Richard Woodville, 1st Earl Rivers

Richard Woodville (c. 1410-1469) was a knight in the service of John Duke of Bedford and married Bedford’s widow, Jacquetta. He was made Baron Rivers in 1448 and despite fighting for the Lancastrians at Towton had become one of Edward IV’s counsellors by 1463. His daughter Elizabeth secretly married Edward IV the following year. Richard Woodville’s spectacular rise in fortune offended Edward IV’s closest ally, Richard Neville Earl of Warwick. In 1469 Warwick had Rivers executed in the aftermath of the Battle of Edgecote.

Historians have occasionally debated just how ‘lowly’ or otherwise Woodville’s social status was. The most significant discussion centres on whether Warwick’s criticisms of his role in Edward IV’s administration were justified.

Richard Woodville was born into a family of Northamptonshire gentry. His father had an impressive career in the service of Henry V’s brothers – Thomas Duke of Clarence and John Duke of Bedford – but never received a knighthood. Richard himself was knighted in 1426 along with Henry VI, Richard Duke of York, and many others. He spent much of his career in royal service in France.

Bedford died in 1435 and by March 1437 Woodville had married Bedford’s widow, Jacquetta. The couple were fined the standard £1,000 for failing to acquire a licence from the king in advance. In the summer of 1441 the couple accompanied Richard Duke of York and his wife Cecily to Rouen. Woodville served under York as Captain of Alençon. On 9 May 1448 Woodville was made Baron Rivers and in 1450 became a Knight of the Garter. He arranged prestigious marriages for three of his children before 1461: his daughter Jacquetta married John Lord Strange of Knockin and his eldest son Anthony married Elizabeth, heiress to the Scales lordship. His other married daughter was Elizabeth, wife of Sir John Grey.

In January 1460 he was mustering troops at Sandwich to attack the Yorkist earls in Calais when John Dynham captured him and his eldest son in a raid. At Calais he was publicly mocked by the earls of Salisbury, Warwick and March for his low birth and high aspirations. He seems to have come to an accommodation with the Yorkist led regime after the Battle of Northampton, but the following year he joined the Lancastrian forces at Towton. After a brief imprisonment he was quickly allowed to make his peace with Edward IV’s regime and by 1463 was a member of the royal council.

He was allegedly unaware of his daughter’s secret marriage to Edward IV until it was publicly announced at Reading in September 1464. With Edward IV’s support, he and Jacquetta took advantage of this change in fortune to arrange more prestigious marriages for their five remaining daughters and their son. Rivers was was appointed Treasurer of England in March 1466, Earl Rivers in May that year, and Constable of England in 1467. He supported Edward IV’s policy of developing an alliance with Burgundy in opposition to Warwick’s preference for an alliance with France, perhaps because of Jacquetta’s family connections with Burgundy.

It is unclear whether Warwick’s resentment of Rivers’ authority was widely shared among the nobility. Warwick clearly considered that the Woodvilles’ undue influence over the king was a persuasive rallying cry when he launched his first rebellion in 1469. Following the rebels’ victory at Edgecote, Rivers and his son John were captured and executed.

In 1466 Rivers bought a sumptuous copy of the romances of Alexander which can be seen here. On the back page he noted that it was bought in the sixth year since the coronation of the ‘most victorious king Edward the fourt’ and the first since the coronation of ‘the very virtuous queen Elizabeth’.


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