With both Game of Thrones’ Walder Frey and his possible real-life counterpart Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, it always seems to come back around to marriages. Marriages define the men, could enrich them, and did lead them to betray the leader to whom they had sworn fealty and switch sides.
Most of Frey’s energy is concentrated around marriages for his children and himself. When he chooses to betray Robb, he does so at a wedding. George RR Martin appears to deliberately drive home the association between Frey and weddings—perhaps, he does so with Warwick on his mind. When you look at Warwick from an extremely high-level perspective, marriage issues often fatefully changed his course of action.
There is certainly overlap between Warwick and Walder Frey’s stories. Both men had a restless ambition that propelled them to betray their lords. Both Walder Frey and Warwick had children they wanted to wed at any cost. Ultimately, both men became furious by broken promises, humiliations, and marriage agreements. This post, which continues from the first in this series, focuses on the first in a chain of marriage issues that culminated in Warwick betraying Edward IV and switching sides.
A Valuable Hand for Warwick to Play
When Robb Stark became King of the North, his hand in marriage became a valuable commodity. For example, after Edmure dismisses Catelyn’s concerns that Lord Frey will take their delay arriving at the wedding as a slight, Catelyn notes “He’s getting a wedding. It was a king he wanted” (S3, E7, ~5:00)).
Warwick was also keenly aware that the young King Edward’s marriage was a priceless diplomatic negotiating chip. Warwick shrewdly surmised he could profit by exploiting England’s troubled international relations.
English relations with France had never been good, but they were particularly precarious after Edward overthrew the “mad king” Henry VI and his suspiciously French bride, Margaret of Anjou. The Hundred Years’ War had only ended eleven years earlier. After 116 years of war with France, the average Englishman took a dim view of France.
Shortly after Edward took the throne, France got a new king. Louis XI was a subtle, calculating, dangerously clever adversary with a swarm of spies. Louis would cause the House of York many problems. However, at this point, nobody was aware just how well this scheming king could spin his web.
How Louis Seduced Warwick into Allying with Him
Eager to prevent England from allying with powerful adversaries like Burgundy and Aragon, in early 1464, the devious French spider king waged a successful “charm-offensive.” Louis won Warwick over to his side by what was essentially a medieval letter-writing campaign. Louis sent Warwick many subtly flattering messages that divided Warwick from Edward and bonded Warwick to Louis.
|Both Louis XI and Varys were nicknamed “the Spider.”|
|Image of Varys via Wikia, © HBO.|
Louis played to Warwick’s ego by addressing him like a friend and a peer—not a subject. He wrote of Louis and Warwick as having common goals and problems. Eventually Louis’ letters softened up the anti-French Warwick; Louis convinced the earl that the only hope for English peace and stability was a French alliance cemented by marriage.
However, the prospect of peace alone probably wouldn’t have been enough to sway Warwick. Medieval nobles were essentially warlords, after all, and Warwick personally had profited from war. Louis likely got Warwick’s support by appealing to something far more powerful: Warwick’s ego.
In the 1450s, when Warwick was still a young man, he was a lauded naval and military commander. He became the toast of England after he reinvigorated the Calais Garrison and had some dazzling military victories. (Warwick successfully fended off an invading Spanish fleet of twenty-eight ships even though he only had five ships.)
Now, seven years later, his fame faded. Warwick missed his glory days and had, perhaps, become insecure about his legacy—something Tywin Lannister would understand only too well. Warwick deduced brokering a French marriage could lead to Louis not only giving him a hefty reward but also, possibly, an increased role on the European stage. Now tempted by these tantalizing prospects, Warwick charted a dangerous course.
Warwick met Louis’ diplomatic envoy in London and quietly began arranging a marriage pact between Edward IV and the King of France’s sister-in-law. With this act, according to historian Paul Murray Kendall, Warwick began tending to his own ambitions rather than acting as the king’s agent.
For the first time, began to keep secrets from Edward. Warwick did not tell Edward he was working with the French. He hoped to play Edward, to sway him gradually towards the match. Warwick realized marriage to England’s traditional enemy was unpalatable.
Edward Chooses an Unsuitable Bride and Humiliates Warwick
By October 1464, Warwick believed he had convinced Edward to take a French bride. Just before Warwick was to go to France to finalize the treaty, he attended the king’s council in Reading. It was here a secret marriage – with consequences just as disastrous as that of Robb Stark – was revealed.
When the council pressed Edward to tell them whom he wanted to marry, the king smiled and replied his choice might not please everyone.
Assuming he was joking, Edward’s councilors pushed him for a name.
Edward told them he wanted to marry Elizabeth Woodville.
According to Kendall, the council sat stunned and silent. Finally, the Archbishop of Canterbury meekly ventured that although Elizabeth was beautiful and virtuous, she was too humble to be a queen.
Edward then dropped the bombshell: he was already married to Elizabeth Woodville.
Somewhat similar to the way in which Walder Frey was outraged, at least in the books, that Robb married somebody he perceived as being from a house inferior to House Frey, Warwick was furious he would have to tell Louis Edward chose a widowed commoner over the king’s sister-in-law.
Of all the “common” families Edward could have chosen, the Woodvilles may have been the worst possible choice. Elizabeth’s father, Richard Woodville, was born a commoner—even though he was a baron by this time. However, it seems unlikely this was the real issue. Warwick had a history with Richard Woodville.
Well before Edward ever met Elizabeth, Warwick and Richard Woodville clashed when Richard refused to his post as the captain of the Calais garrison until parliament give the soldiers their long-awaited pay. As a result, it was nine months until Warwick could assume control of the garrison much to his impatience and fury. When Warwick arrived, he had to win over troops who, due to Woodville’s tough stance, now likely saw Warwick as the man against the man who was trying to help them get paid.
After Warwick left Calais, the Henry VI asked Woodville to chair a tribunal at Woodville’s castle (Rochester) to determine if Warwick was guilty of piracy. Appointing Woodville to the tribunal outraged Warwick, who deemed Woodville far too lowly to judge him. Consequently, by the time Edward married Elizabeth, Warwick had already nursing a grudge against Woodville for years. After the marriage, increased contact with Woodville and his family no doubt just fueled Warwick’s hatred.
Ultimately, like in the Robb Stark/Lord Frey storyline, Edward’s poor choice of bride led to his downfall. Like the insult Lord Frey felt when Robb spurned his daughters led him to betray Robb, the sting of Edward choosing a Woodville bride led Warwick to change sides, betray Edward, and rebel against him in 1469. The proud earl did not forget the humiliation he suffered because of Edward’s marriage.
To be continued…
Season 1, Episode 9: “Baelor”; Season 3, Episode 7 “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”; Season 3, Episode 9: “Rains of Castamere”
By Jamie Adair