I am currently reading a very interesting book that was given to me as a Christmas present. It is written by John Ashdown-Hill and called the Secret Queen.
A lot of research has evidently gone into this book, as the background to the families involved in quite in depth.
For anyone who isn’t clear on the story, Eleanor Talbot was allegedly married to Edward of York (who would later become Edward IV) in secret, the same way that he married Elizabeth Woodville/Grey. Unfortunately, he omitted to admit to the Talbot marriage when declaring the Woodville marriage, which effectively made the second Woodville marriage void, and the children born form it, illegitimate.
Edward was rumoured to have done this type of secret marriage on more than the two known occasions, simply to get a woman into bed with him. Most men run from marriage, Edward just did it too often !!
In modern times, he would be seen as a bigamist, but in medieval times, his actions were probably quite normal for someone of his social standing. Women were not generally believed over the word of a man, so if one of the women he had secretly married came forward and claimed the marriage, he could just deny it and the woman would be discarded, possibly even sent to a nunnery.
The major problem for Edward came after his death, when his son by Elizabeth Woodville ascended to the throne. Of course this was no longer a problem for Edward, just everyone that he left behind ! Once the Talbot marriage had been discovered, his son was no longer entitled to inherit from his father so had to be removed from the throne and replaced with a legal and legitimate heir.
As Edward had executed one of his brothers a few years earlier, that only left his youngest brother to take the reins. Parliament was presented with the evidence of the Talbot marriage and decided that the crown must be offered to that younger brother, hence the elevation of Richard of Gloucester to King Richard III.
It is said in some circles that the Talbot marriage led to the execution of George of Clarence by Edward a few years earlier. Bishop Stillington, who would later present the evidence of the Talbot marriage to parliament in 1483, was said to have taken this evidence to Clarence first, who acted as rashly as ever and confronted his elder brother. Edward could not let this evidence get out, so arrested and imprisoned both Stillington and Clarence in the Tower of London. Clarence was executed there, allegedly in a barrel of Malmsey wine, but Stillington was later released. Perhaps Edward thought he could control the Bishop easier than his brother? Or perhaps he was not as keen to execute a cleric? In any case, he underestimated the determination of Stillington to bring the Talbot marriage into public knowledge.
Eleanor Talbot had died by this time. Edward could very easily have taken Elizabeth Woodville to church and repeated his marriage vows publicly to her, thus marrying her after the death of Eleanor. This would have legitimated his marriage and the children born from it could easily have been legalised. He would not have had to admit the Talbot marriage to do this, claiming to renew their vows would have been enough. You have to wonder why he did not do this? Did he think he had hidden it well enough to never be discovered again once his brother was dead? Was he really that naive? Was he unconciously trying to ensure the Woodvilles would not have as much power upon his death? He is said to have been very close to his younger brother, Richard, and relied on him immensely over his reign, perhaps he was trying to push the crown in his direction?
We will never know exactly what was in Edward’s head at this time. He must have been a little unsettled at least at having to execute his brother to keep his secret. Of course there may have been other reasons for George’s execution, he was not taken to trial so no record exists. He is simply said to have committed treason, and that is such a vague description from those times! Looking at George’s behaviour before then, he had committed treason on a number of other occasions without Edward feeling he had to kill him !
I wonder if he let Stillington go with the orders to bring forward the Talbot evidence once Edward had died……..
An interesting idea, perhaps.
Eleanor never gave Edward any children, or at least none on record, unlike Woodville, who gave him plenty. By the time of George’s death, Edward did not appear as in love with Elizabeth as he had once been. He had other women around him, particularly one Jane (sometimes called Elizabeth in records) Shore. Had he lived, would this woman have eventually taken Elizabeth’s place, in the way that Edward’s grandson Henry VIII moved from wife to wife?
Did Edward simply forget he had married Eleanor? Did he think she would just be forgotten to history?
She was not around by the time her name became famous and she played her part in altering the sucession to the throne. One wonders what she would have thought of being such an important person in English history.
If she had been forgotten or hidden, Edward V would have been crowned instead of Richard III. In theory he would have married and given the country heirs, or his younger brother Richard may have done so. There would have been no Bosworth, no Tudors, no Stuart King invited to take the throne. History could have been so different.
This is what attracts me to the alternative history that I write. By changing one little, almost insignificant, thing in history, so many other events can change. The wider historical world can stay the same, just the smaller personal events change. It is such a fun thing to imagine and I love letting my mind wander through the ‘what ifs’.
Did you ever look back on your own life and say to yourself…..”Life could be so different if only…………………….”