Queens of England + Elizabeth of York (1466-1503)
Elizabeth was born in 1466, the oldest of ten children born to Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. She was born at the Palace of Westminster and her christening was celebrated at Westminster Abbey. The first few years of her life were relatively peaceful considering the political climate she was born into.
It changed in 1470 when Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, rebelled against Elizabeth’s father and restored Henry VI. Edward was forced to flee England to avoid capture and her mother had to take Elizabeth and her sisters, Mary and Cecily, into sanctuary. It was here that her brother the future Edward V was born. She stayed here until April 1471 when her father returned to England and crushed the rebellion.
Elizabeth was returned to a secure life as princess. Because of her betrothal to the Dauphin of France, Charles, in 1475, she received an excellent education. She was taught to speak and write French and taught to write court hand as well as her father. Her establishment was also amplified by the tribute Louis XI paid Edward to keep the peace. This long held alliance fell through when Edward became ill in 1483.
After the death of Edward, his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, seized the young Edward V and arrested Elizabeth’s uncle, Earl Rivers, and her older brother, Lord Richard Grey. The dowager queen again had to take sanctuary, bringing with her Elizabeth and her four younger siblings, including Richard, Duke of York. Richard was eventually taken to be with his brother at the Tower of London and the two were never seen again.
The Duke of Gloucester became Richard III when Parliament passed Titulus Regius. It declared the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville to be invalid, therefore making all their children illegitimate. In spite of this blow and that of the supposed death of her brothers, Elizabeth’s mother plotted against Richard. She made an alliance with Margaret Beaufort who was the mother of Henry Tudor, the last male heir of Lancaster. When Henry defeated Richard and became king, he would marry Elizabeth. In return, she would help legitimize his weak claim to the throne as he descended from the illegitimate line of John of Gaunt and gain him the support of Yorkists, many of whom thought she should claim the throne in her own right.
Henry defeated Richard in September 1485 at Bosworth. Elizabeth married him in January 1486, finally uniting the warring houses of York and Lancaster. She gave birth to their first son, Arthur, in September of that year and was crowned queen in November 1487. They eventually had six more children, only three of which survived infancy. These were Margaret, Henry, and Mary. Despite it being a political arrangement, Elizabeth and Henry’s marriage proved to be a successful one and they grew to love each other.
Elizabeth suffered a great blow when her eldest son Arthur died in April 1502, five months after marrying Catherine of Aragon. Elizabeth and Henry were both grief-stricken and she comforted him by telling him that God had left him with a son and two daughters and they were both young enough to have more children. Elizabeth then became pregnant for the seventh time and went for her confinement to the Tower of London in February 1503. She gave birth to a short-lived daughter named Katherine. Elizabeth died on February 11, her 37th birthday, from a post-partum infection. Twelve days after her death she was buried in the Henry VII Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey.
Her husband and children deeply mourned her. Henry went into seclusion and became extremely ill, allowing no one but his mother to see him. His character also deteriorated after her death and he became notorious for his rapacity. When he died in 1509, he was buried next to her in the chapel bearing his name. (x)