Elizabeth Wydeville gives birth to Edward V in sanctuary

Elizabeth Woodville and Edward V

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

Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville

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

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

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

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

Richard iii

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

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

Sources:

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

Edward of Westminster ‘the most comfortable earthly treasure’ is born

Edward of Westminster and his parents

On the 13th of October 1453, on the feast of St. Edward the Confessor, Prince Edward was born on the Palace of Westminster. He was the son of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. There are many misconceptions regarding this prince, the principal one consisting of an apocryphal story where Margaret presents her son to her husband and he says that he must have been conceived by the holy spirit. In the “White Queen” the Neville sisters repeat this myth saying adding there is no way the prince is the king’s son because the king was asleep at the time of his conception but this story is false and didn’t come about until 1461. Henry VI was within his mental capabilities at the time of his son’s conception. When Margaret knew she was with child, she and the Duchess of York went on a pilgrimage to Walsingham in Norfolk to give thanks to the Blessed Virgin.

cecily_neville_hours
Cecily Neville wrote the unborn child was “the most precious, most joyful, and most comfortable earthly treasure that might come unto this land and to the people thereof.”

But then something happened. On July 17 the town of Bordeaux was lost, it was a humiliating defeat for the English and when Henry was told he went into a catatonic state. Nothing could wake him up. Margaret went into her confinement uncertain of what the future would hold for her and her baby. She gave birth to her only son in Westminster. Immediately the birth was announced to London, according to Bale’s Chronicle:
“Wherefore the bells rang in every church and Te Deum was solemnly sang.”

The next day the prince was christened by William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester (Henry’s confessor). His godparents were the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edmund Beaufort (Duke of Somerset and Margaret Beaufort’s uncle), and Anne Stafford nee Neville the Duchess of Buckingham who was also Margaret Beaufort’s mother in law and Cecily Neville’s sister.
But as one historian points out, “if the birth was cause for great joy, it was also clear that the condition of the boy’s father could no longer be ignored.” His son was presented to him but Henry could not recognize him and his mother tried to make a bid for power and establish a regency council in her husband and son’s names but the nobles favored Richard (including the Tudor brothers, Edmund and Jasper).
With the destruction of the royal house of Lancaster, Margaret of Anjou remained in England for some time, until she was ransomed back in France where she died. If Edward had become King, given the education he was given, and the models he was taught to admire, he would have likely taken after his warring ancestors, including the much admired, Henry V. His life was cut short in the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. His father followed suit. The official story was that he died of melancholy after he was informed of his son’s death. Not many believed this story, and the rumors abounded that Edward IV had him killed. Not long after his death, a cult grew around him, and during Henry VII, Edward’s tomb was also visited by many pilgrims.

Sources:

  • The Prince who did not become King: Edward of Westminster 1453-1471 by Susan Higginbotham
  • Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir
  • Cecily Neville: Mother of Kings by Amy Licence