Wedding Bell Research Blues: A September Anniversary for Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville?

It’s generally stated that Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville were secretly married on May 1, 1464. But is this their actual wedding date?

It’s been noted by several authors that as late as April 13, 1464, Elizabeth and William, Lord Hastings, Edward IV’s close friend and chamberlain, entered into an agreement whereby one of William’s as-yet-unborn daughters would marry Elizabeth’s eldest son, Thomas. William and Elizabeth were to share in the profits of Elizabeth’s Grey lands, which she had apparently enlisted William’s help in recovering. Because Elizabeth would have hardly needed to enter into such an agreement if she knew she was shortly to be the wife of Edward IV, it’s generally assumed that at this point, neither Elizabeth nor Hastings knew that a royal marriage for Elizabeth was in the works.

Less well known, however, is the sequel to this agreement: a grant dated August 10, 1464, in which Edward IV gives William Hastings the wardship and marriage of Thomas Grey. As far as I know, only Michael Hicks in his book Edward V notes the existence of this grant, which can be found in the National Archives at DL 37/33, entry no. 28. (I have a transciption of it at hand.) As Hicks points out, if Elizabeth had married Edward IV in May, why would Edward IV subsequently grant her eldest son’s wardship and marriage to Hastings? Indeed, after Edward IV’s marriage was made public, a marriage for Thomas was arranged that was far more lucrative than the planned Hastings match the August grant appears to have been made to further. One could argue that Edward IV made the grant as part of a ruse to hide his marriage from even his closest friend, but it seems rather more likely that he at this point had not yet married Thomas Grey’s mother. Hicks notes another piece of evidence of a later marriage date: on August 30, 1464, Edward IV granted the lordship of Chester, traditionally reserved for the heir to the throne, to his younger brother Clarence. Would Edward had made such a grant had he been already married to a woman who could be hoped to give him an heir?

Neither of these grants prove that a May 1, 1464, wedding didn’t take place, and it could be argued that there had been a wedding on May 1 but that Edward IV as of August had not yet decided to come clean about it. Still, they do serve as a reminder that as with so many things about this period in history, the May 1 date (described by Ricardian writer Annette Carson as “beyond dispute”) is open to question; moreover, as David Baldwin notes in his biography of Elizabeth Woodville, the idea of the May wedding might have been “borrowed from romantic tradition,” or it might have arisen due to confusion with Elizabeth’s May coronation the following year.

Even if the May 1 date is a romantic fiction, it doesn’t make much difference in the grand scheme of things. Still, a wedding date after August 30, 1464, does give rise to two considerations. First, since Edward IV revealed the wedding to his council in September 1464 and presented his new bride to his council on September 29, 1464, a marriage date after August 30 means that the wedding was kept secret for less than a month, which undermines the argument that Edward had dishonorable intentions of never making his marriage public.

Second, those who have accepted the claim of Richard III that the marriage was procured by sorcery on the part of Elizabeth and/or her mother have gleefully pointed out that May 1 was the day after Walpurgisnacht, a Grand Sabbath of the witching year and thus an apt night for Elizabeth, Jacquetta, and their witchy ilk to cast spells upon the hapless Edward IV. One Ricardian, W. E. Hampton, in “Witchcraft and the Sons of York” (The Ricardian, March 1980) posits that Edward IV’s fatigue at Stony Stratford after the wedding, as described by the chronicler Fabian, can be attributed to “the orgiastic nature of the rites to which he may have been introduced” at a wild Walpurgisnacht in the forest of Grafton. While a September wedding could still have been procured by witchcraft, of course, the accusation loses a bit of its punch without Walpurgisnacht to lean upon. If the couple did marry after August 30, they could have at least done Richard the courtesy of waiting until All Hallows’ Eve.

13 thoughts on “Wedding Bell Research Blues: A September Anniversary for Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville?”

  1. Susan Higginbotham

    Yup! And Annette Carson uses the Walpurgisnacht theory in her 2008 nonfiction book about Richard III as well, though her theory is that Edward IV was fed some sort of love potion by Elizabeth and Jacquetta.

  2. Of course there couldn’t have been any other reasons for him to be fatigued after his wedding night (or wedding week)

  3. Susan Higginbotham

    It’s an entertaining read, though for the wrong reasons. It’s amusing, for one thing, to see the mental gymnastics she engages in when she accepts the contemporary chronicles at face value when they’re favorable to her case and rejects them when they’re not. Mancini, for example, is given utter credence when he’s speaking of events that occurred twenty years before he wrote, such as Buckingham’s supposed anger at being “forced” to marry a Woodville, but when Mancini states that he saw men crying at the mention of the Princes, he’s portrayed as an overemotional Italian who was probably hanging around drunks. Same with Crowland–he’s variously a dispassionate observer and a hopelessly biased Woodville partisan, depending on Carson’s needs at the particular moment in her book. And some of the factual errors are just plain wacky–she has the Woodvilles gaining “three dukedoms” after Edward IV marries Elizabeth (p. 33) and credits Richard with inventing bail (p. 232).

  4. I can’t remember whether Ross’s book on Edward contains his itinerary (my copy ain’t to hand.) Reason I mention this is that I thought one of the arguments for May was that Edward was in the area where Elizabeth lived. Or is that fiction too?

    Change of date might mean change of location too.

  5. Susan Higginbotham

    According to Ross (no itinerary, but in the text), Edward IV was in Stony Stratford on April 30. Hicks says that Edward IV’s presence at Stony Stratford on April 30 was proven by Cora Scofield

    In connection with the possibility that the marriage took place later and not at Grafton, Hicks mentions an Italian source, Antonio Cornazzano, who wrote around 1468 about the marriage, which he describes as taking place at a palace.

  6. Lol, I can ensure the authors of the Walpurgisnacht theory that it doesn’t need a certain date for witches. Having travelled the Harz mountains, a classical witch country, in May as well as September, I can assure you, the witches hang around all year round. 🙂

  7. Yep, for witches any day (or night) is good – especially full moons! I find that witchcraft theory really hilarious by the way. I think those authors have been reading too much fantasy fiction and it’s showing in their own work 😉

  8. Lol, I read a lot of Fantasy, but I don’t have witches and dragons in my PhD. 🙂

    They should know better.

  9. Oh dear. Nothing wrong with the suggestion that contemporary beliefs about witchcraft might have influenced the accusations made against Elizabeth and Jacquetta – no point in accusing someone of a crime nobody believes in – but it’s a bit of a jump to argue that it actually happened.

    Why isn’t Edward IV credited with making his own decisions?

  10. I don’t normally read blogs, but I happened onto your Wydeville blog while googling something else and became so intrigued that I read all your postings. Your research is solid and your insights illuminating. I’m very much looking forward to your book. And since you are in the midst of that project, I thought I’d post my thoughts (ridiculously late!) about Elizabeth and Edward IV’s May 1, 1464, wedding date.

    First, challenging the facts in contemporary chronicles is fraught with peril (though inaccuracies do occur). Since the Great Chronicle states that the marriage occurred on “the ffyrst daye of Maii” (202), that is my starting point.

    Second, Michael Hick’s arguments for a later date inspire alternative explanations for all of his hypotheses:

    a. The marriage agreement of April 13, 1464, between one of Elizabeth’s sons and Hastings’ daughter is not so much about Elizabeth herself as it is about securing the future of her son’s inheritance from his father, Sir John Grey. (Part of that inheritance had already been challenged by their grandmother, a dispute settled in Elizabeth’s favor on May 26, 1463. (Close Rolls I: 179).

    You are right that if Elizabeth were already anticipating marriage to Edward IV, she herself would not need Hastings’s assistance. But her sons did need to secure their inheritance independent of Edward IV’s benevolence. The Hastings marriage brilliantly joins the Grey property at Groby with the nearby Hastings lands at Kirby Muxloe and Ashby-de-la-Zouch, a significant coup in property consolidation (the point of most medieval marriages).

    b. Hastings’ wardship of Thomas Grey is equally smart and not at all unusual. Thomas would grow up under Hastings’ aegis, educated in the customs and traditions of his future wife and father-in-law. Similar situations include Henry Tudor’s wardship to William Herbert, earl of Pembroke, who planned to marry Henry to a Herbert daughter. Similarly, Edward IV’s young brothers Richard and George were sent off to the earl of Warwick for their upbringing (I’m not sure that was a great idea!).

    c. Edward IV’s grant of Chester to Clarence was only one of a long list of overly generous grants to his younger brother. When that grant was made, Warwick was negotiating a marriage between Edward and Bona of Savoy with the presumed expectation of an heir, who also should have become the traditional lord of Chester. Apparently, Edward wasn’t thinking about heirs at the time.

    d. The sorcery stuff I won’t touch.

    In short, alternative explanations are equally persuasive. I interpret Elizabeth’s transactions with Hastings as those of a smart woman acting in the best interest of her sons—in a world that Mom already knew was fraught with uncertainty.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top