Anthony Woodville’s Burgundian Connections

Guest post by Danielle Burton @princessburton [Twitter]

With Edward IV’s decision to marry Elizabeth Woodville, he had undone a possible treaty with France, and so needed new allies to consolidate his claim to the English throne, which he had taken from Henry VI in 1461. Who better to choose than France’s neighbour, Burgundy, a separate Dukedom which covered parts of what is now modern-day Northern France and Belgium. Edward chose his father-in-law, Richard, and brother-in-law Anthony, to be heads of a negotiating party sent to Burgundy in 1466 to negotiate a marriage between Charles the Bold, the heir of Burgundy, and Edward’s youngest sister, Margaret of York.[1] Anthony was chosen not just because of new familial ties to Edward, but also because of continental connections to Burgundy through his mother, Jacquetta, and their previous status as ambassadors.[2] His ability to speak different languages would also have helped negotiations for the match, as he could speak French, the language spoken at the Burgundian court.

The work that Anthony and his father did during their diplomatic mission there succeeded as the marriage between Charles and Margaret went ahead in 1468. Anthony was chosen to head of Margaret’s wedding party, with his wife, Elizabeth Scales, as one of Margaret’s ladies, during the wedding celebrations.[3] He also took part in tournaments held in both England and Burgundy, to celebrate the new relationship between the two countries, showing the best of his chivalric and diplomatic abilities. With these roles, it is easy to see that Edward believed Anthony was entirely capable of dealing with important diplomatic missions, especially as he was later sent as a representative of the English court to both Burgundy and France in military, political and diplomatic capacities.[4]

Christine de Pizan presents her book to Margaret of Burgundy. An illustration from The Treasure of the City of Ladies. Paris BN fr. 1177, folio 114 c. 1475 (Wikimedia Commons)

The ties created by the marriage of Charles and Margaret ensured a safe haven for Edward IV and his inner circle when they were plunged into exile following the restoration of Henry VI in 1471. Whilst staying in Bruges during this time, Anthony stayed with Louis, Lord of Gruuthuyse, who had the largest library in all of Burgundy, and possibly Europe.[5] As a known lover of books, Anthony must have perused this library and shared ideas with Louis about his collection. A copy of collected works by French female poet, Christine de Pizan, passed onto Anthony from his mother, shows that Louis and Anthony must have had some sort of friendship, as it has both of their signatures inside the front cover.[6]

The library of the Lord of Gruuthuyse wasn’t the only book themed connection Anthony made whilst out in Burgundy. Whether during the marriage celebrations or the English exile in Bruges, Anthony would have met William Caxton, the famous early printer, who had moved his printing press to Bruges from Cologne when Margaret of Burgundy became his patron.[7] Before moving into the printing business, Caxton had been an English merchant in Bruges, and was head of the community during the time of Margaret’s marriage to Charles, meaning he was quite possibly part of the marriage procession into Bruges, of which Anthony was also a part.[8] Whatever the circumstances of their meeting, Caxton would become connected with the English nobility and decided to set up a printing shop in Westminster, so perhaps it is possible that Anthony, the known bibliophile, and Edward IV, who was interested in increasing his library after exile, were behind Caxton’s decision to move to England.

William Caxton showing the first page from his printing press to King Edward IV, Cassell’s Illustrated History of England (1909), British Library

Anthony’s patronage of Caxton’s work and role as a translator for him allowed chivalric genres to thrive in England. These books were meant to appeal to nobles in a world where a nobleman’s education relied upon both military and cultural pursuits to create a well-rounded aristocrat.[9] Very much like Anthony himself, who was interested in books, knowledge, and tournaments. It also helped that Anthony oversaw the education of Edward, Prince of Wales, so he knew best how to educate young nobles to the required standards. In exchange for this knowledge, books would be printed and dedicated to the cause of teaching the young prince.[10] This reciprocation is evident in William Caxton’s prologue to L’Historie de Jason (1477), which was dedicated to the young prince, so that “he may begyne to lerne to rede”.[11]

Through Anthony’s diplomatic connections with Burgundy, a fruitful relationship between the two states was established. Whilst this had its ups and downs, just as any relationship does, it did ensure military and cultural connections that lasted throughout Edward IV’s reign. It would also continue well beyond, especially with Margaret of Burgundy’s pledge to help Yorkist claimants/pretenders (you decide which) against Henry VII in the 1480s and 1490s. The people he met there and was influenced by helped create a working relationship with William Caxton that would bring print culture to England. Anthony’s opportunities to travel to Burgundy were largely due to his position as brother-in-law to the King. With this ability to see and understand the culture of other countries, he was able, alongside Caxton, to successfully replicate what had been seen in Burgundy with an English style.[12]

I want to thank DAnielle for yet another amazing guest post. You can catch her tomorrow discussing the life of Anthony Woodville and his connections to Richard III in a talk with Michele Schindle through the Be bold network. Tickets are available through Eventbrite –

[1] C. Weightman, Margaret of York, 1446-1503 cited in Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family (Stroud: The History Press, 2013), p. 53.

[2] Kettle, A., ‘Parvenus in Politics: The Woodvilles, Edward IV and the Baronage 1464-1469’, The Ricardian, 15 (2005), p. 16.

[3] Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 56.

[4] Dunleavy, B., The Woodville Chronicle (Southampton: Magic Flute Publications, 2017), pp. 141-142.

[5] Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 53.

[6] British Library, Christine de Pizan, Collected works (‘The Book of the Queen’),

[7] Dunleavy, B., The Woodville Chronicle, p. 139.

[8] Dunleavy, B., The Woodville Chronicle, p. 139.

[9] Dunleavy, B., The Woodville Chronicle, p. 134.

[10] Hellinga, L., William Caxton and Early Printing in England (London: British Library, 2010), p. 61; Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 82-83.

[11] Cited in Hellinga, L., William Caxton and Early Printing in England, p. 66.

[12] Hellinga, L., William Caxton and Early Printing in England, pp. 2 and 61.

2 thoughts on “Anthony Woodville’s Burgundian Connections

  1. Very well written Post. So interesting to read and learned a lot of new things. There are so many connections throughout Europe.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s