Don’t Defame the Dead!

Posted: June 2, 2012 in Trivialities, rants & other ephemera

Welcome to Don’t Defame the Dead!: Nevill.

Elizabeth Wydeville – a commoner! – had the temerity to marry a king. And she is portrayed in all kinds of negative ways. Grasping; greedy; jealous; manipulative; spiteful… In one book. the Too Good to be True Heroine catches her mocking a fat servant (and that was before she married her king!) Now, I’m contractually obligated to hate the Wydevilles for the duration, but I’ve been give a day’s reprieve, so I’ll make the most of it. Edward IV was the one whose actions were dubious. He had no business (from the perspective that a king’s marriage was about more than personal choice, it was about politics, alliances and other stuff) marrying Elizabeth. A lifelong commitment might not have been his first consideration. So, what was Elizabeth supposed to do in that case? Say, “Oh, I’m far too lowly and humble to be your queen! Please, by all means, sleep with me for as long as you want, then walk away.” Or perhaps, “Oh, don’t worry about the wedding thing! I understand. Off you go. It’s been such fun!”

I can’t think of one book featuring the countess of Warwick where she is not in some way terrified of her husband. Strange, then, how she chose to be with him just about every second of their marriage. She went with him to Calais, though she is reported to have hated the place; she shared with him his last exile, arriving back in England on 14 April 1471 to the news that he was dead. Waurin reports (twice) that she greeted him with joy on his safe return to Calais.

It was a father’s duty to find the best marriage partners for their children. Best not just for their children but for the family in general. No child expected to marry for love. Warwick found a Duke for his elder daughter and a Prince of Wales for the younger. Advantageous to him, both of them, yes. But utterly advantageous to the young women themselves.

Hunchbacked, withered armed Richard III, anyone?

When forced to flee England in 1471, Warwick made sure his wife and daughters were with him. “Showing scant regard for his womenfolk” a lot of historians (and others) say. Leaving his family behind to be left in poverty, possibly homeless, potentially hostages, would have shown a good deal less regard for ‘his womenfolk’ (perhaps better to say his wife and daughters?) than collecting them, making sure all were together and hightailing it to Calais. I think this is mostly based on the Duchess of Clarence’s advanced pregnancy. But Warwick wasn’t to know he’d be kept out of Calais, nor was he to know that isobel would go into labour aboard ship to a deeply sad outcome. I can’t imagine a darker time for the family, burying a baby boy at sea. This was Warwick’s first grandchild, and to suggest he simply didn’t care is monstrous. Give the man a break!

The Wydevills weren’t the only ones tagged as ‘grasping’ and ‘greedy’, the Nevills are as well, particularly Warwick. He held a lot of well rewarded posts – Captain of Calais, Keeper of the Seas, Warden of the Cinq Ports, Warden of the Marches towards Scotland… And he worked hard at all of them, didn’t just sit back and wait for the cash to drop into the palm of his hand. Did Edward rely on him too much? Certainly at the start. But as time went on, he ended up relying on him too little. And that was a bad mistake.

Based on one report from Warkworth, John Nevill is forever branded as a man prepared to betray his brother. And yet he is lauded for that, treated like a hero. I don’t understand that at all. (I’ve blogged it.)

Susan Higginbotham says this better.

A couple of times during the Wars of the Roses, scurrilous rumours sprang up that Edward IV was not the son of the Duke of York at all, but an archer named Blaybourne. Tony Robinson and Michael Jones stirred the pot with their ‘documentary’ about it. A lot of people are convinced of the truth of it. The evidence for it is flimsy and circumstantial. The evidence against it rests on a number of things, not the least being the Duke of York’s treatment of this supposed archer’s son. “But he had a tiny little christening!” people say. “Not like his little brother Edmund!” So the Duke of York, faced with his wife’s illgotten offspring, puts his foot down. He would acknowledge the boy as his (he didn’t actually, there was no need), treat him like his son and heir, mark no difrerence between him and the other children, BUT… He wasn’t going to get a fancy christening! It’s nonsense.

There was a belief in witchcraft in the 15th century, and people did get accused of practicing it. Jacquetta Wydeville did, and was acquitted. So there’s no problem portraying characters who believe in witches, or even believe they are witches. But to actually endow them with magical powers? Pffff!

George Nevill’s enthronement feast as Archbishop of York is often cited as an example of excess: excess and oneupmanship. I’ve blogged it.

Just a general plea: Don’t Defame Daddy! Marriage for love was not only uncommon bur greeted with shock or scorn in the 15th century. Daughters were more likely to be totting up their future worth when Daddy suggested young Lord So-and-So or the widowed and ageing Earl of Thing, Widowed and ageing might have its disadvantages, sure, but there was always wealthy widowhood to look forward to. Please don’t feel sorry for these non-21st century girls. Their husbands didn’t have much choice either!

And here are the ‘greedy’ ‘grasping’ Wydevilles. Looking after their own interests in the same way other, more established, families did. Some of it wasn’t nice, viz Anthony Wydeville’s treatment of Maud Stanhope, but he wasn’t inventing anything new there. Sure, people looked down on them, called them upstarts, moaned about how they were nicking all the good marriages. Unless one of those good marriages went in their favour – a connection with the king wasn’t to be sneezed at.

“You’re going to marry the Prince of Wales.” “But I don’t love him, Papa!” or “You’re going to marry the Duke of Clarence.” “But I don’t love him, Papa!” Actually, there’s every reason to think that, by the time of their wedding, Isobel Nevill and the Duke of Clarence were more than happy with the marriage, from a personal perspective as well as the usual. Her father seems to have given them the opportunity to develop a friendship, if nothing else. As for Anne’s marriage to a Prince of Wales! One whose exile Daddy was working hard to bring to an end, one who Daddy was going to do everything he could to restore to his birthright. Yes, these marriages were advantageous to Warwick, but all medieval noble marriages were meant to be that. Please, stop calling them pawns.

Guess who says this better?

Weak, pale, fragile, DOOMED Anne Nevill… She’s in all the books. There’s no evidence of her in real life. So sad that she died so young, and Isobel as well, and so sad that her only son died even younger. People did. They died young a lot. It’s why we have the myth that ’60 was seen as ancient’. It wasn’t.

I’ve seen Warwick described as ‘a notable failure as a general’. His thinking was certainly a little too defensive at times – like 2nd St Albans – but just think how he’d be hailed now if he’d got the line of the enemy army’s advance right! A military genius! Innovative with defences! He wasn’t the finest general during the Wars, but he wasn’t a military dunce, either.

This is Alice Montacute, Countess of Salisbury. And, yes, she really did look like that! I’ve seen her portrayed as a helpless whimpering swooning nellie, her part in the Wars ignored, her attainder given to someone else, and I STILL DON’T KNOW WHY! Women’s history is ignored enough without this kind of nonsense.

I’ve seen it in novels, suggested in serious works of non-fiction, listed as fact in material for the study of history. And it’s not only not supported by the sources, there’s clear evidence that the contrary applied. The Duke of Clarence grieved deeply when his duchess died. He went off the rails. Yes, he’d done some dumb things in the past, but if there’s no evidence that a man was a hopeless drunk who physically abused his wife, why say it?

The Countess of Warwick was stripped of her lands and titles after her husband’s death at Barnet. Illegally. She wasn’t ‘rescued’ by her son-in-law, the Duke of Gloucester, and taken to live a life of ease and comfort in ‘her favourite castle’. The burden of taking care of her wealth and lands wasn’t gently eased from her helpless trembling hands. She was Countess of Warwick in her own right. Neither she nor her husband were attainted for treason. She really was declared dead in parliament. This was an illegal act. Turning it into a kindness is (I’ve used this word a couple of times, I think) nonsense.

And maybe this is what we all need to remember!

Please don’t forget to visit Don’t Defame the Dead!: Edward II.

The cards were created here:

  1. Excellent post, as always! I had to laugh at those brilliant mock e-cards, too. Witchy Wydeville, the helpless “pawns” and all the clichés being debunked in such a LOL inspiring manner will always win with me!

  2. anevillfeast says:

    Thank, misshannah! That means a lot to me.

  3. Very good. My only slight demur is that stripping the Countess of her lands could not be an illegal act as it was based on statute. Until very recently, there was no such thing as an illegal statute. Even now old sourpusses like me, who were brought up on the Sovereignty of Parliament, flinch at the concept.

  4. Marina says:

    😀 Great post!
    I guess most of the bookwriters think there’s some shame in being original.
    Where John Neville is concerned, I find it hilarious that his (maybe) betrail of his blood is so right and wondeful while Clarence’s (proven) betrail is horrible and awful.

    • anevillfeast says:

      Thanks, Marina. That’s something that’s always puzzled me as well – good John Nevill is celebrated for (according to one source) betraying Warwick and poor Clarence is spat on (not literally of course!) for betraying Edward. The only source for John’s supposed treachery is Warkworth. It’s not backed up in the pro-Yorkist Arivall or in the parliamentary rolls (where he’s called, by Edward IV, a ‘great rebel and traitor”). I’d have thought the propaganda value would have been too good to pass up. i reckon it’s just one of those breathless battle tails that got picked up by the chronicler.

  5. Esther Sorkin says:

    Great post … and the e-cards are cute. Two things, though. First, I can’t help feeling a little sorry for both parents (Warwick and Margaret) in handling the marriage of Anne and Edward … if they told their children about what was going on, both Anne and Edward would be blaming the other’s parent for various troubles, including the death of loved ones … making any marriage extraordinarily awkward, if nothing else. If they didn’t tell, then they created another set of problems (IMO). Also, about the Countess of Warwick … were such actions “standard procedure” among royal in laws? Henry VII stripped Elizabeth Wydeville of her property and installed her in a convent … any other cases?

    • anevillfeast says:

      Thanks Esther. I can’t really comment on the state of Anne and Edward’s marriage – no-one can, there’s little record of it and neither of them wrote down their thoughts,.
      My understanding is that Henry VII didn’t in fact strip Elizabeth Wydeville of her property and send her to a convent. He gave her a quite generous allowance (far greater than Richard III gave his mother-in-law) and it was probably her decision to retire from public life.
      While some women of property were shabbily treated throughout the Wars (Lady Willoughby being a well documented case in point), the countess of Warwick suffered a great deal more than any of them. Her titles, her inheritance, the wealth she and her husband had created together, her dower and her jointure, not to mention her home, were taken from her in their entirety. She was left with nothing. I haven’t found reference in the parliamentary rolls to any other wealthy widow being declared dead so that her daughters (and their husbands) could ‘inherit’ everything she had. I’ve seen this excused too many times, with suggestions that she was ‘rescued’ from sanctuary by Gloucester – she was kept in sanctuary against her will and her wishes until the dirty deed was done. I’ve heard it suggested that she must have been somewhat relieved to know her lands would be in ‘good hands’ – I can’t think of anyone who’d be relieved at being impoverished and made to be dependent on a family member, and the countess’s hands were plenty good enough – she wasn’t stupid and she would have known as much about her property as her husband did. I’ve heard it said that she and her late husband were both attainted for treason, so Edward could ‘do what he liked’ with her property. Neither part of that is true – they weren’t attained. If they had been, the property in question would have gone to the crown, not Edward personally. If this is one myth that I can overturn – that what was done to the countess of Warwick was no worse than was done to any other woman; that her son-in-law Gloucester rescued her, that he and Clarence were in fact doing her some kind of favour, that her husband was attainted – then my time will have been well spent.

  6. anevillfeast says:

    Esther. In my response to you, I said this: “While some women of property were shabbily treated throughout the Wars (Lady Willoughby being a well documented case in point), the countess of Warwick suffered a great deal more than any of them”. None of the women who were coerced or bullied out of their property were declared dead in parliament, as was the countess of Warwick. If you read Susan’s post carefully, you’ll see that she questions the notion that Henry VII stripped Elizabeth Wydeville of her property – but even if he had, he didn’t declare her dead by Act of Parliament.

  7. Dawn Likha says:

    Reblogged this on A Passion for History and commented:
    Here’s another great post about doing your best to respect historical figures in whatever way you discuss them and should definitely be taken to heart! 🙂

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