Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World Review

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I have read a lot of Alison Weir’s books, as with every book, every author there will always be things I disagree, that is a thing of mine but what I loved about reading this book and it had to do with the timing that I was reading it, is that I read it following Higgibontham’s The Woodvilles which was absolutely great. So I remembered a lot of details and could compare and contrast and do many notes on both books.
Of course every author has his or her own style. Weir here takes on only one person, Elizabeth Woodville (or Wydeville -as Weir decides to use the last name in this form as Elizabeth signed it as)’s daughter, Elizabeth of York.

Elizabeth of York has gone to history as the docile, extremely sweet, beautiful, vulnerable, almost no personality, submissive wife, the woman that Henry VIII (her surviving son)admired and was very close to. Weir makes the point as Starkey in his documentary series, that their signatures were very much alike. Also, unlike his older brother, Prince Arthur, he grew closer to his mother, her visits to her younger children were more accessible.

What emerges from this biography are many details, an Elizabeth that could have schemed (Weir assumes she could have brokered based on the famous copy of the letter to John Howard, which there is no certainty there was an original, but the possibility remains) to marry Richard, or as she and Higginbotham both say, she could have meant something else -i.e. -her situation as a young woman worried she might never marry and she wanted to improve her mother and sisters’ situation. The Woodvilles under Richard, were on a precarious situation and the fact the letter has some things in blank, it is open to speculation as to what Elizabeth really meant.
From the great details of late medieval and early modern England’s church and secular traditions regarding childbirth, baptisms, coronations, feasts, accounts, royal households, protocols and much more, this book needs to be read carefully as there are many details that need to be paid attention but it’s worth the read.

Some things I didn’t agree like the Woodvilles being on a tight leash under Henry VII’s reign, this was not so, in fact one thing that was failed to mention was that like his late brother Anthony Woodville, Sir Edward Woodville was a deeply devoted and pious man who even went on to aid Ferdinand and Isabella on their crusade against the Moors and he also had this sense of honor that his late brother previously held. But in spite of this, there is so much in this book that I recommend.

Elizabeth of York: Forgotten Tudor Queen Review

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“The real Elizabeth remains inaccessible through the lack of surviving records”. Yet Amy Licence brought her back to life digging through contemporary date and relying on archeological evidence and knowledge of the time, instead of falling trap (like some writers often do) of later century (or centuries) “sources” (two George Bucks, Sir Francis Bacon among others). Even contemporary sources are analyzed carefully as she tries to peacdd together this queen’s life and separate fact from fiction and ask the important questions and give plausible answers behind each one. EOY was a woman who was pious and ambitious, who knew her duty and knew that the best way to fulfill the obligations that were expected of her was through marriage.


While Elizabeth’s role in queenship is often forgotten we forget that she emulated the virtues of medieval queenship and her sanctified image -sanctified thanks to the beautiful imagery at her funeral and afterwards when Henry was laid to rest next to her (six years after her death) in 1509- lasts into posterity. When Henry VIII came into the throne, the ideal of the “perfect queen” no doubt was influenced by his mother, her death had shocked him and he said it was one of the most painful events in his life and how he viewed queenship was due in parts to the role his mother played to and excelled at.

The Coronation of Elizabeth of York

EOY red and SOT

On the 25th of November 1487, over a year after her marriage to Henry VII, Elizabeth of York was crowned Queen of England at Westminster Abbey. Her ceremony superseded that of her husband’s. It began two days before on Friday, the twenty third when she and a select number of ladies and courtiers traveled by barge to the Tower of London. Elizabeth received a great reception and was greeted by almost every Londoner who had come out to see their beloved princess. Her father was greatly remembered after his many victories and regaining the throne, following the Lancastrian Readeption; not to mention that the Commons also remembered her mother’s passive response during that time. She hadn’t asked them to rise up in arms, or disobey their new overlords. Instead, she sought sanctuary at the Abbey and lived off the charity of the Abbot and others nearby.

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Furthermore, Elizabeth was widely loved in the North as the eldest Princess of York. And her marriage to Henry symbolized the union of the two warring branches of the Plantagenet House from which they both descended: Lancaster & York. It was important that Henry gave his wife a ceremony to be remembered in years to come. Image was everything and the Tudor Dynasty was new, and it needed this kind of splendor and rhetoric to convince the people of its legitimacy in order to survive.
One of the many symbols that would have graced the palaces and the Tower would be the Tudor rose, a white rose in the middle of the red. The white symbolized the House of York. The red stood for Lancaster. Roses were very popular symbols during the middle ages. They symbolized the Virgin Mary, in the case of the red rose as Leanda de Lisle explains:

“The simple five-petal design of the heraldic rose was inspired by the wild dog rose that grows in English hedgerows. As a symbol it had a long association with the Virgin Mary, who is sometimes called the ‘Mystical Rose of Heaven.’ But although the King’s grandfather, Henry IV, had once used red roses to decorate his pavilion at a joust, their use as a Lancastrian royal badge was not widespread before the advent of the Tudors.”

Or (in the case of the white rose) the five wounds inflicted on Jesus Christ when he was nailed to the cross. After Edward IV’s victories, the white rose became one of his personal symbols. It was soon associated with his House, and although there is record of some using the red rose as a form of opposition to the Yorkist House, it was not the official symbol of said house. Nonetheless, it became popular that Henry took it as a symbol for Lancaster and because it was also easy and very iconic, used it to create this new symbol for his dynasty. One which would also give the people a new narrative in which the war was over thanks to him, who had come to save the day and whose marriage had stopped the bloodshed.

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Besides this, according to John Leland’s “Collectanea” (which is based on old notes he’d taken from monks’ books that included important events such as coronations), “the mayor, sheriffs, aldermen and many out of every craft attended [the Queen] in a flotilla of boats freshly furnished with banners and streamers of silk richly beseen with the arms and badges of their crafts” and rowed by liveried oarsmen. Alongside Elizabeth’s barges were others “garnished and appareled, surpassing all others”, containing the model of the “great red dragon” –which was none other than Cadwaladr, the same red dragon that he took as his personal standard during the Battle of Bosworth and that was no part of the royal arms- that “spouted flames of fire into the Thames.” Everything else from “music of trumpets, clarions, and other minstrelsy” formed part of the entertainment that accompanied the Queen on her road to the Tower of London which had housed so many of her predecessors, and was the traditional destination before their coronation.

Tower of London

 The following day, on the twenty-fourth, she made her state entry into London. Dressed splendidly, wearing a kirtle “of white cloth of gold of damask, and a mantle of the same suit furred with ermine, fastened before her breast with a great lacel curiously wrought of gold and slik and rich knots of gold at the end, tasseled.” Her hair was set loose with only a “caul of pipes over it.” This, biographer and novelist Alison Weir explains, consisted of a coif “cross-barred with a network gold cords, a fashion popular in France and Italy.”

Emerging from the Tower, with her sister [Cecily] carrying her train, she climbed into a litter richly hung with white cloth of gold damask. Eight horses pulled the litter and new Knights of the Bath carried a large canopy above her. As before, Elizabeth toured the city of London, only this time on land. Crowds showed the same enthusiasm as seeing their queen-to-be and beloved Princess, as the day before. And that joy would be doubled the day after when she was finally crowned.

The day was no mere coincidence as it fell on St. Catherine’s day who as Elizabeth had been a King’s daughter, and was widely revered for her intellectualism and her piety. It is known that Elizabeth was educated as expected of a lady of her station, with a love for chivalry and a strong piety which no doubt was instilled by her mother and her paternal grandmother, the Duchess of York –Cecily Neville aka “Queen by Rights”. According to Tudor chronicler, Edward Hall –writing in the sixteenth century- Henry did this as proof of his “perfect love and sincere affection” for his consort.

“Elizabeth went to her coronation on sumptuously attired in a kirtle, gown, and mantle of purple velvet, furred with ermine bands, and the same circlet of gold garnished with pearls and precious stones that she had worn the day before. This circlet was probably a gift from Henry; from the late fourteenth century at least, it had been customary for the crown worn by a queen in her coronation procession to be given to her by the King.” (Weir)

With her sister carrying her train once more, Elizabeth traveled to the Abbey dressed in a mantle of purple velvet, furred with ermine brands. And as was customary for queens on their coronation, her hair was loose with only a circlet of gold with pearls and other precious stones on it. Above her was a canopy that followed her all the way to the church. With her, were also her aunts the Duchesses of Bedford and Suffolk, and her cousin Margaret Pole. Notably missing was her mother, the Queen Dowager. Some historians take this as evidence that Henry suspected her involvement in the Lambert Simnel rebellion, others –like biographer and novelist, Susan Higginbotham- take a middle approach and point out her eldest son’s (the Marquis of Dorset, Thomas Grey) arrest which “soured her relations with the King.”

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Elizabeth was anointed twice on the breast and head, then had the ring placed on her fourth finger, followed by a golden crown on her head, a scepter and rod of gold on each hand. Following this event, she and her party traveled to Westminster Hall where a great banquet awaited her.

“An observing herald recorded the arrangements and menu of the occasion. First, onlookers were cleared away by horseback riders, to make way for the guests: lords, bishops and abbots; barons, knights and nobles, beside London’s mayor, aldermen, merchants and distinguished citizens, were seated either side of the dais on which Elizabeth would be served, flanked by the Archbishop of Canterbury, her aunt the Duchess of Bedford and paternal grandmother Cecily Neville. Another two noblewomen sat under the table at her feet the whole time to assist her discreetly.” (Licence)

Following tradition, like her father during her mother’s coronation, her husband was not visibly present for hers. He and his mother, the Countess of Richmond, watched the event from a private spot.

As for the courses: Dishes such as hart, pheasant, capons, lamprey, crane, pike, carp, perch and custard were served *“followed by an elaborate ‘subtlety’, decorative dish that was as much a feast for the eyes as it was for the mouth.” Furthermore, the seating arrangements were as followed: Her maternal grandmother, Katherine Woodville, the Dowager Duchess of Buckingham and Bedford was seated at her left hand with her uncle’s widow, the Countess Dowager of Rivers and the Countess of Oxford kneeling at either side of her. The new Queen of England would have also been entertained by music and ballads made for this occasion.

Elizabeth of York remains an elusive character. Some historians and novelists have taken her actions during the Ricardian regime out of context to convey a sinister and manipulative aspect that is neglected by their predecessors; but by doing this they are doing the same mistake. You can’t judge Elizabeth of York by modern standards. She was a woman of her times, and one who was born a Princess. She believed it wasn’t only her right, but her divine right to marry someone of her same station or above her. In case of the latter, this depended largely on what would benefit her family. During her uncle Richard III’s reign, after he vowed that he wouldn’t harm her, her mother and her sisters, she and Cecily were invited to court where they attended Anne Neville. Some have taken her actions during that Christmas, when she and her aunt wore similar clothing as proof of her scheming –so like her mother- to snatch Richard from Anne so she could be Queen and her family would be back in favor. But this narrative follows the same myths regarding her mother and the rest of her maternal family –the Woodvilles- that they were power-grasping and didn’t think things through. Elizabeth’s actions as that of her maternal family might seem so to us at first, but in an era of uncertainty, it was very common for people, especially the high-born, to change allegiances. Elizabeth and her mother had already risked too much, and who knew how long Richard would last in power? There was no guarantee that Henry Tudor (then) Earl of Richmond would come back to defeat Richard. The odds were not in his favor; Elizabeth and her family had to do what was best for them. There is no evidence however that Elizabeth lusted after her uncle or vice-verse. Richard III was already planning a dual marriage for the both of them to Portuguese royals so whatever you might have seen on TV or read in fiction, take that out of your minds.

Henry VII and EOY
Henry VII and Elizabeth of York tomb at the Lady Chapel located in Westminster Abbey.

Elizabeth’s marriage to Henry had the advantage that the two had come to know during that five month interim, from late August to January.
Elizabeth of York’s affected Henry. After he died in 1509, he was buried alongside her. Elizabeth of York remained a model for perfect queenship, a model which her son would judge all of his queens.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir
  • The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family by Susan Higginbotham*
  • Tudor: Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones

Elizabeth Wydeville gives birth to Edward V in sanctuary

Elizabeth Woodville and Edward V

On All Souls’ Day, November 2nd, 1470, Elizabeth Wydeville gave birth to Prince Edward while she was still at sanctuary in the Abbot’s House at Westminster Abbey. She was expected to give birth amidst splendor in the Tower of London, but when the odds turned against her husband, she was forced to flee the comforts of her chambers with her mother and daughter to Westminster Abbey. In spite of Richard Neville [Earl of Warwick] animosity with the Woodvilles, he wasn’t cruel to Elizabeth and upon learning she was going to give birth, he and Henry VI sent Lady Scrope and others to assist her in her delivery three days earlier, in addition to paying for their fees.

Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville

In great contrast with her predecessor, the last Lancastrian Queen [Margaret of Anjou], Elizabeth didn’t ask the people of London to fight for her. When she learned that Warwick’s forces were approaching two months before, she ordered the lord mayor and the aldermen to secure the city of London, but when they told her that they couldn’t hold any longer, she accepted this and told them it was better for them to submit to the new regime.
Overnight, Elizabeth had become very popular with the people. This humble act demonstrated that she was a Queen who lived up to the ideals expected of a wife and Consort. She and her family subsisted thanks to the Abbot’s and the commons’ charity.

Thomas More, writing nearly a century later describes the boy’s birth, as being born “with no more ceremony than if he had been a poor man’s son.” This is not entirely inaccurate, since his father and uncles were still at Burgundy, planning for the right moment to strike, and with Henry VI back on the throne, it was unclear what the boy’s role would be (if any) if his father never got to reclaim it. The boy also received a humble christening. Instead of the traditional royal relatives, or stand-ins for foreign royals, his godparents were the Abbot Thomas Milling, the prior John Eastney and Lady Scrope.

No doubt, learning of his son’s birth, made Edward IV more determined. Less than a year after that, he returned to England, slaying the Earl of Warwick at the Battle of Barnet, and less than a month after that, his rival’s son (also named Edward) at the battle of Tewkesbury, and not long afterwards his rival himself.

Edward IV wasted no time investing his son as Prince of Wales and set up his household. Among the people elected to rule his son’s household were many of his wife’s relatives, including herself and her brother, Anthony Woodville, the Earl of Rivers.

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Although he is commonly referred to as Prince Edward or Edward V, it should be noted that he was never officially crowned. After his father died, a crisis emerged between his maternal relatives and his uncle, including the nobles supporting him (because of their resentment against the Wydevilles), as to who would be his Regent. Since none of them trusted each other, and they both believed themselves better to handle the job; Richard made the first move, imprisoning Edward’s favorite uncle (Anthony) and Hastings. And he forced Jane Shore (Edward IV’s mistress) to walk a walk of penance to atone for her sins. After his brother’s marriage to Elizabeth was declared null and void, his nephews and nieces were declared bastards and barred from the line of succession, making him the only one eligible to be King.

After the summer of 1483, months after Edward had been put in the Tower of London before he was joined by his younger brother Richard, he was never seen or heard from again. Doctor Argentine on his last visit, said that while Richard looked more optimistic because he was younger, Edward did not and it was as if he knew that his days were numbered.

Sources:

  • The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family by Susan Higginbotham
  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir
  • Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
  • Elizabeth Woodville: The mother of the Princes in the Tower by David Baldwin

Henry VII’s Coronation: The Beginning of the Tudor Dynasty

Henry VII

On the thirtieth of October 1485, two months after his unlikely triumph at Bosworth, Henry Tudor, formerly the Earl of Richmond, was crowned at Westminster Abbey. His uncle Jasper had the honor of holding the crown while his stepfather, Thomas Stanley, carried the sword of state. The two men had been amply rewarded days before when they’d been created duke of Bedford and Earl of Derby respectively.

The ceremony was performed by the John Shirwood (Bishop of Durham) and Robert Stillington (Bishop of Bath and Wells), supported by Courtenay (B. Exeter) and John Morton (B. Ely). Although the Archbishop of Canterbury didn’t play a prominent role, as the head of the church in England, it still fell on him to anoint the King and place the crown on his head.

Henry VII in the
Henry VII in the “White Queen” placing the bloody crown on his head.

As with every monarch, when he was formally proclaimed as King of England, the ministry asked the crowd if they accepted him as their new monarch, to which everyone chanted: “Yea, yea!”

It was an expensive ceremony fit for a king, especially one who was doing everything in his power to convince his new people that he, and no other, was chosen by God to rule England.

“Accounts of the coronation were drawn up by Sir Robert Willoughby, and they spoke of a flurry of activity among the goldsmith, cloth merchants, embroiders, silkwomen, tailors, laborers, boatmen and saddlers of London. Instruction went out for yards of velvet and silk in royal purple, crimson and black, which were then run up into beautiful jackets, hose, hats, robes, wall hangings, cushions and curtains. Henry’s henchmen were ordered hats plumed with ostrich feathers, boots made from fine Spanish leather and striking costumes of black and crimson.” (Jones)

As for the King himself, his mother was determined that he would outshone his Yorkist and Plantagenet predecessors. And he certainly did. Not only were the courtiers dressed for the occasion (as was their new King), but the Abbey itself was filled with splendor. Margaret’s confessor wrote that upon seeing her con crowned “she wept marvelously.” And she a lot to be happy for, but her tears weren’t of joy but of fear. Margaret had lived through a tumultuous time we now know as the wars of the roses. Kings and Queens were humiliated, deposed, and it had turn everyone against each other. Henry, for all she knew, could be just another passing King. Historians such as Norton and Lisle make a point, that Margaret did become a force to be reckoned with, in her son’s reign. “What power she would have” Lisle writes, “would be behind the throne.” But in the meantime, all their worries were left behind, as Henry enjoyed this moment of triumph.

Following the Mass, Henry returned to the Tower of London for the coronation banquet. Jasper took precedence over the other nobles, riding ahead of them, his horse trapped with cloth of gold trimmed ermine. After the first course, Henry’s champion, Sir Robert Dynmock came in, issuing the customary challenge, demanding who would challenge the King’s authority. There were more performances to be found that day, among them the iconic representation of the royal arms of England and France along with those of their new king emphasized his Welsh ancestry. But more prominent among them was the Tudor rose. Henry Tudor was a religious man, and as those that came before him, he chose a rose because of its religious significance. The red rose was a symbol of Christ’s passion, while the five petals corresponded to the  five wounds Christ had suffered on the cross. Roses were ones of the most notable symbols on the Abbey, and on the courtier’s clothing.

Tudor Rose

But it wasn’t just the red rose, it was the white one as well which became representative of the late House of York. The York dynasty had relied on other symbols to represent their dynasty. Although it was a preferred symbol of Edward IV, he had also used the Sun in Splendor, to commemorate one of his victories, and his youngest brother, Richard III had opted for the white boar. Henry used this because it was simple and because it represented a new era –one in which Lancaster and York would be united and were there would be no cause for war.

While this wasn’t entirely true, it still worked because for many people, centuries afterwards, the Tudors would come to represent the union of these two warring houses, and become one of the most famous dynasties in world history. Ironically, before Henry became King of England, when he was just a child, the bards sang songs in honor of his late father (Edmund Tudor) and predicted that great things awaited his son. When he landed on Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire, Wales, the bards sang louder, praising now his uncle as well, saying “Jasper will breed us a dragon” claiming that Henry was the chosen one, the prince that was promised, of an ancient Welsh prophecy. Never forgetting who was responsible for his rise, he rewarded many of his Welsh supporters with lands, titles and offices.

Henry VII would go on to reign twenty five years. On his death, he was succeeded by his son, Henry VIII whose reign would eclipse his father’s, and to prove his greatness, he commissioned one painting known as the ‘Dynasty portrait’ where he asks viewers an important question. Who was better, the son or the father? He acknowledges his father’s achievements but says they pale in comparison to his. While Henry VIII is the most famous of the three Tudor kings, it is unfair to leave Henry VII behind. As a kid, his future was always being negotiated by his mother, uncle, and his caretaker (William Herbert), and as a teenager, he spent his teenage years and most of his young adult life in hiding, fearing for his life. When he finally came back, the odds were stacked against him and still, he won. As King, he continued to fear for his life, and although he was a good husband and father, he became a shell of his former self after his son died, followed by his wife and baby daughter a year after that.

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York tomb at the Lady Chapel located in Westminster Abbey.

Buried at Westminster Abbey, next to his wife, at the chapel he constructed for him and his descendants, is a testament to the appeal this dynasty has had -and no doubt will continue to have in many years to have.

Sources:

  • Henry VII by SB Chrismes
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
  • Margaret Beaufort by Elizabeth Norton
  • Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones

Richard Duke of Gloucester is born at Fortheringhay

Richard III symbology

On the second of October 1452, Cecily Neville gave birth to her youngest son at Fortheringhay Castle. Years after his death, Tudor chroniclers wrote fantastical tales about his birth. More said that she was in “much doe in her travail” and that he was born with a full set of hair and crooked teeth. There is no actual record of the birth and the chronicler of the Neville family, Rous, wrote that he was healthy and he “liveth yet”. The reason why he said this was because Cecily became pregnant again three years after and gave birth to a girl who died that same year. Also, infant mortality was high so the fact he survived was something to take into account.

At the age of seven, Richard was exposed to the realities of war. It is written that she was “despoiled” of her goods, and while this could mean rape, it could also mean that they looted her house. The latter was still a big humiliation, to see her possessions being taken by common men and soldiers.
Cecily went to the city of Coventry where Parliament was held (a parliament that became known as “Parliament of Devils”) and submitted herself to royal mercy. But at this point, tensions were too high and it was clear that only one victor could emerge from this conflict.

“Without her husband by her side, Cecily had little choice but to submit to the rule of Henry VI and was placed in the custody of her sister Anne at Tonbridge Castle in Kent.” (Licence)

Anne was the Duchess of Buckingham through her marriage to John Stafford and as such, a staunch Lancastrian. Initially Cecily took her sons with her, but in the end she decided to send them away to Burgundy.

Margaret of Anjou
Margaret of Anjou

Sarah Gristwood in her biography notes that the “comparative lenience with which Cecily was treated was the result of her friendship with Queen Marguerite” yet she also notes what the chroniclers at the time said, that she was kept “full straight with many a rebuke” from her sister. “The future prominence of Cecily’s son” Gristwood points out, referring to her eldest, Edward the Earl of March “had never looked more unlikely.”

In 1460 however, the Yorkists scored a major victory when they took control of the capital and forced Henry VI to recognize the Duke of York as his heir. Cecily was sent for and the couple were not only Duke and Duchess of York anymore, but by right they were Prince and Princess of Wales. But things took a turn for the worse on that December when Marguerite’s troops took them by surprise at Sandal Castle and killed everyone, including Cecily’s brother, nephew, and her second son Edmund, the Earl of Rutland.

It wasn’t until 1461, when Richard’s oldest brother became King, that the family finally felt secure. Edward IV made Dukes of him and George. Richard was awarded the title of Duke of Gloucester. And then the rest –as they say- is history when he decided to marry a Lancastrian widow over Warwick’s proposal with Bona of Savoy. This split the Yorkist house in two ending with his cousin Warwick’s death in the battle of Barnet, the destruction of the Lancastrian, and seven years later the execution of his brother George. And then Edward died (possibly of a cold, although accounts vary) and the crown was free for the taking. It is very possible that Richard didn’t intend to take the crown at first like later Tudor version depict, but rather like his father, gain control of his nephew since he believed he was more suited to do so then the boy’s maternal relatives who were very hated with the nobility. But as the Queen locked herself in sanctuary, and then fearing repercussion from her relatives and allies, he executed her brother and his brother’s allies; he realized things had gone too far. And once again, like his father he was going to make a move that changed the history of the dynasty.

Richard III and Anne Neville.
Richard III and Anne Neville.

He and his wife, Anne Neville were crowned on July of that year, with their only son Edward of Middleham invested as Prince of Wales later that autumn in the North.

Although the Lancastrian royal line was wiped out, one scion remained and even though some considered his mother’s line a bastard line, many still saw him as the heir to the Lancastrian cause, and Edwardian Yorkists who were not too happy with Richard’s rule fled to Brittany to join him in his exile. The youth’s name was Henry Tudor, and like Richard, he had been privy to the horrors of war at a young age.

Besides the white rose, there was the sun in splendor and although Richard used these, he also used the white boar which was known as the Ebocarum. (
Besides the white rose, there was the sun in splendor and although Richard used these, he also used the white boar which was known as the Ebocarum. (“The boar was a visaul pun on Ebocarum – the ancient Roman name for York which was particularly shortened to Ebor.

Richard ruled for over two years. And to this day, he is the hot topic of almost every conversation regarding the wars of the roses. Was he a good or bad king? Or was he a victim of circumstance?

It is more probably as one historian pointed out in an interview that he was neither. On one front we have him doing great things for the country such as improving the law courts and allowing more common people to have representation, and he was very loved in the North; on the other hand we also have him be as ruthless as any king could be in this era, and executing as many as he saw fit to keep his power.
The rumors of him poisoning his wife are of course exaggerated, he probably loved her but as King he had to think of the future of his dynasty. When their son died in 1484 and she became sick with grief (dying the following year), he was looking for someone else to marry. He publicly denied that he wanted to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York and while he could have contemplated that (at one point), it seems highly unlikely that he would have done that in the end. His intentions in the summer of 1485 reflect that, when he was negotiating for a joint marriage for himself and his niece (Elizabeth) to a Portuguese Princess and Duke.

Sources:

  • The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Richard III: Road to Leicester by Amy Licence
  • Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood

Henry VI’s Mysterious Death: Where One War Ends, Another Begins

King Henry VI.
King Henry VI.

On the twenty first of May 1471, Henry VI died, probably by the hand of the Yorks. There are many versions of this. In some it is Richard who kills him while Henry VI bemoans his death and the destruction of his house, in others it is an unknown assailant sent by Richard.  The official story is something so outrageous and taken out of a fairy tale story that nobody believed it at the time. According to the Yorkists, Henry VI had taken the news of his son’s death “to so great despite, ire and indignation that of pure displeasure and melancholy he died”. Few believed this cock and bull story. Towards the end of his life, Henry VI had become paranoid. He railed about seeing a woman drowning a child and many other visions that his confessor and biographer, John Blacman, later recorded. Despite his delusions however, it is very hard to believe that he would just drop dead upon receiving the news of his dead son.
Everyone suspected of foul play. But regardless of the identity of his killer, whoever sent him would have been acting under the strict orders of Edward IV. It is illogical to think that someone would have just gone rogue and done away with the old King. Edward IV wanted Henry VI. Period. He didn’t spare his son in his battle and dragged Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and the others hiding at Tewkesbury Abbey for beheading two days later on May the sixth. His death marked the end of an era and the end of a threat. Or at least that is how it seemed.

Edward IV was too smart to know that killing Henry VI was the end of the Lancastrian threat. If history had taught him anything was that once one person was eradicated, another one could come to take his place. Especially if that someone came from the same House as he did. Henry Tudor was the descendant of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster’s eldest son by his third wife, Kathryn Swynford. Although King Richard II had legitimized their children, his successor, Henry IV had excluded them from the line of succession. But that was a minor concern for Edward IV. After all, he better than anyone, knew laws could be made or unmade. It was only a matter of power and money. So after Henry VI was murdered that morning between 11 and 12 0’clock, he began his next project: to capture Henry Tudor, the fourteen year old Earl of Richmond and his uncle Jasper Tudor who were hiding in Wales, at all costs.

Some historians view the destruction of the legitimate line of the House of Lancaster as the end of the wars of the roses; but the wars as we know now, was far more complex and far from over at this point. Where one war ended, another began.

Sources:

  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
  • Anne Neville: Richard III’s Tragic Queen by Amy Licence
  • Edward IV by Ross
  • Rise of the Tudors by Chris Skidmore
  • The Prince who did not become King: Edward of Westminster (1453-1471) by Susan Higginbotham
  • The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Jones
  • The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir

The marriage of Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV

Edward IV and Elizabeth in portraits and in the White Queen (2013) played by Max Irons and Rebecca Ferguson.
Edward IV and Elizabeth in portraits and in the White Queen (2013) played by Max Irons and Rebecca Ferguson.

1 MAY 1464: The traditional date given to Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV’s union.
The day better known as “Love Day” was famous for juxtaposing gender and status roles. It was a day of mayhem and fun that has its roots in pagan religions and pre-Christian traditions. In all honesty though, there is no concrete evidence that the marriage took place that day. What is known is it must have taken place before August of that year when Lord Hastings was given the wardship of Elizabeth’s eldest son by her first marriage, Thomas Grey.

Several chroniclers that place the marriage on this day are Antonio Cornazzano, an Italian writing four years after the event took place. He writes that Elizabeth threatened Edward with a dagger after he offered her to become his mistress. Angry, Dominic Mancini writing nearly twenty years later adds that Edward attempted to make her submit but “she remained unperturbed and determined to die rather than live unchastely with the king. Whereupon Edward coveted her much the more, and he judged the lady worthy to be a royal spouse”. Thomas More writing nearly a century later omits the dagger but the end result is all the same: “She showed him plain that as she wist herself too simple to be his wife, so thought she herself too good to be his concubine. The king much marvelling of her constance … he set her virtue in the stead of possession and riches”.

Other historians believe there was more to this match than simply love or lust. Dan Jones in his recent book on the wars of the roses and the rise of the Tudors, points out that by this time, people were pointing out how much power his cousin [Richard Neville the Earl of Warwick] had. There were some that stated that he was the real ruler. Edward IV did not want to become a puppet like his predecessor, Henry VI. Henry VI had started his rule when he was just a baby and barely two years old. He had been ruled by indecision and fear. Edward was his complete opposite. Handsome, impulsive, he was not willing to let others decide for him. While the match that Warwick proposed with the King of France’s relative would have benefit him more; his match with Elizabeth sent a powerful statement that he was his own man. No one was going to rule for him, and  the fact that she was a Lancastrian fitted perfectly with his plans of reconciliation. Edward wanted an end to the bloodshed. He pardoned many Lancastrians after he took the crown in 1461, including Elizabeth’s family. It is very probable he knew her or had some vague recollection of her from her days serving Queen Marguerite of Anjou, or through her mother who had been very close to the Queen. Her mother had been married to a Lancastrian -the former King’s late uncle, John Duke of Bedford and Elizabeth’s husband had fought for Henry VI. In marrying her, it is possible that Edward intended to show a union of both houses, something that wasn’t as symbolic as his future daughter’s marriage to Henry Tudor two decades later, since Elizabeth had no blood ties to that House. But her affiliation with it, made her somewhat Lancastrian. And there was another reason. Elizabeth had a large family. He could marry off her cousins, sisters, brothers and other family members to the most important noble houses in England, including former Lancastrians, tying them and enforcing their loyalty to him.

Regardless of his reasons, they backfired on him in the end.

The marriage was kept a secret until Edward was forced to admit to it at the Reading Council in September. The fact that the bride was not royal, noble (her mother was a member of the House of St. Pol of Luxemborg, but that wasn’t enough when her father was only a Baron), and brought no foreign alliance to the marriage, shocked and outraged many members of court and his family. As for the common man, they could care less who this woman was and where she came from. Six years later when she was pregnant with their first son she fled into sanctuary in Westminster taking along with her, her daughters. She asked the mayor of London and others to submit to Warwick and the Lancaster Readeption to save themselves. Something they saw as a great contrast to her predecessor who had taken up arms against her enemies. After the Lancastrian forces were defeated the following year, the people were more welcoming to their Queen. She had not brought a foreign alliance, riches, or anything else, but she had lived up to the medieval expectations of women of the day.

She had continued her predecessor’s work and endowed universities, shown patronage to learned men and artists and shown herself subservient to her husband and to the church. This last one is less remarked in fiction but it should be, because the real Elizabeth was far from being the scheming witch she is shown in portrayals such as in the White Queen or romantic fiction. Queen Elizabeth was a very pious woman who belonged to some of the most famous religious fraternities at the time, her brothers were able soldiers and administrators. Her brother Anthony is perhaps the most famous, but her others brothers also served the Yorkist regime under her husband then under her son-in-law (Henry VII) in every capacity.
She was also ambitious. During Richard III’s reign, she conspired with Margaret Beaufort to bring about the marriage between her eldest daughter and Henry Tudor (then) Earl of Richmond after the disappearance of her sons. She spent the last days of her life leading an ascetic life. Her last wishes to be buried with little pomp and a few valuables were carried out.

Sources:

  • The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family by Susan Higginbotham
  • Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood
  • Cecily Neville: Mother of Kings by Amy Licence
  • The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones

Dispelling myths: The Truth Behind Edward IV & Cecily Neville

Cecily and Edward IV
Edward IV “the Rose of Rouen” and his mother “Proud Cis” Cecily Neville, Duchess Dowager of York.

Today historians still debate Edward IV’s parentage but a poem done in his honor, shortly after he was sworn in as King, leaves it very clear he was Richard, Duke of York’s son:

“Y is for York that is manly and mighty
That be grace of God and great revelation
Reining with rules reasonable and right-full
That which for our sakes hath suffered vexation.

E is for Edward whose fame the earth shall spread
Because of his wisdom named prudence
shall save all England by his manly deeds
Wherefore we owe to do him reverence

M is for March, through every trial
Drawn by discretion that worthy and wise is
conceived in wedlock and coming of blood royal
Joining unto virtue, excluding all vices.”

There was a scene in the White Queen, both in the book and the mini-series where Cecily Neville, Duchess of York and “Queen by Rights” is completely humiliated by her daughter-in-law and her mother, Lady Rivers. She threatens to disown her son Edward in favor of George because she is mad he married a Lancastrian impoverished widow. Elizabeth Grey nee Woodville’s father was a knight, albeit he had been made a Baron thanks to his service to the Crown –and Jacquetta’s friendship with the Lancastrian Queen. Her mother was Jacquetta of Luxemborg whose lineage was quite impressive. However in the middle ages, if your father was a nobody, it didn’t matter if your mother was a somebody, to their standards, you were technically a nobody unless you married above your station. Edward was the first King of the York dynasty –another branch of the Plantagenet Dynasty. His position was very unstable as Henry VI was still alive somewhere and his warring wife and son were seeking the support of Scotland and France to invade England and restore her husband to the throne. Everything he did or said could be used against him; he couldn’t afford to be his own man until he was safely installed. Yet, Edward disregarded this –as he did many things- and went ahead and married Elizabeth Woodville.

There are many possible reasons as to why he did this. Susan Higginbotham in her biography on the Woodville posits that he could have done it as another plot to convince Elizabeth to sleep with him, or for the simplest reason that he genuinely fell in love with her. Dan Jones in his latest book on the wars of the roses and the Tudors, give another approach that combines all reasons: That Edward was uncertain regarding his cousin Warwick’s proposal to marry the King of France’s relative, Bona of Savoy. If he agreed to marry this girl then he would be seen as Warwick’s tool. People were already saying that Warwick ruled. Edward didn’t want to give them any more reason to think this way. It was a great risk he was running but he did it anyway. Marrying Elizabeth was a public statement of his independence and furthermore that he was not going to show favoritism to any nobles regardless of their previous affiliations. The Woodvilles like so many former Lancastrians, had been pardoned in 1461 but there was still a lot resentment between noble families. People expected Edward IV to be like his counterpart and his wife and take retaliation against the people that supported his enemies.

He clearly didn’t.

Edward IV and Elizabeth in portraits and in the White Queen (2013) played by Max Irons and Rebecca Ferguson.
Edward IV and Elizabeth in portraits and in the White Queen (2013) played by Max Irons and Rebecca Ferguson.

His marriage with Elizabeth could have been handled better, and publicized more as his daughter’s to Henry VII was. Perhaps Edward believed that marrying her was enough for people to get the message of a reconciliation between both parties. It failed drastically. As we all know, Warwick and the rest were appalled at his decision. These were no simple dissatisfied nobles after all. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick had lost his father and younger brother when they helped Edward’s father, Richard Duke of York and his second eldest son Edmund Earl of Rutland fight the Queen’s army at Sandal Castle. His father as the rest, were beheaded, their heads stuck on a pole and exhibited on top of the gates as traitors. Warwick had to flee many times and muster whatever men he could, with what money he had left for his cousin. To have his cousin all the sudden say ‘sorry dude but I don’t like you anymore. Get the hell out’ was a huge slap in the face.

Warwick also had other motives for hating this union. Edward IV had always felt close to Burgundy. His mother had ties to that royal family, but Warwick wanted an alliance with France for obvious reasons (the Lancastrian Queen, Margaret of Anjou was there, begging the King to send troops to invade England and restore her husband. If she succeeded, then it was the end of everything and everyone they loved. Plain and simple. The best way to avoid that was by marrying Edward to the King’s relative so Margaret of Anjou would be completely cut off from allies. Now thanks to Edward’s latest marriage, that wasn’t going to happen).

Cecily had more reasons to hate that marriage though. She loved her son fiercely. Having lost her husband and her second son in such a brutal way, she became increasingly protecting of her remaining children. The year before her husband and son lost their heads (when they had to go abroad to escape the royal army) what do you think Cecily Neville did? She had to beg (I repeat, beg) for mercy and throw herself at the feet of her enemies so her youngest children would be spared. She counted on her friendship with Queen Margaret, to help her in these difficult times. It paid off.  Margaret of Anjou never lifted a finger against her and let her be (under the condition that she stayed with her sister, Anne, Duchess of Buckingham whose husband was a die-hard Lancastrian and who happened to be Margaret Beaufort’s mother-in-law). This time though, Cecily knew it wasn’t going to be so simple. Even *if* -and that was a big *if*- the Queen forgave her as before, she would see her youngest offspring (Richard, George and Margaret) as potential claimants who would one day rise to avenge their fallen brothers if Edward died too. Cecily had no choice but to send her two boys abroad to Burgundy where they were well taken care of. Imagine yourself as a forty five year old woman who had been married since she was twelve, who had lived through so much carnage and humiliation, and you suddenly found out that your sons could be seen as potential dangers to your best friend? What could you do? They say there is nothing a mother won’t do for her children, and that is what Cecily did. She let go of her children, and took refuge in God, praying that the next news she would receive would be a good one.

Edward’s choice therefore angered her. The White Queen made her look as if she hated Elizabeth because of her condition of ‘commoner’. But as much as I did enjoy some parts of the White Queen, we must look at it for what it is, fiction and acknowledge the facts. Cecily did not want to acknowledge Edward’s marriage to this Lancastrian widow because it was dangerous. She had seen the worse of humanity. She had lost nephews, uncles, husband, son, and a brother! Edward wasn’t even in his fifth year when he married Elizabeth. He had so many enemies, this marriage left him without alliances and completely naked to them. Not only that, but his failure meant the destruction of her family.

Cecily was not about to act all happy and ignorant and pretend this was okay. Her husband was gone but she was still there. Before Edward married Elizabeth, she was the most powerful woman in the land and many ambassadors met with her before they met with her nephew Warwick and her son, Edward IV. Elizabeth might become a good Queen, but her common status put them all in danger.

Cecily Neville is forced to bow to Elizabeth.
Cecily Neville is forced to bow to Elizabeth.

When Jaquetta and her daughter enter the Duchess’ chambers, smirking at her as if she is too far beneath them, the former threatens her to expose her as a “common whore”. Jacquetta says in the TV show that she vouched for her when the rumors began circulating that she had cheated on her husband with a Welsh archer. “Blaybourne, wasn’t it? Ah yes, I said that a great lady like you would not so demean herself as to lie with a common archer and let his bastard slip into a nobleman’s cradle like she was a common whore.”
Fiction sensationalizes these things to make them more interesting, I take it as an alternate universe where people are obviously very different from what they really were. A woman as conscientious of her lineage, her status, would never let herself be humiliated by a woman who was lower in rank than her. Even her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Woodville, was lower in rank to her since she had been the daughter of a knight and although her mother had great lineage, that didn’t matter. Queen she might be, but to Cecily she was lower than her. And furthermore, she and Richard were very close in age, the two got to know each other since they were children –when his custody as passed to her father Ralph Neville, the Earl of Westmorland and then her mother. Her mother was Joan Beaufort and she was the only daughter of John, 1
st
Duke of Lancaster and his mistress, Katherine Swynford. He had been married two times before he married her. When he did, Richard II agreed to legitimize their children for all the good services his uncle had done in government. John’s cruel nature was a small price to pay to protect his third wife and their children whom he obviously felt closer to. Their half-brother and the first Lancastrian King, Henry IV, added a new clause to their legitimate status where it excluded them from the line of succession. Because of this, many of them became very religious because they felt deeply ashamed of having been born a bastard and their birth being an impediment to being in the line of succession. The fact that they didn’t carry the last name Plantagenet, was awful enough. Joan spent her entire life praying and making huge donations to churches, and her piety was passed on to her youngest offspring, Cecily.
Many medieval women took comfort in religion. Contrary to what it shown in movies and TV, many women saw religion as a means to an end. It gave some of them power and comfort from their everyday hardships. A year before her third son’s George Duke of Clarence’s death, Cecily began to take on a rigorous religious routine and wake up at certain hours of the day for religious devotion.
With this in mind, it is impossible that a woman such as Cecily whose other nickname was “proud Cis” would have gone behind her husband’s back and cheat with the first bloke she saw. Status was everything and as I’ve stated, Cecily was very aware of her place in society. Of course some historians will then state the matter of Edward’s low key baptism. This can be explained simply. The belief of something in between heaven and hell: Purgatory. People believed that premature children would die quickly and if they died quickly without being baptized then that meant that their souls would never reach heaven and they would be stuck in a perpetual limbo.

Not something nice, isn’t it?

Cecily Neville and her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Woodville.
Cecily Neville and her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Woodville.

“Cecily fell pregnant soon after her arrival in Rouen. The exact timing of the conception has been the subject of much debate among historians and would later prove a significant bone of political contention. Edward would arrive on 28 April 1442. This would place his conception sometime at the end of July 1441 or in the early days of August, assuming that it was a nine-month pregnancy. Records discovered in Rouen recently detail that Richard, Duke of York was absent from Rouen on campaign at Pontoise for several weeks, returning to the city on 20 August. From this detail, several historians have inferred that Edward was not Richard’s son. They believe this proves that Cecily must have had an adulterous liaison during his absence, which would render Edward illegitimate.

There are a number of problems with using this timing as evidence. If Cecily conceived on the night of Richard’s return to Rouen, 20 August, this still allows for a pregnancy of thirty-six weeks … To be premature, a baby must be born before thirty seven weeks and there is a fair chance that Edward might have arrived early.” -Licence

Richard and Cecily were very young when they were married and they didn’t consummate their marriage right away. When Cecily’s first recorded pregnancy became known, it probably wasn’t an easy pregnancy as her baby died in less than a year. He was named Henry for the King and the loss devastated them both. They had a daughter later who thankfully was born healthy, but like any couple they would have been hoping for a son. If Edward was premature and conceived during Richard’s comings and goings from his camp to Rouen Castle, then it makes perfect sense why they wanted to baptize him right away. If they didn’t then he would likely die (being so frail) and his soul would be wandering off in purgatory. There were some extreme cases where –if a priest wasn’t found- the midwife could take on the role of the priest and baptize the baby instead. The other reason for his quick baptism could be that although he wasn’t premature, they were both worried that he would die like his brother or Richard could be killed any day. The two weren’t exactly living in a peaceful area. England was still at war with France and he had been sent there to defend Normandy from Charles VII’s forces.

Sources:

  • The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Cecily Neville: The Mother of Kings by Amy Licence
  • Royal Babies by Amy Licence
  • The Woodvilles by Susan Higginbotham

Henry VII Dies: The Death of the Red Dragon

Henry VII Bosworth

On Saturday 21st of April 1509, Henry VII died at Richmond Palace. He was the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty and while he has been eclipsed by his larger than life son, Henry remains one of the most fascinating figures of the modern era.

“The reality of Henry Tudor’s ascent to the throne –his narrow escapes from death, his failures and anxieties, complete with constant uncertainty of his situation … was a far less welcome tale. It remains nonetheless just as remarkable; against all the odds, at Bosworth Henry achieved victory that he should not have won.” (Skidmore)

He created a new symbol called the Tudor Rose which was nothing more than a device, an alternate tale to explain the roots of the conflict known today as the “wars of the roses”. The wars was a more complex conflict than what we are told and involved as many players as we can imagine. The warring Houses known as Lancaster and York, had many sigils. The white and the red rose where the emblems chosen by Henry Tudor to represent both Houses to give a new narrative of this conflict. It was an effective device that would become to represent not just the union of both Houses that came about with Henry VII’s marriage with Elizabeth of York, but of his descendants. On January 1559, fifty years after his death, his granddaughter, Elizabeth I rode from the Tower of London to Westminster on the eve of her coronation, and on her way she encountered five pageants, one of which showed “two personages representing King Henry the Seventh and Elizabeth his wife, daughter of King Edward the Fourth” seated together, above each head was the red rose and white rose respectively “out of which [these] two roses sprang two branches gathered into one, which were directed upward to a second stage wherein was placed one representing the valiant and noble prince King Henry [VIII]”.

Clearly, the Tudor rose was seen not just as a validation to his descendants’ right to the throne, but as something preordained by God, something that told the people that with them, the wars of the roses had come to a close, and peace had finally reigned in England. Whether this was true or not, and nobles believed it or not, is up to dispute. But nobody can deny that it was an effective piece of propaganda that convinced the people that war had come to an end, and that this new dynasty would bring them peace and prosperity. Tudor and Elizabethan literature helped a great deal when they continued to use this device to explain the reasons behind the conflict, reducing it to a dynastic conflict between two warring houses.

Tudor Rose 1

“The frontispiece was such a popular motif that it was repeated and reused on other, unconnected works: the same family tree appeared unmodified in John Stow’s 1550 and 1561 editions of Chaucer’s works, introducing the section on the Canterbury Tales. Just as John, Duke of Bedford, had plastered occupied France with genealogies advertising the legitimacy of the joint monarchy during the 1520s; just as Edward IV had obsessively compiled genealogies tracing his rightful royal descent from centuries long gone; so too did the Tudors drive home the message both of their right to rule and of their version of history. By Elizabeth’s reign the mere sight of red and white roses entwined was enough to evoke instantly the whole story of the fifteenth century: the Crown had been thrown into dispute and disarray by the Lancastrian deposition of Richard II in 1399; this had prompted nearly a century of warfare between two rival clans, which was a form of divine punishment for the overthrow of a rightful King; finally in 1485, the Tudors had reunited the families and saved the realm. It was that simple.” (Jones)

And yet all of Henry’s hard work, to maintain stability in his new realm, his marriage and his family, suffered a huge setback when his eldest son and beloved heir, Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia died as a result of the plague in early April 1502. He and his wife were utterly devastated. “The shadow cast by Arthur’s death” writes Dan Jones “was long and dark” but not as dark as historians Amy Licence and Alison Weir add, that of Elizabeth of York’s death a year later. Their deaths were too much for the aging King, who began to isolate himself from the public, coming out only for state occasions. When Henry’s condition worsened, his mother (Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond) who was sick herself, ordered that her son be moved to Richmond that March.

Margaret Beaufort old

“Her hands, now cramped with arthritis, were so painful that she would sometimes cry out ‘Oh Blessed Jesus help me!’ But to watch her son suffer was so much worse. The dying King sobbed as he reflected on the lives he had ruined. His last agonies began at about 10 pm Friday 20 April.” (de Lisle)

Margaret brought her confessor, John Fisher, to hear his confession and give him his last rites. And then on the morning of April 21st, Henry died.

Margaret immediately began to make preparations for her grandson’s coronation and kept the King’s death a secret for three days. She organized a meeting with his councilors and co-executors at his will at Greenwich to discuss, among many things, her son’s burial and the upcoming regency during her son’s short minority. Henry VIII was not yet eighteen and Margaret wanted to make sure that he was safely installed in his throne, before he took on the reins of government. Margaret had great experience in this since she had been a child of nine attending the court of her cousin, Henry VI, to repudiate her betrothal to de la Pole. The meeting took place on the celebration of the Order of the Garter –an Order she was a member of. Her grandson was present and while he was anxious to start his new reign, he recognized his grandmother’s experience, and respected her authority. Later that night, Henry’s death was announced and sadly (at least to Margaret, it must have been) nobody mourned his death and according to contemporary chroniclers, they greeted his death with celebration. To many historians, Thomas Penn included, Henry VII is a miserly figure who was consumed by darkness of his own making and who will forever be remember as a somber and cold figure. But this, as Linda Porter in her recent biography of the Tudors and Stewarts points out, is “an unfair assessment”.

A young Henry Tudor.
A young Henry Tudor.

“He was comely personage, a little above just stature, well and straight-limbed, but slender. His countenance was revered, and a little like a churchman, and as it was not strange or dark so neither was it winning or pleasing, but as the face of one well disposed. But it was to the disadvantage of the painter, for it was best when he spoke.” (Bacon)

Although written over a century after his death, Francis Bacon’s description of the first Tudor King, is right on the spot. Linda Porter adds:

“[He was] A considered person, not given to great public displays of emotion, somewhat ascetic in appearance, not exactly handsome but with an interesting and by no means unattractive face, the whole man only at his most appealing when he was animated. His portraits show that he did, indeed, have something of the churchman about him: a calm and also inscrutability, a sense that you would never entirely know that he was thinking. It gave him an air of authority.” (Porter)

Henry VII was an energetic young man at the time of his exile, yet he was also controlled and cautious as the descriptions above, provide. He loved to laugh, joke and gamble but whereas some kings and leaders were known for their vices, Henry was not known to have any. Some of those who met him during his exile, were surprised how someone who had lived and survived through so much, could be so controlled and yet not bitter. When he became King, he kept some of the measures that King Edward IV had introduced, he kept the Star Chamber on a tight leash, terminated private liveries which meant that nobles could no longer have private armies, and defeated the pretender forces of Lambert Simnel who posed as Edward, Earl of Warwick (George, Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville’s son) and Perkin Warbeck who posed as Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York.

Henry never forgot those who had helped him get to where he was and in his last will he names those “lords as well of our blood as other, and also knights, squires and divers our true loving subjects and servants’ who had ‘faithfully assisted us, and divers of them put themselves in extreme jeopardy of their lives, and losses of their lands and goods, in serving and assisting us, as well about the recovery of our Right and Realm of England.’ And in one final tribute to his victory in battle twenty four years before, the dying King requested that a wooden image, wrought with plate of fine gold, should be made, ‘representing our own person … in the manner of an armed man’, to be equipped with an enameled coat of the arms of England and France, together with a sword and spurs. The statue was to be placed kneeling on a silver table, ‘holding betwixt his hands the crown which it pleased God to give us, with the victory over our enemy at our first field.’ The statue was to be dedicated to St. Edward the Confessor, and set in the middle of his shrine, with detailed instructions as to the exact measurements of the statue, so that it would seem as if Henry was almost offering up his crown to St. Edward in thanks.” (Skidmore)

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York tomb at the Lady Chapel located in Westminster Abbey.
Henry VII and Elizabeth of York tomb at the Lady Chapel located in Westminster Abbey.

Henry’s body remained in Richmond for two weeks until it was finally laid to rest in Westminster Abbey, inside the Lady Chapel that Henry had ordered constructed for him, his wife and his descendants. He was buried right beside her. Above them, standing a massive golden effigy, representing both of them.

Sources:

  • Henry VII by SB Chrimes
  • The Winter King by Thomas Penn
  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • The Rise of the Tudors by Chris Skidmore
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation and Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Family by Leanda de Lisle