Sir Richard Woodville (Lord Rivers) and his eldest son Sir Anthony were men in trouble in the aftermath of the Battle of Towton fought at Eastertide 1461. They were Lancastrians who within six weeks of the battle found themselves attainted of treason and their lands confiscated.
By July 12 1462 Lord Rivers was pardoned. It would appear from the correspondence of the time that Jacquetta had a hand in the changing state of affairs. By 1463 Lord Rivers had found a place in the Privy Council.
Even more unexpectedly perhaps the new king married the couple’s eldest daughter the recently widowed Elizabeth Grey – who history knows as Elizabeth Woodville in May 1464. Presumably Edward knew that marrying a penniless Lancastrian widow wouldn’t go down well with Warwick, especially as Edward had been in Calais in 1460 when Lord Rivers had been paraded through the town and rated as a “knave.” Perhaps this was why Edward failed to mention the fact of his marriage to his cousin.
Elizabeth was crowned on May 26 1465. There was a lot of emphasis placed upon Elizabeth’s maternal pedigree. In February 1466 the couple’s first child was born. Between 1463 and 1483 the Woodvilles would rise in power and political dominance. The earl of Warwick realised this would be at the expense of the Nevilles within week’s of Elizabeth Woodville’s public acknowledgement as between 1464 and 1466 Elizabeth arranged the marriage of many of her siblings into the richest and most powerful families in the land starting with the marriage of Elizabeth’s sister to the heir of the earl of Arundel. Personally Warwick would not have been amused when the match he arranged between his nephew George and Anne Holland, heiress to the earldom of Exeter was overturned so that Anne could marry Elizabeth’s oldest son Thomas Grey. Warwick’s aunt the dowager duchess of Norfolk (Katherine Neville) found herself married to nineteen year old John Woodville. The duchess would have qualified for her bus pass at the time. I could go on but you get the gist – there were a certain number of heirs and heiresses available and the Woodvilles swamped the market.
It was undoubtedly the rise of the Woodvilles that contributed to Warwick’s decision to turn against Edward in 1469. Not only had the family married above themselves so far as he was concerned but Sir Richard had ousted Lord Mountjoy (who just so happened to be the earl of Warwick’s uncle by marriage) from the position of treasurer in 1466. Matters probably weren’t helped when the following year he was elevated to being Constable of England.
Warwick broke away from Edward in 1469 giving his association with low born men like earl (yes that’s right there was a promotion as well) as one of his reasons. The two had apparently reconciled their differences earlier but a northern rebellion led by Robin of Redesdale was actually the earl of Warwick’s doing. In addition the earl was plotting with Edward’s brother George duke of Clarence. The whole thing only came into the open when George married Isobel Neville (Warwick’s oldest daughter) on 11 July in Calais. Edward suddenly discovered that not only was he facing an army of rebels from the north but that Warwick and Clarence had arrived in Sandwich and were marching with a second army having been allowed into London and “borrowed” some money from the City. Edward was caught between two armies and became reliant on the earls Pembroke and Devon to raise an army on his behalf.
It didn’t go well for Edward or his earls for that matter. On 26th July 1469 The earl of Pembroke’s army was intercepted by Warwick at Edgecote near Banbury and bested at the river crossing there. The army might have fought on but Pembroke’s men seeing more of Warwick’s forces arriving assumed that the earl’s army was much larger than it really was. William Herbert, the earl of Pembroke was captured and executed the following day. The earl of Devon was also executed as were a number of Edward IV’s other key supporters.
Edward was happily oblivious to all of this being ensconced in Nottingham at the time when he left the city on the 29th July he was captured by Bishop George Neville at Olney and now found himself in the situation of Henry VI – i.e. in need of protection from bad advisers – or more correctly a prisoner. By August he was resident in Warwick’s castle at Middleham and Elizabeth Woodville was firmly situated in Westminster with her children in sanctuary.
Where were the Woodvilles in all of this? Sir Richard and his second son John were in Edward IV’s army. They fled the went into hiding. They were found in August at Chepstow and executed on the 12th August 1469 at Kennilworth.
That same month one Richard Wake accused Woodville’s widow Jacquetta of being a witch. The earl of Warwick had Jacquetta arrested and taken to Warwick Castle. Jacquetta did not panic. Instead she wrote a letter to the mayor and aldermen of London calling in a favour. George duke of Clarence became involved and Warwick for whatever reason seemed to get cold feet about the whole business and released her. She very sensibly joined Elizabeth claiming sanctuary in Westminster Abbey.
The witchcraft case only failed ultimately because Edward was able to escape his cousin’s clutches in 1470 and the family disagreement patched up (for the time being). On the 10th February 1470 it was added to the record books that the dowager duchess of Bedford was not in fact a witch and that her accusers were malicious trouble makers. The story came out of the woodwork again in 1484 when Richard III wanted to use the tale against the Woodvilles – it can be seen in the Titulus Regulus.
Since then much has been made by fiction writers of Jacquetta’s magical abilities from blowing up storms to arranging for a nasty fog. However, in reality the lady’s biggest mistake was to be an educated woman at a time when being able to read was suspect and being the mother of the most hated family in England (by some powerful factions in any event) did not help. In the previous generation Good Duke Humphrey’s wife, Eleanor Cobham, was accused of witchcraft as a ploy to bring down Humphrey whilst Henry IV’s second wife Joan of Navarre was also accused of witchcraft – by her step-son no less- as a method of controlling her dower lands.
England did not remain long at peace. By September 1470 Warwick and Clarence were in Lancastrian colours and Margaret of Anjou had invaded. Jacquetta returned to sanctuary with Elizabeth and her grandchildren whilst Edward IV and Jacquetta’s son Anthony fled abroad.
Jacquetta died on the 30 May 1472. She was fifty-six and like Katherine Swynford – her descendents would be English monarchs to this day.
Gregory, Philippa, Baldwin, David and Jones, Michael. (2011) Women of the Cousins’ War. London: Simon and Schuster