Post-classical history

The Duchess and the Knight

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On 19 January 1460, Richard Woodville and his wife were rudely awakened in their lodgings at Sandwich. Their caller, John Dynham, roused them and their eldest son, Anthony, from their beds, bundled the father and son aboard a ship, and hauled the men to Calais, where they were greeted by their Yorkist enemies: Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury; his son Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick; and their kinsman, the 17-year-old Edward, Earl of March. By torchlight, the three earls ‘rated’ the hapless Woodville men. Richard Woodville was a ‘knave’, a man ‘made by marriage’, whose father was but a squire.1

Whether the Woodvilles replied to this barrage of insults is unrecorded, but in September 1464, the former Earl of March, now King Edward IV, made a surprise announcement to his council at Reading. He had chosen a bride. His new wife, he informed the stunned councillors, was not a foreign princess, but Dame Elizabeth Grey, a widow who happened to be the daughter of Richard Woodville.

It had taken over four years, but the Woodvilles had finally got in the last word.

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Elizabeth Grey was no stranger to unequal matches. She was, in fact, the product of one, that between Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, and Richard Woodville, a knight.

The story of Jacquetta’s marriage has its origins, as do so many aspects of the Wars of the Roses, in the English occupation of France. Since 1422, John, Duke of Bedford, a younger brother of the late King Henry V, had served as regent of France for Henry VI, Henry V’s infant son. Bedford made a strategic marriage to Anne, the sister of Philip ‘the Good’, Duke of Burgundy, in 1423. The marriage, though happy, was childless, and when Anne fell ill and died in 1432, Bedford felt the need to remarry quickly. His bride was Jacquetta de Luxembourg, the daughter of Pierre de Luxembourg, Count of St Pol. The groom was a few weeks short of his 44th birthday; the bride was 17. She was, the chronicler Enguerrand de Monstrelet recorded, lively (frisque), beautiful and gracious.2

Bedford and Jacquetta married on 20 April 1433 at the cathedral in Thérouanne, destroyed in the sixteenth century. In honour of the occasion, Bedford presented the Church of Notre Dame of Thérouanne with a peal of five bells, sent from England.3 The marriage was performed by the bride’s uncle, Louis, Bishop of Thérouanne, who served as chancellor for the English in France and who had made the match. Not for the last time when Jacquetta was concerned, the match was a controversial one, the offended party being Philip, Duke of Burgundy, Bedford’s former brother-in-law. Not only had the Duke of Bedford remarried in unseemly haste, the bride’s father, a vassal of the Duke of Burgundy, had neglected to ask permission for the marriage. The Duke of Bedford was to remain estranged from the Duke of Burgundy, which happened to suit the interests of the latter at the time.4

The Duke and Duchess of Bedford sailed to England on 18 June 1433. Jacquetta’s new country was ruled by the 11-year-old Henry VI, who had been king since he was nine months old. While his uncle the Duke of Bedford was regent of France, his other uncle, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, was the king’s lieutenant and keeper of England. The relationship between Bedford and Gloucester, his younger brother, had long been an uneasy one, and Bedford’s journey to England with his bride was no honeymoon or pleasure trip. He had come to answer charges of negligence, likely emanating from Gloucester, and to obtain more funds for the war in France.5

Jacquetta settled down to life in her new country. On 8 July 1433, she requested denization, the rights of English citizenship, which Parliament granted her.6 Unfortunately for the new Duchess of Bedford, her father fell sick and died later in 1433. A funeral service for the duchess’s father was held on 9 November 1533 at St Paul’s.7 The following year, the citizens of Coventry presented the duchess with 50 marks and a silver-gilt cup while she and the duke were residing at his manor of Fulbrook,8 and Jacquetta was made a Lady of the Garter, probably to put her on the same level as Gloucester’s duchess, who also sported Garter robes.9

In July 1534, the Duke and Duchess of Bedford sailed back to France.10 The duke’s health steadily declined, and on 14 September 1435 he died.11 Neither of his two marriages had resulted in children, although the duke had two illegitimate children, Mary and Richard,12 and Jacquetta would later prove to be more than adequate at childbearing.

Bedford had made a will in 1429 naming his wife Anne of Burgundy one of his executors; in his final will, made a few days before his death, he did not entrust Jacquetta with this task. This, as Jenny Stratford suggests, was likely because of her youth; certainly the administration of Bedford’s estate would prove to be a lengthy and complicated task.13 Bedford did treat Jacquetta favourably in his will. She received at least 12,000 livres in goods, including, perhaps, a tablet of gold and beryl, made in the manner of a reliquary, garnished with small pearls, and wrought with images of the Trinity, that the duchess later gave to Henry VI.14 More importantly, Bedford tried to leave his widow a life interest in most of his lands in England, France, and Normandy. For various reasons, including the quirks of English inheritance law and the claims of Bedford’s brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, this proved unworkable, but Jacquetta was by no means left impoverished. Pursuant to her dower rights (a one-third share of Bedford’s lands), she was allowed by the king to enter her lands in England and Calais on 6 February 1436 – on the condition that she not marry without royal permission.15 Michael Hicks has estimated that Bedford’s income in England was over £4,000, giving Jacquetta an income of £1,333.16

Despite her youth – she was still under 20 – Jacquetta proved tenacious in fighting for her rights. Bedford had left her Harcourt, together with the lordships of La Rivière Thibouville and Le Neubourg, but the council overrode the duke’s wishes and granted Harcourt instead to Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. By the time the grant to Beaufort took effect on 23 December 1435, however, Jacquetta was actively administering her lands at Harcourt. As ‘Duchess of Harcourt’, she ordered a sale of woods, while at La Rivière Thibouville, she ordered that repairs be made to mills. Beaufort ultimately gained possession of Harcourt in 1537, but Jacquetta continued to press her claim in the courts. She had better fortune with La Rivière Thibouville and Le Neubourg, which she retained until their loss to the French in 1444.17

During this time, Jacquetta’s lands were not her only preoccupation. By 23 March 1437, she had remarried.18 She had not sought the king’s permission, and her husband was not whom one would have expected.

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Richard Woodville, Esquire – we shall call him Squire Richard when necessary to distinguish him from his son by the same name – was the second son of John Woodville, who served as Sheriff of Northampton on several occasions in the late fourteenth century as well as in Parliament. He was the offspring of John Woodville’s second marriage to Isabel, widow of Robert Passelaw.19 According to Richard Neville, who ‘rated’ Squire Richard’s son for his low birth years later, Squire Richard was brought up with Henry V.20 He served in France and in 1423 became the Duke of Bedford’s chamberlain. Following Bedford’s death, he was appointed Lieutenant of Calais. The following year, he was made constable of Rochester Castle.

Squire Richard was married to Joan Bittlesgate. The couple had two children, named, naturally and confusingly, Richard and Joan. On 18 July 1429, Squire Richard entered into a marriage settlement with William Haute of Kent for William to marry Richard’s daughter Joan. Squire Richard gave his daughter a marriage portion of 400 marks and agreed to pay the costs of the wedding, which was to take place at Calais. Joan was also to bring a ‘chamber’, meaning her personal effects and goods suitable for a gentlewoman of her estate. William, in turn, was to settle a jointure of 100 marks and dower of £40 on his bride.21 As for Squire Richard’s son, he would make his own marriage arrangements.

The first we hear of the younger Richard Woodville is on 19 May 1426. On that day at Leicester, the Duke of Bedford knighted the 4-year-old king, who in turn had knighted a number of other men and boys, including Richard Woodville (whom we may now call Sir Richard). Ironically, one of the other young men knighted on that date was Richard, Duke of York, whose son would marry Sir Richard’s daughter.22

Although it is sometimes uncertain which Richard Woodville is being referred to, it seems to be Sir Richard who in 1429 served as the captain of 100 men at arms and 300 archers in France, and who on 9 March 1429 received a payment of 100 marks for bringing a payment of wages to Philip, Duke of Burgundy.23 He was a knight bachelor in the Duke of Bedford’s retinue in 1435.24 That same year, he is said to have been taken prisoner by the French when the English besieged Gerberoy, but he was free by May 1436, when he was serving in the retinue of William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk.25

It was probably in the latter half of 1436 that Sir Richard’s thoughts turned from war to love. As Richard was associated with Bedford’s retinue, he would have had ample opportunity to make the acquaintance of his new duchess, Jacquetta, but when this happened, or when the couple began their romance, is unknown. All we know is that by March 1437, Jacquetta, breaking the condition that she not remarry without royal permission, had secretly married Sir Richard, the son of Bedford’s chamberlain. Monstrelet reported that Jacquetta’s uncle Louis and her other friends were indignant at the match, given that Richard, though ‘beautiful and well-formed in his person’, was much below the social status of Jacquetta and her first husband, but there was nothing they could do about the matter.26 The last comment is curious; perhaps Jacqueline’s marriage had come to light due to a visible pregnancy.

The reaction across the Channel was far more muted, although it is hard to imagine that Squire Richard was less than delighted at the news that his son had landed a duchess as a wife. In the petition the couple brought before Parliament, they claimed that they had ‘suffered very great hardship both personally and as regards their property’ for their actions, but this language may have been formulaic.27 In the event, on 23 March 1437, Parliament fined the couple £1,000, but as Lucia Diaz Pascual points out, this was standard practice for noblewomen who married without royal licence. Katherine Neville, Duchess of Norfolk (whom we shall encounter later) would be given the same fine in 1442, as had Margaret, Lady Roos, in 1423.28

Once the business of the fine was out of the way, Richard Woodville’s career continued uninterrupted. He was made chief rider of Salsey Forest in Northampton on 11 July 1437.29 In 1439, he was among those troops coming to the relief of Meaux.30 He was back in France in July 1441, this time coming to the relief of Pontoise.31

Richard was active not only on the battlefield but on the tournament field – an avocation which he was to pass to at least three of his five sons. In 1439, he and Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, jousted at the Tower of London at Shrovetide.32 His jousting took on an international flavour at Smithfield in November 1440, where Richard’s opponent was Peter de Vasques of Spain. The king, a spectator, cried ‘hoo’ – thereby bringing the combat to a halt – when the men had finished fighting with their poleaxes.33

A medieval wife’s primary role was to produce children, and Jacquetta excelled at this task. She and Richard would see twelve of their children live to adulthood; a couple of others died in early childhood. The following handwritten note by Robert Glover, Somerset Herald, to a late fifteenth-century visitation may indicate the birth order of the Woodville children:

    Richard Earl Ryvers and Jaquett Duchess of Bedford hath issue Anthony Earl Ryvers, Richard, Elizabeth first wedded to Sir John Grey, after to King Edward the fourth, Lowys, Richard Erie of Riueres, Sir John Wodeuille Knight, Iaquette lady Straunge of Knokyn, Anne first married to the Lord Bourchier son and heir to the Earl of Essex, after to the Earl of Kent, Mary wife to William Earl of Huntingdon, John Woodville, Lyonell Bishop of Sarum, Margaret Lady Maltravers, Jane Lady Grey of Ruthin, Sir Edward Woodville, Katherine Duchess of Buckingham34

No birth dates were recorded for any of Richard and Jacquetta’s children, so it is unclear when the babies started arriving. Elizabeth, Edward IV’s future queen, is said to have been born in 1437, making her the couple’s first child, but the 1437 date is highly questionable. It is based solely upon a portrait, labelled ‘Elizabeth Woodville 1463’, which states that Elizabeth was aged 26. Elizabeth’s circumstances in 1463, as we shall see later, were not conducive to having her portrait painted, however, so it is likely that the label was based on a mistaken recollection of when Elizabeth became queen. It is quite possible, then, that Anthony Woodville, not Elizabeth, was Richard and Jacquetta’s first child. Anthony, the first child named in Glover’s list, was listed in his mother’s 1472 post-mortem inquisition as being ‘of the age of thirty years and more’, which would put his birth date at around 1442, but the ‘more’ allows plenty of hedge room and leaves open the possibility that he was born earlier.35 With other children we are on more sure ground. John Woodville was described in 1465 as being 20 years old, placing his birth year at around 1445.36 Lionel was described as being in his 29th year in 1482, so he was probably born around 1453.37 The youngest child was probably Katherine, who is named in her brother Richard’s 1492 post-mortem inquisition as being ‘34 or more’, placing her birth year at about 1458.38 Edward’s career is consistent with his being one of the younger Woodville children, as is his name; he was likely named for Henry VI’s son, born in October 1453. Although an inquisition post-mortem identifies Richard Woodville as being 35 or more in 1486, which would place his birth date around 1451, his career makes it likely that he fell well into the ‘or more’ category; he was old enough to require a pardon in 1462.39

On 10 June 1440, Jacquetta and Richard acquired a place to house their growing family – the manor of Grafton in Northampton.40 Squire Richard’s brother Thomas had left Squire Richard the hundred of Cleley and land in Grafton, but not the manor itself, which was in the hands of the de la Pole family. Thomas may have been leasing the manor.41 Squire Richard himself seems to have been primarily associated with the Mote in Maidstone, Kent. It was in Maidstone that he was buried, although his tomb no longer exists.42The Mote came into the hands of Sir Richard and Jacquetta sometime after 29 November 1441, when Squire Richard, having made his will on that date, died.43

In 1444, Henry VI, now in his twenties, chose a bride: Margaret of Anjou, the daughter of René, Duke of Anjou, and Isabelle, daughter of Charles II, Duke of Lorraine. Margaret was a niece by marriage to the French king, Charles VII, and her marriage was brokered in exchange for a truce. A Frenchwoman like Margaret, Jacquetta had family ties to the new queen: her sister was married to Margaret’s uncle, Charles of Anjou. Jacquetta and her husband were among the large party sent in November 1444 to escort Margaret to her new home in England: Alice de la Pole, Marchioness of Suffolk, whose husband William headed the escort, ordered that a boat, the Swallow, be reserved for Jacquetta and her retainers. Sir Richard managed with a smaller boat.44

Henry married the 15-year-old Margaret on 22 April 1445 in a quiet ceremony at Titchfield Abbey presided over by William Aiscough, Bishop of Salisbury. As Duchess of Bedford, Jacquetta must have been prominent at the queen’s coronation at Westminster on 30 May 1445, while Richard Woodville likely was among those jousting at the celebratory tournaments which followed. With the prospect of peace and of a healthy young queen producing a quiverful of children, the future must have looked bright. In fact, Henry’s reign had started on a relentless and ruthless path downhill.

For the moment, though, all seemed well. After the death of Henry V on 31 August 1422, his queen, Catherine of Valois, had lived in the household of her young son, Henry VI, until around 1430, when she secretly married Owen Tudor – a match that would put their grandson on the throne as Henry VII – and moved to Much Hadham in Hertfordshire, where she gave birth to a son. Catherine’s retirement into private life (she died in 1437) meant that until Henry’s marriage in 1445, the court was a male preserve.45 The arrival of a queen and a kinswoman opened the way for Jacquetta to become a prominent figure at court. The queen’s jewel accounts, which survive for 1445–49 and 1451–53, show that Jacquetta’s servants received exceptionally generous New Year’s gifts. Jacquetta herself received a silver cup costing £35 6d in 1447 and a gold tablet with sapphires and other jewels, costing £16, in 1452.46

Richard Woodville enjoyed royal favour as well. On 9 May 1448, he became a baron; the origins of his new title, Lord Rivers, have been the subject of much speculation but are unknown. Further honours followed in 1450 when, following his nomination by Thomas, Lord Scales, John, Viscount Beaumont, Sir John Beauchamp, and Sir John Fastolf, he was made a Knight of the Garter on 4 August.47

Henry VI’s government, however, was lurching toward disaster. A few months after his bride’s arrival in England, the peace-loving Henry VI had secretly agreed to hand over Maine to the French and to Margaret’s father. The English reluctance at effecting Henry’s promise and a disastrous scheme by the English to capture the rich city of Fougères on behalf of Brittany led to a French declaration of war. One by one, English-occupied towns fell to the French or, worse, were surrendered without battle. On 12 August 1450, eight days after Lord Rivers’s garter was strapped to his knee, Cherbourg, the last English fortress in Normandy, fell to the French.48

The year 1450 was as miserable at home as it was abroad. On 2 May 1450, William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, from whom Richard Woodville had purchased Grafton, was murdered as he sailed toward Burgundy under a sentence of banishment. Suffolk, who had taken the leading role in negotiating Henry’s marriage to Margaret, was largely blamed for the handover of Maine and the losses in France.

The government was still reeling from Suffolk’s murder when an uprising, led by one ‘Jack Cade’, began in the southeast of England in June. Lord Rivers, along with Viscount Beaumont and Lords Lovell, Scales, and Dudley, were commissioned to suppress the rebellion.49 Later that summer, Rivers and a number of other men would be indicted in Kent before a commission headed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and of York, Bishop Wainflete, and Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, for acts committed while they were pursuing the rebels.50 Rivers himself, along with Dudley and Thomas Danyell and a force of about 2,000 persons, was accused of assaulting John Miche at Eynsford on 18 June 1450, ‘so that he despaired of his life’, and of taking away 46s 8d in cash, along with four pairs of sheets and a coverlet. Dudley later received a pardon. The outcome of the investigation as far as Rivers in concerned is not known, and we cannot tell at this juncture whether Rivers was personally guilty of any excesses, although at the very least he can likely be faulted for allowing his men to run wild. Cade and his men, however justified their grievances against Henry VI’s government might have been, certainly did not have clean hands. They had murdered several people, including James Fiennes, Lord Saye, the royal treasurer, and his son-in-law William Crowmer, the Sheriff of Kent. For the amusement of the spectators, the men’s severed heads were hoisted on poles and made to kiss each other. Later, Saye’s dead body would be tied to the saddle of Cade’s own horse and dragged through the streets.51

In September 1450, following the suppression of Cade’s rebellion, Richard, Duke of York, returned to England from Ireland, where he had been serving as the king’s lieutenant. It was an uneasy homecoming, for Henry VI and Margaret had not produced any children and Richard was therefore next in line for the throne. Cade at one point in the rebellion had adopted the name of ‘John Mortimer’, a name associated with York’s family, and the rebels’ demands had included one that the king ‘take about him a noble person, the true blood of the Realm, that is to say the high and mighty prince the Duke of York’.52 It was therefore necessary that York defend himself against suspicions of treason. Complicating matters was the return to England the previous month of another duke, Edmund, Duke of Somerset, whose surrender of Rouen and Caen in France without battle had infuriated the English populace. The king, however, did not bear a grudge against Somerset, who soon stepped into the dead man’s shoes of Suffolk as the king’s chief minister. In turn, York took up the role of the opposition. He was particularly bitter about Somerset’s actions in France, which York regarded not only as treasonous but almost as a personal affront. York had been lieutenant general before Somerset, but had not been reappointed, apparently to his disappointment; instead, Somerset had received the post, probably in order to secure his cooperation in ceding Maine, where he held property.53

It was during this period that the Commons demanded that twenty-nine persons, including Somerset, be barred access to the king. Lynda Pidgeon has suggested, incorrectly, that Lord Rivers was one of them.54 In fact, as P.A. Johnson points out, Rivers was one of those men who had been indicted the previous summer but who were not included in the Commons’ list.55 Indeed, according to a German envoy, Rivers and Lord Scales accompanied York when he presented his grievances to the king.56

For the short term, Somerset was the victor in the rivalry between him and York. He was appointed Captain of Calais – along with Gascony all that was left to the English in France – in September 1451. Lord Rivers, along with sixty men at arms, joined him there in December 1451 and became Lieutenant of Calais soon afterward.57

In the spring of 1453, the king and the queen at last had some good news: after over eight years of marriage, Margaret was pregnant. The joy was short-lived. In July 1453, Gascony fell to the French, and a few days later, Henry imploded. For nearly a year and a half, he would be speechless and unresponsive to his surroundings.

While her husband’s wits were in abeyance, Margaret at last gave birth to a child, Edward, on 13 October 1453. In a brave show of normalcy, preparations went ahead for her churching, a ceremony which marked a new mother’s purification and return to public life. The great ladies of the land, including Jacquetta, were all invited to the churching, which was scheduled for 18 November 1453.58

Margaret of Anjou had been raised in a family where women were prepared to take charge when necessary. As it became clear that Henry’s illness was likely to continue indefinitely, she prepared a petition asking, as one shocked observer described it, that she ‘have the whole rule of this land’.59 This was a step too far for the English, who in March 1454 instead made the Duke of York the protector of the nation during Henry’s incapacity. Somerset had already been imprisoned in the Tower, where he remained without trial throughout York’s protectorate. York appointed himself Captain of Calais in Somerset’s place, but was unable to secure the loyalty of the garrison, under the command of Lord Rivers and Lionel, Lord Welles, the captain of the castle.60

On Christmas Day of 1454, Henry came out of his stupor as abruptly as he had fallen into it. Henry acknowledged his 14-month-old son, ordered the release of Somerset, and ended the Duke of York’s protectorate.

Once again, Somerset was in the king’s favour. This was not a situation which York could tolerate, and on 22 May 1455, he ended it bloodily. Allying himself with Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, and Salisbury’s son, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, he confronted the king at St Albans. In the street battle that followed, Somerset, probably targeted for death by York’s men, was killed outside the Castle Inn.61

Henry VI’s misfortunes at St Albans seems to have caused him to have become at least partially incapacitated for a time – or at least it suited the interests of the Duke of York to say so. In November 1455, a second protectorate was established. Due to lack of popular support, it was short-lived, ending with York’s resignation in February 1456. Meanwhile, with Somerset’s death, the way was open to negotiate with the garrison at Calais, and in July 1456, the Earl of Warwick entered Calais as its captain. Rivers surrendered his post.The balance of power, however, was to undergo yet another shift.

Margaret of Anjou had last come onto the scene during her husband’s illness in 1453. Her bid for the regency had been unsuccessful, and she had remained largely in the shadows until the time of the second protectorate, when she emerged with a vengeance. It may have been Margaret, described in a letter of 9 February 1456 as ‘a great and strong laboured woman [who] spareth no pain to sue her things to an intent and conclusion to her power’,62 who worked behind the scenes to gain support for ending York’s second protectorate.63

Margaret’s first move was to move her household in the spring of 1456 to the Midlands, where Henry’s household soon followed her that summer. The effect was to shift the court from the uneasy atmosphere of London to the friendlier locale where Margaret could attract support against any threats to her husband’s rule. During the court’s extended stay in the Midlands, which would last until November 1457, Margaret often visited Coventry. In May 1457, she saw the city’s famous passion plays. Prominent in the queen’s party were Lord Rivers and his wife, who along with the Duke and Duchess of Buckingham and their children, and the older and younger Countesses of Shrewsbury enjoyed refreshments provided by the mayor: red wine, capons, pikes, pippins, oranges, ginger, peascods, and comfits.64 At an earlier visit by the queen, in 1456, the mayor gave Lord Rivers a glass of rose water. The drink, which was thought to have healthful qualities, was duly noted in the records.65

King Henry, though much in the shadow of his assertive queen during this period, managed to carry out one of his own objectives. The men killed at St Albans were survived by their angry young heirs, especially Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, who had threatened York and the Nevilles on several occasions and whose escapades had resulted in several watchmen getting killed.66 To put an end to the hostilities, Henry had summoned his lords and ordered them to hammer out a settlement with the aid of a panel of judges and bishops.67 To solemnise the agreement, on 25 March 1458, the king, the queen, and the warring lords processed solemnly through St Paul’s in what was known as ‘Loveday’.

A round of festivities followed Loveday. Lord Rivers was probably past his best tourneying days, but his eldest son, Anthony, along with the Duke of Somerset, jousted in front of the king and queen at the Tower and later at Greenwich.68

Henry’s longed-for peace was not to last. Historians have assigned various causes, but it is clear that Warwick, stationed at Calais, did not help the situation by turning to piracy in the summer of 1458. Although the English people found the earl’s swashbuckling exploits to be endearing, the king and the neutral powers whose ships were attacked were less impressed.69 In July, Lord Rivers was appointed to head a commission meeting at Rochester Castle to investigate Warwick’s attacks on a Hanseatic fleet.70 As Arlene Okerlund has pointed out, being investigated by a mere baron must have rankled the earl, a man not known for his humility at the best at times.71

All-out war erupted in 1459. The events leading up to the renewed hostilities are murky. Contemporary chroniclers, generally sympathetic to York, laid the blame on the queen, as have many historians, but recent historians have been less indulgent toward York and his followers.72 What seems more likely is simply that York and his followers had determined to seize power. They began their effort in September 1459, when Salisbury left his estates at Middleham and Warwick left Calais with the plan of meeting York at Ludlow. A portion of the royal army intercepted Salisbury’s forces at Blore Heath on 23 September 1459. Salisbury won the battle, but more forces were on the way.

King Henry, displaying an uncharacteristic interest in military matters by reading treatises on warfare,73 proceeded to Ludford Bridge in the Welsh march on 12 October. There he and his men encamped, awaiting battle with the forces of York, Salisbury, and Warwick, who circulated rumours that the king was dead. But fighting against their own king was not something that many men could easily stomach yet, and overnight a number of the Yorkist soldiers defected to the king’s side. When those who remained awoke, they found that their leaders had deserted them. York fled to Ireland, leaving his duchess, Cecily, behind, while the Nevilles fled to Calais. With them was York’s eldest son, the 17-year-old Edward, Earl of March.

King Henry was then faced with the task of dislodging Warwick from his perch in Calais. The Duke of Somerset was Captain of Calais in name, but he could get no closer than Guines, where he led a series of bold but unsuccessful attacks on the town.

Lord Rivers, stationed at Sandwich, gathered together a fleet to come to Somerset’s aid. It was here, on 19 January 1460, that John Dynham made a surprise attack on the fleet and dragged Lord Rivers, his lady, and their eldest son, Anthony, from their beds.74The men were unceremoniously hauled across the Channel to Calais, to the amusement of one chronicler, who wrote that Rivers ‘was commanded to have landed at Calais by the king, but he was brought there sooner than him liked’.75 At Calais, they were paraded by torchlight before Salisbury, Warwick, and March, who improved the occasion by taunting the men with their comparatively lowly origins. As reported by William Paston II:

    My Lord Rivers was brought to Calais and before the lords with 800 torches, and there my lord of Salisbury rated him, calling him knave’s son that he should be so rude to call him and these other lords traitors, for they shall be found the King’s true liege men when he should be found a traitor, &c. And my lord of Warwick rated him and said that his father was but a squire and brought up with King Henry the V, and [afterwards] himself made by marriage and also made lord, and that it was not his part to have such language of lords being of the King’s blood. And my lord of March rated him in like wise, and Sir Anthony was rated for his language of all three lords in like wise.76

Irksome as this must have been to them, the Woodvilles were fortunate to receive no more than humiliation at the hands of their captors; a few months later, it is unlikely that they would have escaped with their lives.

Jacquetta evidently was spared the journey to Calais, as a contemporaneous letter describes her as being still in Kent.77 How long the male Woodvilles remained in custody is unknown, but there is no record of them fighting again until the Battle of Towton in March 1461. Meanwhile, Warwick sailed to visit York in Dublin, where the two men may have agreed that Warwick would help York seize the throne.78

Officially, however, when Warwick returned to England in July 1460, it was as the king’s loyal subject. His protestations of loyalty lost much of their force, however, on 10 July, when Yorkist forces led by Warwick and March encountered the king’s forces at Northampton. A timely defection by Edmund, Lord Grey of Ruthin ensured a Yorkist victory. The Duke of Buckingham, the Earl of Shrewsbury, Beaumont, and Egremont were slaughtered, and Henry was taken to London as a captive in all but name.79

The next arrival in England was the Duke of York himself, who returned in September 1460, when he began acquiring retainers without referring to the king or even to the regnal year in the accompanying documents, a clear sign that the duke had renounced his allegiance to Henry.80 Clad in blue and white livery embroidered with fetterlocks, the duke made his way from Chester toward London. On the way, he was reunited with his duchess, who came to him in a chariot covered with blue velvet and drawn by four horses. At Abington, the duke sent for trumpeters and ‘claryners’ to accompany him to London, gave them banners bearing the royal arms, and ordered that his sword be borne before him.81

With ‘great pomp and splendour and in no small exaltation of mood’, York arrived in October at Westminster Palace, where Parliament had assembled. As one observer wrote:

    [H]e made directly for the king’s throne, where he laid his hand on the drape or cushion, as if about to take possession of what was his by right, and held his hand there for a brief time. At last, withdrawing it, he turned towards the people and, standing quietly under the cloth of state, looked eagerly at the assembly awaiting their acclamation. Whilst he stood there, turning his face to the people and awaiting their applause, Thomas Bourchier Archbishop of Canterbury arose and, after a suitable greeting, enquired whether he wished to come and see the king. The duke, who seemed irritated by this request, replied curtly, ‘I do not recall that I know anyone in the kingdom whom it would not befit to come to me and see my person, rather than I should go and visit him.’ When the archbishop heard this reply, he quickly withdrew and told the king of the duke’s response. After the bishop had left, the duke also withdrew, went to the principal chamber of the palace (the king being in the queen’s apartments), smashed the locks and threw open the doors, in a regal rather than a ducal manner, and remained there for some time.82

Despite the lack of enthusiasm engendered by his bid for the throne, York would not give up so easily, and even began planning his coronation. Dissuaded, he instead submitted his claim to Parliament, which by 31 October had hammered out an arrangement under which York would replace Henry’s own son, the 8-year-old Edward of Lancaster, as heir to the throne. York would receive castle, manors, and lands worth 10,000 marks per annum, part of which would be shared with his first and second sons, Edward, Earl of March, and Edmund, Earl of Rutland. Nothing was reserved for Henry’s own son, although it may have been intended that he be allowed to succeed to the duchy of Lancaster upon his father’s death. The Act of Accord, as it was called, required York, who was older than the king, to swear that he would do nothing to cut short Henry’s natural life, but did provide for the eventuality that Henry might abdicate.83

The Act of Accord also authorised York to suppress ‘rebellions, murders, riots, looting, extortion and oppression’ – the unnamed source of such troubles being Henry’s own queen. Hearing of her husband’s capture at Northampton, Margaret had fled with Prince Edward into Wales, from where she contacted Somerset and her other allies. With every reason to fear for her son’s safety if he fell into Yorkist hands, she resisted Yorkist attempts to lure her to London.84

As King Henry adjusted to this new state of affairs, Margaret’s forces assembled minus Margaret herself, who had travelled to Scotland to seek aid. York went out with his own forces to oppose them. On 30 December 1460, his dreams of the throne ended at Wakefield, where he was killed in battle by forces led by Somerset. The Lancastrians (as it is now most convenient to call them) ordered that the dead duke be decapitated and that his head be placed at Micklegate Bar in York. As a finishing touch, York’s severed head was decked with a paper crown.

There had been a notable absence at Wakefield: York’s 18-year-old heir, Edward, who had been engaged elsewhere, probably in the Welsh march. He now took up his father’s cause. In early February, he defeated Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, Henry VI’s younger half-brother, at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross. This Yorkist victory was quickly followed by a Lancastrian triumph at St Albans. King Henry, who had been dragged along to the battle by the Earl of Warwick, was reunited with his wife and young son. The most significant Lancastrian casualty at St Albans was Sir John Grey, who had been married to Richard and Jacquetta’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth. The death of this luckless knight would have undreamed-of consequences three years later.

Yorkist propaganda had painted a lurid picture of Margaret’s army as a horde of barely civilised northerners set on wholesale destruction of the civilian population.85 With Margaret encamped at St Albans, the nervous Londoners were taking no chances. They appointed Jacquetta, the Duchess of Buckingham, and Lady Scales to join a delegation sent to Margaret to beg for mercy for the city – a service which would be remembered with gratitude some years later.86

What Jacquetta and the other ladies said to the queen is unrecorded, but Margaret promised to leave the city unharmed. Tragically, from her point of view, she chose not to enter it at all, save for a token force. Instead she returned to the north, leaving London to throw its gates open to the charismatic Earl of March. On 4 March 1461, the earl, just a month short of his 19th birthday, took his seat in Westminster as King Edward IV.

The new king promptly led an army northward to confront the queen’s forces. With them by now were Lord Rivers and his son Anthony, who at some unknown point had either escaped or been freed from Calais. On 30 March 1461, in blinding snow, the armies met at Towton. According to the Burgundian chronicler, Waurin:

    Edward had scarcely time to regain his position under his banner when Lord Rivers and his son with six or seven thousand Welshmen led by Andrew Trollope, and the Duke of Somerset with seven thousand men more, charged the Earl of March’s cavalry, put them to flight and chased them for eleven miles, so that it appeared to them that they had won great booty, because they thought that the Earl of Northumberland had charged at the same time on the other flank, but he failed to attack soon enough, which was a misfortune for him as he died that day. In this chase died a great number of men of worth to the Earl of March who, witnessing the fate of his cavalry was much saddened and angered: at which moment he saw the Earl of Northumberland’s battle advancing, carrying King Henry’s banner; so he rode the length of his battle to where his principal supporters were gathered and remonstrated with them.87

Snow blowing into the faces of Lancastrian troops, good generalship by Edward, and the timely arrival of fresh troops led by the Duke of Norfolk resulted in a Yorkist victory, but at a terrible cost to both sides. By the time the battle and the ensuing rout ended, anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 men lay dead, some on the snow-covered fields, others in the waters of the River Wharfe. Towton would be the bloodiest battle fought on English soil.

The Lancastrian royal family, Somerset, and a few others, fled to Scotland, while the triumphant Edward IV took the time to send a letter to his mother. William Paston II, who was allowed to read the letter when it reached the Duchess of York, reported that Anthony, Lord Scales – that is, Anthony Woodville – was among the dead.88 Richard Beauchamp, Bishop of Salisbury, also reported that Anthony had fallen in battle, while Prospero di Camulio, Milanese Ambassador to the Court of France, claimed that Lord Rivers had escaped to Scotland with Henry and Margaret.89 In fact, Anthony was very much alive, and if Lord Rivers ever made it to Scotland, he did not stay there. On 31 July, Giovanni Pietro Cagnola reported, ‘I have no news from here except that the Earl of Warwick has taken Monsig. de Ruvera and his son and sent them to the king who had them imprisoned in the Tower’. This seems unlikely, because before this letter was written, Lord Rivers and Anthony had already made a decision that many other followers of Henry and Margaret made after the slaughter at Towton: they offered their allegiance to the new king. Lord Rivers received his pardon on 12 July 1461, while Anthony’s came on 23 July. A third pardon was issued on 8 February 1462 to Anthony’s younger brother Richard.90 On 30 August 1461, Count Ludovico Dallugo, a recent visitor to England, wrote to Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan:

    The lords adherent to King Henry are all quitting him, and come to tender obedience to this king, and at this present one of the chief of them has come, by name Lord de Rivers, with one of his sons, men of very great valour. I held several conversations with this Lord de Rivers about King Henry’s cause, and what he thought of it, and he answered me that the cause was lost irretrievably.91

The Woodvilles, once loyal Lancastrians, were now loyal Yorkists. In December 1462, Anthony was among Edward IV’s forces besieging Alnwick Castle, held by the Lancastrians.92

With the Lancastrian army reduced to a handful of impoverished exiles, Edward set about consolidating his regime. He had another concern as well. For it is a truth universally acknowledged, that an unattached young king must be in search of a wife.

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