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The Woodville family enjoyed a brief period of ascendency in power and prestige in English history during the 15th century. It is a fine example of the advantages – and the dangers - inherent in royal favour during that turbulent period.
Richard Woodville secretly married the widow of Henry V’s brother, John, in about 1436. He became baron Rivers in 1448, a knight of the Garter and privy counsellor in 1450, and fought for the Lancastrian Henry VI in 1461. He then turned to the Yorkist cause of Edward IV who married his daughter, Elizabeth Woodville, in 1464. He was created 1st Earl Rivers and Treasurer of England in 1466, and Constable of England in 1467.
In 1469 he was captured by the Lancastrians and beheaded.
Elizabeth’s elevation as Queen of England gave the family domination of the royal court, and great wealth from the titles and estates granted to her five brothers and advantageous marriages for her seven sisters. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick gave the family’s sudden rise as the reason for his change of allegiance to the Lancastrians in 1469.
On Edward IV’s death in 1483, Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers, was retained as guardian of the young Prince of Wales, his nephew. In a pre-emptive strike, the Duke of Gloucester - the future Richard III - kidnapped the boy, had Earl Rivers executed, had the Archbishop of Canterbury persuade Elizabeth, who had taken refuge in Westminster Abbey, to allow the Prince’s younger brother to join him in the Tower, where they disappeared. The family was stripped of much of its wealth and status as Richard III took control of the country.
The last Woodville to figure prominently in history was another of Elizabeth’s children, Elizabeth of York, who the Lancastrian Henry Tudor took as his queen as a gesture of peace and reconciliation between the two factions that had caused so much strife for two generations.