Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir

  At Easter 1488, Henry and Elizabeth were at Windsor, staying in the old state apartments built by Edward III, which were now much outdated. Between 1497 and 1500, Henry VII was to extend them westward from the existing range toward the gatehouse, building for Elizabeth “a new and elegant work of squared stones,” a three-storied building that would be known as King Henry’s Tower, which was constructed under the direction of Robert Janyns, who had designed St. George’s Chapel. The tower was surmounted by pairs of turreted oriel windows on the north and south facades, and its purpose was to provide extra accommodation for the Queen. Every provision was made by the King for her comfort and convenience.

  Her apartments were established here and in the adjoining inner gatehouse, where her old bedchamber had been on the first floor; it had an anteroom that had served as a pallet chamber, where her female attendants slept. A gallery extended from her dining chamber (once Margaret of Anjou’s bedchamber) in her old apartments to the pallet chamber outside her new bedchamber in the tower. A privy staircase led up from this pallet chamber to what was probably her jewel house, and the southern half of the gallery served as Elizabeth’s closet. In the northwest corner of her new bedchamber was a deep oriel with tall windows on three sides, used as an “arraying chamber,” where Elizabeth was dressed each day.16

  When a German, Paul Hentzner, visited Windsor in 1598, late in the reign of Elizabeth I, the beds of the Queen’s parents, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, and her grandparents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, were still there, “each eleven feet square, covered with quilts shining with gold and silver.”17 Probably Elizabeth’s was made for her new bedchamber. The sheets in Henry VII’s household ordinances were clearly large enough to have fit the great beds mentioned by Hentzner.

  Elizabeth had a prominent part to play in the customary religious observances at Easter. She distributed her own Maundy money and clothing to poor women, and on Easter Day her religious observances paralleled the King’s.18

  April 1488 witnessed the first garter ceremonies to take place at Windsor in Henry VII’s reign. For Elizabeth, the sight of Henry riding with his Knights Companions to the still unfinished St. George’s Chapel on the Sunday after St. George’s Day must have brought back poignant memories of her father. She was there in company with Margaret Beaufort, who had just been made a Lady of the Garter—the last woman to be given that honor until 1901. Both were wearing “gowns of the garter of the same as the King and the lords wear.” These were gifts from Henry, from his Great Wardrobe, and of “sanguine [red or rust color] cloth in grain, furred with the wombs of miniver pure, gartered [banded] with letters of gold.” In providing his mother with identical clothes to those of his Queen, Henry proclaimed her importance. The significance of that would not have been lost on spectators. The poet Skelton praised Henry VII for his “knightly order, clothed in robes with garter, the Queen’s Grace, and thy mother in the same.”19

  That day Elizabeth and Margaret rode in procession through the precincts of Windsor Castle in a rich chariot covered in cloth of gold and drawn by six horses harnessed with gold. Their route took them from the royal lodgings through the narrow vaulted passageway of the Inner Gatehouse, then past the Round Tower down to the Inner Ward—the same path followed by garter processions today. After them followed another Lady of the Garter, Anne of York, wearing a crimson velvet robe of the order, Margaret Pole, Elizabeth’s aunt, Lady Rivers, and eighteen other ladies similarly attired, all mounted on white palfreys bedecked with cloth-of-gold saddles and caparisons embroidered with the white roses of York in the Queen’s honor. On arrival at the castle, the royal party attended Mass in St. George’s Chapel. At this special service, Elizabeth was the only one beside the King permitted to kiss the Gospel and the pax.

  Then the King, the Queen, and “my lady the King’s mother” walked in procession around the cloister and attended a great feast in St. George’s Hall, with the ambassadors of Burgundy, Austria, Scotland, and Brittany being present. The next day Elizabeth and Margaret Beaufort went with the King and the Garter Knights in procession to Mass and to Evensong, although they did not attend the feast held in the evening.20

  The court was still at Windsor for the Whitsunday festival of 1488, which fell on May 20, and again Elizabeth’s sister Anne was with her. A papal envoy had reported that, on May 9, “the mother of the Queen” had been present with the royal couple, the King’s mother, and many nobles and ambassadors, again proving that Elizabeth Wydeville was not persona non grata at court.21 Her appearances there the previous Christmas and on this occasion suggest that she may have visited at other times when her presence was not recorded.

  Much of the summer of 1488 was passed at Woodstock Palace near Oxford,22 a large, stone-built house decorated with heraldic emblems. It had been a favored royal residence since the twelfth century, and Henry VII spent a lot of money upgrading it, enticed by the excellent hunting to be had nearby.

  In July, Rodrigo de Puebla, who had been busy debating the Infanta’s dowry and jointure with the Privy Council, “went at an unexpected hour to the Queen, whom we found with two and thirty companions of angelical appearance, and all we saw there seemed very magnificent, and in splendid style, as was suitable for the occasion.” He added: “The King requests that from time to time Latin letters should be written to him from Spain, since he writes Latin letters to Spain. Neither the King, nor the Queen, are able to understand Spanish letters.”23 It was important, of course, that Elizabeth was able to read the diplomatic correspondence concerning the marriage negotiations, because it was her role as a queen and a mother—and within her proper sphere of influence—to ensure that her children made good marriages.

  It was probably in connection with these negotiations that Elizabeth wrote rather forcefully to the powerful and influential Lorenzo de’ Medici, “il Magnifico,” of Florence. On August 6, 1488, Lorenzo informed Pope Innocent VIII that one “Robert the Englishman, the bearer of the present letter, is going to His Holiness to obtain a brief to the King of England, for the purpose which His Holiness will learn from the Florentine ambassador and from Robert.” Lorenzo beseeched “His Holiness to give Robert audience and grant his request, as the Queen has written very warmly on this matter.”24

  Henry and Elizabeth spent All Hallows at Windsor and the rest of the autumn of 1488 at Westminster. When they went down the Thames by barge to the bishop’s Palace at St. Paul’s to receive the papal chamberlain, there was “so great a mist upon the Thames that there was no man could tell in what place the King was.” In the cathedral, Elizabeth watched as Archbishop Morton ceremonially girded Henry with a sword blessed by the Pope, and afterward there was a lavish feast. The court removed to Sheen for Christmas, the Queen being attended by many great ladies, including her sisters, Lady Rivers, Margaret Beaufort, and Margaret Pole.25 This was the last occasion when Margaret Pole was recorded at Henry VII’s court.26 She was becoming increasingly occupied with a series of pregnancies and the demands of a young family.

  In March 1489 the marriage between Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon was finally agreed upon with the conclusion of the Treaty of Medina del Campo, which provided for the Infanta to bring to England a dowry of 200,000 crowns [£20 million]. This treaty, ratified by the King on September 23, 1490,27 was arguably Henry VII’s greatest achievement in foreign policy, as it established the Tudor dynasty in the top rank of European monarchies—although it was to be many years before the marriage took place, and at times during those years it would seem as if it might not take place at all.

  Henry and Elizabeth were at Hertford Castle at Easter 1489, which fell on March 31.28 They were back at Windsor for the feast of St. George and the annual garter ceremonies. At this time Elizabeth was given “cloth of black velvet, russet cloth,” squirrel fur, and shoes.29 Shortly afterward Henry received news that the Earl of Northumberland had been murdered while enforcing the collection of the King’s taxes, and rode north to York to preside over the trials of the culprits.
  By the time he returned to Windsor, Elizabeth knew she was to have another child. It was nearly three years since Arthur’s birth, and in an era in which infant mortality was high, she must have felt pressure to bear more children to ensure the succession. If she’d had miscarriages in the interim period, they are not recorded. Maybe, having been so ill after her first confinement, she delayed having another child for the sake of her health, or had simply not managed to conceive.

  The King was delighted to learn of his wife’s pregnancy. He lavished gifts upon her against her coming confinement: bolts of black velvet, russet cloth, canaber (soft linen) cloth and white blanket, squirrel fur, cord, thread, tappet (tapestry) hooks, crochettes (pieces of crochet), iron hammers, a carpet, feather beds filled with down, and sheets of Holland cloth.30

  The high ceremonial observed on October 31 suggests that the King was confidently expecting Elizabeth to present him with a second son. She was then eight months pregnant. “On All-Hallows Eve, the Queen took to her chamber at Westminster, royally accompanied with ladies and gentlemen, that is to say, with my lady the King’s mother, the Duchess of Norfolk, and many other going before her, and besides [the] greater part of the nobles of the realm assembled at Westminster at the Parliament. She was led by the Earl of Oxford and the Earl of Derby. The reverend father in God, the Bishop of Exeter, said Mass in his pontificals” in St. Stephen’s Chapel. “The earls of Shrewsbury and of Kent held the towels when the Queen received the Host, and the corners of the towels were golden, and the torches were holden by knights; and after Agnus Dei was sung, and the bishop ceased, the Queen was led as before. When she was come unto her great chamber, she tarried in the anteroom before it and stood under her cloth of estate. Then was ordained a void of spices and sweet wines. That done, my lord the Queen’s chamberlain, in very good words, desired in the Queen’s name all her people there present to pray that God would send her a good hour.”

  Elizabeth now “departed to her inner chamber, which was hanged and ceiled with rich cloth of blue Arras with fleurs-de-lis of gold. In that chamber was a rich bed and pallet, the which pallet had a marvelous rich canopy of gold with a velvet pall garnished with bright red roses, embroidered with two rich panes of ermine covered with Rennes of lawn. Also there was an altar well furnished with relics, and a cupboard of nine stages, well and richly garnished.” It had been decreed that the tapestries in the birthing chamber were not to portray human figures, which were considered “not convenient about women in such case,” but pleasant subjects, so that the Queen and the newborn infant might not be “affrighted by figures which gloomily stare.”

  At the door to her chamber the Queen “recommended herself to the good praises of the lords; and my lord her chamberlain drew the traverse,” the curtain that separated the bedchamber from the great chamber. “From then forth no manner of officer came within the chamber but ladies and gentlewomen, after the old custom.”31

  Elizabeth Wydeville came to court to support her daughter during her confinement, and a few days after the Queen had taken to her chamber an exception was made to the strict protocol prohibiting men from admittance to it. In the interests of good diplomatic relations, Elizabeth and her mother privately received the new French ambassador, their cousin, Francis, Sieur de Luxembourg, Viscount of Geneva, who had asked to see the Queen. Two other men were allowed to be present—Elizabeth’s chamberlain and Garter King-at-Arms—as well as Margaret Beaufort, who was also in attendance on the Queen at this time. Elizabeth Wydeville deputized with Margaret Beaufort for her at another reception for the ambassadors.

  On November 29, 1489, three-year-old Prince Arthur was brought to Westminster and dubbed a Knight of the Bath. While the ceremony of knighthood was in progress, Elizabeth went into labor. “At that same season were all those of the King’s Chapel reading a psalter for the good speed of the Queen, who then travailed; and upon nine of the clock of the same night, she was delivered of a princess.”32 The midwife in attendance was “our well beloved Alice Massey,” who had been paid £10 [£5,000] for her services on November 27,33 and probably assisted at Arthur’s birth. She was to attend the Queen at all her later confinements, being paid the same sum for each.

  On November 30—the feast day of St. Andrew, patron saint of Scotland, a most auspicious baptismal date for a child who would one day be Queen of Scots—the newborn princess was collected by Anne Fiennes, Marchioness of Berkeley, from Elizabeth’s chamber and carried into Westminster Hall, and thence to St. Stephen’s Chapel.34 The officers-at-arms led the procession, followed by the High Constable, the Earl Marshal, the Earl of Kent, carrying two basins, Henry Bourchier, Earl of Essex, carrying an unlit taper, Viscount Welles with a gold salt cellar, “my Lady Anne, the Queen’s sister, [who] bare the chrisom with a marvelous rich cross-lace [cord],” and Lady Berkeley with the princess, escorted by the earls of Arundel and Shrewsbury, and walking under a canopy borne by four knights. The baby’s train of crimson velvet furred with ermine was carried by her great-aunt, Katherine Wydeville, Duchess of Buckingham, and George Stanley, Lord Strange.

  John Alcock, Bishop of Ely, was waiting to receive her in the church porch, which was “royally beseen” with a richly embroidered ceiling covering. He baptized her with the name Margaret, “after my lady the King’s mother,” in Canterbury Cathedral’s magnificent silver font, which had been brought to Westminster for the occasion and lined with cloth of Rennes. At that moment the Earl of Essex lit his taper, and 120 knights, gentlemen, and yeomen set their torches ablaze. Then Thomas Rotherham, “the Lord Archbishop of York, being in pontificals, confirmed” the child at the high altar, with Lady Berkeley acting as sponsor. Wine and spices were served to the godparents: Margaret Beaufort, who gave the princess a silver-gilt chest full of gold; George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury; the Duchess of Norfolk, who gave a rich cup; and Archbishop Morton, who gave two gilt flagons and a gold vessel for holy water. These gifts were borne before the child in the torchlit procession that carried her, with “noise of trumpets [and] Christ’s blessing,” back to the palace to her parents. Having received their blessing also, she was carried off by her nurse and laid in an oak cradle lined with ermine and covered with a cloth-of-gold canopy.35

  Margaret was probably given a separate, smaller nursery establishment from Arthur’s. It would also have been ruled by a lady governess, but it was Alice Davy, the nurse, who looked after the child in her infancy, ably assisted by two rockers, Anne Mayland and Margaret Troughton, and by Prince Arthur’s former rocker, Alison Bwimble, who later became the princess’s “day-wife,” essentially a dairy maid who brought milk, cream, and butter for the child.36

  On the same day Margaret was christened, Arthur was brought to the Parliament Chamber and created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, titles borne by the heirs of English kings since 1301. During the ceremony Henry VII was lauded for restoring the pride of the Welsh, and as a British king capable of reestablishing order after the chaos of the Wars of the Roses. Afterward the little prince sat beneath the cloth of estate and presided over the feast held to celebrate the occasion.37

  On December 4, 1489, King Ferdinand wrote triumphantly to Elizabeth to tell her that he had “conquered the town of Baca, in the kingdom of Granada, and has made great progress in the war against the Moors. As his victory must interest all the Christian world, he thinks it his duty to inform the Queen of England of it.” If he wrote to Henry too, the letter has not survived, but it is possible that he wrote separately to Elizabeth because he recognized her status as the rightful Queen of England.38

  Happy as this news was, Elizabeth had more immediate concerns on her mind. A virulent measles epidemic was raging and had claimed the lives of several ladies of her court. Consequently she had to miss the christening celebrations, which lasted into December, and some of the Christmas solemnities too, because her churching, which of necessity took place in private, had to be delayed until December 27. Christmas was a subdued holiday, and on December 29, Henry mov
ed the court to Greenwich to escape the contagion. “There were no disguisings and but very few plays acted on account of [the] prevalent sickness, but there was an abbot of misrule, who made much sport.”39

  By Candlemas, February 2, the court was back at Westminster, where the King, the Queen, Margaret Beaufort, and all the Lords Spiritual and Temporal went by custom in procession to Westminster Hall, and thence to Mass; and in the evening watched a play in the White Hall.40 On February 19, 1490, Henry VII confirmed by letters patent the grant of Elizabeth Wydeville’s dower lands to her daughter.41 That year, the Queen Dowager’s pension was increased to £400 [£195,570], further evidence that she was not out of favor.

  On February 26, near Kew, Prince Arthur boarded the King’s state barge, which would bear him to Westminster for his investiture as Prince of Wales. Between Mortlake and Chelsea, other barges containing lords, bishops, knights, the Lord Mayor of London, and the craft guilds waited to attend him; at Lambeth Stairs, the flotilla was joined by the Spanish ambassador’s barge. To the sound of trumpets, and amidst colorful pageantry, the prince alighted at the landing bridge at Westminster, and was carried to his father’s presence. Many new knights were dubbed that day in his honor.

  On Saturday, February 27, the little boy was hoisted on a horse and led into Westminster Hall. Here, the King formally invested him as Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, “as accustomed. Then, the King departing, the prince that day kept his state under a cloth of estate.” A banquet was served at which he “licensed” the knights to enjoy their meat, while minstrels played. The celebrations were brought to a close by Garter King of Arms, who gave thanks to God. It was a demanding ceremonial for such a young child, but Arthur bore himself commendably. In May the following year he would be made a Knight of the Garter.

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