Plain sight is often the best place to hide something, as Mr Dingle-Bell can attest vis-à-vis the chocolate hobnobs. Or rather, he can’t attest as he fails, quite regularly, to see them nestling in their jasperware container with the sliver lid – right there on the sideboard! So it has been for 500 years and more when it comes to the most blatant clue as to the (approximate) time and (approximate) venue of the secret wedding between Edward Earl of March (not then King Edward IV, nor indeed King Edward the Any Number) and the recently widowed (for she would have to have been, or the marriage would have been bigamous, and that would be too much of an historical oddity to bear) Eleanor Butler nee Talbot.
In this instance, the ‘plain sight’ is the Parliamentary Rolls of 1459, recording the words and deeds of the so-called ‘Parliament of Devils’. (Mr Dingle-Bell keeps hoping to stumble over the record of the ‘Parliament of Zombies’ but, as I tell him, he can find that in any modern edition of Hansard.)
The clue is hidden (in plain sight) is an item describing how Henry VI – with ‘knightly courage’ – pursued the victorious (but traitorous and despicable) Earl of Salisbury from Staffordshire to Wales. xxx days on the road, never stopping (except, quite sensibly, on Sundays) the King kept up his relentless pursuit “…not sparyng for eny ympedyment or difficulte of wey, nor of intemperance of wedders, jupartie of youre moost roiall persone…”
I’ll let that rest for a moment…
Intemperance of wedders
I must have read that five or six times, skimming back and forth, looking for unambiguous evidence that, though the Earl of Salisbury was victorious he was most unrepentantly traitorous and despicable, when – quite suddenly – I felt a cold shiver on the back of my neck. When I came back to my desk after admonishing Mrs M* (who does for us) for failing to close the door behind her, the full enormity of those three words hit me like a very large thing that suddenly hits you, leaving you breathless and strangely exhilarated but – above all – enlightened.
intemperance – lack of moderation or restraint; wedders – do I really need to spell it out?
The King and his party came across a secret wedding while they were on the road and he did not let it stop him in his pursuit of the traitorous and despicable Earl. Why was such a seemingly trivial occurrence noted, let alone memorialised in such an important document? It could only be because of the identity of the bride and groom. The King could not stop his journey to see what was going on, nor attempt to persuade either party out of their venture, nor arrest the individuals concerned for marrying without license. He had other things on his mind. Places to be, people to behead. (Though I’m sure he’d have done that with a most decidedly heavy heart, leaving the dabbing of fingers in puddles of blood to his less restrained because, well, French, queen.) Yet this secret wedding must be recorded! Had it not been for everything else that was going on – battle, treason, cowardice etc etc – he might have been able to do something about it. He might have been able to stop it, to haul the handsome young man and the comely woman to their feet (for I am sure they were kneeling in the snow – too romantic!) and shake some sense into them. The reason he could not (ie his pursuit of the aforesaid despicably victorious earl) meant the incident must be recorded so that if at any time in the future questions were raised, he could, in all honesty, throw his hands in the air and say, “I was in a hurry. There’s nothing I could have done!”
Somewhere between Blore Heath and Ludlow, the King passed a church, chapel, cathedral or alehouse where, to his astonishment, he saw the young Earl of March kneeling in the snow, plighting his most earnest and desperate troth with the recently widowed (or, alternately, bigamous but, either way, comely) Eleanor Butler!
So, finally, we have the evidence required to put the debate to rest once and for all. Edward the Not-Yet-IV and Dame Eleanor Butler were married (where any passing King could see them) somewhere between Staffordshire and the marches of Wales, sometime between 23 September 1459 and xxx days later. One would have to guess the wedding took place closer to Ludlow than Blore Heath, as young Edward was off on his hols to Calais soon after that. Poor Eleanor! A honeymoon in Calais would have been the icing on the cake.
Given the circumstances, one simply must readjust one’s thinking about Edward’s motives and why he failed to acknowledge the marriage, as things rather got away from him after that. Rather than deliberately setting out to dupe the poor, innocent, widowed (or possibly bigamous) noblewoman some years his senior, it simply slipped his mind in all the excitement. By the time he remembered, it was too late! For he was already secretly married again to a poor, innocent, (indisputably) widowed commoner some years his senior and, as they sometimes say in the talkies, in a bit of a bind.
Poor Eleanor was left shivering in the doorway of a church, chapel or alehouse somewhere within, say, a day’s ride of Ludlow, newly married but not yet (alas!) consummated (for a quickie up against a tree seems rather more Elizabeth Wydeville’s style than Eleanor Butler’s) and weeping into her hankie.
Unconsummated? you say. Well, yes, that would be the fly in the ointment, so to speak. For whereas we now have documentary proof the wedding took place, there is nought but a veil of silence when it comes to the honeymoon.
Sadly, the relevant record makes no further mention of the matter. Edward simply vanished out of Eleanor’s life and the young cruelly jilted widow (or bigamist) made her sad way, wedding dress trailing in the snow, to a nearby convent where she shut herself away … forever.
Edward, as we know, went onto bigger and better things, perhaps sparing the odd moment or two to wistfully recall the comely (or bigamous) widow he left behind in that doorway, somewhere near Wales.
*When i spoke with Mrs M about this over a nice cup of tea in the kitchen, she said, “I always knew there was something going on with them two. I could feel it in my waters!” She’s a wise, if simple, soul and always knows where the biscuits are.
JEF Dingle-Bell (Mrs) is delighted to be able to bring to a close the continuing debate about whether or not this marriage took place. She plans to write a book about it some time in the near future. Perhaps she will call it Eleanor, The Bride in the Snow but she remains open to suggestions. In the meantime, she is rather busy finding a new hiding place for the chocolate hobnobs. Mr Dingle-Bell may be rather slow when it comes to locating biscuits, but he’s like a cat when it comes to sneaking up behind her and reading over her shoulder.
Raven, Michael, A Guide to Staffordshire and the Black Country, the Potteries & the Peak
Lapat Rai, Josiah C Wedgewood: The Man and His Work
Rolls of Parliament
Brenda van Niekerk, How to Make a Swiss Roll: Step by Step Instructions and Recipes
Mrs M’s waters
Medieval Bride, Autumn/Winter 1459