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Was Edward IV Illegitimate?

Several years ago, Michael K. Jones created a stir when he presented “proof” in his book Bosworth Field: the Psychology of a Battle that Edward IV was illegitimate. Through an analysis of who-was-where-when, he alleged that Cecily 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 the 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.

From the start, I considered Jones’ preposterous allegations untenable, as well as unworthy of scholarly pursuit. In my opinion, no one goes about this kind of research unless he is anxious to find the dirt he is looking for. Defending Jones, an acquaintance said that he didn’t claim to have discovered conclusive “truth,” but is sharing “a tale that needs to be told.” Despite that, Jones has continued to pursue this allegation, even in his forward to Jonathan Hughes’ book Arthurian Myths and Alchemy: the Kingship of Edward IV.

Apparently, conclusive “truth” hasn’t been discovered, but Jones seems to want to make sure that no one forgets this “tale that needs to be told.”

Of course, what began as an allegation has become accepted as “fact” by Edward IV’s modern enemies, just as it was bandied about by Edward’s enemies then.

First, let’s take a commonsensible look at Jones’ allegation: Here is someone who claims that he can deduce the date of conception for someone who was born over 550 years ago. My guess is that Jones doesn’t even know the date of his own conception, let alone the date of Edward IV’s.

It is amazing for anyone to assume that they could know the day-to-day movements of two people living over 550 years ago, the times they were together, the times they were apart. No research and no documentation could provide this intimate information unless Jones had access to Cecily’s diary, with every bit of her life laid out in excruciating detail. No public record, in Rouen and elsewhere, can do that.

How did this rumor start? It started the way many rumors start. If an attractive woman is often separated from her husband, she’ll become the target for gossips any time she enjoys the company of any man. It doesn’t matter who the man is. All it takes to get the rumor mill going is a kind word or gesture, a smile, or an innocent touch of a hand. Dirty minds will invent the rest.

It is worth mentioning that Cecily followed her husband wherever he was appointed. Therefore, Anne, Margaret, and Richard were born in England, Edward, Edmund, and Elizabeth were born in France, and George was born in Ireland. There was nothing sinister in this; the births of their children followed the Duke’s career. Wherever Richard, Duke of York, was, Cecily wasn’t far from him.

Edward IV was born on April 28, 1442, and his brother Edmund, whom Jones has used to denigrate his older brother, was born on May 17, 1443.

Maybe Cecily continued her acquaintance with the man who was the object of the gossip well into her pregnancy with Edmund, but Edmund was never tarred by this brush as Edward was. It is easy to understand why: Edmund died at 17 and was never in a position so prominent that he had enemies who would profit from or have an interest in soiling his name.

What can history make of the allegation that Edmund’s grander christening means something significant when compared with the christening of Edward, his older brother? To assume that Duke Richard was trying to make a subtle point to the world that Edward was illegitimate is fallacious when a plethora of other less provocative reasons could apply. Children draw such comparisons with their siblings and jump on instances of apparent parental favoritism, but adults know how often other variables in life intervene and dictate events.

Richard, Duke of York, was a proud man. His pride in his family connections is evident in his use of “Plantagenet” as a surname:

“This family has no other accepted title than that of Plantagenet, though this was only adopted as a surname towards their end by Richard Duke of York, the father of Edward IV.”

Harvey, John The Plantagenets, Science Editions, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1967, page 10

He would put his life and the lives of his family in jeopardy fighting for the Crown that he believed was his by birthright. He would not have exchanged this for a deception, and he would not have let an impostor take his place.

There are more direct examples of Richard’s esteem for his son Edward than the costs of two christenings.

When Edward was a toddler, the Duke of Suffolk acting on Richard’s behalf approached King Charles VII of France about a betrothal between Edward and the king’s daughter. Neither the English court nor the French King put forth an objection; Edward was considered a good enough match to advance.

“York had been looking about for a suitable mate for his son Edward, who had now attained to the advanced age of two years, and when… the duke’s choice fell on a princess of the house of Valois, it was Suffolk who, while at Nancy, and apparently at York’s request, approached the king of France on the subject.”

Scofield, Cora, The Life and Reign of Edward the Fourth, Frank Cass & Company, Ltd., 1967, Page 9

“A second initiative…surfaces at this time, the possibility of the betrothal of York’s son Edward, to a daughter of Charles VII. This was not an independent initiative by the duke, as the possibility had first been broached by the Duke of Suffolk during the course of his second embassy to the French, and must have enjoyed the blessing of the English court. York wrote enthusiastically to Charles on 18 April 1445, he replying with the suggestion that Princess Madeleine might be suitable…Charles…continued to express interest in the possibility of a marriage…”

Johnson, P. A., Duke Richard of York 1411 – 1460, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1988, pages 48 – 49

It has been further surmised that it was Richard’s intention to pass his English inheritance intact to his oldest son Edward, and to set Edmund, his second son, up as a French landowner. Events placed his plan for Edmund out of reach, but Richard never changed the provision for his oldest son.

“It was his father’s intention that Edward should inherit all his estates, as he indeed did, and that Edmund of Rutland should become a French landowner. This project collapsed in 1450, and York devised no other settlement for Edmund, nor his younger brothers.”

“Duke Richard’s first concern was with Edmund, styled earl of Rutland, and it seems to have been his intention to set the boy up as a Norman landowner, allowing his inherited estates to pass intact to his older son.”

Johnson, P.A., pages 14 and 47

These events from Edward’s early childhood say more about the esteem in which his father the Duke of York, the English court, and the French King held him than a shabby comparison of sibling christenings.

There is more. When Richard negotiated peace with Henry VI and was nearly carried off as a prisoner instead, he was saved only by the rumor that his 9-year son Edward was coming to his father’s defense with an army of supporters (Scofield, page 16). This doesn’t suggest that Edward was so much of a prodigy that he could command men even as a little boy, but it does suggest that Edward the child was so esteemed by his father’s followers that they took him as the figurehead for their opposition.

Richard treated Edward and Edmund no differently when it came to their education; they were both schooled at the family homestead at Ludlow Castle when, at the ages of 12 and 11, life was placid enough for them to write to their father thanking him for the clothing he had sent and complaining about being bullied by the Croft brothers.

It has been suggested that Richard, Duke of York, mustn’t have cared for Edward’s company because Edward was sent off with Richard Neville, the earl of Warwick, while Edmund remained with his father. Perhaps not. There are other possibilities to consider. Perhaps Edmund and Warwick disliked each other. Perhaps Edward, being older, was considered more mature and self-confident than Edmund, thus he required less parental guidance. People who want to make something more of this will provide the rationale that suits their self-interest.

If people look earlier in Edward’s youth, they see that he was with his father when he whet his battle axe for the first time at St. Albans on May 22, 1455. He was just 13 years old.

Afterwards, as the 1450s drew to a close and Edward and Edmund reached their late teens, relations between Richard and the King’s party had deteriorated to the point where military interaction was always a likelihood. That was the period in Edward’s youth where he was sent off with Warwick while Edmund accompanied his father. Times were dangerous. At the end of the decade, the party of the King was in ascendance and Richard, Edward, Edmund, and their friends and supporters were attainted by Parliament. What could Richard of York do to protect his children?

So many historians who are quick to describe Richard, Duke of York, as tactless and impulsive cannot imagine that he might have been prudent enough to know the danger of keeping all of his sons with him. Edward was safer apart from him with Warwick, just as his little brothers George and Richard were safer with their mother. The death of Edmund, as well as Richard of York, on December 30, 1460 is proof enough of the wisdom of separating the boys. To put it plainly, had Edward been with his father and Edmund at Wakefield, he, as well as they, would have died that day. As it turned out, thanks to his father’s prudence, he lived to fight another day and triumph in his father’s struggle.

No one has suggested that Richard, Duke of York, didn’t like the company of George and Richard because they weren’t with him. Edward’s modern enemies the Ricardians, however, are only interested in slandering Edward because, in slandering him, they hope to build up their fallacious case against Edward V’s rightful kingship.

When Edward stepped into his father the Duke of York’s place, no one in his family nor in his father’s party rose to impede him. Cecily Neville, who knew the truth better than anyone, did not insist that a younger brother should take his place. No one offered any reason why it should be George and not Edward who was crowned. The matter of Edward’s paternity was never questioned, and, if it was, it was enemies like the French King Louis XI or Edward’s temperamental brother-in-law Charles, Duke of Burgundy, who did so. Even then, it was merely a malicious reference to very old gossip.

When Edward told his mother that he was marrying Elizabeth Woodville, it is said that Cecily was so opposed that she threatened to declare him a bastard if he did. As it was, he did marry Elizabeth and Cecily said nothing.

“Even his mother fell into such a frenzy that she offered to submit to a public inquiry, and asserted that Edward was not the offspring of her husband the Duke of York, but was conceived in adultery..”

Mancini, Dominic, The Usurpation of Richard III, edited by C.A.J. Armstrong, Clarendon Press, Oxford, second edition, 1969, page 61

Note 12 (Armstrong) “One result of the xenophobia prevalent in England during the later middle ages was that a member of a royal house born abroad was liable to be called a changeling or a bastard by his enemies. John of Gaunt born in Flanders was slandered both as the son of a Flemish butcher and as an illegitimate child…Edward was born at Rouen, 28 April 1442.”

It was only in the Spring of 1483 that the matter of Edward’s alleged bastardy was brought out in public, and this was part of the propaganda campaign used by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and his supporters to justify his usurpation.

During the spring of 1483, Richard spent time at Bayard’s Castle, his mother’s London home, as well as at his own townhouse Crosby Place. One writer who has taken it upon himself to uncritically accept Michael K. Jones’ allegations, has even contended that Cecily collaborated in the usurpation by informing Archbishop Bourchier and other important clerics that Edward was not the son of the Duke of York. This seems like a ridiculous claim for many reasons.

First, it is assumed that Richard’s presence in his mother’s home necessitates her collusion, but she, in her 60s and no longer active in public life, couldn’t have stopped the most powerful man in England from using her home even if she tried. Crosby Place had been fine for Richard’s covert meetings with his most intimate supporters, but it was too small a place to assemble the crowd of personages to whom Richard and Buckingham directed their arguments in support of Richard’s kingship on June 25 and 26. The Tower was dangerous because King Edward V’s proximity there might distract attention and hurt Richard’s cause:

“On the following day, all the lords forgathered at the house of Richard’s mother, whither he had purposely betaken himself, that these event might not take place in the Tower where the young king was confined.”

Mancini, Dominic

Second, if Cecily was ready to announce Edward’s bastardy in the Spring of 1483, why hadn’t she been ready to do so in 1461, when Edward IV ascended the throne? Why did she wait until he was dead and then unburden herself to the detriment of Edward’s memory and his children?

And why hadn’t she done so in 1470, when Edward was forced into exile? She could not have predicted Edward’s triumphant return. It was just as easy to assume that Edward’s cause was lost and to push George forward as his father’s heir, since he was the next oldest son and available.

Third, when Richard’s Parliament met in January 1484 to affirm Richard’s title, it presented several reasons why Edward IV’s marriage with Elizabeth Woodville was invalid:  1) It was done “without the knowing and assent of the Lords of this land.” 2) “And also by Sorcery and Witchcraft.”  3) “Was made privily and secretly, without edition of banns, in a private chamber, and profane place, and not openly in the face of the Church.”  4) “And how also at the time of the contract of the same pretended marriage, and before and long time after, the said King Edward was and stood married to one Eleanor Butler, daughter of the old Earl of Shrewsbury, with whom the same King Edward had made a precontract of matrimony, long time before he made the same pretended marriage with the said Elizabeth Grey, in manner and form abovesaid.”

Although Richard’s Parliament obviously wanted to stack up as many reasons as it could as to why Richard deserved the throne, it failed to include any inference regarding Edward IV’s legitimacy. One might argue that it was prudence that dictated this omission, but that is mere rationalization. If Cecily herself revealed her adultery to Archbishop Bourchier and other leading prelates, it needn’t been hidden from Parliament or the public, especially since the arguments against Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville were weak in themselves and never subjected to canonical law.

After being so certain that Cecily not only colluded with Richard but orchestrated his usurpation, the author wonders why she didn’t attend Richard’s coronation. I suppose once again that this was all down to “prudence.”

No public record exists of Cecily’s acknowledging her infidelity except in the imaginations of Edward IV’s enemies. What should end the argument regarding Edward’s legitimacy is what she herself said in her last will:

“I Cecily, wife unto the right noble prince Richard, late Duke of York, father unto the most Christian prince my Lord and son King Edward the iiiith, the first day of April the year of our Lord 1495… make and ordain my testament to form and manner ensuing.”

Okerlund, Arlene, Elizabeth Woodville: the slandered queen, Tempus, 2005, page 222

It is interesting and telling to note that Cecily does not mention her other sons, nor does she mention George of Clarence’s children (his son Edward, earl of Warwick, was already in the Tower, a prisoner of Henry VII). She does, however, bequeath gifts to each of Edward IV’s surviving children and grandsons.

The sources should inform our sympathies; our sympathies shouldn’t inform the sources. Ironically, in the not-so-distant past, it was Richard and not Edward whom the Ricardians fingered as being different from his siblings:

“The word ‘glamorous’ was the only one to describe these children of the White Rose. They were tall and dazzlingly fair, and endowed with charm and vivacity of manner—all save one, Richard, the youngest in the family. Richard was dark and somewhat plain, and hardly better than average in height.”

Costain, Thomas, The Last Plantagenets, Popular Library edition, August 1963, page 362:

In their effort to justify Richard III, his admirers defame everyone around him. Therefore, they must make Cecily Neville an adulteress, despite her reputation for haughtiness and piety. Furthermore, since the language in her will insists that Edward IV was the son of Richard, Duke of York, Richard’s admirers must make a liar of her as well.

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