Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers

Born: c. 1440

Died: June 25, 1483

Pontefract, West Yorkshire, England (Age c. 43)

Earl Rivers in History

The Woodville family can be described as an ambitious one to say the least. They worked their way up from the lower depths of the nobility all the way to England's throne. It all started when Anthony Woodville's father, Richard, married Jacquetta, a member of the wealthy and illustrious house of Luxembourg and the widow of John, Duke of Bedford, a younger brother of King Henry V. When Anthony came of age, he married Elizabeth, heiress to Thomas, Lord Scales, whose title he was ultimately able to inherit. During the Wars of the Roses between the royal house of Lancaster and York, which began in the mid-1450s and continued until the end of the century, the Woodvilles initially sided themselves with the Lancastrians (those loyal to King Henry VI). Both Anthony and Richard were on the losing side at the Battle of Towton in 1461, which saw the Lancastrians brutally defeated by the Yorkists. The Lancastrians were forced to flee England, and Edward, Earl of March, was free to have himself crowned as King Edward IV.

Despite their Lancastrian allegiance, the Woodvilles submitted themselves to the new king and were forgiven. At this point, the Woodvilles were simply happy to have not been prosecuted by the new regime for the loyalty to the previous one. They had no idea that one of their own would soon be sitting on England's throne. In 1464, Edward IV was secretly married to Anthony's sister Elizabeth Grey (whose husband had been killed fighting for the Lancastrians). The details or reasons of the marriage are not entirely clear (some historians will claim the king married Elizabeth merely because she would not become his mistress, a theory supported by Edward's countless affairs throughout the marriage), but the Woodvilles were now in for a serious advancement within the kingdom. Both Anthony and Richard Woodville were awarded with a number of important titles and positions, while the new queen's siblings and her sons from her previous marriages were all married off to wealthy members of the nobility.

However, the marriage to a woman of relatively low social status and the advancement of all her relatives alienated both the king's brother George, Duke of Clarence, as well as the Earl of Warwick, Edward IV's principal and most powerful supporter. Warwick, who had already arranged a betrothal for the king, was angry that his influence was waning while that of the Woodvilles was on the rise and ultimately decided to rebel against the king. With Clarence by his side, Warwick defeated the king's forces at Edgecote, where both Richard Woodville and his younger son were killed. The king was captured briefly and was eventually forced to flee England when Warwick joined forces with Queen Margaret (wife of Henry VI) and the French King Louis XI. Henry VI was placed back on the throne, and the Yorkists took exile in Burgundy. Anthony, who was now Earl Rivers, stayed loyal to his brother-in-law and participated in the Battles of Barnet and and Tewksbury in 1471. These battles occurred after Edward IV had returned to England, and they resulted in the deaths of Warwick, Henry VI (who was executed soon after) and his son Prince Edward, officially wiping out the house of Lancaster and securing the Yorkist claim to the throne (for the time being at least).

Throughout the second, and more peaceful, reign of Edward IV, the Woodvilles continued to gain power and influence in England. Rivers became a mentor and a councilman to his nephew Edward, the king's eldest son and heir. In addition, Rivers, who was an extremely religious man, went on a number of crusades and was frequently used as an envoy to various regions by the king. Things remained relatively quiet within England (with the exception of the execution of the king's brother Clarence in 1478, an event that the Woodvilles are said to have played a major part in) until the death of Edward IV in 1483; he was succeeded by his thirteen-year-old son as Edward V. After hearing of Edward IV's death, Earl Rivers marched from Wales towards London with the new king so that he may be crowned. Along the way, the party was intercepted by Edward IV's youngest brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who, in turn, invited them to stay at one of his castles. Although Gloucester and the Woodvilles do not seem to have shared the best relations in the past (Gloucester no doubt blamed them for his brother's execution), it appears that Rivers trusted the duke at the time and did not expect what was to come next.

Gloucester unexpectedly arrested both Rivers and Richard Grey (one of the queen's sons from her first marriage) and took possession of the young king. The king was placed in the tower (supposedly only temporarily until his coronation), and the duke pressed for the executions of Rivers and Grey, claiming that they were guilty of plotting against him. At this point, it became clear that Gloucester was intending to seize the throne and was eliminating anyone who might stand in his way. With the king and his younger brother now his prisoners in the tower (after he had bastardized them) he was free to have himself crowned King Richard III. Three days after he had been declared king, both Rivers and Grey were executed at Pontefract Castle, and all other Woodvilles fled the kingdom. Most contemporaries and historians alike view Anthony, Earl Rivers, in a favorable light. They claim he was an intelligent and devout man who wanted the best for his country but was ultimately brought down by a tyrant. When assessing Rivers' character, it is difficult to disagree with these opinions.

Earl Rivers in Shakespeare

Appears in: Henry VI, Part 3; Richard III

Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, appears in one scene of 3 Henry VI where he is seen comforting his sister, Queen Elizabeth, after King Edward is captured by the Earl of Warwick. He plays a slightly bigger part in Richard III as a member of the court of Edward IV. As Gloucester prepares his coup after the death of the king, Rivers, along with his nephew, Lord Grey, and Sir Thomas Vaughan, are arrested and imprisoned. All three men are subsequently executed at Pontefract Castle under orders from the duke.


Hicks, Michael. ‘Woodville , Anthony, second Earl Rivers (c.1440–1483)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 2 Feb 2010]

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