Richard Woodville, Third Earl Rivers

Here’s another Woodville mini-biography I’ve posted on my website:

By far the least known brother of Elizabeth Woodville is Richard, who eventually became the third Earl Rivers.

Richard seems to have been the second oldest Woodville brother. Cora Scofield in her biography of Edward IV refers to his having been pardoned in 1462 for his adherence to the Lancastrian cause; his father and older brother, Anthony, had been pardoned the previous July. His brother John was born around 1445 (he is said to have been 20 in 1465), and Anthony is said to have been born around 1440.

In 1465, Richard was made a Knight of the Bath, along with his brother John, as part of the festivities preceding Elizabeth’s coronation. In 1467, Edward IV attempted to have him appointed Prior of the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, though he was not a member of the order; the royal intervention failed, however, when the order elected its own chosen candidate.

Scofield writes that in 1469, Richard captured Thomas Danvers, who was accused of plotting with Edward IV’s Lancastrian enemies. Later in 1469, the Earl of Warwick, taking advantage of unrest in the country, issued a manifesto condemning “the deceitful, covetous rule and guiding of certain seditious persons,” including the elder Richard Woodville, Anthony Woodville, and “Sir John Woodville and his brothers.” The elder Richard and John were seized and executed, and Anthony appears to have either eluded capture or to have been captured by men who were reluctant to execute him. Richard must have been in danger himself during this time, but nothing indicates his whereabouts. In November 1470, however, during the readeption of Henry VI, he was issued a pardon by the Warwick-controlled government. It seems likely that he would have fought for Edward IV at Barnet and Tewkesbury in 1471, but his presence is not mentioned there; perhaps as a mere knight who did not play a notable part in the battle he was simply too lowly to mention.

Richard played little part in the remainder of Edward IV’s reign. J. R. Lander states in Crown and Nobility that he was “employed on various embassies and commissions” and notes that he found no evidence of grants made to him. He owned Wymington in Bedfordshire, where he served as a justice of the peace. Wymington was a manor that had been in his family. Was he considered ineffectual or incompetent, or was he simply a man who preferred the life of a country gentleman to a public role? Perhaps after having witnessed the strife of the previous decades, including the violent deaths of his father and his brother, he was content to live an existence of relative obscurity.

Following Edward IV’s death in April, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, having seized and imprisoned Richard Woodville’s brother Anthony at Northampton, confiscated Anthony’s land. According to Rosemary Horrox in Richard III: A Study in Service, the soon-to-be king seized Richard Woodville’s manor of Wymington as well on May 19, 1483, despite the fact that Richard Woodville stood accused of no crime. (Though Richard III has been praised for his enlightened legislation, he wasn’t much concerned with legal niceties when his own interests were involved.)

Given this high-handedness and the subsequent executions of Anthony and of Elizabeth Woodville’s son Richard Grey, it is not surprising that Richard Woodville, along with his brother Lionel Woodville, joined the interconnected series of uprisings against Richard III in the fall of 1483 known as Buckingham’s rebellion. (Richard and Lionel were brothers-in-law of Buckingham.) Richard Woodville was among the rebels who rose at Newbury. This rising, like all of the others, collapsed in the wake of Richard III’s swift reaction and Buckingham’s own capture and execution.

Richard Woodville, along with many other rebels, was attainted in the Parliament of 1484. As Richard III had executed his own brother-in-law, Thomas St. Leger, for his role in the uprising, as well as sundry other rebels, one wonders why Richard Woodville was spared. He does not seem to have fled abroad. Perhaps he went into sanctuary like his brother Lionel. In any case, by 1485, Richard III was trying to win over some of his former opponents. He pardoned Richard Woodville in March 1485 in exchange for a bond of 1,000 marks and a pledge of good behavior.

Whether Richard joined Henry Tudor’s forces at Bosworth is unknown. Following Richard III’s defeat there, Richard Woodville was restored to his estates, including those of his father, and became the third Earl Rivers, the title that his father and his brother Anthony had held before him. He took part in some of the ceremonial occasions of Henry VII’s reign, participating in the coronation of his niece Elizabeth of York and apparently at the christening of her first child, Arthur. During the reign, he served on commissions of the peace in Bedfordshire and Northhamptonshire and was among those commissioned to take musters of archers. Richard was also commissioned to investigate treasons, felonies, and conspiracies in Hereford in 1486 and to try petitions presented to Parliament in 1487. I have found nothing indicating whether he was at the battle of Stoke.

Though Elizabeth Woodville is generally condemned for using her queenly status to enrich her grasping family, Richard’s case illustrates how exaggerated this accusation is. Richard acquired neither great wealth nor power while his sister was queen; his lands came from his own family, not from royal largesse. Like his younger brother Edward, who also gained little materially from his royal connection, he does not even seem to have married.

Richard died on March 6, 1491, without issue. He was the last of the Woodville brothers. In his will, he requested burial at the Abbey of St. James at Northampton and bequeathed his lands to his nephew Thomas, Marquis of Dorset (Elizabeth Woodville’s surviving son by her first husband). He asked that the underwood at Grafton be sold so as to “buy a bell to be a tenor at Grafton to the bells now there, for a remembrance of the last of my blood.”

4 thoughts on “Richard Woodville, Third Earl Rivers”

  1. Very interesting, Susan. I’d never questioned the assertions that Eliz Woodville used her position for her family’s gain – I must look through your posts on the wars of the roses period at some point, but at the moment I’m so absorbed in the 14th century that I can’t concentrate on any other part of history.

  2. “Perhaps after having witnessed the strife of the previous decades, including the violent deaths of his father and his brother, he was content to live an existence of relative obscurity.”

    Sensible man if he did. It seems odd that he survived the aftermath of Buckingham’s rebellion. Perhaps he claimed sanctuary as you suggest, unless he just couldn’t be found and wasn’t so great a threat as to be worth hunting for.

  3. Interesting that Richard and his brother Edward, and their nephew Richard Grey, didn’t benefit financially or maritally from their sister/mother being queen. I imagine this is conveniently not mentioned in all those pro-Ricardian depictions of ‘Elizabeth Woodville, the grasping queen’!

  4. Sounds like he was quite a nice bloke for a change. I love learning new stuff about this period – I only have had minimal knowledge of it before.

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