Today I’m thrilled to welcome Susan Higginbotham, author of such fantastic historical novels as The Traitor’s Wife and Hugh and Bess, with a guest post to celebrate the release of her first published non-fiction work! The Woodvilles is out now in the UK and on Kindle in the US; in the meantime enjoy Susan’s post below on the death of Edward Woodville.
In April 1488, Edward Woodville, the youngest brother of Elizabeth Woodville and one of the men who had shared in Henry Tudor’s victory at Bosworth three years before, was awarded the Order of the Garter. He did not enjoy it long, because on July 28 of that same year, he fell in battle attempting to aid Francis, the Duke of Brittany.
The duke, who had offered succor and support to Henry Tudor as well as to Edward Woodville during their exile, was threatened with a French invasion. Edward longed to help his old friend. As Polydore Vergil tells it:
Edward Woodville, a stout and courageous man . . . either to avoid the tedium of peace or moved by his love of the duke, earnestly beseeched King Henry that by his permission he might go to Britanny with some band of soldiers to aid his friends. And, lest the King of France could reproach Henry for this, he said he would go secretly with no supplies, which would give a show of unfeigned flight. The king, who hoped that a peace would be arranged by his ambassadors, was so far from indulging Edward’s ardor that he strictly forbade him to undertake any scheme of the kind, thinking it foreign to his dignity to offend Charles, to whom he hoped to ingratiate himself in a matter of little importance which he thought would do nothing to aid the Duke of Britanny. But Edward, when the king had forbidden him to do as he wished, decided to act without his knowledge, and quickly and secretly went to the Isle of Wight, of which he was lieutenant. And from there, having gathered a band of soldiers to the number of approximately four hundred, he crossed over to Britanny and joined with them against the French.
King Charles of France instructed his commander, General de la Trémoille, on 5 July 1488 to “make war as vigorously as you can,” an order which the general followed with enthusiasm. On 28 July, Duke Francis, after meeting with a council of war that included Edward, determined to go to the relief of Fougères and St Aubin, both under siege. Although it turned out to be too late to save the fortresses, which had surrendered, the Bretons determined, as reported by Molinet, “to engage the French . . . as best they could.”
The Marshal de Rieux was in overall command of the Breton forces, Trémoille in charge of the French. To fool the French into believing that there were a large number of English troops, the Breton army dressed 1,700 Bretons in surcoats bearing the red cross of St George, like the men of Edward’s forces.
As reported by Edmund Hall:
When both the armies were approaching to the other, the ordinance shot so terribly and with such a violence, that it sore damaged and encumbered both the parties. When the shot was finished, both the vanguards joined together with such a force that it was marvell[ous] to behold. The Englishmen shot so fast, that the Frenchmen in the forward, were fain to recule to the battle where their horsemen were. The rearward of the Frenchmen, seeing this first discomfiture began to flee, but the captains retired their men together again, & the horsemen set fiercely on the Bretons, and slew the most part of the footmen. When the forward of the Bretons perceived that their horsemen nor the Almaines carne not forward they provided for themselves & fled, some here, and some there, where they thought to have refuge or succour. So that in conclusion the Frenchmen obtained the victory, & slew all such as wore red crosses, supposing them all to be Englishmen. In this conflict were slain almost all the Englishmen, & six thousand Bretons, Amongst whom were found dead the lord Woodville . . .
Legend has it that only one of the men who had left with Edward returned to the Isle of Wight: a page named Diccon Cheke.
When the Knights of the Garter met again in 1489, they would hold a requiem mass and offer the swords, helms, and crests of two fallen knights, one of whom was Edward. It was left for the heralds to write his epitaph: “a noble and courageous knight” who bravely fought and died for a cause not his own.