On This Day in History – 1 May


Event– Marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville

Year– 1464

Location– Grafton House, England

Romanticised image of the first meeting of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.
Romanticised image of the first meeting of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.

Although the date of the wedding isn’t certain, it is generally accepted that Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville on May Day 1464, at the bride’s home of Grafton Regis, with only a few witnesses, including the bride’s mother, in attendance.

It is said that Elizabeth first met Edward when she went to petition him for the return of her dead husband’s lands. It was said that Edward tried to force himself onto Elizabeth so she threatened to take her own life with a dagger. Edward became so enamoured of her that he married her. Elizabeth bought no dowry or international connections, which would be expected of a Queen of England.

The marriage was significant because it was first time that an English king married a commoner without having a foreign wife first. Not only that, but Edward IV was the first Yorkist king, but the Woodville family supported the Lancastrian side in the Wars of the Roses, and Elizabeth’s first husband, John Grey, had died fighting for the Lancastrians. It was the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville that gave rise to the idea that a commoner could marry a King – this was the idea from which the likes of Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour managed to rise up from ladies-in-waiting to Queens.

Elizabeth and Edward’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth, married the future Henry VII, and their two eldest sons, Edward and Richard, became the ill-fated Princes in the Tower.

Further Reading

David Baldwin, Elizabeth Woodville (2002)

J.L. Laynesmith, The Last Medieval Queens (2004)

Amy Licence, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: a True Romance (2016)

Charles Ross, Edward IV (1974)

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Heraldry Badges and Emblems of the Wars of the Roses


Henry VI

Henry VI 1540 at the National Portrait Gallery
Henry VI 1540 at the National Portrait Gallery

Chained swan, chained antelope, red rose, ostrich feathers, spotted panther

The red rose is the symbol of the House of Lancaster, although it didn’t really become so poignant until later on in history. Red is the colour of blood and life, of love and combat. Henry VI’s reign saw a lot of combat and bloodshed, but Henry himself wasn’t very involved. He seems to have caused the Wars of the Roses by his inability to rule England properly. He seemed to lack both life and love, however, as he didn’t seem to engage properly with people.

The ostrich feather symbolised the Egyptian goddess Maat. Maat was the ancient Egyptian goddess of truth, balance, order, law, morality and justice. Henry VI did at least push for justice and morality because of his faith in his religion. Ostrich feathers also stood for beauty and iridescence. Henry VI was obviously interested in beauty – he founded Eton College Chapel and King’s College Chapel, enhancing his father’s legacy of architectural patronage. King’s College Chapel has the world’s largest fan vaulted roof. Continue reading

Monarchs are often remembered for just one or two events and this paints them as either good or bad for the rest of history. Why do we do this and how do perceptions change if you examine their reigns in their entirety?


Monarchs seem to be remembered for perhaps one or two events or actions that then define them in English history. This doesn’t seem fair, as people have both good and bad inside them, and our actions are often dictated by the circumstances in which we live, and the events that take place around us. Most of our actions have good intentions when we start out, but it doesn’t always end that way. Monarchs who are seen as good have made mistakes, and monarchs who are seen as bad have also done good things. Here I will examine Richard III, King John, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

Late 16th Century portrait of Richard III, housed in the National Portrait Gallery.
Late 16th Century portrait of Richard III, housed in the National Portrait Gallery.

The most eponymous “bad” monarch is Richard III, most remembered for the mysterious disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, presumed murdered by Richard himself. What people don’t always remember is that the Princes were in fact his nephews, and Richard never showed any previous inclination to take the throne, unlike his brother George Duke of Clarence.[1] The Princes’ mother, Elizabeth Woodville, didn’t seem to hold Richard accountable for their deaths and she emerged from sanctuary, putting her daughters under Richard’s protection. Either that, or she was so ambitious that she didn’t care that her brother-in-law killed her sons, and just wanted some power for herself.[2] However, if this was true, she would be sadly disappointed. Richard did a lot of positive things during his reign – he strengthened the economy and ended the wars with France.[3] He also strengthened ties with the north of England, due to his marriage to Anne Neville, daughter of a northern magnate. The bad is always remembered above the good where applicable, especially where there is so much mystery surrounding an event, like the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower. Continue reading

Book Review – ‘Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: a True Romance’ by Amy Licence


Amy Licence 'Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville'Amy Licence, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: a True Romance (Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2016) ISBN 978-1-4456-3678-8

First off, apologies, Amy, for being so tardy on my review when you so kindly sent me a review copy! I wanted to get it just right.

I first fell in love with Amy Licence’s writing after reading her book ‘In Bed with the Tudors’. She has a knack of writing in a different way about things that have been written before, but she can make it seem completely new and exciting.

It’s only relatively recently that I’ve developed an interest in the Wars of the Roses. I’ve generally thought it too complicated, but it is books like this one that have helped to change my mind – it’s engaging and gives you the basics without feeling like you’re back in school!

But this book isn’t just about the battles and conflicts of the Wars of the Roses, it’s about something simpler – the love of a man for a woman. Continue reading

Britain’s Bloody Crown Part 2 14.01.2016


Edward IV
Edward IV

One of the most turbulent and violent periods in Britain’s history.

1461 Henry VI had the throne snatched away by young and charismatic Edward IV – he was helped to the throne by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick – the Kingmaker.

It took Edward 7 years to learn that to save the country a good king must do bad things.

3 months after Richard Duke of York’s death Edward IV takes his revenge on the king.

The bloodiest battle on English soil ends (Towton) and Edward IV succeeds as the king and queen’s forces have been wiped out and Henry VI and his family are forced to flee to Scotland.

28000 men slaughtered in 10 hours, pretty much half of the troops involved in the fight.

Edward declared king in 1461, aged just 18 – 12th plantagenet king of England.

Edward needs to end the violence, assisted by Warwick, to make the country stable and safe. Continue reading

Britain’s Bloody Crown Part 1 07.01.2016


Henry VI 1540 at the National Portrait Gallery
Henry VI 1540 at the National Portrait Gallery

Nearly 600 years ago Wars of the Roses fought over the crown.

30 years crown changed hands 7 times.

Struggle erupted when there was a feud between Margaret of Anjou (Queen of England) and Richard, Duke of York, over the control of the weak king, Henry VI.

Trouble began because Henry VI was so weak that a vacuum opened in England that takes 50 years to be fixed.

May 1450 Henry VI in power, Duke of Suffolk papered over the cracks, but he is now dead by rebel hands.

Summer 1450, no one now left to keep a lid on trouble for Henry VI – rebels enter London and cause violence and looting.

Henry VI never seen a battlefield, shallow, pious and foolish.

Henry VI tries to placate rebels by giving them the corrupt Lord Say – they try and execute him at the Guildhall.

England dissolving into anarchy – Henry VI leaves London for Kenilworth. Continue reading

She Wolves – Episode 2 – Isabella of France and Margaret of Anjou 14.03.2012


Isabella of France 15th Century Portrait
Isabella of France 15th Century Portrait

1308 Isabella of France became Queen of England age 12
Little more than a pawn in power plays between England and France
Isabella and Margaret both known as the “she wolves of France”
Isabella daughter of the King of France – living embodiment of the treaty between England and France, keen sense of her own majesty
What she found different to what she expected
First public appearance – coronation
Piers Gaveston carried the king’s crown into the abbey and sat with him at the coronation feast
Her place at Edward II’s side had been taken by Gaveston
Edward had given some of the wedding presents to Gaveston from the French nobles
Three people in the marriage
King’s relationship with his nobles was souring because of his relationship with Gaveston – king offers leadership and security and nobles protect the realm
Nobles don’t think the king is doing what he should Continue reading

She Wolves – Episode 1 – Empress Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine 07.03.2012


Empress Matilda
Empress Matilda

England’s queens not always liked – problem with women and power
Matilda chased from the capital by an angry mob
First woman to claim the English crown in her own right
Men fought to win power and battled to keep it – handful of women did attempt to rule England, challenged male power
“She-wolves”
Just how far we’ve come and how little we’ve changed
24 June 1141 39 year old Matilda sat down at a banquet – first woman to rule England in her own right?
Daughter of Henry I and granddaughter of William the Conqueror.
Throws the country into 20 years of civil war
Seen as domineering and destructive – challenged the assumption that only a man could wear the crown Continue reading

‘Britain’s Bloodiest Dynasty’ Part 4 – Richard II – 18/12/2014


 

Richard II at Westminster Abbey mid-1390s
Richard II at Westminster Abbey mid-1390s

Richard II – golden boy who ended the peasant’s revolt
Most vicious Plantagenet of them all, dynasty crashing down around him
1377 decade of turmoil under Edward III until Richard II succeeds “Country’s saviour”
1381 Four years later peasants invade London = king takes refuge in the Tower, and his cousin Henry Bolingbroke (later Henry IV)
Rebels not after the king himself
Ruled by councillors – peasants see them as greedy and corrupt and intend to kill them
Councillors are the most senior in the land – most fled or in the Tower with the king
Most desperate councillors hatch a plan and send the king through the streets to create a distraction so that they can escape
Rebels let the king pass unharmed
John of Gaunt is an “evil councillor”, father of Henry Bolingbroke
King gone puts councillors in more danger – mob storms the Tower gates
Treasurer Sir Robert Hales and Archbishop Sudbury dragged into the street while Henry hides in a cupboard in the Tower – remains unfound
Sudbury and Hales beheaded in the street and heads stuck on London Bridge
Precipice of full-blown anarchy – Richard II could lose his crown Continue reading

‘Britain’s Bloodiest Dynasty’ Part 3 – Edward II – 11/12/2014


 

Edward II
Edward II

Edward II = king most famous for story of his death
Life even more extraordinary – revenge, savagery, passion, bloodlust
1307 Edward I dies on campaign, leaves a country in debt and beset by enemies
First thing he does is order recall of Piers Gaveston from France – old king banished him to France because of influence over the king, hated by every noble
Gaveston has mean names for the nobles
Gaveston is trouble but Edward can’t see it at all, can only see one step ahead, doesn’t see that all his actions have consequences, mostly bad ones
Disaster right from the start
Edward marries Isabella, 12 year old daughter of the Queen of France
Coronation feast – less like a coronation and more like a party for Edward & Gaveston
Gaveston wears purple, king only talks to him, and arms of Gaveston and the king entwined
Thomas of Lancaster, king’s cousin, incensed
French nobles walk out of the feast – destroys French goodwill
April 1308 first parliament, Lancaster and nobles turn up armed = Gaveston must go, accuses nobles of treachery
Edward refuses to budge, even threatened to lose his throne Continue reading