My recent book moves a few miles away from Wolverton, four miles in fact, to Grafton Regis, home to the Woodville family, who gained much prominence in the 15th century, when Elizabeth Woodville became queen of England in 1464. I in the landscape and with some of the stories and legends of the Woodvilles, told to me in some earnestness by my primary school teacher. The “Queen’s Oak” at Potterspury, reputed to be the meeting place of the widow Grey and Edward IV, was still a substantial tree when I was young. At that age I believed the legend without question.
I revisited the Woodville story a few years ago as a by-product of a developing interest in 15th century history and discovcered (not completely without surprise) that historical assessment was somewhat at odds with the innocent tales of my childhood. The family has not enjoyed what we might call “a good press.” Some criticism is fair and justified, but it appears to me that much is an unconsidered reflex founded on snobbery. To characterise them as “greedy and grasping”, for example, when they were doing no more or less than any other 15th century family in a similar position, is a judgement that is founded on prejudice.
This book is a product of my investigation into the family and is not simply an account of Queen Elizabeth’s sudden rise to power. I have tried to give a balanced account, although I am doubtless guilty of giving the family the beenfit of the doubt.
The years when the Woodvilles hit the headlines, so to speak, covered a relatively short period of 20 years, but the longer history of the family was quite an honourable one and part of this book is designed to flesh out the Woodville antecedents
The family reveal themselves to be highly intelligent, athletic and cultured; they showed leadership ability and were able to hold their own in the highest ranks of 15th century society.
Some families rise and maintain their place, like the Cecils or the Spencers or the Russells, but the spectacular rise of the Woodvilles, coming as it did with the sensational marriage of Elizabeth Woodville to Edward IV possibly could not hold. Such power as they had was entirely due to the king and was immediately vulnerable after his untimely death in 1483, and so it proved. They may have been unlucky. Had the males survived into a Tudor generation they may have taken a firm place in the establishment and their origins may have become rather less than the central fact about the Woodvilles.
The grandchildren of Elizabeth Woodville included Henry VIII and his sister Margaret, whose descendants became the Stuart kings in the 17th century. Jane Grey, was also a great grandchild and she was encouraged to press her claim to the throne in 1553. She lasted nine days.
The 15th century was one of the more turbulent periods in English history and at its close there were some winners and many losers. the story of the Woodville family therefore reflects the story of the century. They began their rise in the first decade of the century and by the seventh decade they were a power in the land. And then Fortunes Wheel turned unluckily for them and by the end of the century the Woodville name had disappeared from history. Their influence lasted a little longer as their bloodlines continued in the royal family and in the aristocracy.
The book is available in bookstores, from Amazon at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Woodville-Chronicle-Family-Grafton-Northamptonshire/dp/1909054410/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1504083634&sr=8-1&keywords=woodville+chronicle
or from the publisher, direct: