The Wars of the Roses was a dynastic battle between the houses of York and Lancaster for the throne of England that lasted for 30 years. There were plenty of people who lived during this time that continue to fascinate us even to this day. Men like Richard III, Henry VI, Edward IV, Henry VII, and Richard Neville duke of Warwick to just name a few. There were also women who worked hard on the sidelines to make sure that their sides would win the wars. Women like Margaret of Anjou, Elizabeth Woodville, Cecily Neville, and Margaret Beaufort. However, one of the most important person during this conflict tends to get left behind when discussing the most influential people of this conflict; Elizabeth of York, the wife of Henry VII. She was the mother of the Tudor dynasty, yet she does not get the attention that she rightfully deserves. In Alison Weir’s book “Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World”, Weir explores the life of this influential woman and her impact on the world around her.
Weir begins her book by explaining her role in history:
Elizabeth of York’s role in history was crucial, although in a less chauvinistic age it would, by right, have been more so. In the wake of legislation to give women the same rights in the order of succession as male heirs; it is interesting to reflect that England’s Elizabeth I would not have been celebrated Virgin Queen but Elizabeth of York. But in the fifteenth century, it would have been unthinkable for a woman to succeed to the throne. Elizabeth lived in a world in which females were regarded as inferior to men physically, intellectually, and morally. It was seen as against the laws of God and Nature for a woman to wield dominion over men: it was an affront to the perceived order of the world. Even so, Elizabeth of York was important. She was the daughter, sister, niece, wife, mother and grandmother of monarchs: daughter to Edward IV, sister to Edward V, niece to Richard III, wife to Henry VII, mother to Henry VIII, and grandmother to Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I; and she was the mother of two queen consorts. She was also the ancestress of every English monarch since 1509, every Scots monarch since 1513, and every British monarch since 1603, including the present queen, Elizabeth II. (Weir, xviii).
Elizabeth of York obviously had a significant impact on English history from the end of the Wars of the Roses on to the present day, but what is more impressive is when you realize how much Elizabeth went through in her lifetime in order to achieve these accomplishments. Elizabeth of York was the eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. She was going to be married to the Dauphin of France, until the French decided to pull out of the marriage agreement. When her father fled as Warwick marched against him for the Lancastrians, Elizabeth Woodville took her children into sanctuary, where she gave birth to the future Edward V. Her father was a strong man, but he tragically died at the age of 40. Her young brother Edward V was to be the next king, but Edward was taken into the custody of her uncle, the future Richard III. Elizabeth Woodville took her children back into sanctuary where Richard told Elizabeth to give up her younger son. She did comply. The young king and his brother were taken to the Tower, Elizabeth’s brothers were never seen again, and Richard III became king.
Elizabeth’s mother never liked Richard so she arranged a marriage between Elizabeth of York and Henry Tudor, the son of Margaret Beaufort. When Richard III’s wife Anne Neville died there were rumors circulating that Richard would marry his niece, but Weir explains thoroughly the relationship between Elizabeth and her uncle. After Richard was defeated at the Battle of Bosworth Field, Henry VII waited to marry Elizabeth of York and have her crowned queen, which angered many Yorkist supporters, but Elizabeth loved Henry and kept her cool. Elizabeth took her role as wife and mother very seriously. When there were those who tried to take Henry’s throne by pretending to be Elizabeth’s brothers, she stood by Henry and by his claim to the throne. Elizabeth was the mother of Arthur Tudor, Margaret Tudor, Mary Tudor and the future Henry VIII. When Arthur died, Elizabeth consoled her husband in his sorrow and helped him realize that they did have another heir in Henry. She would die on February 11, 1503. Her husband Henry VII would never marry again and mourned her greatly.
Alison Weir brought Elizabeth of York’s life and her world to life in this book. As many of you know, I love the Wars of the Roses and one of the reasons I do is because of the life of Elizabeth of York. There is just something about her story that completely fascinates me. I have read a few fiction books about the life of Elizabeth of York, but this was the first biography that I have read about Elizabeth of York. Like any Alison Weir book, Weir is able to balance her unique writing style with amazing details to create a vivid description of the person’s life, in this case the life of Elizabeth of York. This is a beautiful book about the life of a pious queen who united the houses of York and Lancaster to create the Tudor Dynasty through her marriage with Henry Tudor. I highly recommend “Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World” by Alison Weir for anyone who is interested in the Wars of the Roses or the love story of Elizabeth of York and Henry VII. An amazing woman who lived in an extraordinary time.