The Victorian historian Agnes Strickland was a pioneer in writing about historical women, and deserves due credit for this. That being said, Strickland also perpetuated some historical howlers, one being a misreading which led to her creating a stepmother for Anne Boleyn, whose own mother was very much alive and married to her father. This humble, self-effacing, and nonexistent stepmother has even acquired a niche in historical fiction, being made a character in several well-known novels about Anne.
In addition to the queen’s stepmother, Agnes Strickland (with help from James Halliwell, who found the letters in question) also created a suitor for the hand of young Elizabeth Woodville: the lovelorn Hugh John (or, to use the Welsh spelling, Johnys). As Strickland tells it, the gallant, but star-crossed, Hugh Johnys enlisted two very important friends to aid his suit, both of who wrote to Elizabeth Woodville on his behalf. First, Richard, Duke of York did his part:
Right trusty and well beloved, we greet you well; And for so much as we are credibly informed that our right hearty and well-beloved knight, Sir Hugh John, for the great womanhood and gentleness approved and known in your person, your being soul and to be married, his heart wholly have, whereof we are right well pleased. How it be of your disposition towards him in that behalf as yet to us is unknown, we, therefore, as for the faith, true and good lordship we owe unto him at this time, and so will continue, desire and heartily pray you will on your part be to him well willed to the performing of this our writing and his desire. Wherein you shall do not only to our pleasure, but we doubt not to your great weal and worship in time coming. Certifying you, if you fulfill our intent in this matter, we will and shall be to him and you such lord as shall be to your both great weal and worship by the grace of God, who precede and guide you in all heavenly felicity and welfare.
Richard, Earl of Warwick, followed with an even more eloquent appeal to the heart:
Worshipful and well beloved, I greet you well, And for as much as my right well beloved, Sir Hugh John, knight, which now late was with you unto his full great joy, and had great cheer as he sayeth, whereof I thank you, hath informed me how that he for the great love and affection that he hath unto your person, as well for the great sadness [seriousness] and wisdom that he found and proved in you at that time, as for your great and praised virtues and womanly demeaning, desireth with all his heart to do you worship by way of marriage, before any other creature living as he sayeth. I, considering his said desire, and the great worship that he had, which was made knight at Jerusalem; and after his coming home, for the great wisdom and manhood that he was renowned of, was made knight Marshal of France, and after that knight Marshal of England, unto his great worship, with other his great and many virtues and deserts; And also the good and notable service that hath done and daily doth to me, Write unto you at this time, and pray you effectuously that you will the rather, at this my request and prayer, to condescend and apply you unto his said lawful and honest desire, wherein you shall not only purvey right notably for yourself unto your weal and great worship in time to come, as I verily trust, but also cause me to show unto you such good lordship, as you by reason shall hold you content and pleased, with the grace of God, which everlastingly have you in his blessed protection and governance.
Unfortunately, York’s and Warwick’s letters (which are undated) turn out to have been addressed not to Elizabeth Wodevile (with a “v”) but to Dame Elizabeth Wodehill (with an “h”). Although Halliwell’s 1842 transcript of the letters gives the “Wodehill” spelling, the significance of this escaped him and Strickland; indeed, the latter dismissed the discrepancy as a mere slip of the pen. As later historians realized, however, there was indeed a Dame Elizabeth Wodehill, a widow of means in Northamptonshire, and it was she, not young Elizabeth Woodville, who was the object of Sir Hugh’s suit.
The daughter of Sir John Chetwode, Elizabeth Wodehill was the widow of Sir Thomas Wodehill, who died in 1421. She subsequently married William Luddesop, a social inferior, who died in 1454. It was probably after her second husband’s death when Dame Elizabeth was solicited to marry Hugh Johnys, a Welshman connected with the Vaughan family. His monumental brass at Swansea confirms York’s account of his career: Knighted in Jerusalem in 1441, he fought against the Turks and the Saracens in Troy, Greece, and Turkey, served in France under John, Duke of Somerset (father to Margaret Beaufort), and later served John, Duke of Norfolk, as knight marshal. In 1451, he had a wife, Mary, who died, leaving Hugh to court Dame Elizabeth.
Alas, Warwick the Kingmaker, as he was called by later generations, was not Warwick the Matchmaker. Despite his and York’s intervention, Dame Elizabeth apparently refused Sir Hugh’s suit. Perhaps, as W. R. B. Robinson has suggested, the political situation at the time (probably in the mid-1450’s) made the lady wary of connecting herself too closely with a follower of York and Warwick; alternatively, being comfortably off, and no longer young, she may have simply preferred the independent life of a widow to marriage. She died in 1475, having never taken a third husband, and was buried at Warkworth Church.
Happily for the spurned Hugh Johnys, he did not pine away for love, but consoled himself with Maud Cradock (whose first cousin Sir Mathew later married Lady Catherine Gordon, the widow of the pretender Perkin Warbeck). He was in favor with York’s son Edward IV, who appointed him in 1468 as a Poor Knight of Windsor, which entitled him to lodgings at Windsor Castle and required him to pray for the king and the Knights of the Garter at St. George’s Chapel. Apparently through a connection with William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, Hugh also seems to have been involved in the military training of young Henry Tudor, who just a few weeks after becoming king gave him ten pounds for the good service that Johnys had rendered him in his “tender age.” The date of his death is unknown, but he was survived by five sons and four daughters; one of his sons, Robert Jones, served both Henry VII and Henry VIII. For a man who never wooed Elizabeth Woodville, and never won Elizabeth Wodehill, Hugh could nonetheless congratulate himself on a long and eventful life.
William Campbell, Materials for a History of the Reign of Henry VII, vol. 1.
J. O. Halliwell, “Observations upon the History of Certain Events in England during the Reign of King Edward the Fourth,” Archaeologia (1842).
W. R. B. Robinson, “Sir Hugh Johnys: A Fifteenth-Century Welsh Knight,” Morgannwg (1970).
Agnes Strickland, Lives of the Queens of England.