1908: Khudiram Bose, teenage martyr 1926: Richard Whittemore, Mencken subject

1469: Richard Woodville, father of the queen

August 12th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1469, Richard Woodville, the father of the queen, lost his head.

Though he died as Earl Rivers, Woodville started life as a commoner.

As a retainer to the Duke of Bedford, Woodville drew escort duty for the mistress of the house when the master died suddenly. Not one to waste an opportunity, Woodville soon made the merry widow his merry wife: at the time, he was around 30 and she around 20, while the late husband had kicked off at age 46.

For this impertinent and unauthorized union, the couple paid a fine … and their descendants enjoyed royal power. Well-behaved women and knights-errant seldom make history, right?

Marrying nobility put Woodville into the War of Roses game of throne, where he again proved a deft hand with sneaky conjugation.

In 1464, he secretly married his widowed daughter Elizabeth to the young king Edward IV. Elizabeth Woodville became thereby the first commoner in history to marry an English king.

She also became a lightning-rod.

The Earl of Warwick, so powerful that he was known in this era of uneasy-resting crowns as “The Kingmaker”, was embarrassingly undercut by the Woodville match in his own machinations to pair Edward with a French princess. A stunned Privy Council castigated Edward when it found out — “however good and however fair she might be,” they grumbled “she was no wife for a prince such as himself; for she was not the daughter of a duke or earl” — but the young king stood by his lady.

A love match? We leave that question for the poets and the novelists.

From left to right, Philippa Gregory‘s books about Richard Woodville’s wife, daughter, and granddaughter. Gregory also wrote a nonfiction companion to this bestselling series, The Women of the Cousins’ War: The Duchess, the Queen, and the King’s Mother.

But politically, the Woodville marriage certainly upset the game board. Richard Woodville got promoted to Earl Rivers and others of the tribe profited likewise: this made good sense for Edward because these people would owe their positions, and loyalty, to him.

Contrast with the independent, arrogant aristocrat set like Warwick, who soon proceeded — and what part l’affaire Woodville plazed in his defection is up for speculation, although it was part of his own publicly asserted justification — to desert Edward’s Yorkist cause for the Lancastrian claimant.

Warwick’s rebellion succeeded in overthrowing Edward in 1469, and it was in the glow of this victory that Warwick had the obnoxious arriviste Richard Woodville beheaded as a traitor, together with the man’s son John.

Unfortunately for Warwick, it was but a moment.

Unable to govern, Warwick had to release his royal prisoner, and the sides slid back into open conflict. Edward decisively crushed the Lancastrians at the Battle of Tewkesbury, conveniently killing Warwick in the process.

Duly returned to her station, Elizabeth Woodville produced two sons for her husband, the boys history remembers as the Princes in the Tower — which is where the last LancastrianYorkist king Richard III is thought to have murdered them. In Shakespeare’s Richard III, Queen Elizabeth is quite the bummer.

Ay me, I see the ruin of my house!
The tiger now hath seiz’d the gentle hind;
Insulting tyranny begins to jet
Upon the innocent and aweless throne.
Welcome, destruction, blood, and massacre!
I see, as in a map, the end of all.

But her house wasn’t quite ruined after all: Elizabeth Woodville also produced a daughter, also named Elizabeth. This latter “Elizabeth of York” married another descendant of a commoner, who carried the Lancaster standard: this fellow of doubtful lineage would finally resolve the War of the Roses and reign as Henry VII. (Father, namesake, and predecessor, of course, to this site’s patron head-chopping monarch Henry VIII: Richard Woodville’s great-grandson.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Nobility,Notably Survived By,Politicians,Power,Treason,Wartime Executions

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6 thoughts on “1469: Richard Woodville, father of the queen”

  1. John says:

    It is not generally accepted that the marriage between the widowed Elizabeth Grey and Edward IV was promoted, caused, or in any way arranged by Richard Woodville.
    Warwick was killed at Barnet, the battle immediately preceding Tewkesbury.
    Edward also gathered, through the marriage, in laws he was able to marry off to secure further allies and allegiances from foreign and domestic nobles. His own family (for such purposes) was rather small.

  2. barbara says:

    in 1361 joan of kent, a noblewoman (commoner) married richard the black price, heir apparent to the english throne. his father was edward III. he died before he inherited, but his son became king richard II. a commoner married a presumptive king.

    anyone not of the IMMEDIATE royal family was a commoner and there were no princesses. that was an unheard of concept. there were kings, queens, princes, and kings daughters who would have other titles and royal blood. also kings brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts and first cousins. mothers and of course, grandparents. everyone else was a commoner. having a title was nice, but having wealth made you more powerful. kind of like today.

    since richard, earl rivers, was not of the royal family, he started life as a commoner and ended it as a commoner. his wife, the dowager duchess of bedford, and nobility in her own right, was also a commoner for the same reason.

  3. chris y says:

    Rivers was on the wrong side of Warwick the Kingmaker, and in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the middle of the Wars of the Roses you want more reason than that?

  4. Fi Kerr says:

    I don’t understand the circamstances in which Richard Woodeville died? In what capactity was he captured & on what grounds was the poor chap exacuted?

  5. Mike C says:

    I do believe Richard III was Yorkist, not Lancastrian.

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