Again, Katherine Woodville Was Not a Cradle Robber!

As the research librarian for the American branch of the Richard III Society (yes, this is rather an anomalous position for a non-Ricardian to be in, sort of like a liberal in the Republican party), I just bought a shiny new book by Peter Hancock entitled Richard III and the Murder in the Tower. After inhaling that nice new book smell, I flipped to the parts about Henry Buckingham, and the first thing I saw was, “Buckingham most probably resented the Woodvilles because at the age of twelve in 1466, he had been forced to mary the queen’s sister, Catherine Woodville, who was twice his age. Obviously, Buckingham had bided his time, and now saw the present situation as an opportunity to revenge himself upon his erstwhile oppressors.”

People! First, Buckingham was born on September 4, 1455, so he was not 12 in 1466. Second, the description of Elizabeth Woodville’s May 1465 coronation names Katherine as the younger Duchess of Buckingham, so Buckingham was most likely married to Katherine before May 1465, not in 1466. Third–and this is a big third–Katherine Woodville was not twice Buckingham’s age! She was in fact probably only about seven when she married the nine-year-old Buckingham in 1465.

Hancock, like every other Ricardian who claims that poor little Buckingham was forced by the Evil, Nasty Woodvilles to marry a grown woman twice his age, doesn’t cite a source for his claim, which is contradicted by every bit of primary source evidence available–a postmortem inquisition for Katherine’s brother Richard, which puts Katherine’s birthdate at around 1458; the description of Elizabeth Woodville’s coronation, where Buckingham and Katherine are described as being toted around on squires’ shoulders; and Elizabeth Woodville’s household records, which show that Katherine was being raised in the queen’s household. A birthdate of 1458 is also consistent with an old pedigree which states that Katherine was the youngest of the Woodville siblings and with the birthdate of Katherine’s eldest son, who was born on February 3, 1478.

Is it really too much, she asked forlornly, to ask nonfiction writers to do a little research before writing about the Woodvilles?

9 thoughts on “Again, Katherine Woodville Was Not a Cradle Robber!”

  1. I really like you!

    I sometimes drive DH and DS nuts while watching movies or television when I announce,while the show runs, "THAT'S WRONG!!!!"

    There's not a blessed thing one can do about it, and getting peeved has no effect on the perpetrators and only on our own serenity, and I know all this- but I STILL must complain, even if it is only to DH and DS by disrupting the progress of a TV show.

    Thanks for a terrific, fun read!

  2. That's how myths are born and perpetuated. And even though it's busted, I think I'll add that to the list for my myth busting series. While I'm at it, I may as well add the myth of an evil Elizabeth Woodville.

  3. Susan Higginbotham

    Thanks, LadyDoc, for reading!

    Joan, this myth is going to be really hard to kill. Annette Carson and David Hipshon all repeat the same crap about Katherine's age in their recent books on Richard III–again, without bothering to cite a source. They and Hancock are all published by The History Press–I'm becoming convinced that there's a clause in the contract there that requires that authors get this fact wrong.

    Unfortunately, this same misinformation is given on the American branch's website in an excerpt from a book by Roxanne Murph. I suspect that's where these recent writers get it from–where Murph got it from, I haven't a clue.

  4. I'm sure you know how much I sympathise with your efforts to get the truth about Katherine out there and your frustration in seeing the same old crap repeated yet again, given how much of my life I dedicate to trying to demolish myths about Edward II that many people still repeat as 'fact'. Seems to me non-fiction writers rarely bother to do any research these days; they just repeat the same stupid old crap they find in other secondary sources. (My recent post on the myths surrounding John Trevisa being a good example.) Sometimes I feel like my head will explode with frustration when I see 'Ed II abandoned his pregnant wife in 1312 oh noooo!!!11!!' or 'he stole her kids from her in 1324!' for the 1287th time.

  5. Susan Higginbotham

    Alianore, it is frustrating, isn't it? But some people want to believe that Edward II was a horrible husband or that the Woodvilles were vile people who pawned an aging woman off on a little boy, so they don't bother to check facts for fear that doing so might upset their cherished assumptions. At least that's what I in my cynicism have come to believe.

    I just hope Philippa Gregory in her upcoming novel doesn't claim that Katherine was much older than Buckingham. If she does, there will be a generation of readers who assume that it must be true.

  6. There's been quite an animated discussion at the Historical Novel Society's discussion group on accuracy in historical fiction. Since it's fiction, I think one can take some liberties, especially if the research yields inaccurate results. Sadly, it seems historians are all too willing to accept something as fact if it's repeated enough without doing the requisite digging–especially if it fits with their agenda.

  7. *sighs and shakes her head in sympathy*. I so know where you're coming from on this. Sometimes it feels like a losing battle to keep historical writing as factual as possible – but I think it's worth it to keep on fighting.

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