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The Executions of Richard and John Woodville: Hasty Trials Just for Show

Updated on August 12, 2013
Elizabeth Woodville's Coat of Arms
Elizabeth Woodville's Coat of Arms | Source

On August 12, 1469, Richard Woodville, and his second son, John, were executed at Kenilworth after a very hasty trial that was really just for show. Richard and John were originally fighting for the Lancastrian cause during the War of the Roses but changed sides when Elizabeth Woodville, Richard’s eldest daughter, married Edward IV—the Yorkist King of England.

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The Lowly Birth of Richard Woodville

Richard was not a man of noble birth. His father, also called Richard, was the Duke of Bedford’s chamberlain. After the death of the duke, the young Richard Woodville (originally spelt Wydeville), married Jacquetta of Luxembourg. Jacquetta was of noble birth and because of that their marriage had to be completed in secret.

He served in France during 1433 and in 1435 was made a knight of the regent Duke of Bedford. He went on to serve under William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, and then the Dukes of Somerset and Shrewsbury. Finally, in 1441 to 1442, he fought under the Duke of York. Between 1459 and 1460, he was to defend Kent, his home county, against the Yorkists but he was captured while at Sandwich.

He was create Baron Rivers on May 9, 1448, by Henry VI and two years later became a Knight of the Garter. He had many children with Jacquetta. One of those was Elizabeth Woodville, who later became the Queen Consort of England after marrying the Yorkish King, Edward IV. Another son was John Woodville, who was executed at the same time as him.

The Birth of John Woodville

John was born around 1444 and was the fourth child of Richard and Jacquette. He was the second living one as his older brother, Lewis, died during his early days. Due to his sister’s rise to power, John became husband to Catherine Neville, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. However, the dowager duchess was around 65 at the time and John was just 20. It was viewed as a ploy for the family to gain more power and money.

Catherine Neville was the aunt of Richard Neville, who became known as the Kingmaker. The Nevilles were one of the most powerful families in the whole of England. King Edward IV made John a Knight of the Bath in 1465 but that was the only title he gained.

George, Duke of Clarence
George, Duke of Clarence

The Rebellion of George, Duke of Clarence

During 1469, Edward’s brother, George, Duke of Clarence, decided to rebel. He wanted the crown for himself and, with the help of Richard Neville, he set out to build support as the legitimate king. The Woodville men, Richard and John, went out with Edward to the north to try to stop the uprising. They believed it was just small at the time.

However, the rebel forces were much stronger than they thought. When the rebels told the King that he had to distance himself from the Woodvilles, he did that; believing that it would keep them safe. The Woodvilles were sent back home and stopped at Grafton at the Rivers’ house before heading towards Wales. On their way, they were captured and taken by Neville’s men to Coventry.

A manifesto published by Neville around this time specifically stated that the Woodvilles, especially John and Richard, were the reason for the rebellion against Edward IV. Neville saw this as justification for the execution.

The Trials and Executions of Richard and John Woodville

The trial was hastily put together and really just for show. According to Philippa Gregory, there was no real trial and they were executed unlawfully. The father and son were executed at Kenilworth on August 12. The Woodvilles were devastated by the loss and the actions of the Duke of Clarence and Richard Neville.

Very little is written about their trials and executions. There is nothing about any speeches that they gave, unlike other executions from around a similar time.

Richard Neville’s eldest son, Anthony Woodville, succeeded him as the 2nd Earl Rivers. However, Anthony met his maker 14 years later when Richard III, Edward IV’s youngest brother, came to the throne. His execution was similar to his father and brother in which the trial was just for show and he hadn’t committed any crime.

What happened to Richard Neville and the Duke of Clarence? Richard Neville died on the battlefield while trying to put and keep Henry VI back on the throne. George, Duke of Clarence, was executed for treason. Legend has it that he was drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine but it is unknown whether this is really true.


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