the last Abbot.

The church is locally famous for the large numbers of unique  grotesques set around the roofline. They are extremely large and humorous and are thought to represent those connection with the 15th c rebuild, including  a moustached, widely grinning Ralph Boteler and his wife first Elizabeth (his second wife, Alice Deincourt, it might be noted, was Francis Lovell’s grandmother via her first marriage) The guard the porch, with its centrepiece of a winged angel holding a shield bearing the Boteler coatof arms. Ralph and Elizabeth’s only son Thomas Boteler, the first husband of Eleanor Talbot,  is also thought to be reprented on St Peter’s. Thomas, holding an expensive short sword, is on the northern side of the building, gazing rather fiercely out in the direction of the castle.  Sir Ralph’s image may appear a second time above the now-vanished vestry at the eastern end of the building; here, he wears a baron’s cap and carries a Sword of State. (Ralph was Henry VI’s  standard-bearer.) These carvings are not the most famous of the grotesques, however–that honour goes to the Town Bailiff, who is wearing an extraordinary hate and pullin a face–he is said to be the inspiration for the illustrations of Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter! Other figures include men with dogs who may be the churchwardens, a man with a fiddle, a singer, a labourer, and a Master Mason, who may be Robert Janyns, who was the architecht of Merton College in Oxford.

The interior is worth a visit too–the Lady Chapel was once the Chapel of St Nicholas and  was the Boteler family chantry. No tombs now remain unfortunately, but on the other side of the church there is a truncated chancel screen which is 15th c. There is also a glass seraphim from arond 1450 in one of the windows, and behind a curtain, the  church’s treasure–an altar cloth made of  vestment orphrey between 1460-70. The colours still remain vibrant and the images clear even today.

 

 

 

A familiar name

So there was I, just casually scanning the Mail on Sunday’s “You” magazine (22

Sarah Ponsonby

October,p.23, interview with Nicky Haslam), when a familiar name popped up, a close friend of Haslam’s multiple-great-aunt.

Unlike her near namesake:
1) She was a Butler by birth, not by (her first) marriage.
2) She didn’t go on to marry a King in secret.
3) She was Irish – a Butler descended from the Earls of Ormond and/ or Wiltshire, not the Sudeley family.
4) She had a middle name.
5) She lived about three times as long.

As their sobriquet suggests, they lived and died in North Wales. Note that this Lady Eleanor was almost sent to a convent by her mother whilst the mediaeval lady lived near a Carmelite Priory and was buried there.

The Ladies of Llangollen – Sarah Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Butler

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