The union of Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York and Anne de Mowbray took place at the St Stephen’s Chapel in Westminster Palace in London, on January 1478, two years after her father, John de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk passed away.
Anne belonged to two of the most prominent aristocratic families in England. Besides the de Mowbray clan, she was also a Talbot through her mother, Elizabeth Talbot. After her father died, she became one of the most desired brides as well.
England had just experience over two decades of internal conflicts, and despite the Yorkist regime coming on top, Edward IV wanted to heal the wounds that his marriage, and later his cousin, Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick’s rebellion and after that, the Lancastrian Readeption, left on the country. Many of the noble families who had supported his claim felt betrayed after he married Elizabeth Woodville, who had no royal connection and brought nothing to the table except her extended family. Edward IV thought of marrying them to his in-laws whom he was sure they would be loyal because whom else did they owe their ascension or depended but him? This turned out to be a terrible miscalculation on Edward’s part, and it furthered the divide between him the and the old nobility.
They began to blame the Woodvilles and before long, they sided with his enemies, first Warwick, then the Lancastrian queen exiled across the narrow sea, Margaret of Anjou and her son, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales.
After the Lancastrian Readeption, England was finally at peace. But tensions were still high. The wedding was a public display of unity and also an opportunity for the crown to gain her family fortune.
Richard and Anne were just five. Marriages like these weren’t common but they were not frowned upon either. James II of Aragon married his wife when he was a pre-teen, and Edward I of England married Eleanor of Castile when the two were teenagers, with Eleanor being three years younger than him. And let’s not forget Richard’s namesake, his grandfather, also Duke of York, who married Cecily Neville when the couple were teenagers.
It was recommended that for couples this young to wait until they mentally and physically mature enough to consummate the marriage. Given that the newlyweds were infants, the first years together, they spent them as cousins and friends rather husband and wife. The legal age for consummation varied between the ages of 12-14; so until that day came, Anne would be under the crown’s watchful eye, enjoying every privilege of being wife to the King’s youngest son.
Unfortunately, the two never got to know each other as husband and wife since Anne died when she was eight at Greenwich Palace in London. Two years later in 1483, Parliament decided to transfer her family fortune to her husband instead of her cousins.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
On the 29th of September 1464 at what became known as the Reading Parliament, Edward announced to his shocked courtiers that he would not marry the intended bride the Earl of Warwick, Richard Neville, had for him. Bona of Savoy.
The reason? Simple.
He was already married.
This was a huge slap in the face for Warwick who believed Edward would be malleable and listen to his every council but Edward was determined to be his own man. As to when did he marry Elizabeth Woodville. The sources don’t agree except on one thing that it was likely on May. Some suggest that it was on May 1 of that same year, a day that was known as “Love Day”.
“As David Baldwin notes: ‘The idea of a young, handsome king marrying for love on Mayday may have been borrowed for romantic tradition’. J.L. Laynesmith agreed that ‘1 May is a suspiciously apt day for a young king to marry for love. May had long been the month associated with love, possibly originating in pre-Christian celebrations of fertility and certainly celebrated in the poetry of the troubadors’.” (Higginbotham)
This day was deeply rooted in pagan traditions and it was known as a day of misrule when gender and social roles would be juxtaposed. As such, if Edward wasn’t as serious as he claimed to be with Elizabeth, he could use the love day as an excuse to later deny it, claiming that it was done on a day known for such actions. Then again, the recent contemporary account we have regarding this date comes from four years later. Some historians believe that it could have been a later date and that writers assigned it the “Love day” date because it sounded romantic, and also, as the years passed by, the stories of how the two met got very exaggerated.
Given the enormous pressure that Edward had to unite the former warring factions within his country, some historians theorize that it wasn’t just love that propitiated this bold move but a number of factors such as his wish for independence and cut ties with his cousin and major adviser, the earl of Warwick. Elizabeth came from a large and former Lancastrian family. With so many sisters, brothers and cousins to wed, Edward could strengthen dynastic ties with well known Lancastrian partisans.
As soon as the marriage became known, the earl of Warwick and a select of other nobles resented the king’s new in-laws, as well as Edward’s other allies which were seen as parvenus and unworthy of their new positions (such as William Herbert, a prominent Welshman who was deeply loyal to the king).
“Michaelmas 1464, when his council pushed him to commit to a foreign marriage. This was the moment at which his crown was secure enough to admit to a controversial decision, but also at which he could forestall a decision on a French marriage no longer. Thus the shock and surprise when Elizabeth Woodville was presented to the English court at Reading, processing into the public presence on the arms of the fourteen year old George, Duke of Clarence …” (Jones)
They had cause to for alarm. When Henry VI married Margaret of Anjou, she brought nothing significant to the marriage except for a hollow alliance that didn’t do England any good. Now here was Edward IV, married to a beautiful Lancastrian widow who brought no alliance and no dowry. What she did bring though was many useful allies. As previously stated, love can’t be discounted, but it wasn’t the only reason for Edward marrying Elizabeth. With a large family, he could marry them off to all the prominent families in England, and make them entirely dependent on him. Their rise and fall would entirely depend on how well they did their jobs or how poorly they performed their tasks.
It seemed like a good plan at first but time would reveal that it was nothing more than a disastrous miscalculation on his part which would nearly cost him his throne, and later give munitions to Richard, Duke of Gloucester when he took the crown from his nephew, Edward, Prince of Wales, and the destruction of his House.
Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
On Sunday the 24th of September 1486, Prince Arthur Tudor was christened at Winchester Cathedral. His godparents were the Queen Dowager Elizabeth Woodville, John de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, Sir Thomas Stanley, the Earl of Derby.
“The city turned out to see the solemn procession, which was captured in an engraving by an unknown artist, showing no less than five people carrying the baby’s train under a fringed canopy. He was wrapped in crimson cloth of gold furred with ermine. Elizabeth’s family played prominent roles in her absence, with her mother being one of the named godparents.” (Licence)
Margaret Beaufort was absent from the celebrations. Possibly because she did not wish to overshadow her daughter-in-law’s family, especially the Queen Dowager who outranked her. It is a myth that Elizabeth’s family were treated with hostility during Henry VII’s reign. Some historians believe that he suspected his mother-in-law of playing a role in Lambert Simnel’s rebellion and historical fiction writers blame him for her low-key funeral. But the fact is that Elizabeth Woodville was a pious woman, and she won the commons during her first time in Sanctuary when she gave birth to the King’s first legitimate son, Edward, Prince of Wales (one of the lost princes in the tower) and she depended largely on their charity. The fact that she didn’t ask them to fight for her and played her role of the ‘good wife’ to perfection endeared her to them. And her daughter was pretty much the same and some have gone so far as to say that she became the image of the ideal wife and consort, that she was the basis by which Henry VIII judged all of his wives.
“It was not until the seventeenth century, when Francis Bacon wrote his history of Henry VII’s reign, that Elizabeth was explicitly linked to the Lambert Simnel conspiracy.” (Higginbotham)
Whether she was involved or not, her family’s religiosity was widely admired and commented on, even for the times.
The Queen Dowager’s brother, the late Earl of Rivers hosted his brother-in-law’s sister, the Duchess Dowager of Burgundy when she came for her last visit to England in 1480 and the two shared a common interest in education, and he expressed a deep interest in fighting in a crusade. One of her surviving brothers did fight in a crusade. Sir Edward Woodville aided Henry VII during the Simnel fiasco and then went on to give his services to the Catholic Kings when they fought against the Moors. He was also present for the christening, helping others carry the canopy over the baby.
“The Cathedral door was hung with cloth of gold and the nave had been magnificently “hanged with cloths of Arras and red sarcenet” and laid with carpets right to the altar … To one side was a curtained area, behind was “a fire of coals”, a chafer of water, and silver basins. It was here where he could be kept warm and clean, that the prince was undressed completely.” (Weir.)
He was given to John Alcock [Bishop of Worcester] who immersed him in the basin of holy water just enough to touch his forehead and christened him. His aunt, Anne of York then came and placed a cloth on his forehead and he was handed over to his maternal grandmother and godmother, Elizabeth Woodville who laid him on the altar “after which the Earl of Oxford took the prince in his right arm, and Peter Courtenay [Bishop of Exeter] confirmed him.” Gifts were brought, offerings were made, and then Cecily took the baby and brought him back to his mother.
Arthur would later be invested as Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia besides becoming Duke of Cornwall. The hope of the Tudor rested entirely on his shoulders from the moment of his birth. Poems were made about him, extolling his lineage, remarking how he was the true embodiment of the union between Lancaster and York.
The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family by Susan Higginbotham
Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir
On the 20th of September 1486, Queen Elizabeth of York gave birth to the first prince of the Tudor dynasty, a baby boy named Arthur at St. Swithun’s Priory next to Winchester Cathedral. This was no coincidence as Henry wanted his crown heir to be born in the place where it was believed Camelot once stood.
Henry was proud of his Welsh roots and he wanted to exalt them, by naming his crown heir, Arthur after the legendary king who unified all Britain. From the start, Henry VII, was doing his best to solidify his place in English history and the rest of Europe. When he married Elizabeth of York that same year, their union was widely celebrated. A new emblem was a created.
“Henry had been born at Pembroke Castle in Wales and spent his early years at Raglan in Monmouthsire. His paternal grandfather, Owen Tudor claimed descent from Arthur and he had marched under the banner of a red dragon, the Pen Draig, or Pendragon, at Bosworth. Breton minstrels and early Welsh texts had been drawing on the legend long before the Tudors …The present round table in Winchester’s Great Hall has been carbon dated to 1250-90 … Even Elizabeth’s father, Edward IV, had been drawn to Arthurian ideals and produced genealogies to justify his wresting the throne from Henry VI.” (Licence)
Not surprisingly then, Henry VII felt even more drawn because of his Welsh roots. On the road to Bosworth, he chose for his main standard the dragon of Cadwalldr and thanks to his uncle Jasper’s popularity in that area, the bards sang songs about him being their prophesized savior.
Arthur was the embodiment of these myths, being born at the place where many believed Arthur’s fabled city of Camelot once stood, and where a replica of the round table was held at the ceiling of Winchester Cathedral, and of his father’s ambitions. He was a prince of both Lancaster and York.
For her part, Elizabeth had been preparing for the birth since Easter with the help of her mother-in-law, the indomitable Margaret Beaufort [Countess of Richmond]. Besides her, Elizabeth had the company of her mother and other female relatives. Birth in this period was exclusively a female thing and although doctors were present, they were not normally involved in childbirth. They were just there to act as consultants. It was up to Elizabeth’s women and the midwives to assist her during the birth.
When her labor began on the 19th, natural creams would be applied on her abdomen. These would mostly consist of a mixture of distilled marjoram and saffron and brandy to “aid the contractions and help lessen the intensity” of these.
Although medical knowledge was limited, Alison Weir writes that the “practices employed by midwives” were fairly modern.
“Documentary evidence suggests that women were encouraged to give birth in a sitting or squatting position. They were encouraged to do breathing exercises for labor, much as they are today, but there was no pain relief beyond opiates and herbs.”
Weir adds that it is possible that Elizabeth of York might have had the protection of the Virgin Mary via her girdle which was held at Westminster Abbey and it “was sometimes lent to queens and high-ranking women, so that they could tie it around themselves in labor.”
When his birth was announced, the country rejoiced and many poems such as the following, illustrate this: “I love the red rose
but red and white it flows
is that your pure appetite?
To hear talk of them
is my delight
loved may we be
our prince to see
and roses three.”
Arthur was christened four days later at Winchester Cathedral. His godparents were John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, his grandmother the Queen Dowager, Elizabeth Woodville, and his step-grandfather, Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby. After the ceremonies were over, the Queen’s sister, lady Cecily returned the baby to his mother. Less than a year later, Elizabeth would be crowned.
Margaret Beaufort was not present at this event, but she was very present in the child’s life.
“She had ordered, for example, that a physician supervise the nurse breastfeeding Elizabeth’s baby, and a yeoman test the king’s mattress daily … She was furthermore always there, her tiny frame an almost inescapable presence.” (Lisle)
While the proud parents would boast of more children, only three would survive them. Margaret, Mary and Henry Tudor would go on to become Queens and King, while their crown heir would die before his time.
Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen & her World by Alison Weir
Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
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.
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
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.
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.
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, 1st 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 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.
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
On the 14th of April 1471, the Battle of Barnet was fought between the Lancastrian army commanded by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, and the Yorkist commanded by the three sons of York -Edward IV, Richard Duke of Gloucester, and the recent traitor turned ally, George, Duke of Clarence.
George, Duke of Clarence had been Warwick’s ally since he married his eldest daughter, Isabel Neville in July of 1469. The Duchess Dowager of York, Cecily Neville “Queen by Rights” likely gave them her blessing before she returned to her residence. Her latest biographer, Amy Licence, believes it is possible that she also tried to warn them not to go because they would anger Edward and his wife. Obviously [if this was her intention] it didn’t work because George and Isabel married right away, had a lavish wedding reception unlike his eldest brother and his Lancastrian wife; and afterwards returned with a small army to depose him. The rebellions failed miserably. The upper class was angry at Edward but they didn’t want to launch England into another civil war –especially when there was another King locked in the Tower, and his Queen and their son vying for support across the Narrow Sea. Edward returned to his seat of power and pardoned his cousin and brother; but Elizabeth Woodville never trusted them again. There are no records as to how she felt in regards of the Earl of Warwick or her brothers-in-law. But after they had rebelled against her husband, captured him, killed her brother and father, and then released him so he would pardon them; it is likely she didn’t see them too well.
In late October of the following year when Warwick had switched bands yet again, Elizabeth escaped to sanctuary while her husband and youngest brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, escaped to Burgundy to take refuge in their brother-in-law, Charles “the Bold” Duke of Burgundy’s court. Elizabeth was very far along; and contrary to what is shown on fiction where Warwick is a complete ogre and pretty much says Elizabeth and her poor mother and daughters taken refuge in Westminster Abbey, living in relative poverty and fed by the mercy of the bakers nearby, could go to hell; he showed them mercy. Warwick was not one to enjoy the killing of women and children, and much less a pregnant woman so he allowed Elizabeth and her family to stay in sanctuary and paid for a midwife to assist her in the birth of her firstborn royal son. During this time, Marguerite of Anjou and her son, Edward of Westminster, the Prince of Wales, were growing anxious to have the papal dispensation that would allow him to marry the Earl’s youngest daughter, Anne Neville. With the realm torn between two kings and time running short, it was vital that the pope grant the Lancastrians that dispensation. After all, Anne and Edward were distant cousins and if they married without it, their marriage would seem unlawful and heavily criticized as Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville’s was. When the dispensation was finally granted, the couple didn’t waste time and married. Marguerite planned to set sail that November to England but there were two problems: she didn’t want to risk her son and daughter-in-law and wanted the two to get to know each other better *and* the weather. When she finally set sail on March of next year, 1471, the country was in more chaos than she had expected. Just as she had amassed a great army of Lancastrian loyalists and French-men; Edward had also amassed an army that consisted of loyal Yorksits and Burgundians.
Edward IV’s forces captured London and took the King, Henry VI, prisoner, “to the universal acclamation of the citizens” who looked kinder on him (because of his wife). While she had been criticized for being of low birth [despite the fact that her mother had noble and royal blood]; she had behaved differently than her predecessor. Her retinue and ladies-in-waiting numbered less than Marguerite’s and her spending was also less. When she went to take refuge, she refused to raise up in arms as her Lancastrian counterpart would have done, and instead stayed put, patiently and obediently waiting for her husband to rescue her. Such virtues of passivity and acceptance of her gender role, were well seen among the populace. After Edward went to St. Paul to give thanks for his victory, he went to visit his wife who presented him with his namesake “to the King’s greatest joy, a fair son, a prince.”
The war was far from over, as Dan Jones and Chris Skidmore write in their respective biographies of this conflict. The King was their prisoner, but there were many Lancastrians loyalists and anxious to see him back on the throne. Out of these, Warwick was the first one that Edward encountered after he took London, on the town of Barnet. The Battle was fought from nightfall Saturday April 13 to Easter Sunday, April 14. The weather was foggy and it caused a lot of confusion, together with the canon fire that Warwick ordered as night fell –hoping to surprise his enemies. According to some accounts, Warwick’s army greatly outnumbered Edward’s but because of the “damp, cold night air” and the scattered men from both armies; people began to wonder who were fighting who and some of Warwick’s men “mistook Oxford’s livery badges of a star with streams that the Earl’s men displayed on their coats for Edward’s badge of the Yorkist sun in splendor.” Gloucester’s flank managed to penetrate Exeter’s while “Hastings was hobbled in his fight against Oxford” whose numbers had been decimated because of Warwick’s forces’ foolishness. Battle raged on “cruel and mortal”. Edward IV could barely see because of the fog, but still charged against his enemies, managing (barely) to distinguish them. When Richard’s brother, Lord Montague, realized all was lost he “harangued his brother … insisting that he should demonstrate the Neville family’s courage by fighting on foot and sending his horses away” to confuse his enemies. If they did this, he promised his older brother, they might still had a chance. But this, as historian Jones points out, turned out to be Warwick’s gravest mistake.
The battle lasted three hours. One thousand Lancastrians were killed, and five hundred Yorkists. The “Kingmaker” Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and his younger brother, Lord Montague were killed. The few Lancastrian noblemen who survived, fled to Scotland Edward lost a few of his noblemen too, among them were Lord Cromwell, Lord Saye and Sir William Blount. His brother-in-law and younger brother, Anthony Woodville and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, were severely injured.
This was not the end of the war however. “Just one enemy remained” Jones says, and that was Queen Marguerite and her son Prince Edward and his wife, Anne Neville, who had just landed on the south coast at Weymouth two days after the battle of Barnet. Imagine their surprise when they found out what had happened. Skidmore believes that Marguerite might not have been too angry, and actually glad since this left her completely in charge but it is hard to imagine this since Warwick’s forces were a lot and if the two met, it would have made a difference in the end.
Margaret Beaufort who had courted the Lancastrian king and her cousin, Edmund, Duke of Somerset for their favor after the Readeption, suddenly found herself on the losing side again. Her husband had refused to help her family and instead remained loyal to Edward; but fighting for Edward had cost him his life and then there was Margaret’s most precious jewel: Henry. What would happen with the young Earl of Richmond? They were killing Lancastrians. Edward IV didn’t want to see any more Lancastrian threats. As Cersei from the popular fantasy series based on history, game of thrones, says “if you want to win, this is how you do battle. You lie in a bed of weeds and you start ripping them out one by one before they strangle you in your sleep.” Well, Edward was not far behind; he was rooting out all his Lancastrian enemies one by one, caring very little about violating sanctuary. Margaret’s cousin and his allies who had taken refuge after the defeat at Tewkesbury, were dragged out of the church and beheaded right in front of Edward. She was not going to risk her son face the same fate. We do not know if she corresponded with her fourteen year old son’s uncle, Jasper Tudor; but immediately after news of Barnet and Tewkesbury and Henry VI’s death circulated England; he and her son escaped, intending to sail to France but a heavy wind made them deviate from course and they landed in Brittany where they would be the Duke’s “guests” for the next thirteen years.
Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Family by Leanda de Lisle
The Rise of the Tudors by Chris Skidmore
The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
Cecily Neville by Amy Licence
Jasper Tudor: The Godfather of the Tudor Dynasty by Terry Beverton
Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir