The Private Life of Edward IV by John Ashdown-Hill

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The Private Life of Edward IV by John Ashdown-Hill

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Category: Biography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A new biography of Edward IV, focusing mainly on his romantic involvements. Despite the appearance of several other recent books on the King, this makes use of recent research to fill a gap in our knowledge, as well as including several itineraries piecing his movements month by month where known. Yet another well worth adding to the bookshelf.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: November 2016
Publisher: Amberley
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781445652450

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Edward IV is currently a popular subject for biographers. All credit is therefore due to Dr Ashdown-Hill, one of the foremost of current Yorkist-era historians, for looking at the King from a fresh angle – that of his romantic involvements.

As regards his personal life, the first King from the House of York is probably best-remembered for his marriage with the 'White Queen', Elizabeth Woodville, who is given her medieval spelling 'Widville' throughout in these pages. There were however several other attachments, although in many cases details are very imprecise. In each case the author wisely offers us the known facts and prefers to leave the rest of the canvas blank, rather than speculate on the possibilities.

The first important love of Edward's life was Lady Eleanor Talbot. Was she married to him, a union which was later annulled, or was she merely his mistress? We know that she was a few years older than him, that she came from a Lancastrian background, and that she was widowed by the time we met. The rest of her life, such as why they parted company and when or how she died, is lost in the mists of time.

In view of his reputation as a womanizer, it is rather startling – or at least it was for me – to read that he allegedly had a brief same-sex liaison with his second cousin Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. A couple of pages are given over to what exactly this might have meant in the fourteenth century, given that the term 'homosexual' was not coined for another four hundred years or so, and it is possible that they were never more than very close companions – even though ironically Somerset was a Lancastrian and thus technically among the enemies of the house of York. Just as shadowy are the facts about his later mistresses Catherine de Clarington and Elizabeth Lambert, sometimes known as Jane Shore. It comes as little surprise that only with regard to the King's marriage to Elizabeth Widville, a match which forfeited him the support of his most powerful ally the Earl of Warwick, 'the Kingmaker', do we really have much in the way of firm knowledge. The story does not end with his death, for there is also an examination of the succession problems raised by the invalidity of what may have been a bigamous marriage, and the fates of the children. Following Edward's death a bishop proclaimed that he had officiated at his marriage to Lady Eleanor Talbot, thus making his children by Elizabeth illegitimate, and his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, heir to the throne.

Throughout the book there are several maps, short genealogical tables, and several itineraries piecing Edward's movements month by month where known, which all add to its value as a work of reference. There are also sixteen pages of colour plates comprising mostly contemporary portraits in various media. This is yet another volume of Yorkist studies well worth adding to the bookshelf.

Equally recommended are two more biographies, one setting him more in a fifteenth-century historical context, Edward IV: Glorious Son of York by Jeffrey James, and one paying equal attention to his consort and her family, Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville: A True Romance by Amy Licence.

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