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Back to Basics: A Series for Newer Members
Issue 8 -- March 1994


A Wall of Woodvilles | Elizabeth of York | Mediaeval Dictionary: Terms in Land Law | Back to Index

'A Wall of Woodvilles'

We saw in the last 'Back to Basics' that many of the relatives of Queen Elizabeth Woodville did indeed marry into some of the noble families of the realm thus finding their way into positions of influence. Another accusation that is often made against them is that they formed a 'veritable wall' of kindred around the young Edward Prince of Wales, in Thomas More's words, 'every one as he was nearest kin unto the Queen, so was planted next unto the prince'. In this issue we will see whether or not this was true.

Soon after his eldest son was born Edward IV appointed a Council for the Prince, to administer the Principality of Wales, the Duchy of Cornwall and the County of Chester. Early in 1473 he expanded this Council and more fully specified its powers, sending it and the Prince to the Marches to help control them and the Principality. The enlarged Council consisted of some 26 members, all of those from the 1471 plus many more. Some of the names, the Dukes of Clarence and Gloucester and the Archbishop of Canterbury for example were there because of their positions rather than because they were expected to attend, and others such as Hastings and William Allington, the Speaker of the House of Commons, simply as powerful and possibly useful men. One, Sir Richard Croft had been tutor to Edward IV when Edward was at Ludlow in the 1450s, and became a powerful man in the region of the Marches. Others were appointed to the Council for the particular expertise. These were such men as Sir John Nedeham, and Sir Richard Chokke, Justices of the Common Pleas and Sir John Sulyard, Serjeant at Law and later Justice of the King's Bench, who would be part of the Prince's 'Council learned', usually sitting at Westminster. These heard appeals and other judicial matters arising from the Prince's jurisdiction in Wales.

Other members of the Council, and more importantly, of the Household of the Prince, organised in late 1472, are of more interest to us in the present context though. From the first Council until 1483 we see Anthony Earl Rivers, Sir John Fogg and Sir John Scott and joining them in 1473 is Richard Haute. Fogge and Scott had held posts in the household of Edward IV, but perhaps more important they, with Haute were all related to Elizabeth Woodville or were married to cousins; Fogg to Alice Haute, daughter of Elizabeth's aunt Joan Woodville; Scott to a grand-daughter of Elizabeth's other aunt, another Elizabeth Woodville. Richard Haute was Controller of the Prince's Household and son of Joan Woodville. Haute, Scott and Fogg rose in the Buckingham revolt of 1483.

The Household was much more closely controlled by Woodvilles than this though. Rivers, who had been a member of the Council from the beginning was also officially the Governor of the Prince, with John Alcock Bishop of Worcester as President of the Council and teacher of the Prince. These two, together with Sir Richard Grey, were all powerful. Grey, second son of the Queen, was officially only a Councillor but with Alcock and Rivers he was authorised to jointly sign warrants to release payments and to hold one of the three keys to the money chest. He was rather more important than he is often given credit for being in the later reign of Edward IV. By new regulations issued in 1483 nothing was to be done by the Prince without the advice of Grey, Alcock or Rivers and these three were the only ones authorised to warn the Prince personally if he did something 'unprincely' or break his household regulations. If the Prince refused to amend they were authorised to tell the King personally.

It is obvious from this that the Prince of Wales was indeed being brought up in a manner which identified him closely with one group and which encouraged him to identify himself with the group. Not quite a wall of Woodvilles, but very near to it.

One of the most useful sources for reading about the education and upbringing of Edward Prince of Wales is 'The Education of Edward V', Nicholas Orme, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, vol. 57, (1984), pp.119-130. The work of the Council is discussed in 'The Council of the Prince of Wales and the Decline of the Herbert Family during the Second Reign of Edward IV (1471-1483)', D.E. Lowe, Bulletin, Board of Celtic Studies, vol. 27, 1976-78, pp.278-297. The Council itself is listed in Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1467-77, 1900, p. 283 (for 1471, p. 366 (for 1473). -- PWH


Finding out about people in the 15th century: Elizabeth of York

Continuing our series on fifteenth century people let us look at the life of Elizabeth of York, eldest child of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. Most of her life was spent in the forefront of events, but nevertheless, like most women of the period, she remains a somewhat shadowy figure.

The main sources for her life are the biography Elizabeth of York: the mother of Henry VIII by Nancy Lenz Harvey (published in New York in 1973, a semi-fictionalised account, based heavily on the Tudor chronicles), the chapter on 'Elizabeth of York, surnamed the Good, Queen of Henry VII' in Agnes Strickland's Lives of the Queens of England, (published in 1842 and traditional in tone) and the 'Memoir' included in Privy Purse Expenses of Elizabeth of York: Wardrobe Acccounts of Edward IV edited by Nicholas Harris Nicolas (1830, reprinted 1972).

Elizabeth was born on 11th February 1465 and was christened with great splendour, her sponsors being her two grandmothers the Duchesses of York and Bedford and Edward's mentor the Earl of Warwick. Despite the disappointment her parents must have felt that their first child was not the desired son and heir she seems to have been a great favourite with her father. In common with other royal daughters her marriage was a diplomatic bargaining counter and she was first betrothed to George Duke of Bedford, Warwick's nephew, to pacify the powerful Neville family, and later to the Dauphin, son of Louis XI, to cement the treaty with France. In December 1483 Henry Tudor proclaimed himself King of England and promised to make her his queen.

Articles in The Ricardian focus on various aspects of Elizabeth's life. In June 1986 (Vol. 7, No. 93) a note compares the 1854 translation of the often quoted passage in the Croyland Chronicle about the Christmas 1484 festivities: 'vain changes of apparel were presented to Queen Anne and the Lady Elizabeth...being of similar colour and shape' with the the new translation in The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486 (eidted by Nicholas Pronay and John Cox, 1986) which reads 'vain exchanges of clothing between Queen Anne and the Lady Elizabeth...who were alike in complexion and figure.' If this second reading is correct it gives us an indication of the relationship between Elizabeth and her aunt and also an idea of their appearances.

Two articles discuss the famous letter quoted by George Buck in which Elizabeth asks John Howard 'to be a mediator for her...to the King...her only joy.': 'Sir George Buck and Princess Elizabeth's letter: a problem in detection' by Alison Hanham (Vol. 7, No. 97, June 1987) and 'Buck and the Elizabeth of York Letter: a reply to Dr. Hanham' by A. N. Kincaid (Vol. 8, No. 101, June 1988). The details of the negotiations during March to August for Richard III to marry Joanna sister of the King of Portugal and Elizabeth of York to marry Joanna's cousin Manuel Duke of Beja in 'The Portuguese Connection and the Significance of the 'Holy Princess' ' by Barry Williams (Vol. 6, No. 90, March 1983) contradict accusations that Richard was planning to marry his niece. These marriage negotiations came to an abrupt halt with the news of the battle of Bosworth. Elizabeth was recalled from Sheriff Hutton where Richard had installed her, but the promised marriage did not take place until January 1486, nearly three months after Henry had been crowned King in his own right. Elizabeth was to bear seven children to ensure the succession and in September 1486 she presented Henry with the heir he needed, Prince Arthur, born at Winchester. The following year Elizabeth was at last crowned queen; in an article on The Coronation of Elizabeth of York (Vol. 6, No. 83, December 1983) P.W. Hammond describes the ceremony and the numbers of those who attended, even more than at Richard III's well-attended coronation - was this merely diplomatic or does it signify the devotion inspired by this daughter of the popular Edward IV?

The books in which she chose to write her name (see 'Where did Elizabeth of York find Consolation?' by Livia Visser-Fuchs, Vol. 9, No. 122, September 1993) and the record of her privy purse from March 1502 until her untimely death on her thirty-eighth birthday in February 1503 (printed in Nicolas' book, see above) give some insights into her interests and her personal expenses and almsgiving - regretably her will, if she made one, does not survive.

All the books and articles mentioned above are available for loan from the Society's Library. -- HCH


Mediæval Dictionary: A Selective Glossary of Terms in Land Law

  • Estate: an interest in land. By the Common Law, no-one owns land in England save the Sovereign. All others have greater or lesser interests or estates in the land.
  • Fee Simple: the most absolute interest which a subject can possess in land. The owner can sell or otherwise alienate the land. In grants denoted by the words '... to A and his heirs'.
  • Fee Tail: land whose descent is limited to heirs of the body of the original grantee.
  • Feoff, Feoffee, Feoffment: a feoff is a freehold legal estate in land, granted to the feoffee and transferred to him by a feoffment, with Livery of Seisin, (q.v.)
  • Law and Equity: the Common Law is the ancient unwritten law of England, administered in the Common Law Courts and embodied in judicial decisions. It was sometimes rigid and unjust in particular cases; suitors would then apply to the Chancellor as 'Keeper of the King's Conscience' for equitable relief. These cases in Equity were heard in what became by the fifteenth century, the Court of the Chancery.
  • Livery of Seisin: investiture of possession, sometimes by delivery of a clod of earth or other physical thing from the land.
  • Real Property: land which would descend to the heir-at-law. Property which devolved on the executor or administrator for distribution on death was Personal Property; this category contained leasehold interests in land, as well as moveable property.
  • Seisin: feudal possession of a freehold estate; not applicable to leasehold estates or beneficial ownership under a Use, (q.v.).
  • Tenure: the manner of holding land. Freehold land could be held by military tenure (by rendering knight's service), in socage tenure (by paying a money rent), or by spiritual tenure (by rendering spiritual services).
  • Use: the equitable right to receive the profits from land from the owner at law. When X granted land to Y to the use of Z, X was the grantor or feoffor, Y became the new legal owner and the feoffee to uses, and Z the beneficial or equitable owner under the use. Uses (which evaded certain feudal principles) were abolished by the Statute of Uses in 1535. -- MO'R
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