The Kingmaker’s Sisters: Six Powerful Women in the Wars of the Roses, a new book by David Baldwin, traces the lives of Joan Neville, married to William Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel; Cecily, married to the short-lived Henry Beauchamp, Duke of Warwick, and the notorious John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester; Eleanor, married to Thomas, Lord Stanley; Alice, married to Henry, Lord Fitzhugh; Katherine, married to William, Lord Harrington, and William, Lord Hastings; and Margaret, married to John de Vere, the long-imprisoned Earl of Oxford. Through their husbands, the sisters often found themselves on opposing sides during the Wars of the Roses, and several experienced individual tragedies because of this.
As is typical of medieval women, little is known about the sisters’ personalities and day-to-day lives, but Baldwin has unearthed what traces do exist through examining the sisters’ letters, their dealings with others, and in one case (Katherine’s) a will. There are nice color illustrations and a handy chronology. Baldwin also transcribes three previously unpublished letters from Eleanor and Katherine.
Baldwin makes note of a rather unsavory episode involving Richard III’s ally Francis, Viscount Lovel, whose loyalty to Richard III means that he’s generally portrayed by Ricardians as being only a shade or two less saintly than the king. Though Lovel had quitclaimed his interest in the Hastings manor of Ashby, Lovel’s father had sold his manor of Bagworth to the Hastings family, and Francis’s uncle William Beaumont had been attainted, Lovell nonetheless claimed that the Beaumont properties and those of Ashby and Bagworth, left in the hands of Katherine after the execution of her husband, belonged to him. In order to settle matters with the acquisitive Lovel, Katherine was forced during Richard III’s reign to give him 200 marks in cash and to grant him lands totaling a maximum of 200 marks per annum. In return, she was granted the peaceful enjoyment of Ashby, Bagworth, and the rest of the Beaumont inheritance. Richard III, who’s often praised by Ricardians for his chivalry toward women, seems to have done nothing to protect Katherine against Lovel, though he had specifically sworn to uphold the interests of Katherine and her children in their lands and goods. Ominously, Francis in his settlement with Katherine indicated that the matter could not “finally be appeased” during the minority of Katherine’s son Edward, which suggests, as Baldwin states, that Francis might have driven even a harder bargain once Edward did come of age. Fortunately, the Battle of Bosworth meant that Francis never got the chance. Edward Hastings went on to fight for Henry VII against Lovel at the Battle of Stoke.
I saw one error that made me growl: Richard Woodville is described as “the fifth and last of Queen Elizabeth’s brothers.” This is not the case; had Richard been the youngest Woodville, his brother Edward, rather than Richard, would have succeeded Anthony as Earl Rivers in 1485. Moreover, although this book is about the sisters, I would have liked a bit more about their husbands’ lives in order to better put the sisters’ lives in context. Aside from this, though, I found this a very useful and informative book, one that puts a human face on the ever-revolving wheel of fortune during the Wars of the Roses.