When Conflict Became Strategy: The Marriage of Edward IV to Elizabeth Woodville

Saturday, January 5, 2019
Stevens C Prefunction (Hilton Chicago)
Hannah Keller, Mercer University
In 1464, England’s king, Edward IV, married the widowed Elizabeth Grey, née Woodville. They married during England’s fifteenth-century conflict, the Wars of the Roses, in which a king’s position on the throne was never secure. The conflict that ensued between Edward and his greatest ally, Richard, the Earl of Warwick, seems to suggest that Edward’s marriage was apolitical. However, this argument neglects to consider conflict a useful political tool.

In fifteenth-century England, lords earned loyalty by winning ‘worship,’ a good reputation gotten on account of their effective leadership. Yet they could also lose their loyalty if they received ‘disworship,’ a damaged reputation caused by either real or alleged scandalous actions.

This paper looks through the lens of worship and disworship to provide another interpretation of Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. Through an examination of fifteenth-century literature, letters, chronicles, and parliamentary rolls, this paper argues that Edward could have married Elizabeth in order to disworship the Earl of Warwick. In disworshipping Warwick, Edward left him with a paucity of support and prevented an alliance between England and France. This paper redefines the traditional feminine view of medieval marriage as a mechanism of peace-keeping and reveals that fifteenth-century English noblemen could have used marriage as a useful political tool in creating organized conflict.

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