Anthony Woodville (c. 1440 – 1483) was the eldest brother of Elizabeth, Edward IV’s queen. He acquired the title Lord Scales through his first marriage, in 1460, and became Earl Rivers on his father’s death in 1469. He was internationally renowned for his jousting and was an important patron and collaborator of William Caxton. In 1473 he became tutor and governor to his nephew, the future Edward V. In April 1483 he was arrested by Richard Duke of Gloucester, accused of planning an ambush against him, and was executed for this two months later.
Opinions about Anthony Woodville vary dramatically. Some argue that his ambition and malign influence on the Yorkist regime culminated in a plan to attack Richard Duke of Gloucester so that he could rule England through Edward V. Others see him as an accomplished ‘Renaissance man’ who was an innocent victim of Richard III’s quest for power. Most acknowledge that he was a complex and fascinating character.
Anthony was the eldest son of Sir Richard Woodville, a Northamptonshire gentleman, and his wife, Jacquetta Dowager Duchess of Bedford (whose first husband had been heir to the English throne). This disparity in his parents’ birth made his own status complex. His education probably benefited from the beautiful books in the French royal library that his mother had acquired from her first marriage. In 1460 he married Elizabeth Scales, heir of Thomas Lord Scales. Scales died that summer in rioting that followed the Yorkist victory at Northampton. Anthony fought for Henry VI at Towton but very soon made his peace with Edward IV and was summoned to Parliament as Lord Scales in 1462.
Early in the year after her marriage to Edward IV, his sister Elizabeth challenged Anthony to arrange a tournament in an act of public theatre reminiscent of Arthurian romance. The tournament eventually took place in 1467 and was probably the most spectacular such event in England in the fifteenth century. Anthony also took a leading role in the celebrations for the marriage of Edward IV’s sister Margaret the following year. He evaded the earl of Warwick in the 1469 rebellion and in 1470 went into exile with Edward IV. He was wounded at the Battle of Barnet the following year but helped fight off Thomas Neville’s attack on London shortly afterwards.
He was initially appointed lieutenant of Calais after Warwick’s first rebellion but was not reappointed in 1471 as he planned to go on crusade (to Edward IV’s disgust). He eventually gave up this plan but did see more military service in Brittany, accompanied Edward IV’s invasion of France and Richard Duke of Gloucester’s Scottish campaign. In between pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela and Rome he translated several moral texts for William Caxton to publish. In 1473 his first wife died (an arrangement made in 1466 enabled him to retain possession of her estates to the detriment of her natural heirs) and various illustrious brides were suggested for him thereafter. In 1480 he married Mary Lewis who was potentially a co-heir of the Beaufort dukes of Somerset (her mother was Elizabeth Beaufort).
In February 1473 he was appointed tutor and governor of Edward Prince of Wales. This appointment meant that he had considerable influence within the principality. Following news of Edward IV’s death, Gloucester proposed that they should meet up at Northampton and bring Edward V into London together. Anthony lodged Edward V at Stony Stratford while he stayed at Northampton to dine with Gloucester and the Duke of Buckingham. The circumstances of his arrest the following morning remain hotly contested. He was imprisoned at Sheriff Hutton, tried by the Earl of Northumberland and executed at Pontefract on 25 June 1483.
There is a book of psalms that was made for John Duke of Bedford and later owned by Anthony Woodville that eventually passed to William Catesby, the executor of his will – here.