18 March 2015

Today's Princess: Elizabeth of York

Via Wikimedia Commons
The firstborn child of England's King Edward IV, Elizabeth of York (1466-1503), played a critical role in history, but her quiet personality has been overshadowed by the boisterous personalities of her relatives: her beautiful mother Elizabeth Woodville, her villainized uncle King Richard III, her ambitious husband King Henry VII, her domineering mother-in-law Margaret Beaufort, not to mention her larger-than-life son Henry VIII, her self-willed daughters Queen Margaret of Scotland and Mary The French Queen, her all-powerful granddaughters Bloody Mary and the Virgin Queen, and her incredibly dramatic great-granddaughter Mary Queen of Scots. In the midst of these historical giants it's no wonder that Elizabeth's most famous trait is that she has been commonly depicted as the queen on playing cards. And, if you didn't know that was her, that is not all surprising.

If she had been born a century or two later, Elizabeth would have certainly been more memorable. As the first daughter of the late King, she would have followed her two younger brothers to the throne after their untimely deaths. In 15th Century England, however, women were not generally considered as royal heirs.

Elizabeth was born into a happy marriage, although her father's hold on the throne was still a bit tenuous after ousting the Lancastrian King Henry VI. When he was temporarily deposed, Elizabeth, her mother, and three younger sisters went into sanctuary, where her first brother was born. Once her father regained his crown, Elizabeth had a stable and probably happy childhood. As with most princesses, her marriage was a constant issue of political discussion. More than one potential husband--including the French dauphin--was pursued. Somehow, Elizabeth reached the ripe old age of 17 without husband.

Then, tragedy struck. Her father suddenly died, then both of her younger brothers, under the protection of their uncle, disappeared. They became known to history as the Princes in the Tower. Elizabeth was summoned out of sanctuary by that same uncle, name King Richard III, who incidentally had found a way to have Elizabeth and her siblings declared bastards and not royal heirs. Nevertheless, after the death of his queen, rumors spread that he intended to marry the beautiful Elizabeth herself. Some evidence exists that she even acquiesced.

Her mother, however, had other plans. She teamed up with the Tudors, who as Lancastrians had been bitter enemies of the late king. If young Henry Tudor would defeat Richard, he could claim the throne and Elizabeth for himself. Henry defeated Richard, took the throne, had Elizabeth un-bastardized, and married her--although he made it quite clear that he, not she, was the rightful ruler. He ruled by right of conquest not by right of his wife.

By Anonim via Wikimedia Commons
Despite the miserly and cold reputation of Henry VII, it appears that he and Elizabeth had a good and affectionate marriage. She seemed contented to allow him to sideline her mother while placing his own in a place of authority that was even greater than her own. She spent much of her time focused on her growing family. They had at least seven children, although only four survived infancy.

When their oldest son, Arthur Prince of Wales, died at the age of 15, both Elizabeth and Henry were grief-stricken. She comforted her husband with the thought that they were both young enough to have more sons. Almost immediately, she conceived again, and early the next February gave birth to a short-lived daughter called Catherine after Arthur's widow. Nine days later, Elizabeth died of childbed fever. It was her 37th birthday.

For more about Elizabeth:
The Birth and Death of Elizabeth of York on Conor Byrne
Birth of Elizabeth of York on Richard III of Society of NSW
The Death of Elizabeth of York on History Today
Elizabeth of York on Philippa Gregory
Elizabeth of York on The Tudor Blog
Elizabeth of York on Tudor History
Elizabeth of York, Mother of a Dynasty on English Historical Fiction Authors
Elizabeth of York, Queen of England on About Women's History
Elizabeth of York, Queen of England on The Freelance History Writer
Elizabeth Plantagenet, Queen of England on Tudor Place
Judith Arnopp Guest Post: Elizabeth of York on Nancy Bilyeau
The Marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York on The Tudor Enthusiast

Books about Elizabeth:

Fiction about Elizabeth:

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