Post-classical history


From 1437, when Richard Woodville, a mere knight, made a shocking match to the widowed Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, to 1492, when Queen Elizabeth Woodville breathed her last at Bermondsey Abbey, the Woodvilles trod the boards of the great theatre of fifteenth-century history. Their members married into the greatest houses of England, crossed lances with the finest jousters in Europe, patronised the industry that made it possible for you to hold this book today, fought battles at home and abroad, and helped bring down an entire dynasty. Without them, the history of fifteenth-century England would have been very different.

While individual Woodville family members, particularly Elizabeth Woodville, have been the subjects of popular and academic non-fiction, there has not been (to the best of my knowledge) a non-fiction book that takes in all of the family, save for a self-published book that is largely hostile toward the Woodvilles. Due in part to this situation, myths and unsubstantiated rumours about the Woodville family have flourished virtually unchecked. Readers of historical fiction in particular ‘know’, for instance, that Elizabeth Woodville orchestrated the murder of the hapless Earl of Desmond, that Jacquetta and her daughter Elizabeth openly practised witchcraft, and that the Woodvilles ran off with the royal treasury during the crisis in 1483 that brought Richard III to the throne. While many of these myths and rumours have been addressed, and demolished, by academic historians, popular non-fiction and fiction has lagged behind, ensuring that for general readers, the impression of the Woodville family remains largely negative. After waiting in vain for a book that would help to set the record straight, I decided to write one myself.

Although the Woodvilles were a numerous family, the reality of researching the fifteenth century means that I have focused on the historically (as opposed to genealogically) best-documented members of the family: Richard and Jacquetta, and their children Anthony, Elizabeth, Richard, John, Lionel, Edward, and Katherine. As numerous books and articles have been devoted to the subject, I have also given short shrift to the great historical mystery of the fifteenth century: the fate of Elizabeth Woodville’s two sons by Edward IV.

Because many of the printed primary sources I have relied upon use modern spellings, I have, for the sake of consistency, used modern spelling in all of my quotations here when possible. Likewise, instead of adhering to fifteenth-century spellings of proper names (which in any case were inconsistent, with the surname of the family here rendered as ‘Wydeville’ and ‘Wodeville’, among other variations), I have used the spellings most familiar to us today, in general following those used by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The new year in fifteenth-century England began officially on 25 March, meaning that a letter dated 24 March 1460, say, would have been written, by our reckoning, in 1461; I have followed the example of most modern writers by giving dates using a 1 January new year. A mark was equivalent to two-thirds of a pound.

Book title

I would like to thank the many people who have given me assistance and encouragement in connection with this book, particularly Simon Neal for his transcriptions and translations; Hannah Kilpatrick and Kathryn Warner for their translations; Darlene Elizabeth Williams for proofreading; and Karen Clark, Kathryn Warner, and Geanine Teramani-Cruz for their comments on the early draft of the manuscript. As ever, I thank my family for putting up with me. Finally, I owe my deepest gratitude to the latest addition to my household, Dudley, who kindly refrained from chewing up my research materials.

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