The secret intimacies of Edward IV: multiple marriages and a same-sex affair?
King Edward IV is remembered by many for his role in the Wars of the Roses, the 30-year struggle between the Houses of Lancaster and York for the English throne, and for his relationship with Elizabeth Woodville.
Here, historian John Ashdown-Hill re-examines what is known about the private life of the monarch, from his possible bigamy to secret same-sex intimacies, and questions many ‘facts’ traditionally assigned to the first Yorkist king of England…
I seem to have become celebrated as ‘a historian with a special talent for getting behind the mythology of history’. My work in this direction began as a result of my interest in the case of King Richard III. Later, I also explored the wider mythology which surrounds the Wars of the Roses.
But the key feature of my initial research into all the legends surrounding King Richard III focused on his claim to the throne. This claim was clearly based upon the allegation that his elder brother, King Edward IV, had committed bigamy, making his sons, the so-called “princes in the Tower”, royal bastards. In a sense, my research into the private life of Edward IV was therefore always inevitable.
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In connection with his research on Eleanor Talbot and the CF2 bones found at the Norwich Carmel, John has commissioned facial reconstructions of the CF2 skull. But he also decided to explore whether a facial reconstruction could be commissioned of Eleanor Talbot’s equally famous niece, Anne Mowbray, Duchess of York and Norfolk.
Although Anne and Eleanor would never have met (because Anne was born four years after Eleanor’s death), Anne was the daughter of Eleanor’s sister, Elizabeth Talbot, Duchess of Norfolk. Later, Anne was married to Edward IV’s son, Richard of Shrewsbury. If Anne’s remains had not been reinterred in 1965, a sample of her mtDNA could easily have been used to prove or disprove the identity of the Norwich CF2 bones. But unfortunately that route cannot now be followed.
Nevertheless, extensive photographic records of Anne’s bones are held by the Museum of London. Using copies of a selection of images of the skull provided by the Museum of London Archaeological Archive, together with details of relevant measurements, John commissioned a facial reconstruction of Anne Mowbray via the University of Dundee. This was produced by Amy Thornton, alumna of the University of Dundee Msc forensic art course. The image is copyright, but a version of it is attached. A picture has also been included among the plates of John’s recent book, The Private Life of Edward IV.
Of course the eye colour used in the reconstruction is a guess. No scientific evidence is available. However, the hair colour was revealed by photographs of Anne’s hair as found in the coffin in 1964. It has sometimes been suggested that when reddish coloured hair is discovered in sealed coffins, this is due to the fact that pheomelanin (which causes red hair colour) is more likely to survive in such contexts than eumelanin (which causes other hair colours). However, John and Amy both sought academic advice on this point, and the expert advice was that, while Anne Mowbray’s tissue could not now be tested, probably she did have auburn hair, containing a mixture of red pheomelanin and brown eumelanin.