Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Elizabeth (1465-1503)
ELIZABETH, queen of Henry VII (1465–1503), of York, the eldest child of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, his queen, was born at Westminster Palace on 11 Feb. 1465. She was baptised in the abbey with much pomp, and had for sponsors her grandmother, the Duchess of York, the Duchess of Bedford, and Warwick, the kingmaker. In 1467 the manor of Great Lynford; in Buckinghamshire was granted to her for life, and shortly afterwards 400l. a year was assigned to the queen for the expenses of the princesses Elizabeth and Mary. In 1469 Edward arranged that she should marry George Nevill, whom he created Duke of Bedford; but as the bridegroom's father, the Marquis of Montague, turned, like the other Nevills, against the king, the match was set aside, and in 1477 the Duke of Bedford was degraded. In 1475, when Edward was on the point of invading France, he made his will, in which he assigned to his two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, ten thousand marks each for their marriages, on condition that they allowed themselves to be guided in making them by their mother the queen and by the prince when he came to years of discretion. But only two months later Edward made peace with France, with an express condition that Elizabeth should be married to the dauphin as soon as the parties were of suitable age. In 1478 her dowry was settled, and it was agreed that on her marriage the expenses of conveying her to France should be paid by Louis XI. In 1480, she being then in her sixteenth year, Edward sent Lord Howard and Dr. Langton to France to make further arrangements; but Louis had other objects in view and had no intention of completing the marriage.
Another match is said to have been proposed for Elizabeth at one time, and even urged rather strongly by her father, that is with Henry, earl of Richmond. But the truth appears to be that the earl being then a refugee in Brittany, Edward was very anxious to get him into his hands, and nearly succeeded in persuading the Duke of Brittany to deliver him up, pretending that he had no wish to keep him in prison, but rather to marry him to his own daughter. The suggestion certainly was not made in good faith, for Edward had already engaged his daughter to the dauphin; but the match suggested was probably thought of by some even at this early period as a desirable mode of uniting the claims of Lancaster and York. After the death of Edward IV in April 1483, his widow, with her five daughters and her second son Richard, threw himself into the sanctuary of Westminster, in fear her brother-in-law, Richard, duke of Gloucester, who, however, being declared protector, actually induced her to give up her second son to keep company with his brother Edward V. Soon after the two princes disappeared, and there is no reason to doubt were murdered,
In October occurred the Duke of Buckingham's rebellion against Richard III, which was planned in concert with the Countess of Richmond, and which if successful would have made the earl, her son, king two years before he actually came to the throne. It was agreed among the confederates that the earl should marry Elizabeth, who was now, by the death of both her brothers, heiress of Edward IV. Even before the murder took place a project seems to have been entertained of getting her or some of her sisters out of sanctuary in disguise and carried beyond sea for security. But Richard surrounded the monastery with a guard under one John Nesfield, so that no one could enter or leave the sanctuary without permission, and Queen Elizabeth and her daughters remained in confinement for fully ten months without much hope of more comfortable quarters. Meanwhile Richard had called a parliament which confirmed his title to the crown by declaring the whole issue of his brother Edward IV to be bastards. But on 1 March 1484 he gave the ladies a written promise that if they would come out of sanctuary and be guided by him they should not only be sure of their lives and persons, but he would make suitable provision for their living and marry the daughters to 'gentlemen born,' giving each of them landed property to the yearly value of two hundred marks. The lords spiritual and temporal and the lord mayor and aldermen of London were called to witness this engagement, which was evidently intended to destroy the hopes which the Earl of Richmond built upon his future marriage with Elizabeth of York, and it was so far successful that not only did the ladies leave sanctuary, but the queen dowager abandoned Richmond's cause, while her daughter Elizabeth was treated with so much attention at court that strange rumours arose in consequence. It was noticed particularly that at Christmas following dresses of the same shape and colour were delivered to the queen and to her, from which it was surmised by some that Richard intended getting rid of his queen either by divorce or death, and then marrying his niece. When the queen actually died on 16 March following (1485), a report at once got abroad that this marriage was seriously contemplated. If indeed we are to believe Sir George Buck, a seventeenth-century antiquary who professes to write from documentary evidence, Elizabeth herself had cherished the hope of it for months, and was impatient for the day the queen would die. No one else, however, appears to have seen the document which conveys so serious an imputation, and we cannot think it justified by anything we really know of Elizabeth's conduct or character. The report nevertheless created so much indignation that Richard's own leading councillors induced him publicly to disavow any such intentions before the mayor and citizens of London. Anxious, however, to discourage the Earl of Richmond's hopes, he sent Elizabeth to Sheriff Hutton Castle in Yorkshire, where she remained till the battle of Bosworth was fought in August following.
The account given of Elizabeth's conduct at this time in the 'Song of the Lady Bessy' is no less open to suspicion in some matters than that of the antiquary above mentioned; but it certainly is not altogether fabulous. It exhibits Elizabeth as a paragon of excellence, declares that she utterly loathed the proposal of King Richard to put away his queen and marry her, and sets forth in detail how she induced Lord Stanley to intrigue against the usurper, and how she was, in fact, the chief organiser of the confederacy with the Earl of Richmond. But the poem is important chiefly as having certainly been (at least in its original form, for it has no doubt been a good deal altered in parts) the composition of a contemporary, one Humphrey Brereton, a servant of Lord Stanley, afterwards Earl of Derby; and it is our sole authority for several facts of interest about Elizabeth, recapitulated by Nicolas, as follows, viz.: That she 'was especially commended to the care of Lord Stanley by Edward IV on his deathbed; that she lodged in his house in London after she quitted the sanctuary; that she was privy to the rising in favour of Richmond; that she could write and read both French and Spanish; that Brereton was sent into Cheshire to Stanley's son. Lord Strange, to his brother, and to other relations, entreating them to support Richmond's cause; and that he was the bearer of letters to Henry in Brittany, together with a letter and a ring from Elizabeth to him.' We may add that in one place Elizabeth's golden hair is incidentally referred to, and we have got perhaps the most trustworthy facts in a few words.
After Henry VII had won the battle of Bosworth he sent for Elizabeth. But although it was certainly expected that he would have married her at once, and that she would have been crowned as queen on 30 Oct., the day of his coronation, he deferred marrying her for five months; and some time before he made her his queen it appears that he declared her Duchess of York (Ven. Cal. i. No. 506). His own title to the crown, derived through his mother from a bastard son of John of Gaunt legitimated by act of parliament, was not altogether satisfactory; but for that very reason, apparently, he wished parliament to recognise it as sutticient. So the houses met in November, and enacted, without stating any reasons, that the inheritance should 'be, rest and abide' in his person and the heirs of his body; and afterwards, on 11 Dec., the speaker petitioned him that he would be pleased to marry the lady Elizabeth, 'from which by the grace of God many hoped there would arise offspring of the race of kings for the comfort of the whole realm' (Rolls of Parl. vi. 270, 278). Thus invited, he actually married her on 18 Jan. following at Westminster, though it would almost seem that he had intended waiting longer still; for as he and Elizabeth were within the prohibited degrees, he applied to Pope Innocent VIII for a dispensation as soon as his title was ratified in parliament; but instead of waiting till he received the document, he took advantage of the presence in England of the Bishop of Imola, a papal legate empowered to grant a limited number of such dispensations, and was actually married six weeks before the expected brief was even issued, for it was dated 2 March. This brief, however, was confirmed by a bull dated 27 March, issued by the pope motu proprio without solicitation, excommunicating all who should rebel against Henry. On 23 July another bull was issued to confirm what was done undur the Bishop of Imola's dispensation (Rymer, xii. 294, 297, 313).
It may be judged from the list of these papal inutriiments — which speaks of Henry's title having been acknowledged in parliament nemine contradicente - how anxious Henry was to have the point clearly recognised in the first place, and that it should by no means appear that he owed his seat to his wife. This consideration perhaps influenced him to some extent when he determined to leave her behind him in a progress which he made northwards as far as York in the spring of 1486, and it is supposed to have been at least one cause of his delaying her coronation as queen till November of the following year. It is clear, however, that there were other causes besides this, some of indisputable weight; and there are reasons for doubting somewhat the character commonly ascribed to Henry of a cold and unloving husband.
Elizabeth was brought to bed of her first child, Arthur [q..v.], in September 1486 at Winchester. She founded a chapel in Winchester Cathedral in honour of her safe delivery, but her recovery was retarded for some time by an ague. In a few weeks she was well enough to remove to Greenwich, where she and the king kept a considerable court at the feast of Allhallows (1 Nov.) In March 1487 the king again left her and made a progress without her through Essex, Suffolk, and Norfolk, and thence to Coventry, where he arrived on St. George's eve (22 April), and kept the feast next day. Here the Archbishop of Canterbury and a number of the bishops were assembled, and in pontifralibus declared the pope's bull in coniirmation of his right to the crown, cursing, moreover, with book, bell, and candle, all those who opposed it. Presently news came that the Earl of Lincoln had landed in Ireland, and that a rebel host might be expected immediately in England. Henry sent for his Queen to come to him at Kenilworth, where tidings reached him of the landing of the enemy in Lancashire. The rebels were defeated at the battle of Stoke on 16 June, and the kingdom being now in a more settled state Henry in September despatched letters from Warwick summoning the nobility to attend the coronation of the queen on 25 Nov. following. He and Elizabeth left Warwick for London on 27 Oct., and celebrated the feast of All Saints at St. Albans. Next day (2 Nov.) he reached Barnet, and on the following morning he was met at Haringay Park by the mayor, sheriffs, and aldermen of London on horseback, with some picked men of every company, who conducted them with due honour into the city to St. Pauls, where a 'Te Deum' was sung for his victory. The queen, who must have been sent on before, viewed the procession from a house in St. Mary's Spital without Bishopsgate, where she and the king*s mother and some other great persons took up a position unobserved; and after the procession had passed, they went to Greenwich to rest that night.
In preparation for her coronation the queen left Greenwich by water on Friday, 23 Nov., accompanied by the king's mother, and attended by the city authorities in barges richly decorated, of which one in particular, named the 'Bachelor's Barge,' attracted attention by a red dragon spouting fire into the Thames. She landed at the Tower, and was there received by the king, who then created eleven knights of the Bath in honour of the approaching ceremony. Next day after dinner she departed in great state from her chamber, 'her fair yellow hair hanging down plain behind her back,' and her sister Cecily bearing her train; and entering her litter was conveyed in it through the city to Westminster, meeting, of course, with numerous pageants on the way. For a detailed account of these things, and of the coronation itself and the banquet following, the reader is referred to Leland's 'Collectanea,' iv. 217-33.
On 26 Dec. following she received from the king a grant of the lordships and manors of Waltham Magna, Badewe, Mashbury, Dunmow, Lighe, and Farnham in the county of Essex belonging to the duchy of Lancaster, with the offices of feodary and bailiff in the same. This grant, which was to take effect from 20 Feb. preceding, is not a little noteworthy, because the very same manors and offices hud been already granted, on 4 March 1486, to her mother, the widowed queen of Edward IV, but had been taken from her in February 1487 on the outbreak of Lambert Simnel's rebellion (Campbell, Materials for a History of Henry VII, i. 121, ii. 221). Warrants had also been issued in the spring to the officers of the exchequer to pay over to the use of the queen consort all the issues of the lands lately belonging to the queen dowager (ib. ii. 142, 148). The fact that the latter had fallen out of favour does not seem to have dimmed the court festivities that year at Greenwich, and both the king and queen went crowned at the Twelfth-day solemnities (Leyland, Collectanea, iv. 234-6).
On the Sunday after St. George's day, 1488, she rode in procession at Windsor with her mother-in-law, the Countess of Richmond, in a rich car covered with cloth of gold drawn by six horses, her sister Anne following, dressed in robes of the order, and twenty-one ladies in crimson velvet mounted on white palfreys. In 1489 the queen took her chamber with much ceremony at Westminster on Allhallows eve, and was delivered, 29 Nov., of a daughter, Margaret, destined to be ancestress of the royal line of Great Britain. During her confinement Elizabeth received in her chamber a great embassy from France, headed by Francis, sieur de Luxembourg, a kinsman of her own (ib. 239, 249). The next family event was the birth of her second son Henry, afterwards Henry VIII, at Greenwich on 28 June 1491. Next year she had a daughter, Elizabeth, named probably after her mother, Elizabeth Woodville, who died about that time. This child only lived three years, and was buried in Westminster Abbey in September 1495. Then followed Mary, born, according to Sandford, in 1498, but more probably in 1496, who became the queen of the aged Louis XII of France; Edmund, born in 1499, who died next year; and Catherine, born in 1503, who also died an infant. An interesting account is given by Erasmus of the children of the family as they were in 1500, when he visited the royal nursery (Catalogus Erasmi Lucubrationum, 1523, Basle, f. a b).
In 1492 Henry VII invaded France, and formed the siege of Boulogne, but receiving satisfactory offers from the French king soon made peace and returned to England. Henry's poet laureate and historiographer, Bernard Andreas [q. v.], insinuates that the frequent and anxiously affectionate letters addressed to him by his queen had some influence in promoting his early return. And though even Andreas admits that there were more potent reasons, we may presume that the letters were a fact. In the summer of 1495 Elizabeth went with the king into Lancashire, when they visited, at Lathom, the Earl of Derby, whose brother, Sir William Stanley, had not long before been put to death for treason.
In June 1497 we meet with an interesting entry in the privy purse expenses of Henry VII: 'To the queen's grace for garnishing of a salett, 10l.,' indicating, apparently, that either with a view to a proposed expedition against Scotland, or when he went to meet the rebels at Blackheath, Elizabeth ornamented his helmet with jewels with her own hands. In October following, when the king had gone west ward to meet Perkin Warbeck, the Venetian ambassador reported that he had put his queen and his eldest son in a very strong castle on the coast, with vessels to convey them away if necessary (Ven. Cal. vol. i. No. 756). When Perkin and his wife were captured, Henry sent the latter to Elizabeth, who took her into her service.
In 1500 the queen went with Henry to Calais, where they stayed during the greater part of May and June. The long-projected marriage of their son Arthur took place in November 1501; but to the bitter grief of both parents he died on 2 April following. A touching account is preserved of the manner in which they received the news (Leland, Collectanea, v. 373-4), and the story, written by a contemporary pen, seems to show that Henry was not altogether such a cold, unsympathetic husband as is commonly supposed.
That the blow told upon Elizabeth's health seems probable from several indications. A payment to her apothecary 'for certain stuff of his occupation' occurs in her privy purse expenses on 9 April 1502, and in the following summer she was ill at Woodstock (Privy Purse Expenses, 8, 37). Moreover, it was the last year of her life. But it may be that she was in delicate health before Arthur's death; for in March of the same year, when the only known book of her accounts begins, she appears to have despatched various messengers to perform pilgrimages on her account and make offerings at all the most favoured shrines throughout the country. In January 1503 she was confined once more, this time in the Tower of London, and on 2 Feb. gave birth to her last child, Catherine. Soon after she became dangerously ill, and a special physician was sent for from Gravesend (ib. 96). But all was of no avail. She died on her birthday, 11 Feb., at the age of thirty-eight.
There seems always to have been but one opinion as to the gentleness and goodness of Elizabeth. Sir Thomas More wrote an elegy for her. A Spanish envoy reported that she was 'a very noble woman, and much beloved,' adding the further remark that she was kept in subjection by her mother-in-law, the Countess of Richmond. Neither is there any doubt about her beauty, to which testimony still is borne by her effigy in Westminster Abbey, as well as by various portraits. She was rather tall for her sex, and had her mother's fair complexion and long golden hair.
[Fabyan's Chronicle; Hall's Chronicle; Hist. Croylandensis Continuatio, in Fuliuan's Scriptores; Wilhelmi Wyrcester Annales; Rutland Papers (Camden Soc.); Venetian Calendar, vol. i .; Spanish Calendar, vol. i.; Nicolas's Privy Purse Expenses of Elizabeth of York; Campbell's Materials for a History of Henry VII (Rolls Ser.); Miss Strickland's Queens of England, vol. ii.]