The Birth and Death of a Tudor Queen: Elizabeth of York

"In child-bed lost she her sweet Life;  Her life esteemed so dear  Which had been England's loving Queen   Full many a happy year." ~Anonymous 17th c. Ballad.
“In child-bed lost she her sweet Life;
Her life esteemed so dear
Which had been England’s loving Queen
Full many a happy year.” ~Anonymous 17th c. Ballad.

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.

"Here lieth the fresh flower of Plantagenet,   Here lieth the White Rose in the Red Set  God grand her now Heaven to increase  And our own King Harry long life and peace."  -From one of the epitaphs hung near her tomb.
“Here lieth the fresh flower of Plantagenet,
Here lieth the White Rose in the Red Set
God grand her now Heaven to increase
And our own King Harry long life and peace.”
-From one of the epitaphs hung near her tomb.

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).

 

"The study of her life illuminates a woman of complex emotions, whose difficult life had taught her the essential qualities of compassion and diplomacy that marked her duration as royal wife and mother. The advent of her son Henry was made possible by the strength of his parents as survivors. Together, Elizabeth and her husband had established, defended and founded the most famous dynasty in English History... In her role as patron of religion and arts, in her piety and compassion and as a figurehead for motherhood correlative with the Virgin Mary, Elizabeth fulfilled her role as Queen and her motto of 'humble and reverent'. In 1972 SB Chrimes described her as 'a very handsome woman of great ability, as beloved, as a woman of the greatest charity and humanity ... good reason to supposed she was an admirable spouse in the King's eyes'. A decade later, Anne Crawford supposed she was 'probably everything a fifteenth-century Englishman could have hoped for in his Queen'. Subsequent chroniclers, and most historians, have idealized Elizabeth as shadowy figure, with quasi-divine status; in Hall's words, she was 'virtuous and gracious', in the eyes of others, beautiful and submissive. The real Elizabeth remains comparatively inaccessible through the lack of surviving records but her success as a wife, mother and queen cannot be called into doubt. She set the standard of queenship for her contemporaries and possibly also for her son, the future Henry VIIII, by which all other consorts could be measured. As the daughter, sister, wife, mother and grandmother of kings and queens, her offspring would inherit the English throne for the next century, after which they would also claim it as the Stuart line and unite the kingdom for another 100 years. In very real terms, Elizabeth was responsible for delivering the future and her lacy long outlived her. " -Amy Licence, Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen.
“The study of her life illuminates a woman of complex emotions, whose difficult life had taught her the essential qualities of compassion and diplomacy that marked her duration as royal wife and mother. The advent of her son Henry was made possible by the strength of his parents as survivors. Together, Elizabeth and her husband had established, defended and founded the most famous dynasty in English History. ” -Amy Licence, Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen.

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.

Sources:

  • 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

Birth & Death: Two Henrys and their Legacies

28 January 1457 –A Very Happy Birthday to Henry the Seventh, the founder of the Tudor Dynasty!
The first monarch of the Tudor dynasty, he continues to generate controversy, no thanks to recent portrayals in fiction. In spite of the miserly image he is known for, Henry’s life was shaped by turbulent events that he had no control of. As shown by Lisle and Jones below, in comparison to Richard III, he might not appear larger than life, yet Henry also made many legal improvements that are often forgotten.
"Whatever the judgment of a merciful God on Henry VII, that of historians has not always been complimentary. What are most often recalled are his last years and the accusations of avarice. Was he a better King than Richard III might have been had he survived Bosworth? Richard's abolition of forced loans to the Crown ... his protection of the church, promotion of justice for the rich and poor alike, are in stark contrast to Henry VII's latter years." -Leanda de Lisle. However, Henry VII did try to do enough to limit the powers of the nobility and also promote for  a better church system. Much like his female counterpart in Castile, the Queen Regnant, Isabella I; he tried to regulate church leaders and promote those who had earned their position through hard work and were earnest in their devotion. Unfortunately, England was not Castile and the church and the Crown had always been at odds with each other over matters such as this one.
“Whatever the judgment of a merciful God on Henry VII, that of historians has not always been complimentary. What are most often recalled are his last years and the accusations of avarice. Was he a better King than Richard III might have been had he survived Bosworth? Richard’s abolition of forced loans to the Crown … his protection of the church, promotion of justice for the rich and poor alike, are in stark contrast to Henry VII’s latter years.” -Leanda de Lisle.
However, Henry VII did try to do enough to limit the powers of the nobility and also promote for a better church system. Much like his female counterpart in Castile, the Queen Regnant, Isabella I; he tried to regulate church leaders and promote those who had earned their position through hard work and were earnest in their devotion. Unfortunately, England was not Castile and the church and the Crown had always been at odds with each other over matters such as this one.

Henry Tudor was born to Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond. His mother was thirteen years old at the time of his birth. She was born in 1443 to the Duke of Somerset, for reasons often attributed to suicide “as it was generally said” she was left orphan when she was just an infant. As the King’s cousin, she was placed under the care of the Earl of Suffolk, a personal favorite of the Queen (Marguerite of Anjou) however this never went into effect. The Earl of Suffolk’s pretensions to wed the young Lancastrian heiress to his son John de la Pole were not well seen and after his death, the King was in search of a new husband that would be looked more favorably. The answer came in the form of his half brother, Edmund. Edmund along with his other famous brother, Jasper, was the son of the late Queen Dowager, Katherine of Valois (Henry VI’s mother) and the Welsh upstart Owen ap Meredith ap Tudor. For a mistranslation his last name became Tudor instead of Meredith. Regardless of this, their union was frowned upon as Katherine had married without permission and both suffered for it but after a while both parties were pardoned. Katherine was the first to die leaving Owen and their large brood. Of this, the two eldest sons figured and it was Edmund whom Henry VI chose as his cousin’s groom. In spring of 1453 Margaret was asked to swear before the court that she denied her betrothal to the late Earl of Suffolk’s son, John de la Pole. As a young girl of nine, she would be too young to understand the implications. Later in life she gave a colorful story that she was asked to choose between Edmund and John, and that she prayed to God to give her guidance and after he’d spoken to her she gave members her reply: Edmund.
She and Edmund were married right after her twelfth birthday in 1455, the same year that the dynastic conflict between Lancaster and York erupted, a conflict that changed both their lives and that of their son. Edmund did not live to see his son’s birth. The year it became known she was pregnant he became captured by Yorkist forces and released afterwards only to die. For Margaret this was a crucial point in her life. Not only was her husband dead, but the country was at war as well and on top of it, she was only thirteen years old and pregnant. She traveled to Pembroke Castle where she immediately entered into confinement. Weeks later she gave birth to a healthy boy and chose for him a Lancastrian rather than a Welsh name. Henry.
Regarding his appearance there are discrepancies in contemporaries and later sources, some describe him as dark, others as fair, the contemporary portrait that survives is of the last years of his reign where he is indeed shown of a dark appearance, darkening brown hair and dark eyes.

For Henry life would never be easy. He would always be on the move but his mother would never stop fighting –and contrary to many popular myths Margaret never had any visions her son was meant to be King. She was certainly pious –as many ladies of the time were- but she was not delusional. Throughout her life she fought for her son’s restitution of his lands and title.
When he was a year old Margaret remarried, the spouse chosen for her: the Duke of Buckingham’s second son, Henry Stafford and as far as the records can tell us, this was a happy marriage and Henry allowed Margaret to visit her son as much as possible. But a reversal of fortune in 1471 after the brief restitution of the Lancastrian regime was toppled once and for all would force her son and his uncle, the Lancastrian loyalist, Jasper Tudor, former Earl of Pembroke, to flee. After this, mother and son would not see each other again until the aftermath of Bosworth field, 1485 where the last Yorkist King, Richard III was killed in battle and when against all odds Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond was crowned King Henry the Seventh of England.

As a child, Henry was lucky to have a literate mother and one interested in his well-being and education. Unlike what was shown in the popular TV drama “the White Queen” Henry Tudor was not a lonely, timid child who was scared of his own shadow. His grandfather, Owen Tudor, was killed in the aftermath of the battle of Mortimer’s cross. In the same fashion of the late Duke of York a year earlier, he was beheaded and his head stuck on a pole for all to see. There was only one woman keeping vigil of his head lighting candles every day, something many frowned upon and while her identity will never be confirmed, it is likely she was the mother of his illegitimate son, David ap Owen. Living very near Henry Tudor, he was likely his playmate and Margaret delighted to teach both children how to read and advance their education. Furthermore, after he became Sir William Herbert’s ward, he had the benefit of great tutors, some of them Oxford graduates. During his exile in Brittany his charisma and charm were highly spoken of, it was on Breton soil in Rennes Cathedral on the Christmas of 1483 where he declared he would marry Elizabeth of York and take the English throne. Their marriage did not come about until 1486 and while their union is described as happy, it was not without its obstacles. Rebellions, deaths were just a few, when Elizabeth died in 1503 and her infant daughter followed her soon after, Henry went into seclusion and it is here that the popular image of the ‘miser King’ comes into play.

“The shadow of Arthur’s death was long and dark, and it changed the whole character of Henry VII’s reign … But this was nothing next to the misery that followed on February 11,when Queen Elizabeth also died … The king’s general mood shifted from celebratory to suspicious.” (Jones)

His tax policies became more excessive and he was rarely seen except for state occasions. He died in 1509 at the age of fifty and was buried in Westminster in the Lady Chapel he had constructed for himself and his wife.

Also on this day, 90 years later, Henry VII’s youngest son and successor, Henry VIII died at Whitehall Palace. His near 40 year reign is famous, mostly in part because of his six wives.
By early January French Ambassadors were reporting to Francis I that Henry was deathly ill, on the twenty seventh of January it became clear he was dying and he asked for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. Thomas Cranmer asked him if he trusted God to give him a sign, Henry was only able to squeeze his hand then closed his eyes.
His long-life dream to ensure the continuity of his father’s line would not come through his direct descendants but his eldest sister’s –Margaret Tudor. His favorite niece, Margaret Douglas’ son -Lord Darnley was married to his cousin, Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots in 1565, their son James (b.1566) would inherit both crowns, uniting England and Scotland.
While the images we have of Henry is of the big corpulent man in Holbein’s painting, or the attractive Johnathan Rhys Meyers, the Henry that came to succeed his father in 1509 was of a handsome, young man of seventeen who as his maternal grandfather Edward IV, was said to be the “handsomest Prince” in Christendom. He surrounded himself by scholars and the best known men of the age. His break with Rome changed English history and divided England into two factions, much of which no doubt had a deep effect on his eldest daughter Mary who had once been regarded as his “pearl”. He left his nine year old son, Edward as his successor, but of all his children, the one who would be most remembered and would carry on his legacy would be his youngest daughter, Elizabeth who is known today as “Good Queen Bess” and “Glorianna” and celebrated as one of the greatest monarchs in English history.

The Tudor Dynasty Portrait. Henry VIII is showing in his imposing self, below his father who is leaning towards the central altar, at the opposite side is his mother and Jane Seymour -the consort he asked to be buried with for the simple reason that he'd given him his long awaited for son.
The Tudor Dynasty Portrait. Henry VIII is showing in his imposing self, below his father who is leaning towards the central altar, at the opposite side is his mother and Jane Seymour -the consort he asked to be buried with for the simple reason that he’d given him his long awaited for son.

In this painting commissioned by Henry VIII, he and his father with their respective Consorts lean next to a giant altar that is meant to boost Henry’s image and asks the question which Henry was better, father or son? ‘The former often overcame his enemies and the fires of his citizens’ but adds ‘the son, born indeed for greater tasks, drives the unworthy from the altars and brings in men of integrity. The presumption of popes has yielded to unerring virtue and with Henry VIII bearing the scepter in his hand, religion has been restored.’

 

Sources:
  • Tudor: Passion. Manipulation. Murder. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
  • Elizabeth of York by Amy Licence
  • Hollow Crown: Wars of the Roses and Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Henry VIII by Derek Wilson
  • Henry VII by SB Chrimes