Post-classical history

A Woodville Abroad

Book title

As Edward IV settled back onto his throne for a second time, Anthony Woodville made a request: he wanted to fight the Saracens, probably in fulfilment of a vow. The proposal dismayed Edward, who could not understand why his brother-in-law would choose this busy time to demonstrate his piety. According to John Paston III, who was hoping for Anthony’s help in getting him a pardon, ‘The King is not best pleased with him for that he desireth to depart, in so much as the King hath said of him that when so ever he has most to do, then the Lord Scales will soonest ask leave to depart, and [knows] that it is most because of cowardice’.1

Just two months before Paston wrote his letter in July 1471, Anthony had been instrumental in saving London from the Bastard of Fauconberg, so the king’s accusation of cowardice seems misplaced. Perhaps it was pique at Anthony that led Edward on 18 July 1471 to appoint William, Lord Hastings, as Lieutenant of Calais instead of Anthony, who had held the position before the Lancastrian readeption.2 It was certainly an appointment that would have disastrous consequences for Anthony a dozen years later. Nonetheless, Anthony remained determined to join the Portuguese in their fight. By 15 September, the king had relented and given Anthony royal permission to depart for Portugal, rather to the amusement of Paston, who commented sarcastically before Christmas, ‘I ensure you he thinketh all the world goeth on their side [again]’. On 8 January, Paston II wrote that Rivers had taken ship on Christmas Eve for Portugal, but he was not certain of it.3

If Anthony did indeed go to Portugal, he did not stay long there, for in April 1472, he was off on yet another military adventure – aiding Francis, Duke of Brittany, against the French. Francis had asked Edward for 6,000 archers, but when Anthony landed in Brittany on 6 April, he had brought only thirty archers and a small entourage with him. By 20 June, however, Edward IV had given Anthony permission to bring 1,000 men at arms and archers with him to Brittany – at his own expense. This time there was no talk of cowardice. The French retreated in August. In the meantime, in July, Anthony entered into negotiations with Francis for an English attack on France. The result, the Treaty of Châteaugiron, was signed on 11 September 1472. Unfortunately, during their mission abroad, many of Anthony’s men died of the flux and other sicknesses, as John Paston II reported in November. Fittingly, in light of his later career, it was on this expedition to Brittany that Anthony’s younger brother, Edward, made his first recorded appearance as a member of Anthony’s entourage.4

John Paston had said in November that Anthony and his men would be returning home shortly, but Anthony did not tarry long in England. By July 1473, Anthony Woodville took ship from Southampton. His destination was the shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostela in Spain, a popular pilgrimage destination. Anthony’s journey may indicate that he had not succeeded in fulfilling his vow to fight the Saracens in 1471. Clearly, the tumultuous events of the last few years, perhaps especially the deaths of his father and his brother, were still weighing on his mind. He wrote later:

    Where it is so that every human creature by the sufferance of our Lord God is born and ordained to be subject and thrall unto the storms of fortune, and so in divers and many sundry wises man is perplexed with worldly adversities; of the which I Antoine Wydeuille Earl Ryuyeres, Lord Scales, &c. have largely and in many different manners had my part; and of them relieved by the infinite grace and goodness of our said Lord, through the mean of the Mediatrice of Mercy, which grace evidently to me known and understood compelled me to set apart all ingratitude, and drove me by reason and conscience as far as my wretchedness would suffice, to give therefore singular lovings and thanks to God; and exhorted me to dispose my recovered life to his service in following his laws and commandments; and in satisfaction and recompence of mine iniquities and faults before done, to seek and execute the works that might be most acceptable to him; and as far as my frailness would suffer me, I rested in that will and purpose.5

Anthony’s journey, as we shall see later, would be notable more for what Anthony read aboard ship than for the pilgrimage itself.

A new loss, however, awaited Anthony at home: his wife, Elizabeth Scales, died on 2 September 1473.6 Anthony and Elizabeth had married sometime in the tumultuous months before Towton, a period that for them was marked by the capture of Anthony at Sandwich and the murder of Elizabeth’s father. Elizabeth was the daughter of Thomas, Lord Scales, and his wife Ismania, who in turn was a daughter of a Cornishman by the name of Whalesburgh.7 Described in Anthony’s inquisitions post-mortem as 24 or more at her father’s death in 1460,8 Elizabeth Scales was born around 1436. The couple had been married since at least 4 April 1461, when William Paston II reported mistakenly that Anthony, Lord Scales – the title that Anthony took in right of Elizabeth – had been killed at the Battle of Towton.9

Elizabeth had been married previously to Henry Bourchier, the second son of the Earl of Essex by the same name. A 27 August letter in the Paston collection announcing his sudden death at Ludlow from an unspecified cause probably dates to 1458.10 If any children were born to the couple, they did not survive.

Whether Anthony and Elizabeth’s parents helped bring the couple together, or whether the couple themselves initiated their marriage, is unknown. Elizabeth’s inheritance as Scales’s only surviving child gave her an obvious attraction for Anthony, and his own status as the eldest son gave him an obvious attraction for Elizabeth, but there is nothing to indicate whether personal attraction played a role in the marriage as well. It is not certain how great the age difference between the pair was, although Anthony, born anytime between late 1437 and about 1442, was the younger of the spouses.11

Elizabeth’s father had strong ties with the Woodville family from early on. Created a Knight of the Garter in 1425, Lord Scales successfully nominated Anthony’s father as a Garter knight in 1450.12 That same year, Lord Scales and Lord Rivers were among the men appointed by the king to put down Jack Cade’s rebellion.13 Interestingly, when Richard, Duke of York placed his grievances before the king that autumn, Lord Scales and Lord Rivers were said to have accompanied him.14

Lord Scales, however, remained loyal to Henry VI during the upheavals of the 1450s. In the summer of 1460, when the exiled Earls of March, Warwick, and Salisbury returned to England with the intention of seizing power, Lord Scales and Robert, Lord Hungerford, held the Tower for the king. Besieged by the Yorkists, the forces inside the Tower shot guns and cast wild fire into the city, to the injury of ‘men and women and children in the streets’, as reported by the English Chronicle.15 When the Yorkists, having defeated the Lancastrians at Northampton, returned to London with Henry VI in their power, Scales and Hungerford surrendered on 19 July.16

Uncertain how he would fare at the hands of the Londoners, Scales, accompanied by three others, found a boat late that evening and rowed toward Westminster with the intention of taking sanctuary there. Tipped off by a woman who recognised Lord Scales, a group of boatmen surrounded him, murdered him, and dumped his naked body at St Mary Overy at Southwark, where he lay for several hours before his godson, the Earl of March (later Edward IV), came upon the scene and arranged a proper burial for him. It was, as the English Chronicle noted, a ‘great pity’ that ‘so noble and worshipful a knight’, who had served so valiantly in France, should meet such an ignominious death.17

Chroniclers seldom bothered to record the reactions of the wives and daughters of those slain during the Wars of the Roses, and they made no exception in the case of Elizabeth Scales. We know only that her father’s death left her with lands in Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Essex, and Suffolk.18 The heart of the Scales’s estate was Middleton, near Bishop’s Lynn (later King’s Lynn).

Glimpses of Anthony’s and Elizabeth’s married life can be found in contemporary records. The town of Lynn often sent gifts of wine or fish to the couple, whose minstrels also appear in the records.19 Elizabeth herself features in the household books of John Howard, who later became the Duke of Norfolk. In September 1464, Howard rewarded her messenger with the amount of 6s 8d for bringing him a letter from Elizabeth. When, with the king at Reading in November, Howard lent Elizabeth, who was also there with her husband, 8s and 4d to play at cards. The party moved on to spend Christmas at Eltham with the king; there, on 1 January 1465, Howard gave 12d to ‘my lord Scales child’. Anne Crawford has pointed out that the ‘child’ was probably a page who was bringing a New Year’s gift to Howard from Anthony and Elizabeth, as opposed to the offspring of either spouse.20

After Anthony’s sister married Edward IV, Elizabeth Scales was prominent among the attendants of her sister-in-law the queen. In 1466–67, like the queen’s sister, Anne, Elizabeth Scales received £40 per annum for her services (the same rate that her mother had received when serving Margaret of Anjou). She and Anne were the highest paid of the queen’s attendants; the next tier of ladies received only £20 a year.21

In 1466, Anthony and Elizabeth engaged in a series of complex legal manoeuvres, detailed in his inquisitions post-mortem, to ensure that if Elizabeth predeceased Anthony without having borne him a child, the Scales’s estates would stay in Anthony’s hands instead of going to Elizabeth’s heirs. While this did have the effect of subverting the normal laws of inheritance, there is no reason to assume that Elizabeth was forced into the transaction by her husband or that she would have preferred that the land go to her rather distant cousins instead of to Anthony.22

What none of this tells us is the quality of Anthony and Elizabeth’s relationship. As Anthony’s wife she certainly enjoyed high status at court, accompanying Margaret of York to her wedding in Bruges, serving in the highest rank of the queen’s ladies, and sitting with Louis de Bruges during his 1472 visit. Clearly, she was not relegated to her estates in the country. When Anthony’s father was murdered in 1469, Elizabeth, whose father had been murdered nine years before, would have been well-placed to offer him comfort.

Anthony’s marriage with Elizabeth was childless, but Anthony himself was a father: he had an illegitimate daughter, Margaret. Margaret’s mother has been identified as Gwenllian, the daughter of William Stradling of Glamorgan and his wife Isabel.23 Nothing more is known about Gwenllian or her relationship with Anthony, nor is it known whether their liaison predated Anthony’s marriage to Elizabeth Scales or occurred during it. Margaret’s name raises the possibility that the child might have been named for Margaret of Anjou, in which case she would have most likely been born at some point before the Battle of Towton in 1461, after which Anthony changed his allegiance from the Lancastrian cause to the Yorkist one.

Nothing else is heard of Margaret until her marriage to Robert Poyntz of Iron Acton in Gloucestershire. According to E.L. Barnwell, on 12 September 1479, Anthony settled 800 marks on Margaret, with 200 to be paid on the sealing of the deed; he also settled on her lands worth 100 marks a year.24 Poyntz was born in the late 1440s and thus was about 30 or so. The first of five sons, Anthony, was born around 1480; Margaret also bore her husband four daughters.25

Facing execution ten years after the death of Elizabeth Scales, Anthony remembered his wife’s soul in his will, written at Sheriff Hutton two days before his death on 25 August 1483. Having left the Scales’ lands to his brother Edward, Anthony asked that 500 marks be used for prayers for the souls of Elizabeth, her deceased brother Thomas, and the souls of all of the Scales family.26 For Lynda Pidgeon, the author of a recent assessment of Anthony, these last requests did not go far enough. Pidgeon writes that Anthony ‘makes no affectionate mention of [Elizabeth] or desire to be buried beside her’ and that he appeared to do only the bare minimum to provide for her soul and those of others. As for Margaret, Pidgeon finds Anthony lacking as a father as well: she states that Anthony ‘forgot’ his daughter in his will, and that he ‘seems to have had little feeling’ for her. She concludes, ‘The will was business like: it met the requirements of his soul and those of his family and little else. […] Perhaps he simply did not have feelings for anyone else.’27

This harsh assessment, based on a single document, is unwarranted. Lacking more complete records of Anthony’s, we have no way of knowing whether he was generous to his daughter in other ways or whether he held her in his affection. The fact that he failed to name her in his will – especially in a will executed under such unfavourable circumstances – need not indicate lack of feeling. Having settled estates upon Margaret and arranged her marriage to a prosperous man, Anthony may have simply felt that his daughter was well provided for. Notably, Margaret’s husband was named one of Anthony’s executors, suggesting good relations between Anthony and his son-in-law.28

As for Anthony’s failure to speak affectionately of his wife in his will, Pidgeon overlooks the fact that many wills of the period are businesslike documents, without sentimental effusions; it also fails to consider that Anthony, unlike testators expecting to meet a natural death or preparing for the eventuality of dying honourably in battle, was under the enormous stress of facing execution for a crime he most likely did not commit. Moreover, as one who was about to be executed, he could expect his lands to be forfeit to the Crown and would have to hope that arrangements would be made to pay his debts and to honour his bequests; he was hardly in a position to make more than the requisite provisions for the dead.

Anthony’s failure to request burial by his first wife is equally unreliable as a gauge of his affection, or lack thereof, toward her. Possibly anticipating that he would be brought to London for the trial before his peers that was his right as an earl, Anthony initially asked in his will that if he died beyond the River Trent, he be buried in the chapel of St Mary the Virgin besides St Stephen’s College at Westminster, known familiarly as the Lady of Pewe. The Pope himself had recognised Anthony’s ‘singular devotion’ to this chapel in 1476.29 Contrary to Pidgeon’s surmise, Anthony’s failure to request burial beside Elizabeth Scales (whose burial place is not known) need not show lack of affection for her; his request to be buried at the Lady of Pewe may simply indicate a strong devotion to the Virgin or to the chapel that took precedence over earthly attachments. Moreover, as a condemned man Anthony could not expect that the Crown would go to the expense and trouble of bringing his body to lie beside that of his deceased wife, unless she happened to have been buried at a place that was convenient for her husband’s burial, or that his survivors would be allowed to bury him in accordance with his wishes. Anthony had, in fact, little choice in where he would be buried, as he implicitly acknowledged at the end of his will, when, having learned that he would be executed at Pontefract, Anthony asked that he be buried there with his nephew Richard Grey, who was also facing execution, before an image of the Virgin Mary.30

Whatever the nature of his feelings for his deceased wife, Anthony would soon have a new responsibility to divert his thoughts: the care of his nephew, Prince Edward, the king’s oldest son.31

Anthony had played an important role in his young nephew’s life from the very beginning. Edward made his son Prince of Wales on 26 June 1471.32 That same year, the king appointed a fifteen-member council for his son, of which both the queen and Anthony were members. In February 1473, Edward IV added ten more members, a number with ties to the Woodville family, to the council.33 The king took an even more important step later that spring. Unrest in Wales led him to determine to establish a household for his son at Ludlow, where the king himself had spent time as a child. He sent his wife, by now showing the signs of another pregnancy, to get young Edward settled in his new lodgings. By 2 April 1473, Elizabeth and her son were established in Wales but were expected to join the king at Leicester for Easter.34 It was in this household at Ludlow that Anthony would spend much of the rest of his life.

Edward IV issued ordinances committing his heir to Anthony’s care on 27 September 1473.35 The ordinances governed the daily life of the prince from when he rose in the morning ‘at a convenient hour according to his age’ to when he went to bed at eight o’clock, at which time his attendants were to make him ‘joyous and merry towards his bed’. No one was to enter the prince’s chamber except for Anthony, the prince’s chamberlain, and his chaplains, or such other persons as Anthony thought proper. Anthony also had control over who was to sit at the prince’s board at mealtimes. When the prince’s revenues were brought to Ludlow, they were to be locked in a chest to which only three people had keys: the queen, Anthony, and John Alcock, Bishop of Rochester. Anthony and the bishop also had the authority to move the prince from place to place as was convenient for the season.

On 10 November 1473, the king appointed Anthony as ‘governor’ and ‘ruler’ of the prince and Alcock as his ‘teacher’ and president of his council. Nicholas Orme notes that the titles ‘governor’ and ‘ruler’ were new, although the function was not; the older term was ‘master’, which by this time was becoming associated with schoolmasters, who were lower down on the social scale. Likewise, Orme notes, the term ‘teacher’ was also new, although Alcock’s true function was likely to rule the prince’s household rather than to attend personally to his lessons, a task he delegated to others.

Anthony, as D.E. Lowe has pointed out, was well suited to his role as governor. Described by Mancini as one who had been ‘always considered a kind, serious, and just man, and one tested by every vicissitude of life’, he was also as adept at looking out for his own interests as any other fifteenth-century nobleman and was not overly fussed with legal niceties.36 His letters to his agent show him looking around for weaknesses in others’ title to land that could be exploited, and in his will, he felt the need to ask that the widowed Lady Willoughby be recompensed for his servants’ seizure of her goods. In 1465, in exchange for a pardon to her husband, the Lancastrian Gervase Clifton, this lady had been required to grant him lands to the value of 400 marks per year amounting to a whopping 80 per cent of her inheritance. Not surprisingly, Clifton had supported Henry VI in 1470–71 and had been executed after the Battle of Tewkesbury.37 But we can admit Anthony’s occasional capacity for ruthlessless without going so far as to say, with Michael Hicks, that ‘far from doing harm to no-one […] there was nobody he hesitated to harm’.38 D.E. Lowe’s assessment is far more balanced:

    a powerful personality – a predatory magnate rather than a mere courtier or dilettante patron of the arts – exercising a personal authoritative supervision over the conduct of his officials and the management of his affairs, with a keen grasp of detail and jealous to maintain his rights, real or imagined, against others, and resolved to exploit his assets to their fullest advantage.39

Anthony’s new responsibilities did not mean that he would spend the rest of the prince’s youth at Ludlow. In 1474, King Edward had made a pact with his brother-in-law, Charles, Duke of Burgundy, to invade France before 1 July 1475 – an essential undertaking for an English king. In April 1475, Anthony and Richard Martyn were sent on an embassy to Charles, who despite having agreed to aid in the invasion was preoccupied with the siege of Neuss as part of his attempt to gain control of Cologne. Their mission, to persuade Charles to give up his siege and turn his attention to the invasion, was unsuccessful. Having assembled a large force at enormous cost, Edward had no choice but to carry out his plan, Charles or no Charles.40

The English nobility was very well represented on the expedition, and Anthony was no exception. He raised a force of two knights, forty men at arms, and two hundred archers. Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, brought ten knights and the same number of men at arms and archers. William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, likewise brought forty men at arms and two hundred archers, but no knights. The king’s brothers, the Dukes of Clarence and Gloucester, each raised a force of ten knights, one hundred men at arms, and a thousand archers. Also joining the expedition was Elizabeth’s eldest son by her first marriage, Thomas Grey, who had been made the Marquis of Dorset on 18 April 1475.41 Back on the home front, the young Prince of Wales was appointed ‘keeper of the realm’ and was brought to London to join the queen.

Though Edward had prepared for the eventuality of being crowned King of France by having a suitable robe made, the expedition, which set off for Calais on 4 July 1475, ended anticlimactically, if profitably. Charles of Burgundy, having been forced to abandon Neuss by a French invasion of his own dominions, turned up to meet the English king. He was full of advice for Edward, but came without the expected army. Another would-be ally, Louis, Count of St Pol, Jacquetta Woodville’s brother, failed to keep his promise to deliver St Quentin to the English. Disgusted, Edward entered into negotiations with King Louis XI of France. On 29 August 1475, in what was known as the Treaty of Picquigny, the two nations made their peace. Among the treaty’s provisions was that Edward’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth, or, in case of her death, her sister Mary, was to marry the Dauphin Charles of France. Louis was to pay 75,000 crowns to Edward, followed by a pension of 50,000 crowns per annum. William, Lord Hastings and other royal confidants were to receive pensions as well. Commyns claimed that the Marquis of Dorset was among the pensioners, but historians have not found corroboration of this in the records. Though the peace was unpopular with some hawkish Englishmen, notably Richard, Duke of Gloucester, it benefitted English trade and relieved Edward’s subjects of parliamentary taxation.42

Anthony is not named among those receiving pensions, and what he thought of the treaty is unrecorded. His trip to France, however, seems to have reawakened his taste for foreign travel, for on 1 October 1475, Edward IV wrote a letter to Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, informing him that Rivers, ‘one of his chief confidants and the brother of his dear consort’, would be travelling to Rome and would like to visit Milan and other places belonging to the duke, as well as the duke himself if it were convenient.43

Sadly, we do not have a detailed description of Anthony’s travels, or an account of whom he visited, but several years later, William Caxton, whose printing press Rivers patronised, recalled in his epilogue to The Cordyale (translated by Rivers) that Anthony had been on pilgrimage to Rome, to shrines in Naples, and to St Nicholas at Bari.44 In April 1476, Anthony obtained a papal indulgence for the Chapel of Our Lady of Pewe at Westminster, where Anthony hoped to be buried.45

All did not go smoothly for the English traveller, however. On 7 March 1476, Francesco Pietrasancta, Milanese Ambassador to the Court of Savoy, reported to the Duke of Milan that all of Rivers’s money and valuables had been stolen at the Torre di Baccano and that Queen Elizabeth was sending a royal servant to Rome with letters of exchange for 4,000 ducats.46

Anthony’s misadventures had also come to the attention of John Paston III, who wrote on 21 March 1476, that Lord Rivers ‘was at Rome right well and honorably’ and had travelled 12 miles outside the city when he was robbed of all of his jewels and plate, which were worth at least 1,000 marks.47

The saga of Anthony’s jewels did not end there, however. On 10 May 1476, the Venetian Senate issued this sinister-sounding decree:

    That for the purpose of ascertaining the truth as to this theft, in the neighbourhood of Borne, of the precious jewels and plate belonging to Lord Anthony Angre Lord Scales, brother of the Queen of England, and for the discovery of the perpetrators and of the distribution made of the property, – Be the arrest of Nicholas Cerdo and Vitus Cerdo, Germans, Nicholas Cerdo, and Anthony, a German of Schleswick, dealer in ultramarine, (arrested by permission from the Signory,) ratified at the suit of the State attorneys; and as they would not tell the whole truth by fair means, be a committee formed, the majority of which to have liberty to examine and rack them all or each; and the committee shall, with the deposition thus obtained, come to this Council and do justice.48

Three days later, the Senate issued another decree, showing that when travelling abroad, it was extremely helpful to have royal connections:

    Lord Scales, the brother-in-law of the King of England, has come to Venice on account of certain jewels of which he was robbed at Torre di Baccano, near Borne. Part of them having been brought hither and sold to certain citizens, he has earnestly requested the Signory to have said jewels restored to him, alleging in his favour civil statutes, enacting that stolen goods should be freely restored to their owner. As it is for the interest of the Signory to make every demonstration of love and good will towards his lordship on his own account, and especially out of regard for the King, his brother-in-law, – Put to the ballot, that the said jewels purchased in this city by Venetian subjects be restored gratuitously to the said lord; he being told that this is done out of deference for the King of England and for his lordship, without his incurring any cost.

        As the affair is committed to the State attorneys. – Be it carried that they be bound, together with the ordinary councils, to dispatch it within two months, and ascertain whether or not the purchasers of the jewels purchased them honestly. Should they have been bought unfairly, the purchasers to lose their money. While, if the contrary were the case, Toma Mocenigo, Nicolo de Ca de Besaro, and Marin Contarini shall be bound as they themselves volunteered to pay what was expended for the jewels, together with the costs, namely, 400 ducats. These moneys to be drawn for through a bill of exchange by these three noblemen on the consul in London, there to be paid by the consul and passed by him to the debit of the factory on account of goods loaded by Venetians in England on board the Flanders galleys (Ser Antonio Contarini, captain,) on their return to this city; and in like manner to the debit of the London factory here, on account of goods loaded on board the present Flanders galleys (Ser Andrea de Mosto, captain), bound to England, on their arrival in those parts. If the attorneys and the appointed councils fail to dispatch the matter as above, they shall be fined two ducats each; yet, on the expiration of the said term, the said three noblemen shall be bound to pay the moneys above mentioned.49

Having recovered part of his jewels, Anthony resumed his travels. (As his stay had been an expensive one, it may be that the Venetians were not entirely sorry to see him on his way.) In June, he arrived at the camp of Charles, Duke of Burgundy, who was preparing to fight the Swiss. Giovanni Pietro Panigarola, the Milanese ambassador, reported on 9 June that Anthony planned to stay two or three days before returning to England. On 11 June however, he wrote:

    M. de Scales, brother of the Queen of England, has been to see the duke and offered to take his place in the line of battle. But hearing the day before yesterday that the enemy were near at hand and they expected to meet them he asked leave to depart, saying he was sorry he could not stay, and so he took leave and went. This is esteemed great cowardice in him, and lack of spirit and honour. The duke laughed about it to me, saying, he has gone because he is afraid.50

This was the only time Anthony shirked battle. Perhaps, recalling the Duke of Burgundy’s betrayal of the English of the year before, he had decided he owed the duke no favours; perhaps he had simply realised that this was not his fight. Whatever Anthony’s motives, his decision was a fortunate one, for at the Battle of Morat that ensued on 22 June, the duke lost thousands of men, and would lose his own life at the Battle of Nancy six months later. Anthony’s decision to avoid this one battle meant that he would return to England with his life, if not all of his goods, intact.

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