Of the five brothers of Elizabeth Woodville who survived to adulthood, Edward Woodville, after Anthony Woodville, had the most colorful career.
Edward was the youngest of the Woodville brothers and was likely born in the mid 1450’s (his youngest sister, Katherine, probably the baby of the family, was born around 1458). When his brothers Richard and John were made Knights of the Bath in 1465, he was not included; presumably it was thought that he was young enough to wait a bit.
I have found nothing that indicates that Edward Woodville fought at Barnet or Tewkesbury, though it may simply be that he was not sufficiently prominent to be recorded. It is quite possible that he served under his brother Anthony, who P.W. Hammond suggests in The Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury might have commanded the reserve at Barnet and who was wounded there. In April 1472, Edward accompanied Anthony to Brittany with 1,000 archers.
In 1475, Edward IV created a number of new Knights of the Bath, including his son the Prince of Wales. Edward Woodville was one of the newly made knights. In 1478, he appeared at a tournament held to celebrate the marriage of young Richard, Duke of York, to little Anne Mowbray; his horses were resplendent in cloth of gold. Later that year, Edward and the Bishop of Rochester negotiated a marriage contract between the widowed Anthony and Margaret of Scotland, although the marriage never took place. In 1480, Edward Woodville was sent to Burgundy to escort Edward IV’s sister Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, to England for a visit.
D. E. Lowe, in an article entitled, “Patronage and Politics: Edward IV, the Wydevilles, and the Council of the Prince of Wales, 1471-83,” indicates that Edward Woodville played a role on the council of his nephew, Edward, Prince of Wales, during the last years of Edward IV’s reign. Edward Woodville was also granted custody of the town and castle of Porchester.
Richard, Duke of Gloucester, led an army against Scotland in 1482. Contrary to reports that Richard’s relations with the Woodvilles were hostile prior to 1483, Edward Woodville served as one of Richard’s lieutenants on that occasion. Richard made him a knight banneret on July 24, 1482.
In April 1483, Edward IV died. Edward Woodville took part in his funeral procession. In the succeeding days, of course, all hell broke loose. Philippe de Crevecoeur, known as Lord Cortes, had taken advantage of Edward IV’s death to raid English ships, and Edward Woodville had been appointed by Edward V’s council to deal with this French threat. On April 30, he took to sea with a fleet of ships. That same day, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and Henry, Duke of Buckingham, took Anthony Woodville and others prisoner at Northampton, claiming on very dubious grounds that the Woodvilles had been plotting against Richard.
Edward Woodville has acquired a somewhat tarnished reputation from Mancini, who stated that “although [Edward IV] had many promoters and companions of his vices, the more important and espcial were three of the . . . relatives of the queen, her two sons and one of her brothers.” This brother has been assumed to refer to Edward Woodville (the hairshirt-wearing Anthony, the bishop Lionel, and the obscure Richard being each unlikely candidates), but Mancini’s description may have been heavily influenced by the propaganda being put forth in the summer of 1483 by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who later described Edward and associates of Henry Tudor in generic terms as “adulterers.” Nothing else supports this picture of Edward Woodville as court playboy; as his career shows, he was a man of action. His life also undercuts the notion that his sister the queen heaped her relations with royal largesse: aside from Porchester, he seems to have received no grants other than a wardship. Like his brother Richard, Edward does not seem to have ever married, and there is no trace of a marriage having been sought for him.
At his departure in April, Edward Woodville is said by Mancini to have taken part of Edward IV’s treasure with him, in collusion with Elizabeth Woodville and her son the Marquis of Dorset. Rosemary Horrox in Richard III: A Study in Service, however, writes that Mancini’s story probably originates in the fact that Edward IV’s cash reserves were exhausted to pay for this military expenditure. (She also points out that there is no evidence that Elizabeth Woodville had any share of the treasure; if she did have any, Richard III would certainly have required her to disgorge it before she left sanctuary in 1484.) Edward Woodville, in fact, had probably put to sea before he learned of the events at Northampton.
Edward and his fleet gathered at Southampton, where Edward seized ₤ 10,250 in English gold coins from a vessel there, claiming that it was forfeit to the crown. Meanwhile, having gained control of the young king, Richard turned his attention to the fleet commanded by Edward Woodville. He sent letters to officials in Calais about the restitution of ships and goods between England and France and appointed men to seize Edward Woodville. According to Mancini, the Genoese captains of two of the ships, fearing reprisals against their countrymen in England if they disobeyed Gloucester’s orders, encouraged the English soldiers on board to drink heavily, then bound the befuddled men in with ropes and chains. With the Englishmen immobilized, the Genoese announced their intent to submit to Richard’s authority, and all but two of the ships, those under the command of Edward Woodville himself, followed suit. Horrox, however, suggests more prosaically that the majority of Edward’s captains recognized Gloucester’s authority as protector and obeyed his orders accordingly.
Edward Woodville—perhaps with his gold coin seized at Southampton, unless he had had the misfortune to place it on one of the deserting ships—sailed on to Brittany, where he joined Henry Tudor. There, he received a pension from Duke Francis of Brittany.
Though the October 1483 uprising against Gloucester, now Richard III, failed, the new king could not rest comfortably. In May 1484, Richard was expecting an attack led by Edward Woodville at Dover or Sandwich. It never materialized, but less than a year and a half later, in 1485, Edward Woodville was among Henry Tudor’s forces when Richard III was defeated at Bosworth.
Edward Woodville’s career under Henry VII was brief but busy. He was made captain of the Isle of Wight in 1485. In 1486, he was one of those who bore a canopy at the christening of Prince Arthur. In 1488, he was made a Knight of the Garter. These ceremonies, however, were not where his interests lay. In 1486, calling himself “Lord Scales,” he went to fight the Moors in Granada, serving in the armies of Ferdinand and Isabella. At Loja, he and his forces were successful in putting the Moors to flight, but the encounter cost Edward his front teeth. He is said to have said to a sympathetic Queen Isabella, “Christ, who reared this whole fabric, has merely opened a window, in order more easily to discern what goes on within.” Edward was sent home to England with a rich array of gifts, including twelve horses, two couches, and fine linen.
The next year saw Edward in battle again, this time in England against forces led by John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, in support of Lambert Simnel, a young pretender to the throne. After three days of skirmishing near Doncaster, Edward’s troops were forced to retreat through Sherwood Forest to Nottingham. At the Battle of Stoke, however, where Edward Woodville commanded the right wing, victory went to Henry VII.
In May 1488, Edward “either abhorring ease and idleness or inflamed with ardent love and affection toward the Duke of Brittany,” as Hall’s chronicle has it, asked Henry VII to allow him to assist the duke in fighting the French. Henry VII, who hoped for peace with France, refused the request, but Edward ignored this and returned to the Isle of Wight, where he raised a “crew of tall and hardy personages” and sailed to Brittany. Henry then reconsidered and decided to send Woodville reinforcements, but the French arrived in Brittany before this could be done. At St. Aubin-du-Cormeier on July 27, 1488, Edward Woodville fought his last battle. He and almost all of his troops perished.