Post-classical history

The King and the Widow

Book title

In September 1464, King Edward IV, one of the most eligible bachelors in Europe, informed his council at Reading that he had married. As the councillors waited, no doubt expecting to hear that the king had at last contracted himself with a foreign princess, the king told them that he had married an Englishwoman. The councillors’ jaws dropped, and the king in turn dropped his final bombshell: his new bride was no duke or earl’s daughter but Dame Elizabeth Grey, the widowed daughter of Lord Rivers and Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford.

Book title

For most people in medieval England, years of birth, much less days of birth, were not recorded, and Elizabeth Woodville was no exception. We have only one source for her birth year: a portrait labelled ‘Elizabeth Woodville’, supposedly dating from 1463 and giving its sitter’s age as 26. This would put Elizabeth’s year of birth in 1437, the same year her parents were fined for their marriage. The 1437 date is plausible, then, but John Shaw’s suggestion that the painting was made in 1463 by the king’s own painter, John Stratford, is highly unlikely.1 First, as Frederick Hepburn has pointed out, this and other extant paintings of Elizabeth appear to be derived from a lost original, so we cannot know what any original label, if there was one, said.2 Had Elizabeth been on such terms with King Edward in 1463 that he was having her portrait done, she would have hardly needed to ask his friend Lord Hastings for help in 1464, as we shall see later. The possibility that Elizabeth or her parents commissioned the portrait is even more unlikely, given Elizabeth’s straitened circumstances in 1463 and the fact that portraiture in England was very much in its infancy. It seems far more likely that someone labelling the portrait years later (with the modern spelling of ‘Woodville’) simply was mistaken in his recollection of when Elizabeth became Edward’s queen. Thus, while a birth date of 1437 certainly cannot be ruled out, the portrait is not a reliable source, and it is just as likely that Elizabeth was born somewhat later. As for her traditional birthplace of Grafton, given the uncertainty of her year of birth and her father’s responsibilities abroad, it is possible that she was born on another one of her family’s properties or even in France.

Beyond her first marriage, little is known of Elizabeth’s youth. Both Edmund Hall and Sir Thomas More, writing in the sixteenth century, claimed that Elizabeth had served Margaret of Anjou as one of her ladies.3 At first glance, this appears to be confirmed by the records. An Isabel, Lady Grey, was among the English ladies sent in 1445 to escort Margaret to England,4 and an Elizabeth Grey, in her capacity as one of the queen’s ladies, received jewels from the queen in 1445–46, 1446–47, 1448–49, 1451–52, and 1452–53.5 ‘Isabel’ and ‘Elizabeth’ were often used interchangeably during this period, and it is possible that young Elizabeth Woodville had married her first husband, John Grey, as a child and thus was already known as Elizabeth or Isabella Grey. It is unlikely, however, that the lady named in Queen Margaret’s records was the Lancastrian queen’s successor. Little Elizabeth would have been a mere child in 1445–46, and therefore rather young to serve in the queen’s escort or to receive jewels from the queen. It is far more likely that the person referred to in Queen Margaret’s records is Elizabeth, ‘late the wife of Ralph Gray, knight, daily attendant on the queen’s person’, who received a protection on 27 June 1445. Alternatively, Elizabeth Grey could be Elizabeth Woodville’s own mother-in-law.6 It is still possible that Elizabeth did indeed serve Margaret, of course, given the favour her parents enjoyed with the queen, but it is more likely that she did so in the late 1450s, a period for which Margaret’s household records do not survive.

A story associated with Elizabeth’s youth but now largely discredited is that at some point, she was solicited by both Richard, Duke of York, and Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, to marry a Hugh John, who was in favour with the two noblemen. As George Smith has pointed out, however, the letters appear more likely to have been directed to a prosperous widow, Elizabeth Wodehille, than to the similarly named Elizabeth Woodville. Moreover, as David Baldwin notes, had Elizabeth Woodville been the prospective bride, the matchmaking duke and earl would have approached her father, not young Elizabeth herself.7

Like the date of her birth, the date of Elizabeth’s first marriage is unknown. Her spouse was John Grey, the son of Edward Grey, Lord Ferrers of Groby, and his wife, Elizabeth. Sir John Grey was aged 25 or more at the time of his father’s death in 1457, putting his birth year at around 1432 and making him a few years older than his bride.8 According to John Grey’s 1464 inquisition post-mortem, Thomas Grey, John Grey’s eldest son by Elizabeth Woodville, was 13 or more in 1464, which would put his birth date at 1451, but a 1492 inquisition post-mortem, that of his uncle Richard Woodville, names him as being 37 and more, putting his birth date at around 1455. The latter date seems more probable, in light of this document dated 8 January 1455:

    Letters patent from Richard, Duke of York, Earl of Ulster, Lord of Wigmore and Clare that Richard Castleford, cousin and heir of Richard Castleford, clerk has sworn in his presence that release made of manor of ‘Mew & Gyngjoyberdlaundry [Buttsbury]’, Essex to Edward Gray, Lord Ferrers, for the settling of a jointure on the son of Lord Ferrers and the daughter of Lord Rivers, is to be disavowed if found to be to the prejudice of Edward Ferrers of Tamworth.9

As jointure arrangements were being made for Elizabeth in January 1455, it is probable that she had recently married John Grey or was about to marry him, which would coincide neatly with a 1455 birth date for their first son. This boy was duly followed by another, Richard, whose birth year is unknown.

John Grey’s death at the second Battle of St Albans in 146110 left his young widow in difficult straits. Her mother-in-law, Lady Ferrers of Groby, had married Sir John Bourchier and was balking at the prospect of allowing Elizabeth to enjoy her jointure of 100 marks, consisting of the manors of Woodham Ferrers in Essex and Brington, and New Bottle in Northampton. Elizabeth and her father were obliged to go to chancery to recover her jointure, and apparently succeeded.11

Elizabeth also had the inheritance of her oldest son, Thomas, to safeguard, and this proved a more difficult task, so much so that Elizabeth needed assistance. Although her father had been made a member of Edward’s council in 1463,12 the erstwhile Lancastrian must not have been sufficiently influential to be of much help. Elizabeth, therefore, chose a much more powerful ally: William, Lord Hastings, Edward IV’s long-time companion and close friend. On 13 April 1464, Hastings and Elizabeth agreed that her eldest son, or his younger brother in the event of Thomas Grey’s death, would marry one of Hastings’s as-yet-unborn daughters or nieces. If any lands formerly belonging to Sir William Asteley, Sir John Grey’s late great-grandfather, or any of the inheritance of Lady Ferrers of Groby was recovered for Thomas or Richard Grey, half of the rents and profits while Thomas or Richard was under the age of 12 was to belong to Lord Hastings, half to Elizabeth. Lord Hastings was to pay Elizabeth 500 marks for the marriage, but if both of Elizabeth’s sons died or there was no female issue on Hastings’s side, Elizabeth was to pay Hastings 250 marks.13 J.R. Lander described the arrangement as a ‘very hard bargain’ from Elizabeth’s point of view.14

The arrangement never came to fruition, however, because soon Elizabeth had an even more important ally: Edward IV himself. When Edward and Elizabeth had first met is unknown. It is possible, but purely speculative, that they might have encountered each other on social occasions at court, one possible occasion being the Loveday festivities, when Elizabeth’s brother Anthony jousted before Henry and Margaret. The Burgundian chronicler, Waurin, claimed that it was Edward’s infatuation with Elizabeth which led to her father’s and brother Anthony’s pardon in 1461, while Caspar Weinrich, writing from Danzig, claimed that Edward fell in love with Elizabeth ‘when he dined with her frequently’.15 Thomas More, writing years after the fact, claimed that Elizabeth met Edward when she petitioned him to have her jointure returned to her.16 The traditional, and virtually unshakeable, story has it that Elizabeth, knowing that Edward was hunting nearby, took her two sons and waited under an oak tree in the forest of Whittlebury. When the king came across this affecting tableau of the widow and her little boys, Elizabeth knelt at his feet and begged for the restoration of her children’s inheritance, winning the king’s heart in the process.17

Wherever and however the couple met, both the king and Elizabeth would have liked what they saw. Dominic Mancini describes Edward as captivated by Elizabeth’s ‘beauty of person and charm of manner’, while the author of Hearne’s Fragment wrote of her ‘constant womanhood, wisdom and beauty’.18 Her portraits, even if all copies of an original, amply bear out contemporary descriptions of her good looks, although no more than broad generalisations about her appearance were recorded by her contemporaries. Even her hair colour is uncertain. The chronicler, Hall, writing years after her death, refers in passing to her ‘fair hair’, which is difficult to confirm from the sliver of hair visible in Elizabeth’s portraits.19 Manuscript illustrations invariably show Elizabeth as a golden blonde, but as J.L. Laynesmith has noted, queens were generally depicted in this manner.20 What can be dismissed is the famed description of Elizabeth’s ‘silver-gilt’ hair: this appears to be the invention of the novelist Josephine Tey, whose fanciful description was picked up by subsequent novelists and even by popular historians.21

For her part, Elizabeth saw a young man ‘in the flower of his age, tall of stature, [and] elegant of person’.22 In 1789, a measurement of his skeleton found Edward IV to be 6ft 3½in; the hair found by his skull was brown, as it is in contemporary portraits.23 Even if the tall, handsome 22-year-old in question was not the most powerful man in England, a woman might have found it difficult to resist the lure of his bed.

Yet Elizabeth, if two accounts written during her lifetime can be believed, did just that. According to Antonio Cornazzano, an Italian writing no later than 1468, Elizabeth refused to become Edward’s mistress and was ultimately rewarded for her virtue by becoming his queen; the virtuous Elizabeth brought a dagger to the meeting, with which she threatened to slay herself rather than to sacrifice her virtue.24 Dominic Mancini, writing in 1483, has the king wielding the dagger:

    [W]hen the king first fell in love with her beauty of person and charm of manner, he could not corrupt her virtue by gifts or menaces. The story runs that when Edward placed a dagger at her throat, to make her submit to his passion, she remained unperturbed and determined to die rather than live unchastely with the king. Whereupon Edward coveted her much the more, and he judged the lady worthy to be a royal spouse who could not be overcome in her constancy even by an infatuated king.25

Thomas More, writing in the next century, omitted the dagger altogether but otherwise gave a similar account:

    [S]he showed him plain that as she wist herself too simple to be his wife, so thought she herself too good to be his concubine. The king, much marvelling of her constance, as that had not been wont elsewhere to be so stiffly said nay, so much esteemed her continence and chastity that he set her virtue in the stead of possession and riches.26

Other accounts simply have Edward falling in love, without first hazarding Elizabeth’s virtue. Gregory’s Chronicle put the matter most succinctly: ‘Now take heed what love may do, for love will not nor may not cast no fault nor peril in nothing’.27 (An alternative view, that Jacquetta promoted her daughter’s marriage through witchcraft, shall be dealt with in Chapter 5.) It has even been suggested that Edward married Elizabeth because she had fallen pregnant, leading Edward to ‘seize the opportunity for a son and heir’,28but it is difficult to imagine that the Woodvilles’ later enemies would have missed the opportunity to charge Elizabeth with unchaste living had there been the slightest hint that she had indulged in premarital sex with Edward.

Those chronicles that give a date for Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage each specify the same one: 1 May. This date is compatible with the known movements of Edward, who was at Stony Stratford the night of 30 April 1464 and could have made an excursion to and from Grafton that morning, as claimed by Fabyan in the sixteenth century:

    [I]n most secret manner, upon the first day of May, King Edward spoused Elizabeth […] which spousals were solemnised early in the morning at a town called Grafton, near Stony Stratford; at which marriage were no persons present but the spouse, the spousess, the Duchess of Bedford her mother, the priest, two gentlewomen, and a young man to help the priest sing. After which spousals ended, he went to bed, and so tarried there three or four hours, and after departed and rode again to Stony Stratford, and came as though he had been hunting, and there went to bed again. And within a day or two after, he sent to Grafton to the Lord Rivers, father unto his wife, showing to him he would come and lodge with him a certain season, where he was received with all honour, and so tarried there by the space of four days. In which season, she nightly to his bed was brought, in so secret manner, that almost none but her mother was of counsel.29

Several historians, however, have questioned the May Day date. As David Baldwin notes, ‘The idea of a young, handsome king marrying for love on Mayday may have been borrowed from romantic tradition’.30 J.L. Laynesmith agreed that ‘1 May is a suspiciously apt day for a young king to marry for love. May had long been the month associated with love, possibly originating in pre-Christian celebrations of fertility and certainly celebrated in the poetry of the troubadours’.31 Moreover, there are documentary reasons to be wary of the May Day date. On 10 August 1464, Edward signed a document giving Hastings the wardship of Thomas Grey. Wardships were lucrative commodities; if Elizabeth was already married to the king, it seems likely, as Michael Hicks has pointed out, that she would have asked to keep the wardship for herself. Furthermore, on 30 August 1464, Edward granted the county of Chester to his brother George, Duke of Clarence, apparently in his capacity as heir apparent. Such a grant would seem unnecessary if Edward had just married a lady who could be expected to provide him with an heir of his own body.32

Whether the couple were married on May Day or later, the scant record does bear out Hall’s claim that a priest was present at the wedding. A Master John Eborall, whose church of Paulspury was close to Grafton and Stony Stratford, is said to have offered in 1471 to intercede in a land dispute involving the queen ‘supposing that he might have done good in the matter, forasmuch as he was then in favour because he married King Edward and Queen Elizabeth together’.33 A chronicle known as Hearne’s Fragment adds that the priest who married the couple was buried at the high altar of the Minories in London, but leaves a blank space for the man’s name.34

Whoever performed the ceremony kept it quiet until September 1464, when Edward IV himself announced the marriage to his council at Reading. There is no doubt that the reaction was one of pure shock. English kings had traditionally chosen high-born, foreign virgins for their queens: Elizabeth was an English commoner and a widow with two children. Although Edward III’s son Edward, known as the Black Prince, had shocked his family in the last century by choosing an English widow with a tangled marital history, Joan of Kent, for his bride, Joan at least was a granddaughter of Edward I. In any case, the Black Prince had predeceased his father, preventing Joan from becoming a queen consort.

According to Gregory’s Chronicle, the king announced his marriage only when his council urged him to find a foreign bride. We can only speculate on Edward’s reasons for keeping the marriage secret, although if the couple married after August instead of in May, the delay of weeks rather than of months in announcing the marriage is less problematic. It has been suggested, in light of later allegations of a prior marriage (see Chapter 11),35 that Edward entered the marriage with the thought of disavowing it once he had accomplished the feat of bedding Elizabeth, but other than a hint in Fabyan (‘how after he would have refused her’)36 the chroniclers do not suggest this. Moreover, Edward’s subsequent generosity to Elizabeth’s family was hardly what one would expect of a man who felt that he had been trapped into acknowledging his marriage.

If Edward had delayed announcing his marriage because he knew it would incite controversy, he certainly was correct. Albrico Malleta, Milanese Ambassador in France, wrote on 5 October 1464 that the match had ‘greatly offended the people of England’, while the Crowland Chronicler, writing some years later, wrote, ‘This [the marriage] the nobility and chief men of the kingdom took amiss, seeing that he had with such immoderate haste promoted a person sprung from a comparatively humble lineage, to share the throne with him’.37 Dominic Mancini, an Italian observer during the fraught summer of 1483, wrote that by Edward’s marriage:

    not only did he alienate the nobles with whom he afterwards waged war, but he also offended most bitterly the members of his own house. Even his mother fell into such a frenzy that she offered to submit to a public enquiry and asserted that Edward was not the offspring of her husband the Duke of York but was conceived in adultery and therefore in no way worthy of the honour of kingship.38

As J.R. Lander has pointed out, though, many of the English accounts were written after Edward’s relationship with his nobles had soured, when it was natural to look for an explanation of the breakdown and find it in Edward’s unconventional marriage. Also to be considered, as Anne Crawford observes, is that while the nobility may have been displeased at the marriage, the average man of the shire may not have minded an English queen, particularly after Henry VI’s marriage to Margaret of Anjou had had such disastrous results. The household book of John, Lord Howard, contains a draft letter in John’s own hand, addressed to either Lord Rivers or his son, Anthony, in which Howard states that he had spoken to many people in Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex about the marriage and that only one opposed it.39

The person supposedly most offended by the marriage (aside from, presumably, the groom’s mother) was Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who had been instrumental in helping Edward IV gain his crown. It used to be claimed that Warwick’s anger arose because he had been made to appear a fool, having negotiated abroad in good faith for a foreign marriage which Edward knew could never take place because of his Woodville match. Fortunately for Warwick’s pride, however, this is not borne out by the evidence. As A.L. Brown and Bruce Webster concluded after examining the records, there is no evidence that Warwick was employed as an ambassador abroad in the summer of 1464; instead, he was in the less glamorous environs of the north of England.40 His true cause for dissatisfaction probably lay in the fact that Edward had not confided in his close advisers, as a friend of Warwick, John, Lord Wenlock, pointed out in a letter to a French correspondent, and that he had thrown away the opportunity for a strategic marriage.41

Elizabeth, however, had been wedded and bedded, so the council had to accept this fait accompli; as Wenlock said, ‘We must be patient despite ourselves’. There was nothing to do but to smile when on Michaelmas Day, 29 September 1464, the king formally presented his new bride to his subjects, or at least as many of them who could gather in and around Reading Abbey. There ‘Lady Elizabeth was admitted into the abbey church, led by the Duke of Clarence and the Earl of Warwick, and honoured as queen by the lords and all the people’.42 For a few weeks, the couple remained at Reading, no doubt enjoying the usual pleasures of newlyweds.43

If the marriage brought Edward neither wealth nor useful foreign alliances, it did bring him a host of new relations, whose futures now became the subject of royal attention. Elizabeth had five brothers, Anthony, Richard, John, Lionel, and Edward, and six sisters, Jacquetta, Anne, Mary, Margaret, Joan (or Jane), and Katherine. Anthony had married Elizabeth, the heiress of Thomas, Lord Scales, who had been murdered in 1460 by London boatmen after holding the Tower against Warwick’s men following the Battle of Northampton. Jacquetta had married John Strange, Lord Strange of Knokyn, by 27 March 1450, when the manor of Midlyngton in Oxford was granted to the couple by John’s mother, Elizabeth.44 The rest of the siblings, however, were unmarried, as were Elizabeth’s sons.

Edward IV and Elizabeth were still at Reading when Edward arranged the marriage of his new sister-in-law Margaret to Thomas, Lord Maltravers, the heir of Thomas William Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel. The couple were married by 17 February 1466, when John Wykes wrote to John Paston II that Arundel’s son had married the queen’s sister.45 Anne Woodville married Henry Bourchier, the heir of William Bourchier, Earl of Essex, around February 1466; on 15 August 1467, she and her husband received lands worth £100 a year.46 Also around February 1466, Joan Woodville married Anthony Grey, the eldest son of Edmund, Lord Grey of Ruthin, who had deserted to the Yorkists at Northampton and who had been made the Earl of Kent on 30 May 1465.47 Mary Woodville followed her sisters into matrimony in September 1466 at Windsor Castle. Her groom was William Herbert, Lord Dunster, the eldest son of a Welsh baron, also named William Herbert. The elder William was made Earl of Pembroke in 1468. The marriage indenture for Mary and the younger William was made on 20 March 1466.48 The grand prize in this marital sweepstakes went to Elizabeth’s youngest sister, Katherine, who married Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, a royal ward. Although the anonymous chronicler the pseudo-William Worcester lumps Katherine’s marriage as taking place the same time as those of her sisters Anne and Joan in February 1466, Katherine may have been married around May 1465, as she is given the title of Duchess of Buckingham at her sister’s coronation that month and played a prominent role there, in the company of her fellow duchesses.49

Only one of Elizabeth’s unmarried brothers, John, gained a wife as a result of his sister’s marriage, but John’s marriage generated so much controversy by itself so as to supply the rest. The 20-year-old John’s new bride was Katherine Neville, Duchess of Norfolk, who was well into her 60s. The pseudo-William Worcester, who gloomily recorded each of the Woodville marriages, reserved most of his spleen for this match, which took place in January 1465. He called it the ‘maritagium diabolicum’ – the diabolical marriage.50

Thomas Grey, Elizabeth’s oldest son, gained a bride as well – Lady Anne, the only child of Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter, and his estranged duchess, another Anne. The Duchess of Exeter was Edward IV’s sister; the Duke of Exeter, who had never got on with his father-in-law the Duke of York, was a staunch Lancastrian who was living in exile abroad. Young Lady Anne had been slated to marry Warwick’s nephew George, the son of John Neville, Earl of Northumberland. The queen paid the duchess 4,000 marks for the marriage, which took place in October 1466 at Greenwich.51

How controversial were these marriages? The pseudo-William Worcester indicated that the Buckingham marriage was to the ‘secret displeasure of the Earl of Warwick’ and that Thomas Grey’s marriage to Lady Anne was ‘to the great and secret displeasure of the Earl of Warwick, for a marriage was previously bespoken between the said Lady Anne and the son of […] Warwick’s brother’.52 (One wonders how secret Warwick’s displeasure actually was.) Warwick, who had no sons and two young daughters, had obvious reasons for resenting the marriage of the wealthy young Buckingham, who would have made an excellent catch for one of his own girls. Moreover, the heirs to the earldoms of Kent, Arundel, and Essex had also been snapped up by the Woodvilles. This would not have been a problem if the king had been willing to let Warwick’s daughters marry the king’s brothers, George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, but Edward preferred to keep his younger brothers in reserve, perhaps, with what must have seemed to Warwick to be maddening inconsistency, for the foreign princesses that Edward himself had cheerfully bypassed.53 Warwick also had good reason to feel displeasure over the loss of his nephew’s bride, although later Edward attempted to rectify matters by promising George Neville to his own firstborn, Elizabeth of York.

As for the Duchess of Norfolk, she was the aunt of both Warwick and the king. First married to John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, she had subsequently married Sir Thomas Strangways and John, Viscount Beaumont; the Strangways marriage had been without royal licence. Since Norfolk’s death in 1432, she had been enjoying much of the family estates, thanks to her jointure and doubtless to the dismay of the Norfolk heirs. The duchess did not scruple to dower her daughter by Strangways with some of the Mowbray and Beaumont lands.54 Clearly the point of the match with the duchess was to give John a handsome income, and Warwick may have regarded the match as exploitation of his aged aunt, as suggested by Charles Ross,55 but nothing indicates what the old lady herself thought of the match. She may have enjoyed the company of the young man, or may have relished the thought of putting yet one more obstacle between her estates and her heirs. Nothing suggests that she was a woman easily cowed. After John’s death, a Humphrey Gentille, attempting to settle an account owed to him by John, brought a chancery suit in which he claimed that ‘the great might of the said lady’ was preventing him from collecting his debt.56

One other specific person is said to have resented this burst of matchmaking: the Duke of Buckingham, Katherine Woodville’s groom. According to Dominic Mancini, writing in 1483 after Richard III had taken the throne with the aid of Buckingham, Buckingham ‘had his own reasons for detesting the queen’s kin: for, when he was younger, he had been forced to marry the queen’s sister, whom he scorned to wed on account of her humble origin’.57 While this may or may not be true (no one bothered to record the thoughts of Buckingham, then a mere child, in 1465–66), as J.R. Lander has noted, there are good reasons not to take the comment at face value, given the anti-Woodville propaganda that was being circulated by Richard III at the time.58 Moreover, as Carole Rawcliffe points out, it is perhaps because of this royal connection that Buckingham was allowed to enter his inheritance three years before he came of age and to recover the lordship of Cantref Selyf, which made him £3,000 the richer.59 His Stafford relations do not appear to have resented the match: Henry’s grandmother, the dowager Duchess of Buckingham, would later play a prominent role at Elizabeth Woodville’s coronation, bearing the queen’s train.60 In 1470, the duchess lent the queen money after Edward IV was forced to flee the country.61 The duchess’s second husband, Walter Blount, Lord Mountjoy, and her two surviving sons, Buckingham’s uncles, would prove loyal to Edward IV in 1470–71.

As for the families of the other grooms, Michael Hicks has laid great emphasis on the material inducements Edward offered to them.62 It would surely, however, have been commented upon disapprovingly had the king not offered some sweeteners as part of the marriage negotiations. Since none of the spouses, except for Buckingham in later life, is known to have complained of his or her lot, the arrangements must have been satisfactory to those concerned.

Other than marriage, Elizabeth’s siblings made some smaller gains from their sister’s marriage. John became the queen’s master of the horse for which he received £40 per year, while Anne, Lady Bourchier, headed the list of Elizabeth’s ladies and also received £40 per annum. Anthony Woodville’s wife also served Elizabeth at that salary.63 In 1468, following the death of the prior of the Knights Hospitaller (the Order of St John of Jerusalem), Edward IV tried to get the order to accept Elizabeth’s brother John as his replacement, but the order, presumably not wanting an outsider in their ranks, elected John Langstrother instead.64

While the Woodville sisters were being married off, plans were underway for Elizabeth’s coronation, which took place on 26 May 1465. The ceremonies began on Friday 24 May, when London’s mayor, aldermen, and guild members went to meet the queen at Shooters Hill. From there they conducted her to the Tower, as was traditional. At London Bridge, Elizabeth was greeted by a man dressed as St Paul, most likely a reference to Elizabeth’s St Pol ancestry, and by another person dressed as St Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. Mary Cleopas, the half-sister of the Virgin Mary, also stood upon the bridge along with her four sons.65

As was customary, the king had summoned a number of boys and men to be made Knights of the Bath, a ceremony which most likely took place on Saturday, following ritual baths and a night vigil on Friday. Among the new knights were Richard and John Woodville, two of Elizabeth’s brothers, and William Haute, Lord Rivers’s nephew by his sister Joan. The Woodville grooms were also well represented: the Duke of Buckingham, Lord Maltravers, and Anthony, Lord Grey of Ruthin. That Saturday afternoon, Elizabeth rode from the Tower to Westminster, passing through Cheapside and preceded by the newly made knights. Most likely, as did queens before and after her, she wore white cloth of gold and sat in a litter draped with the same material, her hair worn down.

On the following day, Sunday, the king’s brother, George, Duke of Clarence, rode into Westminster Hall on horseback, his horse trapped from head to hoof with a richly embroidered cloth garnished with gold spangles. Behind him rode the Earl of Arundel and the Duke of Norfolk (John Woodville’s step-grandson), both on coursers trapped in cloth of gold extending to the ground. The three noblemen rode about the hall, keeping the spectators from pressing against the queen as she entered the hall.

Preceded by the Abbot of Westminster and walking under a canopy carried by the four barons of the Cinque Ports, the queen wore a purple mantle and a coronal upon her head. She carried the sceptre of St Edward in her right hand and the sceptre of the realm in her left. The elder Duchess of Buckingham bore the queen’s train, while the Bishop of Durham walked at the queen’s right hand and the Bishop of Salisbury on her left. Following the queen were the queen’s mother and two of Edward’s sisters, Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk, and the unmarried Lady Margaret.

Covering the path from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey was a carpet of ray cloth, upon which the queen walked barefoot (or perhaps in her stockinged feet). Before her walked the Archbishop of Canterbury and other bishops and abbots. Clarence, Arundel, and Norfolk, now on foot, had also joined the procession, along with the 9-year-old Duke of Buckingham, carried upon a squire’s shoulders. The king’s sisters and Jacquetta still followed the queen, along with Buckingham’s little duchess, who like her husband rode upon someone’s shoulders. These ladies and the rest of the thirteen duchesses and countesses wore robes of red velvet and ermine, while fourteen baronesses were clad in scarlet and miniver. Seven ladies of lesser rank followed in scarlet.

Having passed into the monastery and through its north door, Elizabeth knelt at the high altar, then prostrated herself while the archbishop prayed. Rising, she was anointed and crowned, then led to the throne.

After the royal procession left the abbey in the same order in which it had entered, the queen was led to her chamber, where she was dressed in a purple surcoat and brought into Westminster Hall to dine, with John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk (married to Edward’s sister Elizabeth) standing on her right hand while she washed and the Earl of Essex holding the royal sceptres. John de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, served the queen her water, while the Duke of Clarence held the basin. The Countesses of Shrewsbury and Kent knelt beside the queen, holding up a veil before her whenever she ate. Each time the queen took a bite, she herself removed her crown, putting it back when she was finished. The Archbishop of Canterbury sat at the queen’s right hand, the Duchess of Suffolk and the Lady Margaret on her left.

To cap off the ceremonies, on 27 May, a tournament was held at Westminster. Elizabeth’s brother, Anthony, must have surely appeared there, but the honours went to Lord Stanley, who was awarded a ruby ring.

Conspicuously absent from the coronation ceremonies was King Edward himself. This was not a snub but custom; Henry VI had been absent from Margaret of Anjou’s coronation, as Henry VII would be from Elizabeth of York’s and Henry VIII from Anne Boleyn’s. (Richard III was crowned with his queen, as was Henry VIII with Catherine of Aragon; both had married their brides before their own coronations.) It is possible that Edward IV was able to watch the ceremonies unobserved, as would Henry VII when his own queen was crowned.66 An equally conspicuous absence was that of the king’s mother, Cecily, Duchess of York. This may well have been a snub, but the duchess also missed her son Richard’s coronation in 1483. The Earl of Warwick was on an embassy to Burgundy. Jacques de Luxembourg, Jacquetta’s brother, came to the coronation as the representative of the Duke of Burgundy, which served the doubly pleasant purposes of allowing a kinsman of Elizabeth to see his niece crowned and of lending the event an international cachet.

Lord Rivers is not specifically named as taking place in the ceremonies; probably his rank was not sufficiently high or his role so prominent to merit comment. It is clear, though, that he was a proud father. Later he purchased a romance, Alexander, which, he wrote in its inscription, had been bought on the fifth anniversary of the coronation of Edward IV ‘et le second de la coronacion de la tres vertueuze royne Elizabeth’.67

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