Was Edward IV Illegitimate?
Several years ago, Michael K. Jones created quite a stir when he presented “proof” that Edward IV was illegitimate. Through an analysis of who-was-where-when, he alleged that Cicely Neville and Richard, Duke of York, were not together when Edward was conceived. He further suggested that Richard knew about his wife’s infidelity enough to have a modest christening for Edward, while his younger brother Edmund’s was more elaborate. To top off Jones’ flamboyant publicity of this “discovery,” he had a televised visit to the “real King of England,” a descendant of Edward’s brother George, in Australia.
Everything seems wrong and particularly seedy about this entire allegation, which is certainly below the expectations one might have of a PhD. There is also nothing new about this allegation, as it was bantered about by Edward’s political enemies during his lifetime and after his death.
To assume that Jones has enough knowledge of the day-to-day movements of both Edward’s parents to the extent that he can ascertain the date of Edward’s conception is laughable. Even today, parents cannot determine the date of conception when they enjoy an active sexual relationship with one another. Unless Jones had access to Cicely’s diary, with every bit of her life laid out in excruciating detail, this is well out of the grasp of someone looking at intimate matters from more than 500 years away.
Furthermore, how many fallacies in reason are being committed by assuming that Edmund’s more extravagant christening was Richard’s subtle message to the world that Edward was illegitimate?
An attractive woman who is often separated from her husband is a convenient target for gossip, especially if she has male company of any kind, whether it be servants, friends, or even relatives. There is nothing, however, to stop married partners from visits and liaisons about which Jones couldn’t possibly know everything.
Comparing christenings is stupid, as it assumes that only Richard’s “shameful knowledge” could be the reason for any perceived differences, when, in fact, there could be a plethora of other reasons why. If Richard really wanted to make a point about his wife’s infidelity, there were more substantial and meaningful ways to do it. He could have divorced her. He could have shamed her. He could have disinherited the child, instead of accepting him as his heir. He could have kept from her bed instead of impregnating her many times afterwards, which seems to infer that there was nothing wrong with their relationship. He could have had his elder two sons schooled differently instead of keeping them in the same classroom at Ludlow Castle under the unwelcomed scrutiny of Croft and his brother. What Richard could have done, he didn’t, and when he was executed at Wakefield on December 30, 1460, there was no doubt which son was expected to step in his place. Of course, the opposition could reason that Edmund died with his father that day, and George was just a boy of 11 and not a young man of 18, but age had not stopped Richard’s supporters from having Edward march at their head in a show of support for his father when he was just 10 years old.
The propensity of some Ricardians to accept any slander to elevate Richard and tear down Edward can reach absurd proportions. One of Richard’s modern admirers pointed out that Edward was illegitimate because his father was in France when he was born, apparently ignorant of the fact that Edward was born in France and apparently eager to accept anything she is told, provided a Ricardian tells it, even if it is wrong or easily disproven. Another writer of romantic historical fiction takes Edward’s illegitimacy as a given, runs with it, spreading this slander to her shallow and indiscriminating readers.
Let me suggest that Richard is no longer an underdog when people go out of their way to build him up at the expense of his rivals, accepting gossip and flimsy evidence as fact. The tide has turned; Edward father and son are now the underdogs.
A spokesperson for the Crown has never dignified Jones’ allegation with a reply. Let me also suggest that Jones can forget about that knighthood.