Anthony Woodville and the Smithfield Tournament

The Smithfield tournament is one of only a handful of instances of there being a slight to Anthony Woodville’s honour. For Anthony, this slight was taken very personally because he had been accused of cheating by his opponent. For a knight such as Woodville, this public accusation would have been a rather personal insult.

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Tournament (19th Century), Private Collection / © Look and Learn / Bridgeman Images

The tournament was arranged to start an alliance between England and Burgundy to gain a powerful ally to help consolidate the Yorkist Edward IV’s reign.[1] The tournament was initially arranged by Elizabeth Woodville and her ladies in 1465. In a scene similar to something from Arthurian legend, Anthony was given, by the ladies in waiting, a letter ordering him to honour his queenly sister by partaking in a tournament against Anthonie, the Bastard of Burgundy, also known as Count de la Roche, as well as a gold collar being placed around Woodville’s thigh.[2] However, the Bastard of Burgundy, as an illegitimate brother to Charles, Duke of Burgundy, was too busy fighting in the wars against the French. This meant he was unavailable until 1467.[3]

Upon the Bastard’s decision to finally take up the challenge, he arrived in England with a large retinue made up of 400 knights, lords, squires and others.[4] After three days of rest for the Burgundian visitor, he and his large retinue, with large amounts of pomp and ceremony, visited Edward IV and accompanied him to open parliament.[5] This amount of pageantry was to set the tone for the whole tournament as Anthony Woodville, whilst a devout and pious man, knew how to live it large when it came to tournament spectacle. Even whilst staying at the Bishop of Ely’s palace in Holborn in the lead up to the tournament, Woodville’s household were known to be full of prayer and godly worship while wearing sumptuous silks and cloths of gold outfits.[6] The pageantry didn’t stop there. It had been agreed in the rules laid out for the tournament that the knights would be allowed to have spare horses. Anthony had 9 horses in total. Each horse was extravagantly dressed in various fabrics ranging from cloths of gold, velvets and damasks, all richly decorated with gold or furs.[7]

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The Tournament (19th Century), Private Collection /© Look and Learn / Bridgeman Images

However, large the spectacle, it did not take away from the seriousness of the fight that was to follow. On the first try the lances didn’t hit so they were replaced with swords.[8] It was at this moment that things seemed to go wrong. The Bastard’s horse was spooked for some reason and reared, trapping its rider to the ground.[9] He instantly accused Woodville of cheating, but this was probably due to his fear of cheating, as he a previous German squire opponent had hidden daggers in his horse armour.[10] To prove he hadn’t cheated Woodville rode over to Edward IV, showing he had no concealed weapons.[11] Due to the accusations Edward deemed it necessary to dismiss the knights until the following day.[12]

The second day’s action was to be fought on foot with axes, which were a popular choice of weapon for foot combat during tournaments.[13] Both men fought hard and during the fight, Woodville’s axe sliced the Bastard of Burgundy’s visor.[14] The men still continued to fight and it was only with the intervention of King Edward’s men that stopped the two men from seriously hurting one another.[15]

Despite the controversy of whether or not cheating did happen during the tournament, it still managed to achieve its overall goal of improving Edward IV’s popularity and help secure a lasting alliance with Burgundy.[16] This was also helped by Edward IV’s younger sister Margaret marrying Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, of which Anthony was also vital in an ambassador role to help negotiate the marriage terms.[17] From Anthony’s involvement in increasing relations with Burgundy, it shows just how vital he was in international matters as well domestic ones in England.

[1] Kettle, A., ‘Parvenus in Politics: The Woodvilles, Edward IV and the Baronage 1464-1469’, The Ricardian, 15 (2005), p. 17.

[2] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance: A Moment in the Twilight of Chivalry’, The Sewanee Review, 20.3 (1912), p. 368.

[3] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 371.

[4] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 371.

[5] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 372.

[6] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 372.

[7] Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry (London: Longmans, 1968), pp. 37-38.

[8] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 372; Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry, p. 342.

[9] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 372; Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry, p. 342.

[10] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 372.

[11] Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry, p. 342.

[12] Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry, p. 342.

[13] Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry, pp. 21 and 343;

[14] Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry, p. 343; MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, p. 374.

[15] Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry, p. 343.

[16] MacCracken, H. N., ‘The Flower of Souvenance’, pp. 370-371; Kettle, A., ‘Parvenus in Politics’, p. 17.

[17] Kettle, A., ‘Parvenus in Politics’, p. 16.

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