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Elizabeth of York (11 February 1466 – 11 February 1503) was the daughter, sister, niece, mother, grandmother and wife of Kings of England. She was Queen of England as spouse of King Henry VII, whom she married in 1486.

Princess of England

She was born at Westminstermarker, the eldest child of King Edward IV and his Queen consort, the former Elizabeth Woodville, Lady Grey. Elizabeth's younger siblings included Mary of York, Cecily of York, Edward V of England, Margaret Plantagenet , Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York, Anne of York, George Plantagenet, Duke of Bedford, Catherine of York and Bridget of York.

She was named a Lady of the Garter in 1477, along with her mother and her paternal aunt Elizabeth of York, Duchess of Suffolk.

At the age of 5, she was briefly betrothed to George Neville, son of John Neville, Earl of Northumberland, a supporter of Edward IV. Northumberland switched sides, however, and the betrothal was called off. In 1475, she was offered as the bride of Charles, the Dauphin of France. That plan was scrapped when Charles's father, Louis XI, decided against her.

The end of the civil wars

In 1483, Edward IV died, and Elizabeth's younger brother, Edward V, became King. Her uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was appointed regent and protector of his nephews. Shortly after his brother's death, Richard began taking steps to isolate his nephews from their Woodville relations. He intercepted Edward V on his way from Ludlow (where he had been living as Prince of Wales) to London to be crowned. Edward was placed in the royal residence of the Tower of Londonmarker, ostensibly for his protection. Elizabeth Woodville then fled with her youngest son, Richard, and her daughters into sanctuary in Westminster Abbey. Gloucester requested young Richard go to the Tower to keep his brother company and Elizabeth agreed.

Two months later, on 22 June 1483, Edward IV's marriage was declared invalid (Edward, it was claimed, had at the time of his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville already been betrothed to Lady Eleanor Butler); this made the children of the marriage bastards and ineligible for the succession. Parliament issued a bill, Titulus Regius ("The Title of the King"), in support of this position: it legally bastardised the children of Edward IV, and declared Richard the rightful king. Richard then ascended the throne as Richard III on 6 July 1483, and Edward V and his brother disappeared shortly afterwards. Soon rumours began to spread that they had been murdered.

Elizabeth's mother, Elizabeth Woodville, made an alliance with Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor, who was the closest thing to Royalty the Lancastrian party possessed. Although Henry was the great-great-great-grandson of King Edward III, his claim to the throne was weak due to the clause barring ascension to the throne by any heirs of the legitimized offspring of his great-great-grandparents, John of Gaunt (son of King Edward III) and Katherine Swynford. Despite this, his mother and Elizabeth Woodville agreed Henry should move to claim the throne, and once he had taken it, he would marry Woodville's daughter, Elizabeth of York, uniting the two rival Houses. In December 1483, in the cathedral in Rennes, Henry swore an oath promising to marry her, and then began planning an invasion.

Meanwhile, Richard III made plans to marry her to an unimportant naval officer, a son of Robert Stillington. However, this groom was captured by the French along the coast of Normandy and imprisoned in Parismarker, where he died "of hunger and poverty".

In 1484, Elizabeth and her family left Westminster Abbey and returned to Richard's court. It was rumoured that Richard III, her uncle, intended to marry her: his wife, Anne Neville, was dying, and they had no surviving children. Richard denied this and the Crowland Chronicle claims he was forced to do so by enemies of the Woodvilles, who dreaded the family's return to royal favour. There is no conclusive evidence of Richard's intention to marry Elizabeth (in those days the Pope could actually grant dispensations for such marriages), although Sir George Buck later claimed to have uncovered a letter from Elizabeth (now lost) which indicated she was involved and willing.

However, on 7 August 1485, Henry and his forces landed in Wales and began marching toward England. On 22 August 1485, Elizabeth's fiance and uncle fought the Battle of Bosworth Fieldmarker. Richard, despite having the largest army, was betrayed by some of his most powerful retainers and died in battle. Henry took the crown by right of conquest as Henry VII.

Queen consort

Henry was the heir of the House of Lancaster but as Lancaster was genealogically junior to the House of York, he had taken the throne by right of conquest. Although he acknowledged the necessity of marrying Elizabeth to secure his stability and survival upon the throne and weaken the claims of other surviving members of the House of York, he had no intention of calling his own rights into question: he wanted it to be clear that he ruled as king-conqueror, not as Elizabeth's husband, and had no intention of sharing power with her. To do this, he had the Titulus Regius repealed immediately and unread (which relegitimised the children of Edward IV and acknowledging the 'reign' of Edward V), since he did not want the legitimacy of his wife or her claim as heiress of Edward IV called into question, and chose to be crowned on 30 October 1485, before his marriage. Even then, he did not marry her, having not received the Papal dispensation to do so; eventually the Dispensation was approved and they married on 18 January 1486. Their first son, Arthur, was born on 20 September 1486. Henry had Elizabeth crowned queen consort on 25 November 1487. Had Henry's claim to the throne not been based on conquest, Elizabeth would have been the rightful heir to the throne as Edward IV's heir, assuming her brothers were dead.

The marriage proved successful and both partners appear to have cared for each other. As queen, Elizabeth did not exercise much political influence, due to her strong-minded mother-in-law Lady Margaret Beaufort, but she was reported to be gentle and kind, and generous to her relations, servants and benefactors. Elizabeth enjoyed music and dancing, as well as dicing. She kept greyhounds, and she may have enjoyed hunting and archery.
Elizabeth as queen


Children

Elizabeth was a renowned beauty - inheriting her parents' fair hair and complexion. Elizabeth and Henry VII had seven children
Elizabeth of York's arms


Death

On 14 November 1501, Elizabeth's eldest son, Arthur, married the Spanish infanta, Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, and the pair were sent to Ludlow Castle, traditional residence of the Prince of Wales. Five months later, Arthur was dead, and Catherine widowed. The news caused Henry VII to break down in grief; Elizabeth comforted him, telling him that his mother (to whom she refers to as My Lady) had no more children but him, and that God had left him yet a fair prince, two fair princesses and that they are both young enough [for more children].

Arthur's death prompted Elizabeth to become pregnant once more, attempting to strengthen the succession. Elizabeth gave birth to a girl and named her Katherine. She was born and died on 2 February 1503. Succumbing to a post-partum infection, Elizabeth died on 11 February, her 37th birthday. Her husband appeared to sincerely mourn her death: according to one account, he "privily departed to a solitary place and would no man should resort unto him". Despite his reputation for thrift, he gave her a splendid funeral: she lay in state in the Tower and was buried in Westminster Abbey, in the Lady Chapel Henry had built. He later entertained thoughts of remarriage in order to renew the alliance with Spain - Joan, Dowager Queen of Naples (niece of Ferdinand II of Aragon), Joanna, Queen of Castile (daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella), and Margaret, Dowager Duchess of Savoy (sister-in-law of Joanna of Castile) were all considered - but Henry died a widower in 1509. He was buried with Elizabeth; they can be found today, under their effigies in his chapel.

Legacy

Her second son Henry VIII of England followed his father as king, her daughters Margaret married James IV of Scotland, and Mary married Louis XII of France. Margaret was the mother of James V of Scotland, the grandmother of Mary I, Queen of Scots, and thus the great-grandmother of James VI of Scotland and I of England, from whom all subsequent British monarchs are descended.

Elizabeth of York is the only English queen to have been a wife, daughter, sister, niece, mother and grandmother to English kings.

In the children's nursery rhyme, "Sing a Song of Sixpence" Elizabeth is reportedly the queen in the parlour, while her husband is the king counting his money.

Ancestry




Elizabeth of York in popular culture

Biography:
  • Elizabeth of York by Arlene Naylor Okerlund. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
  • Elizabeth of York: Tudor Queen by Nancy Lenz Harvey (out of print) [7735].


Fiction:
  • Elizabeth of York relates her own life in Sandra Worth's The King's Daughter: A Novel of the First Tudor Queen (2008) [7736]. The novel won Best Historical Biography of the Year, a Reviewers Choice Award, from the Romantic Times [7737].


  • Elizabeth appears in two of Philippa Gregory's historical novels: briefly in The Constant Princess (2005), around the time of her son Arthur's marriage and death, but far more prominently in the account of her mother's life, The White Queen (2009), which features her from the time of her birth to the age of 18. In these novels, it is suggested that Elizabeth was indeed deeply in love with her uncle Richard and hoped to marry him rather than Henry Tudor.


  • Elizabeth also appears in The Tudor Rose by Margaret Campbell Barnes (1953, reissued 2009) and in The Dragon and the Rose by Roberta Gellis (1977).


Notes

Sources

  • Morgan, Kenneth O., (1988), The Oxford History of Britain, Oxford University Press. (ISBN 0-19-285202-7)
  • Williams, Neville, (1977), 'Henry VII', in Fraser, Antonia (ed), The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England, Futura. (ISBN 0-8600-7449-8)


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