Search This Blog

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Upstart Woodvilles

Anthony Woodville, Earl of Rivers, and Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset, were just two of the many family members Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s unpopular wife, brought with her two court. In addition to her parents, Elizabeth had five brothers, seven sisters, and two sons when she arrived at court. Despite many a jealous complaint, Edward helped her sisters to many profitable marriages and offered her brothers and sons significant offices and landholdings during his reign, many of these in direct affront to Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick or one of Edward’s own brothers.

Elizabeth Woodville’s brother, Anthony, the Second Earl of Rivers, was born in 1442 as the son of As a youth he was knighted and fought at Towton in 1461, and a year later joined the peerage upon the death of his wife’s father, Lord Scales. He would eventually become the head of the Woodville family. He fought in one of the most famous tournaments of his time against the Anthony, Comte de la Roche, the bastard of Burgundy on a mission as an ambassador to Burgundy. His political ambition, along with the help of his sister’s own advancement at court, led to his promotion to Lieutenant of Calais (making him a rival to Hastings’ position at Captain of Calais) and Captain of the King’s Armada among other offices. He became Earl of Rivers after his brother and father were beheaded by Ratcliffe at the Battle of Edgecot in 1469. Rivers was briefly engaged in 1478 to Margaret, the sister of King James III of Scotland, although it was mysteriously ended. Although he fled with Edward during Warwick’s temporary take-over, he returned in time to aid the Queen and his nephews and nieces during an attack on the Tower. After his valiant aid at Barnet, Tewkesbury, and the defense of London from the Lancastrians, he was honored with the guardianship of little prince Edward. It was Rivers and his nephew Grey who were accompanying Edward V from Ludlow with 2,000 men when Richard and Buckingham intercepted and had them arrested. Richard, who like many of his contemporaries at court hated the Woodvilles, and Anthony in particular, for their undue distinctions and family connections, finally had Rivers beheaded at Pontefract on June 25, 1483, based on arms that were found in his luggage to suggest a potential overthrow.

Coat of arms.

Although Rivers is often painted as an obnoxious, political hanger-on of the Queen’s by Clarence, Richard and his other buddies, like Lord Hastings, he was actually a very modest, honorable guy and also a cultured man with extensive literary interests. After the death of his wife, he went on a religious pilgrimage in 1475 to Italy, and was nominated “Defender and Director of the Siege Apostolic for the Pope in England.” He met William Caxton, who had set up a printing press in the Sanctuary at Westminster. Caxton’s first commission came from Earl Rivers in the form of an English translation of a Latin to French book, Dictes and Sayengis of the Philosophers that appeared at court in 1477. While none of the original texts survive, we know that Rivers went on to work with Caxton on many more publications. The hated but harmless Rivers turned out to make a significant contribution to the history of English literature.

Rivers presenting Caxton's volume to the king.

Thomas Woodville, the First Marquis of Dorset was Elizabeth Woodville’s eldest son from her first marriage to Sir John Grey, who passed onto Thomas his title as Lord Ferrers of Groby in 1461. He was immediately promoted upon his sister’s marriage to the Earl of Huntington by Edward, who in return earned Thomas’ support at Tewkesbury and in carrying out the murder of Prince Edward, the son of Henry VI. In 1475, he married Lady Harrington and Bonville, assuming her titles as well, and within a few weeks of being made a knight of the Bath, he became Marquis of Dorset as well. It did not stop there. He was later honored as a knight of the Garter and made a member of the Privy Council. Dorset even received some “tidbits” of Clarence’s estates when he was executed by his brother (Kendall 149). No wonder the Yorkists felt annoyed and humiliated by his quick rise to power.

When Edward IV died, it was Dorset who was the Constable of the Tower when the princes were there killed. He was in the process of gaining war vessels for his family’s protection when Richard III took the throne. He promptly fled to Sanctuary and then to Yorkshire to fight, and Richard put out a reward for his arrest. He fought in Buckingham’s failed rebellion in 1484, and eventually made his way to Richmond’s side in France. From Paris, he wrote his mother the Queen Dowager a misleading note that he would soon return, only to flee farther onto the continent. He had lost Richmond’s trust, and he did not accompany the triumphant new king back to England, but joined him after Bosworth. His attainder was reversed, and though he was implicated in Simnel’s rebellion in 1486 and imprisoned briefly, he spent the rest of his life in good standing, embarking on various military missions. He died in 1501, and his son Thomas succeeded him.


Jokinen, Anniina. “Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers.” Luminarium: Encyclopedia Project. 2009. Web. Accessed 2-25-10. .

Jokinen, Anniina. “Thomas Grey, 1st Marquis of Dorset.” Luminarium: Encyclopedia Project. 2009. Web. Accessed 2-25-10. <>.

Kendall, Paul Murray. Richard the Third. NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1956. Print.

Wagner, John A. Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc. 2001. Print.

No comments:

Post a Comment