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The Problem with Richard’s Marriage

Lack of a Papal Dispensation

Richard’s use of illegitimacy as a basis for Edward V’s deposition exposed his son to the same danger.  If the 19-year marriage between Edward and Elizabeth Woodville could be discredited because someone claimed that Edward had promised marriage to someone else or had previously married someone else, how vulnerable was the marriage between Richard and Anne Neville?

Consanquinity, that is, the marriage between relatives, was a matter that required a papal dispensation.

In The Life and Reign of King Edward the Fourth, Cora Scofield writes:

“Gloucester secured his bride and married her without even waiting for the papal dispensation which was just as necessary to the legality of this marriage as it had been for that of Clarence and Isabel Neville.”

Richard and Anne were cousins, just as George and Isabel were.  George and Isabel obtained the required dispensation; Richard and Anne did not.  Richard, in his typical impetuous manner, was obviously at the end of his patience by the time he managed to extract Anne from whatever hiding place George had put her, which I guess is one reason — the Warwick fortune being the other — why Parliament had to clean up after Richard to make sure Richard was protected with Anne’s property no matter what.  In brief, Richard’s marriage became a public matter, because Parliament had to deal with it.

Cora Scofield remarks:

“Parliament sanctioned…the partition of the countess (of Warwick’s) estates between Clarence and Gloucester and their wives…if it should happened that Clarence outlived his wife, he was to enjoy her share of the estates as well as his own until the end of his days, and Gloucester was granted the same privilege…as there was some doubt about the validity of the marriage of Gloucester and Anne Neville, because of the lack of a papal dispensation, it was stated that the disposition of the estates was to hold good if Gloucester and his wife should be ‘divorced and after the same be lawfully married…”

It couldn’t have failed to come to the attention of Richard, and if not he, Anne, that using a weak link (real or invented) in Edward IV’s and Elizabeth Woodville’s marriage as a justification for Edward V’s deposition could have repercussions for their only child.  If Richard, as king, were to die while his son was still young and vulnerable, Richard’s precedence could have been used by another rival for the throne.

Pot, Meet Kettle

There was a big difference between Edward’s and Elizabeth’s marriage and that of Richard and Anne.  Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth happened while Edward was considered an eligible bachelor, although both had a past.  But, despite their secret marriage, even Warwick couldn’t find a chink in the armor. If Edward was indeed already spoken for, what was Warwick doing in France trying to negotiate a marriage with Louis’ sister? Wouldn’t someone like a friend, brother, cousin, or mother, have known about it at the time?  Then there was Robert Stillington, who allegedly had evidence regarding Edward’s bigamy and was an important person at the time of their marriage.  Keeper of the Privy Seal, Chancellor of England, bishop of Bath and Wells, member of the King’s Council.  And yet, he said nothing.  Edward and Elizabeth were recognized as man and wife for 19 years.  The marriage was never challenged publicly until it became advantageous for Edward’s enemies to challenge it.  The irregularities of Richard’s and Anne’s marriage, on the other hand, were right out in the open and indisputable.

From what I’ve read of marriage and from what I’ve seen, marriage can be a pretty fluid contract. I’ve seen marriages annulled for no other reason than a change of mind and partner. American history has the example of Andrew Jackson, who rescued Rachel from a bad first marriage and then married her, thinking she was free, only to discover that the divorce between her and her first husband had never been finalized. Of course, this was fodder for his enemies. And yet, from Andrew’s and Rachel’s perspective, they were innocent and had acted out of the best of intentions. It was their enemies who found the evil in the situation, because the evil was in them all along, and not in Andrew or Rachel. So it was with Edward and Elizabeth.  Heaven help us all if we are to be held to all of the promises that we make to our lovers. And Heaven help any marriage if a marriage that was universally recognized for 19 years can be erased by the instigation of an enemy.

So, was a promise of marriage was used to destroy Edward’s wife and children?  A promise is not a marriage.  Let’s put this into perspective:  When contracts were negotiated between kings, they often promised their sons and daughters to this princess or that prince as part of the treaty provisions. However, when politics changed and the purpose for the contract or treaty no longer existed, the kings made other arrangements for their sons and daughters, and the promises which had been previously made were no longer kept. These promises had been made at the very highest level of state, and yet they were ultimately not binding. When Louis XI of France broke the treaty with Edward IV, for example, he then promised the Dauphin to a woman other than Elizabeth of York. It was never a matter of the Dauphin and Elizabeth being unable to marry other people because of the promise that had been previously made.

The accusations made against Edward’s and Elizabeth’s marriage stuck only because Richard and his supporters were strong enough to make it stick.  At least temporarily.  However, Richard’s Parliament’s offer to show proof of the illegality of Edward’s and Elizabeth’s marriage was never fulfilled.  The Church was never engaged to debate the legality of the marriage and certainly should have been because the Church was the arbiter of what constituted marriage and Stillington’s word alone was not enough.  And, to this day, we have no proof at all except Stillington’s word. (However, I sometimes wonder about the truth of his part in this.)

According to Canon Law 1060:

Marriage enjoys the favor of the law; consequently, when a doubt exists, the validity of marriage is to be upheld until the contrary is proven. 

No one must prove the validity of a marriage. Rather, the burden of proof rests on a Petitioner to prove invalidity. In the absence of such proof, the validity must be upheld.

Devaluing the Monarchy

The deposition of Edward V devalued both the monarchy and marriage.

In Richard III; a study in service, Rosemary Horrox writes:

“Deposition was always a last resort, even when it could be justified by the manifest failings of a corrupt or ineffective regime.  How could one sanction its use as a first resort, to remove a King who had not only not done anything wrong, but had not yet done anything at all?”

This set a precedent for a future King’s enemies to follow, destabilizing the government rather than working within the government framework.  If a rival could depose the King because he didn’t like his politics or out of naked self-interest and then have to create some kind of legalistic mumbo-jumbo as an excuse for doing so (considering that the King was innocent of any wrongdoing), there was nothing to stop another rival from doing the same to him.  Even the fact that Henry Tudor went from being an unknown to becoming a Real Contender shows how the monarchy could be cheapened to be the prize of whomever could wrench it from the hands of another.  After the battle of Bosworth, Henry seemed to say this himself when he claimed the throne simply on the grounds that he had won the battle.  Ricardian Anne Sutton said the same when she said that if Edward V’s supporters had been stronger, the alleged precontract wouldn’t have mattered.  Richard usurped the throne for his own self-interest, and the only moral lesson one can gain from his usurpation is that might trumps right.

Suppose Richard had died of natural causes when his son was alive, young and vulnerable. Suppose someone had decided that he would make a better King than some untried child (doesn’t this sound familiar?).  He could play the same game with any weak link in Richard’s and Anne’s marriage and easily depose Edward of Middleham on the same grounds on which Richard deposed Edward V.  Having taken an oath in early 1484 that Edward of Middleham was his father’s successor, he would find it as easy to toss aside as Richard tossed aside the several oaths that he had taken to support Edward V as the successor of his father.  The crown could then become a free-for-all, a football to throw about to anyone who was stronger than the incumbent.

Now suppose in this hypothetical case that Richard didn’t murder Edward V and Richard of York and that one or both were still alive; Edward of Middleham would already have enemies who had a claim to the throne that was as good or better than his.  And, if a marriage that was accepted for 19 years can be discarded for political convenience, how easy would it be to discard the marriage between Richard and Anne on a triviality such as the lack of a papal dispensation or any other weak argument?  Edward and Richard would be highly motivated to give their cousin much the same as Richard gave Edward.

How can anyone claim that these boys were no threat to Richard and his son?

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