Elizabeth of York was born on 11 February 1466. After her parents marriage in 1464, there had been an urgent need for a male heir. Her father’s marriage placed his dynasty in great peril. His cousin, the Earl of Warwick (Richard Neville) had secured a French marriage for him with Bona of Savoy who was Louis XI’s cousin. But when his marriage to the impoverished Grey widow changed everything. Elizabeth brought no dowry and no alliance, but she brought him a large brood of family which some scholars believe Edward took advantage as a means to securing the nobles’ loyalty.
“It would be foolish to totally disregard love as an important factor … But it is also possible, with hindsight, to detect a line of political thinking that may well have allowed Edward to convince himself that his love match was also a tool of useful public policy.” (Jones)
This makes perfect sense as, as soon as he made it known that he had married Elizabeth, he started marrying off her large brood of siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins. But not all was flowers and sunshine. Most of the nobility disapproved of this match. Edward could be a merciful king but he could also be very cruel. This was very common, keeping in with the attitudes of the period. Edward came into the throne with a conciliatory mood, pardoning most of the Lancastrians -including his in-laws three years before he married Elizabeth. Over two decades later, her daughter would marry the last Lancastrian scion, in a ceremony symbolizing the union of both Houses, and creating a new motif that would became the official symbol of the Tudor House: The double rose. Edward IV might have tried the same when he married the Lancastrian widow. Not since the Norman Conquest had an English King married a commoner. While it is highly possible love was involved, it is not implausible that Edward had other strong motives for pursuing this match. For decades to come the match would be criticized and it would be used as a cautionary tale, with writers saying “take heed of what love may do!”.
Given that Edward had to placate Lancastrian insurrections while wining their support at the same time, and on top of that, make it known to everyone, especially his cousin and his maternal relations that he was his own man, it’s not surprising that he did what did. At the time it must have looked like the perfect thing to do. A marriage to an impoverished widow, and from a staunch Lancastrian family at that, would have made him look very popular. A King who did not care for sides and had even taken one of the enemy as his bride -and used her family to form his own party, and force the nobility to its knees. And if that was not enough, he also sent a clear message that he was going to be master of his realm, unbound to anyone, and by marrying into a local house, he was also forcing that house’s loyalty to him because their fortunes would depend entirely on him.
The Woodvilles didn’t disappoint him. Though entirely nepotistic; they never failed to do their jobs, and Anthony Woodville, his brother in law became one of the first patrons of the printer William Caxton and he was a well known poet, warrior, jouster, and on top of that, a highly devout man as his sister and younger brother Edward Woodville (who served Isabella and Ferdinand, and was highly commended by them who regarded him as one of the most Christian knights in Western Europe). Furthermore, Queen’s College which was founded by Elizabeth Woodville’s predecessor, Marguerite of Anjou, was continuously founded by her. And she became widely loved by the commons after she refused to call them to arms when Warwick and the Lancastrian forces retook the city in October of 1470. She received many charity from them when she went into charity, in her pregnant state, at Westminster Abbey. And before she died, she made her will asking that she be buried with very little ceremony. England as Castile (Katherine of Aragon’s mother’s realm) was highly religious and this could have been one of the many reasons why Elizabeth and her daughter, Elizabeth of York, were more accepted consorts than their Lancastrian predecessor.
Elizabeth’s birth was highly anticipated. Although she was not the Prince that everyone was hoping for, the fact she was healthy and her mother had previously given birth to two perfectly healthy boys, gave the King hope.
“Like all babies in those days, the infant princess was swaddled in tight bands with a close-fitting cap on her head, and she would have remained swaddled for the first eight or nine months of her life to ensure that her limbs grew straight. She was assigned a stately household that included a nurse and a wet nurse.” (Weir).
The future for Elizabeth of York, looked bright. As the eldest of the King’s daughters, she was betrothed several times, the best known betrothal is to the Dauphin and to Henry Tudor who was in exile at the time in Brittany with his uncle. Edward IV, writes Lisle, might have no intention on fulfilling his promise. Margaret Beaufort, possessing more experienced and wary of the Yorkist King (though he had issued a pardon for her son), decided to do a will in which she would leave everything to her son, so he would not be left penniless.
There were many rumors after the death of Richard III’s son that he intended to leave Anne so he could marry Elizabeth. To this day, no one can say for certain what Richard truly intended. Herstorian Amy Licence says it best. Richard might have truly loved his wife, and there is no doubt that his actions from 1472 at the time he married Anne to 1483 show that he was a doting husband and father, and she a doting wife and mother. But he was King now, and as King he had to put personal feelings aside and think of the future of his House. It was not just his life that was on the line after all, it was his family, his mother, his de la Pole nephews, Margaret and Edward, his brother George’s children, and so many more. And then there the future of the Plantagenety dynasty. The dynasty had ruled England for more than three hundred years. He was not going to be known as the King who let it all go to hell. But we all know, that is what happened. When he publicly stated that he had never had any intentions to marrying his niece, and later planned to marry a descendant of John of Gaunt via his second marriage to Constance of Castile, to represent a union between the Houses of Lancaster and York that would have ruined Henry Tudor’s plans of his own with Elizabeth; his allies turned against him; he lost, he died and effectively more than three hundred years of Plantagenet rule was over.
Elizabeth went on to become the Consort of Henry VII, and the mother of the Tudor Dynasty. Elizabeth was always conscious of her position. She had been trained to think that it was her destiny to marry a prince or a king. She was not going to go for less; Henry’s actions re-legitimizing her parents’ union and herself and her siblings; restoring their status. would have seemed to Elizabeth like a godsend and acceptable as she was now going to be Queen. And she had the benefit of knowing her husband before the marriage. Most royal couples did not have that benefit. Another couple that did was her aunt and uncle, Anne Neville and Richard III who had grown up together, when Richard had been sent as his cousin’s ward to Warwick Castle.
Elizabeth gave birth many times but only four survived childhood: Arthur (1486), Margaret (1489), Henry (1491), and Mary (1494). Out of those four, only three lived to adulthood and it was Margaret’s descendants from her first two marriages whose descendants still sit on the English Throne today.
When Elizabeth died, also on February 11, on her thirty seventh birthday, she was widely mourned. Out of all the Tudor Consorts, he was the only to be safe from suspicion and this was largely in part due to her religious devotion, and what her union with Henry represented. Henry mourned her death deeply, but like Richard he thought of remarrying but he never did in the end. He is buried next to her in the Lady Chapel he ordered to be constructed for both of them at Westminster Abbey. At the time of their marriage, their union was widely praised, the pope himself praised it. The new motif is still known today, and it also served as a new tool to give a new interpretation to the wars that had plagued England for most of the fifteenth century (known today as the wars of the roses).
- Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
- Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir
- Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
- Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
- Richard III: The Road to Leicester by Amy Licence
- Richard III by David Baldwin