Being of somewhat a silly old romantic I was pleasantly surprised to read in the blurb of Kingsford’s Stonor Letter and Papers 1290-1483 that there were love letters to be found among them. And what could possibly be nicer than a medieval love letter? And there they were, letters from the three wives of Sir William Stoner c.1449-1494. I wonder if having kept these letters indicated that Sir William was of a romantic bent himself although to be fair all Stonor correspondence was kept so that would be pushing it a bit.
Sir William has an interesting history and was the recipient of some well known letters written by Simon Stallworth during the period just after Edward IV’s death and Richard III taking the throne describing the turmoil that was going on in London (1). Sir William did eventually choose to go over to the ‘dark side’ joining the Buckingham rebellion (why Sir William, why, why WHY?) but more of that later as I want to focus here on his wives letter to him. I should mention he couldn’t have been all bad as he managed to annoy Queen Elizabeth Wydeville who wrote a stiff letter of reprimand to him.
Sir William married three times, and although all three marriages would have been typical of the times, made to improve status and finances, these letters show that these marriages could often lead, happily, to love for the participants.
ELIZABETH RYCHE nee Croke d.1479
Elizabeth was Sir William’s first wife marrying him in the summer of 1475. A rich widow, her husband Thomas Ryche was the son of Richard Ryche, a wealthy London mercer, her father John Croke was a London alderman. Elizabeth had three daughters from her first marriage but no children with Sir William.
The 12 September 1476 found a worried Elizabeth writing to her husband ‘gentyll Cosyn …I understonde that my brother and yowris is sore seke of the poxes. wherfore I am right hevy and sory of your beyng there, ffor the eyre of the poxe is fful contageous and namely to them than ben nye of blode. Wherfore I woulde praye you, gentyll Cosyn, that you wolde come hedyr, yif hit wolde plese you so to doo &c. And yif that hit lyke you not so to doo, lettith me have hedyr some horsis I pray you that I may come to you..ffor in good faith I can fynde hit in my herte to put my self in jupardy there as ye be, and shall do whilst my lyffe endurith.. For in good faith I thought never so long sith I saw you… By your ovne Elysabeth Stonore.
Frustratingly the outcome of this situation has been lost to us. Did William go to Elizabeth or did he send for his ‘ovne Elysabeth’ to be with him?
Nearly all of Elizabeth’s letters touch upon her longing to see her husband such as one dated 22 October 1476, where she also mentions a ring he had sent her..
‘Sir, I pray you send me no more ryngis with stonys; ffore the ryng that you sent me be Hery Blackhall; the stone is ffallyn owght be the way and loste; wherffore I ame sory. Good sire, let it not be long or I may se you; for truely me thynke right long syth I se you…’
At the end of the letter Elizabeth adds “My owne Cosyn, I sene you a bladyr with powdyr to drynke when ye go to bede, ffor hit is holsome ffor you… Be your ovne to my powre Elysabeth Stonor.’
Finally a puzzling comment from Elizabeth to her husband in a letter dated 7 November 1476, added at the end of the letter and in her own hand, which I have yet to work out the meaning of…‘My owne good husbond I se well ye remembre the puttying at (……….) out of the bed when you and I lay last togedyr. By your owne powre Elysabeth Stonor…
ANNYS/AGNES WYDESLADE nee WYNNARD d.1481
Agnes second wife to Sir William, widow of John Wydeslade, the son of a Devonshire squire and a great heiress in her own right. Her letter to Sir William, written sometime after the death of Elizabeth at the end of 1479, and prior to their marriage in about May 1480. Agnes was obviously already ill before their marriage and sadly died 4th May 1481. Marriage childless.
Regarding her illness Agnes explained ‘…The ffesisicion wolle do his cunnyng uppon me, but undertake me he wol not, never did noon in his liff. Cumfort in hym I fynde, and in my mydne y thinke he wolle do me gode…..’ She goes on to say that she hopes that the ‘tyme of yhoure comyng, which y trust wolle not be longe. Me thinkith a M. (month?) yere gon that y hurd any tidinges fro you’ . She hopes that William has not thought her ‘own-kynde’ that she has not written to him since he was last at Wydeslade for ‘myn excuse is y have be in helle, where y had litel cumfort, but as sone as y cam to Exeter then y yn heven, and be cause that y am now in joy y do send you this letter….’ Agnes ends the letter ffrom your tru lover Annys Wydeslade.
ANNE NEVILLE d.1486
Unlike William’s first two wives, rich widows, Anne was younger than William. Oldest daughter of that great Neville lord, John Marquis of Montague who died alongside his brother, Richard Neville known as The Kingmaker at the Battle of Barnet 1471. After the death of her brother George in 1483, Anne became a great heiress. The only wife to give him children, a son John born August 1482 and a daughter, Anne. It may have been this marriage that led to the connection that Sir William had with Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset, one of the voracious, parvenu Wydevilles, being son to Queen Elizabeth Wydeville/Woodville. This was despite the fact that Anne had at one time been the ward of Richard duke of Gloucester later Richard III, whose coronation Sir William attended. No doubt Dorset had some part to play in the decision of William to rebel against Richard – ‘his eventual attitude was probably determined by association with Dorset‘ – an act which led to his attainment in 1483 leading to the temporary loss of his lands (2) Ironically the last letter in the papers is from Sir Francis Lovell, written on the 11th October 1483 who endeavoured to ‘secure’ William’s support for Richard (3). Sir William ignored the summons and foolishly joined the Buckingham rebellion. However Ive gone off on a tangent here and so back to the letters…
The following extract is from a letter written approximately in 1482 shortly after their marriage when Anne was staying with Cicely Bonville wife to Marquis of Dorset at Taunton Castle.
‘Syr, I recomaund me unto you in my most hertly wise, right joyfull to here of yowre helthe: liketh you to knowe, at the writyng of this bill I was in good helthe, thynkyng long sith I saw you, and if I had knowen that I shold hav ben this long tyme from you I wold have be moche lother then I was to have comyn in this ferre Countrey. But I trust it shall not be long or I shall see you here, and else I wold be sorye on good feth….. And I beseche oure blessed lord preserve you’ Your new wyf Anne Stonor
Anne saw her husband attainted in 1483 but lived long enough to see him restored to his estates in 1485.
Stonor Park. Chapel to the right. Although very much added to and altered since the 15th century Sir William Stonor would still be able to recognise certain parts of the interior dating from the 13th century.
Sir William was buried in the old Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey. Only a decade later his grave was lost when the old chapel was demolished and Henry Tudor’s lavish Chapel built in it place. Could his remains have been returned to his family at Stonor for reburial much as the remains of Anne Mowbray (another one turfed from their grave at Westminster) had been returned to her mother at the Minories? If so could he have been reburied in St Mary’s Church Pyrton where his father Thomas had been laid to rest in 1474? I have been unable to find out where Williams wives were buried.
St Mary’s Church Pyrton. Sir William’s father was buried here 1474. Photo@Martin Beek
(1) See letters from Simon Stallworth to Sir William dated 9 and 21 June detailing the turmoil taking place in London pp.159.160. Stonor Letter and Papers 1290-1483 Kingsford ed Christine Carpenter
( 2) Stonor Letter and Papers 1290-1483 p.61 Kingsford ed Christine Carpenter
( 3) Ibid p.418
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