Post-classical history

Before the Storm

Book title

Having disposed of Clarence, Edward IV was free to turn his attention to foreign affairs, specifically, Scotland. Edward IV’s daughter, Cecily, had already been betrothed to James III’s heir. Now James III of Scotland proposed that his sister, Margaret, marry Anthony Woodville. Earl Rivers might not have had the rank or wealth to appeal to the Burgundian heiress, but he clearly was considered suitable for a king’s sister.1

Edward was amenable to the match. On 14 December 1478, he appointed the Bishop of Rochester and Edward Woodville – the latter making his first recorded appearance on the diplomatic front – to enter into negotiations, which quickly bore fruit. Margaret was to have a dowry of 4,000 marks, which because of James’s straitened finances would be deducted from the payments Edward was making toward the dowry of his daughter, Cecily. Margaret was to come to England by 16 May 1479, for which purpose Edward issued her and a retinue of 300 as safe conduct. On 6 March 1479, the Scottish parliament granted James 20,000 marks toward the expenses of the marriage.2 The bride’s arrival was delayed, however, apparently by James’s difficulties with his own troublesome brother, the Duke of Albany. Edward IV nonetheless made plans for the wedding, which was to be held at Nottingham. On 21 August 1479, he instructed the magistrates of York that when Margaret arrived there on 9 October 1479, they should give her ‘loving and hearty cheer’.3

While Anthony awaited his bride, Queen Elizabeth awaited the arrival of yet another child. Katherine was probably born in early 1479 at Eltham; her name suggests that the queen’s youngest sister, Katherine, Duchess of Buckingham, acted as one of her godmothers.4

Sadly, at about the same time Katherine came into the world, the king and queen’s little-known third son, George, departed from it.5

Edward IV named George as his Lieutenant of Ireland on 6 July 1478 and appointed Henry, Lord Grey of Codnor, as the infant’s deputy. Young George never got a look at the emerald isle before he died in March 1479, probably a victim of the plague or another epidemic disease. Ralph Griffiths believes that the boy was staying at Sheen at the time of his death.

George’s half-brother, Thomas, Marquess of Dorset, attended George’s funeral at Windsor on 22 March 1479, as did his uncle Anthony, Earl Rivers; John, Lord Strange, the husband of Elizabeth’s sister Jacquetta; John Blount, Lord Mountjoy; Richard Hastings, Lord Welles; and Lord Ferrers of Chartley. No narrative of the funeral is extant; we know of the mourners and their attire only through wardrobe accounts. Edward IV himself was issued a robe of blue, the colour of royal mourning, suggesting that he might have observed the ceremony from a private chamber, screened from public view. The queen’s accounts, which would have listed her own expenses, do not survive.

For Lionel Woodville, one of the queen’s younger brothers, 1479 was more auspicious. In a typical moment in his biography of Richard III, Paul Murray Kendall praises Anthony Woodville (meagerly, which is as far as Kendall could bring himself to praise a Woodville) by first cataloguing his family’s supposed vices. He writes, ‘Anthony Woodville’s father was a rapacious adventurer […] His brother Lionel was a type of their father in the gown of a bishop’. Elsewhere in the book, Kendall describes Lionel as ‘haughty’.6 As is far too often the case when Kendall writes about the Woodvilles, he offers no evidence to support his assessment of Lionel’s character, and indeed there seems to be none.

Described in 1482 as being 29 years of age,7 Lionel was intended for the Church from a young age. John Thomson notes that he received a canonry at Lincoln in 1466 as his first benefice, when he would have been around 13.8 Lionel was educated at Oxford, where appears to have been studying as late as 1479: on 22 May 1479 Walter Paston, a fellow student, wrote that the queen’s brother should have ‘proceeded’ at midsummer but would ‘tarry now till Michaelmas’.9

The newly graduated Lionel did not have to wait long for honours. That same year, William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester, appointed him Archdeacon of Surrey,10 and he was also Dean of Exeter by then.11 Most important, Lionel’s alma mater elected him as its chancellor in 1479. University officials then offered him, in fulsome terms, an honorary degree:

    Our predecessors always seem to us to have acted wisely, O most eminent lord, in showing especial respect for learning in men of high social rank; for this is demanded by the degree of their nobility and the greatness of their merits. So great was the nobility of many and so great were their merits, that the one redounded to the glory of the University and the other to the advancement of its work. Therefore since we know that you are powerful in a nobility to which none of your forbears could have aspired, it is right that we should not be behindhand in conferring upon you a corresponding degree of advancement in the academic disciplines long practised in Oxford. […] It has pleased us to agree by unanimous consent, that you should first be admitted to the extraordinary reading of decretals; your excellency is to understand that you are not compelled to begin lecturing at any time. […] This gift is certainly not unworthy of your dignity. Therefore there is, O most distinguished man, a great expectation of your uprightness in protecting our community, for you have already aroused expectations by your many merits, and so we hope the more readily that you will long be the special patron of our University.12

By the following year, Anglo-Scottish relations had deteriorated, putting paid to Anthony’s Scottish marriage. Sometime in 1480,13 Anthony remarried. His bride was not a foreign princess but a young Englishwoman. She was Mary FitzLewis, the daughter of Henry FitzLewis, who had died in May 1480, and Elizabeth Beaufort. Elizabeth Beaufort was a daughter of Edmund, Duke of Somerset, killed at the first Battle of St Albans in 1455, and Elizabeth Beauchamp. Through her father, Mary inherited the manor of Bromfields in Newington; the moiety of 862 acres in that parish and Wickford, along with the advowson of the church of Newington; the parcels of Oakfield and Shortcroft; and 130 acres of land in Vange. She was said to have been 15 at the time of her father’s death; a calendar in a book of hours made for Jacquetta Woodville, however, gives the birth date of ‘maria fitz loys’ as 30 May 1467, making Mary around 13 at the time of the marriage.14

For Anthony to turn his sights from a princess to a minor heiress seems odd. Both Michael Hicks and Lynda Pidgeon suggest that Anthony might have sought to claim some of the Beaufort inheritance through Mary’s mother, whose brothers had all died fighting for the House of Lancaster.15 Pidgeon goes on to speculate that Anthony chose such a young bride ‘because he was not really interested in having a wife and providing an heir’ – though this seems to lose sight of the fact that even if Mary was only 13 in 1480, she would be at an age suitable to safely begin childbearing in only a couple of years.16 Indeed, the very opposite could be true: with no legitimate offspring of his own, Anthony, having married his first wife when she was in her twenties, might have found the fact that Mary was just at the cusp of her childbearing years to be appealing. Moreover, Mary was well connected: she was a first cousin of Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, married to Anthony’s sister; Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, was her aunt. Her Beaufort blood meant that, like the king, she was a descendant of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford.

Sadly, we know even less about Anthony’s second marriage than we do his first. In his will, made three years later, Anthony asked that prayers be said for the soul of his father-in-law. He left Mary the plate – items of precious metal such as cups, bowls, and salt cellars that were among the most valuable items in a medieval household – that had belonged to her father and enough of his own plate to make up any deficiency. Mary was also to receive the plate that had been given her at their marriage, a sparver of white silk with four pairs of sheets, two pairs of fustians, a featherbed, and a chambering of Griselda – presumably a tapestry illustrating the famous tale. She would also, of course, be entitled to a jointure interest in her husband’s land. But we have scarcely a glimpse of Mary during the couple’s marriage, though this is hardly unusual for women of her time.

Around the time that Anthony entered into his second marriage, Edward IV’s court prepared for a visit from the king’s sister, Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy. Edward Woodville and Sir James Radcliffe, described as knights of the king’s body, were appointed to travel to Calais to meet the duchess, who was travelling from Bruges. Edward and Radcliffe were splendidly attired for the occasion in jackets of purple velvet and blue velvet, supplied to them by the king especially for this purpose. Edward’s ten servants received jackets of murrey and blue cloth. Even grander were Anthony and his nephew the Marquis of Dorset, who were allowed purple cloth of gold upon satin.17

Edward Woodville left England in the Falcon, a royal ship, and brought Margaret from Calais to Dover in late June of 1480. It was the first and the last time she was to return to England since her marriage to Duke Charles, and she would spend more than three months there. For the first time, she met her nephews, Prince Edward and Richard, Duke of York, both of whom had been born during her absence. It was a meeting that would prove to be of significance some years later.

In mid-September, the king rode with Margaret to Rochester, where Margaret wrote a letter home stating that she and the king would be staying at Anthony’s estate in Kent, before she embarked for the coast.18 Margaret had met William Caxton, the printer, while he was resident in Bruges, and had become his patron. Seeing a translation from French into English on which he was working, The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, she had corrected his English but ordered him to complete his translation, which he did, and duly dedicated to her. It was printed abroad, probably in late 1473 or early 1474, several years before Caxton brought his press to England.19 As Anthony had translated three books for Caxton’s press, the most recent, The Cordiale, being published the year before Margaret’s visit, the duchess and the earl would have likely found common ground in applauding the success of the man, and the industry, they had each supported.

Queen Elizabeth, meanwhile, was preparing for the birth of what would prove to be her last child, who was born on 10 November 1480. The baby’s name, Bridget – unusual for a royal child, and a welcome respite from the Elizabeths, Katherines, and Annes of the day – was probably inspired by St Bridget of Sweden and may have been the choice of the king’s pious mother, Cecily, Duchess of York, making a rare appearance at court as one of the infant’s godmothers.20 Margaret, one of the queen’s sisters, and her husband, Thomas, Lord Maltravers, were prominent in the ceremony, as was the queen’s son, the Marquis of Dorset. The next day, the morning of St Martin’s Day, the infant was christened in the Chapel of Eltham by the Bishop of Chichester. A detailed description has survived:

    First a hundred torches borne by knights, esquires, and other honest persons.

    The Lord Maltravers, bearing the basin, having a towel about his neck.

    The Earl of Northumberland bearing a taper not lit.

    The Earl of Lincoln the salt.

    The canopy borne by three knights and a baron.

    My lady Maltravers did bear a rich crysom pinned over her left breast.

    The Countess of Richmond did bear the princess.

    My lord Marquess Dorset assisted her.

    My lady the king’s mother, and my lady Elizabeth, were godmothers at the font.

    The Bishop of Winchester godfather.

    And in the time of the christening, the officers of arms cast on their coats.

    And then were lit all the foresaid torches.

    Present, these noble men ensuing:

        The Duke of York.

        The Lord Hastings, the king’s chamberlain.

        The Lord Stanley, Stewards of the King’s house.

        The Lord Dacre, the queen’s chamberlain, and many other estates.

    And when the said princess was christened, a squire held the basins to the gossips [the godmothers], and even by the font my Lady Maltravers was godmother to the confirmation.

    And from thence she was borne before the high altar. and that solemnity done she was borne eftsoons into her parclosse, accompanied with the estates aforesaid.

    And the lord of Saint Joans [probably John St John, according to Pauline Routh] brought thither a spice plate.

    And at the said parclose the godfather and the godmother gave great gifts to the said princess.

    Which gifts were borne by knights and esquires before the said princess turning to the queen’s chamber again, well accompanied as appertaineth, and after the custom of this realm.21

Nobody could have guessed that the next royal christening would be that of the Countess of Richmond’s grandson, Prince Arthur.

On 22 September 1481, William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester, visited the king, at Woodstock and invited him to Oxford. The king promptly accepted the invitations and arrived at St Giles’ parish that night after sunset ‘with a multitude of lights’, where he was greeted by the chancellor, Lionel Woodville, who had added to the Woodville presence at Oxford by appointing his brother Richard as understeward. The next day, the chancellor, who apparently was now at ease in his new role, delivered a divinity lecture to the king, who went on to visit other parts of the university, before departing ‘with great content’.22

Sadly, on 19 November 1481, little Anne Mowbray died at Greenwich, leaving Richard, Duke of York a widower at the age of 8. Edward IV honoured the little duchess with a funeral costing over £215. Three barges escorted the body to Westminster Abbey, where Anne was buried in the chapel of St Erasmus, founded by her mother-in-law the queen. During construction of Henry VII’s chapel in the next century, the coffin was moved to the convent of the Minoresses of St Clare, where it was found in 1964 by workers excavating the site. Anne was reburied in the Henry VII chapel in 1965.23

A month before Anne Mowbray’s demise, Richard Beauchamp, Bishop of Salisbury, died, leaving a vacancy to be filled.24 On 7 January 1482, Pope Sixtus IV provided Lionel Woodville to the bishopric.25 Lionel had undoubtedly achieved his position through the influence of his brother-in-law the king, but nothing indicates that he was incompetent or unworthy to hold it. His case was not an isolated one: While some bishops were from humble families, Lionel’s own predecessor had family ties to Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, while George Neville, Archbishop of York, was a son of Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, and a younger brother of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick.

One aspect of Lionel’s life has proven controversial: did he forget his vows of chastity and father Stephen Gardiner, later Bishop of Winchester? In the sixteenth century, a tradition arose to this effect. It can still be found in older books and, of course, on the Internet, but James Arthur Muller, a biographer of Gardiner, weighed the evidence and rejected it in 1926. He noted that Gardiner’s enemies never accused him of illegitimate birth and that Gardiner was probably not born until the 1490s, eliminating Lionel, who died in 1484, as a father. More recently, C.D.C. Armstrong has estimated Gardiner’s birth date as being between 1495 and 1498.26 It seems safe to say, then, that the Bishop of Salisbury was not the sire of the Bishop of Winchester.

The year took a tragic turn, however, when Mary, the king and queen’s second daughter, died in May at Greenwich, a few months short of her 15th birthday. Mary’s burial at Windsor, also her birthplace, took place on 27–28 May 1482. Among the ladies present were Jane (or Joan), Lady Grey of Ruthin (Elizabeth Woodville’s sister), the widow of Sir Anthony Grey of Ruthin; Joan, Lady Strange, a niece of Elizabeth Woodville who was married to George Stanley; and Katherine Grey, probably the daughter of Lady Grey. The chief mourner is not identified but may have been Lady Grey, the first woman named by the herald who recorded the funeral ceremonies. Had Mary lived, she might have become the Queen of Denmark, for her father had proposed her as a bride for its king, Frederick.27

The king and queen did not have long to mourn their daughter, for there was a distraction: Scotland. Relations had been tense for some time, with raiding by both sides, but in June 1482, events took a new turn when Edward and James III’s brother, Alexander, Duke of Albany, entered into a treaty under which the English would support Albany’s claim to the throne in exchange for certain conditions, among them the return of Berwick, ceded to the Scots in 1461 by Margaret of Anjou during a period when she was in particularly desperate straits. After signing the treaty, Edward commissioned his youngest brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as lieutenant general. In July, Gloucester began assembling an army against the Scots. The Earl of Northumberland, the Marquis of Dorset, Lord Stanley, and Edward Woodville were among his lieutenants.28

Edward Woodville took a force of 500 men with him, raised under the name of the Prince of Wales. On his way to the border, he stopped at Coventry, which offered £20 instead of men.29

The campaign, though successful in part, was somewhat anticlimactic. Richard and his men, numbering between 15–20,000, captured the town of Berwick without resistance and marched on to Edinburgh, leaving behind a force to besiege Berwick Castle, which had resisted. The hapless James III, meanwhile, was arrested by his own nobles and was imprisoned at Edinburgh when Richard’s army entered the unresisting capital. At that point, Albany abruptly dropped his claim to the throne, and Richard entered into a treaty with a Scottish delegation, which agreed to return the sums that had been paid toward the abortive marriage of Edward IV’s daughter Cecily to James III’s heir. Richard then headed back to Berwick, leaving Edinburgh unscathed. At Berwick, he disbanded most of his army, leaving only a small force to besiege Berwick Castle, which did surrender on 24 August. The Crowland Chronicler, albeit with a touch of the armchair warrior, grumbled that Richard had let the ‘very wealthy town’ of Edinburgh escape unharmed while gaining only Berwick, which counted more as a loss since it cost the crown 10,000 marks a year.30 Coincidentally, Margaret of Anjou, who had been responsible for the loss of Berwick in the first place, was near death in France when the castle surrendered on 24 August; had she not died the next day, she might have been amused at the bother to which she had put her old enemy, Edward IV.

In light of future developments, one looks for friction between Gloucester and his Woodville lieutenants, Edward and Dorset, but nothing indicates any. Indeed, Gloucester created Edward, along with other men, a knight banneret on 24 July. It is possible that he acted simply to please his brother the king, of course, but his later actions as Richard III indicate that he had a sufficiently high opinion of Edward’s military capacity to be worried about him mounting an invasion.

The Crowland Chronicler closes his account of the year 1482 with an account of Edward IV’s Christmas court at Westminster: ‘In those days you might have seen a royal Court such as befitted a mighty kingdom, filled with riches and men from almost every nation and (surpassing all else) with the handsome and most delightful children born of the marriage […] to Queen Elizabeth’. His account is an elegiac one, and for good reason: he knew, unlike the Woodvilles, that their world was about to vanish.

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