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.
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”.
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.
Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
On the eve of her coronation, Elizabeth Tudor left the Tower of London at three o’clock in the afternoon to start her procession. She was carried in a litter, and rode through London, telling her men to stop at every pageant she encountered to appreciate the artistry behind them.
The streets she passed and five pageants are as follow:
Gracechurch Street –The first pageant that greeted Elizabeth referred to Elizabeth’s genealogy. Her Tudor forefathers, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and was compared to the latter who was praised for bringing unity and peace when she married Henry VII.
Cornhill -A stage was erected where it depicted Elizabeth’s government governed by the four virtues: True Religion, Love of Subjects, Wisdom and Justice.
Soper’s Lane -The Beatitudes were orated for her ‘”lessed are the poor, Blessed are the meek. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”. An allegory to Elizabeth’s plight at the hands of her sister.
Little Conduit, Cheapside -This pageant also attacked her sister, calling her reign “a decayed commonwealth” and portraying Elizabeth’s future one as a “flourishing” one. Further jest and jabs were made when Mary’s motto ‘Truth the daughter of time’ was deconstructed as Time’s daughter emerged carrying an English Bible which was labelled “Word of Truth” and pointed towards Elizabeth, symbolizing her as the true daughter of time and truth.
Fleet Street -This pageant delivered the most powerful tribute to Elizabeth, depicting her as the powerful prophetess Deborah.
After her eldest sister, Elizabeth was the second Queen Regnant in the history of England, and the third in the British Isles. The iconography in each of these pageants is amazing. Dan Jones who wrote the Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors, talks about how the Tudors invented a mass propaganda machine to turn the war into their favor, and symbolize that their rise to power was pre-ordained. Elizabeth’s ascendance therefore, used the same type of spectacle her grandfather and founder of their dynasty, used.
“At the corner of Fenchurch Street and Gracechurch Street a large stage was erected across the street, “vaulted basements and built on “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 te House of York enclosed with a white rose … Out of the 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.” (Starkey)
After she thanked the performers she turned to the people gathered around her who, as always, were eager to catch a glimpse of their new monarch. Elizabeth Tudor had always been a pragmatic, witty, and highly intelligent young woman. With her smile she had won over hundreds, now it won her the popular acclaim of the entire city.
“At Cheapside she smiled happily when someone called out to her ‘Remember King Henry VIII’ … and at Conduit (also in) Cheapside, she saw one of the performers holding up a copy of the English Bible which people had been imprisoned for reading in the days of old King Henry VIII. She asked what that boo was, and when they told her that it was the English Bible, she said that she would oftentimes read over that book’. She asked to have that book … When she received it, she took it in both hands and pressed it to her breast.” (Ridley)
After she reached the city limits at Temple Bar, another child came. Like the child who handled her the bible and she rewarded him with a kind gesture of devotion to the new religion, Elizabeth did the same, as the poem depicted her as Deborah -the mighty and indomitable biblical woman who fervently defended her people and fought the heathens. Elizabeth was the people’s chosen Queen, the blood of Lancaster and York united. Two roses from which sprung the glorious Tudor House, now produced from their descendant Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn (who was depicted gloriously as Henry’s rightful Queen), their next monarch, Elizabeth I.
“Henry sat at his second wife, Anne Boleyn and on the stage above them sat a final figure representing Elizabeth I herself “crowned and apparelled as the other princess were.” The whole pageant was garnished with red roses and white and in the forefront of the same pageant in a fair wreath was written: ‘The Uniting of the two houses of Lancaster and York.'” A great play was made on Elizabeth’s name: like Elizabeth of York who brought unity to the realm through her marriage, it was explained he new Elizabeth would “maintain the same among her subjects.”” (Jones)
The people gathered would have had public access to these plays and seen these beautiful images. There is no question that the union between the Houses of Lancaster and York was a brilliant device crafted by her grandfather that gave England the illusion of peace and it worked so well that it protected him and his heirs throughout their kingdom. Threats remained -they always would, no matter what the dynasty- but this imagery was so evocative that it became the official language of history and monarchy. Now we know that the red rose was not the official Lancaster symbol, and that both sides used white roses; however we must see these symbols in the context of when they were used and how they were used.
Elizabeth’s coronation progress is one of the most symbolic royal progresses. Everyone was mesmerized, and Elizabeth returned their joy by these small acts of kindness, and made contact with every man and woman she encountered. At the last pageant there was a poor woman who had nothing great to give her except a sprig of rosemary and she was probably fearful that Elizabeth would not accept it, but she did and she was seen holding it firmly in her hands until she reached Westminster. Her next great moment, the one she had been waiting and wishing for secretly during her sister’s reign would come the following day, on Sunday January 15 when she would return to Westminster to be crowned.
Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
Elizabeth I by Jasper Ridley
On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
Wars of the Roses and Rise of the Tudor Dynasty by Dan Jones