We follow-up last week’s post and look at a deadly love story involving George, Elizabeth, Edward and Richard. This article 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.


George’s fate was finally sealed by the Queen.

18 February 1478 saw the legal execution of a Prince of the realm. This was the first for the Plantagenets who preferred to send their enemies to France (or murder them in the night). Thanks to Shakespeare we now think George was drowned in a barrel of wine as punishment for challenging Queen Elizabeth. On general principle, most historians disagree with anything Shakespeare said, but could there be some truth to this story? Royals in the tower were known to bath in the barrels. Could an executioner have come up behind the Duke mid-bath and drowned him? History tells us nothing.

Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers and William Caxton present the first printed book in English to King Edward IV of England

Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers and William Caxton present the first printed book in English to King Edward IV of England

Richard had seen first-hand what happened to men who tangled with the Queen, so perhaps that was why he spent the remainder of his life distrusting Elizabeth and working to protect himself and England from her.

By the time Elizabeth had given Edward ten children, his mistresses had given him five. That we know of. There were probably many, many more. Edward never let his marriage vows stop him from filling his bed with the pretty maids at court. And there was no end to pretty maids. There was an end to Elizabeth’s youth though. By the time she was middle-aged, something new was happening in England. A new mistress named Elizabeth Shore saw Edward more than the Queen did and the King’s favorite brother, Richard, had won a battle against the Scots making him the most popular man at court. So popular in fact, that Edward seemed to be ignoring Elizabeth and only listening to Richard. Was Elizabeth finally losing control of her husband?

And then Edward died in April 1483.

The official story is that Edward died of either pneumonia or typhoid, although this has been frequently brought into question. Edward had in no way taken care of his health. He had more than let himself go in the peaceful years of his reign. But he was merely unhealthy, not sickly. For him to suddenly take ill and die within days and for his physicians to be utterly clueless as to what was wrong is highly suspicious. Despite what Hollywood would have us believe, the medical professionals of the past weren’t as utterly useless as they are portrayed. Pneumonia and typhoid were known illnesses. Had Edward had one of those, his physicians would have said so. Heart attacks and strokes were also a known affliction. If Edward had had one of those, his physicians would have said so. The fact that his medical records state that he died of a mysterious illness suggests that something was quite wrong. Was he poisoned? And if so, by whom?

We know that Elizabeth is famous for her “quick action” after her husband’s death. This quick action being the arrangements of an army of 2,000 men escorting her son back to London. The sweet, newly widowed Queen should have been in mourning, not organizing an army. How sweet of her to sacrifice. Although one needs to wonder why she was organizing an army to bring the Prince to London. What was she fearing? And how did she rustle up 2,000 soldiers in a matter of days? And why then did she run into hiding when Richard and 200 mourners began their journey south? Could it be that the soldiers were arranged before the King’s death because the King’s death was actually planned? Did the Prince need an army to escort him because Elizabeth feared that the English would rise up against this Prince who would now be King but controlled by the highly unpopular Woodvilles? Did she go into hiding because she feared Richard? Why did she fear Richard? Plantagenet women, even unpopular ones, were never harmed. The worst that would have happened to Elizabeth had she been caught was exile. But people often don’t see things as they truly are. Did Elizabeth run because she assumed that Richard would have killed her, as she would have killed him if roles were reversed? History refuses to tell us what happened to Edward or why Elizabeth ran when Richard posed no obvious threat - we can only speculate and assume.

Officially Edward died of pneumonia or typhoid, but the circumstances are suspicious. Elizabeth’s actions are suspicious. Did the Queen finally lose control of the King and so poisoned him? Did she plan to rule through her son? He was only 12; he needed a protector to rule until he was 16. Edward ordered Richard to be this protector. Why not his wife and her brother? Did he know something we didn’t?

As ever, there are few answers, but many questions. All we know is that 1483 was one frantic year.


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

Click here to read the next in the series - how a baby ended The Wars of the Roses.


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Selected references

  • www.thewarsoftheroses.com
  • British History by Miles Kelly
  • www.britannica.com
  • www.battlefieldstrust.com

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)