Woodville Edward, Sir Bt.
Died: 07/12/1488


Captain Of The Wight by Dorothy Davies
Edward Woodville is not a name many people know in connection with history, especially of the Isle of Wight, but in fact he had many pivotal roles to play in history. He was one of the sons of Jacquetta and Richard Woodville, a family which became associated with Edward IV when the king married the oldest daughter, Elizabeth and so brought the entire Woodville family to London and court life.
Not much is known about Edward’s life at that time, as history tends to concentrate more on his older brother Antony, who is much more famous, having fought a showy expensive tournament in Smithfield with the Bastard of Burgundy, and being responsible for the first book ever published in England. Edward, though, was an adventurer and was travelling Europe and involving himself in disputes. He was in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella at the time of the wars with the Moors. Edward went to fight and managed to get his two front teeth knocked out, but assured Isabella that it in no way affected his good looks ... later he was involved in the negotiations for Katherine of Aragon to be married to Arthur, Prince of Wales, the son of Henry VII.
He went into exile when his brother Antony was executed, and the chaos in court following the death of Edward IV and the revelation that the marriage to his sister Elizabeth was not valid. He returned to England in 1485 with Henry Tudor, whom he met whilst in exile. He fought against Richard III at Bosworth and was rewarded with the Captaincy of the Isle of Wight, not quite the title his brother Antony Woodville  had held but it was enough to give him overall command of the Island. 
In 1488 trouble flared in Brittany and, despite not receiving royal approval or permission, Sir Edward raised an army of 440 men from the Isle of Wight and set off for France in May of that year. In July 1488, at St Aubin, battle was joined between the force commanded by Sir Edward, a group of Bretons who had joined his company and the French. The Bretons apparently abandoned the fight and the French soldiers killed Sir Edward and all his men, apart from one. This poor young man had the task of returning to the Island with the sad tale of the many losses.
Sir Edward Woodville’s ill-fated expedition to France in 1488 must have set the island economy back about a hundred years. The men who went were the young, the fit, the ones who farmed, the ones who provided, the ones who served. The impact of the loss on such a relatively small area is hard to assess. There are no accurate figures for the population at that time but it is known that many towns now existing on the island were then very small villages, so the loss must have been intensely felt in every part of the community. 
There is a stirring saga by island historian and architect Percy Goddard Stone, relating the whole campaign. It is worth reading!
Antony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers, held the Lordship of the Island for sixteen years. It seems appropriate that Henry VII should award the Captaincy of the Island to Edward Woodville as reward for his support. It is known that Edward came regularly to the island and was well received here.
It is a sad fact that the Bretons hold an annual ceremony on the nearest Sunday to the 28th July to commemorate the battle and that there is a plaque in memory of the English dead on the preserved battlefield, but there was no plaque or memorial of any kind on the island. In fact, few islanders knew of the disaster. My book, called “Captain Of The Wight” came as a great surprise to many, apart from a few devoted historians who knew of the story but who had not come across the medieval report to validate it. As one commented, you cannot rely on Victorian historians…
I am able to report that after some discussion and persuasion, English Heritage gave permission for a plaque to be sited in Carisbrooke Castle Museum. The words for the plaque were submitted to the Chief Curator, who approved them and placed them before a meeting of the Trustees. It was agreed, the plaque was commissioned and on the 28th July, the anniversary of the battle, I attended Carisbrooke Castle Museum where the plaque, and the history of the campaign and the dreadful losses which resulted from it, were unveiled. At last the island has a permanent memorial to the men who died, whatever their motives were for going to fight, knowing they might not return, and to Diccon Cheke, who did return and had the unenviable task of telling the island of the loss of so many men. And, of course, to Sir Edward Woodville who, despite everything, was seen as a chivalric knight, the type which has attracted many myths, legends and sagas. 



It is fitting that this brave soldier died on the battlefield, for he had fought at Barnet, in the Border campaigns and in Granada. He was not a knight who would have died in his bed.

The Saga

Local Sources:

American Antiquarian Society Journal, 1903
Irving, Washington, The Conquest of Granada. Everyman Library. (undated).
Isle of Wight Journal (1930s) now defunct.
James, Rev. E Boucher, The Isle of Wight, Letters Archaeological and Historical. (Henry Frowde, 1896)
Kendall, Paul Murray, Richard III, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1955
Frank Cowper, The Captain Of The Wight (Seely & Co. 1889) (fiction)

 Copies of the Book can be purchased from Olympia for £5.00 + £1.50 P&P Call 01983 291600