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Elizabeth of York – Daughter, Wife, Niece, and Mother of Kings

24 Nov

Since so much is known of Elizabeth I and because I have begun reading this wonderful book, I wanted to do something to commemorate the first of the Tudor Queens, whom she was named for.

Elizabeth of York was born as the first child of King Edward IV and Queen Elizabeth Woodville on 11 February 1466.  Her father was of the House of York, and one of two kings vying for England’s crown during the Wars of the Roses, the other being the deposed Henry VI of Lancaster, which meant that Elizabeth grew up in a time of civil war.  However, when she was seventeen, her father died, leaving two sons behind to succeed him, Edward V and Richard of York.  Before the young Edward could be crowned, Parliament issued a document called Titulus Regius, which declared that all of Edward IV children by Elizabeth Woodville were born during an invalid marriage, and thus had no legitimate standing nor right to the throne, allowing the late king’s brother Richard III to claim the title as his own.

Richard III was in trouble in 1483.  Rumors had spread that he had ordered the deaths of his nephews and planned to marry Elizabeth once his sickly wife Anne Neville was dead.  Whatever the case may have been, Elizabeth’s mother made an alliance with the Lancastrians, betrothing her daughter to the Lancastrian heir, Henry Tudor, whose claim to power stemmed from a female branch of the family line.  Negotiations were made and when Richard was slain at Bosworth Field in August 1485, Henry Tudor was crowned King of England and the Plantagenet Dynasty came to an end.

Henry VII’s first act as king was to revoke Titulus Regius and legitimize his future bride and her remaining sisters.  This gave Elizabeth the rights of heir apparent, and when at last she and Henry were married on 18 January, the Wars of the Roses came to an end.  Soon, Elizabeth would give birth to the couple’s first child, Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, uniting both the Houses of Lancaster and York forever.  Three more living heirs would follow, including two queens (one daughter married the King of Scotland and another briefly became Queen of France before marrying the Duke of Suffolk) and, of course, the notorious Henry VIII.

Elizabeth’s marriage to Henry VII is truly noteworthy among medieval unions; while it began as a political match, Henry and Elizabeth fell deeply in love.  Their marriage lasted sixteen years, during which time, Henry VII unusually took no mistress.  Theirs was an emotional connection that is evidenced to have been the envy of the court.

When Elizabeth died on her on her thirty-seventh birthday after giving birth to a daughter that lived for only minutes, the king was devastated, shutting himself away and for the rest of his life, burying himself in matters of state while becoming a cold recluse in his palace, obsessed with his money.  Despite his thrifty ways, he gave Elizabeth a grand funeral, sparing no expense for his beloved queen.  When Henry died just six years later in 1509, it was rumored to have been from a broken heart.  He was buried beside Elizabeth in Westminster Abbey beneath a monument erected by their son Henry VIII.

This painting depicts Henry VII and Elizabeth of York in the back and, in front, stands Henry VIII and the favorite of his six wives, Jane Seymour.

Henry VIII also took his mother’s death very hard.  He seems to have spent his life searching for the same romantic connection his parents shared, even going as far as to take six wives to do so.  None of his brides would have happy endings.  Catalina d’Aragona (best know by her English name of Catherine of Aragon) was divorced after over twenty years; Anne Boleyn was beheaded for treason when rumors surfaced that she was having affairs; Jane Seymour died in childbirth; Anne of Cleves had her marriage annulled as quickly as it began; Katherine Howard was executed for adultery; and Katheryn Parr, though she outlived the king, died in childbirth, her new husband executed for treason when he conspired to marry the late king’s youngest daughter.

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