From Sheriffs to Aristocracy

THE Woodville family is believed to have originated in Normandy, where it was known as de Wydeville or de Wydevill, and came to England following the Norman conquest in 1066. A Henry de Wydeville is shown as being born in Normandy about 1058 and a daughter Lettice de Wydeville was born in Oxfordshire, England, about 1090. She married Sir Robert de Sackville. Over the following centuries the de Wydeville family grew and was sometimes anglicised to Wydevill, Wydivile or Wydeville.  

The first member of the family to rise to prominence was a Richard de Wydeville who was born at Grafton, Northamptonshire, about 1310. He was in possession of extensive family estates, was Sheriff of Northampton between 1362-68 and 1370-71. His second wife was Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Lyons of Warkworth, and widow of Sir Nicholas Chetwode. He appears to have still been alive in July 1378. 

His son John de Wydeville, who was born at Grafton (later renamed Grafton Regis by Henry VII or VIII) around 1341, also became Sheriff of Northampton and being shown in that role in 1380, 1385 and 1390. He also served as Sheriff in Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire in 1383. 

John’s eldest son Thomas Woodville (note the surname change) became the third generation to take on the role of Sheriff of Northampton but it was Thomas’s younger brother Sir Richard who took this family of well-to-do commoners to new heights by moving in aristocratic circles in service of royalty.

Then Sir Richard’s eldest son, also Sir Richard Woodville went a step further by marrying into European royalty. The following short history from the Columbia Encyclopaedia  sums up what happens next. The Richard Woodville referred to is Sir Richard Jnr.

Richard Woodville, 1st Earl Rivers, had been knighted by Henry VI and acquired wealth and power by marrying (c.1436) Jacquetta of Luxembourg, widow of John of Lancaster, Duke of Bedford.  He served in the wars in France and helped suppress the rebellion (1450) of Jack Cade in England. In the Wars of the Roses, Rivers fought for Henry VI until the Lancastrian defeat at Towton (1461). He then transferred his loyalty to the Yorkist Edward IV, to whom he gave his daughter, Elizabeth, in marriage in 1464.  He and his family soon received extensive royal favors, Rivers himself becoming treasurer and then Constable (1467) of England. He was created earl in 1466. The favoritism shown the Woodville faction embittered Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who rebelled in 1469. Rivers was captured and executed after Edward’s defeat at Edgecot.  His eldest son, Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers, 1442-1483, accompanied Edward into exile (1470-71) and later served him in various capacities. In 1473 he was appointed guardian of Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward V). On Edward IV’s death, however, Rivers was arrested by Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III), and executed. A somewhat romantic and otherworldly figure, Rivers wrote translations of various French works. His Dictes and Sayengis of the Philosophres (1477) was the first dated book printed in England by William Caxton.  The 2nd Earl Rivers married Elizabeth, the heiress of Lord Scales. Rivers had fought on the Lancastrian side at Towton but after the battle transferred his allegiance to the victorious Yorkist king. Following the marriage of his sister, Elizabeth, to the king, his advance was very rapid.  He was a member of the embassy which arranged the match between the Duke of Burgundy and King Edward’s sister, Margaret, in 1467. After the death of his father and brother at Edgecote in 1469 he succeeded as the second Earl Rivers. He shared Edward’s exile in Holland, returned with him in 1471, helped to secure the victory at Barnet and beat off the Bastard of Fauconberg’s attack on London.  In 1473 he became the guardian of the young Prince of Wales and Chief Butler of England. He went on a pilgrimage to Rome in 1475, where he was invested by Pope Sixtus IV with the title of Defender and Director of Papal Causes in England.  During his absence his wife had died, so a marriage was sought with Margaret, daughter of James III of Scotland. When Edward IV died in 1483, Rivers, Grey and the Prince of Wales set out for London. After reaching Stony Stratford they met Gloucester and Buckingham, who had Rivers and Grey arrested and later executed without trial at Pontefract. Now let us meet some of the main players in the engaging family and its rise to power.

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