Sunday, August 16, 2009

Myth--Henry Stafford made to marry an older woman--Katherine Woodville

I must thank Susan Higginbotham for the idea to include it as part of the myth-busting series from her Medieval Woman blog post on this topic where she points out that Katherine was about two years Henry’s junior.

My first search was for statements indicating this was a May/September match as some writers of both fiction and non-fiction have recently used to give reason for Stafford’s apparent contempt for his marriage. Interestingly, even the secondary sources I’ve investigated don’t make that claim.

Neither Kendall (1955) nor Ross (1997) claims that Katherine was twice Buckingham’s age when he was made to marry her when he was a boy.

Could it have been confused by some with the John Woodville (aged 20) match to Katherine Neville (aged 65) in 1465 (per Charles Ross in ‘Edward IV’ p 93?) Please forgive any typos I may have introduced transcribing the snippets.

“..In January 1465 the queen brought off a less suitable match -- the marriage of her younger brother, John Woodville, then aged about twenty, to the very wealthy dowager duchess of Norfolk, Katherine Nevill[e], who was then a ‘slip of a girl’ (juvencula) of at least sixty-five,...

“Aristocratic husbands were soon found for three more of the queen’s sisters. Their betrothals or marriages seem to have taken place soon after the baptism of the royal couple’s first child, Elizabeth of York, who was born on 11 February 1466. Katherine Woodville married Henry Stafford, grandson and heir of the duke of Buckingham;...”

So, even if Ross has the year wrong, he doesn’t explicitly state that Katherine was much older than Buckingham and the implication is a stretch since he mentions other matches with the Katherine Woodville/Henry Stafford match.

According to Ross, Stafford’s objection was one of wealth and inheritance in that the Woodvilles had little money and were considered upstarts.

Per the Royal Genealogy at Hull, Catherine Wydeville was born 1458, married Henry Stafford in February of 1466 and died in 1497. The same site gives Henry Stafford’s birth as September 4, 1455 and also lists five children from that marriage.

Then, the real mystery is why and how the myth that Katherine was about twelve years Buckingham’s senior has been assumed as fact by some recent writers of both fiction and non-fiction.

Interesting aside from ‘The dictionary of English history’ by Sir Sidney Low as to why Buckingham turned against Richard:


  1. Yay, another strike for Katherine not being a cradle robber! I've never found a source for the claim that she was 12 years older than Buckingham either. There is, however, a chronicle source for the marriage being in 1466 instead of 1465, but the contemporary account of Elizabeth Woodville's 1465 coronation identifies Katherine as the younger Duchess of Buckingham, and Katherine took a place in the ceremony with other duchesses, so I think the 1465 date is correct.

    I suspect a lot of authors get the 12-year difference from Roxanne Murph's article on the Richard III Society American Branch's site, but she doesn't give a source for her information. I've yet to find an author who makes this claim who does. It's been around for a bit, though--I have a Ricardian novel from the 1930's that makes the claim.

    Perhaps another source of the confusion might be that Katherine's third husband, Richard Wingfield, was about a dozen years her junior, but he was a grown man at the time--and as the 11th of 12 sons, he probably wasn't at all unhappy at snaring a duchess for a wife.

    Richard did give Buckingham the Bohun lands, though--the grant was to be finalized by Parliament, and presumably would have been had not Buckingham rebelled.

  2. Susan wrote: "...There is, however, a chronicle source for the marriage being in 1466 instead of 1465, but the contemporary account of Elizabeth Woodville's 1465 coronation identifies Katherine as the younger Duchess of Buckingham, and Katherine took a place in the ceremony with other duchesses, so I think the 1465 date is correct."

    Even though they were children, could that have been another example of a "precontract" where Katherine would have been referred to as a duchess?

  3. Possibly, I guess, but I'm inclined to think that the couple had already married, since Katherine was treated at the ceremony on a par with other duchesses and royal ladies (except that she was carried about by a squire). She was in the procession alongside Harry's grandmother, the elder Duchess of Buckingham; Edward IV's sister the Duchess of Suffolk; the queen's mother, the Duchess of Bedford; and Edward IV's sister Margaret.

  4. I have an idea that because Katherine is by far the most famous of Elizabeth's sisters (we know they are legion, but they hardly get a line in most novels) she is assumed to be the second eldest.

    Until quite recently there wasn't a detailed analysis of the Woodville family in a readily accessible place, especially with regards to dates of birth, which even now are more than a tad vague.

    I think most authors when dealing with minor characters just grab the nearest source and run with it. They don't necessarily conduct a forensic analysis of the evidence. This applies to historians as well as novelists!

  5. Hi Joan, Annette here again (sorry I still don't know how to sign in as anything other than 'Anonymous'). Back home now and recovering from my trip. It was great to meet you and have such a long talk - and I hear you created quite a stir at Bosworth. Self-publishing rules OK!

    I must confess to being one of the authors who prematurely aged Catherine Woodville, and heaven knows why. I suspect I got it from the US branch website. Brian is quite right when he says one has to rely on the sources one has to hand, and in my case residing in South Africa means I have no libraries to consult. Nevertheless, having been castigated for this and other errors (some actual, some not) in the latest Richard III Society Bulletin, I took advantage of my visit to London to do some looking-up.

    The Complete Peerage was no help at all, except that it gave Catherine as Earl Rivers's sixth daughter. (I discovered separately that one author at least, Geoff Richardson, thought she was his second, so I guess he was reading what I was reading!).

    I found two editions of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in which the entries for Rivers said nothing about the birth dates or relative seniority of his children. The 1898 edition (under the entry for Buckingham) gave the year of Catherine's birth as 1457 and of her marriage as 1466; but the 2004 edition opted for a birth date of '1457/8' and a marriage date of between May 1464 and May 1465. Depending on the month of each respective event, that would seem to provide an age range of between minimum 5 and maximum 9 years at her marriage.

    Moving on to biographies, I couldn't locate MacGibbon's 'Elizabeth Woodville' as the London Library seemed to have lost it (!) but if anyone can get their hands on a copy perhaps we'll see what that says. David Baldwin's biography doesn't mention any helpful dates or ages. Arlene Okerlund's biography was most interesting of all, as she offers a variety of choices: IIRC her family trees give Catherine a birth date of 'before 1458?', and the text gives her age at marriage(in 1466) variously as ten and twelve.

    These matters are understandably hazy after 500 years, but even in 2009 official sources can be unreliable. Earlier this month I was an applicant in a hearing of the Grand Chamber of the European Court where I was credited in official documents as being three years older than I am!
    Best regards

  6. Hi Annette,

    It seems the ranks of the confusing/misrepresented birth dates are legion. I don't recall all the references, but Richard III's son Edward was born anywhere between 1472 and 1476, and the only month I've seen referenced for his birth was December. He suffers the same fate as to the date of his death, but here, at least, the time span is a mere ten days instead of years.

    The easiest way to sign in with your own identity would be to have an account with Google, LiveJournal, etc. (click on the drop down box to see the various options). If you have a blog, then you probably have an account that Google blogspot will recognize, but you don't need a blog to have an account that is recognizable. I had a Google account long before I started this blog and was able to use it to respond to other blog posts.