Hidden as a Scullion Maid

Episode 3, Season 2 “What is Dead May Never Die” at 19:41

“Every man who has ever tasted my cooking tells me what a good whore I am.” – Shae

Shae from Game of Thrones


In the Game of Thrones, when Tyrion wants to hide Shae, his <ahem> courtesan, to protect her from Cersei, Shae refuses, stating flatly, “I am not a kitchen wench.” Tyrion rethinks and arranges for her to become Sansa’s handmaiden instead. However, in the past, lords have hidden women far higher born than Shae in the kitchen.

During the feud between Clarence and Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III), Richard wanted to marry Anne Neville, Clarence’s sister-in-law and one of the extremely wealthy and now deceased Earl of Warwick’s heirs.

Edward IV’s brother Clarence once disguised his sister-in-law as scullion maid and hid her in one of his retainers’ kitchens. The reason was a feud between two brothers that was just as dark as a vindictive queen who wanted revenge.

Edward IV’s two brothers, Clarence and the future Richard III, may have been very different people. Clarence was handsome, witty, spoiled, restless, power hungry, and entitled. As Edward’s heir presumptive for the first six years of his reign, Clarence lived lavishly at a level befitting his status as heir in his own luxurious, even excessive household. Edward lavished titles and estates upon him. Richard likely resented that Edward clearly favored Clarence. Edward would snatch lucrative offices away from Richard and give them to Clarence to appease his jealousy.


This simplified York family tree shows Edward IV and his two brothers.

This favoritism created a simmering tension between the two brothers. It didn’t help matters that they barely knew each other. Although only three years apart, they lived in different households and, likely, rarely saw each other for seven years as teenagers.

Matters came to a head after Edward, who needed Clarence’s armies to regain his throne, allowed Clarence to inherit Warwick’s entire estate. (Clarence’s wife and sister-in-law were both heirs to Warwick’s enormous estates.) When Edward’s forces executed the defeated Warwick for treason, Edward could legally claim Warwick’s estates.

However, Richard, still single, but a powerful duke with a large army he’d proven he could skillfully lead, decided he wanted to marry Anne Neville and claim the other half of Warwick’s estates. This infuriated Clarence, who received the Warwick inheritance for services rendered.

Anne Neville, Warwick’s fifteen-year-old daughter, was the recent widow of Henry VI’s heir. Given her age, she may have lived with her sister and her husband Clarence, the man whose betrayal had led to her father and husband’s death – possibly a tense situation.

Richard was determined to marry Anne. According to the chronicler Crowland, to conceal Anne from Richard, Clarence hid her at a retainer’s house in London, in the kitchen, disguised as a maid. If the story is true, it may mean that he disguised Anne as a boy since it was primarily men who served great households and generally all men in the kitchen. Richard eventually found her there, abducted her, and married her.

However, Richard and Anne’s marriage was tangled with legal impediments. Since Clarence and Isabel were married, it increased the number of degrees of affinity and made it harder for Richard and Anne to get a dispensation from the pope to marry.


Warwick had two daughters. The eldest, Isabel, was married to Clarence before Richard married Anne.

While Richard fought for the side responsible for her father and husband’s death, Anne likely welcomed the marriage since he was one of the few nobles with enough men to stand up to Clarence and protect Anne’s estates. Although I have not read The Sunne in Splendour, I suspect that some fiction writers may romanticize Anne and Richard’s marriage. From a legal perspective, marriage abductions were treated as the same as rape. However, in practice, marriage abductions were sometimes used as a way for aristocratic women to arrange a marriage with somebody whom their parents did not approve.

Tension between two brothers may not seem serious, but both men had large armies of followers (their retinue) and they could use these armies to declare war. Clarence and Richard’s conflict put England careening back towards civil war. Several times between 1471-1475 the chroniclers recorded Richard as saying he was preparing for war with Clarence. However, they do not say if Richard or Clarence was the instigator.

The conflict between the two brothers wasn’t due to simple greed. Both brothers were cash poor relative to the size of their estates and the retinue required of a duke, so they were both likely under constant financial pressure to live at the level required of a duke. Historian Michael Hicks implies that Clarence was legally “in the right” in the dispute and was likely justified for his stance. However, Clarence may have been a difficult brother. As well as his serious feud with Richard, Clarence had a strained relationship with Edward IV. In 1478 the conflict between Clarence and Edward escalated to such an extent that Edward had him executed in a Henry VIII-style judicial homicide.

While the feuds between Clarence and his brothers were serious, the episode with the scullion maid is amusing. However, in regards to George RR Martin’s reference to hiding a woman as a kitchen worker, I can’t help but wonder if this is an allusion to the legend of how Anne and Richard’s romantic relationship began or perhaps a dismissal of the legend as nonsense.

Learn More, Explore More

False, Fleeting, Perjur’d Clarence: George, Duke of Clarence 1449-78 by M.A. Hicks
Anne Neville: Queen to Richard III by Michael Hicks
Edward IV by Charles Ross

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman


Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."

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