On the 7th of December 1484, Richard III issued a thunderous proclamation against Henry Tudor (then) Earl of Richmond. Richard had sworn to protect his nieces and welcomed the eldest two (the once Princesses, now Ladies) Elizabeth and Cecily of York to court. Henry Tudor had been a nuisance to Richard ever since the Christmas of ’83 when he pledged to take the crown and marry Elizabeth of York, thus uniting both Houses. But for the first time during his reign, after the death of his son, Prince Edward of Wales, Henry had become a serious threat.
Those who criticize Elizabeth Woodville and her eldest daughters for accepting Richard III’s offer of peace, ignore the fact that when he did this, his son was still alive and as far as everyone knew, his reign could go on for many years. The death of his son changed all of this. With no heir and a sickly wife, the threat of Henry Tudor became greater. He had with him not only staunch Lancastrians but Edwardian Yorkists as well supporting his claim.
The proclamation not only attacked Henry but his allies, including Peter Courtenay (Bishop of Exeter), Jasper Tudor (Henry’s uncle), the notable Lancastrian loyalist John, Earl of Oxford (who was one of the greatest strategists of the age and ally Henry could count on), Thomas Grey (Marquis of Dorset), Sir Edward Woodville, and others as well, stating that “rebels and traitors disabled and attainted by authority of the high Court of parliament” also being accused of being “open murderers, adulterers, and extortioners contrary to truth, honour and nature” in addition to abusing “and blind the commons of this said realm of the said rebels and traitors have chosen to be their Captain one Henry late calling himself Earl of Richmond which of his ambitious and insatiable covetousness stirred and excited by the confederacy of the King’s said rebels and traitors encroacheth upon him the name and title of the Royal estate of this Realm of England. Whereunto he hath no manner, interest, righ or colour as every man well knoweth. And to the intent to achieve the same by the aid, support and assistance of the king’s said ancient enemies and of this his Council of France to give up and release in perpetuity all the title and claim that Kings of England have had and ought to have to the Crown and Realm of France.”
This last part is extremely serious because not only was Richard calling Henry ever nasty name in the book, but he was also accusing him of making a secret deal with the French of giving up England’s claim to the “the crown and realm of France” in order to have that country’s support.
The solution to Henry’s “insatiable covetousness” was supporting Richard who as “our sovereign lord” was a “well-willed, diligent, and courageous prince” who would put “his most royal person to all labour and pain necessary for the resistance and subduing of his enemies.”
Richard and Henry’s armies would meet the following year, not long after his wife’s death in that same year. The end result would be Richard dying battle and Henry becoming King of England, fulfilling his promise of marrying Elizabeth of York whose parents’ marriage was once again validated.
This is why history will always be a major triumph over every fantasy and sci-fi it inspires. It is way more violent and filled with more surprises than fiction can ever come up with. It shows us that the impossible can often become possible, and that as Varys told Tyrion in “Game of Thrones” a small man can cast a “very large shadow”. In the show’s seventh season, Cersei took on the role of Richard III when she issued a thunderous proclamation of her own against Daenerys Targaryen. Like Henry, she was exiled across the narrow sea and come to reclaim the Iron throne, but unlike the Welsh dragon, it is unknown whether she will ever achieve her goal given that the show and the books are amalgams of different eras. Nevertheless, it shows how the past continues to be relevant and serve as a major inspiration.
But whereas Cersei was posh and delicate before the lords, Richard III did not mince his words. As it was pointed out, he didn’t pull back any punches and continued to attack Henry’s character, reminding everyone that the last time someone had a Lancastrian king, England had lost all of its prized possessions in France, and that aside of that, Henry descended from a lowly branch of that house that albeit being legitimized, in the eyes of many, it was seen as a bastard branch of the Plantagenet dynasty.
Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999.
Penn, Thomas. Winter King and the Dawn of Tudor England. Simon & Schuster. 2012.
Skidmore, Chris. The Rise of the Tudors: The Family that Changed English History. Martin’s Press. 2014.
de Lisle, Leanda. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013.
Porter, Linda. Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots. Martin’s Press. 2014.
On the 30th of October 1485, the Tudor Dynasty officially began. Henry Tudor, the former Earl of Richmond, son of the first Earl of Richmond, Edmund Tudor and Lady Margaret Beaufort (now Stanley), was crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey. His coronation progress began on the 28th when he took possession of the tower. On the 29th where he processed to Westminster. Dressed for the occasion, he was followed by his prime courtiers, men who had fought with him at Bosworth and others who had recently sworn their loyalty to him.
“Heralds, sergeants-at-arms, trumpeters, esquires, the mayor, aldermen, and nobles, preceded the king dressed in their rich liveries, amongst them
Drawing from the royal chronicle and other observers, historian Dan Jones, describes how England’s new king displayed his power in one of the grandest events of the fifteenth century.
“Accounts of the coronation were drawn up by Sir Robert Willoughby, and they spoke of a flurry of activity among the goldsmith, cloth merchants, embroiders, silkwomen, tailors, laborers, boatmen and saddlers of London. Instruction went out for yards of velvet and silk in royal purple, crimson and black, which were then run up into beautiful jackets, hose, hats, robes, wall hangings, cushions and curtains. Henry’s henchmen were ordered hats plumed with ostrich feathers, boots made from fine Spanish leather and striking costumes of black and crimson” -Wars of the Roses: The End of the Plantagenets and Rise of the Tudors
Henry was a quarter Welsh -something that like his granddaughter, Mary I’s Spanish ancestry, has been used against him. But if we look at the royal bloodlines of other kings and queens, we find that all of them had different nationalities. There was no such thing as pure-English. Even Elizabeth of York and her siblings whose parents were both English were not pure-English. Elizabeth Woodville’s mother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg was French. Most of the English premier noblemen owed their fortunes to their Norman ancestors. They came to England with the Conqueror, William, Duke of Normandy, who (like Henry Tudor) challenged the English King for his crown and defeated him at battle.
And even the Anglo-Saxons were not native to England. Before them, there were the Celts and other tribes who they themselves
Yet, the concept is one that remains very popular and as centuries passed, and the geo-political situation of the British Isles continue to change, the pendulum swung in the other direction. Henry was an usurper, a foreigner and a rogue whereas Richard, an angelic King, was a just man who had been unfairly robbed of his divine right.
Jane Austen is a perfect example of this new geo-political landscape. Before she became a published author, Jane wrote during her teenage years that Henry was “as great a villain as ever lived” who “made a great fuss about getting the crown and having killed the king at the battle of Bosworth.” Jane went on to add that the only good thing that came out of Henry VII (and his dynasty for that matter) was his eldest daughter whose descendants united both crowns, and Henry VIII whose reign saw the creation of the Anglican Church. Jane had plenty of bad things to say about Henry VIII too but thought he wasn’t “quite so bad as his daughter Elizabeth.”
Fast forward to a few decades later to the Victorian era and you see an increase in popularity for Richard III. This is not surprising. England’s national identity was more important than ever. Xenophobia was in the air and with the English queen being half-German married to her cousin who was German, it became more important than build on that national identity. As a result, countless writers began to rely on secondary sources that distorted most first-hand accounts, painting a picture about the Tudors -namely Henry VII and his mother, Margaret Beaufort- that was far removed from reality.
As the pendulum continued to swing in Richard’s direction, the real Henry faded into obscurity. What Shakespeare, Vergil, and countless others had done to Richard during the Tudor regime, now these chroniclers were doing the same to them. It looked as if karma had its due but in truth, it was nothing more than reactionary writing.
At the time that Henry VII became King of England, the country was in chaos. Everyone was holding their breath, eager to see their new king walking down the streets of London, hoping -begging the almighty- that his reign would last and usher in an era of peace and economic prosperity.
Henry VII achieved the former during the last years of his reign, though the chronicles would have everyone believed that he put an end to the wars of the roses the minute he defeated Richard’s forces. The latter was also achieved but it came at a high price. By the time of Henry VII’s death, the crown’s coffers were full but his subjects’ adoration for him had become almost non-existent. Henry levied excessive taxes on the rich and poor alike, and while he survived every rebellion against him, people’s animosity for him continued. Henry’s attitude is largely owed to his reasonable paranoia. Living fourteen years of exile had taught him that he would never be safe unless he rooted out all his enemies.
Few people comprehended this; those that did had died except for his mother whom he continued to rely on for emotional support.
Margaret Beaufort was an indomitable woman, someone who had more experience at court than Henry did. But he quickly learned how to navigate that world thanks to his stay at the Breton and French courts during his exile.
When Henry VII returned to his royal quarters that October 29th, he prepared himself for the big day ahead of him on the morrow where all of his hardships and endeavors would finally pay off.
Besides his uncle Jasper Tudor, his stepfather, Sir Thomas Stanley and his brother, William Stanley, other men who had fought alongside him at Bosworth were also there.
The ceremony was performed by John Shirwood, Bishop of Durham, Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells, Courtenay, Bishop of Exeter, and John Morton, Bishop of Ely. The archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Catholic Church in England, did not play a prominent role but it still fell unto him to anoint the new king and place the crown upon his head.
Everything else also went according to protocol. After Henry had the holy oils placed on him and he was changed into parliamentary robes, the archbishop put the crown of St. Edward the Confessor on his head then turned to his ministry asking the crowd if they accepted their new monarch. Everyone chanted in unison “Yea, yea!”
Henry, Seventh of that name, never felt more jubilant. So did his mother, although her confessor John Fisher said that her tears were more from fear than of joy. Having lived through three kings, Margaret was afraid that her son would share the same fate.
If Henry was aware of this, he did not show it. Determined to enjoy his triumph, he returned to the Tower of London for the coronation banquet. His uncle Jasper took precedence over other nobles, riding ahead of them, a little far behind his nephew.
Once at the banquet, Henry and his honored guests enjoyed a variety of courses. After the first course, the king’s champion Sir Robert Dynmock came in, issuing the customary challenge, demanding who would challenge the King’s authority. There were more performances to be found that day, among them the iconic representation of the royal arms of England and France along with those of their new king emphasized his Welsh ancestry. But more prominent among them was the Tudor rose. Henry Tudor was a religious man, and as those that came before him, he chose a rose because of its religious significance. The red rose was a symbol of Christ’s passion, while the five petals corresponded to the five wounds Christ had suffered on the cross. Roses were ones of the most notable symbols on the Abbey, and on the courtier’s clothing.
The white rose had become representative of the House of York as the red became representative of their opponents, the House of Lancaster which Henry was meant to embody. Henry had sworn to marry the beautiful Elizabeth of York after he became king, but with so many Yorkist heirs still abounding, he hesitated to marry her straight away. Instead, their union was postponed until January of the following year.
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 which was embodied in the Tudor rose. 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 the English hedgerows. As a symbol it had a long associated with the Virgin Mary, who is sometimes called the Mystical Rose of Heaven. But 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.”
In the five hundred and eighteen years after his death, he remains a controversial figure. People associate him with the image that came in the last years of his reign -that of the miser and the Winter King, and of course the one that’s the product of secondary sources and latest novels: the true culprit behind the princes in the tower’s disappearance or an enabler who used his mother and her husband to dispose of them. This has a lot to do with how we think of Henry, a man who spend hours sitting behind his desk, overseeing every state affair and paying more attention to what was going on his kingdom than squandering his time and money on women and other vices that destroyed the reputations of previous kings.
Henry’s life story however is just as interesting as all of these other monarchs. And the fact of the matter is that regarding the princes’ disappearance, is something we will never know. But just as Richard’s defenders say that you cannot condemn him based on little evidence, you can use the same argument for Henry and his mother. There are ‘perhaps’ ‘could haves’ but never any certainties. Just as kings were known to be pious, they were also known to be cruel and Richard was no different. The facts don’t lie, to secure his power, he executed Lord Rivers (Elizabeth Woodville’s brother), Richard Woodville (hers on), and Hastings and imprisoned others that he considered were also a threat. His brother and father had been brutally killed when he was very young, and being exposed to violence at a very young era, no doubt, had an effect on him. The same can be said for Henry Tudor who saw from an early age the destruction of his mother’s house, the Beauforts, and his uncle’s, the Lancastrian. And when he became a target of Edward IV (who feared he would be perceived as the new hope for the lase Lancastrians) he and his uncle Jasper fled the country.
This alone makes him one of the most fascinating figures in European medieval history.
“The reality of Henry Tudor’s ascent to the throne –his narrow escapes from death, his failures and anxieties, complete with constant uncertainty of his situation, and the compromises that he had been forced to make, including the support from France and hiss former Yorkist enemies in gaining the crown- was a far less welcome tale. It remains nonetheless nonetheless just as remarkable; against all the odds, at Bosworth Henry achieved victory that he should have not on” (Skidmore)
As the royal procession reached Westminster Abbey on that fateful day, people could see the massive wax tapers weighing over twelve hundred pounds. As his coffin was lowered down to be placed next to his wife, the choir sang ‘Libera me’: “Deliver me, O Lord, from death eternal on that fearful day … When thou shalt come to judge the world by fire.”
Despite his miserly attitude after the death of his son and wife, he kept corresponding with his eldest daughter whose affection for her was clearly evident as he consoled her in one of their first letters when she told him that she was feeling homesick. On his deathbed, Henry had made provisions so 10,000 masses would be said to aid his soul’s journey into the afterlife, and the other half to religious gifts and charities. When his son ascended to the throne he posed an important question which perhaps still resonates today when we hear debates about which Tudor King (of the first two) mattered most. In the Dynasty portrait made in the last decade of his reign, Henry VIII has Holbein put him and his father on their right with their respective and favored wives, Elizabeth of York and Jane Seymour on the left. Separating them is this huge monument where it reads:
“The former often overcame his enemies and the fires of his country and finally gave peace to its citizens but the son, born indeed for greater tasks, drives the unworthy from the altars and brings in men of integrity. The presumption of popes has yielded to unerring virtue and with Henry VIII bearing, the scepter in his hand, religion has been restored.”
The message is clear, ‘my dad was great but I am greater.’
There is no doubt that Henry VIII did change the course of English history by separating from the Roman Catholic Church and commissioning a translation of the bible into English by Miles Coverdale; but his father was just as great if not more because he triumphed against all odds and unlike so many kings before him, he died in his bed with his mother ensuring a peaceful transition of power for his son, Henry VIII.
Unfortunately, unlike good wine, time has not been kind to Henry VII. While there have been some historians who want to restore the good old monarch’s reputations, it seems nearly impossible at this point when fiction has substituted the historical records.
Nevertheless, his legacy remains. The powerful symbols he’d use to rewrite history were once again evoked during his granddaughter, Elizabeth I’s reign. Henry’s triumph had taught his descendants that while brute force was necessary to subdue their enemies, their strongest tool was in how they presented themselves to the public. This way, they became immortal, and despite the bad press that Henry has received, he remains a legend and (still) a hero to some.
Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999.
de Lisle, Leanda. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013.
Porter, Linda. Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots. Martin’s Press. 2014.
Penn, Thomas. Winter King and the Dawn of Tudor England. Simon & Schuster. 2012.
Skidmore, Chris. The Rise of the Tudors: The Family that Changed English History. Martin’s Press. 2014.
A beautiful tale woven by a talented writer with a clear passion for the late medieval and early renaissance period. I have always maintained that a good novel and history book is a like a trip back through time. Margaret Beaufort has become everyone’s go-to-bogeyman as of late. She is either the villain who should be pitied but still condemned or just condemned. Judith Arnopp decides to depart from this narrative and instead give us a woman who was much a victim of circumstance as a product of her times. Her faith, pride, loyalty to her house, and love of her son are what keep her going.
This is not to say that the novel takes the other route and turns her into a martyr. Far from it. She is a woman who is hardened by loss and grief but never loses sight of what matters. Her loyalty for her house remains, but she sheds her idealism in favor of survival, believing that something of the Lancaster pride can remain through her and her offspring.
The story of Margaret Beaufort has not been told enough. It has been popularized as a dark fairy tale -and to some extent it was- but more than a tale of tragedy, it is a tale of endurance and perseverance.
There were some parts where I thought that Margaret was portrayed a little too cold but given what she has lived through, I could see how she could have taken on those aspects.
An entertaining and refreshing read about a young heroine in a place and time that seems almost too surreal to us.
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.
While The White Queen has taken many liberties and has been advertised as an accurate portrayal of fifteenth century courts, it has done a good job bringing attention to Margaret’s story –something that other shows have failed to do. The Tudors and Wolf Hall tried but were unsuccessful. The first only focused on a minor part of her later story and the latter depicted her as an active conspirator, making it seem as if she deserved her later fate.
There is a scene where she is with her brother and he is suddenly being taken away by Henry VII’s solders. The scene is absolutely heart-wrenching and it was done in such a way that you really feel for the poor girl.
Margaret is one of the most tragic figures of the wars of the roses and the Tudor era. She survived her father’s downfall and afterwards the fall of the fall of the York dynasty. The same cannot be said for her little brother, Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick. After Richard III usurped the throne, the throne should have passed to him instead but due to their father having been executed as a traitor, he and Margaret were excluded from the line of succession.
Following Richard III’s defeat at the battle of Bosworth, Henry began the proceedings to overturn parliament’s ruling regarding his future bride and her remaining royal siblings. Richard III’s claim rested on the invalidity of Elizabeth and her sisters, which rested on the argument that Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV were never truly married because he had previously been pre-contracted to another noblewoman. Shaky as it may seem, given that the two people involved were dead and the Woodvilles were unpopular among many aristocrats, this stuck. But now that he was gone, it was time for Henry to validate his own claim and the only way he was going to do that was by saying it stemmed by right of conquest, his mother’s Lancastrian ancestry, and his union with Elizabeth.
While he didn’t marry Margaret’s cousin right away, he was quick to secure the last legitimate male Plantagenet. At only ten years old, Edward was moved to the Tower of London where he lasted until 1499. By that time he was described as simple and for lack of another better word, insane. He was easily tricked into conspiring with the pretender, Perkin Warbeck, and before long the two were charged with treason and executed. Perkin Warbeck was hung while Edward was beheaded.
Margaret Pole was twenty four at the time, having been born two years before him. We do not know what was going through Margaret’s head at the time, but given everything she suffered, we can only imagine that it must have been a terrible –but not so unusual- ordeal for her.
In The White Queen, there is a scene where she is with her husband, shortly after the two are married and she tells him that rejects her last name ‘Plantagenet’ because it has brought her nothing but sadness. Philippa Gregory’s last book in the cousins’ war series is titled The King’s Curse and it deals with events from the first two Tudor monarchs’ reigns from Margaret’s point of view. For those of you who haven’t read the book, I recommend it. It has some memorable scenes, some that were very touching and others that seemed repetitive. While it focuses on Melusina’s curse, an invention of Philippa Gregory to account for Prince Arthur and many other Tudor princes’ deaths, the book’s title can also be seen as an apt description for Margaret, a woman whose life must have seemed like a curse.
A portrait by an unknown artist that has been identified as Margaret Pole shows that she never forgot about her roots and personal tragedies. She wears a bracelet with a butt malmsey hanging from it, a clear reference to her father who was executed during her uncle, Edward IV’s reign, for treason.
The eldest daughter of George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville, eldest daughter of Richard Neville “the Kingmaker”, Earl of Warwick and Salisbury among other titles, and Anne Beauchamp; sought to survive by seeking favor with the royal family, especially the future queen of England, the Spanish Infanta, Katherine of Aragon.
It was this friendship that earned her the title of Countess of Salisbury. This was a big deal since not many women were title holders in their own right. As suo jure, Margaret became one of the richest landowners and influential courtiers in England. She also became Princess Mary, Katherine and Henry VIII’s only surviving child, governess and the two forged a strong friendship that would last a lifetime.
But not all was well in paradise. In spite of her friendship with the Queen, and the Queen’s patronage of Humanists and popularity with the people, her influence with the King was waning and following her last miscarriage, Henry’s eye began to wander again and it wasn’t only before it was set on her lady-in-waiting and former mistress’ sister, Anne Boleyn. After his marriage to Katherine was annulled, his daughter was bastardized and his union with Anne as well as her pregnancy became public, Margaret’s life was turned upside down. She chose to stay loyal to her best friend and former charge and unfortunately, this along with her royal blood and her son Reginald’s outburst against the King, became her undoing.
A book that I highly recommend that gives a hauntingly beautiful description of Margaret Pole’s ordeals is Dan Jones’ Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors. Here is a small snippet from it:
“At seven o’clock in the morning on Friday, May 27, 1541, within the precincts of the Tower of London, an old woman walked out into the light of a spring day. Her name was Margaret Pole. By birth, blood and lineage she was one of the noblest women in England … Margaret’s life had long been exciting. For twenty-five years she had been the countess of Salisbury, one of only two women of her time to have held a peerage in her own right. She had until recently been one of the five wealthiest aristocrats of her generation, with lands in seventeen different counties. Now, at sixty-seven –ancient by Tudor standards- she appeared so advanced in age that intelligent observers took her to be eighty or ninety. Like many inhabitants of the Tower of London, Margaret Pole was a prisoner. Two years previously she had been stripped of her lands and titles by an act of parliament which accused her of having “committed and perpetrated diverse and sundry other detestable and abominable treasons” against her cousin, King Henry VIII. What these treasons were was never fully evinced, because in truth Margaret’s offenses against the crown were more general than particular … As she walked out into the cool morning air, Margaret Pole could therefore have reflected that, although she was due to beheaded that morning, she would at least die wearing new shoes.” ~Dan Jones, The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors
The Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys who’d become very attached to the late Queen, Katherine of Aragon and her daughter, the lady Mary, wrote that Margaret was confused about her sentence. She wasn’t sure what her crime was, or how was it possible that she was easily convicted when there was hardly any evidence of an alleged treason. During these hard times, Henry VIII’s queen, teenager Kitty Howard and ironically Anne Boleyn’s cousin, sought to make her stay at the tower more comfortable by appealing on her behalf to her husband and sending her tailor so he could take her measurements and Kitty could order new clothes for the Countess. She also convinced Henry to send her new shoes. But in the end, nothing could save her from the same inescapable faith of her father and brother.
“At first when the sentence of death was made known to her; she found the thing very strange, not knowing of what crime she was accused, nor what she had been sentenced; but at last, perceiving that there was no remedy; and that die she must … walked towards the midst of space from the Tower, where there was no scaffold erected nor anything except a small block. Arrived there, after commending her soul to her Creator, she asked those present to pray for the King, the Queen, the Prince and the Princess, to all of whom she wished to be particularly commended, and more especially to the latter, whose godmother she had been. She sent her blessings to her, and begged also for hers …”
Chapuys added after her bloody execution had been carried out, that he wished that “God in his high grace pardon her soul”. Her execution was carried out by an inexperienced and rough youth who hacked her to pieces. An apocryphal account has her running away from her executioner, pleading for help only for him to chase her down and butcher her. Margaret had no reason to run away. Her speech is an indicator that she was ready to die and like so many present, she had no idea that her fate would be so gruesome. Like almost every other secondary source, especially one written centuries later, it should not be taken seriously.
If you want to read a full length-biography of her, I recommend the one by Susan Higginbotham who has also written one on the Woodvilles and plenty of historical fiction. Her book really brings to light the woman, the courtier, the mother and most of all, the survivor. I highly recommend it.
Like Anne Boleyn and so many others, sensing the end, Margaret Pole began to contemplate her own mortality and when she finally made peace with her fate, it is believed that she etched this poem on the stone walls of her cell:
“For traitors on the block should die; I am no traitor, no, not I! My faithfulness stands fast and so, Towards the block I shall not go! Nor make one step, as you shall see; Christ in Thy Mercy, save Thou me!”
It is a sad end for a woman who had prided herself in being a survivor for most of her life. Two years before, her son and his alleged co-conspirators were executed. It must have been a terrible experience for her and at one point she must have thought she was cursed or that she would never be free of family tragedy. As previously stated, Margaret had lost her mother in childbirth, her father was found guilty of treason and executed by being drowned in a butt of malmsey and to top it all off, after Henry VII became King, her little brother was moved to the tower of London and fourteen years later executed. Margaret must have felt like she had avoided such fates by currying favor with the monarchy through the Spanish Princess, Katherine of Aragon but after Henry split from Rome,and Reginald’s words against him, Margaret’s family once again became a target and the rest as they say … is history. She begins her journey in The White Princess as a young woman who has no choice but to follow those in power and curry favor with them to stay alive and as a result, she becomes the most interesting and complex character in the show.
Ridgway, Claire. “The Execution of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury.” The Anne Boleyn Files, 17 May, 2010, https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/the-execution-of-margaret-pole-countess-of-salisbury/5592/
Gregory, Philippa. The White Princess. Touchstone. 2013.
—. The King’s Curse. Touchstone. 2015.
Jones, Dan. The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors. Penguin. 2014.
Higginbotham, Susan. Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower. Amberly. 2016.
Mackay, Lauren. Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the writings of the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys. Amberly. 2014.
On the 30th of December 1460, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York and his forces were caught by surprise by the Queen’s at Sandal Castle near Wakefield where they had been stationed for over two weeks. Richard knew the battle was lost and that he would likely die so he sent his son (Edmund, Earl of Rutland), his brother-in-law (Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury) and his nephew (Thomas Neville) to safety.
Unfortunately this proved futile as those pursuing them had many scores to settle. One of them caught up with the teenage boy as he attempted to reach the chantry chapel of St Mary the Virgin to find sanctuary, and just as he had him, he told him “As your father slew mine.” The man was Lord Clifford and his father had been slayed at the battle of St. Albans, it seemed only fitting that he paid back the Duke’s debt with his son’s blood. And so he did. Ignoring Robert Aspall’s (who was Edmund’s chaplain) pleas, he plunged the dagger into the boy’s chest, thus ending his life.
The Duke of York had attempted to do what he could, fighting to the very end. Being an experienced fighter, it seemed like he could have escaped his inevitable fate, however the number of Margaret’s forces were too much and as he tried to make his way back to the castle, he was seized by Sir James Luttrell and beheaded.
Richard Neville and his son were captured while trying to flee North, and brought to Pontefract Castle where they were beheaded the following day.
The news soon reached Cecily. She was now a widow and at the mercy of the Lancastrians once more. And once again, she was faced with a difficult decision. Knowing that her eldest son was still in exile, she feared for her remaining sons, Richard and George who were very young at the time, and so she sent them away with the help of their cousin, her nephew the Earl of Warwick to Burgundy, leaving Cecily with just her daughter, Margaret to keep her company.
This was the real life game of thrones, a dynastic warfare that split the nation into more than two sides and caused a lot of bloodshed. The four men’s heads were displayed on Micklegate Bar in the city of York for everyone to see. On top of the Duke’s head a paper crown was placed as a way of mocking his attempts to become King of England. Their bodies were later buried on Pontefract.
Although it seemed like the last laugh belonged to the Lancastrian Queen, time would prove otherwise when the wheel of fortune turned once again in the Yorks’ favor.
Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood
Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
The Plantagenet Chronicles (1154-1485) by Derek Wilson
Cecily Neville: The Mother of Kings by Amy Licence
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.
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 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 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.
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