Proving the Precontract

Shortly after the death of Edward IV in May 1483, someone told his brother, Richard duke of Gloucester, some truly startling, life changing, kingdom shattering, sit-me-down-and-fan-me-with-a-newspaper news… Prior to his secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville (mother of Edward V), Edward IV (then a young man and not a king at all) had married someone else! Secretly, with no witnesses, no clergy, no ceremony and no actual wedding. All he did was say to the poor unsuspecting meek and pliable (yet clearly beautiful, desirable and widowed) woman: “Come back to my place for some late night hanky-panky. If you’re worried about your reputation, you can pretend we just got married. Secretly. With no witnesses. No clergy. No ceremony. And no actual wedding.” To which the doe-eyed, spellbound and helpless widow replied, “Ok.”

Now, some years down the track, after the late night hanky-panky was long forgotten and the putty-in-his-hands-I-mean-have-you-seen-the-size-of-his-codpiece? innocent was long forgotten, lost amidst a battalion of similar conquests, Edward IV tried the same thing again with Elizabeth Woodville. (Also meek, pliable yet clearly beautiful, desirable, widowed and doe-eyed (but Lancastrian.)) Only this time, he made the mistake of omitting the condition ‘with no witnesses’ and she brought some along

Devastated by his mistake, fearing for his future and desperate to get rid of this clinging Lancastrian, who shrieked and howled and threatened to send in the lawyers if he didn’t bally well keep to his word and bally well get her crowned, Edward went to see a chap called Stillington who was a very clever clergyman well known for putting things right. On several previous occasions post-late night hanky panky, Stillington had sent some men round to the various homes of the various fallen flowers to knock on the door and say things like “Nice house you’ve got here. Pity if it burned dahn, know what I mean” and calling people ‘muppets’. This was attempted in the case of Elizabeth Woodville, but the door was opened by her mother, a Dowager Duchess, who’d have no truck with that kind of nonsense and sent the men away with several fleas in their newly transformed ears. (Because she was a witch.)

A bishop. Probably not Stillington.
A bishop. Probably not Stillington.

Stillington looked through a whole bunch of books and couldn’t find anything that would help Edward out of this ill-considered, feverish, I-just-want-to-get-her-into-bed marriage. So he was stuck with it. Except Stillington had overlooked one thing, as had Edward in his ill-considered feverish state, and that was the presence of a small boy hiding behind a wall-hanging who heard the words ‘you can pretend we just got married’ which, according to some sources, in canon law constituted an ironclad, legally binding marriage. Sadly, the boy forgot this in the business of growing up and becoming, first, a larger boy then, later, a man. So he didn’t, at that time, come forward. So Edward was stuck with the Lancastrian he’d wed on the spur of the moment, despite his concerns at the presence of two witnesses.

Consoling himself with a string of mistresses, who were carefully handpicked and pre-tested by his good friend William Hastings to ensure they were, in fact, floozies and not doe-eyed anythings, Edward got on with life. This included getting squiffy from time to time, taping a naked picture of his latest mistress to the inside of a blindfold, blindfolding himself and dropping in to call on his ‘wife’, now the ‘queen’ and mother of the ‘heir to the throne’. (I’m cutting out the boring in-between bits. I hope no-one minds. Only there’s one in-between bit that’s quite important, so I shall include it below.)

In 1469, the Wicked Kingmaker decided it was time he made another King, seeing as how long it had been since he made the last one. He paced the deck of his ship, scratching his head to come up with some way of getting rid of Edward IV. Just then, he heard the voice of one of his grizzled weatherbeaten sailors raised in song (or, more correctly, sea shanty) and this stopped him in his tracks.

“Oh we shall pretend we are married, sweet wench
So that I might take thee to my bed
No-one will know for no witness there’ll be
We can just pretend to be wed.
O, El-e-a-nor, you are proud and you’re sweet
And I, your Ed-ward, am so tall
One day I’ll be king and forget you, it’s true,
In the meantime please squeeze my left…”

As he watched, the sailor took a marlin spike, the pointy end of which looked like nothing more than an arrow… A pointy arrow as shot by archers from bows…

And this got him thinking, the glimmerings of an idea forming in his devious, greedy, wicked and ambitious mind. There were archers everywhere and everyone knew just how utterly sexy and rampant they were – the mediaeval equivalent of the Rock Star. What if…. What if…. What if the Duchess of York had been seduced by an archer? What if it was when her husband was a long way away? And what if the archer was the father of one of her children?

But… which one? That was the crucial point and he just had to nut it out. Clearly not George, for he’d just married Warwick the Wicked Kingmaker’s daughter, Isabelle. And not Richard, for Warwick the Greedy and Grasping Earl had plans for him to marry his daughter Anne. And not any of the girls, for they were (as were all girls, except his own two dearly beloved pawns) utterly unimportant and not worth wasting his braincells on. Which left Edmund… but he was dead, so rather pointless, really… and Edward…

Edward! Of course! Edward IV, King of England (courtesy of his own personal Kingmaker) was the illegitimate son of an archer! How perfectly fitting. How deliciously evil! Warwick immediately set about writing a manifesto, at which he was particularly adept, and, thus, the scurrilous rumours about the Duchess of York’s infidelity, her husband’s post facto stupidity and Edward IV’s illegitimacy were born.

In the meantime, Edward IV got on with being king, after dispatching the Despicable Warwick at Barnet, then dying, leaving behind an unbeknownst-to-anyone illegitimate ‘heir to the throne’.

Now, this is where it gets both complicated and interesting.

When Edward IV died unexpectedly, and possibly by being poisoned, his younger brother Dickon set off from Middleham to meet up with the new ‘king’ (only no-one knew about the inverted commas yet) and his jolly good friend, Anthony Earl Rivers, brother of the ‘queen’ (likewise) and uncle to the ‘Prince of Wales’ (ibid). Just as he was about to leave, his wife (Anne, the only surviving Kingmakerette) ran out of the house, waving a piece of paper.

“Dickon!” she shrieked. “Dickon! I was just going through some of Isabelle’s things and I found this!”

Arriving, her chest heaving very prettily, red-faced and quite charmingly out of breath, by his charger’s side, Anne gave the piece of paper into her husband’s hand, blew him a kiss then skipped back into the house where she immediately collapsed, coughing and wheezing, because (being frail, pale and Doomed) she’d overdone things rather.

Dickon stuffed the paper into his doublet and rode away.

It wasn’t until some time later, just as he was about to enter Stony Stratford, that Dickon (hereinafter ‘Gloucester’ (except without the inverted commas)) read the letter. He’d pulled out a kerchief to wipe his brow and the letter fluttered down to the ground. Sending for a minion to pick it up for him, Gloucester thought about the task ahead. All he had to do was spend the next nine years, until the ‘king’ came of age, working with his pals Rivers, Hastings and maybe some others, running England and making sure everything was shipshape and tickety-boo. He could manage that! It would all be jolly good chaps together and a hey nonny no! for England and St George. Hence, both his heart (despite his grief at his beloved brother’s death) and his step (metaphorically, because he was on horseback) were light as he made his way south to London, stopping at Stony Stratford to say hello to the ‘king’ and his uncle on the way, and maybe stop for a spot of lunch.

Resting awhile in the shade of a tree, he read the letter. Many many times over the ensuing months, he woke up in the night in a cold sweat wishing he hadn’t. Wishing he hadn’t even noticed it fall to the ground, wishing it had been trampled into the mud. Wishing his meddling wife – who was, one day, jolly well going to pay the price for all this! – hadn’t given him the ruddy thing in the first place.

“Dear Isabelle” (the letter read) “I am writing this to you from London where I am and you are not. I’m having a good time, lots of carousing and what not, and think maybe you shouldn’t join me next week as planned because I have a night of drinking pencilled in for Tuesday and you know how I get when I’ve been drinking! lol Anyway, the curiousest thing happened the other night. I was in the Seven Swans, not paying much attention to what was going on around me because Hastings had sent me a most tasty gift in the form of a floozy he deemed to be not quite good enough for my brother’s bed. (I really don’t mind, you know. Second rate floozies personally tested by Hastings aren’t as bad as they sound!) And my mind wasn’t really on the conversation. There was this chap, an old sailor, something close to five and twenty! (how he’d survived so long is anyone’s guess) who was mumbling something about having been lurking behind a wall hanging and overhearing two people pledging pretend marriage before going off for some late night hanky-panky. And, would you believe, one of those people was Eleanor Butler nee Talbot (or maybe it’s the other way around… Sorry, sweetie, but I’m a little hungover) and the other one was no other than my brother, Edward! I was stunned, I can tell you. The second-rate floozy somehow ended up on the floor, where she was immediately scooped up by several lackeys (and is now, subsequently, a third rate floozy) and I sat there, my mouth open wondering how the hell I could make capital out of this shocking news. (Which sobered me up, quick smart, I can tell you!) So, I went off to see old Stillington. And he made me promise not to tell anyone… ever… because it would be such a pity if Warwick Castle burned down, did I know what he meant? So I swore I wouldn’t and tried to forget about it. Only, the other day, when Ned was yelling at me about something (didn’t quite catch it, cottonwool in the head, you know?) I just blurted it out. So now I’m in the Tower (oh, yes, that was the other reason you probably shouldn’t come to London) awaiting trial for treason! Me?! Treason! Anyway, got to go, they’ve just come in with my supper. Lots of love. George. PS, kiss the little ones for me.”

Gloucester was stunned! He stuffed the letter back into his pocket, rode into Stony Stratford, arrested Rivers, took custody of the ‘king’, went to London, had a most fruitful chat with Stillington, had Rivers and some of his chums executed, stuck the ‘king’ and his brother in the Tower of London, executed Hastings, made himself king (with not an inverted comma to be seen) and poisoned his wife for causing all the trouble in the first place.

Sadly, George’s original letter to Isabelle has been lost, as has the original hand-written copy and the hand-written copy of that. Its contents were cleverly reconstructed by my ancestress, Lady Golightly Brackets-Dingle, using some of the several thousand clues left scattered throughout the 1460s and 70s. I have collected many such letters together and am planning to publish them some time in the future under the title “Reconstructed 15th Century Letters”. I imagine this will become something of a valuable resource for ‘historians’ and Historians alike.


Weir, York and Lancaster
Ashdown-Hill, Eleanor, the Secret Queen
Hicks, False, Fleeting, Perjur’d Clarence
Several books saying Richard III was a nice chap.
Several books saying Richard III wasn’t a nice chap at all.
A mediaeval archery re-enactor who has asked me not to use his real name. (Quite sexy and bad-boyish but not, alas, as much as he believes. I mean… Rock Star? Really?) (personal communication)
Letter (lost, mislaid or destroyed) George Duke of Clarence to Isabelle Duchess of Clarence.
Copy of letter (lost, mislaid or destroyed) George Duke of Clarence to Isabelle Duchess of Clarence.
Copy of copy of letter (lost, mislaid or destroyed) George Duke of Clarence to Isabelle Duchess of Clarence.
Brackets-Dingle, Reconstructed 15th Century Letters (forthcoming)
Horniman & Platt, The Grizzled Old Sailor’s Treasury of Sea Shanties.
Several conversations about canon law with people who claim they know all about canon law (personal communication).
The Hon Rowena Jenkins-Carter, I Was a Second-Rate Floozy Dropped onto a Tavern Floor by the Duke of Clarence and Turned into a Third Rate Floozy by a Common Lackey, Among Others, in A Past Life (unpublished ms)
Baker, Walton, King, Edwards, Riley, Harper-Long, Fredericks, Martin, Jones, Jones, Jones, Turner, Watt, Finlay et al, I was Queen Anne Neville in a Past Life (unpublished mss)

JEF Dingle Bell would like to thank all her many wellwishers over the past few days for their kind words, gifts of chocolate and midori and well wishes. She is recovering well and will soon (I’m sure) regain the use of her left leg. She states here and now, categorically and irrevocably, that she doesn’t hold any members of the non-existent Cult of Anne of Lancaster liable for injuries received during the course of a conversation with Mad Mick and Charles ‘The Razor’ Montagu under the bridge at Deptford. And she does, without reservation, fully accept that she is a muppet.


2 thoughts on “Proving the Precontract

    1. We do our best to help you and we don’t have anything better to do.

      (If you have any odd jobs just let us know. Between us we have vast experience at being totally useless at DIY, gardening and most things but we all like drinking tea and eating biscuits)


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