For William Catesby, the reign of Henry VII got off to a particularly bad start: his own execution. Catesby was the only major figure from Richard III’s reign to be put to death in the aftermath of the Battle of Bosworth: two others, a now obscure yeoman of the crown named William Bracher and his son, were hanged immediately after the battle. Why these three men in particular suffered is unknown; perhaps Catesby at least, as Peter Hammond suggests, had made enemies on the king’s side.1
On 25 August 1483, probably the date of his execution in Leicester, Catesby was allowed to make his will, which included this bequest: ‘that my lady of Buckingham have [£100] to help her children and that she will see my lord’s debts paid and his will executed’.2 Catesby, among others, had been granted lands by Richard III in order to settle the debts of the executed Duke of Buckingham;3 evidently he had been dilatory in this task and was now trying to set things right for the duchess, who under Richard III had been living on what for her was a small annuity.
But Katherine, Duchess of Buckingham, would soon be in no need of the unfortunate Catesby’s well-intended bequest. On 28 October 1485, Henry VII had created his uncle, Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford.4 Having been restored to the lands associated with the earldom of Pembroke, Bedford was now in want only of a duchess. Katherine, who once her jointure and dower were restored would be a rich young widow, suited the purpose nicely. Some time before 7 November 1485, when the pair are mentioned as married in an Act of Parliament, the two were wed. On 7 November, the new Duchess of Bedford and Buckingham was granted the 1,000 marks jointure which Buckingham had left her in his will, as well as her dower lands. She brought her husband thirty-five lordships and manors. The couple were probably virtual strangers at the time of their marriage, unless Jasper had met Katherine during his brief stay in England in 1470. Since the young Duke of Buckingham had visited Margaret Beaufort on 28 October 1670, while Jasper and her son were visiting, it is possible that Buckingham brought his wife along with him.5
Katherine, of course, was not the only Woodville to benefit from the change of regime. On 16 September 1485, Edward Woodville was granted the castle and lordship of Carisbrooke and was made keeper of the castle and town of Porchester. He was now the Captain of the Isle of Wight.6 In the parliament that opened on 7 November, Richard Woodville was recognised as his brother Anthony’s heir; he now became the third Earl Rivers. Edward and Richard’s nephew, Dorset, who had proven fickle to Henry Tudor’s cause, did not come out of Parliament so well. While his attainder was reversed, he was not summoned to Parliament, and he was restored only to the lands he had acquired by inheritance or marriage, thereby losing the grants and wardships he had acquired under Edward IV. Elizabeth Woodville was restored to her ‘state, dignity, pre-eminence and name’ and was granted certain lands, though the delicate question of her landed endowment as queen was not settled. Most important, perhaps, from her point of view and her daughters’, the 1484 Act of Parliament declaring her marriage to Edward IV invalid and her children by Edward IV illegitimate was repealed and, indeed, ordered destroyed. Parliament also reversed the attainder of the Lancastrian royal family, the ill-fated Henry VI, his tenacious queen, Margaret of Anjou, and their son, though none, of course, were alive to appreciate their vindication. The rhyming William Collingbourne also earned a posthumous pardon.7
Henry VII had been crowned on 30 October. On 10 December, the Commons, through their speaker, Thomas Lovell, requested:
the same royal highness should take to himself that illustrious lady Elizabeth, daughter of King Edward IV, as his wife and consort; whereby, by God’s grace, many hope to see the propagation of offspring from the stock of kings, to comfort the whole realm. And thereupon the lords spiritual and temporal being in the same parliament, rising from their seats and standing before the king sitting on the royal throne, bowing their heads, voiced the same request; to which the same king answered by his own mouth that he was content to proceed according to their desire and request.8
This was likely not, as has been suggested by some, an indication that Henry VII, having achieved the throne, had to be pushed by Parliament into fulfilling his vow to marry Elizabeth of York; rather, as Arlene Okerlund and others have pointed out, the request was probably simply a formality designed to emphasise Parliament’s approval of the match. The five-month interval between Henry’s victory on 22 August 1485 and his marriage on 18 January 1486 was hardly an unseemly delay, given the need for Henry to get settled in as king, repeal the act slandering the legitimacy of his prospective bride, and obtain a papal dispensation to replace the one issued in 1484, which evidently was considered inadequate.9 Elizabeth had spent the months leading up to the marriage in her future mother-in-law’s Thames-side residence of Coldharbour, where Margaret Beaufort ordered furnishings and repairs for the rooms she was to occupy.10
Little is known of the wedding ceremony, other than that it was conducted by Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury, who had made the tragic mistake of asking Elizabeth Woodville to hand over her youngest son to Richard III’s custody.11 The septuagenarian archbishop had crowned Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville, Richard III and his queen, and Henry VII; the wedding was the last great ceremony over which he presided before his death in May 1486.12 Presumably the ceremony was followed by the ‘great jousting’ which had been promised when the wedding plans were announced.13
Edward Woodville did not linger long at the new king’s court or at his castles of Porchester and Carisbrooke. Early in 1486, possibly in fulfilment of a vow made during his exile, he departed for Spain to fight the infidels – ironically, an ambition that Richard III himself had cherished.14 By 1 March, he was at Seville, accompanied by 300 men. From there, he rode to Cordoba, where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were assembling an army to fight the Moors. On 14 May, they arrived outside of the city of Loja, which the Spanish rulers aimed to capture from the Moors.
Edward – called ‘Lord Scales’ in the contemporary accounts of the campaign – made a considerable impression on his companions. The Italian Peter Martyr described him as ‘young, wealthy, and high-born’ and as ‘attended by a beautiful train of household troops, three hundred in number, armed after the fashion of their land with long-bow and battle-axe’.15 He and other eyewitnesses give us a rare description of a member of the Woodville family in battle. Fernando del Pulgar wrote that ‘the Englishman, the Conde de Escalas with the bowmen and foot soldiers he brought ventured into dangerous situations and places’.16 Andrez Bernaldez, chaplain to the Archbishop of Seville, wrote, as translated by W.H. Prescott:
Having asked leave to fight after the manner of his country […] he dismounted from his good steed, and, putting himself at the head of his followers, armed like himself en blanco, with their swords at their thighs, and battle-axes in their hands, he dealt such terrible blows around him as filled even the hardy mountaineers of the north with astonishment.17
The Castilians followed Edward’s charge as the Moors fled. Edward and his men fought their way through the suburbs to the city walls. As he was mounting a scaling ladder, he was struck with a stone, knocking out two front teeth and sending him sprawling senseless on the ground. The surgeons saved his life, but not his teeth. When King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella later offered their sympathies, Edward quipped of his missing teeth, ‘Our Lord, who reared this fabric, has only opened a window in order to discern the more readily what passes within’.18
The Moors surrendered Loja on 28 May, after which the Spaniards moved to Illora, which also fell. There, on 11 June, Queen Isabella herself, along with her daughter the Infanta, arrived to celebrate the victories. Edward, minus two teeth but resplendent in a French surcoat of black brocade and a ‘white French hat with extravagant plumes’, greeted the queen and the Infanta and, having made his reverence to the king, showed off his horsemanship, to the delight of the royal family.19
From Illora, the Spanish went on to capture Moclin, then Montefrio, before the council of war determined to return to Cordoba. From there, Edward, his crusading vow fulfilled, set off for England. He did not return empty-handed. Queen Isabella presented him with twelve Andalusan horses, two beds with rich hangings (medieval beds being valuable items), linen, and pavilions. Later, Ferdinand would praise him as the ‘remarkable Count of Scales’.20
Edward stopped in Portugal on his way home; earlier, he had written a letter of apology to King John for not calling on him when passing through Lisbon previously; he had received a gracious royal reply.21 Now he made good his omission and paid his respects. There, the king’s secretary reported, he was ‘very well received’ and enjoyed a round of feasts, bullfights, cane-fights, plays, and pageants. At one point, he even engaged in some matchmaking: At a meal where the king honoured his guest by refusing to take his water while seated, Edward proposed that one of Edward IV’s daughters marry the Duke of Beja – continuing, evidently, the negotiations that had been broken off by the death of Richard III the previous year. In the end, however, nothing came of the proposal.22
When Edward returned to England, the court was anxiously awaiting the birth of the king’s and queen’s first child, who arrived on 20 September 1486.23 Born eight months after the wedding, the infant, named Arthur, may have been slightly premature – or his parents, having received Parliament’s blessing for their marriage, may have anticipated the formal ceremony by a few weeks. Given the ease with which a valid marriage could be contracted, it would not have shocked morality if the couple had exchanged private vows and then consummated their marriage. On the other hand, since the christening was postponed to await the arrival of John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, an intended godfather, who was on his estates instead of being lodged nearby in anticipation of an imminent birth, it may indeed be that Arthur’s arrival caught everyone by surprise.24
At Arthur’s christening, held at Winchester on 24 September, the Woodvilles were prominent.25 The dowager queen, Elizabeth Woodville, served as the infant’s godmother; she presented her grandson with a ‘rich cup of gold’. The prince, wearing a mantel of crimson cloth of gold furred with ermine, was carried by Elizabeth of York’s sister Cecily, who was assisted by the Marquis of Dorset and by the Earl of Lincoln, whose heart, as it will soon appear, may not have been entirely in his task. The Marchioness of Dorset bore the infant’s train, and Edward Woodville and three other men carried the canopy over the baby.
The christening would in fact be Elizabeth Woodville’s last major ceremonial appearance. On 10 July 1486, she had agreed with the Abbot of Westminster to lease a mansion within the abbey called ‘Cheyne gate’.26 Was she looking for seclusion, as suggested by Arlene Okerlund, or was she simply interested in obtaining a residence convenient to the court when it was at Westminster? Whatever her reasons, it is not clear whether she actually stayed there and, if so, how long she remained there, for sometime later, she moved to Bermondsey Abbey, a Cluniac monastery on the banks of the Thames.
Elizabeth’s removal coincided with, and has often been linked to, a conspiracy against Henry VII which had been building since the previous autumn. The conspiracy, which arose in Ireland, took the unlikely form of recruiting a boy, Lambert Simnel, to impersonate Edward, Earl of Warwick, the young son of the Duke of Clarence. In fact, the unfortunate Warwick was shut up fast in the Tower of London, to which the cautious Henry VII had moved him shortly after winning his crown at Bosworth.
On 1 May 1487, Henry VII, for what is described in classically vague bureaucratic terms as ‘divers considerations’, transferred Elizabeth Woodville’s real properties to her daughter, the queen.27 According to Polydore Vergil, the decision to ‘deprive’ the dowager queen of her possessions was taken in the midst of a council meeting called at Sheen to discuss the rebellion. Yet the reason Vergil gives has nothing to do with the nascent rebellion, but with her 1484 agreement with Richard III to leave sanctuary.28The Tudor historian Hall follows Vergil in ascribing Elizabeth’s loss of her properties to her long-ago deal with Richard, adding, ‘By this folly and inconstancy of the queen, she incurred the hatred and displeasure of many men, and for that cause lived after in the Abbey of Bermondsey beside Southwark’.29 As Elizabeth’s rapprochement with Richard III was old news in 1487, this hardly seems a plausible explanation.
It was not until the seventeenth century, when Francis Bacon wrote his history of Henry VII’s reign, that Elizabeth was explicitly linked to the Lambert Simnel conspiracy:
That which is most probable [is] that it was the Queen Dowager from whom this action had the principal source and motion. For certain it is, she was a busy negotiating woman […] and was at this time extremely discontent with the King, thinking her daughter (as the King handled the matter) not advanced but depressed: and none could hold the book so well to prompt and instruct this stage-play, as she could. Nevertheless it was not her meaning, nor no more was it the meaning of any of the better and sager sort that favoured this enterprise and knew the secret, that this disguised idol should possess the crown; but at his peril to make way to the overthrow of the King; and that done, they had their several hopes and ways. That which doth chiefly fortify thisconjecture is, that as soon as the matter brake forth in any strength, it was one of the King’s first acts to cloister the Queen Dowager in the nunnery of Bermondsey …30
Bacon’s admitted conjecture, arrived at more than a century after the events in question, has for some taken on the aura of historical fact. Yet, as others have pointed out, it defies credibility that Elizabeth would support supplanting her daughter’s husband (and their heir, her new grandson) in favour of the Earl of Warwick, the son of the man who had aided in the death of her father and her brother, John. An alternative explanation is that Elizabeth believed that Simnel was not Warwick, but the vanished Edward V, her son.31While such a belief certainly would give Elizabeth a motive, the argument is undermined by the failure of any contemporary or near-contemporary source to mention such a claimed identity for the pretender. Moreover, as the rebellion attracted close associates of Richard III such as Francis, Viscount Lovell, it is difficult to imagine any of them fighting to restore Edward V to the throne when they themselves had helped remove him from it in the first place.
It is possible, however, that Henry VII’s seizure of Elizabeth’s properties was linked to his suspicions of her son, Dorset. According to Vergil, the king, preparing to meet the rebels in battle, arrived at Bury St Edmunds, where, believing Dorset to be privy to the conspiracy, he arrested him and sent him to the Tower.32 Bacon amplified the story:
And being come to St Edmund’s-bury, he understood that Thomas Marquis Dorset […] was hasting towards him to purge himself of some accusations which had been made against him. But the king, though he kept an ear for him, yet was the time so doubtful, that he sent the Earl of Oxford to meet him and forthwith to carry him to the Tower; with a fair message nevertheless that he should bear that disgrace with patience, for that the King meant not his hurt, but only to preserve him from doing hurt either to the King’s service or to himself; and that the King should always be able (when he had clared himself) to make him reparation.33
Unlike his mother, Dorset did stand to gain from putting Warwick upon the throne: Dorset had been Warwick’s guardian during Edward IV’s reign and had probably hoped to marry him to one of his many daughters. That old tie, combined with Dorset’s defection from him during exile, might have been enough to awaken the suspicions of the jittery king, who after all had good reason to know how easily a ruler could be pushed off his throne. That Dorset was indeed under a cloud at this time is confirmed by the king’s failure to summon him to Parliament that autumn.34
Nonetheless, whatever reservations the king had against Dorset’s loyalty, they did not extend to the whole of the Woodville family: as we shall see, Edward Woodville not only fought for the king against the rebels but held high command in the king’s army. Furthermore, if Henry did suspect Elizabeth of plotting, Bermondsey, an abbey conveniently located on the Thames, seems an odd place to stow her; there were more secure and more remote locations to which she might have been sent.
It is quite possible that Elizabeth’s removal to Bermondsey was prompted chiefly by financial concerns on the part of the king. The order transferring Elizabeth’s estates is sandwiched in among a number of routine matters of royal business, suggesting that the order had likewise been an administrative matter rather than a security measure. Due to chance and political upheavals, it had been a century since a married king had faced the situation of maintaining a queen dowager while assuring his own queen of her proper landed endowment. Henry solved this problem by transferring Elizabeth Woodville’s lands to her daughter; in recompense, Elizabeth received an annuity of 400 marks, raised on 19 February 1490 to £400.35 While a different king might have treated Elizabeth Woodville more generously, the events of the past few years had left England on shaky financial ground, and Elizabeth could at least console herself that her daughter was receiving a suitable endowment. Moreover, Henry may have thought that Elizabeth would soon have no need of an endowment in England, because on 28 November 1487, he and the Scottish king, James III, agreed that the latter would marry Elizabeth. The negotiations had been carried on pursuant to the three-year truce that the English and the Scots had formed the previous July. James’s death in June 1488, however, kept Elizabeth from becoming the Queen of Scots.36
The Lambert Simnel conspiracy had gained fresh blood when John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, Edward IV’s nephew by his sister Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk, fled the country for Burgundy. There he began raising an army to support the pretended Earl of Warwick.37 Hitherto, Lincoln had given no sign of disloyalty, even dutifully playing his role at Prince Arthur’s christening and attending a council meeting in February 1487. As his own claim to the throne was quite strong, he may have been planning to replace Henry VII with himself rather than either the real or the feigned Warwick. His aunt Margaret, the Dowager Duchess of Burgundy, and her step-son-in-law Maximilian of Austria, the Regent of Burgundy, supplied him with an army of 2,000 mercenaries, led by Martin Schwarz. In May 1487, Lincoln and his forces arrived in Dublin.
Henry VII was well prepared for them. Having been apprised of a possible invasion in March, he had left on a progress through East Anglia, apparently in the expectation of a landing on the east coast. On 22 April, however, he moved abruptly to Coventry, probably after receiving news of possible trouble on the west coast as well. On 13 May at Kenilworth, learning that the rebels had landed in Ireland, he wrote to Elizabeth of York’s chamberlain, the Earl of Ormond, asking that the earl bring ‘our dearest wife and […] our dearest mother’ to him there – an indication, perhaps, of the affection he had for both women.
On 24 May at Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin, the pretender’s supporters, who included Lincoln, Richard III’s old ally Francis, Viscount Lovell, and Garrett Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare, had crowned the boy as ‘Edward VI’. With the new king in tow, the group soon sailed from Dublin and landed on 4 June at the Cumbrian coast.
At Kenilworth, Henry VII had appointed his commanders: Jasper, Duke of Bedford, the mainguard, John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the vanguard, and George, Lord Strange, the rearguard. The vanguard was divided into two wings, the right of which was commanded by Edward Woodville.
Edward’s first duty was to ride to York and stall the invaders by harassing them. According to Molinet, the only chronicler to record Edward’s actions, he had 2,000 horsemen; Christopher Wilkins, however, estimates that he had only 500, given Molinet’s fondness for large numbers.38 For three days outside Doncaster, Edward and his men made life thoroughly miserable for ‘King Edward’s’ army, although Molinet, a Burgundian chronicler, shines his best light on the pretender’s forces: ‘[Edward] was so closely pursued from encampment to encampment and driven back for three days on end that he was forced to fall back in great haste through the forest of Nottingham’.39 As Christopher Wilkins points out, however, the purpose of Edward’s mission was to impede the advance of the invaders which he achieved by cutting their miles travelled per day by half.40
Mission accomplished, Edward rejoined the main army south of Nottingham. On 16 June, the two armies met at Stoke Field. King Henry had about 12,000 men, the rebels only 8,000 to 9,000.
The battle was over in about an hour. The Irish in the rebel army were ill-equipped, and there were no timely defections to save the day for the invaders. The Earl of Lincoln was killed in battle, as was the mercenary leader Martin Schwarz. Francis, Viscount Lovell, disappeared; whether he was killed in battle or fled abroad remains a mystery to this day, although there is a grisly legend that a skeleton found in a bricked-up room in one of his manors was his remains.41 The young pretender, Lambert Simnel, was captured and set to work turning a spit in the royal kitchens; eventually, he rose to the position of royal falconer and according to Vergil was still alive in 1534.42 The real Warwick was far less fortunate. The rebellion, and the arrival of a new pretender, Perkin Warbeck, on the scene a few years later, put paid to any chances he had had of being freed from the Tower. Warwick spent the rest of his life in captivity and was executed in 1499 for plotting with Perkin Warbeck; he may well have been entrapped in entering into communications with the pretender.
Having beaten back the first major challenge to his kingship, Henry could now turn his thoughts to a happier matter: the coronation of his queen, which took place on 25 November 1487.43 There were two notable Woodville absences: the dowager queen and her son, Dorset. Custom might have prevented Elizabeth Woodville, a crowned queen herself, from taking part in the ceremony, but she is not listed as being present even at the feast afterward, unlike the king’s mother, who observed the ceremony from a private spot and dined with the queen. Was she prevented from coming, or did she choose not to come? Some very awkward guests were present at the coronation, these being the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk, whose son the Earl of Lincoln had died at Stoke fighting against Henry, and Margaret Pole, the sister of the imprisoned Warwick. Given their presence, it seems unlikely that Elizabeth Woodville would have been kept away. Perhaps the imprisonment of her son, Dorset, had soured her relations with the king. Dorset himself may have still been in the Tower, according to Bacon, who informs us that he was released after the coronation, ‘to show that it was now fair weather again, and that the imprisonment of Thomas Marquis Dorset was rather upon suspicion of the time than of the man’.44
These two absences did not keep other family members away. During the traditional procession from the Tower to Westminster that took place the day before the coronation, Katherine, Duchess of Bedford and Buckingham rode in the first chariot following the queen. With her was Elizabeth of York’s younger sister, Cecily. A few places back, the duchess’s ladies followed in their own chariot. At the feast after the coronation, the duchess sat at the left hand of the queen, who was served such dishes as hart, pheasant, capons, lamprey, crane, pike, carp, perch, and custard, preceded and followed by an elaborate ‘subtlety’, a decorative dish that was as much a feast for the eyes as it was for the mouth. Kneeling on either side of the queen were the Countess Rivers – Anthony’s widow – and the Countess of Oxford, who were required to hold a kerchief before the queen at ‘certain times’, i.e. if she needed to spit out her food or perhaps use a toothpick. The Countess Rivers, still a young woman, probably found the kneeling easy enough to endure, but one’s bones ache in sympathy for the Countess of Oxford, well into middle age, whose knees had to pay the price for royal protocol. The Woodville men were represented by Richard, Earl Rivers.
Edward Woodville is not recorded as being at the coronation, but he was certainly not in royal disfavour. The following year, on 27 April 1488, he was invested with the highest chivalric honour in England – the Order of the Garter.45 Described by S.B. Chrimes as ‘the ultimate mark of honour favoured by Henry VII’, the Garter was an honour Edward’s father and his brother Anthony had also achieved.46 The queen and the king’s mother, along with other ladies including Countess Rivers, were among the company assembled at Windsor for the feast of St George. The ceremonies, which included a requiem mass at which Edward offered the helm and crest of a deceased knight, John, Lord Dudley, inspired a burst of poetry:
O knightly order, clothed in robes with garter:
The queen’s grace, thy mother in the same;
The nobles of thy realm, rich in array, after;
Lords, knights and ladies unto thy great fame.
Now shall all ambassates know thy noble name.
By they feast royal. Now joyous may thou be,
To see thy king so flowering in dignity!
Edward had other concerns than the new garter adorning his calf, however. Francis, Duke of Brittany, who had offered succour and support to Edward as well as the king during their exile, was threatened with a French invasion.47 As Henry VII owed his very crown to the aid of France, he was in a difficult position.
Edward longed to help his old friend. As Vergil tells it:
Edward Woodville, a stout and courageous man […], either to avoid the tedium of peace or moved by his love of the duke, earnestly beseeched King Henry that by his permission he might go to Britanny with some band of soldiers to aid his friends. And, lest the King of France could reproach Henry for this, he said he would go secretly with no supplies, which would give a show of unfeigned flight. The king, who hoped that a peace would be arranged by his ambassadors, was so far from indulging Edward’s ardor that he strictly forbade him to undertake any scheme of the kind, thinking it foreign to his dignity to offend Charles, to whom he hoped to ingratiate himself in a matter of little importance which he thought would do nothing to aid the Duke of Britanny. But Edward, when the king had forbidden him to do as he wished, decided to act without his knowledge, and quickly and secretly went to the Isle of Wight, of which he was lieutenant. And from there, having gathered a band of soldiers to the number of approximately four hundred, he crossed over to Britanny and joined with them against the French.48
Edward crossed the seas with his 400 men in ships provided by the Breton ambassadors. Meanwhile, his preparations had inspired others to follow suit. Writing to his brother, John Paston III, William Paston III reported:
[W]hereas it was said that the Lord Woodville and others should have gone over into Brittany to have aided the Duke of Brittany. I cannot tell you of nonesuch aid. But upon that saying there came many men to Southampton, where it was said that he should have taken shipping to have waited upon him over, and so when he was countermanded those that resorted there to have gone over with him tarried there still, in hope that they should have been licenced to go over, and when they saw no likelihood that they should have licence there was two hundred of them that got them into a Breton ship the which was come over with salt, and bade the master set them a land in Brittany. And they had not sailed past six leagues but they espied a Frenchman, and the Frenchman made over to them, and they feared as though they would not have meddled with them, and all the Englishmen went under the hatches so that they showed no more but those that came to Southampton with the ship, to cause the Frenchmen to be the more gladder to meddle with them. And so the Frenchmen boarded them, and then they were under the hatches came up and so took the Frenchmen and carried the men, ship, and all into Brittany.49
Edward had sparked an international incident. Vergil tells us that the French suspected a trick on King Henry’s part and that the English ambassadors in France feared for their own safety, although ‘international law prevailed’. To mollify King Charles, Henry wrote a letter declaring that Edward had been expressly forbidden to make the trip to Brittany and that he had arrested the Earl of Arundel’s younger brother when he tried to follow Edward’s example. For good measure, Henry added, most of the men had gone without armour and were in any case low-lives who had taken asylum for their crimes and misdemeanours. It would soon be apparent, Henry concluded smugly, that Edward had been ‘badly counselled’ in making such a foolish attempt.50 King Charles, Vergil tells us, did not put much credence in the king’s letter, but put a good face on things. Meanwhile, Edward was enjoying the hospitality of Rennes, which welcomed him on 5 June by breaking open two barrels of claret and two barrels of white wine.
King Charles instructed his commander, General de la Trémoille, on 5 July to ‘make war as vigorously as you can’, an order which the general followed with enthusiasm. On 14 July, King Henry signed a peace treaty with France. The next day, Ferdinand and Isabella, whose ambassadors were discussing the possibility of a marital alliance with England, put in a good word for Edward, describing him as their faithful servant and asking Henry to forgive him.51
By this time troops had streamed into Rennes, including contingents contributed by Emperor Maximilian and King Ferdinand. On 25 July, Duke Francis, after meeting with a council of war that included Edward, determined to go to the relief of Fougères and St Aubin, both under siege. Although it turned out to be too late to save the fortresses, which had surrendered, the Bretons determined, as reported by Molinet, ‘to engage the French […] as best they could’.52
The Marshal de Rieux was in overall command of the Breton forces, Trémoille in charge of the French. To fool the French into believing that there were a large number of English troops, the Breton army dressed 1,700 Bretons in surcoats bearing the red cross of St George, like the men of Edward’s forces.
As reported by Hall:
When both the armies were approaching to the other, the ordinance shot so terribly and with such a violence, that it sore damaged and encumbered both the parties. When the shot was finished, both the vanguards joined together with such a force that it was marvell[ous] to behold. The Englishmen shot so fast, that the Frenchmen in the forward, were fain to recule to the battle where their horsemen were. The rearward of the Frenchmen, seeing this first discomfiture began to flee, but the captains retired their men together again, & the horsemen set fiercely on the Bretons, and slew the most part of the footmen. When the forward of the Bretons perceived that their horsemen nor the Almaines carne not forward they provided for themselves & fled, some here, and some there, where they thought to have refuge or succour. So that in conclusion the Frenchmen obtained the victory, & slew all such as wore red crosses, supposing them all to be Englishmen. In this conflict were slain almost all the Englishmen, & six thousand Bretons, Amongst whom were found dead the lord Woodville […].53
Molinet reports that Edward fell ‘near a wood called Selp’.54
On 20 August, the Duke of Brittany signed a treaty with France in which he acknowledged himself as its vassal. Three weeks later, he died, leaving his 12-year-old daughter, Anne, as his heir. Anne would ultimately marry Charles VIII of France.
Legend has it that only one of the numbers who had left with Edward returned to the Isle of Wight: a page named Diccon Cheke. A ballad tells his story:
Fight on, fight on, my Island men
Still gallant Wideville cried.
Ah, how he fought till stricken sore
Our Captain fell to rise no more
Within these arms he died.
Of all that sturdy Island band
Who stern refused to flee,
Knights and squires thirty and ten,
Twenty score of stout yeomen,
There is returned but me.55
When the Knights of the Garter met again in 1489, they would hold a requiem mass and offer the swords, helms, and crests of two fallen knights, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland (murdered during a tax revolt) and Edward Woodville. It was left for the same heralds who had recorded Edward’s presence at his one and only Garter feast to write his epitaph: ‘a noble and a courageous knight’.56