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Elizabeth of York

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Empress Matilda | Eleanor of Aquitaine | Marie de Guise | Marie de Medici | Margaret of York | Elizabeth of York | Queen Anne | Victoria's Children and their Marriages | Mary of Teck | Joanna the Maid of Castille.

Elizabeth was a niece of Margaret being born the eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville on 11 February 1466. She was Edward's eldest child and although not the male heir so desired, especially at a time of such great uncertainty, he still loved his daughter deeply. She was however, as with all royal daughters, to become a pawn in the great game of diplomacy of the period. This was to be witnessed through the betrothals that were made on her behalf.

Promises of Marriage

She was first promised to Henry, Earl of Richmond1 however she was soon promised to George, Duke of Bedford, a nephew of one of her godfathers2. This was seen as a way to pacify the powerful Neville family3. This was seen as being a more important tie at the time than to her distant cousin, who appeared to be a long way from the throne. She was still very young at this time but before this marriage could take place the political map changed and a more important match was sought for the sovereign's eldest daughter.

As with much of England's history since the Norman Conquest4 France again became the main enemy. When she was only 11, her father set off on an invasion of France. It ended peacefully but on the condition that Elizabeth should marry the Dauphin5. Five years later when she was sixteen the King's ambassadors to France found that Louis XI had no intention of keeping his pledge. Edward died, in April 1483, before he could punish Louis for breaking his oath.

Her Brother's Reign

Following her father's death her twelve-year-old brother became Edward V. At the time he was in Ludlow6 and their mother wanted to proceed to London immediately with a strong army, fearful of her late husband's brothers. However Edward proceeded only with his usual entourage and was met at Stony Stratford7 by his uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester and the two proceeded together to London, where the Mayor greeted them both before they escorting them to the Tower of London. Meanwhile Elizabeth and her other children sought refuge in Westminster Abbey, fearful that now Richard had virtually imprisoned his nephew that none of them were safe. However eventually Elizabeth was persuaded to allow her only other son Richard, Duke of York to join his brother as a companion in his imprisonment.

Meanwhile the Duke of Gloucester's plot unfolded, the Bishop of Bath and Wells questioned the validity of Edward's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. Parliament had to take action and eventually upheld this allegation and declared the marriage invalid and the royal children bastards. So Richard V's reign came to an abrupt end after only two months as his uncle was declared King Richard III. At some point between June 1483 and Easter the following year however the former king and his brother were killed as rumours started to circulate of their deaths.

The Portuguese Betrothal

In 1485, following the deaths of his only legitimate son Edward and his wife Anne Neville, Richard sought to strengthen his hold on the throne and his political ties towards Portugal. Negotiations were under way for his marriage to Joanna, a sister of the King of Portugal, as well as one for his niece Elizabeth to marry his intended's cousin Manuel, Duke of Beja. However with the defeat and death of Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field, to the Earl of Richmond in August.

Queen consort to Henry VII

Amazingly all the years since their intended marriage was first proposed the new king Henry VII at last was able to take Elizabeth as his wife. He stated this intention to her in 1483. The first session of his first parliament also begged him to take the eldest daughter of Edward IV as his wife to try and end the hostility between the houses of Lancaster and York. He happily obliged his government and the marriage took place at Westminster Abbey on 18 January 1486.

The Queen soon became pregnant with their first child and the birth of Arthur the Prince of Wales in September 1486 delayed her coronation to November the following year. He was followed by three brothers Henry8, Edmund and Edward, and three sisters Margaret, Elizabeth and Mary. Of these only four survived childhood. The Prince of Wales married Catherine of Aragon in May 1499, by proxy as she did not arrive in England until October 1501, and the marriage was solemnised in November. However he died at Ludlow Castle less than 6 months later in April. Margaret married James IV of Scotland, which would lead to the Stuarts uniting the English and Scottish crowns, Henry married his brother's widow before becoming Henry VIII and marrying five more times and Mary who married Louis XII of France. However nine days after giving birth to her last child Edward she died at the Tower of London probably of puerperal fever. A sad irony to die in the same location as her kingly brother had 20 years before.

The Queen however was deeply loved by her husband, although many through history have seen their marriage as purely a political match. Following her death he went though a long period of mourning and only considered remarriage, to his widowed daughter-in-law when it was politically expedient. However he died in 1509 and his heir Henry completed the political match.

1Her eventual Husband.2Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, and a mentor of Edward's.3The Nevilles had many links to the Royal family at this time. Elizabeth's grandmother was Cicely Neville. As well as the sisters Anne who was married first to Henry VI's heir Edward then Richard III, and Isabel who had married Richard's elder brother George, Duke of Clarence.4When William, Duke of Normandy defeated Harold II at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 to claim the English crown as William I.5Heir to the French throne.6In modern day Shropshire.7Part of modern day Milton Keynes.8Who succeeded his father as Henry VIII.

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