Sir Richard Woodville

In service of the king

RICHARD WOODVILLE SNR was born at La Mote, Maidstone, Kent, about 1387 , and was a career soldier during the 100 Year Wars with France and in his younger years was probably in the service of Henry, Earl of Derby, who became King Henry IV. In 1411 he was in the retinue of the king’s son, Thomas of Lancaster, and in 1419 received a grant of land and Lordships of several French and Norman towns. In 1423 he was chamberlain of John Plantagenet, better known as the Duke of Bedford and younger brother of King Henry V.  The Duke was the third son of King Henry IV and was Regent of France.

In 1422, following the death of his brother Henry V, Bedford was made Regent of England but decided to focus on the war with France, leaving a younger brother Humphrey, the Duke of Gloucester to act at Lord Protector for their nine month old nephew King Henry VI. Bedford is best remembered for capturing Joan of Arc at Rouen in 1431 and having her burnt at the stake after declaring her a witch. His first wife Anne died during childbirth in 1432 and he then married Jacquetta of Luxembourg.

Richard Woodville was obviously a trusted and competent officer as in February 1425 he was appointed to attend to the safekeeping of the Tower of London during a period of civil disturbances. From 1427-29 he was Lieutenant of Calais and in 1428 made his English home at La Mote near Maidstone, a property leased for 50 years from Archbishop Chichele. In July 1433 he was made a Knight of the Shire of Kent and on the death of the Duke of Bedford in 1435, he again became Lieutenant of Calais.  His distinguished career in service of king and country set the scene for the following Woodville generations.

His eldest son, also SIR RICHARD WOODVILLE was knighted by Henry VI at Leicester in 1426, an amazing feat considering the king was only five years old at the time of the knighting.   A daughter Joan also climbed the social ladder when she married Sir John Pashley about 1430. However, the rise of the family above its soldier status came in 1435 when Sir Richard Jnr . created scandal when he married Jacquetta Zu St Pol of Luxembourg, widow of the Duke of Bedford. Jacquetta was of European Royalty with lineage traceable back 600 years to kings, princes and aristocracy of Luxemburg, Limburg, Belgium, Italy and a dozen smaller principalities.

Marriage into Royalty

Richard, like his father, had been heavily involved in the French wars, and was assigned to accompany the beautiful young widow Jacquetta to England from Rouen, France, where the duke had died. Although a distinguished soldier, a knight, and now part of the landed gentry, he was not of the aristocracy,  and so his marriage to royalty did not meet with universal approval. The couple had to pay a fine of 1000 pounds for marrying without the king’s permission. In today’s terms this fine would be worth perhaps $200 million, an astounding figure, but the size of this fine suggests there was more behind it. Was it a simple way for the king to recoup some of the estate left by his brother, the Duke of Bedford, or was it a way of obtaining money from the coffer’s of Jacquetta’s royal families to help pay for the costly war with France?

Woodville remained a loyal servant of King Henry VI continued to serve with honor in subordinate positions in France and to distinguish himself in jousts in London. He succeeded his brother Thomas as Sheriff of Northampton in 1437 under terms of his will. He was rewarded with the Rivers Barony on May 9, 1448 and became the 1st Earl Rivers.  His associations made him a strong Lancastrian in the War of the Roses, a civil war between the Houses of Lancaster and York, to seize the right to the English throne. In 1459, when stationed at Sandwich to prevent a Yorkist landing, he was taken prisoner with his son Anthony, however, they were released in time to fight for Henry VI at Towton. 

Early in the reign of Edward IV, Earl Rivers as Woodville was now known, recognized that the Lancastrian cause was lost and made his peace with the new king. The marriage of Rivers’ eldest daughter, Elizabeth, widow of Sir John Grey of Groby, to Edward IV on May 1, 1464, secured the fortunes of his family. Rivers was appointed Treasurer on March 4, 1466. Elizabeth found great alliances for her younger brothers and sisters, and the Woodville influence became all-powerful at court.  The power of this new family was very distasteful to the old baronial party, and especially so to the Earl of Warwick. Early in 1468 Rivers’ estates were plundered by Warwick’s partisans, and the open war of the following year was aimed to destroy the Woodvilles. After the king’s defeat at Edgecot, Rivers and his second son, John, were taken prisoners at Chepstow and executed without trial at Kenilworth on August 12, 1469.    

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