Elizabeth Wydville, now known as Elizabeth Woodville, was born in Grafton Regis in the
year of 1337. She was the first of 14 children to Jacquetta of Luxembourg and Sir Richard Woodville. She had six brothers and seven sisters.
She was often referred to as “the most beautiful woman in the Island of Britain.”
At the time, the War of the Roses or The Cousins War was being fought, and almost everyone was loyal to either the Plantagenet family of the House of York (red rose) or the Tudor family of the House of Lancaster (white rose). The Wydville family was loyal to the House of Lancaster, and many of the men in their family fought for Henry VI.
Around the year 1452, when she was 15 Elizabeth was married to Sir John Grey. Together they had two sons Thomas and Richard. But she was left a widow with none of her husband’s lands, as they’d been repossessed by the new York king, Edward IV.
One day, in hopes, to try and regain some of her lands, Elizabeth waited with her two sons under and oak tree and waited for the king and his convoy to pass. She implored him to restore her late-husbands lands to her, and he became infatuated with her, and she with him.
After refusing to become his mistress, he asked for her hand in marriage, and she accepted. They were married in secret with only a priest, her mother, and two servants as witnesses. After returning to the court after their secret wedding, it was insisted upon that he marry Princess Bona of France, to strengthen the Anglo-Franco alliance. Instead, he announced his secret marriage to Elizabeth, which wasn’t received well, especially the Dowager Queen Cecily Neville, and Edwards cousin, the kingmaker, Richard Neville.
Because he was a Yorkist, The Wydville family was forced to change their alliance to the House of York before they were summoned to court, and Elizabeth was coronated. It was a common rumour that an ancestor of Elizabeth’s was married to Melusina, a famous water goddess. Many speculated that she was a witch and enchanted Edward into marrying her.
During the time that Edward was in exile, Elizabeth and her children sought refuge in Westminster Abbey. There she gave birth to a son, later King Edward V of England.
For the 19 years that they were together, they had 11 children together – four sons and seven daughters. Edward was often away fighting and at one point was captured and held captive by his cousin, Richard Neville, who had changed sides to the Lancastrians. Richard and George the Duke of Clarence accused Elizabeth’s mother of witchcraft and put her on trial and after a year, she was acquitted.
Richard decided to marry the youngest of two daughters, Anne Neville to Henry VI and Magret of Anjou’s son, Edward. They placed Henry back on the throne temporarily, until Edward was restored. He died in the Tower of London in May 1471, and it is suspected that Edward ordered his death.
For the next 12 years, Edward and Elizabeth lived contentedly together. His brother George’s wife Isobel died from childbirth complications – most likely childbirth fever, and soon after George was convicted of high treason after plotting to kill his brother, and rumours said that he was, by his request, drowned in a butt (570 L/126 gal) of Malmsey wine.
Edward IV died suddenly of pneumonia in April of 1483, and Elizabeth became dowager queen. Her son Edward was placed on the throne and his uncle Richard was named Lord Protector. 12-year-old Edward was in power for 86 days before Richard placed him and his brother Richard in the tower. They are now famously known as the ‘Princes in the Tower’. Richard seized power and was soon crowned Richard III.
No-one knows exactly what happened to the Princes, but many believed that they were murdered upon the orders of their uncle, Richard III. Richard also executed Elizabeth’s brother Anthony and her son Richard Grey.
Elizabeth sought sanctuary with her remaining children and joined forces with Margaret Beaufort. They made an agreement that Margaret’s son Henry Tudor would marry Elizabeth’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York.
Many speculate that Elizabeth was in fact in love with her uncle Richard III and that he intended to marry her. It is suspected that they had a brief love affair before the Battle of Bosworth, where ultimately Richard died.
Elizabeth then married Henry VII, and they had 8 children, Margaret, Henry (later Henry VIII) and Mary, the only ones to survive. Arthur died at age fifteen, after less than a year of marriage to Katherine of Aragon. She was then married to Henry VIII who was barely 18 at the time of his succesion.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s post
– History Teen 🙂
Fridays’s Video: War of the Roses
Next Week: Margaret Beaufort