Post-classical history

The Black Legend of the Woodvilles

Book title

Soon after her crowning, Elizabeth Woodville would have noticed another change in her life: she was pregnant. The child, another Elizabeth, was born on 11 February 1466 at Westminster Palace. The birth of the king’s first legitimate child served to lure even the baby’s paternal grandmother, Cecily, Duchess of York, to court, where she and the Duchess of Bedford (smiling hard, one imagines) served as the child’s godmothers at the christening at Westminster Abbey. The Earl of Warwick (also smiling hard, one imagines) did duty as the child’s godfather. The elder Duchess of Buckingham served as the child’s godmother at the confirmation.1 Over the next few years, Elizabeth gave birth to two more daughters: Mary, born at Windsor shortly before her baptism there on 12 August 1467, and Cecily, born at Westminster on 20 March 1469.2 The birth of Cecily, the queen’s third daughter, prompted a Milanese ambassador to write that the queen ‘gave birth to a very handsome daughter, which rejoiced the king and all the nobles exceedingly, though they would have preferred a son’.3

It is not for her fecundity in the 1460s, however, that Elizabeth is remembered. Three events that occurred during this period – a churching, an execution, and a trial – have marred her reputation, so much so that they deserve a chapter to themselves.

Following childbirth, a medieval mother was expected to remain in her chamber for about a month, after which a purification/thanksgiving service known as a ‘churching’ would mark her return to public life. For a medieval queen, a churching was a particularly grand event. An observer from Nuremburg, Gabriel Tetzel, travelling in the suite of Leo of Rozmital, a Bohemian nobleman, happened to be on hand in 1466 to witness Elizabeth’s. He reported:

    The Queen left her child-bed and went to church in stately order, accompanied by many priests bearing relics and by many scholars singing and carrying lights. There followed a great company of ladies and maidens from the country and from London, who had been summoned. Then came a great company of trumpeters, pipers and players of stringed instruments. The king’s choir followed, forty-two of them, who sang excellently. Then came twenty-four heralds and pursuivants, followed by sixty counts and knights. At last came the Queen escorted by two dukes. Above her was a canopy. Behind her were her mother and maidens and ladies to the number of sixty. Then the Queen heard the singing of an Office, and, having left the church, she returned to her palace in procession as before. Then all who had joined the procession remained to eat. They sat down, women and men, ecclesiastical and lay, each according to rank, and filled four great rooms.4

Rozmital and Tetzel went into a separate hall with England’s noblest lords ‘at the table where the King and his court are accustomed to dine’. There an unnamed earl, quite possibly Warwick, sat in the king’s place and was shown all of the honour customarily shown to the king. The breathless Tetzel reported, ‘Everything was supplied for the Earl, as representing the King, and for my lord [Rozmital] in such costly measure that it is unbelievable that it could be provided’.

Having finished dining, the earl conducted Rozmital and his attendants ‘to an unbelievably costly apartment where the Queen was preparing to eat’. There, Tetzel, watching from an alcove so that his lord ‘could observe the great splendour’, noted:

    The Queen sat alone at table on a costly golden chair. The Queen’s mother and the King’s sister had to stand some distance away. When the Queen spoke with her mother or the King’s sister, they knelt down before her until she had drunk water. Not until the first dish was set before the Queen could the Queen’s mother and the King’s sister be seated. The ladies and maidens and all who served the Queen at table were all of noble birth and had to kneel so long as the Queen was eating. The meal lasted for three hours. The food which was served to the Queen, the Queen’s mother, the King’s sister and the others was most costly. Much might be written of it. Everyone was silent and not a word was spoken. My lord and his attendants stood the whole time in the alcove and looked on.

        After the banquet they commenced to dance. The Queen remained seated in her chair. Her mother knelt before her, but at times the Queen bade her rise. The King’s sister danced a stately dance with two dukes, and this, and the courtly reverence they paid to the Queen, was such as I have never seen elsewhere, nor have I ever seen such exceedingly beautiful maidens. Among them were eight duchesses and thirty countesses and the others were all daughters of influential men.

For the Woodvilles’ modern detractors, this grand, silent meal, where even the queen’s mother and the king’s sister were obliged to kneel, epitomises the queen’s vanity and the social climber’s insecurity. Tetzel’s editor, even while acknowledging that silence at meals at the time was not unusual, commented that Elizabeth’s ‘head must have been turned by her sudden elevation in rank’.5 This, however, was no ordinary family dinner but a grand occasion for the royal family, marking Elizabeth’s safe delivery of the king’s first legitimate child. Notably, nothing in Tetzel’s account suggests that he found Elizabeth’s conduct repellent; he seems to have been merely a fascinated observer, just as he was when he witnessed the unnamed earl dining in royal state. Certainly nothing indicates that the queen was always surrounded by such solemn pomp; to the contrary, Louis de Bruges (Lodewijk van Gruuthuse), visiting the court a few years later, recorded his own account of his visit to the queen’s chamber and of the ‘pleasant sight’ of the queen and her ladies playing games and dancing.6

If the queen’s churching has fuelled unfair comments about the queen’s hauteur and social insecurity, the next episode had led to far more serious allegations against the queen – murder. This story rises from the execution of Thomas Fitzgerald, the Earl of Desmond, at Drogheda in February 1468 under the direction of John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, who was Edward IV’s deputy governor in Ireland. For reasons which remain murky,7 Desmond, along with his brother-in-law the Earl of Kildare (who was also named Thomas Fitzgerald) and an Edward Plunkett, had been attainted of treason in the Irish Parliament at Drogheda. Desmond and Kildare, who had attended Parliament, were arrested there, and Desmond was executed several days later. Desmond’s brother, Garret of Desmond, gathered together an army. With the help of Sir Roland FitzEustace, who had been accused of urging Desmond to crown himself King of Ireland, Kildare escaped from prison in Dublin and joined Garret’s forces. This combined strength forced the hand of Worcester, who was obliged to accept Kildare and FitzEustace back into his favour.8

None of this would seem on the surface to have anything to do with Elizabeth Woodville, and indeed, no contemporary – not even Elizabeth’s enemies – accused Elizabeth Woodville of having a hand in Desmond’s death. In the public outcry in Ireland that greeted the execution of the earl, Elizabeth was never mentioned. Rather, the story of the earl’s execution, and Elizabeth’s supposed role in it, did not make an appearance until the sixteenth century. The first source for the story is this memorandum allegedly presented to Henry VIII’s privy council by James FitzJohn Fitzgerald, Earl of Desmond, Thomas’s grandson:

    So it is that this Earl’s grandfather was brought up in the King’s house, and being well learned in all manner of sciences and an eloquent poet, as the author affirmeth, was in singular favour with his Highness, so far forth that his grace took much pleasure and delight in his talk. And upon a day being in chase a hunting, his Majesty questioned with him, and amongst other things said, ‘Sir cousin O’Desmound, for as much as I have you in secret trust, above others, and that ye are a man who doth both see and hear many things, as well in my court as elsewhere abroad, which shall not perchance be brought to mine ears, I pray you tell me what do you hear spoken by me?’ To the which he answered his Highness and said, ‘If it like your Grace, nothing but honour and much nobility.’ The King, nevertheless, not satisfied with that answer, demanded of him again, three or four several times, what he had heard; and willed him frankly to declare the truth, not hiding one jot thereof from his knowledge; whereunto the said Earl made answer as he did before. At the last his Majesty, wading still in that communication as most desirous to grope the full, required him, for that he took him to be not only a man of a singular wit, but of a long experience and judgment withal, and none within this realm in whom he had more affiance, to declare his own opinion, and what he himself thought of him. To the which the said Earl lowly made answer and said, ‘If it shall please your Grace to pardon me and not to be offended with that I shall say, I assure you I find no fault in any manner of thing, saving only that your Grace hath too much abased your princely estate in marrying a lady of so mean a house and parentile; which, though it be perchance agreeable to your lusts, yet not so much to the security of your realm and subjects.’ Whereunto his Majesty immediately condescended, and said that he had spoken most true and discreetly.

        Not long after, the said Earl having licence to depart into his country and remaining in Ireland, it chanced that the said King and the Queen his wife, upon some occasion fell at words, insomuch that his Grace braste out and said: ‘Well I perceive now that true it is that my cousin, the Earl of Desmond, told me at such a time when we two communed secretly together;’ which saying his Majesty, then in his melancholy, declared unto her; whereupon her Grace being not a little moved, and conceiving upon those words a grudge in her heart against the said Earl, found such mean as letters were devised under the King’s privy seal, and directed to the Lord Justice or governor of the realm of Ireland, commanding him in all haste to send for the said Earl, dissembling some earnest matter of consultation with him touching the state of the same realm, and at his coming to object such matter, and to lay such things to his charge, as should cause him to lose his head.

        According to which commandment the said Lord Justice addressed forth his messenger to the said Earl of Desmond, and by his letters signifying the King’s pleasure willed him with all diligence to make his repair unto him and others of the King’s Council; who, immediately setting all other business apart, came to them to the town of Droughedda, accompanied like a nobleman with eighteen score horsemen, well appointed after a civil English sort, being distant from his own country above 200 miles. Where without long delay or sufficient matter brought against him, after the order of his Majesty’s laws, the said Lord Justice (the rest of the Council being nothing privy to the conclusion) caused him to be beheaded, signifying to the common people for a cloak, that most heinous treasons were justified against him in England, and so justly condemned to die. Upon which murder and fact committed, the King’s Majesty being advertised thereof, and declaring himself to be utterly ignorant of the said Earl’s death, sent with all possible speed into Ireland for the said Lord Justice; whom, after he had well examined and known the considerations and circumstances of his beheading, he caused to be put to a very cruel and shameful death, according to his desert, and for satisfaction and pacifying the said Earl’s posterity, who by this execrable deed were wonderfully mated, and in manner brought to rebel against the sovereign lord and King.9

There are a couple of reasons that this memorandum should be treated with caution. First, although Annette Carson and John Ashdown-Hill used the petition to bolster their argument that Elizabeth was indeed behind Desmond’s execution, they point out that the editor of the Calendar of the Carew Manuscripts, in which the memorandum appears, gives no source for it. They themselves were unable to find the original document.10 Is it possible, then, that the document is not what it purports to be; was a fabrication foisted upon an unsuspecting editor?

Second, Desmond was in England in 1464, though not on a pleasure visit: he and William Sherwood, Bishop of Meath, had quarrelled, resulting in the killing of nine of the bishop’s followers, and both men went to England to put their cases before the king. Art Cosgrove notes that the period that Desmond spent in England cannot be precisely dated, but he was granted an annuity by the king, who was at Woodstock, on 25 August 1464.11 Edward IV did not announce his marriage to Elizabeth until the end of September 1464. While it is possible that Desmond was still in England in September to be sounded by the king about public opinion of him, there is no proof of this. Nor is there any evidence, other than the allegation in this story, that Edward and Desmond were close friends. Edward had a boon companion, William, Lord Hastings, who would have been a far likelier candidate to canvas public opinion if this was what the king wanted. No doubt the king’s mother would have also been happy to pass along any negative feedback about her son’s unconventional marriage.

Carson and Ashdown-Hill also point out that James FitzJohn, the author of the memorandum, was Desmond’s grandson and could have heard the story of Elizabeth Woodville’s involvement in his grandfather’s execution from close family members.12 This is certainly possible, but it does not explain how the Desmond family in Ireland could have learned of the quarrel between Edward and Elizabeth and of Elizabeth’s underhanded use of the privy seal, a scenario which somehow escaped the attention of all of the English chroniclers and all of the Woodvilles’ enemies.

The memorandum also conveniently ignores the arrest of the Earl of Kildare, which took place at the same time as Desmond’s for reasons no source has ever attributed to malice on Elizabeth Woodville’s part. Clearly, including Kildare’s arrest would have undermined the memorandum’s claim that Desmond’s arrest and death were motivated by Elizabeth’s private spite rather than by the political situation in Ireland. Finally, the memorandum’s statement that Edward IV, shocked by Desmond’s execution, caused the Lord Justice (i.e. Tiptoft) to ‘be put to a very cruel and shameful death’ is a gross error, despite Ashdown-Hill and Carson’s attempt to gloss over it as merely a popular misconception.13 Tiptoft was not executed until 1470, and it was not the exiled Edward IV but the Earl of Warwick, then governing for the restored Henry VI, who ordered Tiptoft’s death. Attributing the execution order to the right man would have undercut the memorandum’s claim that Edward IV was outraged by Tiptoft’s (and supposedly Elizabeth’s) actions.

The second source for Elizabeth’s involvement is the Book of Howth, also from the sixteenth century. It reads:

    John Typtofe, Earl of Worcester, being Lord Lieutenant in Ireland, the queen, King Edward’s wife, did hear say and credently was informed that the Earl of Warwick and the Earl of Desmond was greatly offended and also was grieved with the marriage of the queen, and said openly that better it were for the king to follow his friends’ counsel, which went about to prepare for him a convenient and a meet marriage, not inconvenient for his estate, rather than to marry a traitor’s wife, which thing at length said they were assured should come to an evil end and a success. The queen, offended with these sayings, often did move the king thereof, which little he did regard, considering it was spoken for the very love they bare to their assured friend and prince.

        When that the queen did so perceive that the king did make no more account thereof, she sought all the means she could to bring the earl of Desmond to confusion. She feigned a letter which the king should have sent to the Earl of Worcester, being in Ireland, and she, resting with the king in his bed at night, did rise before day, and conveyed his privy signet which was in the king’s purche and did assign the letter withall, and after went to bed: within which letter was the earl of Desmond should have been apprehended and taken, and his head struck off as sample of other which rebelliously would talk of the queen as he did; which in fact was done accordingly, and so executed at Dublin, then being called thereunto for a parliament for the foresaid cause.14

Having claimed that the Earl of Worcester then proceeded to execute two of Desmond’s sons, the Book of Howth concludes, ‘After that the king did hear thereof, being much offended therewith, did send for the Earl of Worcester and, for that and other thing[s], did cause the said Earl to be executed’. As with the memorandum quoted earlier, the Book of Howth falsely claims that Edward IV executed John Tiptoft; it also erroneously states that Desmond was executed at Dublin. Again, we are left in the dark as to how the Irish writer learned of Elizabeth’s nocturnal signet-stealing while no one in England observed this; again, no mention is made of the arrests of other men, probably because such information would unduly complicate matters by suggesting that Desmond was the victim of events in Ireland rather than of any wrath of the queen.

There are other reasons to doubt the Desmond story. While Edward may have been taken by surprise when Tiptoft executed Desmond, there are no signs that the king was displeased with Tiptoft’s actions more than temporarily. The pseudo-William Worcester states only that Edward was ‘initially displeased’, and, as Cosgrove notes, it is ‘difficult to find any manifestation of that displeasure’.15 To the contrary, as Tiptoft’s biographer R.J. Mitchell points out, Edward served as godfather to Tiptoft’s son, who was born on 14 July 1469, and gave a gilt cup as a christening present. When Tiptoft, having remained loyal to Edward during the debacle of 1469, was recalled to England in 1470, Edward ‘pressed upon him offices and grants of lands and wardships as never before, and, in short, showed every sign of delight in welcoming him home’.16

If Edward was ‘initially displeased’ with Tiptoft following Desmond’s execution, there is no sign at all that he was displeased with Elizabeth, as one might reasonably expect a king to be with an upstart queen consort who had gone behind his back to order the execution of one of his subjects. Indeed, in his will of 1475, Edward IV named Elizabeth as the first of his ten executors and referred to her as ‘our said dearest Wife in whom we most singularly put our trust’.17 Even though seven years had passed since Desmond’s execution, being tricked by Elizabeth in such an outrageous manner was not the sort of breach of trust that would have been easily forgotten with the passage of time.

Finally, when Warwick executed Tiptoft in 1470, Edward IV was in exile and Elizabeth Woodville in sanctuary. Earlier that year, in suppressing a Warwick-inspired mutiny in Southampton, Tiptoft had acquired a thoroughly unpleasant name for himself by his horrific treatment of the dead bodies of the executed rebels: following the men’s deaths by hanging, drawing, quartering, and beheading, the bodies were ‘hanged up by the legs, and a stake made sharp at both ends, whereof one end was put in at buttocks, and the other end their heads were put up one’. Warkworth claimed, ‘and ever afterward the Earl of Worcester was greatly behatede among the people, for the disordinate death that he used’.18 Given this popular hatred, Tiptoft’s execution in 1470 would have been an excellent time for Warwick, by now an open enemy of the Woodville family, to have tied Elizabeth’s name to Tiptoft’s by mentioning her complicity in Desmond’s execution. His failure to do so suggests that there was no complicity to mention.

The two sixteenth-century accounts in question, then, are hardly reliable sources on which to base a charge of murder against Elizabeth. In the last century, however, Paul Murray Kendall, a biographer of Richard III whose fervent admiration for his subject is matched only by his contempt for the Woodvilles, claimed to have found corroborating evidence in the form of a 1484 letter of instruction by Richard III. The letter in question was addressed to Thomas Barrett, Bishop of Annaghdown (rendered as ‘Enachden’ in the letter), who was to make diplomatic overtures to the new Earl of Desmond, James Fitzgerald, along with other Irish nobles and gentry. In this case, Richard III wanted to obtain the earl’s oath of allegiance; he was also particularly concerned that the earl had abandoned English dress in favour of Irish garb.19 The bishop, Richard wrote, was to offer James his regrets for the execution of his father sixteen years earlier:

    Also he shall show that albeit the father of the said earl, the king [i.e. Richard] then being of young age, was extorciously slain & murdered by colour of the laws within Ireland by certain persons then having the governance and rule there against all manhood Reason & good conscience, yet notwithstanding that the semblable chance was & happened within this Realm of England as well of his brother the duke of Clarence as other his nigh kinsmen and great friends, the king’s grace always continues and has inward compassion of the death of his said father, and is content that his said cousin now earl by all ordinate means and due course of the laws when it shall lust him at any time hereafter to sue or attempt for the punishment thereof.

The Woodvilles, as we shall see, were alleged by some to be behind the execution of George, Duke of Clarence, in 1478. Seizing on this, Kendall, relying on the words ‘semblable chance’, interpreted the letter of instructions to mean that ‘those responsible for [Desmond’s death in 1468] were the same ones who had wrought the ruin of the Duke of Clarence (i.e. the queen and her kindred)’.20

Kendall’s interpretation (followed by Ashdown-Hill and Carson) wreaks violence upon the English language: the phrase ‘semblable chance’ means ‘like chance’ and simply cannot be interpreted to mean ‘same people’. Moreover, far from suggesting that those who procured the death of Clarence were the same who procured Desmond’s death, Richard unequivocally states that Desmond was murdered ‘by colour of the laws within Ireland by certain persons then having the governance and rule there’. These ‘certain persons’ could not be Elizabeth or any other Woodville, none of whom had the governance and rule of Ireland. Richard’s reference to the Duke of Clarence, if it was anything other than simply a display of fellow feeling toward a nobleman who had lost relations due to political turmoil, was most likely simply an appeal to sentiment, as Clarence, who was born in Dublin, had been a popular figure in Ireland.21

Richard also authorised the younger Desmond to bring to justice those responsible for his father’s death. In building their case for Elizabeth’s guilt, Ashdown-Hill and Carson find this to be significant. Stating that there was ‘even an underlying sense that Richard is encouraging James to take action’, they muse, ‘we are left to ponder against whom the king had it mind for James to proceed. […] Edward IV and John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, were themselves dead. Elizabeth Woodville, on the other hand, was alive’.22 This rather ingenuously ignores the fact that although Worcester and Edward IV were dead, there might well have been underlings still alive to face the consequences of their masters’ actions in 1468.23 Moreover, if Richard did indeed want Desmond to take action, and believed that Elizabeth Woodville was the person responsible, it would have easy enough, and eminently sensible, for him to say so. Although it is true, as Ashdown-Hill and Carson point out, that the letter was only to be used as a memorandum of ‘talking points’ for the bishop’s guidance, it is quite detailed, as they themselves acknowledge.24 Surely, if Richard, who was not given to mincing words when it came to the Woodvilles, believed that Elizabeth Woodville was the person behind the elder Desmond’s death, he would have made certain that his envoy remembered to mention this point, instead of trusting it to memory.

Indeed, if Richard believed Elizabeth to be guilty of murder, why did he not proclaim this fact to the country at large? In the summer of 1483, Richard III was engaged in a smear campaign against the Woodvilles.25 Had there been evidence, or even simply a belief, that Elizabeth had orchestrated the murder of Desmond, Richard would surely have emphasised it, as it would have fitted in beautifully with his claims that Elizabeth and her kindred intended to murder Richard himself.

In the end, having received carte blanche from Richard to bring his father’s killers to justice, the younger Desmond did nothing, as far we can tell. He certainly did not proceed against Elizabeth for his father’s death, although Elizabeth during Richard’s reign was at her most vulnerable.

The story that Elizabeth procured Desmond’s death, in short, rests on mighty shaky ground.

This brings us to the affair of Sir Thomas Cook, for which some backtracking is necessary. The year 1466 had proven a good one for Lord Rivers, who in addition to gaining a royal granddaughter was appointed treasurer of England on 4 March 1466 and was created Earl Rivers on 25 May 1466. Another office, Constable of England, followed on 24 August 1467.

Meanwhile, time had not sat still with the Lancastrian royal family. Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou had a small but determined band of supporters, who had continued to cause trouble for Edward IV after the carnage at Towton. Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, had been defeated and executed at Hexham in 1464, and Henry VI himself, after a year of wandering through the north of England as a fugitive, had been captured and sent to the Tower of London in 1465. Margaret of Anjou had gone to France, where she and her young son maintained a poverty-stricken court at one of her father’s castles, Koeur. There, she and her loyal followers waited on their chances, stirring up what mischief they could against Edward IV’s government and making contacts inside England. One castle, Harlech, was still in the hands of Lancastrian forces. Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, Henry VI’s half-brother, was making plans, with funds from the French king, Louis XI, to go to its aid.26

It was in this tense atmosphere that a Cornelius, a servant of a Lancastrian stalwart named Robert Whittingham, was arrested in June 1468 for carrying letters on behalf of Margaret of Anjou. Upon having his feet burned, the unfortunate Cornelius named names, including John Hawkins, a servant of Lord Wenlock. Hawkins in turn implicated Sir Thomas Cook, a wealthy draper who had previously served as London’s mayor. He had been made a Knight of the Bath before Elizabeth Woodville’s coronation. Cook was tried for treason but was convicted only of concealing a Lancastrian plot against the government, which allowed for a conviction only of misprision of treason. He was fined 8,000 marks.27 As Hawkins and another man, John Norris, were convicted of treason and hanged, one could consider Cook a lucky man in suffering only in his purse, especially when the autumn brought more arrests and executions of suspected Lancastrian agents.28

This was not, however, how the author of the Great Chronicle of London saw it. According to the author, who most likely was Robert Fabyan, a former apprentice of Cook, his master was the victim of the greed of Jacquetta Woodville, who was determined to acquire a valuable tapestry which Cook had refused to sell to her. Because the jury refused to find Cook guilty of treason, the story goes, Earl Rivers and his wife contrived to have Sir John Markham, the presiding judge, lose his office.

As is so often the case with stories about the Woodville family, the reality is rather different. The tapestry was indeed seized, but as Livia Visser-Fuchs and Anne Sutton point out, Fabyan does not report that Jacquetta acquired it, only that she had coveted it.29 It is possible that when Earl Rivers and his agents seized Cook’s goods pending trial, as was customary, some property was skimmed off the top, but this was hardly uncommon.30 As for the hapless John Markham, Sutton has noted that Cook’s trial took place in July 1468, and Markham was still being appointed to judicial duties as late as November 1468. By 12 December 1468, he had resigned; a warrant appointing his replacement in January 1469 indicates that he had left his post due to ‘his great age and debility’ and ‘by his desire and special request’. He was 69 at the time.31 It is possible, of course, that Markham was encouraged to resign, but there is nothing to confirm this or the Woodvilles’ involvement in it. It may also be, as Eric Ives has suggested, that Markham:

    had failed in the essential duty of the chief justice, namely to give the crown the judicial outcome it wanted within the limits of due process. Deprived of the king’s confidence he felt he had to go, with a face-saving excuse and a decent interval before a successor was appointed.32

A sequel to this story is Elizabeth Woodville’s attempt to obtain queen’s gold from Cook. This was an ancient prerogative which allowed a queen consort to collect a sum equal to one-tenth of a voluntary fine, and payable in addition to the fine itself. Like any other government prerogative, this was not popular, but it was not, as Kendall has suggested, an exaction that had been moribund before Elizabeth revived it; Margaret of Anjou had attempted to collect queen’s gold, but with mixed results.33 The question of whether Elizabeth was entitled to claim it at all from Cook has been debated. Anne Crawford has stated that because the sum was imposed only on voluntary fines, Elizabeth had no claim at all, whereas Michael Hicks notes that by the late fifteenth century the prerogative was imposed upon fines offered at the courts of common law and in chancery, although convictions of misprision did not automatically result in the imposition of queen’s gold. Fabyan, moreover, states that the ‘statute made of old time’ applied to fines for misprision. It seems unlikely that Elizabeth, who had successfully upheld her right to queen’s gold in other cases, would have pursued it now if she thought that she had no colourable claim.34 In the event, however, it appears that Elizabeth was either unsuccessful or settled her case – incidentally, undermining the argument that the queen and her family were able to manipulate the courts to do their bidding.35

Even if Cook’s case cannot be attributed simply to the rapacity of the Woodvilles, it is possible that Cook was innocent and that his actions were misinterpreted by a panicky government nervous about Cook’s influence, particularly at a time when it well suited the cash-strapped king to be able to impose a large fine.36 Whether Cook was innocent or not, it was clear as the affair came to an end that trouble was afoot, and that the Woodvilles, as both royal relations and royal favourites, would be in the thick of it.

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