In the next in our series on the Wars of the Roses, this article looks at the marriage between the naïve Edward IV and the very smart Elizabeth Woodville. And its very serious consequences for one of Edward’s brothers.

It follows our introduction to the Wars of the Roses available here and our article on Edward III’s descendants and the causes of the Wars of the Roses available here. Later were the battles of the war from 1455-1464 and the Kingmaker. The most recent article was on Prince George’s treachery.


Do you know those romantic love stories where boy meets girl, they fall in love, the heavens and the earth move for them, and they live happily ever after?

Well, this isn’t one of them.

Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV's very powerful Queen

Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV's very powerful Queen

Elizabeth Woodville was a twenty-seven year old widow and mother of two small boys when the lecherous Edward IV came upon her in the woods one day. There is no hard evidence to tell us what had happened to make this womanizer stop and promise marriage to this commoner. Myths about her beauty beguiling him as well as her unholy spells bewitching him have survived the centuries.  Personally I think that Edward was young and silly and far too full of lust. Elizabeth, older and wiser and trained from puberty to deal with silly medieval men, used that against him. She refused to be his mistress so he had no choice but to wed her if he wanted to bed her - Anne Boleyn would pull the exact same stunt on Edward’s grandson, Henry VIII, half a century later; the men in that family never learn. Edward, therefore, married Elizabeth and crowned her his Queen in May 1465, a year after their secret wedding.

Elizabeth’s beauty and piety were known across the land – she was the commoner who had enchanted a King and now she was Queen. But just how much had she enchanted the King? In almost record time, her sisters were married off to the most eligible men in the kingdom. Her brothers and father were put in positions of power. And estates reserved for the victorious Yorkists were suddenly in Woodville control. The insult there being that the Woodvilles had, of course, fought for the Lancasters. It seemed as though Edward was not working in the favor of England, but to better the name of Woodville. It seemed as though Elizabeth had the King wrapped around her little finger. The Queen was in charge of England and doing her best to strip the land of its riches and bestow it on her siblings.

The Woodvilles created many enemies on their short ladder to the top. Most famously, the Earl of Warwick and the Duke of Clarence. A little less famously was the King’s mother, the Duchess Cecily. Everyone has mother-in-law horror stories, but Elizabeth definitely has one of the worst. Medieval historian Dominic Mancini wrote, “Even his mother fell into such a frenzy that she offered to submit to a public enquiry and asserted that Edward was not the offspring of her husband, the Duke of York, but was conceived in adultery, and therefore in no ways worthy of the honor of kingship.” The woman disapproved of Elizabeth to such a point that she was willing to debate Edward’s paternity and right to be King. Of course, Mancini was writing on hearsay so we will never know if that actually happened. But it is very clear that Elizabeth and this marriage were neither liked nor wanted.

Cecily offered even more insults years later when she formed great friendships with the wives of her other sons – Isabelle and Anne Neville. The Neville girls were the daughters of the Earl of Warwick – Elizabeth’s greatest enemy and the murderer of her father. Battle took care of Warwick; the shrewd Queen didn’t have to bother herself with him. But Warwick’s one-time ally, the Duke of Clarence, was not so easy to dispose of.

The Duke of Clarence, Prince George, was a troublemaker and most believe he deserved what he got. But his story just highlights how unbelievably powerful Elizabeth was. The trouble started with the death of George’s wife, Isabelle. As heiress to the massive Warwick fortune, her death left George one of the richest men in England. It is unknown whether that fortune caused George the belief that he was untouchable or if he truly was just a tyrant. But his first stunt after Isabelle’s death was to accuse her handmaid of poisoning the duchess. Without trial or evidence, George convicted the handmaid and executed her. He had no right to do this. He then used his fortune to present himself as a prospective husband to Mary of Burgundy. He had no right to do this. He accused Elizabeth of witchcraft. He employed soothsayers to predict the King’s death. He resurrected the rumor of Cecily’s infidelity and Edward’s questionable paternity. He even brought up a new notion of Edward being pre-contracted to another woman named Eleanor Talbot, therefore making Elizabeth a mistress instead of a wife and Queen.

This, Elizabeth could not allow.

In 1477 George was convicted of treason. Not even Edward’s council were prepared for this, nor could they understand the King’s want to execute his own brother. The youngest Plantagenet hero, Richard, a man who had always backed his beloved brother Edward in everything, was so disgusted that he refused to come to court, refused to have anything to do with Edward’s murder of George.

But did Edward really want to execute his brother or was he simply in the habit of acting on orders from his wife? After all, Edward had forgiven George for many, many betrayals in the past - why would a smear campaign from the Queen suddenly warrant the death penalty?

18 February 1478 would see the outcome of this infighting. But that’s for next time.


By M.L King, a history enthusiast and part-time blogger. You can connect with her on Facebook here.

To read part 2 of A Love Story during The Wars of the Roses, click here!


Have you heard our audio podcasts about an equally fascinating civil war? Click here to go to our Spanish Civil War page.


Selected references

In the next in our series on the Wars of the Roses, this article looks at the importance of the Earl of Warwick, the kingmaker. It follows our introduction to the Wars of the Roses available here, our article on Edward III’s descendants and the causes of the Wars of the Roses available here, and the battles of the war from 1455-1464.


The Earl of Warwick was a great and noble man who understood the battlefield, understood soldiers, and understood men. Unfortunately Warwick did not understand women. And the fact that he did not understand women was, indirectly, the reason for his downfall and death.

Edward IV meets his future wife and Queen, Elizabeth Woodville (Elizabeth Grey)

Edward IV meets his future wife and Queen, Elizabeth Woodville (Elizabeth Grey)


Through blood and marriage, Richard Neville – the 16th Earl of Warwick, also known as ‘The King Maker’ – had inherited nearly all the lands in the north of England. This made him one of the richest men in the kingdom, richer even than the King. The Earl was a fair and much loved landlord, meaning his tenants would quickly and happily take up arms for him, something the King could not boast. Common sense would dictate that a wise King would keep the Earl as a close companion and heed what he had to say, but Edward IV was young and silly and more concerned with filling his bed than commanding his kingdom. All foreign and domestic powers knew that Warwick ruled England while the King bedded the women of England. Warwick liked it that way. If he could not be the King, he would rule through him instead.

In the middle ages, a King’s marriage was a very important contract between two kingdoms. Warwick made it his business to unite England and France to dispel any chance of a repeat of the Hundred Years War. England was bankrupt and the country was still healing from war with France and war within its own borders. It was reasoned that an alliance with the French would help to fill English pockets and heal the wounds of war. Warwick worked tirelessly to convince the French King that the silly English King was worthy of a French princess. It took months of planning and bargaining before Warwick could finally announce the fruits of his labour - only to have Edward stand up to announce that not only was he already married, but had been for four months and to a widowed commoner whose family had fought against Edward’s army. We’ll never know Warwick’s real thoughts, but after suffering this verbal slap in the face, one can assume he was not impressed. Edward’s new Queen – Elizabeth Woodville – was not someone to be taken lightly. The medieval Queens were always strong, powerful women – they had to be – but no medieval man would ever admit it. Their religious beliefs and male ego prevented them from seeing women as anything but baby-making property. And so, with blinkered eyes, they accepted their new Queen with no thought to her hidden agenda.

But hidden agenda she had. Within months, Elizabeth’s twelve brothers and sisters were married into powerful and rich families. Positions reserved for the men who had fought to put Edward on the throne were suddenly handed to commoners who had fought to keep Edward from the throne. Wealthy ladies were married off to men they would have hired to clean the stables. The King’s government now consisted of his father and brother-in-laws. Suddenly it was all too clear who ruled England and it wasn’t the silly young King or the powerful Earl of Warwick - it was the widowed commoner who somehow got a King to marry her and hand over the reins.

Warwick sat and watched this game from his lands in the north. He quietly watched the government be over-thrown by power hungry commoners. He silently watched as the King he had fought for, lost a father and brother for, risked his life for, grew fat and lazy, controlled by his Queen and her rabbit-brood family. But it was Edward’s refusal to accept a marriage contract between Warwick’s daughters and the King’s brothers that finally pushed The King Maker over the edge. The man who had put Edward on the throne now set out to destroy him.


By M.L King, a history enthusiast and part-time blogger.

The next article in The Wars of the Roses series is about the treachery of Prince George and the Kingmaker's downfall - available here.


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  • The Wars of the Roses by Robin Neillands (published by Cassell)
  • British History by Miles Kelly (published by Miles Kelly Publishing)
  • Who’s Who in British History (published by Collins and Brown Ltd)