Elizabeth Woodville (c. 1437 – 8 June 1492) was Queen consort of England as the spouse of King Edward IV from 1464 until his death in 1483. At the time of her birth, her family was mid-ranked in the English aristocracy. Her first marriage was to a minor supporter of the House of Lancaster, Sir John Grey of Groby; he died at the Second Battle of St Albans, leaving Elizabeth a widowed mother of two sons.
Her second marriage, to Edward IV, was a cause célèbre of the day, thanks to Elizabeth’s great beauty and lack of great estates. Elizabeth Woodville was called “the most beautiful woman in the Island of Britain” with “heavy-lidded eyes like those of a dragon.” Edward was only the second King of England since the Norman Conquest to have married one of his subjects, and Elizabeth was the first such consort to be crowned Queen. Her marriage greatly enriched her siblings and children, but their advancement incurred the hostility of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, ‘The Kingmaker’, and his various alliances with the most senior figures in the increasingly-divided royal family.
This hostility turned into open discord between King Edward and Warwick, leading to a battle of wills that finally resulted in Warwick switching allegiance to the Lancastrian cause. Elizabeth remained politically influential even after her son, briefly proclaimed King Edward V of England, was deposed by her brother-in-law, Richard III, and she would play an important role in securing Henry VII’s accession to the throne in 1485, which ended the Wars of the Roses.
However, after 1485 she was forced to yield pre-eminence to Henry’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, and her influence on events in these years, and her eventual departure from court into retirement, remains obscure.
Woodville’s children included the Princes in the Tower and Elizabeth of York; by the latter she was maternal grandmother of Henry VIII and great-grandmother of King Edward VI, Queen Mary I of England and Queen Elizabeth I and the great-great-grandmother of Mary, Queen of Scots. Through her daughter, Elizabeth of York, she is the ancestor of every English monarch since Henry VIII and every Scottish monarch since James V of Scotland.
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