Elizabeth Woodville

I seem to do a lot of posts about the anniversary of people’s deaths, but here is another one !!

She died in 1492 on the 8th June, a former Queen of England, but with not a penny to her name.

Henry VII had consigned his mother in law to a convent a few years earlier, in revenge for her supporting a ‘pretender’ to the throne, who claimed to have been her nephew, the son of George,  Duke of Clarence.

I am sure there are many men who would have loved to do this to their mother in laws over the years, but Henry was in a position to do so !  It is reported that Henry’s own mother hated Elizabeth Woodville and was only looking for an excuse to be rid of her, and Henry, by all accounts, did almost everything that his mother told him to do.

Elizabeth was the eldest daughter of Richard Woodville and Jacquetta, who had formerly been the Duchess of Bedford and originated from the royal house of Luxembourg.

She was first married to Sir John Grey, a lancastrian knight who she had two sons by.  John Grey was killed fighting against the Yorkists.  The Grey family sent Elizabeth back to her parents with her children, refusing to support them.

By this time, the Yorkist King Edward IV had taken the throne and she was forced to beg for her husband’s lands to be returned to her and her boys.  Traditionally she is reported to have done this by waiting under a tree and intercepting the King’s train of horses.  Whether that is true or not we do not know, but it is romantic, as it is said that he fell in love with her almost immediately.

When looking back though, it is said that he often ‘fell in love’ with ladies in order to bed them, and even to ‘secretly’ marry them in order to bed them !

Elizabeth would not be a mistress and would only accept marriage (sounds familiar a few years later with a certain Boleyn woman) so the secret marriage route was taken.  It is said that he had done this with a certain Eleanor Talbot also, years earlier, before he became such an important person in the succession battles.  Again, this is often a contentious issue, with some not beliveing that marriage happened.

When Edward was safely on the throne, he brought Elizabeth to London as his Queen which was not a popular move and led to discontent throughout the court and eventually to the Kingmaker and Duke of Clarence switching sides to wage war on Edward.

Edward kept his throne, aside from a short period in exile on the continent with his brother Richard, and his enemies were killed one by one.

Elizabeth provided Edward with three sons and seven daughters, though one of each died young.  She is said to have been an attentive and good mother to her large family.

Unfortunately, Edward died relatively early, leaving a young son as his heir.  He also named his brother Richard, who had been a loyal supporter his whole life, as guardian of the realm.

I have been involved in many discussions (and arguments) about what happened next and how Richard came to the throne, but I will come to that another time, I want to talk about Elizabeth now.

As I said earlier, she was known to be a good mum to her children, so I find it hard to imagine that she would allow her daughters to go to Richard’s court as his wards, if she had imagined that he had killed her sons.  I also find it hard to believe that she did not know the reasons for her children’s being declared illegitimate.  Did she already know of the Talbot marriage before her husband’s death?

Some people say that Clarence had discovered the Talbot marriage and gone to Edward with his proof, and that was why he was executed.  Did Edward come clean to his wife then?

It seems silly that they did not re-iterate the wedding vows after Eleanor Talbot died, it would have been easy to tell people that they were renewing their vows because of their secret marriage, in order to make their marriage true and their children legal.

Nevertheless, the boys went missing, whether alive or not, and Richard convinced Elizabeth to leave sanctuary and go to her home in the country with her younger daughters, sending the older ones to court for Richard to arrange their marriages.  As the girls had been declared illegitimate, it would have been difficult to make good matches for them, Richard was in a better position to do this than Elizabeth was.

Before Bosworth, Richard had actually arraneged a very good match for the eldest girl, Elizabeth, which would have made her the Queen of Portugal.

After Richard was killed at Bosworth, it was decided that Elizabeth would not go to Portugal and would instead marry Henry VII, which had been mooted previously when Henry was in exile abroad.

He did not marry her immediately, wanting to be seen as King in his own right and not because he had married Edward’s daughter.  She was eventually married and crowned as England’s Queen and her mother, Elizabeth, returned to court as the Queen’s mother.

It seems that she was in favour for a while, even standing as godmother to her grandson, Arthur.  Whether she actually thought that Lambert Simnel was her nephew or not can be disputed.  I ask myself, though, would she seriously have put her daughter and grandson’s positions at risk if she were not sure??

She did not live to see the possible return of her son, Richard, in the shape of ‘Perkin Warbeck’ a few years later, though I imagine she would have been overjoyed at the prospect of her son returning form the dead!!

Henry VII sent her to Bermondsey Abbey and removed her properties, leaving her only a small pension for her needs.  She died here, her body being removed after a simple funeral to lie next to her husband Edward IV at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.

She had quite a life, both good and bad, only four of her daughters outlived her (unless you count Perkin Warbeck, but that is for another day), but I always think of hers as a sad end. She deserved better as a former Queen of England and the later slander of her witchcraft, has been used to ruin her reputation even further.  IF she knew about her husband’s previous marriage and stayed by his side, then she is to be commended, perhaps she thought it could be covered up more effectively than it was.  I am sure she knew what happened to her boys, whether good or bad, but she took that information to her grave, as did Richard, if he knew.


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