Monday 22 October 2012

Richard Woodville and Richard Grey

These two men are grandfather and grandson, connected via Elizabeth Woodville, queen of England’s King Edward IV.

The Woodvilles were a source of contention in their own day and continue to be so to historians even now. People can’t seem to agree on whether or not Edward IV’s marriage was suitable (although not as suitable as a foreign alliance would have been) or a horrible mĂ©salliance.

Richard Woodville, Elizabeth’s father, was an exceedingly minor noble who achieved prominence at the court of Henry VI through military service. It was at court that he met Jaquetta of Luxembourg, duchess of Bedford, widow of one of the king’s uncles. Jacquetta was high nobility – related to the ruling house of Luxembourg, the St. Pols. By March 1437, Jacquetta and Richard had married in secret, to the astonishment and disappointment of the St. Pol family and the English court. But what God had joined, no human could put asunder; the two were married for over thirty years.

With Jacquetta’s wealth at his disposal, Richard became an important man. His wife’s wealth (although it was for her life only) permitted Richard to live like a high-ranking noble, and he and Jacquetta secured several advantageous marriages for their children. One such marriage was that of their eldest daughter, Elizabeth, to Sir John Grey, heir to Lady Ferrers of Groby. With Grey, Elizabeth had two sons: Thomas and Richard.

Richard’s (who became Lord Rivers in 1448) fortune increased again in 1464, when his widowed daughter Elizabeth married Edward IV. A marriage alliance with the king was a real coup and more than even the highest nobility generally hoped for; after all, kings tended to marry foreign princesses.
Edward IV was generous with his new kin, arranging illustrious marriages for his wife’s unmarried siblings (especially her sisters) and granting his father-in-law lucrative offices and making him an earl.

The Woodvilles’ rapid rise caused a great deal of resentment among the nobility, especially on the part of Richard Neville, earl of Warwick. When Warwick gained the upper hand over Edward in 1469, he took action against his enemies (real or perceived). Richard Woodville was one such victim - the queen’s father (and a brother) were executed on Warwick’s orders in August 1469.

Richard Grey was the younger son of Elizabeth Woodville by her first husband. He was therefore stepson to Edward IV and uterine half-brother to Edward V. Being a younger son who perished at a fairly young age, not a great deal is known about Richard Grey.

For starters, his date of birth is uncertain, although it might have been as late as 1460 or 1461 (not earlier than 1456, as his elder brother was born in 1455). Richard Grey was knighted in May 1475, and seems to have spent the rest of his life associated (in one way or another) with the household of his younger half-brother Edward, Prince of Wales (and future Edward V).

When Edward IV died in 1483, Richard Grey was with the Prince at Ludlow on the Welsh border. Richard, along with his uncle Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, and Sir Thomas Vaughan accompanied the young king on his journey towards London. After Richard III (still Duke of Gloucester then) overtook the young king at Stony Stratford, Richard, along with Rivers and Vaughan, was arrested and sent north for safekeeping. The trio was later executed, ostensibly for treason, in June 1483.

So, aside from being grandfather and grandson, Richard and Richard have another thing in common – killed in illegal executions (so murdered, I guess). Lucky them.

Michael Hicks, “Woodville , Richard, first Earl Rivers (d. 1469),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2011 [, accessed 15 Oct 2012]

Rosemary Horrox, “Grey, Sir Richard (d. 1483),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2011 [, accessed 15 Oct 2012]

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