Elizabeth Woodville’s Sisters

Of Elizabeth Woodville’s many siblings, the most shadowy, unsurprisingly, are her sisters. Nothing is known about their personalities and very little about their lives, save for genealogical details, which has not stopped the queen’s detractors from characterizing them en masse as greedy, scheming, and unprincipled. Here’s what is known about the queen’s siblings:

Unlike those of her younger sisters, Jacquetta Woodville’s marriage owed nothing to her sister Elizabeth’s match with the king. Jacquetta had married John Strange, 8th Lord Strange of Knokyn, by March 27, 1450, when the manor of Midlyngton in Oxford was granted to the couple by John’s mother, Elizabeth (Calendar of Patent Rolls). Since Jacquetta’s parents had married around 1437, Jacquetta, who was apparently younger than Elizabeth Woodville and Anthony Woodville, was still a child at the time of her marriage, as was her husband, said to have been five or more at the time of his father’s death in 1449. John outlived Jacquetta, having remarried before his death on October 16, 1479. They had one daughter, Joan, said to be 16 or more at the time of her father’s death. Joan married George Stanley, son of the Thomas Stanley who is notorious for having helped Henry Tudor win the Battle of Bosworth. George is best known for being taken in custody by Richard III before the battle of Bosworth to ensure (unsuccessfully) the loyalty of Thomas Stanley. Joan and George’s son, Thomas, became the second Earl of Derby in 1504, having succeeded to the title of his grandfather Thomas Stanley.

Jacquetta Woodville and John Strange are commemorated in a memorial brass at St. John the Baptist Church in Hillingdon, a picture of which can be seen here.

Anne Woodville married William Bourchier, eldest son of the Earl of Essex, by August 1467, when they are recorded as receiving lands worth a hundred pounds a year. Anne is one of the rare cases where we get a glimpse of Elizabeth’s sisters at court: she served as one of the queen’s ladies in waiting and was paid forty pounds a year for her services. How long she was at court is uncertain, as the queen’s household records only cover the period from 1466-67.

William Bourchier, who must have been considerably older than Anne, predeceased his father, dying sometime between February 12, 1483, when he was placed on a commission of the peace, and April 4, 1483, when his father the earl died, close to eighty years of age. William and Anne’s son, Henry, born in 1472, became the second Earl of Essex at age eleven. Interestingly, some sources have young Henry taking part in Richard III’s coronation a few months later, bearing gilt spurs in the procession. (Incidentally, Henry Bourchier’s daughter, Anne, married William Parr, whose sister Katherine was Henry VIII’s sixth wife.)

In addition to Henry, Earl of Essex, Anne and William had two daughters, the first being Cecily, who married John Devereux, 8th Baron Ferrers of Chartley (b. 1463). She died in 1493. The other daughter, Isabel, seems to have never married. In her will, dated October 10, 1500, and proven May 14, 1501, she described herself only as “daughter to William Bourchier” and asked to be buried at Whittington College, London, the burial place of her sister. She left monetary bequests to her brother Henry and to her half brother, Richard Grey.

Following William’s death, Anne subsequently married George Grey, the second Earl of Kent. She died on July 30, 1489, survived by a son, Richard Grey, who succeeded George Grey as the third Earl of Kent when George died in 1503. Richard Grey was a wastrel who had dissipated his inheritance by the time he died in 1524.

A number of sources report that Anne was married a third time to Edward Wingfield, but this appears somewhat doubtful to me. Richard Grey, Earl of Kent, who was described as “25 or more” at his father’s death in 1503, may not have been quite this old at the time, but he certainly seems to have been an adult, who sat on a commission of gaol delivery in 1502 and who was given license to enter his lands in 1504. He was made a Knight of the Garter in 1505. With a son this old, it seems that Anne, who was not widowed from her first husband until 1483, would have had no time to squeeze in a marriage to Edward Wingfield, who in any case was alive and active after Anne’s death in 1489. The only scenario I can think of that would allow both marriages would have been for Anne to marry one man and then have the marriage annulled before marrying the other, but this seems rather unlikely since no source mentions such an occurrence. Perhaps Anne is being confused with her sister Katherine, who married Richard Wingfield, Edward Wingfield’s younger brother.

In September 1466, Mary wed young William Herbert at Windsor Castle. William Herbert, born around 1454 or 1455, was the eldest son of William Herbert, a Welsh baron and a strong ally of Edward IV who for a time had young Henry Tudor in his custody. The marriage indenture had been entered into on March 20, 1466. The elder Herbert was created Earl of Pembroke in 1468, but had little time to enjoy his title; he was murdered by the Earl of Warwick’s troops the following year, shortly before two of his Woodville in-laws, Mary’s father and her brother John, met the same fate. Mary’s husband thus became the second Earl of Pembroke, but he never enjoyed the prominence of his father. Like another Woodville in-law, the Duke of Buckingham, he had no role of importance in Edward IV’s reign. It has been suggested that he may have suffered from ill health. In 1479, he exchanged his earldom of Pembroke, which was bestowed upon the Prince of Wales for that of Huntingdon.

Mary, meanwhile, bore William one daughter, Elizabeth, who was described as “16 or more” in 1492, putting her birth date at about 1476. Her date of death is usually given as 1481. In his 1483 will, William (who died in 1490) asked to be buried at Tintern Abbey “where my deare and best beloved wife resteth buried.” In 1484, however, he married Katherine, Richard III’s out-of-wedlock daughter, whom he seems to have outlived. According to the Complete Peerage, he was buried at Tintern Abbey.

William and Mary’s daughter, Elizabeth, married Charles Somerset, the out-of-wedlock child of Henry, Duke of Somerset (d. 1464). As a Beaufort who had been in exile with Henry Tudor, Somerset naturally did well under Henry VII’s reign, being made the first Earl of Worcester.

Margaret Woodville was the first of the queen’s sisters to marry after Elizabeth’s marriage to Edward IV was made public. Her marriage to Thomas Fitzalan (b. 1450), known later as Lord Maltravers, took place in October 1464, just weeks after Edward had surprised his council with news of his own marriage. Thomas’s father lived to be 71, dying in December 1487, so he did not succeed to his earldom until 1488. Both men were present at Richard III’s coronation, though they also turned up for Tudor events during the next reign.

Lord and Lady Maltravers assisted at the christening of Edward IV and Elizabeth’s youngest daughter, Bridget, in 1480. They were the parents of several children. Their son William, born around 1476, succeeded to his father’s earldom after Thomas’s death in 1524. Their daughter Joan married George Neville, 3rd Lord Abergavenny. Another daughter, Margaret, married John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, who died rebelling against Henry VII at Stoke Field. This daughter was still alive in 1524, when her father bequeathed her a ring.

Margaret Woodville died before March 6, 1491, and was buried at Arundel. Her husband lived until October 25, 1524, having never remarried. He specified that he be buried at Arundel, “where my Lady my wife doth lie.”

Joan Woodville (also known, peculiarly, as Eleanor) married Anthony Grey, son of Edmund, Lord Grey of Ruthin. Edmund had turned traitor to the Lancastrian cause at Northampton and was created Earl of Kent on May 30, 1465. Anthony Grey, who was knighted on the eve of Elizabeth Woodville’s coronation, married Joan around this time. Anthony Grey died childless in 1480, predeceasing his father, who died in 1490. Anthony’s younger brother, George, who had married the widowed Mary Woodville, Joan’s sister, became the second Earl of Kent.

Joan was dead by 1492, when a postmortem inquisition on her brother Richard was taken.

The best known of Elizabeth Woodville’s sisters is Katherine, who with her marriage to Henry, Duke of Buckingham became the highest ranking of the girls—except, of course, for her sister the queen. Katherine was probably the youngest of the girls; her brother Richard’s postmortem inquisition places her birthdate at about 1458. She had married her husband by the time of Elizabeth’s coronation in 1465, for she is named in a description of the event as the younger Duchess of Buckingham. She and her nine-year-old husband were carried at the coronation by squires. No other duke or duchess is referred to as being carried in this manner, so it’s reasonable to assume that this was due to the youth of the Buckinghams. Following her marriage, Katherine was raised in the queen’s household, where her husband and his brother also resided.

After the execution of her first husband in 1483, Katherine married Jasper Tudor, uncle to Henry VII, shortly before November 7, 1485. She married her third husband, Richard Wingfield, without royal license in early 1496 and died just over a year later on May 18, 1497.

More can be found about Katherine here. It should be noted once again, however, that despite primary sources that indicate that Katherine was a child at the time of her marriage to Buckingham, certain of Richard III’s supporters continue to insist that she was much older than Buckingham at the time and that the experience of being married to an adult woman (and one of lesser birth) hopelessly warped the poor boy. The prize for Katherine-bashing in nonfiction has to go to Ricardian Geoffrey Richardson, who in The Hollow Crowns writes, “A substantial difference in the ages of the bridal pair and the bitter reluctance of the groom were matters of little or no consequence. . . . The principal consequence of this ill-matched mating, which would affect the course of English history, was that Buckingham acquired an abiding hatred of the Woodvilles, verging at times on gross mental instability, perhaps madness would not be too strong a word.” Most recently, Annette Carson in Richard III: The Maligned King, while not going so far as to credit Katherine with driving Buckingham insane, adds a few misstatements of her own, writing “Edward IV had neatly pre-empted any such alliance [i.e., with the Earl of Warwick’s daughters] by purchasing Buckingham’s wardship in order for the boy to be bestowed on the Woodville clan, at the age of about eleven, as husband for the queen’s twenty-year-old sister Catherine. Young Harry’s mortification must have festered for years.” Like Richardson, Carson (who manages to get Harry’s age wrong as well as Katherine’s) cites no source for her misstatement. It should also be noted that Edward IV purchased Harry’s very valuable wardship well before he married Elizabeth Woodville; the boy had previously been in the care of the king’s sister Anne, the Duchess of Exeter. (Poor Harry is also depicted by Carson as being “kept at court tied to the queen’s skirts while she enjoyed the income from his estates.” Aside from the fact that there was not anything at all unusual or untoward in a guardian benefitting from a wealthy ward’s estates during the fifteenth century, Harry was allowed to enter his estates at age 17, years before he reached his majority.)

Instead of to these writers, the last word on Katherine should go to her third husband, a distinguished diplomat who outlived her by many years and who remarried after little more than a year of marriage to her, but whose will orders masses for the zoul of his “singular good Lady Dame Katherine.”

The Mysterious Martha
Finally, another girl is often added to the list of Woodville sisters: Martha, married to Sir John Bromley. As Brad Verity has pointed out, however, Martha is not mentioned as being a Woodville until a 1623 visitation pedigree. She is not named in a note, written in the 1580’s, that lists the offspring of Richard, Earl Rivers, and Jacquetta and their spouses, nor do she or her heirs appear in Richard Woodville’s 1492 inquisition postmortem or in a 1485 document designating inheritance rights to Edward Woodville’s annuity. It seems, then, that Martha Bromley was not a Woodville, or at least not one of the queen’s sisters.

10 thoughts on “Elizabeth Woodville’s Sisters”

  1. You left out Tiffani, who owned a nails place in Cheapside, and Fifi, a dancer who left for some place called “Vegas” and was never heard from again.


  2. Hmmm, I left a comment yesterday (evidently Blogger ate it).

    Great post! Fascinating to read about Those Nasty Woodvilles, who only seem to be nasty in the minds of some Ricardians.

    The comment “kept at court tied to the queen’s skirts while she enjoyed the income from his estates” shows how little the writer understands medieval wardships!

  3. Susan Higginbotham

    Nan, how could I have forgotten them?

    Gabriele, thanks for the award! She sure did have a big family.

    Alianore, that’s so true. I don’t believe that Carson mentions the wardship of George Neville, which was held by Richard, Duke of Gloucester until Neville died at age 18 (older than Buckingham when he was allowed to enter his estates), but I’m sure if she did Richard would have entirely altruistic motives in securing the wardship. Only the Woodvilles were motivated by money in the 15th century, don’t you know that? 🙂

  4. Enjoyed this one!

    Posts like this encourage me to go browsing around royal genealogy websites, which is always kind of fun (for me anyway) to see who’s related to whom. The name Bourchier sounded familiar, so I looked him up – William Bourchier appears to have been a descendant of Edward III a few times over. Anne Woodville’s 2nd husband, George Grey, was a descendant as well. What a convoluted family tree.

    I also had a browse through Wikipedia for the Woodvilles, and the page for the Woodville sisters’ mother requires some editing. Some proud American descendants of hers got carried away and inserted themselves into the page.

  5. Blimey! I didn’t even know Elizabeth Woodville had sisters – let alone that many!

    Great post – it’s always good to learn something every day, don’t you think?

  6. Susan: oh yes – the Woodvilles were motivated by money, but Richard took on George as a ward because he was missing his mummy and daddy. 🙂

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