Elizabeth of York was born on the 11th February 1466, and was the daughter and eldest child of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. Her father had managed to capture and imprison Henry VI in 1461, dethroning him and taking the crown for himself, starting the royal House of York. In 1464, he secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, a young widow. It was a love match, not a diplomatic one, was controversial and caused trouble when Elizabeth alienated powerful Yorkist supporters, causing them to side with Lancastrians and challenge Edward. The result was that Edward was driven into exile and the throne became Henry VI’s once more in October 1470.
Henry’s reign was short-lived, as Edward overthrew him once again in April 1471. Ex-Yorkists and Lancastrians were defeated in battle, and Henry VI was killed in the Tower. Edward had stamped out his enemies.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck the House of York at Easter 1483 when Edward caught a chill on a fishing trip. He died on 9th April, and his thirteen year-old son Edward became Edward V. Edward V was too young to reign in his own right, so his uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, became the Protector. However, to cut a rather long story short, this was not enough for Richard. With Edward and his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York, ‘residing’ in the Tower of London, Richard was crowned King Richard III on the 6th July 1483 and the boys disappeared, going down in history as ‘The Princes in the Tower’. It is not clear what happened to them.
Elizabeth of York mourned the loss of her brothers, but her mother decided on revenge, and this is when she decided to approach Lady Margaret Beaufort. Although the two ladies were supposed to be on different sides, Elizabeth being from the House of York and Margaret being a Lancastrian, neither lady was happy with Richard on the throne, and decided that a union between their children could bring about Richard’s downfall. Henry Tudor defeated Richard III on 22nd August 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field, becoming King Henry VII, and went on to marry Elizabeth on 18th January 1486. The couple had four children who survived infancy: Arthur, Prince of Wales, Margaret, Henry (future Henry VIII) and Mary. Elizabeth’s final pregnancy ended in tragedy in February 1503 with the death of the premature baby, a little girl named Katherine, on the 2nd February, and Elizabeth’s death on the 11th February from a post-partum infection. Elizabeth was buried at Westminster Abbey.
Extract taken from On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway.
A new biography of Elizabeth of York is due out on 28th February in the UK – Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence and Alison Weir is also working on one.