Tag Archives: Eleanor Butler

Who murdered the princes in the Tower?

princes_in_the_tower_2.jpgThe honest answer to that is that it rather depends on your interpretation of the sources and, as I have said before, your affiliations. Richard III is a monarch who stirs strong sentiments!  I first encountered the event and a few of the various sources aged eleven when my History teacher used the Jackdaw activity pack about the princes to encourage his class to see that History isn’t something cast in concrete and that the same source can be valued or discredited according to viewpoint and known facts. The story of the princes is the story of an unsolved murder – it’s a bit like unmasking Jack the Ripper in that everyone has their pet theory and some evidence to back up their ideas. The novelist Patricia Cornwall has spent a huge sum of money to gather overlooked evidence which points to Jack being the artist Walter Sickert. Unsolved historical murders have a fascination because everyone can look at the available evidence and draw their own conclusions.  Difficulties arise when historians – and determined amateur sleuths – try to find previously unknown evidence that has disappeared down the crevices of time  that will point in the right direction. It is often the work of painstakingly moving the pieces around until a more clear picture emerges. Until then it has to be best and most accepted fit – but that doesn’t mean that in a modern court the evidence would produce a guilty verdict.

So here  are the possibilities of what happened to the Princes- in no particular order, other than the order they’ve emerged from my brain.

  1. King Richard III had them killed. Please don’t inhale and reach for your keyboard if you think he’s innocent – he is a rather notable suspect.  Richard, as duke of Gloucester, served his brother Edward IV with loyalty and honour.  Edward left him to get on with ruling the North of England and he did a stonkingly good job of it.  The good folk of York felt sufficiently strongly about it to make a note of his deposition and death at Bosworth – an act guaranteed to hack off the new regime.  The problem for Richard, if you’re that way inclined, was that Edward IV allowed the Woodville faction to gain dominance at court in terms of lucrative positions, marriages and ultimately by giving the care of his son into Woodville hands.  Richard only found out about his brother’s death because Lord Hastings sent him a note warning of Woodville intentions to get young Edward crowned as quickly as possible which would have seen Richard as a protector without any power because he didn’t have control of the king. When Richard intercepted the young king at Northampton it could be argued that Richard was acting in the interests of rather a lot of people who weren’t terrible keen on the aforementioned Woodvilles who were regarded by many as too big for their boots – and now is not the time to go down the side alley of Jacquetta Grey’s lineage. So far so good. Nor is this post the time to go through the whole chronology of events. The key things that stick in my mind are the Eleanor Butler incident i.e. the announcement that Edward IV had already been pre contracted in marriage thus rendering all his children illegitimate and Richard as heir to the throne.  The argument is usually put forward that if the children were illegitimate and since the Titulus Regulus act of Parliament said they were then there was no way they could inherit-so why kill them?  There’s also the episode with Lord Hastings finding himself being manhandled out of a privy council meeting to a handy lump of timber where he was executed without trial – clearly a large chunk from the historical jigsaw missing there although plenty of historians have presented theories on the subject as to why Richard should fall out with his brother’s friend so dramatically and decisively. Jane Shore found herself doing public penance, lost her property and ended up in jail in the aftermath of the episode – again why should Richard do that?  His brother had plenty of other mistresses.  The problem with skulduggery is that people don’t tend to make careful notes before, during or after the event – at least not if they wanted to keep their heads. There is obviously much more that I could write about both for and against Richard’s involvement.  I have four rather hefty volumes on my desk as I type.  Richard was the key suspect at the time according to rumour- Dominic Mancini left an account of events as he understood them.  He left England the week of Richard’s coronation, doesn’t provide an account of what Richard looked like and his manuscript went missing until 1934.  He says:” But after Hastings was removed, all the attendants who had waited on the king were debarred access to him. He and his brother were withdrawn into the inner apartments of the Tower proper, and day by day  began to be seen more rarely behind the bars and windows, til at length they ceased to appear altogether. The Physician John Argentine, the last of his attendants whose services the king enjoyed, reported that the young kin, like a victim prepared for sacrifice, sought remission of his sins by daily confession and penance, because he believed that death was facing him.”

    “I have seen many men burst into tears and lamentations when mention was made of him after his removal from men’s sight; and already there is a suspicion that he had been done away with. Whether, However, he has been done away with, and by what manner of death, so far I have not yet at all discovered.” 

    Mancini recognises that rumours aren’t fact but does give us a circumstantial account which holds water in that he doesn’t have any particular axe to grind on the subject.  Richard was in charge – whilst dying in the Tower was a huge risk for any of its imprisoned inhabitants it should only have happened if the bloke at the top of the chain of command gave the order; medieval Kings needed to secure their dynasties.  In having Edward of Middleham created Prince of Wales, Richard was laying a marker for the future.  If nothing else, and this is my thought on the subject, the Wars of the Roses would have taught him that having two kings on the board isn’t a terribly good idea in terms of political stability.  Little boys, bastardised or not, have a nasty tendency of growing up to be focal points of rebellion (and so does the idea of their existence as Henry VII swiftly discovered). I should also add that I have no problem with it if Richard did do it – medieval kings weren’t required to be nice they were required to hold on to the throne, pass it to the next generation and preferably win a large number of wars abroad whilst avoiding the scenario of their own citizens killing each other. I might also add that no one has any problem with Edward IV bumping off Henry VI in order to ensure no further unrest – of course he had the body displayed which eases the problem of conspiracy theories popping up out of the woodwork and he produced heirs – not to mention a brother who managed to land himself with a far more juicy tale. Equally Henry IV who bumped off his cousin doesn’t suffer as much as Richard on account of the fact that there were two further generations of Lancastrian kings making Henry’s actions less noteworthy (if you wanted to keep your head) whilst Richard lost his throne and his life after only two years  allowing the Tudor propaganda machine to get to work which also muddies some of the sources.

  2. Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham was descended from both John of Gaunt and Thomas of Woodstock. Again, if contemporary/near contemporary accounts are to be believed he had something of a grudge against the Woodvilles believing that his marriage to Katherine Woodville was beneath his dignity and that he hadn’t been permitted to take up his correct position in society. There are accounts where it is Stafford who is encouraging Richard to do away with the two princes. Things weren’t going terribly well for Stafford in terms of promotion and power although he swiftly became virtual ruler of the whole of Wales when Richard followed his brother’s model of giving titles, offices and lands to people he trusted and then letting them get on with it. By the winter of 1483 Bucking was in open rebellion against Richard and in cahoots with Margaret Beaufort who we  know he met on the road to Brecon where Bishop Morton was being kept under house arrest.  There seem to be two separate plots that turned into one plot – untidy but demonstrating that the great and the good had seen an opportunity for making their moves and also demonstrating that beneath the surface there were some very nasty currents at work – none of which is evidenced through much more than hearsay, some gleaned documentary comments and a few very interesting travel itineraries. The combination of  Buckingham’s arrogance and a few well chosen words of encouragement could have  been enough to see Buckingham have the boys murdered.  He had the means and the opportunity in that he was Constable of the Tower and had Richard’s trust.  He was executed in Salisbury on 3 November 1483.  He was not permitted to make a speech before his death.  It is plausible that he had the boys killed in order to make life difficult for Richard and also to open his way to the throne – it would have to be said that if the latter was the case Stafford was an inordinately optimistic chap.  If the former is true then he succeeded better than he could ever have dreamed. Jean Molinet is one of the sources who references Buckingham as does Commines.  There’s also a fragment of manuscript in the Ashmolean that points in Buckingham’s direction. The key thing here is that Richard didn’t know about it until it was too late and then who would have believed him.
  3.  

    Sir James Tyrell- according to Sir Thomas More and Polydore Vergil – the chap that did the deed. He apparently confessed in 1502 prior to his execution.  There is no known copy of the confession in existence. The Great Chronicle of London repeated the rumour.

  4. And that was more or less it until historians began revising their views in the Twentieth Century – the Victorians as the image above demonstrates were rather keen on the wicked uncle theory.  There is an account written by the Tudor historian John Stowe which says that there was a failed rescue attempt complete with a diversion of fire.  Again, I have no problem with that as it is entirely plausible that Stowe had access to sources that are now lost – happens a lot in this story.  This account opens up the possibility that the princes were killed accidentally or on purpose by someone other than on the orders of the folk in charge.  If there was a rescue attempt and it went wrong it would be very easy for the princes’ guards to kill them either to prevent their rescue or – and this is pure speculation- trying to do their best Thomas Becket replay for reward or someone could have paid the killer on the staff to do the deed – which opens up the possibility of the Lancastrian faction weighing in…all of which has no evidential base – Josephine Tey and Philippa Gregory are fiction writers. They can take  scraps and use the wriggle room as they wish. For accounts in the history books to be changed there needs to be something rather more substantial.
  5. They died accidentally or of illness. Well, why didn’t Richard just say?  Who would have believed him – look what happened to Edward II and Richard II and Henry VI – no one believed their deaths were natural….and that’s mainly because they weren’t.  There are plenty of other examples of the elite dying unexpectedly and the next thing you know its on account of poison or dastardly deeds. The average medieval man and woman in the street liked a conspiracy theory as much as the present generation – another thing which doesn’t help the primary accounts that we do have.  It’s largely all gossip.
  6. They didn’t die at all.  There was a story in Tyrell’s family that he removed the boys from the Tower.  There’re un-identified children in Richard’s financial records in Sheriff Hutton (oh goody, more speculation- but at least there’s something documented). There is also the Laslau Theory that says that John Clement, Margaret Gigg’s husband, was actually Richard of York. It’s a really interesting theory based on Holbein’s picture of Sir Thomas More’s family – obviously with flaws like the idea of Sir Edward Guildford (father of the duke of Northumberland’s wife) actually being Edward V incognito  but it would account for some of Sir Thomas More’s more glaring errors in his account of events – if you’re a follower of the Laslau Theory, Sir Thomas rather than being a Tudor propagandist/historian (depending on your viewpoint) is actually laying a screen of misinformation in order to protect the identity of a surviving prince. Laslau does offer some slender  threads of documentary evidence in his quest which are  interesting and which muddy the waters still further.  And finally and most obvious of the lot there is Henry VII’s on-going fear of pretenders.  King James of Scotland accepted Perkin Warbeck as Duke of York. This isn’t without its difficulties as Warbeck was initially acclaimed in Dublin as Earl of Warwick but you get the gist.  Elizabeth Woodville testified to the legitimacy of her children but never accused anyone of murder – either before or after Richard’s demise…and yes there’s a whole host of things that could be added to that statement.
  7. There are a couple of other candidates for murderer- take John Howard who became Duke of Norfolk.  He was the claimant to the estate of the Mowbray Dukes of Norfolk.  He was given custody of the Tower of London under less than regular circumstances the night the Princes are supposed to have disappeared from the Tower (Weir). He had opportunity and it turns out he had a motive—Richard, Duke of York was also Duke of Norfolk in right of his deceased child bride Anne, the daughter of the last Mowbray Duke.  Normally land and title reverted to the family where a child marriage was not consummated and no heir produced – which is why Edmund Tudor didn’t wait until Margaret Beaufort was a bit older before getting her with child.  he was concerned she’d die and he’d lose the lolly. In this case though, Richard had kept the title, the estates and the revenue…
  8. And finally John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. John had been by Uncle Richard’s side throughout 1483.  Like Buckingham he was trusted.  He would become Richard’s heir presumptive after Edward of Middleham’s death.  If we’re going to suggest that Buckingham was looking to be king then it also makes sense that someone a bit nearer to the Crown would bear some investigation.

The thing is that there is some evidence but its contradictory and circumstantial.  It might be possible to rule out the princes’ survival if the bones in the urn in Westminster Abbey turned out to belong to Edward V and Richard of York. Even if they weren’t it wouldn’t necessarily mean that they had survived their misadventure. And if the bones were theirs, it wouldn’t prove who did the killing since the skeletons did not emerge from their resting place clutching a note identifying the murderer – though it would make the account offered by More more plausible – errors and all.

And that’s all I intend to post about the Princes in the Tower for the time being.  Most of the time, with a few notable exceptions, if it weren’t for the traffic stats on the History Jar I wouldn’t know whether anyone was reading my ramblings or not.  I’ve not got the hang of being liked, joining communities or developing conversations through comments – Richard III, the Woodvilles and the Princes on the other hand certainly get a response! So thank you for your comments – positive, negative, knowledgeable and thought provoking as they are.

Primary sources or near primary sources include:

André, Bernard: Vita Henrici VII (in Memorials of King Henry VII, ed. J. Gairdner, Rolls Series, 1858)

Bull of Pope Innocent VIII on the Marriage of Henry VII with Elizabeth of York (ed. J. Payne-Collier, Camden Miscellany I, 1847)

Fabyan, Robert: The Concordance of Histories: The New Chronicles of England and France (1516) (ed. H. Ellis, 1811)

Grafton, Richard: Grafton’s Chronicle, or History of England (2 vols, ed. H. Ellis, 1809)

Hall, Edward: The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York (London, 1550; ed. H. Ellis, 1809; facsimile edition of the original published 1970)

Holinshed, Raphael: Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (6 vols, ed. H. Ellis, 1807–8)

Leland, John: Collectanea (6 vols, ed. T. Hearne, Oxford, 1770–74)

A London Chronicle in the Time of Henry VII and Henry VIII (ed. C. Hopper, Camden Society, Camden Miscellany IV, 1839)

 

More, Sir Thomas: The History of King Richard the Third (in The Complete Works of Sir Thomas More, Vol. II, ed. R. S. Sylvester and others, Yale, 1963, London, 1979)

Rous, John: Joannis Rossi Antiquarii Warwicensis. Historia Regum Angliae (ed. T. Hearne, Oxford, 1716 and 1745)

The Song of the Lady Bessy

Stow, John: A Survey of London

Vergil, Polydore: The Anglica Historia of Polydore Vergil, AD 1485–1573 (trans. and ed. D. Hay, Camden Series, 1950)

For secondary sources both for and against Richard as well as presenting other possibilities and candidates see http://erenow.com/biographies/richardiiiandtheprincesinthetower/26.html

 

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Filed under Fifteenth Century, The Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses

Edward IV’s wily mistress…or should that be elusive mistress?

images-17I’ve become side tracked by Edward IV’s mistresses and illegitimate children. I’ve already posted about his holiest mistress – Lady Eleanor Butler and I posted last year about the ‘merriest mistress’ Jane, or rather Elizabeth, Shore. I may write another post about her in due course. That just leaves the wiliest mistress – who would appear to be Elizabeth Lucie or Lucy nee Wayte and who often merits only a sentence in works on Edward IV  because unlike the other two very little is known about her.

There were other women as well but they seem to have been so numerous and so unimportant in the great scheme of things that no one bothered to jot down their names. Polydore Vergil writing after 1505 for his Anglica Historia commissioned by Henry VII suggests that Edward may have made overtures in some very inappropriate places – including the Earl of Warwick’s wider household “and yt caryeth soome colour of truthe, which commonly is reportyd, that king Edward showld have assayed to do soome unhonest act in the earls howse; for as muche as the king was a man who wold readyly cast an eye upon yowng ladyes, and loove them inordinately.” Obviously it wasn’t in Vergil’s best interest to sell the York king as a choir boy but then neither did anyone else. Commines noted that much of Edward IV’s problem was his interest in pleasure. Mancini described him as “licentious in the extreme.” He also wrote “he (Edward) pursued with no discrimination the married and unmarried the noble and lowly: however he took none by force.”  According to Ross, the Croyland Chronicle was amazed that Edward was able to rule a kingdom whilst partaking of so many “sensual enjoyments.” Gregory’s Chronicle, which Ross notes is the most contemporary of the reports, commented that Edward wasn’t very chaste…something of an understatement it would appear.

 

Sir Thomas More, who was only four when Edward died, wrote about Elizabeth Lucy and seems to have mistaken her with Eleanor Butler – either that or Edward spent his time running around the countryside promising to marry unsuitable widows whenever they put up a bit of resistance to his advances. He writes, “The Duchess (Cecily, Duchess of York, Edward IV’s mother), with these words nothing appeased, and seeing the King (Edward IV) so set thereon that she could not pull him back, so highly she disdained it that under pretext of her duty to God, she devised to disturb this marriage [to Elizabeth Woodville], and rather to help that he should marry one Dame Elizabeth Lucy, whom the King had also not long before gotten with child. Wherefore the King’s mother objected openly against his marriage, as it were in discharge of her conscience, that the King was betrothed to Dame Elizabeth Lucy, and her husband before God….Whereupon Dame Elizabeth Lucy was sent for. And although she was by the King’s mother and many others filled with good encouragement-to affirm that she was betrothed unto the King-yet when she was solemnly sworn to say the truth, she confessed that they were never betrothed. However, she said his Grace spoke so loving words unto her that she verily hoped he would have married her, and that if it had not been for such kind words, she would never have showed such kindness to him, to let him so kindly get her with child.”

 

So just who was Dame Elizabeth Lucy? Ashdown-Hill, pro-Richardian historian, identifies her as the daughter of Thomas Wayte of Hampshire. Further digging around reveals that this is not necessarily the case. Michael Hicks notes that  More was wrong about the pre-contract and goes on to suggest that he was also wrong about the lady’s name as there is no one by the name of Elizabeth Lucy in the records – at least not some one of reasonably noble birth. Digging around on the Internet yielded an interesting forum discussion which identifies Margaret FitzLewis widow of Sir William Lucy. Its perhaps not surprising then that historians have placed her social status as anything from the wife/daughter of the peer of the realm to good-time girl or  as the Seventeenth Century historian Buck described her – a ‘wanton wench.’

 

Byrne is much more clear cut in her introduction to the Lisle Letters. She places Elizabeth Lucy as being a nineteen-year-old widow  of  Lancastrian connections from an established Hampshire family holding a number of manors when she met the king.

 

Whoever the elusive Elizabeth really was she is the mother of Arthur Plantagenet (born anytime between 1461 and 1475 depending upon which source you read but Byrne opts for 1462) who is referenced as having family in Hampshire, a fact which is corroborated in the Lisle Letters which locates the Wayte family, or parts of it, in Titchfield. Arthur also had a sister called Elizabeth (born 1464 ish), though apparently we can’t even agree on that, some researchers argue that actually she was called Margaret…so there’s either a name error or possibly two daughters.  And of course, some historians argue that because of the possible difference in their ages Arthur and Elizabeth might not have had the same mother (yes I know, if there’s only about three years between them that its not an issue but there is a reference which suggests Arthur was born in 1475 -so a lot of ifs, buts and maybes.)

Any way, Elizabeth daughter of Edward IV married Thomas Lumley of Durham. The Duchess of Cambridge is numbered among her descendants. Further evidence as to Elizabeth’s royal father is provided by the papal dispensation which allowed Elizabeth’s son Roger to marry Anne Conyers – the two of them being related within the prohibited degrees of affinity (something like fourth cousins) Testamenta Eboracensia 3 (Surtees Soc., vol. 45) (1865): 355).

History isn’t totally sure what happened to Elizabeth Lucy nee Wayte. She simply disappears from the records which suggests that either the king was no longer interested in her, she died or if she was from the lower social orders simply got on with her life along with countless other undocumented medieval people.  Putting a post on Elizabeth Lucy together is rather like a composite character exercise!

Edward IV did have other illegitimate children, not counting his children with Elizabeth Woodville who found themselves delegitimised by their Uncle Richard, but history doesn’t provide them with mothers. Grace Plantagenet, for example, turns up at the funeral of Elizabeth Woodville but beyond that we know very little.  There is a tantalising hint of an unknown daughter marrying into the Musgrave family but it was unsupported by any evidence. There’s a better evidenced possibility of the wife of the 6th Baron Audley being one of Edward IV’s daughters – though I’m sure that there are probably arguments for her being someone else entirely!

 

Ashdown-Hill, John (1999) ‘The Elusive Mistress: Elizabeth Lucy and Her Family’ in The Richardian  11 (June 1999), pp. 490–505. 31

Crawford, Anne. (2007)  The Yorkists: The History of a Dynasty. London: Continuum

Given-Wilson & A. Curteis (1984) Royal Bastards of Medieval London:Routledge and Keegan

England

Hicks, Michael. (2002) English Political Culture in the Fifteenth Century.  New York: Routledge

Hicks, Micael (2004) Edward IV London: Bloomsbury

Ross, Charles Derek. (1997)  Edward IV (English Monarchs Series)  New Haven and London: Yale University Press

St. Clare Byrne, Murial (1983) The Lisle Letters: An Abridgement

Weir, Alison (1994) The Princes In The Tower  London:Random House

http://www.thomasmorestudies.org/docs/Richard.pdf

Elizabeth Waite, in Lundy, Darryl. The Peerage: A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain as well as the royal families of Europe.

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Filed under Fifteenth Century, Kings of England, surprising connections, The Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses

Eleanor Butler -the holiest harlot or an unrecognised queen

images-17Edward IV has a bit of a reputation for liking, and being liked by, the ladies… he once said that his mistresses were the merriest, wiliest and  holiest in the land. The merriest naughty lady was Jane Shore, the best known of Edward’s mistresses. Lady Eleanor Butler nee Talbot finished up in a nunnery, so presumably she was the holy mistress and the topic of today’s post. The wiliest mistress was Elizabeth Lucy/Lucie or Wayte by whom Edward had at least two children.  Sir Thomas More thought that it was Elizabeth Lucy with whom Edward was pre-contracted but there are other sources including Mancini and later Philip de Commines who discuss Edward’s marriage to another woman before Elizabeth Woodville.

 

History, in order to be fact relies on evidence which can, of course, be misleading.  Much of the evidence relating to Edward’s marriage to Eleanor Butler is circumstantial and the sources are often rather biased.  Wagner makes the very good point that Margaret of Anjou and the Lancastrians never made any reference to a pre-existing marriage…but then the marriage was a secret. Mancini wasn’t a big fan of Richard III so the fact that he reports a sermon which identified the king’s children as illegitimate has to have some clout.  For the sake of fairness I should point out that Vergil wrote an account of the same sermon and categorically states that no one mentioned illegitimacy…feeling confused yet?  The Croyland Chronicle was troubled by no doubts at all.  It very clearly states that the whole thing was cooked up by Richard to justify the usurpation of the throne.  The Richard III Society have rather a lot to say on the subject and plenty of evidence to support the view that Richard wasn’t making up the marriage but none of the evidence is incontrovertible.  It is a deductive process.

 

We can be sure that Lady Eleanor Butler, nee Talbot, was daughter to the Earl of Shrewsbury and Margaret Beauchamp. When she was thirteen she was married off to Sir Thomas Butler who was the son and heir of Lancastrian Lord Sudeley.  Thomas died in 1461 but before the Battle of Towton – though there was a Thomas Butler who died during the Yorkshire battle on the Lancastrian side. The evidence for the date of Thomas’s death is discussed by Ashdown-Hill (who frequently writes in the Ricardian) who notes that the inquisition post mortem was dated to Henry’s reign rather than Edward IV’s.  It is possible he died from injuries sustained at the Battle of Blore Heath.  Eleanor should have been a wealthy widow.

 

In the rather complicated game of chess that was landownership Eleanor’s father-in-law took back one of the two manors that had been settled upon her with her marriage to his only son. A licence was required for the transfer. This was neither applied for nor issued so the Crown promptly confiscated both properties that were Eleanor’s inheritance.  By this time the king was not Henry VI but Edward IV.  The confiscation may or may not have been because of Sudeley’s Lancastrian sympathies – it might simply have been part of a strengthening of the York hand.

 

Eleanor went along to petition Edward for the return of her property (you may be familiar with a similar story – there are several parallels between Eleanor’s plight and that of Elizabeth Woodville.)  At which point the teenage Edward became very friendly indeed with the pretty widow who was slightly older than him. In fact he became so friendly that he may have promised to marry Eleanor.  Interestingly if its a question of a pattern repeating itself it’s worth noting that Edward attempted to bribe Elizabeth Woodville’s father and when that didn’t work there was the story of the threat of violence which didn’t work either so that Edward found that the only way to enjoy rather more of Elizabeth Woodville’s company was to offer her marriage…note the word story…hard evidence is in short supply.   Had Edward been much more naive three years earlier when he is supposed to have pre-contracted to Eleanor Butler?  Or did he want to avoid marriage already having one secret wife?   Ashdown-Hill speculates that Edward’s promise  to Eleanor took place just after his coronation.

In the Middle Ages, the promise of marriage followed by intercourse was marriage and recognized as such by the Church although it required the irregular marriage to be regularised before any children could inherit. No priest was required for an irregular marriage and actually there really would be no witnesses around (one hopes) to testify as to whether a promise of marriage had been made prior to any activity that could be deemed naughty.

In 1483 Duke Richard of Gloucester claimed that Edward’s children were all illegitimate because Edward was pre-contracted to another woman before marrying Elizabeth Woodville. Cue Robert Stillington to step forward. He claimed that not only had the pre-contract existed but that he had witnessed an exchange of vows – so, much more organized that a quick promise to marry Eleanor at some point in the future whilst muttering sweet nothings and fumbling with the laces of her dress.  The next thing you know Parliament was merrily constructing the Titulus Regius which proclaimed Edward’s bigamy to the world and bastardized all his children including the young King Edward – who swiftly lost his crown to his uncle.  It is worth mentioning at this point that Henry VII had the Titulus Regius reversed prior to his marriage to Elizabeth of York who was also bastardised by the proceedings.

 

This all leaves many, many problems. Firstly, you’d have thought that Eleanor Butler might have had something to say about her spouse getting re-hitched. Certainly you’d have thought her family might have had something to say on the subject – it is often suggested that Eleanor was a poor widow rather like Elizabeth Woodville with no one to speak up for her but Eleanor’s sister was the Duchess of Norfolk. Her mother was Margaret Beauchamp – the eldest daughter of Richard Beauchamp the Earl of Warwick – her half-aunt was Anne Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick meaning that the Kingmaker was her uncle and yes you’d have thought that Talbot being the husband of the eldest sister would have been the Earl of Warwick, he certainly thought he should have been and it definitely caused ill will amongst the Beauchamps and their respective spouses. But all that aside, Eleanor was not on her own in the world and even if she had been she’d already demonstrated that she was capable of speaking for herself when she petitioned Edward for the return of her manors. There was a large network of noble relations who surely to goodness would have taken a dim view of Edward doing the dirty on Eleanor? Unless they had something to gain perhaps? Or to lose?

 

Of course, since Edward married Elizabeth Woodville in secret it would have been impossible for anyone to jump up and down about just causes and impediments at the time of the marriage.  Also it has been suggested that Eleanor Butler had no children and seems to have been disposed to a contemplative life. She may have been quite happy to let sleeping dogs lie…sadly she didn’t leave a deathbed confession witnessed by a posse of nuns that would have settled the issue without further ado.

 

Thirdly, how very convenient it was for Richard that Edward was dead before he chose to mention the embarrassing news that his brother had made one too many marriage vow – and just before Edward V’s coronation as well, such a co-incidence!  However, if Stillington didn’t tell Richard about the marriage until after Edward’s death Richard could hardly be expected to take action any sooner.

Fourthly, just why didn’t Stillington spill the beans earlier? That’s easier to explain- though still circumstantial. Stillington managed to move from being someone fairly insignificant to the keeper of the Privy Seal as well as Bishop of Bath and Wells during the reign of Edward IV– co-incidentally at the same time the marriage of Edward to Elizabeth Woodville became public knowledge.

 

Interestingly Stillington found himself in the Tower in 1478 along with Edward’s other brother, George, Duke of Clarence. It has been alleged that Clarence, who may or may not have been drowned in a vat of Malmsey, had been told by Stillington of the pre-contract – hence the private execution…although if I was Edward, I would probably have ensured that Stillington had a nasty accident with some marbles at the top of a steep set of steps at about the same time, if he had indeed been telling tales or there was even the remotest possibility of tale telling.  Edward was capable of that sort of behaviour – just look what happened to Henry VI on the very night that Edward arrived in London on May 21, 1471.

 

Legally speaking Richard should have had the matter tried in an ecclesiastical court to be absolutely certain that his nephew didn’t have a claim to the throne and equally if Edward had been married to Eleanor Butler presumably he could have got a Papal Dispensation in order to then marry Elizabeth Woodville – though his grandson, Henry VIII, knew all about the difficulties of that particular route.   Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick – Kingmaker and Eleanor Butler’s uncle might have had a view on it…a good reason for saying nothing, especially as Elizabeth Woodville was introduced to the court as Mrs Edward Plantagenet at the very point that the Kingmaker was in France negotiating for the marriage of a French princess to Edward.

 

Edward married Elizabeth Woodville in 1464 three years after his supposed marriage to Eleanor – historians tend to accept that she was definitely his mistress. The only real difference between Eleanor’s so-called marriage, if it happened, and Elizabeth’s was that Edward acknowledged Elizabeth as his bride.  Elizabeth had taken the precaution of having her mother as an additional witness but none of the testimonies survive today, or if they do they’re tucked away in some dark corner of the archives.  This means that either Edward made false promises to Eleanor in order to have his wicked way; he intended to marry Eleanor but then the political situation changed and besides which he’d had his wicked way; he was married to Eleanor but both parties decided to pretend it had never happened; or Richard made the whole thing up in order to usurp his nephew’s throne.

 

And whilst we’re on the subject of irregular marriages – which Edward and Elizabeth Woodville’s marriage was then a papal dispensation was required to ‘regularise’ the whole thing and preferably before children were born because if the marriage remained irregular then whilst the union itself was legal the children of the union couldn’t inherit. As it happens there is no evidence of Edward seeking a papal dispensation to regularize his marriage to Elizabeth – it would appear that Richard III was quite right – he was the heir not his nephews – but there was absolutely no need to go dredging up a pre-contract.  It has been suggested that Edward IV didn’t ask the pope for a dispensation to regularise his irregular marriage to Elizabeth Woodville because that would have meant deceiving the Pope about his marriage to Eleanor Butler – which moves us from circumstantial evidence to mind reading.

 

Eleanor took herself off to a convent where she died in June 1468 in the Convent of the White Carmelites in Norwich as a lay sister. She’d been a benefactress to the nuns before joining them behind the convent walls. Interestingly, because there is something of a mystery in the whole business Ashdown-Hill identifies the fact that Eleanor held land that she didn’t inherit, didn’t gain through her marriage and which she couldn’t have afforded to buy – indicating that someone had given Eleanor the land…that someone – well, Edward IV…though Ashdown-Hill doesn’t provide the reader with a handy grant signed and sealed with the Crown stamp meaning that it is possible that someone else might have given her the land – though we don’t know who.  It’s also worth mentioning that Ashdown-Hill is very much in favour of Richard III.   You never know though, all sorts of interesting documents turn up in archives around the world from time to time – perhaps one day someone will uncover some incontrovertible evidence about Lady Eleanor Butler and Edward IV, in the meantime there’s plenty to speculate about.

Edward V was born in 1470, two years after Eleanor Butler died – if his father had been pre-contracted the fact that Eleanor was dead would still not have made his marriage to Elizabeth  Woodville legal and even if it was his only marriage it was still an irregular marriage.  It wasn’t as though Edward didn’t know that a papal dispensation was required to regularise the union – his own grandparents Anne Mortimer and Richard of Conisbrough required one- and you’d have thought that one of his advisors might have mentioned it in passing.

 

Ashdown-Hill, John. (2010) Eleanor the Secret Queen: The Woman who put Richard III on the throne. Stroud, The History Press

Wagner, John A. (2001) Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses Oxford: ABC Clio

 

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Filed under Fifteenth Century, Kings of England, The Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses