Today marks the anniversary of both the birth and death of Elizabeth of York, Henry VII’s beloved Queen Consort.
The eldest daughter of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville; Elizabeth of York was born in 1466 at the Palace of Westminster. Her childhood sounds as though it was a turbulent affair, with her father having to defend his title many times during the Wars of the Roses. One of Elizabeth’s lowest ebbs must have been the flight into sanctuary following her father’s defeat, and the brief return of the Lancastrian King Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou in 1471. However, this interim was brief and following a decisive Yorkist victory at Battle of Tewkesbury, Elizabeth was once again a Princess Royal.
Upon the death of Edward IV (April, 1483), Elizabeth (along with her numerous siblings) was declared illegitimate by her Uncle – Richard of Gloucester (Richard III). It was at this time that an alliance between disaffected Yorkists and Lancastrians occurred, and Elizabeth was betrothed to Henry of Richmond (who was still in exile in Brittany). The pair were eventually married (after quite some delay) following Henry’s victorious return to England, and his defeat of Richard III at Bosworth (August, 1485).
The marriage of Elizabeth and Henry VII was, naturally, a political alliance. However, it soon becomes clear that there was a genuine and lasting love between the couple. They had several children (in all, eight were born; only four made it past infancy), and it seems Elizabeth devoted her time to raising them. Eminent Historian, David Starkey, even puts forward the theory that it was Elizabeth herself who taught her children to read and write (their handwriting being identical). She certainly seemed to oversee the running of the nursery in person – and the children formed the backbone of hers, and Henry’s, lives.
In choosing this domesticity, Elizabeth was able to avoid the rocky and controversial politics of the era, providing a normal, stable background for her children, and a haven for Henry to escape to when he could. The two seemed to work perfectly together – aided by Henry’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, who took on some more onerous tasks of state (allowing more freedom for Elizabeth to simply be the Queen). Contrary to popular belief, however, Elizabeth did receive a lavish coronation, and was an anointed Queen of England.
However, in 1502, Elizabeth and Henry were dealt a severe blow following the death of their eldest son and heir, Arthur Prince of Wales. Arthur had not long since married the Spanish Infanta, Catherine of Aragon – a match that was set to be the making of the dynasty and the start of a new, prosperous future for England as a whole. Henry was the first to be informed of Arthur’s death, and Elizabeth was the first person he turned to for support and comfort. She had told him to take comfort in their “fair and goodly” second son, Prince Henry. Elizabeth also told Henry to take comfort in her – she was still of childbearing age.
In fact, Elizabeth was thirty-six when she fell pregnant for the eighth time. Quite an advanced age to be giving birth at this time. She gave birth at the Tower of London, where she had spent her confinement, and it was here that she also died shortly afterwards, on February 11th, 1503. She was just thirty-seven years old. The deaths of Arthur, Elizabeth and the child (a daughter) she bore, had a devastating effect on Henry VII – he never did fully recover. He isolated himself from Court; grieved deeply and genuinely for a protracted period of time.
Elizabeth was given a lavish funeral. She lay in state at the Tower, and was interred later at Henry VII Lady Chapel (the foundation stone of which was laid in April, 1483). She and Henry lay there together, their graves topped with an elaborate bronze effigy. More information here