Lady Eleanor Talbot

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Lady Eleanor Talbot (died 30 June 1468) was a daughter of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. Her alleged pre-contract of marriage with King Edward IV of England was of great significance to the final fate of the Plantagenet dynasty and outcome of the Wars of the Roses.[1]

In about 1450, Eleanor married Sir Thomas Butler, son of Ralph Butler, Lord Sudeley. When Thomas died some time before March 1461, Eleanor's father-in-law took back one of the two manors he had settled on her and her husband when they married. Lord Sudeley did not have a licence for the transfer of title. Edward IV, who became king at around this time, seized both properties.

Edward already had a reputation for womanizing. When Lady Eleanor went to ask him for the return of her property, it was said that Edward tried to persuade her to sleep with him, and when she refused, that he promised to marry her.

On 1 May 1464 Edward secretly married the widowed Lady Elizabeth Woodville at her family home in Northamptonshire. It was later suggested that one reason this marriage was performed without publishing the banns of marriage was the danger that Lady Eleanor would come forward with her claim of an earlier pre-contract of marriage with the king. Such a pre-contract with Eleanor would have meant that the king's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was bigamous and therefore invalid, and that any children born to Edward and Elizabeth would be considered bastards. It is possible Edward kept his marriage secret because he feared the fury and criticism of his advisers, such as his cousin Richard Neville, the rich and extremely powerful Earl of Warwick. Edward's marriage to Elizabeth was not revealed until September 1464, when Warwick pressed the issue of a proposed marriage he had been negotiating between Edward and the French king's sister-in-law.

Several weeks after Edward IV's death on 9 April 1483, a priest came forward and testified to having carried out the ceremony between Edward and Lady Eleanor. He offered this evidence to Edward's brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who had been named Protector during the minority of Edward V. Richard persuaded Parliament to pass an act, Titulus Regius, which debarred Edward V from the throne and proclaimed the Duke of Gloucester as King Richard III. According to the French political analyst, Philippe de Commines —the only person who identifies him— this priest was Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells. Stillington had risen high in Edward IV's favour, but had been briefly imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1478 at the same time as George, Duke of Clarence. Clarence had rebelled against his brother Edward IV and been "privately" executed for treason; there has been speculation that Clarence may have learned about Edward's pre-contract from Stillington while in the Tower.

Richard III was defeated and slain during the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August 1485. The victor at Bosworth, Henry Tudor, came to the throne as Henry VII. He ordered all copies of the Titulus Regius be destroyed.

Tudor historians named Elizabeth Lucy (also known as Elizabeth Wayte) as the woman Stillington testified he had married to Edward. Elizabeth Lucy was probably the mother of Edward IV's bastard son, Arthur Plantagenet, 1st Viscount Lisle. This threw further doubt on the case.

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