Eleanor Butler (née Talbot)

Eleanor Butler, née Talbot (c. 1435/6 – 1468), widow of Sir Thomas Butler and alleged first wife of Edward IV (named in Richard III’s Titulus Regius).

Attempts to discredit the story of Eleanor’s marriage to Edward IV by confusing her with other women date back at least as far as Sir Thomas More’s work. Some scholars argue that Edward IV’s temperament makes the possibility of a secret marriage he later regretted plausible. Others argue that if his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had been invalid originally, Edward would have arranged with the papacy to legitimise his children after Eleanor’s death. There is also debate over whether, if the marriage happened, it was conducted by Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells.

 

Eleanor Talbot was the daughter of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, and his second wife, Margaret Beauchamp (daughter of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick). Eleanor’s father spent most of his spectacular military career in France. Eleanor herself, however, may always have remained in England. By 1450 she had been married to Sir Thomas Butler, son of Ralph, Baron Sudeley. Lord Sudeley gave them the Warwickshire manors of Griff,  Burton Dassett and Fenny Compton.

The couple had no known children and Sir Thomas died in about 1460. The cause is unknown. Shortly afterwards Eleanor returned the manor of Griff to her father-in-law. She is almost as hard to trace in widowhood as she had been in marriage except that she was a patron of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and owned some property in Wiltshire. On 4 June 1468 she gave Fenny Compton to her only sister, Elizabeth Talbot, Duchess of Norfolk, just weeks before her death on 30 June. She was buried in the Carmelite Priory at Norwich.

You can read the full text of the Titulus Regius here.

This book of hours may have belonged to Eleanor’s parents, and this collection of romances includes an image of her father presenting it to Margaret of Anjou as a wedding present.

There is a very detailed article by John Ashdown-Hill in The Ricardian about her estates , including the text of her Inquisition Post Mortem (the official inquiry into her estates and who should inherit them after her death) here. His arguments are updated with new information about her here.

JLL


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