Richard Grey, Elizabeth Woodville’s Second Son

Richard Grey was the younger of Elizabeth Woodville’s two sons by her first husband, Sir John Grey, who died at the second battle of St. Albans on February 17, 1461. Richard’s birth date is unknown, although his older brother, Thomas Grey, was probably born around 1455, according to the inquisition postmortem of his uncle Richard Woodville.

On May 14, 1475, Richard was made a Knight of the Bath, alongside his older brother and his royal half-brothers as well as his uncle Edward Woodville. Another new Knight of the Bath was Thomas Vaughan, chamberlain to Edward, Prince of Wales. Not only would Richard Grey and Thomas Vaughan be knighted together, they would also be executed together just eight years later.

In the same year of his knighting, Richard began to take on responsibilities. He was named to commissions of the peace in Herefordshire on July 4, 1475, November 10, 1475, and June 7, 1476. Rosemary Horrox suggests that he became associated with the Prince of Wales’ household at Ludlow during this period. Also in 1476, Richard was nominated as a Knight of the Garter (interestingly, by Lord William Hastings), but lost out to his older brother, Thomas.

Richard was prominent at the tournament that followed the marriage of his young half-brother, the Duke of York, to Anne Mowbray in 1478. He and his retinue were garbed in blue and tawny; his three horses sported crimson cloth of gold and tissue.

Grey was made constable of Chester Castle on February 10, 1479. Sometime in 1479, Richard was appointed to a commission of oyer and terminer in Wales to investigate crimes committed by John Herbert. In the 1480’s Richard continued to serve on commissions for the king. He was appointed to commissions of oyer and terminer on July 24, 1482, August 24, 1482, and on March 18, 1483, and to commissions of the peace in Berkshire (February 13, 1483), Buckinghamshire (February 13, 1483), Essex (February 12, 1483), Herefordshire (November 28, 1481), Northamptonshire (February 13, 1483), and Oxfordshire (February 18, 1483). On December 7, 1481, he was appointed to inquire into escapes of felons within the county of Southampton. Grey was made the constable and steward of Wallingford on September 3, 1482.

Grey acquired a number of lands during the last year or so of his life. On April 24, 1482, he was granted Kidwelly in tail male. Edward IV expanded his stepson’s landholdings at the Parliament of 1483, where he and his male heirs were granted the manors of Rochford, Leigh, Paglesham and Foulness in Essex; the manors of Thorpe Waterville, Aldwinkle, Achurch, Chelveston and Caldecote in Northampton; the manor of Ardington in Berkshire; and the manor of Barford St Martin in Wiltshire. Elizabeth Woodville paid the king 2,000 marks for this grant, which was part of a larger transaction involving the lands of the Lancastrian Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter. Exeter and his former wife Anne, sister of Edward IV, were dead, as was their only daughter, but Anne by her second husband, Thomas St. Leger, had another daughter, who had been made the Exeter heiress and who was intended to marry a son of Thomas Grey, though the arrangement was canceled when Richard III came to the throne. The lands Richard Grey acquired were valued at 500 marks a year.

As in the case of his uncles Richard and Edward, there is no trace of a marriage being sought for Richard Grey. Perhaps the granting of the lands to him in 1483 would have been followed in due course by a bride being found for him; after all, Grey was probably still only in his twenties.

In 1473, Edward IV had issued a series of ordinances for the Prince of Wales’ household in which he minutely prescribed the day-to-day details of the prince’s upbringing. On February 25, 1483, the king amended these ordinances, evidently, as Nicholas Orme points out, because the twelve-year-old prince was proving to have a will of his own. Edward was ordered by his father to “observe and kepe theis articles before written touching his person” and to “ne take upon him to give, write, sende or commande any thinge without thavise of the said bishop [John Alcock, then the Bishop of Worcester], lord Richard [Grey] and Erle Rivieres [Anthony Woodville].” Alcock, Grey, and Rivers were instructed that if Edward engaged in any “unprincely demeaning” or behaved contrary to the ordinances, they were to “forthwith shewe it in good manner unto him selfe to bee refourmed, and if he will not amend therby then the said bishop, lord Richard and Erle Rivieres, or one of them, shewe it unto us and to our moost dere wief the quene or unto one of us in all goodlie haste, as they will aunsuere it at theire peril and avoid our grievous displeasour.” Plainly, Richard Grey had acquired increasing importance in his half-brother’s household.

Richard Grey’s reputation has suffered much from Mancini’s comment, likely based on propaganda being put forth by Richard, Duke of Gloucester in 1483, that “although [Edward IV] had many promoters and companions of his vices, the more important and especial were three of the . . . relatives of the queen, her two sons and one of her brothers.” Richard Grey, however, could have hardly been a promoter and companion of Edward IV’s vices in the early years of his reign, when Grey was just a child. From the late 1470’s on, Grey appears to have spent much of his time in the household of the Prince of Wales at Ludlow, again not affording him much opportunity to promote Edward IV’s vices–assuming that Edward needed encouragement, which seems most unlikely. It is also notable that Edward IV, who in his ordinances proscribed unsuitable persons from coming into his heir’s presence, deemed Richard Grey morally fit to participate in the prince’s upbringing. Crowland, in contrast to Mancini, calls Grey “a very honourable knight.”

For Richard Grey, the future must have looked bright in the spring of 1483: he had been appointed to several commissions, he had a leading role in the household of his half-brother, and he had become prosperous through the acquisition of his new manors. Sadly, great changes were coming. Edward IV died on April 9, 1483. Just three weeks later, on April 30, 1483, Richard Grey, his uncle Anthony Woodville, and Thomas Vaughan, Edward V’s elderly chamberlain, were taken prisoner by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who claimed that the men were conspiring to murder him. If Gloucester offered any proof of his allegations, it has not survived, and as we shall see, contemporaries doubted the men’s guilt.

Grey’s movements in the days before he was imprisoned are unclear. He is not named among those attending Edward IV’s funeral, but Mancini claims that he had been in London shortly before rejoining Edward V. According to Crowland, as their parties traveled toward London, Grey and Anthony Woodville met Gloucester and the Duke of Buckingham at Northampton and, after a night of pleasant conversation, journeyed to Stony Stratford where Edward V was lodged. Just outside the latter town, Grey and Woodville were arrested by Gloucester’s men. Mancini, however, has only Anthony meeting Gloucester, and has him being arrested before setting out to meet the king at his lodgings; in this version, Gloucester and Buckingham arrive at the town where Edward V is staying and then arrest Grey. Notably, none of the men arrested seems to have taken any precautions whatsoever against being captured by Gloucester, as surely they would have had they been plotting against him.

The captive Grey was taken to Middleham Castle, one of Gloucester’s strongholds, where he arrived on May 3, along with some servants and horses, and remained until Midsummer Day, when he was moved to Pontefract Castle. Gloucester’s young son, Edward, was also at Middleham at the time, but it seems unlikely that Richard Grey had more than superficial contact with the boy.

Soon after he arrived in London with Edward V, Mancini reports, Gloucester attempted to have the council agree to the execution of the three prisoners. “But this he was quite unable to achieve, because there appeared no certain case as regards the ambushes, and even had the crime been manifest, it would not have been treason, for at the time of the alleged ambushes he was neither regent nor did he hold any other public office.” This gained the men a reprieve, but only a short one. Meanwhile, Gloucester began granting out various Woodville estates, including Grey’s manor of Thorpe Waterville, which went to Francis Lovell before May 21, 1483, when the tenants were notified of the transfer.

On June 25, 1483, Grey, Rivers, and Vaughan were executed at Pontefract Castle on orders of Gloucester, who had the crown well within his grasp and thus no longer needed to bother with the council’s approval. The next day, Gloucester became King Richard III.

Crowland, who refers to the deaths of Grey and the others as “the second shedding of innocent blood” (William Hastings having been the first victim), writes that the men “were beheaded without any form of trial,” although John Rous claims that the Earl of Northumberland acted as their judge. If the men did indeed receive a trial, its outcome must have been a foregone conclusion, for on June 23, Anthony Woodville, who was being held at Sheriff Hutton, made his will. The only thing in doubt seems to have been where he was to be executed, since at the beginning of the will he asked to be buried at St. Stephens College at Westminster if he died “beyond Trent,” while in a postscript he asked to be buried with Richard Grey at Pontefract before an image of the Virgin Mary. Whether this request was honored is unknown, but in September, Richard III was presented with an expense account indicating that 46 shillings and 4 pence had been spent for Grey’s burial.


C. A. J. Armstrong, ed., The Usurpation of Richard III. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969 (2d. ed.).

David Baldwin, Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower. Gloucestershire: Sutton, 2004.

Calendar of Patent Rolls.

Letter to the Gentleman’s Magazine, pp. 377-79, October 1844.

Rosemary Horrox, ‘Grey, Sir Richard (d. 1483)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 6 June 2009]

Rosemary Horrox, Richard III: A Study in Service. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

D.E. Lowe, “The Council of the Prince of Wales and the Decline of the Herbert Family during the Second Reign of Edward IV (1471-1483).” Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, vol. 27, 1976-78, pp.278-297.

D. E. Lowe, “Patronage and Politics: Edward IV, the Wydevilles, and the Council of the Prince of Wales, 1471–83.” Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, 1977.

W. C. Metcalfe, A Book of Knights Banneret, Knights of the Bath and Knights Bachelor (1885).

Arlene Okerlund, Elizabeth: England’s Slandered Queen. Gloucestershire: Tempus, 2006.

Nicholas Orme, “The Education of Edward V,” Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 1984.

Lynda Pidgeon, “Antony Wydeville, Lord Scales and Rivers: Family, Friends and Affinity. Part 2.” The Ricardian (2006).

A. J. Pollard, The Worlds of Richard III. Stroud: Tempus, 2001.

Nicholas Pronay and John Cox, eds., The Crowland Chronicle Continuations, 1459–1486. London: Richard III and Yorkist History Trust: 1986.

T. B. Pugh, ‘Grey, Thomas, first marquess of Dorset (c.1455–1501)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 6 June 2009]

Anne Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs, “The Royal Burials of the House of York at Windsor,” The Ricardian (December 1998).

8 thoughts on “Richard Grey, Elizabeth Woodville’s Second Son”

  1. Richard Grey seems like he was caught up in a web of political upheaval. Forgive me for being confused, but where or who says that Richard Grey joined a rebellion against Richard? Or is it just simply that Gloucester hated the Woodville family and needed them out of the way to remain a king?

  2. Susan Higginbotham

    The accusations of Grey, Anthony Woodville, and Vaughan came from Gloucester and Buckingham. My own cynical opinion is that Gloucester simply wanted Grey and the rest out of the way, either because he didn't want them interfering in his government as protector or because he was already pondering the notion of seizing the crown for himself.

    Outwardly, at least, Gloucester appears to have been on civil terms with the Woodvilles before Edward IV's death. It was Gloucester who made Edward Woodville a knight banneret during the Scottish campaign, and Anthony Woodville chose Gloucester as an arbitrator of a dispute earlier in 1483.

  3. That is certainly interesting to note that Gloucester was 'civil' to them before Edward's death. Do you think R. of Gloucester was jealous or supportive of Edward IV during Edward's reign?

  4. Susan Higginbotham

    He was mostly loyal to Edward IV, though there's an interesting incident in 1475 where Edward IV had to rein in Gloucester with regard to Edward IV's Scottish policy. (A. J. Pollard mentions this in "Richard III and the Princes in the Tower" and in "The Worlds of Richard III.")

    My own guess is that Richard's loyalty to Edward IV was prompted more by self-interest than any deep affection for his brother. There's certainly no evidence to support the Ricardian line that Richard "worshiped" his older brother. Certainly Titulus Regius, which was drafted under Richard III's auspices, contains no hint of affection for Edward IV; rather, it makes it sound as if his reign blended the worst features of King John and Edward II.

  5. I don't see Gloucester's loyalty to Edward nor the executions of Grey, quite the same way–surprise, surprise. :-p

    Loyalty–Since Edward made himself quite visible to Richard after their father was killed and Richard was quite young, after all, I see the early years of having at least the potential of Richard greatly admiring, perhaps even bordering on worship of his oldest brother. Then as he matured and had other influences (Warwick's probably being very strong), I can see worship transmografying into loyalty. Besides, I'm sure Richard could see on which side the bread was buttered.

    The executions–Here I'm not so sure that these executions weren't a result of Richard perceiving their failure to meet him at the agreed to place (Northampton?)with Edward V as being treasonous. I'm imagining Richard being under a lot of stress and quick to see evil where under other circumstances he wouldn't have given it any consideration. In short, I think he was panicking.

    Another puzzling aspect of those executions is why did Rivers trust Richard to execute his will? Was that his last gasp effort to get Richard to reverse his decision, do you think?


  6. Susan Higginbotham

    I think panicking could explain the arrests, but not the executions–Richard had a good seven to eight weeks to cool off in the interim.

    Technically, Richard isn't named in the will as an executor–rather, Rivers asks him "to comfort, help, and assist, as supervisor" the men who are named as executors (they include Anthony's son-in-law, his agent Andrew Dymmok, and William Catesby). I think Rivers asked for Richard's assistance not because of any trust he placed in Richard at that point but because he recognized that without Richard's cooperation, the executors couldn't carry out his last wishes. I imagine Rivers was hoping that having been named in the will, Richard would feel morally obliged to cooperate–though I don't know whether any of Rivers' bequests were actually honored.

  7. The admittedly rather vague impression I get is of several factions held in approximate balance while Edward IV was alive, but leaping at each other's throats, with or without cause or just to get their retaliations in first, as soon as he died. Is that wildly off the mark, do you think?

    (And to quote from Alianore's recent post, with plenty of wrong on both sides)

  8. Susan wrote: "…panicking could explain the arrests, but not the executions…"

    I agree, but I also think it did contribute to Richard not backing off the executions. He continued to "see" treason all around him and see it focused with Elizabeth and her contacts. He could have convinced himself he was right to have arrested them in the first place and that they "had" to be executed. It would be interesting to know what Buckingham's influence was here as well.

    Didn't understand that about the will, and that makes sense. Interesting about Catesby's involvment, especially if Hancock's theory is mostly right.

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