Elizabeth of York – February 11th, 1466 – 11th February, 1503.

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).

Elizabeth of York, Queen of England

Elizabeth of York, Queen of England

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.

s Tomb: Westminster Abbey (Henry VII Lady Chapel)

s Tomb: Westminster Abbey (Henry VII Lady Chapel)

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

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On This Day…

On this day, 21st April, 1509; Henry VII died following a long illness. He siezed the crown following the Battle of Bosworth in August, 1485, and his turbulent reign had lasted for just under twenty-five years. He was succeeded by his second son, King Henry VIII, and his reign (to put it mildly), was a rather eventful one, during which the Tudor’s really stamped their mark on English history.

Henry VII was interred alongside his wife, Elizabeth of York, in his own Lady Chapel, at Westminster Abbey. Their tomb is topped with a magnificent bronze effigy that still stands to this day. Well worth a visit!

 

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York: Tomb effigy.

Arthur, Prince of Wales.

On this day, April 2nd, 1501; the eldest son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York died at Ludlow from what was possibly sweating sickness. His death was sudden, unexpected, and left the royal family devastated.

Born at Winchester (legendary seat of Camelot), in 1486, Henry VII had been extraordinarily proud of his eldest son and heir. At the time of his death, he had not long married Catherine of Aragon, Spanish infanta. The union was meant to cement an alliance between Britain and Spain and manoevure the English onto the European mainstage.

Following the death of Arthur, Henry duke of York became heir to his father’s crown, and would eventuall rule as King Henry VIII.

 

Arthur, Prince of Wales.

Paving The Way.

As already mentioned in my opening post, one of the many aspects of King Henry VII’s reign that is largely ignored, is the interest he took in architecture, as well as the advancement of the Renaissance that had swept across Europe. There is no better surviving example of one of the King’s “projects” than the King Henry VII Lady Chapel, at Westminster Abbey.

 

 

Exterior of King Henry VII's Lady Chapel

Described by the antiquarian, John Leland (1503-1552), as “one of the wonders of the entire world”, the Lady Chapel is a truly remarkable feat of design, and architecture. Tragically, the names of the master masons who actually built the chapel are lost to us. We know that Henry VII funded the entire project, and the foundation stone was set in 1503. The chapel still stands, relatively unscathed by the passage of time, and is as stunningly beautiful to see today, as it was all those centuries ago, when it was first built.

 

The Chapel can be accessed via a flight of steps, and is separated by the main body of the Abbey by a set of wrought bronze gates, with Tudor emblems worked in. The main, and easily most striking feature of the Chapel, is the high, pendant style, fan vaulted ceiling, that is truly breathtaking to see. Set along the front walls of the chapel, are high stained glass windows, (that these days depict soldiers who fought in the Great Wars). The stalls are lined with intricately carved misercordia, which depict a wide variety of scenes. From biblical scenes (such as David and Goliath), to scenes of domestic violence (a woman chastises her husband with a birch rod), to mythical beasts (a man riding a Unicorn is on one of them). All of that was topped off with the statues of over ninety saints that sat in niches along the walls.

 

Behind the altar, sits the grave of Queen Elizabeth of York, beside that of King Henry VII, himself. King Henry’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, is also buried there. Along with King Henry’s two granddaughters, Queen Mary I, and Queen Elizabeth I (interred together in the North Aisle). In the South Aisle, Mary, Queen of Scots, and her son, James I (VI of Scotland), are also interred.

The Tomb Effigies of King Henry VII, and Queen Elizabeth of York.

 

From 1725, the Chapel was used for the installations of Knights of the Order of the Bath, and these days, it is used in services to commemorate British Armed Servicemen. However, I digress. This Chapel nicely represents the vision of the King, and the skill of the craftsmen who made his vision a stunning reality. Needless to say, its’ well worth a visit, if ever you’re in the locality!

The pendant style fan vaulted ceiling of King Henry VII's Lady Chapel.

The Tabloid History Of Britain (Introduction).

Hello, and welcome to the “Henry Tudor Experience”. This is a germ of an idea I had several months ago, but for one reason or another, had always been put off, and then put off again. Then to compound matters, I set the blog up, only to be struck down with a blogger’s version of stage fright. Give me a platform, and I can usually be relied upon to suddenly lose my voice! So for want of anything better to kick this blog off, I feel an in depth explanation, (if not justification), is in order.

First up: does Henry Tudor really need, or deserve, such attention? Obviously, I would argue that he does. All too often, Henry Tudor is passed off as nothing more than a usurping King (mostly by Richard III supporters, laughably enough), with almost no claim to the throne, and who had to hide behind the skirts of his Yorkist Queen, Elizabeth of York, to bolster his grip on the Crown. Undoubtedly, Tudor’s claim to the throne was a complicated one. However, that doesn’t necessarily make it an illegitimate one. Although born sixth in line to the throne, a series of extraordinary events led to him being propelled along the line of succession, to being sole heir to the house of Lancaster, thus a genuine contender for the crown by the end of the year 1483.

However, the last thing I would want for this blog, is for it to become mired in the row over the legitimacy of Tudor’s claim. For, whatever the detractors say, or think, about the reign of King Henry VII, the man’s impact on the country was great, and far reaching. This reason alone, I feel that a new voice, indeed, a new perspective is needed, and wholly justifiable.

A second, and altogether different reason, for the existence of a blog such as this, is to try and bring Henry Tudor from out of the long, and ever-darkening shadow of his son, King Henry VIII. Undoubtedly, King Henry VIII’s impact up the country, monarchy, and apparatus of state can never be over-emphasised, it is important to remember that the roots of his reign, in particular his attitude towards the advancement of the arts, and Renaissance, are actually embedded in the reign of King Henry VII. Another consequence of his proximity of that titan of English history, is that they’re often muddled up by the casual observer. Often, when I tell people that Henry VII has always been one of my favourite Kings, people will turn around and ask: “But didn’t he chop his wives’ heads off?” No, he didn’t. In fact, he and Elizabeth of York had a rather happy marriage, and her head remained firmly connected to the rest of her body, for her whole life.

However, and I feel most importantly of all, Henry Tudor emerged from a youth spent in exile, returned to an England still reeling from the effects of a bitter dynastic civil war, and finally brought the whole sorry charade to an end. His victory at Market Bosworth was not only an unlikely, and resounding, victory in the penultimate battle of the Cousin’s War, but it ushered in one of the most dynamic, revolutionary systems of monarchy that England has ever seen. 1485 is taken, by an overwhelming majority of historians, to be the official “end” of the medieval era, and the embryonic start of the “modern” world.

The fact that Henry Tudor came to be King, is wonder enough in itself. The fact that, during that most turbulent century, he managed to hang on to his crown, is an even greater wonder, still. As Bishop John Fisher noted, Margaret Beaufort (Henry’s mother) wept, not for pride at finally having her son in his rightful place, but for fear of how he would survive the ordeal of being King on such in such a volatile realm. Her fears were soon realised, as in 1487, Henry Tudor was riding out to defend his crown, once again (the Battle of Stoke). His extraordinary luck held, and he won the day. However, he then had the Yorkist Pretenders to deal with. First came the laughable Lambert Simnel. However, Perkin Warbecque proved to be a much stickier problem.

So, in the face of the constant threat of a resurgence in Dynastic squabbling, the angry Yorkists skulking in the shadows, and the opportunistic pretenders; Henry succeeded where all others had failed, and did so against extraordinary odds. Furthermore, he made England one of the richest countries in Europe, and through the skilful manoeuvring in the marriage markets, he also made England one of the most important countries in Europe.

So, there are ample reasons to give Henry Tudor a second thought. However, there was also a cast of thousands behind him, who paved the way for him to become what he eventually became. The most dominant figure in his life (certainly after his return from exile in 1485), was his mother, Margaret Beaufort. Before that, came his uncle, Jasper Tudor, among a host of others. It is time for these to looked at also, and that is my ultimate hope with this blog. Continue reading