Post-classical history

Exile and Sanctuary

Book title

In October 1469, John Paston II wrote a letter to his mother updating her on events:

    The King himself has good language of the lords of Clarence, of Warwick, and of my lords of York, of Oxford, saying that they be his best friends. But his household men have other language, so what shall hastily fall I cannot see.1

Paston was right to have his doubts about the situation between Edward and his erstwhile enemies following Warwick’s short-lived hostile takeover, but in the autumn of 1469, a sullen peace had settled over the court after a series of largely behind-the-scenes negotiations between Edward and his rebellious lords.2 It could not have been easy for the Woodvilles. The possibility of being tried for witchcraft still loomed for Jacquetta, and she and her children would have been mourning the loss of Earl Rivers and John as well. The one bright spot would have been Anthony’s safe return to court, bearing his father’s title of Earl Rivers. During the upheavals of the summer, John Knyvet, who had disputed Anthony’s title to the manors of Babingley and Wolferton, had seized them as well as Middleton and Sandringham; by November, he was forced to return them to the new earl.3

By the spring of 1470, Warwick and his son-in-law Clarence had returned to their old tricks. Unable to take on the royal forces, the pair, along with their wives and Warwick’s youngest daughter, Anne, took ship with the plan of landing at Calais. Meanwhile, Warwick sent Sir Geoffrey Gate to Southampton to retrieve his ship, the Trinity, from its dock at Southampton. Edward, however, was ready for him and had already ordered Anthony, Earl Rivers, to guard Southampton. Unlike the debacle at Sandwich years before, Rivers was ready for attack. He captured a number of their ships and many of those onboard, twenty of whom would later be hanged, drawn, and quartered at the order of John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, sent to Southampton to judge them.4 As Gate had been involved in the murders of his father and brother, Anthony must have found his humiliation particularly gratifying, although Gate was not condemned to death by Worcester.5

Barred from Calais, Warwick did not lose his nerve even when his heavily pregnant daughter, the Duchess of Clarence, gave birth aboard ship to a child, who did not survive his ordeal. He turned to piracy and captured about forty vessels. By 1 May, Warwick was at Honfleur, while the French king, Louis XI, was pondering how to make the most of this visitor.6

On 11 June, Anthony was appointed Governor and Lieutenant of Calais and Guines. He set off from Southampton with a fleet, which combined with the Duke of Burgundy’s ships to attack Warwick’s ships. After a fight at sea where 500 to 600 men were killed, Anthony and Hans Voetken seized fourteen of the ships carried off by Warwick during his piratical adventures.7

Meanwhile, Jacquetta Woodville took the opportunity of Warwick’s status as a rebel to bring an action in the King’s Bench for the murder of her husband. Chief among those men ordered to be brought before the court in June 1470 was Warwick himself, along with such distinguished men as John Langstrother, prior of the hospital of St John of Jerusalem, Sir Geoffrey Gate (the same man who had been captured by Anthony Woodville at Southampton), and Sir Edward Grey, ‘late of Groby in the county of Leicester’. Not surprisingly, Thomas Wake, who had accused Jacquetta of witchcraft, was on the list as well.8 I have found no further documents regarding this action; probably it was brought to a standstill by the events that were soon to transpire.

In France, Louis XI soon succeeded in bringing together two unlikely allies: Warwick and his old enemy Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI’s exiled queen. Henry VI had been shut up in the Tower since 1465, but his son, Edward, a small boy when he accompanied his mother into exile, was now nearly 17, old enough to join the fight for the English crown. For Louis XI, putting Henry VI back on the throne – a throne that would presumably be controlled by Warwick – would punish his old enemy Edward IV and gain him an ally against Burgundy.9 He persuaded Warwick and Margaret to seal their alliance by marrying Edward to Warwick’s younger daughter, Anne. On 25 July 1470 at Angers, the home of Margaret’s father René of Anjou, the young couple were betrothed.10

Having sworn to recover Henry VI’s throne for him, Warwick sailed for England in September – leaving his family and his new son-in-law behind, for a wary Margaret was not willing to send her son to England until Warwick had fulfilled his part of the bargain.11

Astonishingly, he succeeded. Lured away from London by more turmoil in the north, King Edward had lodged the heavily pregnant queen and his daughters in the Tower and left the city at the end of July. Apparently believing that his presence was more needed in the north than it was in London, he was still in Yorkshire in mid-September when news arrived that Warwick had landed in the West Country. Edward set out toward London but was greeted on the way by the news that John Neville, Marquis of Montagu – Warwick’s younger brother, but hitherto faithful to Edward – had shifted his loyalties toward Warwick. Believing that flight was his best option, Edward, accompanied by Anthony Woodville and his other followers, hastened to Bishop’s Lynn (now King’s Lynn), near Anthony’s manor of Middleton, where they arrived on 30 September. Having obtained the necessary ships, probably with the assistance of Anthony, on 2 October the king, accompanied by a band of loyalists that included Anthony and William, Lord Hastings, sailed into exile. The royal party, short of funds and of the furred gown Edward had to give the master of ships in reward for his passage, found shelter at the Hague with Louis de Bruges, who served as Governor of Holland for Edward IV’s brother-in-law Charles, Duke of Burgundy.12 Later, the exiles moved to Bruges. Since Louis was noted for his fine library, the bibliophilic Anthony’s stay in exile could not have been without its compensations.

Back in London, Edward IV’s supporters were hastening into sanctuary, Lancastrians were just as hastily scrambling out of it, and Geoffrey Gate was releasing adherents to the House of Lancaster from the King’s Bench prison. A thirsty mob began to rob and plunder beerhouses outside the city, though the mayor and the Londoners managed to keep the crowd outside the city gates. Fearing that the Kentishmen – who had entered London with Jack Cade at their head two decades before – would ‘despoil and kill’ her, Elizabeth, joined by her daughters and by her mother, secretly fled into sanctuary on 1 October. She had previously fortified the Tower, which she now handed over to the mayor and the alderman, who in turn agreed with Geoffrey Gate that all those within would be conducted to sanctuary, either at Westminster Abbey or at St Martin’s.13 The queen’s apartments in the Tower, which had been furnished comfortably for her lying-in, were given over on 3 October to the restored Henry VI, who had been in less spacious quarters elsewhere in the Tower. Presumably the cradles that would have been made ready for Elizabeth’s child were thoughtfully moved out of the king’s way.

Although the fate of Elizabeth’s father and brother, John, had given the queen good cause to worry about her prospects at the hands of a government controlled by Warwick, the earl was in fact considerate toward the Yorkist queen. This may have been because Warwick scorned to harm a woman, or perhaps he might have been influenced by the Earl of Oxford, who would be noted later on for his kind dealing with the widows of the vanquished, or by Henry VI himself. Only the Earl of Worcester, who had executed Warwick’s men following Anthony Woodville’s capture of them at Southampton, was sent to the block, perhaps at the behest of Oxford, whose father and elder brother had been executed by Worcester years before.

William Gould, a London butcher, kept the queen supplied with ‘half a beef’ and two muttons each week, for which he was later duly rewarded by the restored king.14 On 30 October 1470, the king’s council appointed Elizabeth, Lady Scrope, to attend the queen, for which she received £10. The appointment was a timely one, for on 2 November, the king’s first royal son, Edward, made his arrival into the world.15 Despite the awkwardness of having a Yorkist heir born in a Lancastrian England, the boy was christened in Westminster Abbey, with Lady Scrope serving as the godmother and the abbot and prior of Westminster, Thomas Milling and John Eastney, serving as his godfathers.16

Elizabeth Woodville’s brother, Richard – the most obscure of the male Woodvilles – had not joined his brother Anthony in exile. He was evidently considered a low security risk, for he was issued a general pardon on 27 November 1470.17 The rest of Elizabeth’s siblings are unaccounted for during this period. Lionel Woodville, destined for the Church, was probably at his studies, while Edward may have accompanied his brother, Anthony, into exile.

Edward IV and his fellow exiles were not merely soaking up Burgundian culture during their stay abroad, but were laying plans to recover their kingdom. In his quest for ships, men, and money, he was aided by his brother-in-law Anthony, who as of 19 January 1471 was reported to be at Bruges bargaining for ships, although it was noted that he was unlikely to acquire very many due to Edward’s lack of funds. According to evidence cited by Peter Hammond, Anthony was probably staying with Joos de Bul, a wealthy nobleman.18

In March, the exiles returned to England. On 14 March, Edward IV, accompanied by Hastings and 500 men, landed at Ravenspur; Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and his 300 men landed about 4 miles away; and Rivers, with 200 men, landed about 14 miles from the king at Powle, which Peter Hammond identifies as Paull or Paghill.19 The next month, Anthony sent letters to Lynn ordering that three ships be fitted out for the king, to which the authorities agreed on the condition that they be held harmless against any act of war committed by the crews.20

Having made his way through England safely and reconciled with his brother, George, Duke of Clarence, Edward IV rode into London on 11 April. He first went to St Paul’s and then to the Bishop’s Palace, where he took Henry VI into custody. The next stop was Westminster, where he offered prayers of thanksgiving. Then he finally went to the queen, and comforted her:

    that had a long time abiden and sojourned at Westminster, assuring her person only by the great franchise of that holy place, in right great trouble, sorrow, and heaviness, which she sustained with all manner patience that belonged to any creature, and as constantly as hath been seen at any time any of so high estate to endure, in the which season nonetheless she had brought into this world, to the king’s greatest joy, a fair son, a prince, where with she presented him at his coming, to his heart’s singular comfort and gladness, and to all them that him truly loved and would serve.21

The family reunion was a brief one. On 13 April, leaving behind Elizabeth, her children, and his mother in the Tower for safekeeping, and taking with him the hapless Henry VI, Edward IV and his forces rode out of London.22

What follows is well known, but Anthony Woodville’s role in it is sometimes given short shrift. On Easter Sunday, 14 April, Edward’s forces met the Earl of Warwick and his men at Barnet, where Edward IV scored a victory and Warwick and his brother, John, Marquis of Montagu, were killed in battle. Anthony’s role in achieving this Yorkist victory is unrecorded, but Hammond suggests that he might have commanded the reserve.23 He certainly seems to have played an active part there, for in a newsletter, the merchant Gerhard von Wesel reported that ‘the duke of Gloucester and Lord Scales were severely wounded, but they had no harm from it, God be praised’.24

Margaret of Anjou, meanwhile, had crossed from France with her son, Edward. Despite her initial misgivings after hearing of the death of Warwick, she rallied and began raising troops herself, forcing Edward, who had returned to London in triumph the afternoon after the Battle of Barnet was fought, to take to the field once more.25 At Tewkesbury on 4 May, Edward again defeated a Lancastrian army, this time killing Edward of Lancaster and taking Margaret captive shortly thereafter.

Anthony Woodville had not accompanied the king to Tewkesbury, but remained in London, which soon came under attack by Thomas Neville, who as an illegitimate son of William Neville, Lord Fauconberg, was known reasonably enough as the Bastard of Fauconberg. As Hammond points out, if Fauconberg succeeded in entering London and gaining control of King Henry, who was once again in the Tower after his excursion to Barnet, Edward IV’s position might have been seriously threatened.26

As it was, however, the Londoners, under the leadership of Anthony and of Henry Bourchier, Earl of Essex, were ready for Fauconberg when he attacked on 12 May.27 He started off by burning a gate at the Southwark end of London Bridge, then set fire to some beerhouses – not the way to endear himself to the locals. Hammond suggests that this was merely a trial to test the city’s resistance. The next day, Fauconberg marched to Kingston, but did not cross the river, possibly because Anthony had sent bargeloads of men to prevent him or possibly because of promises that Rivers made him. On 14 May, however, Fauconberg arrived at St George’s Fields and began his attack in earnest.

Fauconberg targeted London Bridge (the only bridge there at the time), Aldgate, and Bishopgate. Encouraged by Essex and many knights, squires, gentleman, and yeoman, the citizens of London put up a fierce fight, which, the author of the Arrival of King Edward IV, the official account of the king’s victory, tells us, they might not have done if left on their own. At this point, Anthony stepped into the fray:

    And so, after continuing of much shot of guns and arrows a great while, upon both parties, the Earl Rivers, that was with the Queen, in the Tower of London, gathered unto him a fellowship right well chosen, and habiled, of four or five hundred men, and issued out at a postern upon them, and, even upon a point, came upon the Kentish men being about the assaulting of Aldgate, and mightily laid upon them with arrows, and upon them with hands, and so killed and took many of them, driving them from the same gate to the water side.28

The Crowland Chronicler also singled out Anthony for praise:

    [I]t was not God’s will that such a famous city, the capital indeed of the whole realm of England, should be given over to pillage by such great rogues. He gave stout hearts to the Londoners to enable them to stand firm on the day of battle. In this they were especially assisted by a sudden and unexpected sortie from the Tower of London by Anthony, Earl Rivers. As the enemy were making fierce assaults on the gate […] he fell upon their rear with his mounted troops and gave the Londoners the opportunity to open their gates and fight it out hand to hand with the enemy so that they manfully put each and every one of them to death or to flight.29

Anthony even rated a poetic tribute in ‘On the Recovery of the Throne by Edward IV’:

        The earl Rivers, that gentle knight,

        Blessed be the time that he borne was!

        By the power of God and his great might,

        Through his enemies that day did he pass.

        The mariners were killed, they cried ‘Alas!’

Book title

        God would the earl Rivers there should be;

        He purchased great love of the commons that season;

        Lovingly the citizens and he

        Pursued their enemies, it was but reason,

        And killed the people for their false treason … 30

Essex, meanwhile, had led an attack on the rebels at Bishopsgate, while guns placed at the north end of the bridge prevented Fauconberg’s men from advancing further along the structure. At last, the rebels withdrew in defeat to Blackheath, leaving 700 dead according to the Arrival. Fauconberg remained at Blackheath until 18 May, when he rode to Sandwich. He eventually surrendered his ships to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and received the king’s pardon, but by September 1471 he had got into trouble again and was executed.31

Edward IV rode into London in triumph on 21 May, bringing a captive Margaret of Anjou in his train. Having lost her only child and her freedom, she was hours from becoming a widow as well. That night, the Arrival dutifully and unconvincingly reported, the imprisoned Henry VI was so downcast at the recent turn of events that he died ‘of pure displeasure, and melancholy’.32 More likely than not, however, the king was helped to his death on orders of Edward IV. With no viable Lancastrian claimant to the throne left, or so it seemed in 1471, the peace-loving King Henry had ushered in a dozen years of quiet within England, though not precisely in the way that he would have wanted it.

You can support the site and the Armed Forces of Ukraine by following the link to Buy Me a Coffee.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!