On the 29th of September 1464 at what became known as the Reading Parliament, Edward announced to his shocked courtiers that he would not marry the intended bride the Earl of Warwick, Richard Neville, had for him. Bona of Savoy.
The reason? Simple.
He was already married.
This was a huge slap in the face for Warwick who believed Edward would be malleable and listen to his every council but Edward was determined to be his own man. As to when did he marry Elizabeth Woodville. The sources don’t agree except on one thing that it was likely on May. Some suggest that it was on May 1 of that same year, a day that was known as “Love Day”.
“As David Baldwin notes: ‘The idea of a young, handsome king marrying for love on Mayday may have been borrowed for romantic tradition’. J.L. Laynesmith agreed that ‘1 May is a suspiciously apt day for a young king to marry for love. May had long been the month associated with love, possibly originating in pre-Christian celebrations of fertility and certainly celebrated in the poetry of the troubadors’.” (Higginbotham)
This day was deeply rooted in pagan traditions and it was known as a day of misrule when gender and social roles would be juxtaposed. As such, if Edward wasn’t as serious as he claimed to be with Elizabeth, he could use the love day as an excuse to later deny it, claiming that it was done on a day known for such actions. Then again, the recent contemporary account we have regarding this date comes from four years later. Some historians believe that it could have been a later date and that writers assigned it the “Love day” date because it sounded romantic, and also, as the years passed by, the stories of how the two met got very exaggerated.
Given the enormous pressure that Edward had to unite the former warring factions within his country, some historians theorize that it wasn’t just love that propitiated this bold move but a number of factors such as his wish for independence and cut ties with his cousin and major adviser, the earl of Warwick. Elizabeth came from a large and former Lancastrian family. With so many sisters, brothers and cousins to wed, Edward could strengthen dynastic ties with well known Lancastrian partisans.
As soon as the marriage became known, the earl of Warwick and a select of other nobles resented the king’s new in-laws, as well as Edward’s other allies which were seen as parvenus and unworthy of their new positions (such as William Herbert, a prominent Welshman who was deeply loyal to the king).
“Michaelmas 1464, when his council pushed him to commit to a foreign marriage. This was the moment at which his crown was secure enough to admit to a controversial decision, but also at which he could forestall a decision on a French marriage no longer. Thus the shock and surprise when Elizabeth Woodville was presented to the English court at Reading, processing into the public presence on the arms of the fourteen year old George, Duke of Clarence …” (Jones)
They had cause to for alarm. When Henry VI married Margaret of Anjou, she brought nothing significant to the marriage except for a hollow alliance that didn’t do England any good. Now here was Edward IV, married to a beautiful Lancastrian widow who brought no alliance and no dowry. What she did bring though was many useful allies. As previously stated, love can’t be discounted, but it wasn’t the only reason for Edward marrying Elizabeth. With a large family, he could marry them off to all the prominent families in England, and make them entirely dependent on him. Their rise and fall would entirely depend on how well they did their jobs or how poorly they performed their tasks.
It seemed like a good plan at first but time would reveal that it was nothing more than a disastrous miscalculation on his part which would nearly cost him his throne, and later give munitions to Richard, Duke of Gloucester when he took the crown from his nephew, Edward, Prince of Wales, and the destruction of his House.
- Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
- The Woodvilles by Susan Higginbotham
- Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood
- Elizabeth of York by Amy Licence