Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s Queen, played a pivotal role in many of the events of the later 15th century.
She was born about 1437 at Grafton Regis in Northamptonshire, and in about 1452 married Sir John Grey of Groby in Leicestershire. He was killed, fighting for the Lancastrian side, at the 2nd battle of St Albans in 146i and , leaving her with two sons from this marriage, Thomas, later Marquess of Dorset, and Richard Grey, who were deprived of their inheritance.
Tradition says that when Elizabeth discovered Edward IV was hunting in Northamptonshire, she waited for him, with her two young sons in each hand, under an oak tree, known afterwards as ‘the queen’s oak’. When he passed by, she threw herself at his feet and pleaded with him for the restoration of her sons’ inheritance.
Edward was evidently besotted by the young widow, who was said to be ‘the most beautiful woman in England.’ Their courtship took place in secret and so did their marriage, which, again according to tradition, took place at Grafton Regis on May 1st, 1464.
In the meantime, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, had been negotiating an alliance with France to thwart a similar effort also being made by Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI. The alliance was to be sealed by the marriage of Edward to a French princess so, when Warwick heard of the king’s clandestine marriage, he was not unnaturally furious. It caused the rift between himself and the king that culminated in his death at the battle of Barnet.
Once Edward was re-established on the throne, his queen lost no time in securing advantageous marriages for her many siblings, including her youngest brother John aged 20 to the three-times widowed Duchess of Norfolk who was in her sixties.
She gave Edward three sons and seven daughters between 1466 and 1480, although two of these died as infants. When Edward IV died in 1483, the attempt by Elizabeth and her kin to gain power through controlling the new, young King Edward V was pre-empted by Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Her brother and oldest son were both arrested and later executed, and Elizabeth was accused by Richard of plotting to ‘murder and destroy him.’
She fled into sanctuary at Westminster with her children, but then allowed her youngest son to join his brother in the Tower of London. Less than a year later, she came out of sanctuary and returned to court, apparently reconciled with Richard. One can’t help but winder whether she would have done this if she believed Richard had murdered her two young sons.
However, she did form an alliance with Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor, and an agreement was made that Henry would marry her eldest daughter once he gained the throne. Thus Elizabeth of York married the Lancastrian Henry Tudor in January 1486, uniting the houses of York and Lancaster. The white rose of York was mixed with the red rose of Lancaster to form the Tudor rose.
About the same time, Elizabeth Woodville entered Bermondsey Abbey, although it is not clear whether this was her own wish, or whether Henry VII forced her to retire from court. She died in June 1492 and her funeral was a small simple one, with the result that one contemporary source criticises Henry VII for not arranging a more queenly funeral for his mother-in-law. She was buried with Edward IV at St George’s Chapel, Windsor.
|Edward IV's tomb at Windsor|