Elizabeth Scales: Heiress, Wife and Lady-in-Waiting

Unfortunately like many women who lived in the medieval period, not much is known about the Lady Elizabeth Scales, other than she was the sole heir to her father’s estates and wife of Anthony Woodville. Most of what we do know of her is glimpsed through how others commented on her, or in connection to her wealth and status as a woman of her own means, with a husband who provided her status as the wife of the much favoured brother of Queen Elizabeth Woodville. Just like many other women of her time, there are no sources that speak with her own voice or showing her as her own person, just how she connected to the political world around her. Whilst it is difficult to reconstruct Elizabeth, I hope this blog post may help to answer at least some questions about who this mysterious, and often forgotten, woman of the late 15th century was.

Elizabeth Scales was the only surviving child of Thomas, Lord Scales and his wife, Emma. The pair had did have a son, but it is believed he died at a young age, meaning Elizabeth grew up as the heir to her father’s estates.[1] According to the post-mortem inquisitions, her birthdate is estimated at around 1436.[2] Whilst it was rare for women to inherit estates, it did happen. Just as in the case of the Earldom of Warwick, titles could pass to women, hoping that their husband could continue the line at a later date.

Image from page 304 of Wright, T., The Homes of other days: a history of domestic manners and sentiments in England from the earliest known period to modern times (1871). Credit: The British Library.

Her first husband, Henry Bourchier, had died in 1458 and the date of her second marriage to Anthony Woodville is unknown, but it is believed by Susan Higginbotham to have been in the run up to the Battle of Towton in 1461.[3] This can be reasonably assumed as William Paston falsely reported Anthony’s death at the battle, where he refers to him as Lord Scales.[4] With this in mind, it is clear that the early parts of their marriage would have been tumultuous, as Thomas Scales was murdered in 1460, as well as facing the bloody battle at Towton.

Elizabeth would have known Anthony even before their marriage as both of their fathers had been friends for many years. Lord Scales was the one who had nominated Richard Woodville, Anthony’s father, to become a Knight of the Garter in 1450.[5] The pair at this time were loyal to the Lancastrian King Henry VI and were known to offer him military support. Not long after the nomination was made, both men fought alongside each other to stamp out Cade’s Rebellion.[6] They were also regularly seen at court in each other’s company.

Following the death of her father, Elizabeth inherited many manors in Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Essex and Suffolk.[7] This does give some indication of motive behind the marriage between Elizabeth and Anthony, but to suggest this alone was a factor simplifies the motives for marrying at that time. As both families were intertwined through ties of friendship, they would have both been known to one another and would probably wish to strengthen this bond. It may even be possible that there was some love, or at least affection between the pair.

The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM)/Wikimedia Commons

Sadly, there are no sources that survive that tell us anything in depth about their relationship or what their feelings were towards one another. The only glimpses we have are comments from their time at court, where they were often noted to be in one another’s company. In November 1464, they were part of King Edward’s party at Reading, where they were playing cards together. At this game, John Howard lent Elizabeth 8s and 4d to play.[8] They also were both part of the entourage that escorted Margaret of York to her wedding to Charles the Bold in Bruges. Anthony was chosen as he had been part of the negotiations for the match and as an experienced married woman and member of the court, his wife, Elizabeth, was deemed a good choice for a companion. No doubt Elizabeth would have offered good advice for what lay ahead. Elizabeth was also chosen for this role as she was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth Woodville, so she was also the Queen’s representative. During the period 1466-1467, we know Elizabeth was paid £40 for the role of lady-in-waiting, the same as the Queen’s sister, Anne.[9] In today’s money, this would equate to nearly £27,500. From this it is clear how valued Elizabeth was within the Queen’s household.

In 1466, Anthony placed a legal case to ensure if his wife died before him, the Scales’ estate would pass to him, rather than to distant relatives.[10] Unfortunately, we don’t know Elizabeth’s feelings on this manoeuvre, meaning that it could have been possible that she agreed with this decision, as before this, the both of them had managed the Scales’ manors and lands together, most notably at Middleton in Norfolk. However, this was outside usual practice and again, there is nothing that suggests Elizabeth’s exact opinion on the matter.

Middleton Towers near King’s Lynn (Author’s Own Image)

Elizabeth died in 1473, when Anthony was away on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. No matter what their relationship was really like, this must have been a massive blow. Anthony had gone on this pilgrimage in honour of his late mother and in doing so, was not there when his wife died. Perhaps this is why the pilgrimage was a profound experience for him, especially as he adapted the pilgrimage shell as his personal symbol from then onwards, as well as it being the reason for his later translation of the Dictes and Sayings of Philosophers.

Anthony did go on to later remarry, but despite more than one match being offered for him, including Mary of Burgundy and Princess Margaret of Scotland, he didn’t do so until around 1480 to Mary FitzLewis, an acquaintance through family connections. In his will Anthony makes more mention to his first wife than his second, which may suggest he had more affection for Elizabeth than Mary. In it he asked that 500 marks be used for prayers in the name of the souls of Elizabeth, her brother Edward, and all the Scales family.[11] The will is perhaps the only source we have where Anthony directly mentions Elizabeth. Lynda Pigeon has described the will as making “no affectionate mention” to Elizabeth, which wrongly suggests the use of a will.[12] A will is a business transaction and as Anthony’s was written whilst incarcerated at Sherriff Hutton, probably knowing his fate was execution, it would have been made hastily and with the knowledge that it may not have been carried out.

As I have already mentioned, there are little sources that describe the personality of Elizabeth, or her relationship with Anthony. I hope this blog post has helped show glimpses of what little is known about this woman who does appear to have been very capable in her roles as heiress, courtier and wife. She did not have children of her own, but she would have known of Anthony’s illegitimate daughter, Margaret, that he had before their marriage. Perhaps that means we can add a mother figure to the list of achievements this remarkable woman had to her name, no matter how little we know about her.


[1] http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/scales/htm

[2] TNA: (142/1/36 Cambridge); (142/1/37 Hertford); (142/1/38 Norfolk) cited in Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family (Stroud: The History Press, 2013), p. 78.

[3] Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 78.

[4] James Gardiner (ed), Paston Letters, no. 90, part 1.

[5] George Smith (ed) Coronation of Elizabeth Wydeville: Queen Consort of Edward IV on May 26th, 1465 cited in Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 78.

[6] I. M. W. Harvey, Jack Cade’s Rebellion of 1450 cited in Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 78.

[7] Pidgeon, L., ‘Antony Wydevile, Lord Scales and Earl Rivers: Family, Friends and Affinity, Part 2.’, The Ricardian, 16 (2006), pp. 16-17.

[8] Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 79.

[9] A. R. Myers, ‘The Household of Queen Margaret of Anjou, 1452-3’, The Bulletin of the Rylands Library, 40 (1957-58) cited in Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 79.

[10] Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 80.

[11] Anthony’s Will, appendix in Higginbotham, S., The Woodvilles, p. 181.

[12] Pidgeon, L., ‘Antony Wydevile, Lord Scales and Earl Rivers: Family, Friends and Affinity, Part 2.’, The Ricardian, 16 (2006), p. 3.

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