Revenge is a dish best served cold, but for some people, it sets them off on a more dangerous path where they end up deceiving themselves to justify their actions. That is how I perceive Ellaria/Doran’s actions in the TV show, books and their historical counterpart, Margaret of York.
Dorne has similarities with other influential kingdoms in Western Europe from the middle ages and early modern era, but for the current events in game of thrones/ a song of ice and fire, it has taken on the role of Burgundy during the early Tudor era.
Margaret of York couldn’t accept her brother died in battle. He gambled, he lost and -I am sorry for Oberyn fans (I love him too but let’s be fair)- the same is said for the Red Viper.
Oberyn’s death was horrible, but he lost fair and square. Sorry for his widow (or lover, whatever you want to call her) and his daughters, but that’s life, especially in game of thrones.
But Ellaria can’t come to terms with it and what does she do? She goes down on a dangerous path where she is willing to make alliances with former enemies (the Tyrells and the Martells have always hated each other) and support people she doesn’t fully trust just so she can see the Lannisters burn.
She is determined to have her revenge through any means necessary -even if it means killing her family.
Like Game of Thrones’ Ellaria, Margaret was a ruthless woman. This is a strong comparison to Margaret of York, Duchess Dowager of Burgundy who became in charge of the duchy after her husband died and her stepdaughter became the new ruler. Mary of Burgundy grew very close to her stepmother and recognized her intellect early on -like her father. She trusted her stepmother to take care of business, doing her best to learn from her and as time went on, the two ensured the duchy’s independence and protection from France.
Though she never killed anyone, she did finance many plots led by Yorkist sympathizers to dethrone Henry VII, even though he was married to her niece and already had children with her.
Margaret had seen the ascension of her dynasty and heard of its fall. Like most in her family, she had high hopes for the future, she took Richard III’s death pretty heard. It didn’t matter if the people claiming to be her nephews were real or not, all that mattered was that Henry was out of that throne and if possible, his family pushed to the end of the food chain.
We can only imagine what would’ve become of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York’s offspring, if the last pretender, Perkin Warbeck, had succeeded. Would Margaret have gone along, as well as her supporters, that he was Richard of Shrewsbury for long before it came to bite her in the ass? Would she have disposed of him (not necessarily kill him but cast him aside after she ‘discovered’ the truth and pulled ‘I didn’t know I had been deceived so I have to do what is right and support someone else who descends from Richard, Duke of York to take on the mantle of King’)? It is possible that she would have because a woman as cunning and meticulous as Margaret would have wanted to cover all her bases. There were others supporting these pretenders who were also descendants of the Duke of York via her older sisters. The throne would have likely passed on to them.
But again, what about Henry and Elizabeth’s children? Would they have gone on to suffer a similar fate like the Princes in the tower? Or would they have been placed under protective custody like their cousin, the Earl of Warwick, during their father’s reign?
It is possible that the latter would come true for the boys while the girls would be raised in separate households with their paternal relatives.
In the show, Ellaria is murderous and not the careful planner that Doran is since Doran has become useless. She kills Doran, rules in her stepdaughters and daughters’ names, and sets the former to do her dirty work against her nephew, Prince Trystanne. While Margaret of York never went this far, she was willing to act against her own family to restore the Yorkist dynasty on the throne. It didn’t matter that Henry VII had married her niece or that they had children. She wanted him gone and supported an impostor and pretender to achieve her means. Both attempts failed but she never stopped plotting against him until her nobles basically went ‘enough is enough’ and she realized she had a good run acting as the all powerful mastermind but her time was up and if she continued to act like this, she was going to lose everything so she backed down.
Perkin confessed that he wasn’t the youngest prince in the tower, and later he and Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick (whom the first rebellion Margaret supported, where Lambert Simnel claimed to be him) were sentenced to die. Both were hung and that was that.
“Elia Martell, raped and murdered and you did nothing. Oberyn Martell and you did nothing. You are not a Dornish man. You are not a Prince … Weak men will never rule Dorne again.” -Ellaria to Prince Doran Martell, ruler of Dorne after she stabs him.
Clearly, the show has taken many liberties but the storyline with Dorne remains the same, except that instead of supporting Young Griff (since they’ve written him out of the show), they are supporting Dany and whoever else that shares their agenda. Like Margaret of York, as long as Ellaria calls the shots, Dorne will continue to plot against the throne until someone comes and says enough is enough making her back down or someone else to take her place. As for the books, if Young Griff doesn’t win, it will be the end of Dorne. Not now or in a few years, but that principality’s days are numbered. It is sad since Dorne has many good tales of warrior princes and princesses, and conniving politicians who bested the Targaryens, not one but many times and even killed a dragon! But their last rulers’ gamble has not paid off.
Prine Doran tells Arianne in a sorrowful voice that he never hated her but wishes she would be cunning like him and knew how to win the people over like Ellaria with her smile and her cousin Tyene with her fake sweetness and apparent religious devotion. His tone changes as he remembers his siblings and tells Arianne that his first plan to put Viserys on the throne failed, and had it not, she would have been his Queen and manipulated events around her, so their final champion would have become King and restored Dorne to its former glory.
Throughout the entire series, it is not clear whether the Martells truly believe that Aegon, the supposed prince who escaped the Lannister and Baratheon purge is the real deal or he’s fake. Given that Martin has been inspired by medieval and early modern history, it’s safe to say that his Aegon is his version of Perkin Warbeck which like the real one, is often alluded to being fake.
In ‘A Clash of Kings’, when Daenerys goes into the house of the undying she is given a warning through her visions and before that by the Quaithe, who tell her that she will be betrayed three times, and she will be approached by cunning men. She should not trust either of them, and one of the men she is warned against is Varys and his pretender. She sees a vision of the mummer’s dragon, a young man acclaimed by the people whose strings are being pulled by a deceptive figure.
Martin has created his own version of Perkin Warbeck and just like his historical counterpart, no intelligent person believes his BS.
Aegon was rescued from the Mountain by some loyal servant who exchanged him with a servant’s baby (which nobody happened to notice) and has been in hiding all these years. And then, when the world is going to hell, he comes out of hiding to reclaim the throne and set things right.
Yeah … not buying it.
The first person to point this out is Tyrion Lannister who realizes who he is but doesn’t believe Young Griff (fake Aegon’s alias) story but knows that he does. Unlike Perkin though, Young Griff was raised from birth to be the perfect prince. He was taught how to sing and dance, act like a prince and that kingship was a responsibility and not a right. Naturally the poor young man believes what he has been fed all these years.
Similarly, Perkin was taught everything from philosophy, etiquette, and given new clothes that deceived many people and made them believe that he was one of the lost princes in the tower, youngest son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, and rightful king of England. But if there is one thing that history has taught us, is that things seldom go as planned.
Doran is eager to see his ‘nephew’ on the throne, but the last book gave clues that he might not be entirely sold on the idea that he is his nephew. It could be that like Margaret of York, he and Ellaria want to see their enemies suffer so badly, that they don’t care about who they are supporting anymore.
My advice to Doran and Ellaria is to hold on to their seats and be prepared to be disappointed (again) because not only did the Perkin Warbeck fiasco fail, it forced Margaret to withdraw her support and forget about the whole shameful ordeal lest she wanted to lose her hold over the duchy and it strengthened the Tudor Dynasty.
This is lamentable because Dorne has a rich history and I for one would love to see some of it being shown in the upcoming spin-offs, but as for now, it seems that their days are numbered. If Aegon doesn’t get to be King, then Dorne will lose whatever independence it has left. Its customs, riches, and authority will wither away in time until it becomes one of many other realms ruled by the Crown. If Ellaria has some common sense left, she will stop plotting now and tend to make Dorne, to make her principality great again before one of Oberyn’s daughters inherits a crippled state.
Martin, George R.R. A Song of Ice and Fire (1-5). Bantman. 2012.
Martin, George, et. al. World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros. Bantam. 2014.
Henry VIII: Mind of a Tyrant presented by David Starkey, directed by David Sington, BBC, 2009.
Lisle, Leanda. Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public. 2013.
Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999.
Jones, Dan. The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors. Penguin. 2014.
Weiss, Daniel Brett and Benioff, David, creators. Game of Thrones. HBO. 2011-?
Gristwood, Sarah. Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses. Harper Collins. 2012.
Looking for a good historical fiction to read that is true to Elizabeth of York and the tumultuous era she lived in? Look no further, the Plantagenet Princess is all this and more!
It is very hard to find a good historical fiction that is appreciate of Elizabeth of York, without downplaying on her strengths or ignoring her weaknesses.
Many novelists think it’s better to alter their female subjects, the ones who aren’t deemed “interesting” or “strong” in order to sell more books, by marketing them as progressive or ahead of their times.
This wouldn’t be a problem if novelists were honest with their audience but as it happens, they are not. So you can imagine my sigh of relief when I read this book and found an author who honored Elizabeth by staying as true as possible to her silent -yet strong- demeanor.
There is strength in silence and that is something that Samantha Wilcoxson emphasized on every chapter where Elizabeth comes out as an observant, proud, and pragmatic young woman who is aware of her importance, and is determined to be treated with the respect she rightly deserves.
As the firstborn of Elizabeth Woodville and Edwar IV, Elizabeth was well aware of her value. To quote from Susan Higginbotham in her biography on Elizabeth’s maternal family: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an unattached young king must be in search of a wife.”
And a man like Henry who’s claim to the throne was more tenuous than Elizabeth’s father, he needed a good marriage to keep himself in power.
Elizabeth is a caring young woman who is witty and at times outspoken, someone who has learned from her relatives’ mistake, has had to endure loss, but never feels sorry about herself. Her strength lies in knowing who to trust, her religious devotion and faith in herself. Sounds trite, but this is as close as you will get to time travel and meeting the real Elizabeth in historical fiction. The book is beautifully written, highly descriptive and character driven, with Elizabeth being not the only character that shines from this tale, but those are there with her at the end of her journey.
If you are a history buff who’s read plenty on the wars of the roses, and is fascinated by Elizabeth of York’s story, this is the book for you. If you are new to this era but wish to know more about the story behind the White Princess, this is the book for you too. Well researched, masterfully written, highly descriptive, Plantagenet Princess: Tudor Queen brings back the wars of the roses and the early Tudor era back to life, and gives justice to a figure who’s been easily discredited, altered, and her queenship dismissed.
They say that the good you do won’t do you any good. Sometimes this is true, but for a woman who had seen many kings deposed, murdered and killed in battle, and queens’ reputations dragged through the mud, sweetness and piety became her greatest strengths and her fertility a shield against anyone who’d think twice about her harming the new Tudor Dynasty.
Experiences shape us, and they certainly shaped Elizabeth but as I’ve previously pointed out, it is often our willingness to get back up despite how many times we’ve been brought down that makes all the difference. And Elizabeth never gave up. Although her weapons were invisible they were no less effective and as it happened, they guaranteed her success. She went down in history as one of the most successful English consorts, and gained a cult-like status.
It is easy to see why people have a hard time differentiating from the jolly old monarch, bluff king Hal/good king Hall, or the murderous, lecherous psychopath that came centuries later, to the real Henry VIII, who was as complex as everyone else during this era.
I have been guilty of viewing him through a twenty first century lens.
This is not going to be some excuse-making post about him, Henry VIII did a lot of things that were atrocious but when you want to have a serious discussion about him, you have to look at his reign in the proper context and the proper context is looking at it from a 16th century standpoint.
Henry VIII was no saint but neither was he a mustache-twirling villain, what he was, was a Humanist Prince whom everyone started to adore, ignoring the people he executed because they happened to be people they hated (Empson and Dudley) until one day he overstepped his boundaries, broke away from the church, threatened the livelihood of farmers and traders who relied on the monastic system that people went ‘okay this is going too far.’ The fat that he also wanted to annul his marriage to his wife of many years who was beloved by the English people, also played a part in people rising up against him. But even as they rebelled, they always made sure to point out that it wasn’t against him directly but their ministers.
The Forgotten Monarch:
It is easy to see why Henry VIII is seen as a villain. From a twenty-first century standpoint he does seem amoral, but we forget that the past is a different country and the Tudor era can’t easily be divided into good and evil. History is not a morality tale and if we want to have a serious discussion about the infamous monarch, we have to get to the heart of the story and see how the black legend of lecherous, murdering bluff king hall came to be.
In the following paragraph from The Wives of Henry VIII, Antonia Fraser says the following about Henry regarding the judicial arrest and later murder of Anne Boleyn:
“It is true that the workings of the King’s conscience followed the dictates of his heart amazingly conveniently. But this did not mean that he did not have a conscience. On the contrary, it was a likely and important part of his nature. The coincidence between passion and conscience was more apparent to outsiders than it was to him, a useful capacity for her self deception being another of his attributes … This is not to absolve Henry VIII of guilt concerning his second wife’s destruction, let alone the deaths of the innocent courtiers, some of them his close friends. On a rational level, the sovereign who agreed on 24 April to sign the commission of investigation into unknown treasonable conspiracies must have had a fair idea of what was going on. And even if that signing could be regarded as a purely routine administrative matter, the King went on a few days later to sign the documents necessary for summoning parliament … It is merely to observe that Henry VIII found it easy enough to absolve himself.”
Fraser and several other historians have pointed out, Henry wasn’t a dastardly being.
Deep down, to quote historian Robert Hutchinson, “he believed that what he wanted was what God wanted.” And it will be easy to point out his hypocrisy, but before doing that, his religiosity must be addressed.
“Most people have seen the famous painting of the bloated, middle-aged King, standing with his fists anchored pugnaciously to his hips, wearing sumptuous cloths covered in embroidery and jewels. The force of his personality can still be felt, even more a two-dimensional depiction in oil … His appearance thoroughly matches his reputation as a brutal thug who murdered women when he tired of them … Henry is popularly remembered as a fat, covetous, and womanizing lout, but this image is less than half the story. The aged King, with his cruel disdain for others and his harsh authoritarianism, is very different from his younger self. When Henry ascended to the throne, he strove to bring harmony and chivalry to his court; he was not to contentious and brutal man he was to become … As a young man, Henry was a handsome, genial, and a rational ruler. The youthful King was described, in the private letters of more than one foreign ambassador or other court contemporary, as having incredible physical beauty. His hair was red, he had very fair skin, and his face was as lovely as that of “a pretty woman” (Scarisbrick, 1970:13) … In addition to his physical accomplishments, the King had a brilliant mind. Henry’s intellect impressed many of the most famous thinkers of his day.”
In her book, Blood Will Tell, medical historian Kyra Cornelius Kramer illustrates Henry’s youth and background before she talks about the possible illnesses that affected him.
She also spends a good deal dispelling myths surrounding Henry, starting with the notion that he was a lecher whose mood changes were the result of venereal diseases from countless sex partners.
“Had it been suspected that Henry had syphilis, word of his condition would doubtlessly have circulated in European courts. The fact that he was the English monarch would not have stopped the doctors from reporting his disease, any more than it stopped royal physicians from making the King of France’s condition common knowledge.”
In her book, Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII, women’s historian Amy Licence, contests this notion, saying that there might be a bit of truth in legends, although she also maintains that in comparison to other kings, Henry was far more discreet and a prude.
Young Henry: The Man that Time Forgot
Henry VIII grew up in a strict environment. It was all fun and games until his brother died and his father, worrying about his last remaining male heir, was forced to do some adjustments to his schooling and outdoor activities. Basically, he wasn’t allowed to go out much. His father enjoyed playing cards, joking with friends when he was abroad and watching jousting tournaments. Naturally, his son wanted to do all that and more but his father didn’t let him. Henry was allowed to have friends but he wasn’t allowed to engage in any sort of sports that might hurt him.
In the twelfth century, Louis VI of the Capetian Dynasty, aka Louis “the Fat”, of France lost his eldest son due to horse riding. And jousting was far more dangerous, especially for a young boy, so that was out of the question.
Courtiers thought that Henry would grow up to be someone they could easily control but he surprised them when he told them he’d choose his bride, concocting a sentimental lie how it was what his father asked of him before he died. Rescuing Katharine of Aragon from near penury, Henry VIII saw himself as Sir Lancelot to her Guinevere. At times the two engaged in elaborate masques where they would each play different roles, with Katharine as the damsel in distress and Henry as her knight in shining armor. In her documentary series, the Secrets of the Six Wives (Six Wives in the UK), Lucy Worsley spent the first half hour of the first episode showing how deeply in love Henry and Katharine were and that they were equal in looks, stubbornness, and their educational backgrounds.
I am not going to spend to be discussing Katharine’s background, I have done that already in other posts which I’ve linked down below. I will say that when it comes to Henry, his background is often ignored to the point that all people can think of -when they think of Henry- is this disgusting gluttonous lecherous idiot. That was not always the case and this perception is a perfect example of how the shifting religious landscape affected people’s views on a man who was once hailed by the Venetian ambassador as the true embodiment of Humanist principle.
The origins of the Black Legend & the truth about his childhood
In his biography on Henry VIII, the late David Loades had this to say on the Good King Hal:
“Pro … defensionewas the first round in the creation of that ‘black legend’ of Henry VIII which thereafter dominated all those records of English events which emanated either from Catholic Europe or from the English Catholic community. One of the most vitriolic was Nicholas Sander’s De origine ac progressu schismaticis Anglicani published at Cologne in 1585, which attributed Henry’s actions in the 1530s entirely to unbridled lust, both for Anne Boleyn and also for the wealth of the Church. This was a line also taken by Robert Parsons in his treatise of three conversions … which was issued at St Omer in 1603. Modern historians in the Catholic tradition have been far more judicious, not only because polemic no longer serves a useful purpose, but because the debate has broadened to embrace the King’s whole style of government. Cardinal Gasquet in 1888, while not abandoning the lust and greed interpretation, was more concerned to set the events in context and to admit that there might have been some justification for the King’s extreme reactions. In the twentieth century Philip Hughes, while pointing out that Henry had a tendency to alter the law to suit his own convenience, also proposed that there was much amiss with the late medieval Church, and particularly the monasteries, which invited the King’s intervention. This concession has been repudiated by more recent scholars, notably Jack Scarisbrick and Eamon Duffy, who have argued that the Church was in rude health and that Henry’s success was primarily the result of his exercise of crude force. It was by executing dissenters on both sides of the confessional divide that the King enforced his will, using fear and intimidation as his principal weapons. Meanwhile, for historians of a Protestant persuasion the reformation was a change waiting to happen. Without denying the importance of the King’s actions, they proposed a model of a Church corrupted from within by superstition and idolatry, a tottering edifice awaiting a decisive push. Unfortunately Henry’s push had been anything but decisive, as they admitted.
John Foxe, standing at the head of his tradition, was frankly puzzled by Henry, who seemed to blow both hot and cold on the reformers -often at the same time.”
David Loades’ assessment on the second Tudor monarch, is probably the fairest.
In his documentary on Henry VIII, as well as in his biography on him, David Starkey stated that Henry had a deep connection with his mother. To prove his point, he showed viewers to copies, one of his mother and the other of Henry. The handwriting is similar and given that he was the spare, it makes sense why he and Elizabeth became close. Further proof of this lies in Henry’s words. He said to one of his colleagues that his mother’s death was one of the hardest moments of his life, and something he had never gotten over with.
But Henry’s idyllic childhood didn’t last. As previously stated, it ended when his brother died and his father became overprotective of him. In her recent biography on the Tudors, The Private Lives of the Tudors, Tracy Borman says that Henry VIII’s descent into madness can be traced back to his childhood. By the time he became King, he had grown into a “highly strung, impulsive and vain young man with a terrifying and unpredictable temper. Those who served him would soon learn how swiftly his favour could be lost.” She is referring to Empson and Dudley, his father’s dreaded tax-collectors whom he put in prison as soon as he came to the throne and less than a year later, had them executed. Some historians take this as proof that Henry was bloodthirsty from the beginning and people only turned against him when he attacked their privilege and their beloved church.
Henry VIII: The Politician & Trying to Solve the Puzzle
Certainly, Henry VIII was a good masker, but what monarch wasn’t a good liar. In his infamous book, The Prince, Machiavelli posed the question if it is better for a prince to be loved or feared. Machiavelli, like Henry VIII, gets taken out of context. He didn’t favor the monarchy and his other text on a Republican government better illustrates where he stood politically. Nevertheless, eager to win back the favor his masters, The Prince was a step-by-step manual on how to be an effective ruler. Machiavelli held that it was better for a monarch to be feared -since a good ruler had to be aware that he could never please everyone. But relying on fear alone, just as on love, didn’t work because eventually the people would rise up in anger and everything the ruler built -whether good or bad- could go down the drain. Therefore, he added another element to the equation: respect. Winning the people over was a good technique and for that a ruler had to be affable and seen as just -even when he wasn’t.
Henry was good at this. And not just because he was an evil mastermind who relished in people’s suffering but because he truly believed that what he was doing, was in everyone’s best interest.
Call it delusion, or self-con, but that is how Henry’s mind worked -and how most monarchs’ minds worked, especially the ones the ones that are widely revered.
Of course, as Henry VIII’s behavior became erratic as he got older. If Kyra’s theory that he suffered from Kell Blood Positive syndrome, as well as Suzannah Lipscomb in her book, 1536, where she said that the fall from his joust in that year caused him head trauma that altered his personality, are true then this along with his leg ulcer, and his urgency to father another male heir to secure the Tudor Dynasty, can explain this.
Even though victors get to rewrite history -and Henry did rewrite many things about his reign- sometimes writers decide that the truth is not interesting enough and they spice things up. This is what has happened to Henry. Amidst the myths and legends, the real one gets pushed into the background in favor of a caricature.
It is true, dead men tell no tales, but facts do and even when firsthand accounts are bias, they paint a clearer picture of who this man was and what fueled his actions. While the puzzle will never be solve, the deeper we dig, the closer we come to discovering who the real Henry VIII was.
Borman, Tracy. The Private Lives of the Tudors: Uncovering the Secrets of England’s Greatest Dynasty. Hodder & Stoughton. 2016.
Kramer, Kyra Cornelius. Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation of the Tyranny of Henry VIII. Ash Wood Press. 2012.
Henry VIII: Mind of a Tyrant presented by David Starkey, directed by David Sington, BBC, 2009.
Loades, David. Henry VIII. 2011.
“Divorced.” Six Wives with Lucy Worsley, written by Chloe Moss, directed by Russell England, BBC, 2016.
On the 8th of June 1492, Elizabeth Woodville, Queen Dowager of England and mother of Elizabeth of York, the first Tudor Consort, died at Bermondsey Abbey. She had retired to be at peace with her thoughts and true to her religiosity, she asked for a moderate funeral.
Some historians and novelists speculate as to why she decided to retire to an Abbey, with the former making assumptions that it was due to her son’s cruelty or his mother’s jealousy, while the latter say that it had to do with her possible involvement in the Lambert Simnel rebellion. Lambert Simnel was an impostor who pretended to be the captive Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick. His rebellion failed and he was relegated to the kitchens with many of the main plotters dying in the field.
Elizabeth’s role in this plot has long been debated and while there is a possibility of her involvement, the more likely explanation (while simple) is probably the correct one. As I’ve mentioned, it had to do with her religiosity -which was a key component of her life.
Elizabeth was discreet, strict with her ladies (when she was queen), and moderate in her spending which is a big contrast to her predecessor -Marguerite of Anjou who often exceeded her royal income- and on top of that, she was very observant of religious doctrine. Her brother, Anthony Woodville, expressed an interest in joining the Catholic Kings in their crusade against the Moors and one of her surviving brothers, following the end of Richard III’s reign and the start of her son-in-law Henry Tudor’s, went ahead and did that.
That religiosity was inherited by her daughters, most notably her eldest and youngest, Elizabeth and Bridget of York. The latter became a nun at the Dartford Priory and it is possible that this was her intended fate since she was a child. After Elizabeth died, Bridget asked permission to leave so she could attend her mother’s funeral.
Her wishes were honored and Elizabeth’s funeral was a modest one. She was interred in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor, next to her second husband, Edward IV. Fun fact, this is the place where her grandson, Henry VIII and granddaughter-in-law, Jane Seymour, were also interred, and so were some of her later descendants, including Anne I of the United Kingdom and one of her infant offspring.
The best way to honor Elizabeth Woodville is by remembering who she was. Besides being a religious matron, devoted mother and wife, she was also a survivor of one of the most turbulent periods in English history.
She was the first Yorkist, married to Edward IV and Sir John Grey before him. Her eldest daughter Elizabeth of York married Henry VII in 1486. Less than nine months later she gave birth to Prince Arthur. On his christening, her family held a special place, ahead of other nobles. Elizabeth Woodville stood as the infant’s godmother, presenting her grandson with a “rich up of gold”.
As previously mentioned, Elizabeth was highly religious. During her time as Queen, Elizabeth Woodville would make special pilgrimages to churches, and stop whenever she could to make a special offering. Her humility during the Lancastrian Readeption earned her the common people’s approval. Queens were supposed to be passive and religious, Elizabeth fit this model very well unlike her predecessor, the Lancastrian Queen, Marguerite of Anjou who was every bit of independent as her female relatives. During her first time in sanctuary, she gave birth to her firstborn royal son, Prince Edward. Baptized in a humble ceremony, she received bread and other provisions from the people who soon heard of her plight. During the reign of Richard III, Elizabeth and her daughters came out of sanctuary after he promised he wouldn’t harm them. To this day historians can’t make up their minds as to what happened to her sons, the princes in the tower. Probably they never will. One thing is for certain though. There was more to Elizabeth Woodville than met the eye. As a consort she fulfilled her duties and obligations by giving the King two male heirs and adhering to the gender norms of the day.
Higginbotham, Susan. The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s most infamous family. History Press. 2013.
Licence, Amy. Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen. Amberley. 2013.
Okerlund, Arlene. Elizabeth Wydeville: The Slandered Queen. Tempus. 2005.
On Christmas day, 1483, Henry VII solemnly swore that he would marry Elizabeth of York at Vannes Cathedral, among many of his fellow exiles in Brittany. Other sources say it was Rennes. According to Polydore Vergil (who placed it at Rennes), the event went as follows:
“The day of Christ’s nativity was come upon, which, meeting all in the church, they ratified all in the church, they ratified all other things by plighting of their troths and solemn covenants and first of all Earl Henry upon his Oath promised, that so soon as he should be King he would marry Elizabeth, King Edward’s daughter; then after they swore unto him homage as though he had already been created King, protesting that they would lose not only their lands and possessions, but their lives, before they would suffer, bear, or permit, that Richard should rule over them an heirs.”
Henry knew that time was running out. Earlier that year, his mother had sent a messenger telling him about the state of affairs in England and Buckingham had written to him, telling him he would switch sides, plan an insurrection so Henry could become King. The full details of what motivated Buckingham to switch sides is still unclear and isn’t likely to be solved anytime soon. But failure to destabilize Richard III’s reign, was a massive halt to Henry Tudor’s plans. After the Duke’s execution in October, Henry was ready to set sail with a great fleet that was funded by his ally and jailor, the Duke of Brittany, but they were quickly blown away by “a cruel gale of wind” which drove them back to Brittany. Which was the more reason why he made this pledge in front of all his fellow exiles, among them staunch Lancastrians and Edwardian Yorkists. With this vow he secured the latter’s support. And they paid homage to him as if he were already king, and declared him so less than a month later in November 3 at Bodmin.
“…in addition to the Duchess of Brittany herself. The premier minister, Pierre Landais, was also present and through him Henry obtained Duke Francois’ solemn promise to support and assist in the cause. Henry had entered into a pledge which he could not turn back from. If his invasion of England was successful, he would marry Elizabeth of York. It was in effect a marriage by proxy.” (Breverton)
When Richard III heard of this, he acted quickly. Parliament passed a bill entitled “Titulus Regius” on January the 23rd which officially declared the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville null and void under the assumption that he had been betrothed to one Eleanor Butler months before. Not surprisingly, nobody in his regime could dispute that given that both of the three people in question were dead. Henry Tudor, acted quickly as well, obtaining a papal dispensation on March the 27th and moving out of Brittany that summer after one of his spies at Richard’s court told him that the King was hot on his trail.
Four months after his triumph at Bosworth Parliament would remind him of his pledge, and he would swear one more time that he would honor that pledge and marry the Princess Elizabeth.
The couple were married a month later in January of 1486, after the papal dispensation was signed, sealed and delivered, making their union official. And just as he promised, their union would come to represent the union of two houses, Lancaster and York, symbolized in the new device Henry had created to embody this: the Tudor Rose.
Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood
Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
On the 10th of December 1485, Henry VII swore before parliament that he would marry Elizabeth of York. He had first sworn this during the Christmas of ’83 when he was still in exile at Brittany. But when he won the crown, he wanted to make it known that he was king based on right of conquest and his lineage alone and no through his wife. Parliament however felt differently, and reminded him (through its speaker, Thomas Lovell) of his promise and the importance behind their union.
“Your Royal Highness should take to himself that illustrious lady Elizabeth, daughter of King Edward IV, as his wife and consort, whereby by God’s grace, many hope to see the propagation of offspring from the stock of Kings, to comfort the whole realm.”
The wedding was scheduled for the following year on the eighteenth of January.
Their union became symbolic of the two warring houses of Lancaster and York which had plunged the country into civil war for over thirty years, coming together as one. The next generation would come to embody that, using this powerful symbol in all of their coronations as proof of divine providence.
Winter King by Thomas Penn
Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
On the 18th of October 1541, Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, died at Methven Castle, Scotland. She was married thrice, first King James IV of Scotland, then Archibald Douglas the Earl of Angus, and lastly to Henry Stewart, Lord Methven. She had children from her first two marriages: James V and Margaret Douglas. Their offspring, Mary, Queen of Scots and Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley’s union produced James VI of Scotland who became King of England after Elizabeth I died without leaving any issue.
Being her parents’ eldest daughter, meant that she was going to expect a grand marriage and given that England desperately needed an alliance (following the Perkin Warbeck fiasco whom the Scottish King had backed) it wasn’t surprising who was picked for her. When she arrived to Scotland in 1503 and met her future husband for the first time, they hit it off immediately. The two danced, partied and spent several nights talking about the upcoming wedding ceremony. Margaret urged him to cut his beard, and James agreed. As with her brother’s wife, Katherine of Aragon, Margaret suffered many miscarriages until she finally gave birth to two healthy boys. Of these two, only one reached adulthood and became King after his father’s tragic death in the battle of Flodden in 1513.
Margaret Tudor has been criticized for her decision to marry the Earl of Angus, citing that it made her lose the Regency which her husband had left her with (with the condition that she didn’t marry), and it nearly brought a civil war with her constant fighting with her son’s new regent, the Duke of Albany. Although all of this is true, for Margaret marrying Angus had nothing to do with lust and much less with love. A pragmatic woman like her father and namesake, she wanted someone from a powerful family who could help her rule in her son’s name, and offer her military support in case the other lords turned against her. When she realized the mistake she’d made, she looked for other options. And although her brother was initially supportive of her, when he heard that Margaret had annulled her marriage to Angus, he was furious and heavily criticized her, telling her that she had made a mockery of the sanctity of marriage. This is really ironic considering what he did less than two decades after he had his marriage annulled to Katherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn, and not long after that, annulled his second marriage so he could marry again.
While Margaret wasn’t highly influential in her son’s reign, she was very close to his second wife, Mary of Guise, and comforted her when she lost both of her sons (from her first marriage) in May of that year.
She was buried in St. John’s Abbey in Perth where most of the Scottish monarcha are buried and two decades later, at the height of religious unrest, the Calvinist stormed in the Abbey, desecrated her grave and burned her skeleton. “Her ashes were contemptuously scattered” Porter writes in her biography on Tudors and Stewarts, and therefore “like her first husband, she has no monument.” But her legacy got to live on through both of her offspring when their descendant became King of England, and since then, every monarch that sits on the English throne can trace their ancestry back to her.
Tudors vs Stewarts: The fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
Thistle and the Rose by Hester W. Chapman
Passion. Murder. Manipulation: The story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle