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Jacquetta and Sir Richard Woodville – Yorkists

Plate 4--Garter Stall Plate earl riversSir 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

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George Neville, Archbishop of York

georgenevillearms2George Neville was the younger brother of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (a.k.a the Kingmaker) and also John Neville who was briefly the Earl of Northumberland.

 

He was only fourteen years old when the Pope made him a canon not only of York Minster but also of Salisbury. It can be no surprise that his meteoric rise in the church was followed by the Bishopric of Exeter – though he wasn’t legally old enough to run things (he received a dispensation to take the profits though) and in 1465 he was translated to the Archbishopric of York. This later move was by way of a reward given by King Edward IV to the Neville family.

George did study at Balliol College, Oxford in the 1440s so although his role within the spiritual estate reflects the politics of the time he did at least take the job seriously. Prior to become one of the ‘great men’ of the country he had time for a youthful fling with Elizabeth de Beauchamp and had a daughter called Alice.  He was chancellor of the college for a period and also fulfilled the role of chancellor in Edward IV’s government.  He went on diplomatic missions to Scotland. He even  found time to open two of Edward IV’s parliaments.

 

However, things were not going smoothly between the Nevilles and their royal cousin in the 1460s. All Europe – well the Scots and the French- agreed that Edward would not have become king without the support of his cousin the Earl of Warwick. But by 1465 Edward was expressing his own opinions. He wanted a treaty with Philip of Burgundy rather than with Louis XI of France. Warwick favoured France. There was also the unfortunate issue of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville to take into account. Warwick had been negotiating for the hand of a French princess at the time. It made him look a tad foolish and contributed to the cousins’ relationship deteriorating into open rebellion.

 

George appeared to broker a peace between Edward and Warwick but in reality he was providing his brother with a smokescreen while he planned the marriage of his eldest daughter, Isobel, to George, Duke of Clarence and then when he felt that his power had been eroded too far into rebellion. It should be added that George played a key role in the marriage; not only did he perform the nuptial service for the happy couple in Calais, he was also instrumental in applying for the papal dispensation that permitted George to marry Isobel – they were both descended from John of Gaunt after all. George’s mother (Cecily Neville) was the Earl of Warwick and the archbishop’s aunt.

 

Edward appeared tolerant of his archbishop though – he had a reputation for letting bygones be bygones. After the Battles of Tewkesbury George found himself in prison for a few months and then returned to his offices – business as usual so as to speak.

Then things went badly wrong for the archbishop.  Edward  said he would visit George at his palace in Hertfordshire to go hunting but the day before his intended arrival the king had the bishop arrested and his property confiscated.

Why?  Perhaps Edward remembered that it was the bishop who captured him at Olney near Coventry when the Earl of Warwick made his bid for power in 1469.  Perhaps he remembered all those occasions when George’s words were cast like oil upon troubled waters to disguise Warwick’s machinations.  Perhaps it was because the king remembered that it was also the archbishop who’d been responsible for defending London against Edward when Edward returned to claim his crown in 1471. The bishop summoned Lancastrian sympathisers to St. Pauls -600-700 armed men turned up. In fact when George paraded Lancastrian King Henry VI through the streets of London in a bid to raise support he’d had to hold Henry’s hand. It could have reasonably been either of those reasons that led to the archbishop’s re arrest –  Except of course, George Neville Archbishop of York wasn’t an innocent victim of a king’s mental accounting for past events. The last remaining son of the Earl of Salisbury should have learned not to rebel against Edward. It hadn’t got Warwick very far in the end but for all his learning George got himself entangled in a new plot against the king. Once again Northerners were involved just as they had been in 1469- then Edward had dawdled, had trusted his Neville cousins…now, he was older and wiser and George found himself languishing in a prison in Calais.

George Neville, last of the four Neville boys born to the Earl of Salisbury and his duchess died soon after his release from Calais four long years later – presumably chastened by the whole sorry experience.  He was on his way back to York but died in Staffordshire.

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