Was Edward IV Illegitimate?: The case for the defence
by Trish Wilson, 27 July 2014
History is full of mystery but how often has the
mystery been overtaken by the myths and the truth lost in the mists
of time? Oh how cherished are those myths, but when one applies the
colander test just how watertight are they?
British history is full of them and none more so
than that period quaintly known as the War of the Roses - anything
but - and that granddaddy of them all, Richard III. Was he? Did
Lately it has been his eldest brother, Edward IV,
born 28 April 1442, who has come in for scrutiny and a claim that
he was indeed illegitimate. So what is the claim and how does that
bear up under scrutiny?
The claim, and historical evidence
The claim is that at the critical time needed for
conception his father Richard, duke of York, was away from his base in
Rouen for a period of five weeks, overseeing the siege of Pontoise
over a hundred miles away, which necessitated several days of
marching, while at
the same time his wife was (allegedly) having an adulterous fling
with an archer by the name of Blaybourne. This same
claim also makes mention of the fact that Edward's baptism was in
stark contrast to that of his next brother, Edmund. Let us now look
at this thesis in the light of what facts we do have at our
It would seem that there is one fact that has already
been overlooked, but no longer. As regards those crucial five weeks,
who would have known better than anyone, including those in Rouen,
where York was at any given time or, for that matter, any gossip?
Those who served immediately under him, that's who.
Warwick didn't start pushing those rumours about
Blaybourne as part of his strategy to unseat his cousin until 1469.
So who of them was still around in 1469? Who accompanied York to
France in the summer of 1441, served him during that campaign, and
would have been only too happy to give Warwick the lie if he had
been in a position to do so? It's none other than Sir Richard Wydeville,
later Earl Rivers, Edward IV's father-in-law, who was executed in
August 1469 on Warwick's orders following the Battle of Edgecote.
So was Rivers executed to feed Warwick's appetite for revenge or
to silence him? Intriguing thought isn't it? As it is, Edward IV
must have known that his father-in-law served under his father,
so why that desperate story about conception in England unless
Rivers was no longer alive to counter Warwick's allegation?
Two other notable persons who accompanied York to
France were John de Vere, earl of Oxford (father of the earl who
served under Henry VII), and James Butler, earl of Ormonde and
Wiltshire (one of those who was named as being the real father of
Edward of Lancaster) who was defeated by Edward IV at the Battle
of Mortimer's Cross, both of whom were ardent Lancastrians and
both of whom were executed during the first eighteen months of
Edward IV's reign.
An imaginative scene from Henry VI Part 1 in which the
participants in the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485) select
white and red roses to mark their allegiances
Richard III - A Vindication
Histories of the Kings of England
RULERS OF BRITAIN & EUROPE:
House of York
Restored Yorkist Kings of England
Archbishops of Canterbury
Church of Rome
The Wars of the Roses, Michael D Miller (Online Text)
Catholic Encyclopaedia: Baptism
Edward IV was the only War of the Roses
commander to win all of his military battles, and was possibly
also England's very first Renaissance king. It's thanks to him
that the printing press finally arrived in England.
Richard III - A Vindication
York didn't hesitate to suggest that
Edward of Lancaster was not the legitimate son of Henry VI so why,
if Oxford or Ormonde/Wiltshire had any suspicions that
York was not the father of Edward, didn't they turn the tables when they had a
chance to do so? It does seem rather curious that, given the
allegation made against him, Butler apparently never said anything that
would have hoisted York on his own petard.
So where was York during those crucial five weeks?
He was definitely absent for five weeks but that's
not the be-all and end-all as there are other factors to consider.
Was York really that far away? Could Edward have been an early or
late arrival? Could Cecily even have exchanged a few words with
Blaybourne without others in Rouen Castle knowing about it? 
So let's now look at those other factors,
geography, military, baptism, genetics and last but not least
It's all very well to claim that so-and-so must
have been born out of wedlock because his mother's husband was not
around at the time but it's not that simple. Precisely when a baby
arrives is up to Mother Nature, not the calendar.
First of all, when looking at the claim of distance
being 160km (100 miles), what are the geographical facts? What is the
actual distance between Rouen and Pontoise? It's 93.05km (59 miles).
Furthermore in medieval times the two towns were linked by an old
Roman road known as the Chaussée Jules César, and the actual route
was Paris-Pontoise-Rouen. That was superseded in 1824 by Route
Nationale 14 which, from Pontoise onwards, follows the old Roman
road and is almost as straight. The distance between Paris and Rouen
along that road is 125km - that's just under eighty miles, so if it's
only eighty miles to Rouen from Paris with Pontoise in between, how
on earth could Pontoise be over a hundred miles away?
There is also the claim about the baptism of Edward
IV, which was in complete contrast to that of his brother Edmund
born a year later. Edward had his in a side-chapel while Edmund had
the full royal razzmatazz. Apparently this also provides evidence of
an illegitimate birth, but what does that actually prove? What if
Louis de Luxembourg, archbishop of Rouen (whose great-niece Elizabeth
Wydeville, daughter of Richard Wydeville, went on to marry York's son
Edward) wasn't in Rouen at the time? And what about the christenings
of their younger siblings, George and Richard? Did they get the full
works too? It has been suggested too that his parents had nothing to
celebrate. Well York certainly didn't - the loss of Pontoise was a
severe blow with the French less than sixty miles from Rouen.
Furthermore he had cause
for concern following a meeting of nobility in Nevers in March 1442
to decide what they did next, with some holding out for peace
negotiations, a matter on which King Charles VII took a contrary
What if it was an emergency baptism given in the
belief that the souls of unchristened babies are denied access to
It is a fact that midwives were permitted by the
Church of Rome to carry out an emergency baptism if there was any
likelihood that the baby might not survive. What if Edward did arrive
early or was not thought likely to survive? It's worth bearing in
mind what had happened to his brother Henry the year before, being
born and having died on the same day. As it is, there could be a
variety of reasons for the disparity. The fact that Edward's
baptism was so low-key compared to that of Edmund is certainly not
proof that he was illegitimate however much a song and dance is
made about it.
As for Edward, tall and fair, not looking like his
father, short and dark, what of it?
His brother George didn't match their father either,
but nobody seems to make a fuss about that. How many children actually
look like their parents or, more to the point, how many sons take
after their fathers? How many of today's royal children look like
their fathers? Just because 'Peregrine Fortescue Smythe' or 'Joe Bloggs'
fail to look like pater/dad is no reason to suppose that mater/mum was
having it away with someone else.
Some children take after their
grandparents, as did Henry VIII, and others after their parents'
siblings - there have even been cases of cousins being taken for
twins. Edward's sister, Margaret, was almost six feet tall, his
paternal uncle, Edward, duke of York, who died at Agincourt, was tall
and corpulent, and his direct ancestors Edward I (Longshanks) and
Edward III were both known for their height. What we turn out to be
is down to our genes, and what about that recessive gene that
produces red hair that may skip a generation? If one is going to
propose that kind of argument wouldn't it be better to take a look
at other family members first?
Early or late arrival
Applying the nine month/forty week gestation period
so retrospectively is also fraught with peril, as full term is actually
somewhere between 37-42 weeks and, according to NHS statistics, most
births occur between 38 and 42 weeks of pregnancy.
If Edward had been
conceived on 21 August 1441, then birth would have been one week short
of full term. Alternatively, if Edward had been conceived just before
his father left Rouen then it would been a 41-42 week gestation. One
cannot claim that because so-and so was born on such-and-such date that
his or her conception must have happened on such-and-such date nine
months before. Can obstetricians even now predict precisely when it's
all going to happen? Again according to NHS statistics, only 5% of babies
arrive on the due date. The most recent Prince George kept the whole
world, including his mother, waiting for the better part of a week.
In addition to that, pre-term babies account
for 10% of births. Famous figures such as Isaac Newton,
Anna Pavlova, and Winston Churchill were all born after only seven months
of gestation? Edward IV may have been another. Let's not forget his
grandson, Prince Arthur, who arrived only eight months after the
York, while royal, was not in the immediate line of
succession and the birth happened in France not England, so the
chroniclers would not have paid it quite as much attention as a
The alleged affair, and the parents
As for that alleged affair between Blaybourne and Cecily
Neville, how could two such persons get together in such
circumstances? Rouen Castle
was a fortified base, not a royal palace, and it was on a war footing which
meant security would have been extra-tight. Quite frankly the idea
that anyone of the rank-and-file could in such a short time and
in such an enclosed community have 'had it away' with his commanding
officer's wife is quite ludicrous.
How on earth could Blaybourne
have done anything without some of his mates knowing about it? With
the garrison being York's base, the castle would have been very crowded,
swarming with servants as well as guards, so there would not have
been much privacy, just as there isn't much privacy
in army life now, certainly not for the rank and file, in a life that
is regulated twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week.
What made Blaybourne stand out from amongst
the rest so much so that he could attract Cecily's attention? And how they could
have met without others knowing about it?
Last but not least, there are the parents, so let us
consider them. Would 'Proud Cis' really have stooped that low? A
mere member of the rank-and-file and possibly an odiferous member at
that? If she needed solace for the temporary loss of her husband and
the permanent loss of her son why pick somebody so low-down? Out of the
entire male population was Blaybourne the only one who had 'sex
appeal'? Would she even have met him without others in attendance?
The colonel's lady might meet those of the rank-and-file but it
would hardly be done alone. What if York had provided her with her
own special escort? As it is, the risk in that crowded space, full of
activity, would have been enormous. How could she have achieved it
without the medieval equivalent of Lady Rochford?
Let's face it, Blaybourne was hardly in the same
league as Thomas Culpepper, one of Henry VIII's equerries. Above all,
why should she have done it? A pair of glancing eyes that had her
hormones going crazy? Sounds like something out of Hollywood.
York, for all any of us know, may already
have been entertaining the idea of making a rival bid for the throne, in which
case it would have been absolutely crucial that this first surviving
son was the legitimate heir. Is it possible that York, one of the
mighty magnates of the time, tamely accepted another man's son not
just as his own son but as his legitimate heir. When he began his bid
for the crown and with succession in mind would he have carried on
the pretence? In fact he never disowned paternity - surely a case
of res ispa loquitur - the thing speaks for itself.
Cecily's outburst - the truth or maternal
As to what Cecily is alleged to have said when she
heard about her son's marriage, how much credence can we place on
that? When a fit of anger descends upon us and judgement and
caution get thrown to the wind we all sometimes say and do what we
later regret and for Cecily this may have been more of a shock than
has hitherto been realised.
One needs to examine this allegation with all the
cool reasoning that one can muster. For a start, would the mother of
a reigning king admit to such a perfidious act of adultery that
would undermine her son's position, especially considering the
difficulties that he had experienced before attaining it?
was to stop their enemies making allegations of further adultery,
particularly Margaret of Anjou who had been accused of the same? And
what did she actually say: 'Not a true son of York'? What did she
mean by that? That he had not been fathered by her husband or that
he had not done what her husband would have expected him to do or
had completely failed him? Which?
So what might have caused Cecily to completely lose
her rag? For that we must go back a few years to something that may
not have been fully appreciated, the Neville-Woodville feud and
the ill-feelings that were abounding before Warwick's acts of piracy
during his time in Calais. As the wife of the duke of York, Cecily
was high in the pecking order but not as high as she would have
wished. To her mind and no doubt to those of the Neville tribe she
should have ranked as second lady in the land, but she didn't so who
was number two after Queen Margaret? It's none other than Jacquette, wife
of Earl Rivers, and it was a matter of protocol given Jacquette's
previous marriage to John, duke of Bedford, eldest surviving brother
of Henry V, father of Henry VI, the same Jacquette who was also related to
Queen Margaret, with a sister who was married to Margaret's fraternal
uncle. How that must have rankled with the pushy Nevilles who were
hardly in a position to accuse the Woodvilles of the very sins they
had already committed themselves.
It was one act of piracy in particular that caused
the fur to fly and that was against a fleet of Hanseatic ships heading
for the Hanseatic centre, the port of Lübeck. Given the Hanseatic
position at the time, which included the North Sea and the lucrative
England-Burgundy trade which necessitated the use of the North Sea, one
can perhaps guess what consternation that caused. It was enough for
Henry VI to set up a commission of inquiry, and who was put in charge
of that commission - none other than Sir Richard Wydeville who duly
summoned Warwick, as he had every right to do, to his base in Rochester.
By that time Warwick had another axe to grind, his predecessor in the
role of captain of Calais, Wydeville, having refused to relinquish his
command until the troops in Calais had been paid their much-in-arrears
dues, but of course Warwick saw it in another light - this upstart
inferior trying to rain on his parade - and chose to ignore it.
From there it went from bad to worse once Queen
Margaret had entered the fray, and at the subsequent council meeting
Warwick again refused to oblige, with the meeting ending as a
royal punch-up between members of the royal household and Warwick's
retinue. Warwick only narrowly escaped being impaled on an angry
cook's spit which he later claimed was an attempt on his life by the
queen. It could be said with a certain truth that not all War of the Roses
battles took place on the field.
Not long after, the boot was on the other foot when
Wydeville who had been appointed warden of the Cinque Ports and
was charged with defending Kent against the Yorkist earls (Salisbury,
Warwick and March) and his wife were 'captured' by them in Sandwich
and subjected to an appalling torrent of abuse. If the seeds of
enmity had not been sown already they were certainly sown then.
Walmer Castle in Kent was (and still is) the seat of the warden
of the Cinque Ports, with one of the most famous of its
incumbents being the first duke of Wellington
So what has this to do with Cecily's fit of rage?
Put yourself in her shoes. How would you have felt at the thought
that both you and your much 'put-upon' nephew, who had been
thoroughly humiliated by the revelation of this marriage, would have
to bend the knee to the daughter of your bête noire?
Or that the
mother who had outranked you despite being married to a nobody was
now back in royal favour and was also entitled to the same privileges and
courtesies as yourself? That the family you so despised were now
your in-laws? Or having to be in the company of people you would not
wish to be seen dead with? Ouch!
Last will and testament
The final twist lies in the title Cecily used in
her will: 'Cecill, wife unto the right noble prince Richard late
Duke of Yorke, fader unto the most cristen prince my Lord and son
Was this Cecily's way of making amends for her
intemperate outburst? Or setting the record straight? We shall never
know for certain, but what a to-do is made about the will as well as
that intemperate outburst.
Photobox: Walmer Castle
Ricardians complain that there is also no mention of her
son Richard or of her daughter Margaret, and that the will was
so drawn up so as to keep Henry VII sweet.
By that time Richard, who
had left no legitimate issue, had been dead ten years and
Margaret was threatening the established order - only a few months
beforehand Sir William Stanley had been executed for treason for
apparently throwing in his lot with her and Perkin Warbeck. It
would, therefore, hardly have been a wise thing to make any
mention of Margaret, but there could be a variety of reasons for the
failure to mention Richard - does anybody actually know what she
thought, how she felt towards him?
Perhaps it's time this statement was looked at from
the religious point of view. The church was still very much in
control even though the rumblings of dissent had started and the
dangers of hell fire and eternal damnation were served up on a daily
basis. Cecily was known for her piety, so is it at all likely that at
the last minute she would make so public a statement that might
imperil her soul?
Seen in that light could this have been her act of
contrition for having said something that effectively tarnished the
reputations both of her husband and her son?
In conclusion given that we have no idea how long
the period of gestation was, that an argument of forty weeks is
fallacious to say the least, and taking into account all other
factors, I put it to you that the case of Edward IV's illegitimacy is
clearly not proven and, therefore, consequently fails.
One final point. It has also been claimed that if
Edward were illegitimate then his brother George, or rather his children,
since George was dead before Edward, were the legitimate heirs but
they weren't owing to the Act of Attainder which was passed on George of
Clarence which barred his children and subsequent descendants from
the throne. As far as I am aware that act has never been
repealed. With this being the case, how could Richard III make any claim to the
throne if his brother's children had not already been barred?
Churches of Warwick
Barker, Juliet - Conquest, The English
Kingdom of France 1417-1450
Baumgaertner, William E - Squires,
Knights, Barons and Kings
Baumgaertner, William E - War and
Politics in 15th Century England
Crawford, Anne - The Yorkists -
History of a Dynasty
Curry, Anne - The Hundred Years' War
Higginbotham, Susan - The Woodvilles
Licence, Amy - Cecily Neville, Mother
Miller, Michael D - The War of the Roses,
Chapter 34, French Military Successes 1440-43
Okerlund, Arlene - Elizabeth Woodville,
The Slandered Queen
Wagner, John H - Encyclopaedia of the
Hundred Years' War
Other Main Sources
Richard III Society - Richard III - His family
- The Duchess of York
Channel 4 - Britain's Real Monarch
Mick Baker - Richard III A Vindication (see
link in sidebar)
AboutCom - Women's History - Was Edward IV
The History Onyx - Edward IV A Question of
Serendipity/Peter Meyer - Britain's Real Monarch
Vanora Bennett - Figures in Silk - Was King Edward IV
Online Encyclopaedia Articles
Route Nationale 14 (in French)
Chaussée Jules César (in French)
Le Château de Rouen (in French)
Catholic Encyclopaedia - Baptism
Michelin - Map of France
Rouen Tourisme - Cathédrale Notre Dame
University of Utah Health Sciences - Learn
NHS Choices - Pregnancy and Baby Guide
Tommy's the Baby Charity - Explaining
Castle Duncan Forums - Query on a Garrison
Medieval Castles - Castle Defensive Weapons
Cardiff Castle Garrison - Demonstrations and Talks
History Learning Site - Bill of Attainder
NB: Owing to the length of Miller's
magnum opus, it is yet to be published in print and is consequently
only available online - see link in sidebar
In the matter of genetics the author took a look at a number of
sources, but found the University of Utah to be the best
Text copyright © Trish Wilson. An original
feature for the History Files.