Eleanor – The Secret Queen

   Posted by: Julia Redlich   in

John Ashdown-Hill,  Eleanor – The Secret Queen, The History Press, rrp $65.  ISBN 978-0752448664

This is the book many Ricardians have been waiting for, the author being a prominent member of the Society and renowned for his knowledge and research, especially lately regarding the DNA of Richard’s family and finding a descendant of Richard’s sister Anne living in Canada.

His skill at research is once again revealed in this book subtitled “The Woman who put Richard III on the Throne”.  The subject is Eleanor Talbot (Butler), the woman who may or may not have been married to Edward IV, consequently making his marriage to Elizabeth Grey (Woodville) bigamous and their children illegitimate.  It is an excellent example of meticulous work in uncovering all the aspects of Eleanor’s life and death.

The question of did they/didn’t they is dealt with balanced authority. Ricardians will generally accept the concept of their legal union and therefore ineligibility of Edward, Prince of Wales, and Richard, Duke of York (the princes in the Tower) to take the throne, so possibly the conclusions reached are unsurprising, but the information revealed as to Eleanor’s lifetime and relationships, including some excellent clear family trees and a good selection of illustrations, make this a must for anyone’s Plantagenet-oriented library.

The aftermath of reading this book for me was a resurgence of the increasingly occurring “what-ifs” of history.  What if Eleanor and Edward’s liaison was legally recognised and she was his Queen?  Warwick’s nose would have been put out of joint with the failure of the marriage with Bona of Savoy, but would he have accepted Eleanor?  The people of England certainly would, since she was the daughter of their great military hero, John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury.  So maybe Warwick would have remained on good terms with Edward, would never persuaded Clarence to defect, there would have been no execution allegedly in a cask of malmsey, Richard and Anne would have continued living serenely at Middleham and it would have been Happy Families all round.  And probably Stillington would never have been given his bishopric as a cover-up present for keeping mum about a secret marriage.

As for the succession, the marriage may have been childless given Eleanor’s earlier history, so would Clarence’s children have been next in line?  His Edward was reputed to be retarded and daughter Margaret may have been looked over for the simple reason of her sex.  Would Richard’s only son have survived?  If his early death came as history tells, he was probably as delicate as his mother.  And if, after her death, Richard remarried any children of that union would be eligible.  As would the children of Edward’s sister Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk, the eldest of whom, John, Earl of Lincoln, was named by Richard as his successor.

So there would have been no Tudors, Stuarts, Hanoverians or House of Windsor – and no Richard III Society!

If you are interested in finding out more about the author, visit John’s own website.