Book Review: Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen by Samantha Wilcoxson

Plantagenet Princess Tudor Queen collage with real ones

Looking for a good historical fiction to read that is true to Elizabeth of York and the tumultuous era she lived in? Look no further, the Plantagenet Princess is all this and more!

It is very hard to find a good historical fiction that is appreciate of Elizabeth of York, without downplaying on her strengths or ignoring her weaknesses.

Many novelists think it’s better to alter their female subjects, the ones who aren’t deemed “interesting” or “strong” in order to sell more books, by marketing them as progressive or ahead of their times.

This wouldn’t be a problem if novelists were honest with their audience but as it happens, they are not. So you can imagine my sigh of relief when I read this book and found an author who honored Elizabeth by staying as true as possible to her silent -yet strong- demeanor.

There is strength in silence and that is something that Samantha Wilcoxson emphasized on every chapter where Elizabeth comes out as an observant, proud, and pragmatic young woman who is aware of her importance, and is determined to be treated with the respect she rightly deserves.

As the firstborn of Elizabeth Woodville and Edwar  IV, Elizabeth was well aware of her value. To quote from Susan Higginbotham in her biography on Elizabeth’s maternal family: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an unattached young king must be in search of a wife.”
And a man like Henry who’s claim to the throne was more tenuous than Elizabeth’s father, he needed a good marriage to keep himself in power.

Elizabeth is a caring young woman who is witty and at times outspoken, someone who has learned from her relatives’ mistake, has had to endure loss, but never feels sorry about herself. Her strength lies in knowing who to trust, her religious devotion and faith in herself. Sounds trite, but this is as close as you will get to time travel and meeting the real Elizabeth in historical fiction. The book is beautifully written, highly descriptive and character driven, with Elizabeth being not the only character that shines from this tale, but those are there with her at the end of her journey.

If you are a history buff who’s read plenty on the wars of the roses, and is fascinated by Elizabeth of York’s story, this is the book for you. If you are new to this era but wish to know more about the story behind the White Princess, this is the book for you too. Well researched, masterfully written, highly descriptive, Plantagenet Princess: Tudor Queen brings back the wars of the roses and the early Tudor era back to life, and gives justice to a figure who’s been easily discredited, altered, and her queenship dismissed.

They say that the good you do won’t do you any good. Sometimes this is true, but for a woman who had seen many kings deposed, murdered and killed in battle, and queens’ reputations dragged through the mud, sweetness and piety became her greatest strengths and her fertility a shield against anyone who’d think twice about her harming the new Tudor Dynasty.
Experiences shape us, and they certainly shaped Elizabeth but as I’ve previously pointed out, it is often our willingness to get back up despite how many times we’ve been brought down that makes all the difference. And Elizabeth never gave up. Although her weapons were invisible they were no less effective and as it happened, they guaranteed her success. She went down in history as one of the most successful English consorts, and gained a cult-like status.

Dead Men tell no Tales: The black legend of Henry VIII

It is easy to see why people have a hard time differentiating from the jolly old monarch, bluff king Hal/good king Hall, or the murderous, lecherous psychopath that came centuries later, to the real Henry VIII, who was as complex as everyone else during this era.
I have been guilty of viewing him through a twenty first century lens.
This is not going to be some excuse-making post about him, Henry VIII did a lot of things that were atrocious but when you want to have a serious discussion about him, you have to look at his reign in the proper context and the proper context is looking at it from a 16th century standpoint.
Henry VIII was no saint but neither was he a mustache-twirling villain, what he was, was a Humanist Prince whom everyone started to adore, ignoring the people he executed because they happened to be people they hated (Empson and Dudley) until one day he overstepped his boundaries, broke away from the church, threatened the livelihood of farmers and traders who relied on the monastic system that people went ‘okay this is going too far.’ The fat that he also wanted to annul his marriage to his wife of many years who was beloved by the English people, also played a part in people rising up against him. But even as they rebelled, they always made sure to point out that it wasn’t against him directly but their ministers.

The Forgotten Monarch:

Henry VIII young and old
Henry VIII as a young man (left) and later in his reign (right).

It is easy to see why Henry VIII is seen as a villain. From a twenty-first century standpoint he does seem amoral, but we forget that the past is a different country and the Tudor era can’t easily be divided into good and evil. History is not a morality tale and if we want to have a serious discussion about the infamous monarch, we have to get to the heart of the story and see how the black legend of lecherous, murdering bluff king hall came to be.

 In the following paragraph from The Wives of Henry VIII, Antonia Fraser says the following about Henry regarding the judicial arrest and later murder of Anne Boleyn:

“It is true that the workings of the King’s conscience followed the dictates of his heart amazingly conveniently. But this did not mean that he did not have a conscience. On the contrary, it was a likely and important part of his nature. The coincidence between passion and conscience was more apparent to outsiders than it was to him, a useful capacity for her self deception being another of his attributes … This is not to absolve Henry VIII of guilt concerning his second wife’s destruction, let alone the deaths of the innocent courtiers, some of them his close friends. On a rational level, the sovereign who agreed on 24 April to sign the commission of investigation into unknown treasonable conspiracies must have had a fair idea of what was going on. And even if that signing could be regarded as a purely routine administrative matter, the King went on a few days later to sign the documents necessary for summoning parliament … It is merely to observe that Henry VIII found it easy enough to absolve himself.”

Fraser and several other historians have pointed out, Henry wasn’t a dastardly being.

Deep down, to quote historian Robert Hutchinson, “he believed that what he wanted was what God wanted.” And it will be easy to point out his hypocrisy, but before doing that, his religiosity must be addressed.

“Most people have seen the famous painting of the bloated, middle-aged King, standing with his fists anchored pugnaciously to his hips, wearing sumptuous cloths covered in embroidery and jewels. The force of his personality can still be felt, even more a two-dimensional depiction in oil … His appearance thoroughly matches his reputation as a brutal thug who murdered women when he tired of them … Henry is popularly remembered as a fat, covetous, and womanizing lout, but this image is less than half the story.  The aged King, with his cruel disdain for others and his harsh authoritarianism, is very different from his younger self.  When Henry ascended to the throne, he strove to bring harmony and chivalry to his court; he was not to contentious and brutal man he was to become …  As a young man, Henry was a handsome, genial, and a rational ruler. The youthful King was described, in the private letters of more than one foreign ambassador or other court contemporary, as having incredible physical beauty. His hair was red, he had very fair skin, and his face was as lovely as that of “a pretty woman” (Scarisbrick, 1970:13) … In addition to his physical accomplishments, the King had a brilliant mind. Henry’s intellect impressed many of the most famous thinkers of his day.”

In her book, Blood Will Tell, medical historian Kyra Cornelius Kramer illustrates Henry’s youth and background before she talks about the possible illnesses that affected him.
She also spends a good deal dispelling myths surrounding Henry, starting with the notion that he was a lecher whose mood changes were the result of venereal diseases from countless sex partners.

“Had it been suspected that Henry had syphilis, word of his condition would doubtlessly have circulated in European courts. The fact that he was the English monarch would not have stopped the doctors from reporting his disease, any more than it stopped royal physicians from making the King of France’s condition common knowledge.”

In her book, Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII, women’s historian Amy Licence, contests this notion, saying that there might be a bit of truth in legends, although she also maintains that in comparison to other kings, Henry was far more discreet and a prude.

Young Henry: The Man that Time Forgot

Henry VIII young
Henry VIII by the Venetian Ambassador who was impressed with the young King’s physique and pursuit of knowledge: “The handsomest potentate Ii ever set eyes on; above the usual height, with n extremely fine call to his leg, his complexion very fair and bright, with auburn hair combed straight and short, in the French fashion, and a round face so very beautiful, that it would become a pretty woman.”

Henry VIII grew up in a strict environment. It was all fun and games until his brother died and his father, worrying about his last remaining male heir, was forced to do some adjustments to his schooling and outdoor activities. Basically, he wasn’t allowed to go out much. His father enjoyed playing cards, joking with friends when he was abroad and watching jousting tournaments. Naturally, his son wanted to do all that and more but his father didn’t let him. Henry was allowed to have friends but he wasn’t allowed to engage in any sort of sports that might hurt him.
In the twelfth century, Louis VI of the Capetian Dynasty, aka Louis “the Fat”, of France lost his eldest son due to horse riding. And jousting was far more dangerous, especially for a young boy, so that was out of the question.

Courtiers thought that Henry would grow up to be someone they could easily control but he surprised them when he told them he’d choose his bride, concocting a sentimental lie how it was what his father asked of him before he died. Rescuing Katharine of Aragon from near penury, Henry VIII saw himself as Sir Lancelot to her Guinevere. At times the two engaged in elaborate masques where they would each play different roles, with Katharine as the damsel in distress and Henry as her knight in shining armor. In her documentary series, the Secrets of the Six Wives (Six Wives in the UK), Lucy Worsley spent the first half hour of the first episode showing how deeply in love Henry and Katharine were and that they were equal in looks, stubbornness, and their educational backgrounds.

I am not going to spend to be discussing Katharine’s background, I have done that already in other posts which I’ve linked down below. I will say that when it comes to Henry, his background is often ignored to the point that all people can think of -when they think of Henry- is this disgusting gluttonous lecherous idiot. That was not always the case and this perception is a perfect example of how the shifting religious landscape affected people’s views on a man who was once hailed by the Venetian ambassador as the true embodiment of Humanist principle.

The origins of the Black Legend & the truth about his childhood

In his biography on Henry VIII, the late David Loades had this to say on the Good King Hal:

Pro … defensione was the first round in the creation of that ‘black legend’ of Henry VIII which thereafter dominated all those records of English events which emanated either from Catholic Europe or from the English Catholic community. One of the most vitriolic was Nicholas Sander’s De origine ac progressu schismaticis Anglicani published at Cologne in 1585, which attributed Henry’s actions in the 1530s entirely to unbridled lust, both for Anne Boleyn and also for the wealth of the Church. This was a line also taken by Robert Parsons in his treatise of three conversions … which was issued at St Omer in 1603. Modern historians in the Catholic tradition have been far more judicious, not only because polemic no longer serves a useful purpose, but because the debate has broadened to embrace the King’s whole style of government. Cardinal Gasquet in 1888, while not abandoning the lust and greed interpretation, was more concerned to set the events in context and to admit that there might have been some justification for the King’s extreme reactions. In the twentieth century Philip Hughes, while pointing out that Henry had a tendency to alter the law to suit his own convenience, also proposed that there was much amiss with the late medieval Church, and particularly the monasteries, which invited the King’s intervention. This concession has been repudiated by more recent scholars, notably Jack Scarisbrick and Eamon Duffy, who have argued that the Church was in rude health and that Henry’s success was primarily the result of his exercise of crude force. It was by executing dissenters on both sides of the confessional divide that the King enforced his will, using fear and intimidation as his principal weapons. Meanwhile, for historians of a Protestant persuasion the reformation was a change waiting to happen. Without denying the importance of the King’s actions, they proposed a model of a Church corrupted from within by superstition and idolatry, a tottering edifice awaiting a decisive push. Unfortunately Henry’s push had been anything but decisive, as they admitted.
John Foxe, standing at the head of his tradition, was frankly puzzled by Henry, who seemed to blow both hot and cold on the reformers -often at the same time.”

David Loades’ assessment on the second Tudor monarch, is probably the fairest.

EOY and Henry VIII signatures
“Henry’s handwriting has always been a bit of a mystery. The ‘Y’s with that little back loop. The ‘R’s look much like ‘z’ in modern handwriting and the ‘H’s are quite unlike the handwriting of Henry’s known teachers. On the other hand, it is rather like this.’ David Starkey motions to show a book listing other primary sources that contains a letter written by none other than Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York. ‘And this is one of the very few surviving specimens of the handwriting of Henry’s mother. ‘This book is mine. Elizabeth, the King’s daughter.’ It says. It is only eight words and thirty-nine letters. And yet it is characteristic enough in weight, rhythm and letter forms to prove conclusive (I think) that Elizabeth herself was the first teacher of her daughters and her second son, Henry. It’s a charming picture, Henry the little prince and a loving family.” He described this as unusual “for sixteenth century monarchs.” And it certainly is but I think that has to do with the simple fact that he was the second son, the “spare”. Given that Arthur was destined to be King and going to receive a top-notch education, Elizabeth of York probably felt her other children, including Henry, could be more carefree. It must have felt terrible for the young boy when he lost his mother and his father (with good reason) became paranoid. Henry VII felt he had to protect him at all cost and until his father died, there was little indication of what Henry wanted. What Henry VII said, his son did. When he became King, he realized the enormous power that he had and how quickly he could win the people over by showing them that he was the opposite of his father. Like his mother, he was amicable, surrounding himself with people of low and high stature. And like his maternal grandfather, he was eager to be loved.

In his documentary on Henry VIII, as well as in his biography on him, David Starkey stated that Henry had a deep connection with his mother. To prove his point, he showed viewers to copies, one of his mother and the other of Henry. The handwriting is similar and given that he was the spare, it makes sense why he and Elizabeth became close. Further proof of this lies in Henry’s words. He said to one of his colleagues that his mother’s death was one of the hardest moments of his life, and something he had never gotten over with.

But Henry’s idyllic childhood didn’t last. As previously stated, it ended when his brother died and his father became overprotective of him. In her recent biography on the Tudors, The Private Lives of the Tudors, Tracy Borman says that Henry VIII’s descent into madness can be traced back to his childhood. By the time he became King, he had grown into a “highly strung, impulsive and vain young man with a terrifying and unpredictable temper. Those who served him would soon learn how swiftly his favour could be lost.” She is referring to Empson and Dudley, his father’s dreaded tax-collectors whom he put in prison as soon as he came to the throne and less than a year later, had them executed. Some historians take this as proof that Henry was bloodthirsty from the beginning and people only turned against him when he attacked their privilege and their beloved church.

Henry VIII: The Politician & Trying to Solve the Puzzle

Henry VIII full body red and grey classic portrait
An older Henry VIII at the end of his reign. By this time, he had become obese, the ulcer in his leg had worsened and it is possible he was suffering from other illnesses. His over-eating and desire for glory, as well as his position as head of his church, wishing to secure his legacy, didn’t help. Yet, aware of the power of words and images, he made sure that he’d become immortal through them, especially with the latter. His pose is perfect and can be seen in other paintings where his expansive clothes help cover up his weight and give the impression that he is all-powerful. Portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Certainly, Henry VIII was a good masker, but what monarch wasn’t a good liar. In his infamous book, The Prince, Machiavelli posed the question if it is better for a prince to be loved or feared. Machiavelli, like Henry VIII, gets taken out of context. He didn’t favor the monarchy and his other text on a Republican government better illustrates where he stood politically. Nevertheless, eager to win back the favor his masters, The Prince was a step-by-step manual on how to be an effective ruler. Machiavelli held that it was better for a monarch to be feared -since a good ruler had to be aware that he could never please everyone. But relying on fear alone, just as on love, didn’t work because eventually the people would rise up in anger and everything the ruler built -whether good or bad- could go down the drain. Therefore, he added another element to the equation: respect. Winning the people over was a good technique and for that a ruler had to be affable and seen as just -even when he wasn’t.
Henry was good at this.  And not just because he was an evil mastermind who relished in people’s suffering but because he truly believed that what he was doing, was in everyone’s best interest.

Call it delusion, or self-con, but that is how Henry’s mind worked -and how most monarchs’ minds worked, especially the ones the ones that are widely revered.

Of course, as Henry VIII’s behavior became erratic as he got older. If Kyra’s theory that he suffered from Kell Blood Positive syndrome, as well as Suzannah Lipscomb in her book, 1536, where she said that the fall from his joust in that year caused him head trauma that altered his personality, are true then this along with his leg ulcer, and his urgency to father another male heir to secure the Tudor Dynasty, can explain this.

Even though victors get to rewrite history -and Henry did rewrite many things about his reign- sometimes writers decide that the truth is not interesting enough and they spice things up. This is what has happened to Henry. Amidst the myths and legends, the real one gets pushed into the background in favor of a caricature.
It is true, dead men tell no tales, but facts do and even when firsthand accounts are bias, they paint a clearer picture of who this man was and what fueled his actions. While the puzzle will never be solve, the deeper we dig, the closer we come to discovering who the real Henry VIII was.

Sources:

  • Borman, Tracy. The Private Lives of the Tudors: Uncovering the Secrets of England’s Greatest Dynasty. Hodder & Stoughton. 2016.
  • Kramer, Kyra Cornelius. Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation of the Tyranny of Henry VIII. Ash Wood Press. 2012.
  • Henry VIII: Mind of a Tyrant presented by David Starkey, directed by David Sington, BBC, 2009.
  • Loades, David. Henry VIII. 2011.
  • “Divorced.” Six Wives with Lucy Worsley, written by Chloe Moss, directed by Russell England, BBC, 2016.
  • Katharine of Aragon’s education
  • Katherine and Henry VIII’s marriage & their joint coronation

 

Henry VII & Daenerys: Two Dragons of the same scale who’ve broken the wheel

Henry VII Daenerys comparisons

A Song of Ice and Fire is rich with detail and characters that are as complex as the world they live in, and the faith they practice. The war of the five kings which was based on the wars of the roses is over. We have come to the Tudor period with strings of the last stages of the wars of the roses.
Henry Tudor failed to invade England in his first attempt. Buckingham’s Rebellion was supposed to destabilize the government but it did nothing of the sort. Henry didn’t give up and in his darkest hour he vowed that once he won, he’d marry Elizabeth of York, uniting the two houses of York and Lancaster and bringing peace to England.
It is unclear if the book series or the TV adaption will follow history but given that the latest trailer has made the similarities between the two more obvious, it is safe to say that it will come close.
We don’t know what Dany’s exact reaction is when she finally arrives to Westeros, specifically to Dragonstone. Dragonstone is the equivalent to Wales in the world of ice and fire.
Rhaegar was Daenerys’ older brother and thus, the crown heir and Prince of Dragonstone. Like his historical counterparts, the Princes of Wales, he was tasked with carrying out the King’s justice and ensuring that his subjects’ would stay loyal to the crown. Crown heirs as young as twelve would be sent here and like the princes of Wales, they would have their own household with a governor and tutors which would help them with the task of ruling and administering their principality.
After Rhaegar died at the battle of the Trident, many people saw his siblings as the sole heirs of the Targaryen dynasty. Like Henry Tudor, Daenerys was forced to flee along with her brother and seek refuge across the narrow sea. Her claim to the throne has been described as slim because of her gender and her father’s reputation as a tyrant, not to mention her older brother’s actions with Lyanna. But Daenerys insists that she, and only she, is the rightful heir to the throne and there is nothing she won’t do to get what she wants.

The Ones who were Promised

Tudor banner and Targaryen banner

Daenerys is also seen as a savior by the followers of the red god. Coupled with the myriad of sell-swords, former slaves, hordes of Dothraki and disenfranchised aristocrats from her homeland, it is no surprise why she’s become the biggest contender.
The way Dany looks up in the latest trailer of season 7 after she lands in Dragonstone (way to make it obvious who these people are based on, am I right?) in an almost reverential manner is so similar to Henry’s reaction when he arrived to England after fourteen years in exile.
Besides claiming descent from the legendary Welsh King, Cadwallder, Henry also claimed to be a descendant of King Arthur, through his father, Edmund Tudor, who claimed to descend from Welsh Princes that went all the way back to ancient times. Henry Tudor adopted the symbol of the red dragon of Wales as his main banner, and as soon as the Welsh heard of his arrival, they began to sing songs about him, claiming that he was the one who had been promised.
According to the chronicler Robert Fabyan, upon arriving to Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire, Wales, on the 7th of August 1485, Henry “kneeled down upon the earth, and with meek countenance and pure devotion began this psalm: judica me deus, and discern causmam.” (Psalm 43: Judge me, Oh God, and distinguish my cause.) Then Henry kissed “the ground meekly, and reverently made the sign of the cross upon him.”

Daenerys hasn’t shown herself to be pious but like her historical counterpart she has a strong sense of purpose. She believes that it is her right to rule because of her bloodline and her actions towards the slavers at the former slaver’s bay (now renamed Dragon’s Bay). But will that be enough to vanquish the forces of evil and more importantly convince the people to join her cause?
Only time, and in this case, shorter time (since the clock is ticking) will tell. Henry’s defeat of Richard III didn’t end the dynastic conflict, though he made it seem when he married EOY as if it did. And assuming that the theory of Dany marrying Jon Snow is correct, that won’t guarantee Westeros any peace as there will still be plenty of factions looking for ways to undermine their reign and gain the upper hand.

Fashion Statement

Dany and Heny

Another thing I noticed is Dany’s new look which mirrors Henry in his later years. Contrary to popular opinion, Henry didn’t always dress so dour. In her latest book, historian Tracy Borman talks about how he closely guarded his money and his possessions but he still spent a significant amount on clothing.

 

 

“… he had a more light-hearted side. His household accounts reveal that he was fond of playing cards, even though he regularly suffered heavy losses … Physically fit from his years of campaigning, he held regular jousts and liked to play tennis. The latter was a particular favourite with the king and was commended by a contemporary expert on courtly refinement as a “noble sport which is very suitable for the courtier to lay … for this shows how well he is built physically, how quick and agile he is in every member” … Miserly he may have been, but Henry Tudor was shrewd enough not to repeat this mistake. A man’s clothes –far more than those of a woman –were of great symbolic importance … Henry spent the greatest sums on his apparel during the early years of his reign, when he felt most insecure on his newly won throne.” (Borman, The Private Lives of the Tudors)

Dany’s latest appearance mirrors that of Henry during the last years of his reign after he’d lost nearly all of his loved ones, including his wife and son.
Daenerys has this rich apparel with jewels and expensive fabrics, and she is finally wearing her house colors, but in contrast to previous seasons and other contenders, she appears more reserved. Even Cersei boasts of more jewelry and outlandish headgear than her! It could be that as Dany attempts to make her final claim at the Iron Throne, she wants to be seen more as a protector than a bejeweled tyrant.

Game Changers & Altering History

Richard III ASOIAF

So after everything that I’ve written, you might be asking: Does this mean that Daenerys will end up as Henry Tudor? Beloved savior turned miserly female king who loses nearly all of her loved ones? As I previously stated, given that this is Game of Thrones, it is hard to figure out what the outcome will be but one thing is certain and that is that Daenerys as Henry Tudor have changed the rules of the game. As she told Tyrion in season four, she isn’t determined to be another spoke in the wheel, she wants to break it.
“Lannister, Baratheon, Tyrell, Stark … they are all just spokes on a wheel … On and on it goes … I am not just going to change the wheel, I am going to break it.”

This is an allusion to the wheel of fortune. A medieval concept that can be simplified to good luck vs bad luck. Either you were favored by God, or you weren’t (in which case you were pushed to the bottom of the wheel). Henry’s candidacy as the last scion of the House of Lancaster changed all that. If we looked critically at this claim, and forget about the outlandish tales he and his descendants weaved about his dynasty, we see someone who rose to power thanks to the in-fighting that was going on at England at the time and the tragedy of the princes in the tower, and who through his wit and cunning, won many people over, and who in spite of living on the run for most of his teenage and young adult life, grew up to be a very determined and cautious individual.

Daenerys says that it is her destiny to rule. Henry swore before an audience of disaffected Edwardian Yorkists and staunch Lancastrian loyalists at Vannes Cathedral in Brittany that he would bring them victory and peace by defeating Richard III and marrying Elizabeth of York. The way he spoke and interacted with his new allies, convinced them that he was a man worthy to follow. Over a century later, William Shakespeare wrote the conclusion to his history plays on the wars of the roses, ‘Richard III’. Richard III is filled with Tudor propaganda where he drew from plenty of sources written during Henry’s reign and his successors, that painted Richard as a hunchback and a twisted individual. It is no different than what we see Tyrion or Cersei being depicted at. While Cersei borrows the worst qualities assigned to Queen Regents and Queen Regnants during the Tudor era, the role she is playing in Daenery’s story is similar to that of Richard III.

There have been many fan theories that speculate that while the book series are told from different characters’ point of view, and we see this being expanded on the show, the whole story might not be nothing more than a single person’s take on these events. Someone who has interpreted these events based on what his best friend has told him, or how he wishes them to be remembered. Of course, I am referring to Samwell Tarly. The season 6 finale closed the chapter on Samwell’s story with him and Gilly and her son arriving to Old Town where they meet one of the grand maesters. He is examining a document with a special lens and as he guides Sam to the main library, we see the astrolabe which is largely featured at the beginning of the credits. Could it be that this story is showing Jon Snow and Daenerys in such a light, because that is how Sam prefers the population to remember it?
Let’s recall what Varys told Tyrion in season 2: “A very small man can cast a big shadow.”

Indeed, he can. If there is one thing we have learned from history is that it is bias and whoever is victorious, gets to control the narrative. The pen is mightier than the sword, and it might be that Varys’ sermon about how power is nothing more than “a trick, a shadow in the wall” and the greatest trick of all is the one that changes people’s perception to the point that their view of the world is whatever you tell them.

This doesn’t undermine Daenerys and Henry VII’s respective rise to power. On the contrary, it only highlights their genius and their ambition. Henry’s claim rested on his mythical roots to King Arthur and Cadwallder, his right of conquest (which was valid and was also claimed by his and the Plantagenets’ ancestor, William the Conqueror), and finally from his mother who was a direct descendant from John of Gaunt, 1st. Duke of Lancaster, albeit from an illegitimate branch. While Richard II had legitimized John of Gaunt and his former mistress, Kathryn Swynford (who was his wife by then), his successor, John of Gaunt’s oldest son, had undermined their legitimacy by adding a new clause that barred them from the line of succession. Henry’s victory made many of his supporters forget this little detail, but not the Yorkist remnants who continued to wage war against the Tudors -a war that escalated when Henry VIII broke away from Rome and created his own church.

Without a doubt, Henry and Daenerys are two of the best examples that the people who start off as the most inconsequential can become the most important players of the game and through a number of misfortunes and strokes of luck, break the wheel, and true examples that destiny is what you make of it.

“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 his former Yorkist enemies in gaining the crown- was a far less welcome tale. It remains nonetheless just as remarkable; against all the odds, at Bosworth Henry achieved a victory that he should not have won.” (Skidmore, Rise of the Tudors)

Ironically, even when Henry VIII tried to outdo his father in the Tudor Dynasty Portrait that has him, Henry VII, leaning next to a monument while their respective wives, Elizabeth of York and Jane Seymour (who was dead at the time this was painted) are on the other side, claiming that his achievements were better than his father; he had to admit that without him, none of that would have been possible.

Decades later, during Elizabeth I’s coronation, Henry VII was featured once again, this time through the device he created after his union to Elizabeth, that symbolized the union of their two houses, the Tudor rose. Elizabeth I would often invoke the past to justify her actions and lend validity to her claim. Like her grandfather, she saw herself as the rightful heir to the throne, not just because of her father’s will, but because her mother had been an anointed queen and like her paternal grandmother and namesake, she viewed herself as a symbol of unity who was destined to pull England out of darkness and into the light.

“On Saturday, January 14, 1559, at about two o’clock, Henry VIII’s youngest daughter, Elizabeth, rode through London, from the Tower down to Westminster, on the eve of her coronation. As usual, a great series of pageants had been organized to illustrate the many ways in which the new queen’s majesty was righteous and worthy. At the corner of Fenchurch Street was Gracechurch Street a large stage was erected across the street, “vaulted with battlements” and built on three separated levels. The official record of the procession recorded that “on the lowest stage was made one seat royal, wherein were placed two personages representing king Henry the Seventh and Elizabeth his wife, daughter of king Edward the Fourth … [not] divided but that the one of them which was king Henry processing out of the house of Lancaster was enclosed in a red rose, and the other which was Queen Elizabeth being heir to the house of York enclosed with a white rose … Out of which two roses sprang two branches gathered into one, which were directed upward to the second stage … wherein was placed one, representing the valiant and noble prince king Henry [VIII].”
… Buildings were decorated with the Tudor roses and other associated emblems of the dynasty. Great stained glass windows installed in churches during the sixteenth century blazed with red and white petals. Anyone who had been lucky enough to brose the books of the royal library would have found the exquisite illustrations on the pages decorated with roses red, white and Tudor –in many cases these were added to books that had been inherited from earlier kings- particularly Edward IV. Other books, too, were emblazoned with the simplified dynastic story of the Wars of the Roses … By Elizabeth’s reign, the mere sight of red and white roses entwined was enough to evoke instantly the whole story of the fifteenth century: the Crown had been thrown into dispute and disarray by the Lancastrian deposition of Richard II in 1399; this had prompted nearly a century of warfare between two rival clans, which was a form of divine punishment for the overthrow of a rightful king; finally in 1485, the Tudors had reunited the families and saved the realm. It was that simple.” (Jones, Wars of the Roses: Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors)

Perception is everything and it is more effective when the person twisting historical events is full of conviction and if there was one thing the Tudors had was plenty of conviction -something their founder’s fantasy counterpart also has.

Henry VII and EOY history posthumous portrait
“Now civil wounds are stopped peace lives again: That she may long live here, God say Amen!” ~The Tragedy of Richard III by  William Shakespeare (1592)

The last book in the series will be called ‘Dreams of Spring’ and given how Shakespeare’s Richard III ends with Henry Tudor being crowned and promising a new beginning for England, it can be inferred that the last book’s title refers to a bittersweet closure to the song of ice and fire, with the war ending, some form of peace being achieved but at a great cost. And perhaps it is revealed at the end, that this was nothing more than someone else’s view of these events, leaving many questions (as with the wars of the roses and the era after it) unanswered.

Sources:

  • Martin, George, et. al. World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros. Bantam. 2014.
  • Lisle, Leanda. Tudor: Passion, Manipulation, Murder. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013.
  • Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999.
  • Skidmore, Chris. The Rise of the Tudors. St. Martin Press. 2014.
  • Porter,  Linda. Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots. St. Martin’s Press. 2014.
  • Borman, Tracy. The Private Lives of the Tudors. Grove Press. 2016.
  • Jones, Dan. The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors. Penguin. 2014.
  • Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Richard III. 1592.
  • Weiss, Daniel Brett and Benioff, David, creators. Game of Thrones. HBO. 2011-?

I also recommend all the other books in the Song of Ice and Fire saga, including the latest spin off “Dunk and Egg” which expands on this world.

Henry promises to marry Princess Elizabeth of York

0Henry VII and EOY

On Christmas day, 1483, Henry VII solemnly swore that he would marry Elizabeth of York at Vannes Cathedral, among many of his fellow exiles in Brittany. Other sources say it was Rennes. According to Polydore Vergil (who placed it at Rennes), the event went as follows:

“The day of Christ’s nativity was come upon, which, meeting all in the church, they ratified all in the church, they ratified all other things by plighting of their troths and solemn covenants and first of all Earl Henry upon his Oath promised, that so soon as he should be King he would marry Elizabeth, King Edward’s daughter; then after they swore unto him homage as though he had already been created King, protesting that they would lose not only their lands and possessions, but their lives, before they would suffer, bear, or permit, that Richard should rule over them an heirs.”

0Rennes Cathedral
Rennes Cathedral

Henry knew that time was running out. Earlier that year, his mother had sent a messenger telling him about the state of affairs in England and Buckingham had written to him, telling him he would switch sides, plan an insurrection so Henry could become King. The full details of what motivated Buckingham to switch sides is still unclear and isn’t likely to be solved anytime soon. But failure to destabilize Richard III’s reign, was a massive halt to Henry Tudor’s plans. After the Duke’s execution in October, Henry was ready to set sail with a great fleet that was funded by his ally and jailor, the Duke of Brittany, but they were quickly blown away by “a cruel gale of wind” which drove them back to Brittany. Which was the more reason why he made this pledge in front of all his fellow exiles, among them staunch Lancastrians and Edwardian Yorkists. With this vow he secured the latter’s support. And they paid homage to him as if he were already king, and declared him so less than a month later in November 3 at Bodmin.

“…in addition to the Duchess of Brittany herself. The premier minister, Pierre Landais, was also present and through him Henry obtained Duke Francois’ solemn promise to support and assist in the cause. Henry had entered into a pledge which he could not turn back from. If his invasion of England was successful, he would marry Elizabeth of York. It was in effect a marriage by proxy.” (Breverton)

0Vannes Cathedral
Vannes Cathedral

When Richard III heard of this, he acted quickly. Parliament passed a bill entitled “Titulus Regius” on January the 23rd which officially declared the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville null and void under the assumption that he had been betrothed to one Eleanor Butler months before. Not surprisingly, nobody in his regime could dispute that given that both of the three people in question were dead. Henry Tudor, acted quickly as well, obtaining a papal dispensation on March the 27th and moving out of Brittany that summer after one of his spies at Richard’s court told him that the King was hot on his trail.

Tudor Rose

Four months after his triumph at Bosworth Parliament would remind him of his pledge, and he would swear one more time that he would honor that pledge and marry the Princess Elizabeth.

The couple were married a month later in January of 1486, after the papal dispensation was signed, sealed and delivered, making their union official. And just as he promised, their union would come to represent the union of two houses, Lancaster and York, symbolized in the new device Henry had created to embody this: the Tudor Rose.

Sources:

  • Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood
  • Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Henry VII by SB Chrimes
  • The Woodvilles by Susan Higginbotham
  • Jasper Tudor: Dynasty Maker by Terry Breverton

Arthur Tudor: Forever Young, the Death of the Camelot dream

Arthur Tudor (b.1486), was the Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia and he was named after the legendary Welsh and English hero. He represented the hopes and dreams that Henry had for his realm and the future of his dynasty. His death was a huge blow to everyone.
Arthur Tudor (b.1486), was the Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia and he was named after the legendary Welsh and English hero. He represented the hopes and dreams that Henry had for his realm and the future of his dynasty. His death was a huge blow to everyone.

On the 2nd of April 1502, Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia died at the age of fifteen at Ludlow Castle in the Welsh Marches. No one knows exactly what the cause of his death was, but mostly agree it was this one. Contrary to what’s shown in popular culture, Arthur Tudor was not a sickly teen. In fact, he was very sheltered, reared with a very religious and rigorous regime that included the latest Humanist books and of course,  classical texts. His tutor Andre remarked that he was a bright pupil who absorbed everything that was taught to him immediately. Clearly, he represented a dream, the chosen Prince who would herald a new era into England. A new Camelot, and would make the Tudor dynasty the most famous dynasty in history. His father was a quarter Welsh through his half-Welsh/half-French father Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond.  Through his mother (Margaret Beaufort) he inherited the claim to the throne as she descended from the eldest son of John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster and his mistress (and later his wife) Katherine Swynford. When Henry went into battle, he came with a red dragon as his emblem and incorporated it into the royal arms. The red dragon represented none other than Cadwalladr. It won Henry many Welsh allies, who since his birth had begun making poems of him since his father and his uncle were very loved there. Henry never forgot his Welsh roots and naming his firstborn after this legendary hero and being born at Winchester (where Camelot was reputed to have been) was a statement that he intended to make the Tudor Dynasty immortal, and like his son’s namesake, bring a new Camelot.

Sadly, this was not to be. Arthur died and with him, Henry’s dreams. He and his wife, Elizabeth of York, received the news two days later on April 4. The council deemed it appropriate to have Henry’s confessor tell him the news.

"If we receive good from the hand of God, should we not also tolerate the bad?’ It was then that he ‘showed his Grace that his dearest son was departed to God." -Henry's confessor to the King.
“If we receive good from the hand of God, should we not also tolerate the bad?’ It was then that he ‘showed his Grace that his dearest son was departed to God.” -Henry’s confessor to the King.

The news shocked Henry so much that he went into full despair. Elizabeth, equally heartbroken, but nonetheless stoic as she’d aways been; took him in her arms and reminded him of his position and that they were still young  and could have more children.

Elizabeth "did her best to comfort him as they took ‘the painful sorrow together’" writes Licence. And that "God had left him yet a fair prince, two fair princesses" and that they were still young and could have more children. Afterwards, she went into her rooms to cry, and he comforted her as well.
Elizabeth “did her best to comfort him as they took ‘the painful sorrow together’” writes Licence. And that “God had left him yet a fair prince, two fair princesses” and that they were still young and could have more children.
Afterwards, she went into her rooms to cry, and he comforted her as well.

Perhaps the one who took his death the hardest was Katherine of Aragon, the young Infanta who was not yet seventeen and who had come from Spain with the mindset that she woud become the future Queen of England.

Katherine of Aragon as a widow Portrait by Michael Sittow. Arthur's death left her in a political limbo for seven years.
Katherine of Aragon as a widow Portrait by Michael Sittow. Arthur’s death left her in a political limbo for seven years.

Katherine had been trained  almost as a renaissance Prince. She was taught the same subjects as Arthur and furthermore was taught canon and civic law and had been with her mother on her military campaigns. No other princess was better prepared. Arthur’s death left her in a political limbo and although her mother secured a papal dispensation before she died (1504) and made Henry VII agree to a betrothal, she was still left in despair. Her father made her into his ambassador to increase her allowance and that helped and gave her a taste of the intrigue of the Tudor court. For five more years she waited, and what seemed in vain at last took fruit when the friendship she had formed with the new Prince of Wales (Harry Tudor) convinced him that she was the only wife for him. After the death of his father, the new King, Henry VIII, told his council that he would take no other wife but Katherine of Aragon. At last Katherine fulfilled her life’s dream, becoming Queen of England.

Sources:

  • Sister Queens: The noble and tragic lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana I of Castile by Julia Fox
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Starkey
  • The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • Henry VII by SB Chrimes
  • Elizabeth of York by Amy Licence
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle

Elizabeth of York: York and Lancaster

Her union with Henry would seal the fate of a nation. Her parents' marriage had been controversial, though it might not have been his father's initial intention. Her significance in the dynastic conflict proved vital and helped Henry legitimize and validate his claim, as well as validate the claim of his future heirs.
Her union with Henry would seal the fate of a nation. Her parents’ marriage had been controversial, though it might not have been his father’s initial intention. Her significance in the dynastic conflict proved vital and helped Henry legitimize and validate his claim, as well as validate the claim of his future heirs.

Elizabeth of York was born on 11 February 1466. After her parents marriage in 1464, there had been an urgent need for a male heir. Her father’s marriage placed his dynasty in great peril. His cousin, the Earl of Warwick (Richard Neville) had secured a French marriage for him with Bona of Savoy who was Louis XI’s cousin. But when his marriage to the impoverished Grey widow changed everything. Elizabeth brought no dowry and no alliance, but she brought him a large brood of family which some scholars believe Edward took advantage as a means to securing the nobles’ loyalty.

“It would be foolish to totally disregard love as an important factor … But it is also possible, with hindsight, to detect a line of political thinking that may well have allowed Edward to convince himself that his love match was also a tool of useful public policy.” (Jones)

This makes perfect sense as, as soon as he made it known that he had married Elizabeth, he started marrying off her large brood of siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins. But not all was flowers and sunshine. Most of the nobility disapproved of this match. Edward could be a merciful king but he could also be very cruel. This was very common, keeping in with the attitudes of the period. Edward came into the throne with a conciliatory mood, pardoning most of the Lancastrians -including his in-laws three years before he married Elizabeth. Over two decades later, her daughter would marry the last Lancastrian scion, in a ceremony symbolizing the union of both Houses, and creating a new motif that would became the official symbol of the Tudor House: The double rose. Edward IV might have tried the same when he married the Lancastrian widow. Not since the Norman Conquest had an English King married a commoner. While it is highly possible love was involved, it is not implausible that Edward had other strong motives for pursuing this match. For decades to come the match would be criticized and it would be used as a cautionary tale, with writers saying “take heed of what love may do!”.

Edward IV to the end of his life. Edward was handsome, wielding a war hammer in battle, and a cultured man. He was every woman's dream and his intention to marry Elizabeth might have been both romantic as well as political.
Edward IV to the end of his life. Edward was handsome, wielding a war hammer in battle, and a cultured man. He was every woman’s dream and his intention to marry Elizabeth might have been both romantic as well as political.

Given that Edward had to placate Lancastrian insurrections while wining their support at the same time, and on top of that, make it known to everyone, especially his cousin and his maternal relations that he was his own man, it’s not surprising that he did what did. At the time it must have looked like the perfect thing to do. A marriage to an impoverished widow, and from a staunch Lancastrian family at that, would have made him look very popular. A King who did not care for sides and had even taken one of the enemy as his bride -and used her family to form his own party, and force the nobility to its knees. And if that was not enough, he also sent a clear message that he was going to be master of his realm, unbound to anyone, and by marrying into a local house, he was also forcing that house’s loyalty to him because their fortunes would depend entirely on him.
The Woodvilles didn’t disappoint him. Though entirely nepotistic; they never failed to do their jobs, and Anthony Woodville, his brother in law became one of the first patrons of the printer William Caxton and he was a well known poet, warrior, jouster, and on top of that, a highly devout man as his sister and younger brother Edward Woodville (who served Isabella and Ferdinand, and was highly commended by them who regarded him as one of the most Christian knights in Western Europe). Furthermore, Queen’s College which was founded by Elizabeth Woodville’s predecessor, Marguerite of Anjou, was continuously founded by her. And she became widely loved by the commons after she refused to call them to arms when Warwick and the Lancastrian forces retook the city in October of 1470. She received many charity from them when she went into charity, in her pregnant state, at Westminster Abbey. And before she died, she made her will asking that she be buried with very little ceremony. England as Castile (Katherine of Aragon’s mother’s realm) was highly religious and this could have been one of the many reasons why Elizabeth and her daughter, Elizabeth of York, were more accepted consorts than their Lancastrian predecessor.

Elizabeth’s birth was highly anticipated. Although she was not the Prince that everyone was hoping for, the fact she was healthy and her mother had previously given birth to two perfectly healthy boys, gave the King hope.

“Like all babies in those days, the infant princess was swaddled in tight bands with a close-fitting cap on her head, and she would have remained swaddled for the first eight or nine months of her life to ensure that her limbs grew straight. She was assigned a stately household that included a nurse and a wet nurse.” (Weir).

The future for Elizabeth of York, looked bright. As the eldest of the King’s daughters, she was betrothed several times, the best known betrothal is to the Dauphin and to Henry Tudor who was in exile at the time in Brittany with his uncle. Edward IV, writes Lisle, might have no intention on fulfilling his promise. Margaret Beaufort, possessing more experienced and wary of the Yorkist King (though he had issued a pardon for her son), decided to do a will in which she would leave everything to her son, so he would not be left penniless.

There were many rumors after the death of Richard III’s son that he intended to leave Anne so he could marry Elizabeth. To this day, no one can say for certain what Richard truly intended. Herstorian Amy Licence says it best. Richard might have truly loved his wife, and there is no doubt that his actions from 1472 at the time he married Anne to 1483 show that he was a doting husband and father, and she a doting wife and mother. But he was King now, and as King he had to put personal feelings aside and think of the future of his House. It was not just his life that was on the line after all, it was his family, his mother, his de la Pole nephews, Margaret and Edward, his brother George’s children, and so many more. And then there the future of the Plantagenety dynasty. The dynasty had ruled England for more than three hundred years. He was not going to be known as the King who let it all go to hell. But we all know, that is what happened. When he publicly stated that he had never had any intentions to marrying his niece, and later planned to marry a descendant of John of Gaunt via his second marriage to Constance of Castile, to represent a union between the Houses of Lancaster and York that would have ruined Henry Tudor’s plans of his own with Elizabeth; his allies turned against him; he lost, he died and effectively more than three hundred years of Plantagenet rule was over.

Through their union, a new symbol was created: The Tudor Rose symbolizing the union of the (previously) warring houses of York and Lancaster.
Through their union, a new symbol was created: The Tudor Rose symbolizing the union of the (previously) warring houses of York and Lancaster.

Elizabeth went on to become the Consort of Henry VII, and the mother of the Tudor Dynasty. Elizabeth was always conscious of her position. She had been trained to think that it was her destiny to marry a prince or a king. She was not going to go for less; Henry’s actions re-legitimizing her parents’ union and herself and her siblings; restoring their status. would have seemed to Elizabeth like a godsend and acceptable as she was now going to be Queen. And she had the benefit of knowing her husband before the marriage. Most royal couples did not have that benefit. Another couple that did was her aunt and uncle, Anne Neville and Richard III who had grown up together, when Richard had been sent as his cousin’s ward to Warwick Castle.
Elizabeth gave birth many times but only four survived childhood: Arthur (1486), Margaret (1489), Henry (1491), and Mary (1494). Out of those four, only three lived to adulthood and it was Margaret’s descendants from her first two marriages whose descendants still sit on the English Throne today.

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York tomb at the Lady Chapel located in Westminster Abbey.
Henry VII and Elizabeth of York tomb at the Lady Chapel located in Westminster Abbey.

When Elizabeth died, also on February 11, on her thirty seventh birthday, she was widely mourned. Out of all the Tudor Consorts, he was the only to be safe from suspicion and this was largely in part due to her religious devotion, and what her union with Henry represented. Henry mourned her death deeply, but like Richard he thought of remarrying but he never did in the end. He is buried next to her in the Lady Chapel he ordered to be constructed for both of them at Westminster Abbey. At the time of their marriage, their union was widely praised, the pope himself praised it. The new motif is still known today, and it also served as a new tool to give a new interpretation to the wars that had plagued England for most of the fifteenth century (known today as the wars of the roses).

Sources:

  • Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir
  • Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • Richard III: The Road to Leicester by Amy Licence
  • Richard III by David Baldwin

A Rueful Lamentation on the Death of Queen Elizabeth by Sir Thomas More

EOY WQ y Verdadera
Thomas More was a young lawyer at the time of the Queen’s death. He wrote a beautiful eulogy for her titled “A Rueful Lamentation on the Death of Queen Elizabeth” which commemorates Elizabeth for her union with Henry, her offspring, her piety, and most of all her great lineage:

“Oh ye that put your trust and confidence
in worldly joy and frail prosperity,
That so live here as ye should never hence,
Remember death and look here on me.
Example I think there may no better be.
Yourself worth well that in this realm was I,
Your Queen but late, and lo, now here I lie.
Was I not born of old worthy lineage?
Was not my mother Queen, my father King?
Was I not a King’s fierce companion in marriage?
Had I not plenty of every pleasant thing?
Merciful God, this is a strange reckoning:
Riches, honour, wealth, and ancestry
hath me forsaken, and lo, now here I lie.

If worship worth, honour, renown
might have kept me, I had not gone;
If wit, intelligence might have me
saved, I needed not fear;
If money might have hold, I lacked none;
But oh, good God, what veiled all this gear?

When Death is come,
Thy mighty messenger, Obey we must
there is no remedy;
Me hath he summoned, and lo, now here I lie.

Yet was I late promised otherwise,
This year to life in wealth and delice.
Lo! Whereto cometh thy blandishing promise
Of false astrology and divination,
Of God’s secrets, making thyself so wise?
How true is for this year thy prophecy?
The year yet last, and lo, now here I lie.

O, brittle wealth, aye full of bitterness,
Thy single pleasure doubled is with pain.
Account my sorrow first, and my distress
In sundry wise, and reckon there again
The joy that I have had, and I dare say,
For all my honour, endured there have I
More woe than wealth, and lo, now here I lie.
Where are our castles now, where are our towers?
Goodly Richmond, soon art thou gone from me;
At Westminster, that costly work of yours,
Mine own dear lord, now shall I never see.
Almighty God vouchsafe to grant that these
For you and your children may well edify.
My palace built is, and lo now here I lie.
Adieu, mine own spouse, my worthy lord!
The faithful love, that did us both combine
In marriage peaceable concord,
Into your hands here I do clear resign,
To be bestowed on your children and mine;
Erst were ye father, now must ye supply
The mother’s part also, for here I lie.
Farewell my daughter, Lady Margaret,
God wot full of it grieved hath my mind
That ye should go where we might seldom meet;
Now I am gone, and have left you behind.
O mortal folk, but we be very blind:
What we at least fear full oft it is most nigh
From you depart I first, for lo, now here I lie.

Farewell, Madam, my lord’s worthy mother;
Comfort your son, and be of good cheer!
Take all at worth, for it will be no other.
Farwell my daughter Katherine, late the companion
Unto Prince Arthur, late my child so dear.
It booteth not for me to wail and cry;
Pray for my soul, for lo now here I lie.

Adieu Lord Henry, Loving Son, Adieu!
Our Lord increase your honour and estate!
Adieu my daughter Mary, bright and hue,
God make you virtuous, wise, and fortunate.
Adieu, sweetheart, my little daughter Kate!
Thou shalt, sweet babe, such is thy destiny,
Thy mother never know, for lo, now here I lie.

Lady Cecily, Lady Anne, and Lady Katherine,
Farewell, my well-beloved sisters three.
O Lady Bridget, other sister mine,
Lo, here the end of worldly vanity!
Now are you well who earthly folly flee
And heavenly things do praise and magnify.
Farewell and pray for me, for lo, now here I lie.

Adieu my lords, adieu my ladies all,
Adieu my faithful servants every one,
Adieu my commons, whom I never shall see in this world:
wherefore to Thee alone,
Immortal God, verily Three in One,
I me commend thy infinity mercy show to thy servant,
for lo, now here I lie.”

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

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

Elizabeth of York was born on the 11th of February at Westminster Palace on 1466, and died thirty seven years later at the Tower of London. This was days after she had given birth to a daughter, Princess Catherine, who followed her mother’s sad fate a day later.
Elizabeth probably the victim of puerperal or childbed fever. Some authors like Alison Weir have contested this theory saying it was possibly anemia, whatever the case she was deeply mourned by the people and her husband. Her death Henry VIII later wrote was “the worst news” he had ever received.

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

Elizabeth was the eldest daughter of Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV, the first King of the York dynasty. Her marriage to Henry VII was seen by many as the union between the previous warring factions of House Lancaster and House York which she represented. By this time she had born Henry many children, only three had survived, Margaret, Henry, and Mary. When she received the news of her eldest son’s death she consoled her husband and reminded him of his duty then went to her chambers and broke in tears and according to contemporaries, Henry then went to console her. The death of her firstborn weighed heavily on the Queen, she was thirty six at the time and like her husband believed she could secure the succession once more giving Henry another son.
Before she went into labor she broke her confinement to attend the celebration of Candlemas with her husband. They both wore customarily robes of state and went in procession to mass to celebrate the feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary. She made an offer at the high altar that morning and later during the day while in the Tower, she went into a difficult labor.
She gave birth to a small girl who was named Catherine but like her mother she did not live long.
A messenger (James Nattres) was dispatched to Doctor Hallysworth in Kent to aid in her recovery but he never made it in time and nine days after she was dead. (Baby Catherine had died the day before).

 

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

Henry gave his wife a dignified funeral. White banners were laid across the corners of her coffin, signifying the manner of her death, while her body was draped with black velvet surmounted by a cross of white cloth of gold.
The coffin was topped by a wax effigy of the Queen, dressed in robes of state, her hair loose under a rich crown, a sceptre in her hand and fingers adorned with fine rings. Her coffin was placed in St. Peter Vincula on February 12 and ten days later followed a funeral route to Westminster. Before the final burial, the effigy with its crown and robes were removed and stored in the shrine of Edward the Confessor where the image of the Queen was absorbed into a collection of holy relics and icons. As with every figure in this period, there was an emergence, almost on a holy scale, of Elizabeth as the good mother, the good wife, and the charitable woman.
Things would never be the same for her family. Henry went into a deep depression, locking himself in Richmond for six weeks following her funeral and while other brides were proposed to him, he would remain a widower. Yet, it was her son Harry who was most affected by her death.
At the impressionable age of 11, he could find no other female role model. Although his grandmother was there for him, the image that his mother crafted for herself was one that Henry came to worship more and one that his wives would be very affected by, as they would all fail to live to Henry’s expectation of the ideal consort.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir
  • Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • Henry VII by SB Chrimes
  • In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence

Elizabeth of York Gives Birth One Last Time

Elizabeth of York Tudor Consort

2 February 1503: Following the death of her eldest son, Prince Arthur (Katherine’s first husband) she and Henry conceived again. The child was a girl and Elizabeth named her after Mary I’s mother. But Elizabeth soon grew weak and died nine days later, on her thirty seventh birthday. The child died a day after.

“Most Tudor mothers did not die during childbirth. Surprisingly, the odds of survival were fairly good, providing there were no complications. Estimated figures have suggested a mortality rate of around one in fifty but difficult deliveries could lead to maternal and infant death without preventative action being taken. Many survived the experience only to succumb to infection or heavy bleeding afterwards. The more babies the mother wore the greater her risk of death and resulting illness, with the increased physical toll on her body.” (Licence)

Elizabeth was always physically strong, but with each child she bore, she became weaker and after she had given birth to Arthur, she had also been very weak and she didn’t give birth to another child until three years later when Princess Margaret was born. Alison Weir in her respective biography of Elizabeth of York, suggests that the Tudor Consort could have been suffering from anemia, due to her strict regiment of fasting or religious observance.
Elizabeth of York (left) and her mother Elizabeth Woodville (right)
Elizabeth of York (left) and her mother Elizabeth Woodville (right)
The Elizabeth of York we saw from recent fiction and the one from real life are two separate entities. Elizabeth was as her mother, a very religious person and everything she did revolved around religion. Proof of this, is that on the day she gave birth, she was supposed to be on confinement but she got out, preferring to spend her time attending the ceremony known as “Candlemas”.
Henry VII and Elizabeth of York tomb at the Lady Chapel located in Westminster Abbey.
Henry VII and Elizabeth of York tomb at the Lady Chapel located in Westminster Abbey.

She is buried at the Lady Chapel, next to her husband, Henry VII. The chapel was constructed by Henry, with specific instructions so the two of them would be remembered after their deaths. Buried next to them is Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth’s mother in law. The chapel is located at Westminster Abbey, and if you ever get to see it, it is a magnificent site and the golden effigies of Elizabeth and Henry VII still stand.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir
  • In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle

18 JANUARY 1486: The Union of the Red and the White Rose

Their union formed the Tudor rose, a heraldic symbol of the union between two warring factions: Lancaster and York that were now at an end. The reality however, was much more complex. Nonetheless, their illusion did give a lasting impression of peace and helped the country heal. For the both of them, it was the realization of their dreams and ambitions.
Their union formed the Tudor rose, a heraldic symbol of the union between two warring factions: Lancaster and York that were now at an end. The reality however, was much more complex. Nonetheless, their illusion did give a lasting impression of peace and helped the country heal. For the both of them, it was the realization of their dreams and ambitions.

On January 18th, 1486 Henry VII married Elizabeth, Princess of York, eldest surviving daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. There is a not a lot of information regarding the wedding ceremony.  Henry VII had swore he would marry Elizabeth when he had been in exile in Brittany, at  Vannes Cathedral, three years prior. A lot had happened since then though. The papal dispensation that their mothers had secretly plotted to get had to be reissued. The papal dispensation covered the Earl of Richmond and the natural daughter of Elizabeth of York (meaning the Lady Elizabeth, not the legitimate daughter and heiress of Edward IV). It was vital that the couple married under the good eyes of the church. The fifteenth century had descended into chaos when two branches of the Plantagenet House had annihilated each other, their descendants had married off to other noble houses and as a result (after Bosworth), Henry claimed the crown. But he was not blind, conquering and ruling were two different things. He needed stability or at the very least, give the illusion of it to the people to put down civil unrest. Therefore he needed to marry Elizabeth who was the eldest living descendant of the first Yorkist King. The papal dispensation took time, and meanwhile Henry had to establish himself as the realm’s ruler. He established his claim to the throne through his “right of conquest” and his mother, Margaret Beaufort whose family descended from John of Gaunt via his third marriage to his mistress, Katherine Swynford. Nevertheless, his claim to the throne was still seen as weak, which was why parliament asked him on December 1485, two months after he had been crowned, to keep his promise to marry the Princess Elizabeth, and strengthen the claim of his descendants.

"Marrying Edwards eldest daughter was essential to holding that support and trying to restore some stability to the English royal line." (Jones)
“Marrying Edward’s eldest daughter was essential to holding that support and trying to restore some stability to the English royal line.” (Jones)

The pope had finally granted the dispensation at the beginning of the year, and it was confirmed in England by the papal legate, the Bishop of Imola on 16 January, two days later the coupe were married.

The wedding ceremony was officiated by the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Bourchier. Given the statement that Henry wanted to make, as it was mentioned earlier, about their union; the Abbey would have been filled with Tudor imagery that Henry had created that gave a new interpretation of the dynastic conflict that is now known as the wars of the roses. By intertwining the white rose of York (Edward IV’s favorite symbol besides the sun in splendor) with the red rose, Henry VII’s union with Elizabeth meant to give a powerful message of peace. Illusory as this was, its impression lasted and their descendants continued to use this device and celebrate the union of their ancestors, Henry and Elizabeth. The building would have been decorated by royal colors such as “purple and gold, silk, ermine and delicate cloths of tissue.” And the bride, adds Licence: “would have been splendidly dressed and adorned with jewels, lace, brocade and ribbons.” She would not have worn white, given that white was not a color worn for wedding dresses.(The first royal bride who did was in fact her daughter-in-law, Katherine of Aragon, when she married Prince Arthur). Elizabeth would have likely worn purple as it symbolized royalty, or taken one of her many new gowns.

After the archbishop placed the golden ring on Elizabeth, the couple said their vows. Following royal custom,  Elizabeth promised to take Henry as her husband “for fairer, for fouler, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to be blithe and amiable, and obliging in bed and at board” till death do them part.

“The wedding was celebrated in the customary fashion, with “wedding torches, marriage bed and other suitable decorations,” followed by “great magnificence … at the royal nuptials … Gifts flowed freely on all sides and were showered on everyone while feasts, dances and tournaments were celebrated with liberal generosity to … magnify the joyous occasion.” (Jones)

Besides the expenses, that no doubt would have been great, Elizabeth would have seen the new rose, the Tudor rose in every corner as well as her husband’s other badges. By intertwining the white rose of York (Edward IV’s favorite symbol besides the sun in splendor) with the red rose, Henry VII’s union with Elizabeth meant to give a powerful message of peace. Illusory as it was, its impression lasted and their descendants continued to use this device and celebrate the union of their ancestors, Henry and Elizabeth.

In recent fiction the two have been portrayed as an unhappy couple, pushed into the marriage by their shrewish mothers, but this is an interpretation based on secondary sources that have come many years (more than a century in fact) after the even took place. Francis Bacon writes very colorfully of Henry, and negatively of his mother but Francis was writing a century after the events took place and the two George Bucks themselves wrote even later. It is very easy to believe these sources, but if we want to look at the couple, we just have to look at their actions, at what they faced and what moral attitudes people had in this period.

"For women of all social classes in the late fifteenth century, becoming a wife marked a significant change in status ... As the wife of the King, although not yet crowned in her own right, Elizabeth was the highest-ranking female in the land but still subject to her husband's rule" (Amy Licence)
“For women of all social classes in the late fifteenth century, becoming a wife marked a significant change in status … As the wife of the King, although not yet crowned in her own right, Elizabeth was the highest-ranking female in the land but still subject to her husband’s rule” (Amy Licence)

A young woman such as Elizabeth would not have missed the opportunity to regain her status as Princess, and much less to be Queen. After being bastardized, and forced into hiding at Westminster, then in the midst of intrigue in the Ricardian court (with rumors -whether they are true or not, we will never know- that her uncle wanted to marry her shortly after his wife’s passing and he later recanted after people protested at such an idea that he began to look elsewhere for a bride, and a spouse for Elizabeth); she would have no doubt welcome this new change in status. Elizabeth was a Princess-born, she had at one point been betrothed to the heir to the French Crown. She could not accept no better offer than to be a Queen, as it would also bolster her family’s position as well and it did. Henry VII rewarded the Woodvilles. Richard Woodville as the third Earl of Rivers lived comfortably, Elizabeth Woodville kept some of her dower properties and when she was present, she always took precedence. Even Margaret Beaufort had to walk behind her as the older woman was Queen Dowager whereas Margaret was just a Countess -a Countess in her own right but a Countess nonetheless. Sir Edward Woodville, Elizabeth of York’s uncle who took after his late eldest brother, was a highly pious and adventurous individual who proved his loyalty many times and was favored. The  Catholic Kings themselves spoke very finely of him after his death. The set of ordinances that Edward IV had made for princes and that Anthony Woodville had supervise for Elizabeth’s brother, Prince Edward, was kept and used for Arthur’s upbringing. And Elizabeth herself was not left behind.

“Like her parents, Elizabeth was a patron of William Caxton and his successor at the  Westminster printing press, Wynkyn de Worde.” (Weir)

Furthermore, as Queen, she ruled over her own court and her own properties (some of which had previously belonged to her aunt, Isabel, Duchess of Clarence).  
As for Henry, this was also a personal triumph. Born to Margaret when she was thirteen (a birth that scarred her immensely. She would have no more children). Given as a ward to William Herbert who was given his uncle Jasper’s earldom of Pembroke, and raised to be the perfect Yorkist to neutralize the threat he might pose in the future, he was then sent into exile after the Lancastrian Readetion failed and every member of the royal house was eliminated. Henry lived in a period of uncertainty, danger, and now it was all over. He was King. And he could also boast of having one important advantage. Many royal couples did not have the luxury of getting to know one another. They were married to this person or that, and whether or not they liked each other, they were expected to fulfill their duties. 

Being King was a realization of his ambitions, and rewarded his supporters well. He allowed for Elizabeth's maternal family to be present. Sir Edward Woodville especially was the epitome of chivalry, and he proved himself in battle many times. He also rewarded his immediately family such as his uncle Jasper and his uncle and childhood playmate, David Owen (his grandfather's illegitimate son) who had been made commissioner of the peace in Sussex and was married off himself to a wealthy heiress. Henry also had the advantage of getting to know his bride (a luxury many royals did not have).
Being King was a realization of his ambitions, and rewarded his supporters well. He allowed for Elizabeth’s maternal family to be present. Sir Edward Woodville especially was the epitome of chivalry, and he proved himself in battle many times. He also rewarded his immediately family such as his uncle Jasper and his uncle and childhood playmate, David Owen (his grandfather’s illegitimate son) who had been made commissioner of the peace in Sussex and was married off himself to a wealthy heiress. Henry also had the advantage of getting to know his bride (a luxury many royals did not have).

Fortunately, Henry  did no have this problem. In the five month period that they waited for the dispensation to come, the two got to know each other. So when they walked down the aisle, they were not complete strangers.

After the ceremonies ended, came the consummation. Elizabeth proved herself an exemplary Queen, living by the virtues of the day and this,  as well as her fertility, made her well-remembered and loved. She would not be crowned until the following year, after “she proved herself” by giving Henry a male heir that autumn, less than nine months after their marriage. Given the speed in which they conceived, it is possible that the marriage could have been consummated before (since being betrothed was as good as being married. And the pope had given his approval, they knew it was only a matter of time before the bull came). But there is also the possibility that Arthur could have been premature.

Henry and Elizabeth’s marriage would remain strong, and the two would later rely on the other when tragedy came.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth of York The Tudors’ Forgotten Queen by Amy Licence
  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by AlisonWeir
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood
  • Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones