The Queen’s Baby Sister

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Coat of arms of Katherine’s father, Sir Richard Wydeville, Earl Rivers, KG

Katherine Wydville (or Woodville) was born into relative obscurity. Her father was Sir Richard Wydville, a Lancastrian Knight who had made a shocking and advantageous marriage with Jacquetta of Luxembourg, widow of the king’s uncle John, Duke of Bedford. Born around 1458, Katherine was probably the youngest of the couple’s 14 or 15 children. Her eldest sister, Elizabeth, was already married to Sir John Grey and had 2 sons by him.

Little to nothing is known Katherine’s childhood. She did have at least one playmate; her sister, Mary, was just 2 years older than her and it is likely they were raised and educated together.

Katherine may have spent her whole life in obscurity were not for her sister Elizabeth and the fortunes of the Wars of the Roses. In 1461 Elizabeth’s husband was killed in the 2nd Battle of St Albans, fighting for the House of Lancaster. And in 1464 she made the match of the century – and a number of enemies – by her clandestine marriage to England’s handsome, young, Yorkist king, Edward IV.

Suddenly, little 6-year-old Katherine was the sister of the queen – and her marriage prospects had improved considerably. As the daughter of a baron she would have been looking to marry a local knight; as the sister of the queen, her family could now set their sights much higher.

There is considerable debate as to why Edward IV raised the Wydvilles so high. Some historians argue that the king was acting as a good husband and brother-in-law in advancing his wife’s family to the highest positions, arguing that convention required him to make provision for his wife’s siblings. An alternative theory is that Edward was creating a new nobility, binding the great aristocratic houses to his dynasty by marrying them into his extended family, thus creating an alternative power base to rival that of the Nevilles. According to David Baldwin, “Edward could not allow the lowly position of his wife’s relatives to diminish his own status, and, as a usurper, would have seized every opportunity to forge links with the great noble families.”¹

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Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham

Whatever the reason, the end result was a series of marriages of the Wydville siblings into the great noble houses of the realm. Of Elizabeth’s sisters Margaret became Countess of Arundel, Anne became Countess of Kent, Jacquetta married Lord Strange of Knokyn and Mary married the Earl of Huntingdon. The most shocking marriage arrangement was that of Elizabeth’s brother, 19-year-old John, to the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, 65-year-old Katherine Neville.

Young Katherine Wydville’s marriage was to be one of the most exalted; even before Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1465, 6-year-old Katherine was married to Henry Stafford, the 11-year-old Duke of Buckingham. David Baldwin describes the scene at Elizabeth’s coronation:

The peers included young Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham ‘born a pon a squyer [squire] shouldr’, and among the ladies was his new wife, Catherine Woodville, likewise carried…¹

The event must have been awe-inspiring for the children; the sumptuous costumes, the roar of the crowds. The Queen was attended by 13 duchesses and countesses dressed in red velvet, 14 baronesses in scarlet and miniver, and the ladies of 12 knights bannerets wearing scarlet.¹ One can only imagine the effect such an auspicious day could have on 2 young children who were right in the middle of the celebrations.

Katherine’s new husband, Henry Stafford, had been Duke of Buckingham since the age of 4; his father, Humphrey Stafford, had been wounded at the 1st Battle of St Albans and died of natural causes in 1458 and his grandfather, Sir Humphrey Stafford, 1st Duke of Buckingham, was killed at the Battle of Northampton in 1460; both were loyal supporters Henry VI and the House of Lancaster. This left 5-year-old Henry as Duke and in the care of his grandmother Anne Neville (sister of Cecily, the new king’s mother).

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Garter Coat of arms of Sir Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham

Following Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Wydville in 1464, Henry and his younger brother were given into the custody of the new queen, who was granted 500 marks out of the young duke’s Welsh lands – soon increased by a further £100 – for the maintenance of the 2 boys. John Giles, who later be employed as tutor to Edward IV’s sons, taught grammar to ‘the queen’s beloved brothers’ during 1465-7.²

The Stafford boys remained in the queen’s custody, along with the duke’s little wife, Katherine, until the Readeption of Henry VI in 1470-71 when the duke was again returned to the custody of his grandmother and her new husband, Walter Blount, Lord Mountjoy. His younger brother, Humphrey, had disappeared from the records by this point, probably having succumbed to a childhood illness.

By June 1473, still only 17, Buckingham was granted his livery as a duke and his grandfather’s estates. Although Edward IV had returned to the throne, he appears to have had no great love for Duke Henry and he was rarely at court; staying mainly on his estates with his wife and family.

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Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham

According to Domenico Mancini, writing in 1483, Buckingham resented his marriage due to his wife’s ‘humble origin’ and his wife certainly brought no marriage portion with her and has often been described as a ‘parvenu’ by historians.² However, the couple did have 5 children together, 4 of whom survived childhood.

Edward Stafford, the future 3rd Duke of Buckingham, was born in 1478. He would go on to marry Eleanor (d. 1530), the daughter of Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland, before his execution in 1521, during the reign of Henry VIII.

A 2nd son, Henry, Earl of Wiltshire, was born around 1479 and died in 1523. He married twice, firstly to Muriel or Margaret, daughter of Edward Grey, Viscount de Lisle and secondly to Cecilia, daughter of William Bonville, Baron Harrington.

A 3rd son, Humphrey, died young, but was followed by 2 daughters. Anne married Sir Walter Herbert who died in 1507. She then married George Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon. Katherine and Henry’s youngest daughter, Elizabeth, married Robert Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex, by whom she had 3 sons.

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Anne Stafford, Countess of Huntingdon

With Edward IV’s death in 1483, Buckingham played a leading role in the turmoil which saw Edward’s 2 sons by Elizabeth Wydville declared illegitimate, and saw the late king’s brother, Richard of Gloucester claim the throne as Richard III. For a time, Buckingham was Richard’s staunchest ally and played a major role in Richard’s coronation – an event his wife Katherine, as one of the now-despised Wydvilles, did not attend.

However, by October 1483, and for still-unknown reasons, Buckingham mounted a coup against Richard, entering an alliance with Henry Tudor – in exile in Brittany – he attempted to raise Lancastrian support in the Welsh Marches. Katherine accompanied her husband from Brecon to Weobley, leaving her daughters at Brecon. Thwarted by the weather, the coup failed and Buckingham attempted to flee.

The Duke was arrested and executed at Salisbury on 2nd November 1483. The duchess and her youngest son, Henry, were captured and taken to London. Her eldest son, Edward, was also in the king’s custody. In December 1483, Katherine was allowed to have her servants and daughters brought to London from Wales. However, having been deprived of her dower and jointure, her financial position was precarious, until Richard III granted her an annuity of 200 marks.

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Arms of Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford

Katherine’s situation was changed again following Henry VII’s defeat of Richard III at Bosworth. Katherine was married to Jasper Tudor, the new king’s uncle and newly created Duke of Bedford, before 7th November 1483. The new regime reversed Buckingham’s attainder, awarding Katherine not only her dower rights, but also a jointure of 1000 marks, as specified in Buckingham’s will.

This took her total revenue from the Buckingham estates to £2500 and therefore bolstered her new husband’s position as the representative of the king in Wales. Jasper had practically raised the new king single-handedly, sharing his exile in Brittany following the defeat of the Lancastrian cause at Tewkesbury in 1471. Katherine, a dukedom and becoming the king’s right-hand man in Wales; this was his reward.

As with most medieval marriages, we cannot know if there was any affection in Katherine’s relationships with either of her 1st 2 husbands; both marriages were made for political reasons. During her 2nd marriage, Katherine resided mainly at Thornbury in Gloucestershire, she and Jasper Tudor had no children together and her estates were kept under a separate administration to Tudor’s own lands.

Jasper Tudor died at Christmas, around the 21st December, 1491. Poor Katherine only gets a passing mention in his will; “I will that my Lady my [line 3] wife and all other persons have such dues as shall be thought to them appertaining by right law [line 4] and conscience.”³

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Thornbury Castle today

I can’t help hoping that Katherine found some affection and comfort in her 3rd and final marriage. By 24th February 1496 Katherine had married Richard Wingfield, a man 12 years her junior. They married without royal licence, the fine for which remained unpaid at Katherine’s death. Wingfield was probably in the duchess’s service before the marriage, as his 2 brothers, John and Edmund appear to have been. When he married Katherine he was a younger son in a rather large family, with few prospects as a consequence. However, he would go on to have a distinguished diplomatic career under Henry VIII, dying at Toledo in 1525.

Katherine herself died on 18th May 1497. The unpaid fine, imposed following her marriage to Wingfield, became a charge on her eldest son, Edward, the 3rd Duke of Buckingham. Her 3rd husband, however, did not forget her; despite remarrying, his will, drawn up in 1525, requested masses be said for the repose of Katherine’s soul.

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Footnotes: ¹David Baldwin in Elizabeth Woodville; ²C.S.L. Davies in Oxforddnb.com; ³The Woodvilles by Susan Higginbotham.

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Pictures taken from Wikipedia.

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Sources: The Woodvilles by Susan Higginbotham; Elizabeth Woodville by David Baldwin; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, A True Romance by Amy Licence; The Wars of the Roses by John Gillingham; The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens  by Mike Ashley; Oxforddnb.com.

Book Corner: Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: A True Romance by Amy Licence

51T3oNzwxuLTraditionally it happened on May Day, early in the morning … two women slipped away from the manor house … They were a mother and daughter … They hurried on foot across the Wydeville land, towards the edge of the estate …. There stood a small priory or hermitage, dedicated to St Mary and St Michael … Waiting inside was a tall, athletic and distinguished young man in rich clothes, a priest and a choir boy and two gentlewomen, to act as witnesses. There, before this tiny group, Elizabeth Wydeville was married without pomp or ceremony to the King of England.”

It is the stuff legends are made of – and fairy tales. The story of how a penniless widow rose to become the Queen of England. After examining the lives of many of the characters of the Wars of the Roses and the Tudor period, author and historian Amy Licence has turned her attention to the greatest love story of Medieval England; Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, a true Cinderella story if ever there was one.

Amy Licence’s latest book, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: A True Romance, is remarkable in that it is not a fairy tale, it’s not a historical fiction novel. It is the true story of how Edward IV came to be married to a mere ‘commoner’. In a wonderfully lively retelling of the lives of Edward IV and his queen, Ms Licence leaves no stone unturned. She tells the story from the beginning in a fascinating and engaging narrative of the lives of her main characters, and the lives of those around them.

255px-Edward_IV_PlantagenetEdward has become the ghost of a king, a historical filler before Richard III assumed the throne, a bit-player in Shakespeare’s trilogy about Henry VI, the father of the Princes in the Tower, the husband of the White Queen. Edward has become one of our many ‘missing kings’.”

Amy Licence goes into great detail about Edward’s love life and relationships, examining all the accusations ever levelled against him. Her love of her subjects shines through. The book provides a thorough analysis, whilst being lively and enthralling.

A True Romance” is a marvelous piece of research presented in such a manner that will have the novice and the expert glued to every page. The controversies surrounding the couple are discussed in detail: their secret marriage, Edward’s reputation, Elizabeth’s social status.

This romance is presented in the context of the period in which it happened. The author gives a comprehensive overview of the Wars of the Roses, and the characters involved, detailing the lives of the individuals close to Edward and Elizabeth, and the separate lives of the couple themselves before they come together. Their relationship is not only presented as a love story, but also in the context of the period in which they were living, demonstrating how big an upset it caused on the international stage.

330px-ElizabethWoodville… Elizabeth Wydeville, an unlikely queen, whom he had chosen in spite of tradition, in spite of advice, perhaps even in spite of himself. Her beauty was legendary but on almost every other level, she was an unacceptable choice for an English queen.

In this book Ms Licence demonstrates not only her extensive knowledge of the events of the era, but of all aspects of the period; from May Day traditions to the Sumptuary Laws, to the people themselves.

Amy Licence’s writing style is so easy to read and free-flowing, it is as if she is in the room talking to you. She brings the past to life in a vivid and entertaining way. Crammed full of facts and information taken from primary sources, the book tells the story not only of Edward and Elizabeth, but also of their wider family and affinity, demonstrating how the lives of their friends and family are interlinked and how it influences the couple, their decisions and the world around them.

The book discusses all aspects of the evidence available. This is presented in an objective and fair way; from the chronicles of the time, to literary representations and even rumours and archaeological evidence. The reliability and veracity of the evidence is explained and thoroughly analysed in detail, leaving the reader nodding in agreement at the author’s conclusions; her arguments are thorough and persuasive.

A major strength in Ms Licence’s work is that she shows respect when discussing the theories of fellow historians; whether she agrees with them or not.

EdwardIVThis biography of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville leaves no stone unturned. Amy Licence discusses every legend related to the couple, explores the development of their relationship and its effects on the lives of the couple, their families and the nation at large. Every aspect of their lives is discussed, leaving no situation unexamined and no rumour ignored.

Amy Licence presents a marriage and relationship that is as human and complex as any celebrity marriage of today. This is a wonderful study of one of the most famous love affairs in history in a book which is at once sympathetic, vivid and lively.

In short, this book is a fabulous biography of a romance that changed English history a forever. Thoroughly researched and stunningly presented, it is a must-read for all lovers of history, romance and the Wars of the Roses, themselves.

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51T3oNzwxuL._AA160_Amy Licence has been a teacher for over a decade. She has an MA in Medieval and Tudor Studies and has published several scholarly articles on the Tudors. She is an author and historian of women’s lives in the medieval and Tudor period.

Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville: A True Romance is available on Amazon in the UK from Monday 15th February and in the US soon.

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