Friday, February 11, 2011

Elizabeth of York 11 February 1466 – 11 February 1503


Elizabeth of York was Queen consort of England as spouse of King Henry VII from 1486 until 1503, mother of King Henry VIII of England and Grandmother to Elizabeth I (daughter of King Henry VIII & Queen Anne Boleyn) as well as Edward VI of England (son of Henry VIII & Jane Seymour). In addition, Elizabeth of York is the only English queen to have been a daughter, sister, niece, wife and mother of English monarchs during her lifetime.

She was born at Westminster, the eldest child of King Edward IV and his Queen consort, Elizabeth Woodville, the former Lady Grey. Her christening was celebrated at Westminster Abbey, her sponsors being her grandmothers Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, and Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Duchess of Bedford.

She was named a Lady of the Garter in 1477, along with her mother and her paternal aunt Elizabeth of York, Duchess of Suffolk.
At the age of 5, she was briefly betrothed to George Neville, son of John Neville, Earl of Northumberland, a supporter of Edward IV. Northumberland switched sides, however, and the betrothal was called off. In 1475, she was offered as the bride of Charles, the Dauphin of France. That plan was scrapped when Charles's father, Louis XI, decided against her.

War of the Roses -- Houses of Lancaster & York
Elizabeth's mother, Elizabeth Woodville, made an alliance with Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor, who was the closest to Royalty the Lancastrian party possessed. Although Henry was descended from King Edward III, his claim to the throne was weak, due to the clause barring ascension to the throne by any heirs of the legitimized offspring of his great-great-grandparents, John of Gaunt (3rd son of King Edward III) and Katherine Swynford. Despite this, his mother and Elizabeth Woodville agreed Henry should move to claim the throne, and once he had taken it, he would marry Woodville's daughter, Elizabeth of York, uniting the two rival Houses. In December 1483, in the cathedral in Rennes, Henry swore an oath promising to marry her, and began planning an invasion.

Henry was the heir of the House of Lancaster but as Lancaster was genealogically junior to the House of York, he had taken the throne by right of conquest. Although he acknowledged the necessity of marrying Elizabeth to secure his stability and survival upon the throne and weaken the claims of other surviving members of the House of York, he did not intend to call his rights into question: he wanted it to be clear that he ruled as king-conqueror, not as Elizabeth's husband, and had no intention of sharing power. To do this, he had the Titulus Regius repealed immediately and unread (which re-legitimised the children of Edward IV and acknowledged the 'reign' of Edward V), since he did not want the legitimacy of his wife or her claim as heiress of Edward IV called into question, and chose to be crowned on 30 October 1485, before his marriage. Even then, he did not marry her, having not received the Papal dispensation to do so; eventually the Dispensation was approved and they married on 18 January 1486. Their first son, Arthur, was born on 20 September 1486. Henry had Elizabeth crowned queen consort on 25 November 1487. Had Henry's claim to the throne not been based on conquest, Elizabeth would have been the rightful heir to the throne as Edward IV's heir, assuming her brothers were dead.
The marriage proved successful and both partners appear to have cared for each other. As queen, Elizabeth did not exercise much political influence, due to her strong-minded mother-in-law Lady Margaret Beaufort, but she was reported to be gentle and kind, and generous to her relations, servants and benefactors. Elizabeth enjoyed music and dancing, as well as dicing. She kept greyhounds, and she may have enjoyed hunting and archery.

Elizabeth was a renowned beauty, inheriting her parents' fair hair and complexion.
Elizabeth and Henry VII had seven children:

Arthur, Prince of Wales (20 September 1486 – 2 April 1502)
Margaret, Queen consort of Scotland (28 November 1489 – 18 October 1541)
Henry VIII of England (28 June 1491 – 28 January 1547)
Elizabeth Tudor (2 July 1492 – 14 September 1495)
Mary, Queen consort of France (18 March 1496 – 25 June 1533)
Edmund, Duke of Somerset (21 February 1499 – 19 June 1500)
Katherine Tudor (born & died 2 February 1503)

Death
On 14 November 1501, Elizabeth's eldest son, Arthur (aged 15), married Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, and the pair were sent to Ludlow Castle, traditional residence of the Prince of Wales. Five months later, Arthur was dead. The news of Arthur's death caused Henry VII to break down in grief; Elizabeth comforted him, telling him that his mother (to whom she refers as My Lady) had no more children but him, and that God had left him yet a fair prince, two fair princesses and that they are both young enough [for more children].
Arthur's death prompted Elizabeth to become pregnant once more, attempting to strengthen the succession. Elizabeth gave birth to a girl and named her Katherine. She was born and died on 2 February 1503. Succumbing to a post-partum infection, Elizabeth died on 11 February, her 37th birthday. Her husband appeared to sincerely mourn her death: according to one account, he "privily departed to a solitary place and would no man should resort unto him". Despite his reputation for thrift, he gave her a splendid funeral: she lay in state in the Tower and was buried in Westminster Abbey, in the Lady Chapel Henry had built. He later entertained thoughts of remarriage in order to renew the alliance with Spain - Joan, Dowager Queen of Naples (niece of Ferdinand II of Aragon), Joanna, Queen of Castile (daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella), and Margaret, Dowager Duchess of Savoy (sister-in-law of Joanna of Castile) were all considered - but Henry died a widower in 1509. He was buried with Elizabeth; they can be found today, under their effigies in his chapel.

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