18 January 1486 – Henry VII marries Elizabeth of York at Westminster Abbey

Posted By on January 18, 2016

henry_vii_elizabeth_of_yorkOn 18th January 1486, just under five months after his victory at the Battle of Bosworth, twenty-nine year-old King Henry VII married twenty year-old Elizabeth of York, daughter and eldest child of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, at Westminster Abbey. The service was conducted by Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Henry had been crowned on 30th October 1485 so why the delay in marrying Elizabeth? Elizabeth’s biographer Amy Licence believes that the delay was down to several different factors, and none of them being that Henry was not sure that he wanted to marry Elizabeth:

  • His first Parliament had to sit
  • There was a terrible outbreak of plague in London in autumn 1485
  • There were things to sort out, e.g. “the Titulus Regis was repealed and the dowager queen’s reputation restored”.
  • Henry “wanted to ensure his kingship was established and independent of Elizabeth’s claim before the ceremony took place.”

Parliament approved the marriage match on 10th December 1485, with the Speaker declaring “Which marriage, they hoped God would bless with a progeny of the race of kings, to the great satisfaction of the whole realm”, and on 16th January 1486 a papal dispensation was issued to cover the degree of sanguinity within the fourth degree. As I have said in previous articles, there is no contemporary account of the wedding ceremony but The Crowland Chronicle Continuations: 1459-1486, there is the following record of the marriage:

“…after the victory of the said king Henry the Seventh, and the ceremonies of his anointing an coronation, on the last day but one of the following month, by the hand of the most reverend father, Thomas, cardinal archbishop of Canterbury, and in due conformity with the ancient custom, the marriage was celebrated, which from the first had been hoped for, between him and the lady Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of king Edward the Fourth. This was duly solemnized, at the instance and urgent entreaty of all three of the estates of the realm, in the presence of the Church, on the eighteenth day of the month of January, in the year of our Lord, according to the computation of the Roman Church, 1486; a dispensation having been first obtained from the Apostolic See on the account of the fourth degree of consanguinity, within which the king and queen were related to each other.”

It’s such a shame that we don’t have a record of the ceremony and the couple’s attire.

You can find out more about the bride and groom in my article “Henry VII marries Elizabeth of York”.

Notes and Sources

  • Licence, Amy (2013) Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen, Amberley Publishing, p.115-116.
  • The Croyland Chronicle: Part IX The Third Continuation of the History of Croyland Abbey: July, 1485 – April, 1486, available from the Richard III Society Online Library.

10 thoughts on “18 January 1486 – Henry VII marries Elizabeth of York at Westminster Abbey”

  1. Banditqueen says:

    I agree, despite the rumours connecting Elizabeth with the late King Richard iii, once Henry Tudor was now King, he would learn that her attraction to Richard had been a crush by an eighteen years old young woman on her handsome uncle who she found attractive. She could not have married Richard, he was not intending to marry her and as Henry would discover the gossip that anything untoward happened between them was without any foundation. Henry had taken a solomn vow to marry Elizabeth of York, the entire thing the brainchild of his mother and Elizabeth Woodville, but he soon wanted to marry Elizabeth and she him.

    The delay is entirely as described above. Henry and Elizabeth were related, so needed the usual dispensation from the Pope. This took time to arrive. The couple also needed time to get to know each other. Henry also reversed the Titulas Regis, which had lawfully declared Elizabeth and her brothers and sisters illegitimate in the only Parliament of Richard lll. What if also he wanted to be certain of his own right to the throne not suddenly being undermined by finding Edward v and Prince Richard of York alive? Elizabeth would no longer be the Yorkist heiress and he would not be King. Did Henry search for the boys during this time? Unfortunately, this question cannnot be answered any more than who or if they were killed at all. Richard iii and Henry Vll remained silent on this matter. Henry had all the official copies of the act destroyed. However, once the legitimacy of Elizabeth and her sisters was established and the dispensation came through the marriage was arranged and went ahead.
    Not only that but this was a beautiful and elaborate ceremony in Westminster Abbey.

    Of course Henry did delay the Queens coronation, but she was pregnant with Prince Arthur for most of 1486 and the marriage delay explains why she was not crowned in October 1485. Henry Tudor could not afford to delay his own coronation, but there are plenty of legitimate reasons to delay that of Elizabeth. Some people have argued that Margaret Beaufort persuaded Henry to have the queen crowned as he was having doubts over this because he had heard rumours that she thought Lambert Simnel who claimed to be her cousin or brother ( sources differ on his identity) and doubts about the security of his crown. The evidence for this story is dubious. Henry did delay, but it was more likely to ensure that she was recovering from the birth of Arthur and the kingdom peaceful after Stokefield before he prepared for her coronation, which again was elaborate.

    1. Barbara A Richards says:

      Thanks for this additional information. I am a supporter of Richard III’s position and probable innocence of the murder of the two sons of Edward IV, but agree that the relationship between him and Elizabeth was platonic with no intention on Richard’s part to marry her. What sticks in my craw, however, is a difficulty in accepting the legitimacy of upstart Henry VII’s claim to the crown. It was a very weak one, and Richard III was betrayed at Bosworth, fought valiantly, while Henry sat in his tent and let others of his vassals do the fighting (a mark of the new way). My sympathies remain with Richard, though I find the whole transition to the Tudor reign and the immense changes in kingship and the monarchy interesting and indeed part of the evolution to the world beyond the Middle Ages. That is partly good but not entirely in my opinion. To drop back I think Elizabeth of York fulfilled her duties with poise and discipline. Perhaps she came to love Henry VII, though much of what I see about him shows him to be somewhat cold. However, upon Elizabeth’s death I understand that he mourned her most grievously.

      1. Bandit queen says:

        Hello Barbara, I entirely agree. From evidence found in the Portuguese archives we now can confirm that Richard iii was going to marry Joanna of Portugal immediately after Bosworth and as part of the treaty he had arranged for his now declared illegitimate niece Elizabeth of York to marry Manuel, Joanna ‘s cousin and future King of Portugal. Joanna was a holy person and had turned down two previous consorts for her hand, but accepted Richard. However, she had also had a vision that Richard would die in battle. There was speculation that she liked Richard, but he couldn’t marry Elizabeth anyway as it would be incest and also her illegitimacy barred him under canon law as a King. Henry showed initial concern, but he made no show of this once he had victory. He had to be crowned himself and call Parliament, plus have the Pope give him a dispensation. Elizabeth was a good match for Henry Tudor, whose claim was rather poor, but his victory had vindicated his claim, as a trial by combat. Henry may well have done some fighting as there is no evidence that he was in his tent during the battle. He was surrounded by 200 Welsh pipemen however and far back. In fact it was because Richard spotted Henry on the battlefield that he attacked his position with his famous charge to end the battle by killing Henry Tudor. Richard nearly succeeded and killed Henry’s bannerman, Sir William Brandon. He took down Sir John Cheney before being driven back by the pikes. He was then betrayed as he turned to charge and was unhorsed, probably in the marshes still visable today. Stanley was famous for fence sitting and came into the battle on Henry’s side. Over 3000 of Stanley’s redcoats charged behind Richard’s embattled men and crashed into them, taking them out. Fierce hand to hand fighting ensued on foot and Richard was overwhelmed and he and his elite knights killed. Henry claimed to be the only male Lancastrian heir, but other claims existed through the female line, senior to Henry’s. However, he had won on the field of battle and that was a legitimate way of doing things. Elizabeth was important to uphold Henry’s claim and for him to gain acceptance. I doubt they started as a love match, but an affection does seem to have grown between them. Henry is often shown as cold, but I don’t actually believe that as there are several indicators of him being warm and passionate before her death. Henry formed a friendship with Lady Katherine Gordon, widow of the so called pretender Richard of England or Perkin Warbeck but it was not as a lover. Henry did deeply mourn Elizabeth and he appears to have become colder and more withdrawn after her death.

        1. Beth Henson says:

          I find the entire story/history of King Richard III, the Neville’s, Plantagenets and Tudors immensely interesting and entertaining. I’ve been entranced (or obsessed, I’m not sure which!) since my very early teens and enjoy reading every bit of information and history concerning them all. I have always wondered about many things concerning them all, but one thing has always made me wonder: Henry VII and Elizabeth York had Prince Arthur only 8 months after their wedding, but I have never heard or read anything about the possibility of premature birth. Have I missed other’s speculation about that or am I simply incorrect about Arthur’s date of birth? Thanks for a wonderful site and all the interesting articles! I’ve enjoyed your posts and articles so much!

        2. Banditqueen says:

          Hello Beth, no the date is correct but there seems to have been little comment at the time and there was no suggestion that Arthur was too premature or sickly. There has been lively debate and speculation as to whether Elizabeth was,pregnant from an early consummation before marriage, but very little to go on either way, just speculation. It was certainly possible that the couple had sexual relations by consent before marriage, in view of their coming wedding.

  2. Hi I have always been interested in history I am 65 now and it has never wained and now I have more time for reading. I have been reading Philippa Gregory’s books all about the cousins wars, the Rivers family and all that era. Your last post and this one are very interesting. Could you advise me what I can read and where I can find books to research. I am hooked

    1. Angie says:

      Alison Weir is an author that I have found to be good. She does both historical and the historical based fiction like Phillipa.

  3. Kat Schneider says:

    This is an interesting post. I love reading the articles you post! I also heard one of the reasons for the delay was that Henry’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, wanted to vet Elizabeth’s fertility. I’m not sure where I read this, but it seems to add to the idea that Henry’s mother played a huge role in his life and, more specifically, his reign.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      There is no contemporary evidence to support this idea. It comes from the fictional writing of Philippa Gregory and gossip. Margaret did have a lot of influence on Henry but the delays in the marriage have nothing to do with vetting Elizabeth. She was related to Henry and couldn’t marry without the permission of the Pope. This took five months to arrange. She was also legally illegitimate, due to the declaration of her parents marriage not being valid in Parliament under Richard iii. The new Parliament had to reverse this before Henry could marry her. Henry had a very poor claim to the crown, even though he had won his throne in battle. Elizabeth was the daughter and niece of Kings and his claim was stronger by this marriage. Henry had to show his own authority and genuine claim didn’t rely only on Elizabeth. He did this by holding his own coronation alone in October 1485, thus showing he had a valid claim and his wife was not his only route to the throne. All of these things contributed to the delays in the marriage, not Henry test driving his promised bride.

  4. Banditqueen says:

    Henry Tudor at least kept his word by his marriage to Elizabeth of York and he certainly would not have drawn the support of overly ambitious York nobles without his promise to marry Elizabeth the Christmas before his invasion with a mercenary and rebel army. Little did those nobles realize that like his predecessor he would also stifle their greed and ambition and make them answerable to the law, the same as everyone else. However, his legal decisions didn’t always go fairly and he reverted to using extortionate fines for invented crimes as time went on. His predecessor by comparison passed legislation to stamp out corruption, even among the nobility.

    Henry won his crown on the battlefield but now he had to keep it and there was plenty of unease around. Elizabeth was his key to future peace and to establishing a dynasty. However, there was a problem. Elizabeth of York, her sisters and vanished brothers were legally illegitimate. Henry could not marry her as she was. His first act was to set aside the legislation which declared her illegitimate. However, it is protocol for only a crowned King to call and enter Parliament and in October 1485 Henry was crowned Henry Vii. He was also related to Elizabeth. He sent off to the Pope for the standard permission to marry which was granted a few weeks before their marriage. In the meantime Parliament was called and the Titular Regis was set aside, well partly. The entire bill should have been read out in order for it to be repealed but only the first fourteen phases were read. The copies of the entire Bill were then destroyed as Henry wanted to hide the truth about his claim and the legitimacy of his wife. One copy only was kept hidden in Crowland Abbey. If the sons of Edward Iv were still alive and nobody actually knows if they were or not or whether Elizabeth or her husband knew anything, then declaring them legitimate as well as the daughters was a huge risk, given they should now be on the throne. Henry either knew nothing, knew but kept quiet, knew but didn’t care as they were hidden away, knew they were dead so it didn’t matter or had them killed. In other words he said nothing whatsoever and the truth remained unknown and hidden. We don’t even know today and probably never will. So, Parliament made Elizabeth legitimate again and the marriage could go ahead.

    The propaganda about ending the wars of the roses, unity and peace to England of the two Houses was a great device for establishing the new King in the minds of the people. However, Henry and Elizabeth knew hardly a moment’s peace because for more than a decade sons of York and Earls of Warwick and de la Poles and then the Duke of Suffolk came out of the woodwork, along with foreign support and one army after another, came to threaten that peace with claims to his new crown. He was only starting to be secure when tragedy struck.

    Elizabeth and Henry had a strong and affectionate relationship, although they are unlikely to have been in love, but they appear to have been comfortable and supportive and cared for each other. Elizabeth gave Henry several children, three of whom lived to full adulthood and another, Prince Arthur lived until he was sixteen and married Katherine of Aragon. Elizabeth was kept out of the way of the so called Dukes of York, who claimed to be her brother, Richard, but supported her husband as best she was able. Things at that time must have been difficult but we don’t know how she felt. Elizabeth and Henry firstly lost their eldest child and son and heir in April 1502 when Arthur died at Ludlow of an illness most people cannot identify. He wasn’t a sickly child and as Katherine was also ill, he didn’t die from TB. The sweat should also be excluded as it kills in days or hours not weeks. Elizabeth and Henry comforted each other in their terrible grief. She offered to give him another son, although they had a healthy heir in Prince Henry. However, probably as a result of the ridiculously extra long progress she made while heavily pregnant through Gloucestershire and Herefordshire and South Wales back to London, her age, plus the usual dangerous time of child birth, Elizabeth died a few days after the birth of Catherine her daughter. She was 37. Little Catherine sadly died soon afterwards. Henry was inconsolable, withdrew and became very ill. When he came out from his mourning he was a different man and his more sombre and fearful reign began. Elizabeth and Henry are buried together in their magnificent tomb in Westminster Abbey.

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