Henry VII Marries Elizabeth of York

Posted By on January 18, 2011

On this day in history, 18th January 1486, King Henry VII married Elizabeth of York. The bridegroom was 29 years old and the bride was nearly 20 and they were, as David Starkey describes them, “a striking couple”1.

Elizabeth of York “was one of the beauties of her age” with her classic English Rose looks – blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin – and she was also “singularly attractive as a character too”, in that “she was a healer and reconciler”2. Her husband was tall, slim, dark haired, handsome and “in the prime of his life”, and he also had many good qualities: courage, decisiveness and “the ability to master men and events”3. They were, in short, the perfect couple and the perfect King and Queen, plus their marriage reconciled the warring Houses of Lancaster and York and their reign started a new royal house and era: The Tudor dynasty.

The Bride

You can find out more information about Elizabeth of York at “Happy Birthday and RIP Elizabeth of York”, but here is some background on Henry VIII’s beloved mother.

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, and, as David Starkey points out, 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 shortlived as Edward overthrew him once again in April 1471. David Starkey writes of how, this time, Edward decided that “there would be no survivors”4 – 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 the 9th April and his 13 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’.

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. The rest, as they say, is history.

Trivia: It is said that it is Elizabeth of York who is the Queen of Hearts on playing cards.

The Bridegroom

Henry VII was born at Pembroke Castle on the 28th January 1457. His parents were the 13 year old Lady Margaret Beaufort and his father was Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond, who, unfortunately, had died of the plague three months before Henry’s birth.

David Starkey writes of how both Margaret and Edmund came from “satellite families”5 to the House of Lancaster. Edmund Tudor was the son of Owen Tudor and Catherine Valois (Catherine of France), the widow of Henry V and mother of Henry VI, and Margaret Beaufort was descended from John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and third son of King Edward III, and his mistress, and eventual wife, Katherine Swynford. Neither of Henry’s parents had a strong claim to the throne, with Edmund having no English royal blood and Margaret being descended from a line which was deliberately excluded from the succession, but this did not stop Henry VII from claiming the throne after his Lancastrian forces defeated Richard III’s Yorkist forces at the Battle of Bosworth Field on the 22nd August 1485 and Richard was killed.

You can read more about the Battle of Bosworth Field, the Wars of the Roses and the Houses of Lancaster and York in the following articles:-

On the 27th August 1485, Henry entered London as King Henry VII and he was crowned on the 30th October. On the 10th December, Parliament petitioned him to marry Elizabeth of York, 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”6. Henry agreed and the marriage took place five weeks later. It had been planned for some time and their betrothal, which had been cooked up by Elizabeth Woodville, Elizabeth of York’s mother and Edward IV’s widow (and mother of the missing princes in the Tower) and Margaret Beaufort, saw the union of the Houses of York and Lancaster which led to the “joint rising” against the usurper, Richard III, and “a new unified regime in which York and Lancaster would sink their ancient differences.”7

The marriage between Henry and Elizabeth was happy and successful. The couple had four children who survived childhood: Arthur, Henry (Henry VIII), Margaret and Mary, but Elizabeth died on her birthday in 1503 at the age of 37. She died from a post-partum infection and her husband was said to have been devastated, as was her 11 year old son, Henry, who adored his mother. He had been close to his mother and, as second son, it was Elizabeth who had taught him to read and who had been responsible for his upbringing. I often wonder if Henry was expecting his wives to measure up to the image he had of his mother, the perfect wife and queen.

I’ll leave you with a poem that Elizabeth of York is said to have written:-

“MY heart is set upon a lusty pin ;
I pray to Venus of good continuance,
For I rejoice the case that I am in,
Deliver’d from sorrow, annex’d to pleasance,
Of all comfort having abundance ;
This joy and I, I trust, shall never twin
My heart is set upon a lusty pin.

I pray to Venus of good continuance
Since she hath set me in the way of ease ;
My hearty service with my attendance
So to continue it ever I may please ;
Thus voiding from all pensful disease,
Now stand I whole far from all grievance-
I pray to Venus of good continuance.”8

Notes and Sources

  1. Henry: Virtuous Prince, David Starkey, p18
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Starkey, p27-28
  5. Ibid., p19
  6. Ibid., p38
  7. Ibid.
  8. Poets royal of England and Scotland, edited by William Bailey-Kempling (1908)

36 thoughts on “Henry VII Marries Elizabeth of York”

  1. Anne Barnhill says:

    I have always been fascinated with Elizabeth of York and find it interesting there is little written about her–at least that i’ve been able to find. And for me, the War of the Roses is a bit confusing–Can you recommend a really helpful book on it? I’ve read Alison Weir’s which was good but perhaps another? Thanks for another great article!

    1. Claire says:

      I haven’t read it but The Wars of the Roses (British History in Perspective) by A J Pollard looks good. Pollard is a well respected historian.

  2. Anne Barnhill says:

    Thanks! I’ll check into it–I guess I can’t keep all the people straight–but I do find Elizabeth of York quite fascinating and the impace she must have had on Henry. I’ll try to find that Pollard book–I have one by him on Henry. Hope you have a lovely day!

  3. Fiz says:

    I’d always hoped that Elizabeth and Henry would be happy together, but I had reckoned without Margaret Beaufort, who gave herself precedence as “The King’s Mother” and always interfered with Elizabeth’s pleasures and arrangements. Boo-hiss!

    1. Banditqueen says:

      Margaret Beaufort did give herself the title The Kings Mother, that was her right, but no she didn’t take or give herself precedence over Elizabeth and would not have been able to. Henry kept his mother close and sought her advice but she wasn’t allowed to interfere with Elizabeth of York. The two women on the contrary got on well and Elizabeth sought her advice as the older more experienced woman. If Margaret took over her routine and pleasure it was to outline her role and duties as a Queen, wife and mother. Margaret wrote the protocol for Royal birth because she didn’t want her daughter in law and granddaughters to suffer from childbirth as she had. The protocol of retirement was much older but Margaret made more formal ordinances as she herself had given birth to Henry when she was thirteen. She was unable to have other children. Margaret and others believed a pregnant woman should take extra care as it was a dangerous time for mothers and babies and more than 30% of women died in childbirth. It was normal to withdraw and be with other women in a warm and comfortable room and air was kept to a minimum as it was believed to carry bad smells and disease. Elizabeth would have been aware of her duty at this time and followed the protocol. There is no evidence of anyone stopping her pleasure. On the contrary her expense books and her wardrobe books show she had a bit too much pleasure and over spent on her ever growing luxurious allowance.

  4. Marilyn Guckert says:

    I just finished reading Tudor Rose, by Margaret Campbell Barnes, an enjoyable read. I felt that I learned a bit more about Elizabeth of York,, but felt it was lacking in depth. Henry VII comes across as cold and almost unloving, and I would really like to know more about him. Are there any recommendations, both fiction and non-fiction?

    1. Stacy Dickenson says:

      phillipa gregory’s The White Princess is a good fiction book from Elizabeth of York’s perspective of her relationship with Henry VII. actually all of her books are pretty good

  5. jen says:

    Love this site .Have been interested in the Tudors since I was a youngster.Have also been checking this site for updates when the new series is on.Thankfully the wait over BBC2 Saturday at 9.45 pm for all my fellow followers

  6. Melanie says:

    Bertram Fields’s book “Royal Blood” about Richard III and the young princes is very readable. As an attorney, Field examines Richard as the possible murderer of his nephews; he also looks at other suspects (including Margaret Beaufort and Henry VII), and gives a good overview of the civil war and the main players.

    But how did such a nice woman manage to have such an awful son? I find Elizabeth of York as much a mystery as Richard III.

  7. Susan Higginbotham says:

    Arlene Okerlund has written a biography of Elizabeth of York. It’s pretty pricey, but can be obtained through a university library or through inter-library loan.

    There are biographies of Henry VII by S.R. Chrimes and by Sean Cunningham (the latter is in the series of paperback biographies that Routledge has been publishing). I find that he was a more complex person than he’s generally depicted as in historical fiction.

    For the Wars of the Roses, there are helpful books by John Gillingham and Michael Hicks (both with the dazzlingly original title, “The Wars of the Roses”). Hicks has actually written a couple of books by that name; the latest was published in 2010. The Hicks is more geared to an academic audience than the Gillingham book.

    1. Jillian says:

      Thomas Penn’s recent biography of Henry VII, ‘The Winter King’, has quite a lot of information about Elizabeth of York. The author argues that Elizabeth was more powerful and influential than previous writers have supposed, but that she exercised her influence quietly and diplomatically rather than throwing her weight about

      Henry certainly appears to have been faithful to his wife, unlike most rulers of the time – and in contrast to his son Henry!

  8. Anne,

    There doesn’t seem to be much on Elizabeth of York, which is odd considering she lived though tumultuous times. It seems the more scandalous a woman is, the more historians pay attention to her. I think it’s safe to say that Elizabeth learned the fine art of diplomacy at an early age.

  9. Mary Ann Cade says:

    I think the birth year for Henry VII is transposed. Wasn’t he born 1457? 1547 was the year that his son, Henry VIII died, if memory serves me correctly.

    1. Claire says:

      Oops, thanks for spotting that typo!

  10. alison Morton says:

    Playing a game of cards is that more interesting now tha I know who the Queen is. Do you know you the King and Jack may be? Regards Alison Morton

  11. alison Morton says:

    Woops sorry about the typos

  12. Arlene Okerlund says:

    Elizabeth of York’s biography, published by Macmillan in 2009, is now available in paperback. In the UK, it costs £15.84 from amazon.co.uk Marketplace vendors. In the US, amazon.com sells it for $25.27 (free shipping).

  13. Angelina Wickman says:

    Claire,
    Wonderful articule once more. In high school we did a play called “The Final Trial of RIchard III” and since than I have been intriegued by the War of the Roses, especially Elizabeth Woodville and Elizabeth of York. I wonder as you ask if Henry expected his wives to messure up his mother, and to be honest I think (in my humble opnion) the only that did was Jane which makes me wonder if when he looked at her if he saw Elizabeth and not Jane.

  14. WilesWales says:

    Frogive me, as I often post comments before reading the entirety of an thing that Claire, the consummate researcher, that I will never hope to be, is entirely thorough. So, it is not as I posted on another subject that Elizabeth is one of two in a deck a cards that are seen daily by people around the globe, but one! Just so on knows, this may not be or may be my last comment on this subject. Thank you again, WilesWales

  15. WilesWales says:

    I do agree with Marliyn Guckert about “The Tudor Rose,”by Margaret Campbell Barnes. It was a good read, and had me mesmerized by her belief that oldest brother was still alive. Just goes to show the old adage like that given to Scarlett O’Hara as well, “That known as wanting something you can’t have.”

    I willl look for the book on amazon.com as recommended. Thank you! WilesWales

  16. Jeanne says:

    Those were certainly interesting times to be alive…but something struck me while reading this article – a question: how is praying to venus not considered a heresy in that age? I’m aware that this was a time of renewed curiosity with classical figures, but to elevate curiosity to the extent of supplication would seem to me a dangerous idea to commit to paper. How did she get away with it? Am I missing something here?

  17. jayne says:

    Always think it is a shame that their marriage is always villified. I think they were happy
    Eof Y has always interested me and i recently read Winter King by Thomas Penn about Henry VII and got tolike and understand him more.

  18. Liz Hamilton says:

    Jeanne, I was thinking the very same thing while reading Elizabeth’s poem. I hope we get an answer. Claire??? Any ideas?

  19. Scarlet says:

    I’ve been searching for this and haven’t been able to come up with a reliable source that states WHERE Elizabeth and Henry were married. Was it a grand public affair at St Paul’s like Arthur’s to Catherine of Aragon, to show the English people that he was taking the rightful heiress to the throne to wife – or was it a quiet, closeted affair like all of Henry VIIIs weddings, so as NOT to emphasise that Elizabeth’s claim was stronger than Henry Tudor’s?

    1. Pollyanna says:

      I am in the middle of reading ‘The White Princess’ by Philippa Gregory. it is an informative and entertaining read and although it is ‘fiction’ I believe that Ms Gregory does her best to research the facts and is in fact a keen historian. In answer to Scarlet’s note… which she has probably discovered by now, Elizabeth and Henry Vll were married at Westminster Abbey on 18th January 1486. The wedding banquet was held at Westminster Palace.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        I find Philippa Gregory entertainment but the White Princess was one of the most dishonest, disappointing and inaccurate things I have read or seen on TV and as a historian I have read plenty and researched plenty of archives and contemporary documents.

        No Henry Tudor didn’t try out his wife or rape her before their marriage.
        No E of York and EW didn’t dabble in Witchcraft.
        No Henry Vii wasn’t a wimp.
        No Margaret Beaufort wasn’t the mother in law from hell and no she didn’t murder Jasper Tudor to hide the fact that she killed the Princes in the Tower, who were never called this before the Victorian era.
        No EW didn’t try to curse her daughter’s children.
        No she didn’t cause Mary of Burgundy to fall of her horse and die. In fact this happened a long time before this.
        No there wasn’t another hidden boy who was the real Richard of York in the Royal Household, hidden in the Tower.
        No Henry didn’t raid the house that E of York was in with her sisters and drag them to London. In fact they were brought with honour and dignity to his mother’s house. Yes, their early meetings probably were tense.
        No E of York didn’t try to kill her baby by Henry and Prince Arthur wasn’t a sickly child.
        There are hundreds of other errors in both the book and the series and it makes very little effort to get anything right. The White Queen has it’s faults but to be fair is not too bad, although she does have an odd take on what happened to the Princes. However, given we don’t know what happened and there are a number of theories, for entertainment this is as good as any. The witches theme is very strong in both books but more so in the former. Susan Higginbotham is an expert on the Woodville’s and contemporary and other sources show the accusations to be a nonsense. A trial was held by the Earl of Warwick of Jaquetta, E W mother, but it was stopped as she mentioned her connection to the former Queen, whom he now served. It was later alleged that her marriage to Edward iv was by witchcraft but given the two men making these accusations had political motivation, it was not surprising. Richard iii didn’t directly accuse Elizabeth Woodville of witchcraft, but it was alluded to in the Titular Regis, which Henry had destroyed. He did, after reviewing evidence, several weeks after acting as Protector, declare through the Church and later Parliament that her marriage to Edward iv wasn’t valid as he had previously been married to Eleanor Talbot. Elizabeth of York and her sisters and brothers were therefore legally illegitimate. Henry T reversed this but there was still no evidence about the fate of her brothers.

        Elizabeth and Henry were a good match and had several children. Four lived beyond childhood but their son and heir, Prince Arthur died when he was sixteen, leaving his bride, Katherine of Aragon a young widow. Elizabeth died soon after trying to give Henry a replacement son. The baby, a girl, sadly died within days. Henry never remarried and he was a changed man afterwards. Their other son, the future Henry Viii was close to his mother and wrote of his distress and that he missed her.

  20. Anita says:

    I’ve really become intrigued with Elizabeth of York and just ordered Alison Weirs “Elizabeth of York, a Tudor Queen and her Times.”

    I use to really despise Henry Tudor, but now, I’ve had some revision in thinking regarding the Plantaganets and Henry, coming away annoyed with them, (and maybe “The White Queen” didn’t help), so I like the idea that the best of both families, Elizabeth and Henry help heal the rift.

    I also like the notion that Henry VIII may never have been satisfied with his marriages because he was looking for the perfect woman he thinks his mother was, with perhaps the pious exception of Jane Seymour who also did her “duty” in giving him a son.
    (I’m always looking for explanations for his marriage behaviors).

    He was buried next to her if I’m not mistaken.

    Also, was Arthur born early, or hmmmmm? It seems he was born REALLY early into their marriage.

    Best Regards,

    Anita

  21. Kathleen says:

    Wow. I never knew there were people out there like me. Ty

  22. Iriniwhit says:

    I do agree with the above! Philippa Gregory. is a master at weaving fiction with fact and for women in these days, it must have been intolerable.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      Masterfully weaving fiction with fact! Ha! The idea of Henry Tudor raping his future bride to try her out is ridiculous and never happened. No Elizabeth Woodville and Elizabeth of York were not witches and no Elizabeth didn’t fancy or have a relationship with Richard iii.

      Fiction is one thing. Twisting history with an agenda and then claiming it happened is something else. There are fantastic books on Elizabeth of York and Henry Tudor: the White Princess isn’t one of them.

      1. Mahala says:

        That’s why it’s classified as fiction…hence the word FICTION..lol

  23. Jill says:

    Phillips Gregory’s version of their marriage was tosh and goes against all contemporary accounts. I was really looking forward to her book about Henry and Elizabeth because they feature so rarely – what a disappointment. Won’t be reading any more of the totally inaccurate ‘s. Gregory!

  24. Patt says:

    Why is Elizabeth never in Henry ‘s line up of wife’s …they talk about six wife’s ..wouldn’t it be 7 with Elizabeth’s marriage?????

    1. Claire says:

      This is a different Henry. Henry VII was married to Elizabeth of York and they were the parents of Henry VIII, the king who was married six times.

  25. Alexei says:

    Thank you for an interesting article! That is really fascinating how two women put an end the the most bloody civil war in England.

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