Women in History. Elizabeth of York (1466-1503)

The eldest child of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, Elizabeth of York was born at Westminster on 11th February, 1466.

Elizabeth’s parents had married secretly at Grafton Manor, soon after her father’s accession to the throne. Her mother, Elizabeth Woodville, was the daughter of Sir Richard Woodville, (later created Earl Rivers) and Jacquetta of Luxemburg, the widow of John, Duke of Bedford (the brother of Henry V) Edward IV had met Elizabeth’s mother, the widow of Sir John Grey, a Lancastrian knight who was killed at St. Albans in 1461, when she came to petition him for the return of her husband’s estates. Edward had wanted to make her his mistress, but she held out for marriage.

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Elizabeth Woodville had two sons by her first marriage, Thomas Grey (1455-1501) , later created Marquis Dorset and Lord Ferrers of Groby and Sir Richard Grey, who was later executed by Richard III in 1483. A marriage was arranged for her in her childhood to George Neville, but, when the Neville family deserted her father’s cause, she was promised to the Dauphin of France in 1475 at the age of 9, which also came to nothing.

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Following the death of her father and the usurpation of Richard III, Elizabeth and her siblings, including Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, the so called Princes in the Tower, were declared illegitimate by the Act of Titulus Regius. Her young brothers disappeared inside the Tower of London amidst rumours that they had been murdered, how Elizabeth herself reacted to their demise has gone unrecorded, she had at the time taken sanctuary with her mother at Westminster Abbey. Rumour suggested that Richard III was planning to marry her himself. Her mother, in secret correspondence with Margaret Beaufort, agreed to the marriage of Elizabeth and Margaret’s son, Richard III’s rival and the exiled heir to the House of Lancaster, Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, who took a public oath to marry Elizabeth should he became King of England.

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Richmond became King Henry VII after his victory over Richard III at Bosworth Field and the Princess was brought back to London from Sheriff Hutton Castle in Yorkshire. As the eldest daughter of King Edward IV with no surviving brothers, Elizabeth of York had a strong claim to the throne in her own right, but she did not rule as queen regnant, the rule of a queen regnant would not be accepted in England for another sixty-seven years until the ascension of Elizabeth’s granddaughter, Mary I.

Nine months later, the new Queen was delivered of a son. He was given the symbolic name of Arthur, in honour of the legendary Dark Age British King. Elizabeth was finally crowned Queen Consort on 25 November, 1487.

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Elizabeth was tall, fair haired, attractive and gentle natured. Despite being a political arrangement, the marriage proved successful and both partners appear to have genuinely cared for each other. Elizabeth was generous to her relations, servants and benefactors, she enjoyed music and dancing, as well as dicing. The Queen’s household was ruled by Lady Margaret Beaufort. The Queen’s own mother, the meddlesome and grasping Elizabeth Woodville, suspected of involvement in Yorkist plots, was shut up in a nunnery and stripped of all her belongings. The marriage of Elizabeth of York and Henry VII was to produce seven children, of which only four survived the perils of infancy in Tudor times. One of these was the future Henry VIII.

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Source: <http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/tudor_11.htm>

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