Biography: Elizabeth Woodville

(Born around 1437- Died June 8, 1492). Daughter of Jacquetta of Luxembourg and ElizabethWoodvilleRichard Woodville. Married to Sir John Grey and King Edward IV of England. Mother of Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, Richard Grey, Elizabeth, Queen of England, Mary of York, Cecily, Viscountess Welles, Edward V, King of England, Margaret of York, Richard, Duke of York, Anne, Lady Howard, George, Duke of Bedford, Catherine, Countess of Devon and Bridget of York. Elizabeth Woodville was the woman who Edward IV fell in love with and married, much to the chagrin of Warwick. Elizabeth was the mother of the Princes in the Tower and Elizabeth of York, the mother of the Tudor Dynasty.

Elizabeth Woodville was the eldest child of Richard Woodville and Jacquetta of Luxembourg, born around 1437 at Grafton Regis, Northamptonshire. Her parents marriage was controversial because they married for love and without King Henry VI’s permission. Jacquetta was previously married to the brother of King Henry V and, although the Woodvilles were wealthy landowners, they were still considered genteel rather than nobles. Jacquetta was considered the second lady at court, next to the Queen Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth was able to become one of the maids of honor for Queen Margaret of Anjou. With her high position at court, Elizabeth was able to marry well with her first marriage. She married Sir John Grey of Groby in 1452 and during this time, Elizabeth became one of the four ladies of the bedchamber to Margaret of Anjou. In 1461, Sir John Grey would die at the Second Battle of St. Albans, fighting for the Lancastrian cause, leaving Elizabeth a widow with two infant sons, Thomas and Richard Woodville.

Elizabeth Woodville’s sons, Thomas and Richard, did not receive the Bradgate inheritance that they deserved. Elizabeth went into mourning for two years at her family home at Grafton Regis in Northamptonshire. After the Yorkist victory a few weeks later at Towton, Edward IV, the new king, stopped by at Grafton Regis for a couple of days, where it is said he fell in love with Elizabeth Woodville. It is said that he saw her under an oak tree, waiting for him to arrive and to plead her case to get her sons’ inheritance, but there is no evidence that this actually happened. The couple married in secret sometime in May 1464.

At this time, Richard Neville “The Kingmaker” Earl of Warwick, was working on a marriage alliance with France. When Warwick and the Council found out about the marriage, they were rightfully upset. Not only did the King marry a woman who was a widow and not a princess, but now her relations were able to capitalize in the marriage market. Three of Elizabeth’s sister married sons of earls and her brother John, who was in his 20s at the time married Katherine Duchess of Norfolk, who was widowed three times and was in her 60s, causing quite a scandal. On May 16, 1465, Elizabeth was crowned queen consort and the following year, she gave birth to the couple’s first child, Elizabeth of York. Elizabeth of York’s godparents were her grandmother Jacquetta of Luxembourg and Warwick.

In 1469, Warwick decided to rebel against Edward IV and join the Lancastrian cause to put Henry VI back on the throne. After the Battle of Edgecote Moor, Elizabeth’s father Richard and her brother John were arrested and executed on August 12 at Kenilworth. Elizabeth’s mother Jacquetta was arrested by Warwick on the charges of witchcraft. These charges were dropped in February 1470.

In September 1470, Warwick invaded England and placed Henry VI back on the throne, forcing Edward IV to flee and Elizabeth and her children sought sanctuary at Westminster Abbey. During this time, Elizabeth gave birth to her first son, the future Edward V. In total, Elizabeth and Edward would have 10 children, including Richard Duke of York. Edward IV returned and defeated Warwick at the Battle of Barnet in April 1471. When Margaret of Anjou returned, she formed an army to march against Edward IV, which forced Elizabeth to seek shelter at the Tower of London. After the Battle of Tewkesbury, Elizabeth exited the Tower and Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI entered it; Henry VI would later die in the Tower. Elizabeth’s mother Jacquetta would die on May 30, 1472.

Life returned to a normal pace for Elizabeth Woodville and her family. In January 1477, she watched as her young son Richard Duke of York was married to Anne Mowbray; both the bride and groom were not over the age of 5 when the wedding happened. Another marriage, arranged between Elizabeth’s daughter Elizabeth of York and the Dauphin of France, fell through. Shortly afterward, Elizabeth’s world changed forever when her husband Edward IV died April 9, 1483 and Elizabeth was made queen dowager.

Elizabeth’s son was named Edward V and his uncle Richard Duke of Gloucester was named Lord Protector. On April 29, as previously agreed, Richard and his cousin, the Duke of Buckingham, met Queen Elizabeth’s brother, Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers, at Northampton. At the queen’s request, Earl Rivers was escorting the young king to London with an armed escort of 2000 men, while Richard and Buckingham’s joint escort was 600 men. The young king himself had been sent to Stony Stratford. Richard had Earl Rivers, his nephew Richard Grey and his associate, Thomas Vaughan, arrested. They were taken to Pontefract Castle, where they were executed on June 25 on the charge of treason against the Lord Protector after appearing before a tribunal led by Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland. Richard took the young king under his protection, escorted him to London, and placed him in the Tower for his protection. After hearing about what had happened, Elizabeth Woodville took her children, including her daughters and her youngest son Richard Duke of York, and fled to sanctuary in Westminster Abbey.

Gloucester wanted Elizabeth to hand over her son Richard Duke of York. Elizabeth was very reluctant to hand over her son to his uncle, but eventually she did. Richard was said to have been informed with information that Edward V was illegitimate because Edward IV had entered into a previous marriage contract. On June 25, Parliament agreed that Edward V was illegitimate and the following day, June 26, Richard was proclaimed king. His joint coronation with his wife Anne Neville would occur on July 6, 1483, and his title was confirmed in an act of Parliament called the Titulus Regius, which was passed in January 1484.

We do not know what happened to the Princes in the Tower, Edward V and Richard Duke of York. They disappeared from sight after the summer of 1483, which has led many to speculate that Richard III had them murdered. At this point we cannot confirm or deny this theory. We don’t even know if they were murdered at all. It still remains one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in history.

Elizabeth Woodville was now known as Elizabeth Grey and she decided to side with the Duke of Buckingham and Margaret Beaufort to put Margaret’s son Henry Tudor on the throne. Henry Tudor was the closest male Lancastrian heir and in order to cement this new alliance, Elizabeth and Margaret arranged that Henry would marry Elizabeth of York. Buckingham’s rebellion against Richard would fail and he would be killed on November 2, 1483. In December 1483, Henry made an oath at a cathedral in Rennes, France to marry Elizabeth of York. At Richard III’s first Parliament in January 1484, he stripped Elizabeth Woodville of all of her lands that were granted to her during the reign of Edward IV. On March 1, 1484, Elizabeth and her daughters left sanctuary after Richard III promised not to harm them and to arrange marriages for all of Elizabeth Woodville’s daughters. There were rumors that after Anne Neville in March 1485, Richard III’s wife, died that he was seeking to marry Elizabeth of York, but there is no evidence to support this claim.

Later in August 1485, Henry Tudor invaded England and was able to defeat Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth on August 22, Henry became King Henry VII of England. Henry would marry Elizabeth of York, revoke the Titulus Regius and restore Elizabeth Woodville’s title and honors of queen dowager. The last five years of Elizabeth Woodville’s life she spent at Bermondsey Abbey. She was present for the birth of her grandchildren including Margaret Tudor and Henry Tudor, the future Henry VIII. Elizabeth of York and her sister Cecily Woodville would often visit their mother. Elizabeth Woodville died at the Abbey on June 8, 1492 and she was buried with her husband King Edward IV in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.

Book Review:“Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World” by Alison Weir

91FsSB3hb9LThe 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.