Baron Scales (1464-1483), 2nd Earl Rivers (1469-1483)
Born c.1442 Died 1483
Anthony Woodville, or Wydeville,, statesman and patron of literature, and author of the first book printed on English soil, was born probably in 1442. He was the son of Richard de Wydeville and his wife, Jacquetta de Luxemburg, Duchess of Bedford. His father was raised to the peerage in his son's infancy, and was made Earl of Rivers in 1466.
Anthony, who was knighted before he became of age, and fought at Towton in 1461, married the daughter of Lord Scales, and became a peer jure uxoris in 1462, two years after the death of that nobleman. Being Lord of the Isle of Wight at the time, he was in 1467 appointed one of the ambassadors to treat with the Duke of Burgundy, and he exalted his office by challenging Anthony, Comte de la Roche, the bastard of Burgundy, to single fight in what was one of the most famous tournaments of the age (see the elaborate narrative in Bentley's Excerpta Historica, 176-182). In 1469 Anthony was promoted to be lieutenant of Calais and captain of the king's armada, while holding other honourary posts.
His father and brother were beheaded after the battle of Edgecot, and he succeeded in August of that year to the earldom. He accompanied Edward in his temporary flight to the Continent, and on his return to England had a share in the victory of Barnet and Tewkesbury and defended London from the Lancastrians. In 1473 he became guardian and governor to the young Prince of Wales, and for the next few years there was no man in England of greater responsibility or enjoying more considerable honours in the royal service.
It is now that for the first time we become aware of Lord Rivers's literary occupations. His mother, the duchess, died in 1472, and his first wife in 1473; in 1475 and the following year he went on pilgrimage to the holy places of Italy; from this time forth there was a strong tincture of serious reflection thrown over his character; he was now, as we learn from Caxton, nominated Defender and Director of the Siege Apostolic for the Pope in England. Caxton had in 1476 rented a shop in the Sanctuary at Westminster, and here had set up a printing press. The first manuscript which he undertook in London was one sent to him by the "noble and puissant lord, Lord Antone, Erle of Ryvyers", consisting of a translation into "right good and fayr Englyssh" of Jean de Teonville's French version of a Latin work, a glorious fair mirror to all good Christian people. In 1477 Caxton brought out this book, as Dictes and Sayengis of the Philosophers, and it is illustrious as the first production of an English printing-press. To this succeeded the Moral Proverbs of Christine de Pisan, in verse, in 1478, and a Cordial, in prose, in 1479. The original productions of Lord Rivers, and, in particular, his Balades against the Seven Deadly Sins, are lost.
In 1478 a marriage was arranged between him and Margaret, sister of King James III of Scotland, but it was mysteriously broken off. Rivers began to perceive that it was possible to rise too high for the safety of a subject, and he is now described to us as "one who conceiveth well the mutability and the unstableness of this life". After the death of Edward IV, he became the object of Richard III's peculiar enmity, and was beheaded by his orders at Pontefract on the 25th of June 1483. He was succeeded by his brother Richard, the 3rd and last earl of the Wydeville family, who died in 1491.
Lord Rivers is spoken of by Commines as "un tres gentil chevalier", and by Sir Thomas More as "a right honourable man, as valiant of hand as politic in counsel". His protection and encouragement of Caxton were of inestimable value to English literature, and in the preface to the Dicies the printer gives an account of his own relations with the statesman which illustrates the dignity and modesty of Lord Rivers in a very agreeable way. Rivers was one of the purest writers of English prose of his time.
Memoirs of Anthony, Earl Rivers are comprised in the Historical Illustrations of the Reign of Edward the Fourth (ed. W. H. Black).
Being the entry for RIVERS, ANTHONY WOODVILLE, or WYDEVILLE, 2ND EARL in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.