Elizabeth of York

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Elizabeth of York
Elizabeth of York from Kings and Queens of England.jpg
A portrait of Elizabeth is thought to be the basis for the queen's picture found in a deck of cards.[citation needed]
Queen consort of England
Tenure 18 January 1486 – 11 February 1503
Coronation 25 November 1487
Spouse Henry VII of England
Arthur, Prince of Wales
Margaret, Queen of Scots
Henry VIII of England
Elizabeth Tudor
Mary, Queen of France
Edmund, Duke of Somerset
Katherine Tudor
House House of York (by birth)
House of Tudor (by marriage)
Father Edward IV of England
Mother Elizabeth Woodville
Born (1466-02-11)11 February 1466
Westminster Palace
Died 11 February 1503(1503-02-11) (aged 37)
Richmond Palace
Burial Henry VII's Chapel, Westminster Abbey
Elizabeth of York's arms,[1][2]

Elizabeth of York (11 February 1466 – 11 February 1503) was queen consort of England from 1486 until her death. Throughout her lifetime, she was daughter, sister, niece and wife of English monarchs – Edward IV, Edward V, Richard III and Henry VII, respectively. She was also the mother of Henry VIII, as well as grandmother to his children Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I.

Through her daughters Mary and Margaret, she was the ancestress of Lady Jane Grey, who was Queen regnant of England for nine days, and of James VI and I, who reigned in England after the death of Elizabeth I and who united the Scottish and English crowns.

Daughter of the king[edit]

Elizabeth of York was born at the Palace of Westminster, the eldest child of King Edward IV and his Queen, Elizabeth Woodville. Her christening was celebrated at Westminster Abbey, sponsored by her grandmothers Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Duchess of Bedford and Cecily Neville, Duchess of York. Her third sponsor was her cousin, Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick.[3]

She was named a Lady of the Garter in 1477, along with her mother and her paternal aunt Elizabeth of York, Duchess of Suffolk.

In 1469, she was briefly betrothed to George Neville, son of John Neville, Earl of Northumberland, who initially supported Edward IV against the rebellion of his own elder brother Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, but later joined Warwick's rebellion. As a result, the betrothal was called off. In 1475, Louis XI agreed to the marriage of Elizabeth of York and his son, Charles, the Dauphin of France. In 1482, however, Louis XI reneged on his promise.

Sister of the king[edit]

On 9 April 1483, her father unexpectedly died and Elizabeth of York's younger brother, Edward, Prince of Wales, became King. Her uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was appointed regent and protector of his nephews.[4]

Shortly after his brother's death, Gloucester began taking steps to isolate his nephews from their Woodville relations. He intercepted Edward V when he was travelling from Ludlow (where he was living as Prince of Wales) to London to be crowned. Edward V was placed in the royal residence of the Tower of London, ostensibly for his protection. Elizabeth Woodville fled with her younger son, Richard, and her daughters into sanctuary in Westminster Abbey. Gloucester asked to take his nephew with him, so the boy could reside in the Tower to keep his brother, Edward, company to which Elizabeth Woodville agreed.

Two months later, on 22 June 1483, Edward IV's marriage was declared invalid (it was claimed that Edward IV had at the time of his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville already been betrothed to Lady Eleanor Butler). Parliament issued a bill, Titulus Regius ("The Title of the King"), in support of this position. It legally bastardised the children of Edward IV, made them ineligible for the succession, and declared Gloucester the rightful king. Gloucester then ascended the throne as Richard III on 6 July 1483, and Edward V and his brother disappeared shortly afterwards. Soon rumours began to spread that they had been murdered.[5]

Niece of the king[edit]

Elizabeth's painted wood funeral effigy (without clothes), 1503, Westminster Abbey

Elizabeth's mother, Queen Elizabeth, made an alliance with Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor, who had the closest claim to royalty of those in the Lancastrian party. Although Henry Tudor was descended from King Edward III,[6] his claim to the throne was weak, due to the clause barring ascension to the throne by any heirs of the legitimised 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 Tudor swore an oath promising to marry her, and began planning an invasion.

In 1484, Elizabeth of York and her family left Westminster Abbey and returned to court. It was rumoured that Richard III intended to marry her: his wife, Anne Neville, was dying and they had no surviving children. The Crowland Chronicle claimed that Richard III was forced to deny that intention by enemies of the Woodvilles, who dreaded the family's return to royal favour. There is no conclusive evidence, but Sir George Buck later stated to have uncovered a now lost letter from Elizabeth which indicated she was involved and willing. Soon after Anne Neville's death, Richard III opened negotiations with John II of Portugal to marry his sister, Joanna, and to have Elizabeth marry their cousin, the future Manuel I.[7]

However, on 7 August 1485, Henry Tudor and his army landed in Wales and began marching inland. On 22 August 1485, Henry Tudor and Richard III fought the Battle of Bosworth Field. Richard III, despite having the larger army, was betrayed by some of his most powerful retainers and died in battle. Henry Tudor took the crown by right of conquest as Henry VII.[8]

Wife of the king[edit]

As the eldest daughter of Edward IV with no surviving brothers, Elizabeth of York had a strong claim to the throne in her own right – and may have been the rightful heir to the throne after the death of her uncle Richard III – but she did not rule as queen regnant (such a convention would not truly come to England for another sixty-seven years with the ascension of her granddaughter, Mary I, and unlike Mary, had such a convention existed, she would have had competition from six other contenders: her younger sisters, especially the next youngest child of Edward IV, Cecily.)

Henry VII acknowledged the necessity of marrying Elizabeth of York to secure the stability of his rule and weaken the claims of other surviving members of the House of York, but he insisted on being king due to a tenuous claim of inheritance from John of Gaunt, ruling in his own right, and not by his marriage to the heir of the House of York, and had no intention of sharing power.[9] Consequently, he chose to be crowned on 30 October 1485, before his marriage.

Henry VII had the Titulus Regius repealed, thereby legitimizing the children of Edward IV and acknowledged Edward V as his predecessor, since he did not want the legitimacy of his wife or her claim as heiress of Edward IV called into question. After procuring papal dispensation; Cardinal Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury wedded Henry VII and Elizabeth of York on 18 January 1486, in Westminster Abbey.

Their first son, Arthur, was born on 20 September 1486. Elizabeth of York was crowned queen on 25 November 1487. Following her coronation she gave birth to five other children, but only three survived infancy – Margaret, Henry and Mary.

Despite being a political arrangement, the marriage proved successful and both partners appear to have grown to love each other.[10] As queen, Elizabeth of York 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. When not at official gatherings she lived a quiet life largely away from politics with three of her children at Eltham Palace. Elizabeth of York enjoyed music and dancing, as well as dicing. She also kept greyhounds.[11]

On 14 November 1501, Elizabeth of York'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 died in April 1502. The news of Arthur's death caused Henry VII to break down in grief, as much in fear for his dynasty as mourning for his son. It is a testament to his love for Elizabeth of York – and her love for him – in the fact that she comforted him, telling him that he was the only child of his mother (to whom she refers as My Lady) but had survived to become King, that God had left him with a son and two daughters and that they were both young enough to have more children.[12]

18th century copy of Elizabeth of York as queen; she holds the white rose of the House of York.

Elizabeth of York became pregnant once more, and in the last months of this, went for her confinement period to the Tower of London. On 2 February 1503, Elizabeth of York gave birth to a girl named Katherine, but the child died a few days afterwards. Succumbing to a post partum infection, Elizabeth of York 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 VII had built. He later entertained thoughts of remarriage to renew the alliance with Spain – Joanna, 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 VII died a widower in 1509. In his final years leading up to his death, his bad reputation for miserliness and paranoia became markedly worse after the death of Elizabeth of York, as evidenced by the tax collection rolls of the time. He was buried with Elizabeth of York; there they can be found today, under their effigies in his chapel. Her tomb was opened in the 19th century. The wood casing of her lead coffin was found to have been removed to create space for the interment of her great-great grandson, James VI and I.[13]


According to folklore, the "queen ... in the parlour" in the children's nursery rhyme "Sing a Song of Sixpence" is Elizabeth of York, while her husband is the king counting his money.

The symbol of the Tudor dynasty is the Tudor rose, which became a royal symbol for England upon her marriage to Henry VII in 1486: her White Rose of York is most commonly proper to her husband's Red Rose of Lancaster and today, uncrowned, it is still the floral emblem of England.

Elizabeth of York was a renowned beauty, inheriting her parents' fair hair and complexion; all other reigning Tudor monarchs inherited her red gold hair and the trait became synonymous with the dynasty. Elizabeth and Henry VII had seven children:[14]


Elizabeth of York in popular culture[edit]

Elizabeth of York's effigy on her tomb
E. H. Corbould: Elizabeth of York


  • Elizabeth of York by Arlene Naylor Okerlund. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
  • Elizabeth of York: Tudor Queen by Nancy Lenz Harvey (out of print).[15]
  • Elizabeth of York, the Lost Tudor Queen by Amy Licence. Amberley 2013
  • Elizabeth of York by Alison Weir. Jonathan Cape and Ballantine, 2013.

Theatre, television and film:

  • Elizabeth of York is frequently discussed in Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Richard III but never appears on stage. Many productions give her an on-stage presence as a silent character, and she is played by Kate Steavenson-Payne in the 1995 film adaption Richard III, where she is given dialogue originally assigned to another character.


  • Elizabeth of York is the subject of Hilda Brookman Stanier's novel Plantagenet Princess, pub. Robert Hale, 1981
  • Elizabeth of York appears in four of Philippa Gregory's historical novels: The White Princess (2013) follows Elizabeth of York's life from the aftermath of the Battle of Bosworth Field and she is also a predominant character in the account of her mother's life, The White Queen (2009), which features her from the time of her birth to the age of 18. She also appears as a supporting character in The Red Queen (2010), the sequel to The White Queen and appears briefly in The Constant Princess (2005), around the time of her son Arthur's marriage and death. In these novels, Elizabeth of York is portrayed as being deeply in love with her uncle Richard and hoped to marry him rather than Henry Tudor, but she eventually grows to love and care for her husband.
  • Elizabeth of York also appears in "The Tudor Rose" by Margaret Campbell Barnes (1953, reissued 2009), in "The Dragon and the Rose" by Roberta Gellis (1977), "The King's Daughter" by Sandra Worth, "Uneasy Lies the Head" ("To Hold the Crown: The Story of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York") by Jean Plaidy and "The King's Grace" by Anne Easter Smith.
  • Elizabeth of York appears in Sharon Penman's first novel, The Sunne in Splendour, where she is portrayed as having loved her uncle, King Richard III, and had false hopes of becoming his wife.
  • Elizabeth of York appears in Anne Powers's novel "Queen's Ransom", in three of four sections. This book tells the point of view of each queen during the Wars of the Roses, so Elizabeth of York appears in her mother's (Elizabeth Woodville) and her second cousin's (Anne Neville) sections, as well as her own.


  1. ^ Maclagan, Michael; Louda, Jiří (1999). Line of Succession: Heraldry of the Royal Families of Europe. London: Little, Brown & Co. p. 22. ISBN 1-85605-469-1. 
  2. ^ Her husband’s arms (the royal arms of England) are impaled with her own paternal arms: Femme: quarterly, first: Royal arms of England (Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence), second and third: Or, a cross gules (de Burgh), fourth (Mortimer).The House of York. These arms were also borne by her half-brother Arthur Plantagenet, 1st Viscount Lisle, KG, and emphasised the descent of the House of York from Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence, on which relationship its claim to the throne was founded.
  3. ^ "The House of Tudor". Retrieved 20 September 2013. 
  4. ^ http://www.biography.com/people/richard-iii-9457120
  5. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/princes_in_tower.shtml
  6. ^ Genealogical Tables in Morgan, (1988), p.709
  7. ^ Barrie Williams, "The Portuguese Connection and the Significance of the 'Holy Princess'", The Ricardian, Vol. 6, No. 90, March 1983.
  8. ^ http://tudorhistory.org/henry7/
  9. ^ Blackstone, W. (1765). Commentaries on the Laws of England. Oxford: Clarendon Press
  10. ^ Arlene Okerlund: Elizabeth of York (2009), pp. 99–118, 185/6, 203/4; Williams (1977), p. 143.
  11. ^ Routh, Charles Richard Nairne; Holmes, Peter (1990). Who's Who in Tudor England. London: Shepheard-Walwyn. ISBN 0-85683-093-3. Retrieved 25 July 2009. 
  12. ^ Arlene Okerlund: Elizabeth of York, (2009), pp. 203–211; Agnes Strickland, Elizabeth Strickland: Lives of the Queens of England (1852)
  13. ^ Stanley, Arthur (1886). Westminster Abbey. London: John Murray. p. 499. 
  14. ^ thePeerage.com – Person Page 10142
  15. ^ Harvey, Nancy Lenz (15 November 1973). "Elizabeth of York: Tudor Queen". 


  • Morgan, Kenneth O., (1988), The Oxford History of Britain, Oxford University Press. (ISBN 0-19-285202-7)
  • Okerlund, Arlene Naylor, (2009), Elizabeth of York', Palgrave Macmillan. (ISBN 978-0-230-61827-5)
  • Williams, Neville, (1977), 'Henry VII', in Fraser, Antonia (ed), The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England, Futura. (ISBN 0-8600-7449-8)

External links[edit]

Elizabeth of York
Cadet branch of the House of Plantagenet
Born: 11 February 1466 Died: 11 February 1503
English royalty
Title last held by
Anne Neville
Queen consort of England
Lady of Ireland

18 January 1486 – 11 February 1503
Title next held by
Catherine of Aragon