As a great fan of John Ashdown-Hill's series of articles on and around the subject of Eleanor Talbot that have appeared in sundry Ricardians over the past few years I have been looking forward to reading this book with huge anticipation. However, I may have expected a little too much, as there's not much here that was not covered in the said articles.
This is absolutely not to downplay Ashdown-Hill's scholarship in putting this work together, for that has been formidable, and it is extremely useful to have all the information about Eleanor collected in one place. She has been badly neglected by historians, and those that have deigned to write about her have made fundamental mistakes, one even claiming that she was not a daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury!
Sadly, the bottom line is that it is impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an irregular marriage took place between Eleanor and Edward IV. (This is not to say that it did not, just that it can't be proved.) Geoffrey Richardson used to say that in matters surrounding Richard III one had to sometimes take 'a leap of faith.' I rather think John Ashdown-Hill has taken such a leap. I happen to agree with his conclusion, but it has to be said that the case is not rock solid.
To balance this, the case for the marriage has often been far too lightly dismissed. If Gairdner, the formidable Victorian historian - no friend of Richard III! - felt there was reasonable evidence of the truth of the story, then I feel we should at least accept the possibility that it happened that way. One very interesting point raised by Ashdown-Hill is that had Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville in a regular ceremony - which of course he did not - then the onus would have been on Eleanor to protest at the church in time-honoured fashion. Her failure to do so would have put her and Edward at fault, not Elizabeth, and Elizabeth's children would have been deemed legitimate. (As an aside, they would also have been entitled to inherit land under English law.)
So it sort of begs the question doesn't it? Why the hell did Edward marry Elizabeth in an irregular ceremony? What on earth did he think he was doing? Surely he was not that afraid of Warwick, was he?
If you want to know more about Lady Eleanor Talbot this account cannot be bettered, as it contains everything that is known about her. It also poses some interesting questions - such as how Eleanor came by certain lands that can only have been given her by Edward IV. However, if you are a determined cynic about her marriage to the King, the book will probably not be enough to budge you, though it may give you some food for thought.
The book itself, by the way, is beautifully produced and on the back cover is an artist's impression of Eleanor. Apparently this was partly based on a skull discovered in Norwich which may be hers - or equally may not be.