It’s generally stated that Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville were secretly married on May 1, 1464. But is this their actual wedding date?
It’s been noted by several authors that as late as April 13, 1464, Elizabeth and William, Lord Hastings, Edward IV’s close friend and chamberlain, entered into an agreement whereby one of William’s as-yet-unborn daughters would marry Elizabeth’s eldest son, Thomas. William and Elizabeth were to share in the profits of Elizabeth’s Grey lands, which she had apparently enlisted William’s help in recovering. Because Elizabeth would have hardly needed to enter into such an agreement if she knew she was shortly to be the wife of Edward IV, it’s generally assumed that at this point, neither Elizabeth nor Hastings knew that a royal marriage for Elizabeth was in the works.
Less well known, however, is the sequel to this agreement: a grant dated August 10, 1464, in which Edward IV gives William Hastings the wardship and marriage of Thomas Grey. As far as I know, only Michael Hicks in his book Edward V notes the existence of this grant, which can be found in the National Archives at DL 37/33, entry no. 28. (I have a transciption of it at hand.) As Hicks points out, if Elizabeth had married Edward IV in May, why would Edward IV subsequently grant her eldest son’s wardship and marriage to Hastings? Indeed, after Edward IV’s marriage was made public, a marriage for Thomas was arranged that was far more lucrative than the planned Hastings match the August grant appears to have been made to further. One could argue that Edward IV made the grant as part of a ruse to hide his marriage from even his closest friend, but it seems rather more likely that he at this point had not yet married Thomas Grey’s mother. Hicks notes another piece of evidence of a later marriage date: on August 30, 1464, Edward IV granted the lordship of Chester, traditionally reserved for the heir to the throne, to his younger brother Clarence. Would Edward had made such a grant had he been already married to a woman who could be hoped to give him an heir?
Neither of these grants prove that a May 1, 1464, wedding didn’t take place, and it could be argued that there had been a wedding on May 1 but that Edward IV as of August had not yet decided to come clean about it. Still, they do serve as a reminder that as with so many things about this period in history, the May 1 date (described by Ricardian writer Annette Carson as “beyond dispute”) is open to question; moreover, as David Baldwin notes in his biography of Elizabeth Woodville, the idea of the May wedding might have been “borrowed from romantic tradition,” or it might have arisen due to confusion with Elizabeth’s May coronation the following year.
Even if the May 1 date is a romantic fiction, it doesn’t make much difference in the grand scheme of things. Still, a wedding date after August 30, 1464, does give rise to two considerations. First, since Edward IV revealed the wedding to his council in September 1464 and presented his new bride to his council on September 29, 1464, a marriage date after August 30 means that the wedding was kept secret for less than a month, which undermines the argument that Edward had dishonorable intentions of never making his marriage public.
Second, those who have accepted the claim of Richard III that the marriage was procured by sorcery on the part of Elizabeth and/or her mother have gleefully pointed out that May 1 was the day after Walpurgisnacht, a Grand Sabbath of the witching year and thus an apt night for Elizabeth, Jacquetta, and their witchy ilk to cast spells upon the hapless Edward IV. One Ricardian, W. E. Hampton, in “Witchcraft and the Sons of York” (The Ricardian, March 1980) posits that Edward IV’s fatigue at Stony Stratford after the wedding, as described by the chronicler Fabian, can be attributed to “the orgiastic nature of the rites to which he may have been introduced” at a wild Walpurgisnacht in the forest of Grafton. While a September wedding could still have been procured by witchcraft, of course, the accusation loses a bit of its punch without Walpurgisnacht to lean upon. If the couple did marry after August 30, they could have at least done Richard the courtesy of waiting until All Hallows’ Eve.