Not everyone listened to their teacher in history class, we get it. Some did but still were not told anything about Elizabeth of York. Why? Today, historians assert that the Queen, who married King Henry VII, was overshadowed by the many wives of her own son, King Henry VIII.
Anne Boleyn, who had her head removed on his order, is just one example of a royal wife who got to be in the spotlight more than Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Who? And When?
So who was Elizabeth? Why should you care about her? Let’s start at the beginning. She was born in February of 1466, to King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.
She was their firstborn and back in the day, children were named after their parents, which is why she carries the same name as her mother. Her birth year makes her an inhabitant of the 15th century.
Wars of the Roses
If you don’t know much about the 15th century, let us enlighten you: It was just during the middle ages, but they were soon coming to an end.
At the time, England was plagued by the “Wars of the Roses.” Sadly, these were not debates about which rose type is the fairest, but a series of battles where the House of Lancaster and the House of York fought for the crown. Sounds familiar?
The Original Sansa Stark?
When Henry VII and Elizabeth married it marked the conclusion of the “Wars of the Roses.” Not only do these wars have a lovely name, but many also claim that they inspired modern hit classics like “Game of Thrones” and the 2017 miniseries “The White Princess.”
If you are a true fan of GOT, you already know Sansa Stark, but what about Elizabeth? Let us tell you more about her!
An Early Engagement
After her 1466 birth, she was baptized under the Christian name of Elizabeth Woodville, as King Edward IV’s firstborn. Celebrations in Westminster Abbey immediately ensued. In 1469, just three years later, she was already engaged to be married.
As marriage was mostly a political and economical institution back then, parents didn’t really ask their children what they thought of the matter.
The Husband to Be
Her promised husband was the first Duke of Bedford, George Neville, aged four at the time of the engagement. As we already mentioned, the future matrimony was not supposed to be about love and companionship but about ensuring a suitable, politically stable union.
Already at birth, it seemed like George had a promising life ahead of him. He was entitled to a hefty inheritance, and also had a fair chance of becoming King if the stars aligned just right.
Betrothed No More
But, alas, the stars did not align for the two. The short-lived betrothal was called off when Neville’s father, John, decided to take part in the rebellion against Elizabeth’s own father.
George’s life didn’t turn out the best. He lost his claim to his parents’ money and property and by 1478 his duke title was revoked, as he had no money to support the manner of living expected from a duke. Ouch.
After George Neville’s and Elizabeth Woodville’s engagement was called off, another suiter came by. This time, she was nine, and the husband to be was the Dauphin of France, meaning, the king’s eldest son.
Just like the previous plan of matrimony, this one didn’t come to fruition. In 1482, King Louis XI decided to break his promise. His son, Charles, ended up marrying the Duchess of Brittany later on.
The Order of the Garter
If you thought that today kids seem to only get younger and younger as they achieve greatness, wait till you hear this. Young Elizabeth has accomplished something no other eleven-year-old girl has. The order of the garter was an order of chivalry, giving titles mostly to men.
In 1477, Elizabeth was barely a teenage girl. Nonetheless, she received one of the most respectable titles one can get — Lady of the Garter. Her mom and aunt were both honored with the same title.
An Unforeseen Tragedy
In 1483, after two failed almost-marriages, an unforeseen tragedy struck the now 17-year-old Elizabeth and her family. Her father, King Edward IV passed away suddenly. He was only 41 at the time he died.
The reason as to what happened to him has remained an enigma to this day. Unlike today, there was no way of knowing what caused someone’s demise.
A Failed King
They say one shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but we’re about to, so we’d like to apologize in advance for what we’re about to say. King Edward IV wasn’t that great at his job.
Historians gave King Edward IV the dubious, shameful title of being the only king in the history of England who couldn’t really make sure his own son got the throne. Ouch, that’s gotta hurt.
The Next King Edward?
When Edward died, his son was only 12. But that wasn’t the reason he did not become king. Being extremely young hasn’t stopped anyone before. Some kings were as young as 10 when they were crowned.
So what happened? How come Edward junior never got to be a king? The short answer is Richard. He had an evil plan to secure the crown for himself. For more details, keep reading.
After Edward’s death, Elizabeth and her family were in great danger. Not only were they grief-stricken, but they also had to worry about their personal safety, as everyone wanted what only they could claim: the crown.
Knowing that most likely they have to go into hiding, they decided on Westminster Abbey. The same place where Elizabeth was baptized, now became her prison.
No Safe Haven
But there was no safe haven for the Woodville family, especially not for young Edward. Their cunning uncle, Richard, who was the Duke of Gloucester, came to take young Edward, who was supposed to be the next king, away.
His mother did not want to give him away, of course. She tried fighting to keep her son and the future king, safe and with her. But Richard had his way, he took the boy with him.
Elizabeth had to say goodbye to her brother, Edward, not knowing if she will ever see him again, or if he will get to live or die.
Richard, who was a deceptive, power-hungry man, found a way to declare both Elizabeth and her brother illegitimate since their father had been married to another woman before he married their mother. They had now lost any claim to the crown, and their uncle was named the new king.
King Richard III was made so on 6 July 1483. Edward was never seen again. He was supposedly taken to the “Tower of London” which we all know today as a place where people were brought to be maltreated.
Regardless of whether he was there or not, no one ever saw him again. Elizabeth lost both her father and brother in a matter of months. Not to mention she has fallen from being a king’s daughter to having nothing at all.
It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn
Yes, everything seemed hopeless for Elizabeth of York and her mother, also named Elizabeth. But not all was lost. While not having a man by side their side made everything a lot more complicated, they weren’t about to give up.
Elizabeth’s mother was not a helpless soul, but a fierce leader who knew what she had to do in order to secure her daughter’s future. She wasn’t about to go down without a fight.
A Common Enemy
What’s the best way to execute revenge? Form an alliance. Power can be found in numbers, and nothing is mightier than two forces coming together to get back at the same common enemy.
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is a saying that goes all the way back to the 4th century BC and is still relevant to these days, which is when Elizabeth’s mother decided her daughter should marry the french noble Henry Tudor.
A Match Made in Heaven
The match between the two gave the saying “A match made in heaven” a whole new meaning, as it literally changed the course of history. Sadly, we can’t really say the say about our wedding.
This would be the right time to get into some more background about the previously mentioned “War of the Roses.” The war was plaguing England for almost 50 years at this point, and it was between Elizabeth’s and Henry’s families.
A Long Shot
A marital union would be the perfect way to bring the animosity between the two families to an end. When joined together, the two houses might have a chance to take King Richard down.
There was just one problem: while Henry Tudor did have a chance of securing the crown, it wasn’t the strongest one by a longshot. With Elizabeth as a wife, Henry hoped to increase his chances of becoming a king. Luckily for them both, their plan worked.
Free at Last
Many of us have recently learned how hard it is to be confined to our homes for a long period of time, but this is exactly what Elizabeth had to go through. She spent a whole year in Westminster Abbey following her father’s death.
In 1484, King Richard announced publically that he had no intention of ever hurting Elizabeth or her family, and that she was finally free to go outside.
Rumor Has It
Richard’s intentions may have been less than innocent. Rumor has it that despite their family ties, Richard wanted to take his own niece as a wife.
You see, for most kings, being the king wasn’t enough. They wanted to make sure their offspring will continue ruling long after they themselves pass away. Richard’s wife didn’t give him any heirs, and he thought that maybe his own niece could.
Denying the Rumors
Not only has Elizabeth spent a year in hiding, now that she was finally free she had to worry about her own uncle marrying her.
Their impending wedding was all anyone talked about, and it came to a situation where the king had to actively come out and say these rumors were false. False or not, Richard did keep her in a remote castle, so he was definitely planning something.
The Fourth Engagement
Richard might have given up on the idea of marrying his niece himself, but while he held her in a remote location in the north of the country, he tried to find her a husband that would be suitable in his eyes.
Perhaps he was seeking to intercept her scheme to marry Henry. The King decided she should marry the future King of Portugal. Elizabeth was still a teenager. At 19, this was already the fourth attempt at marrying her off.
A Dream Come True
The King of England and the future King of Portugal were planning the union that would secure their royal future. But then, something that has changed both the course of history and of Elizabeth’s personal life happened.
In August of 1485, the French Henry Tudor arrived in Wales. He had an army with him and he was ready for a fight. Tudor was about to destroy Richard’s plans.
David and Goliath
It seemed like there was no way for Henry to beat Richard III, who was a wise, accomplished King. Astonishingly, Henry and his men, who at first seemed out of their depth, won what later came to be known as the “Battle of Bosworth Field.”
Now, Henry could finally become the King of England. This was anything young Elizabeth ever wished for. Finally, things were starting to work out for her.
Not According to Plan
It finally seemed like things were going to work out for our young lady, as she was practically engaged to the new King.
But, if you’ve been paying attention you’ll know it seems like nothing came easy when it came to Elizabeth. She was excepting her and Henry to marry as soon as possible, but for months and months, it just wasn’t happening.
A Bright Future
Despite the fact that the whole reason as to why Henry came to England was to marry her, claiming the crown as his own has gotten to his head. All of a sudden, he found ways to stall their matrimony.
But, finally, after so many twists and turns in her young life, Elizabeth and Henry Tudur, The King of England, got married. Soon enough, Elizabeth was pregnant with her first child. Finally, her future looked bright.
Henry Held Her Back
If you’re an observant reader you may have noticed that despite marrying the King, we have not yet referred to Elizabeth as the queen. There is a reason for that, as, for the first two years of her marriage, she was not crowned. But why?
Henry did not want her to become queen. Not only was he a difficult and stern man, but he was also very proud. He did not want anyone to think his claim to the throne had anything to do with him marrying Elizabeth.
Falling in Love?
It’s pretty clear that marriage was nothing about love at the time. But, just because a marriage did not begin with an intense infatuation does not mean it can’t end up being a loving one.
With time, Elizabeth found her way to Henry’s heart, but don’t think it was easy. Henry was known for having a difficult and cold personality. It was the Queen’s both beauty and brains that ended up getting to him.
Elizabeth, who was born to a king and then lost everything, depended on a stranger, who took the crown by force, to give her a title she obviously worked hard for and deserved.
Luckily for her, after two years of ruling the country, The King softened a little bit, fell in love, and was ready to give her what she longed for her entire life. Finally, in 1487, she was crowned Queen of England.
It was a known fact back in the day that Elizabeth was a gorgeous-looking young woman. But those who thought that’s all she had, underestimated her greatly. Her life prepared her to know her way around the English court, her understanding of the English language and people made her invaluable to the french Henry VII.
Her experience showed her they should always be prepared, as someone might try and come for her throne at any moment.
Since kings have been changing left and right, Elizabeth knew that she had to get Henry’s name out there. She took on the role of becoming sort of a publicist for him, making sure that his name was known.
But his reputation wasn’t the greatest, to say the least. He was perceived as being a penny pincher. The truth is, that was only a facade. While no one was watching, he showered both Elizabeth and his kids with gifts.
A Pet Lion
As both Henry’s reign and his love for Elizabeth grew more secure, things got better for the Queen. It is rumored that the royals threw lavish parties where they would dance till dawn. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.
Elizabeth had a fascination with wild animals, and as fit for a royal, she had her own zoo. At some point, The King bought her a lion, delivered especially for her, from overseas. Is there anything more regal than a queen with a lion?
In 1486, Elizabeth finally had her first-ever son: Arthur Tudor, the Prince of Wales. But this wasn’t just any child — the existence of an heir meant everything for Henry and his wife.
It made their political and royal alliance stronger. It seemed as if the Houses of York and Tudor were undefeatable. At two, Arthur received his title of a prince, and by the time he was three years old, there were already thoughts and schemes as to who he should marry.
A Sudden Sickness
Baby Arthur finally got married in 1501, at the tender age of fourteen. His chosen wife was Catherine, the offspring of a Spanish Monarch. The match was supposed to help kickstart the relationship between England and Spain so that they could gain power against France.
But a terrible tragedy struck the life of Elizabeth once again. Six months after he was married off, at 15, Arthur passed away because of a sudden sickness.
Arthur’s passing was extremely difficult on his parents, to say the least. While everyone expected Elizabeth to be the one expressing her grief, Henry was actually the one who fell to pieces.
He had Elizabeth by his side, who was strong for both of them. She helped him through it, and while no one ever forgets the loss of their child, they also knew they had to think about their succession. Nevertheless, the King was never the same after that.
Too Much to Handle
Fortunately, the two had another son, Henry VIII. But, Arthur wasn’t Elizabeth’s only child to die prematurely. In her lifetime, The Queen carried seven children, but not all of them survived past their early years. Only four of the seven lived to become teenagers.
After Arthur’s passing, Elizabeth and Henry were left with only three, sisters Margaret and Mary, and brother Henry. Henry was to be the future king if nothing goes wrong. But Elizabeth didn’t want to take any chances.
The loss of young Arthur sparked a desire in the Queen to have another child, both for personal and political reasons. There was just one problem. Elizabeth was already in her mid-thirties.
Somehow, Elizabeth found herself pregnant again in 1502, for the seventh time. She was 36 at the time. She grew hopeful with anticipation for the child she was about to give birth to.
The First February Tragedy
During her pregnancy, she stayed in the Tower of London, the same place her brother was last seen before he vanished off the face of the earth. In February, it was finally time for Elizabeth to give birth.
She delivered a beautiful little baby girl who she named Katherine. But Katherine only survived for a few days before she passed away. Elizabeth must have felt like the unluckiest person alive.
The Queen Is Dead
The untimely death of the new heiress wasn’t the last tragedy to hit the family. After giving birth, Elizabeth wasn’t doing so well. Despite being a strong, fierce woman who has been through so much, she had no fight left in her anymore.
She finally died on February 11, 1503. It was her 37th birthday. Despite already having been through so much, it seems like the Queen’s death was the final straw for poor King Henry.
The Tower of Fate
There is something grim about the fact that Elizabeth took her last breath in the same place her brother was last seen in. Some would say it’s just a coincidence, but to others, it’s clear that it is fate that reunited the family.
Centuries after Elizabeth’s demise, while digging in the Tower, bones were found. Many believe this is the final proof that Richard III sealed her brother’s fate in the worst way possible in that tower.
The King Is Broken
Historians claim that the King has never recovered from the Queen’s death. While he was cold to her first, he grew to deeply love and appreciate her, and now she was gone for good.
One clear proof that Henry never got over Elizabeth is his refusal to take a new wife after her death, which was a common practice at the time, and would have helped maintain his political power.
After so many unfortunate occurrences, no one can blame the king for not making the best decisions. The English court was used to seeing Henry as a strict and powerful king, but now all of that was gone. His personal grief affected the whole country.
He signed a “Treaty of Perpetual Peace” that forced him to end his war with the Scots in a shameful manner. Everyone was hoping he’d get back to normal soon so that he could continue ruling the way he should.
A Second Wife?
With continued pressure to take a second wife, the King found himself between a rock and a hard place. Elizabeth of York wasn’t the kind of women someone could just forget about. And Henry did not want anyone else.
He did agree to try and look for another wife, but just because he knew it would help him, politically, to make a new union. But whenever he described the lady of his dreams, he described Elizabeth, and his advisors couldn’t find anyone quite like her.
Catherine Strikes Back
Catherine of Aragon was the girl who married prince Arthur. Now, only a few years later, she was a widow. And so was the King. Despite claiming he will not take any wife after Elizabeth, Henry VII actually thought about marrying his own daughter-in-law.
He was 40 years older than her, at the time. Luckily for everyone involved, he ended up deciding on a different plan.
The New King
Instead of getting engaged to her late husband’s father, she ended up marrying her late husband’s brother. Henry VIII. King Henry VII died in 1509. And Henry VIII soon took the crown. He was 17 at the time.
We don’t have to tell you that he is not a king that is remembered fondly. He is known for his many marriages, some ending in terrible ways. It’s a good thing Elizabeth wasn’t around to see this.
Speculations as to why Henry turned out the way he did could go on forever. Many relate his difficult personality to his childhood. It has been said that he wasn’t given much attention from his father, who saw Arthur as his most likely heir and focused only on him.
He had no one to turn to but his mom, Elizabeth, which is why he made a name for himself as being a mama’s boy. No other woman in his life could ever match up.
She Saw It All
When you stop and think about it, Elizabeth saw in one short lifetime more than most. She was a significant part of England’s history and the future that came after her. Though she never got to rule herself, her father, husband, and son were all kings.
It is clear to understand how she inspired certain plot points or even characters in George R. R. Martin novels and in their subsequent TV series “Game Of Thrones.”
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