John Woodville and His Elderly Bride

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been posting mini-biographies of the various Woodville family members on my website. Here’s the latest:

John Woodville, described as being age 20 in 1465, was probably the second or third of Elizabeth Woodville’s brothers.

John is notorious, of course, for marrying Katherine Neville, Duchess of Norfolk, a wealthy widow well into her sixties at the time. Katherine was a sister of Cecily, Duchess of York, and of Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury; she thus was aunt both to Edward IV and to his mentor, the Earl of Warwick. She was no stranger to the marriage rite, having been married first to John Mowbray, the second Duke of Norfolk, who died in 1432. Her second marriage, which took place before January 27, 1442, was an unlicensed match to Sir Thomas Strangways, a knight who had been in her husband’s service. Sir Thomas had died by August 25, 1443, on which date Katherine married John Beaumont, first Viscount Beaumont. Katherine’s third husband was killed at the Battle of Northampton in 1460. His widow was about sixty at the time.

Katherine and John married in January 1465, just a few months after Edward IV had announced his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. William Worcester decried the match as a “diabolical marriage” (though he thought the lady was eighty), and it has been roundly denounced by historians and novelists, particularly of the Ricardian bent, as a shocking example of Woodville greed. While John’s motives were undoubtedly mercenary and the age gap an unusual one, nothing supports the notion that the elderly lady was forced into the match by the Woodvilles or by her nephew the king or that she found it offensive or degrading. Outwardly, at least, she and her family seem to have been on good terms with the Woodvilles. At the banquet following Elizabeth’s coronation a few months after the marriage, Katherine was seated at a table with the queen’s mother. Her grandson, John Mowbray, the fourth Duke of Norfolk (who was about the same age as her new husband) played a prominent role at the coronation, where he fulfilled his hereditary duties as marshall of England. Perhaps Katherine happened to find the young man’s company congenial.

On May 23, 1465, as part of the ceremonies leading up to Elizabeth’s coronation, John was made a Knight of the Bath, along with his brother Richard and several dozen other men. In 1467, Edward granted him the reversion of certain of Katherine’s dower lands. These had been forfeited by William, second Viscount Beaumont, Katherine’s Lancastrian stepson from her third marriage.

John served as the queen’s Master of Horse, for which he received forty pounds per year. Like his father and his brother Anthony, he was fond of tournaments. In 1467, he fought in one alongside the king’s closest friend, William Hastings; the king and Anthony Woodville fought on the other side. The following year, he and Anthony were among the English entourage that escorted Margaret, Edward IV’s youngest sister, to Burgundy for her wedding to its duke. John was named the Prince of the Tournament that followed the wedding ceremony.

In June 1469, John accompanied Edward IV on a pilgrimage to Bury St. Edmunds and Walsingham. (One of the king’s other companions was the king’s youngest brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. This seems to be the first and last time recorded time Richard’s and John’s paths intersected, though they had likely encountered each other at court before that.) Trouble, however, was brewing in the person of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who had allied himself with the king’s other brother, George, Duke of Clarence. Warwick had several grudges against the crown, not the least of which was the growing influence of the Woodvilles at court. In a manifesto issued from Calais, he targeted Anthony and John Woodville and their father, along with several other men, as royal favorites that were harming the realm. The king sent the Woodville men away for their safety, but to no avail in the case of John and his father. On August 12, 1469, the two were captured by Warwick’s troops and beheaded outside Coventry without trial.

John’s burial place, like that of his father, is unknown. On May 29, 1475, however, Anthony Woodville granted land to Eton College; the indenture speaks of the “rele love and singular devocion” that John bore the college, which Edward IV had come close to abolishing because of its associations with Henry VI but which had regained some royal favor by the late 1460’s. Perhaps Anthony intended that his brother’s body be moved to Eton. Each year on October 30, a hearse with wax candles was to be erected and an obit held for John’s soul; the college was also to say daily masses for the king and queen, their children, Anthony, his late parents and John, and his other siblings. John was also remembered by Walter Blount, Lord Mountjoy, who asked in his will that masses be said for John and his father.

Katherine, John’s aged widow, was to survive her youthful groom by fourteen years. She was issued robes for Richard III’s coronation in 1483 and died later that year.

5 thoughts on “John Woodville and His Elderly Bride”

  1. Interesting post! Presumably John’s motives for marrying Katherine were far more mercenary than anything else, but how is that different from any other aristocratic marriage of the Middle Ages? Those Ricardian-inclined novelists who condemn the marriage (or whose characters do, rather) are usually the same ones who insist that Richard III married Anne Neville for love rather than her vast lands, no doubt.

  2. Susan Higginbotham

    Oh yes, without fail! You’d think when Richard was a ward of Anne’s father he might have noticed that there was quite a bit of acreage to be had with one of the Warwick girls, but in these novels he never does. It’s only the Evil Woodvilles who pay attention to these sort of things.

  3. Does anyone know who the first husband of Richard Woodville, Earl Rivers, was?

    I’m looking forward to your book on the Wars of the Roses, and especially, the Woodville’s connection. CJAY

  4. Susan Higginbotham

    Hey, CJAY! Thanks for stopping by. Everything I’ve read indicates that the first Earl Rivers, Richard Woodville, had not bee previously married before he married Jacquetta. The third earl Rivers, Richard Woodville, seems never to have married.

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