Elizabeth of York was born on the 11th of February at Westminster Palace on 1466, and died thirty seven years later at the Tower of London. This was days after she had given birth to a daughter, Princess Catherine, who followed her mother’s sad fate a day later.
Elizabeth probably the victim of puerperal or childbed fever. Some authors like Alison Weir have contested this theory saying it was possibly anemia, whatever the case she was deeply mourned by the people and her husband. Her death Henry VIII later wrote was “the worst news” he had ever received.
Elizabeth was the eldest daughter of Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV, the first King of the York dynasty. Her marriage to Henry VII was seen by many as the union between the previous warring factions of House Lancaster and House York which she represented. By this time she had born Henry many children, only three had survived, Margaret, Henry, and Mary. When she received the news of her eldest son’s death she consoled her husband and reminded him of his duty then went to her chambers and broke in tears and according to contemporaries, Henry then went to console her. The death of her firstborn weighed heavily on the Queen, she was thirty six at the time and like her husband believed she could secure the succession once more giving Henry another son.
Before she went into labor she broke her confinement to attend the celebration of Candlemas with her husband. They both wore customarily robes of state and went in procession to mass to celebrate the feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary. She made an offer at the high altar that morning and later during the day while in the Tower, she went into a difficult labor.
She gave birth to a small girl who was named Catherine but like her mother she did not live long.
A messenger (James Nattres) was dispatched to Doctor Hallysworth in Kent to aid in her recovery but he never made it in time and nine days after she was dead. (Baby Catherine had died the day before).
Henry gave his wife a dignified funeral. White banners were laid across the corners of her coffin, signifying the manner of her death, while her body was draped with black velvet surmounted by a cross of white cloth of gold.
The coffin was topped by a wax effigy of the Queen, dressed in robes of state, her hair loose under a rich crown, a sceptre in her hand and fingers adorned with fine rings. Her coffin was placed in St. Peter Vincula on February 12 and ten days later followed a funeral route to Westminster. Before the final burial, the effigy with its crown and robes were removed and stored in the shrine of Edward the Confessor where the image of the Queen was absorbed into a collection of holy relics and icons. As with every figure in this period, there was an emergence, almost on a holy scale, of Elizabeth as the good mother, the good wife, and the charitable woman.
Things would never be the same for her family. Henry went into a deep depression, locking himself in Richmond for six weeks following her funeral and while other brides were proposed to him, he would remain a widower. Yet, it was her son Harry who was most affected by her death.
At the impressionable age of 11, he could find no other female role model. Although his grandmother was there for him, the image that his mother crafted for herself was one that Henry came to worship more and one that his wives would be very affected by, as they would all fail to live to Henry’s expectation of the ideal consort.
- Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir
- Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
- Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
- Henry VII by SB Chrimes
- In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence