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

  Naturally, everyone wanted to know how “York” had escaped from the Tower as a child. He told them he had narrowly avoided murder by a ruse, “for that those who were employed in that barbarous fact, having destroyed the elder brother, were stricken with remorse and compassion toward the younger.” He had been delivered to “a gentleman who had received orders to destroy him, but who, taking pity on his innocence, had preserved his life and made him swear on the sacraments not to disclose for a certain number of years his birth and lineage.”75 It was an unlikely tale, since the assassins would surely have known that their remit was to do away with the Yorkist heirs who posed a threat to the King; it did not make sense—and indeed was perilous—for them to kill one and spare the other, however plaintively he pleaded for his life, for with his older brother dead, York would have been, in the eyes of many, the true King of England.

  The pretender would never be drawn on the details of Edward V’s murder or his own supposed escape from the Tower, saying only “it is fit it should pass in silence, or at least in a more secret relation, for that it may concern some alive and the memory of some that are dead.”76 That way he forestalled all discussion of the anomalies in his story. But the Duchess Margaret “took pleasure in hearing him repeat the tale,” and following her example, the Flemings “professed they believed the youth had escaped the hand of King Richard by divine intervention, and had been brought safely to his aunt.”77

  “The rumor of so miraculous an occurrence rapidly spread into England, where the story was not merely believed by the common people, but where there were many important men who considered the matter as genuine.”78 By now, one imagines, Elizabeth must have been desperate to get a look at or at least obtain more knowledge of this youth who insisted he was her brother. Frustratingly, we don’t know what she made of the story of his escape.

  Queens had little control over the lives of their eldest sons. Arthur was growing into a promising boy, “blessed with such great charm, grace, and goodness that he served as an example of unprecedented happiness to people oftimes,” as André glowingly recorded. But when Arthur was six, Elizabeth had to bid him farewell, for by February 1493 he had been sent to live at Ludlow Castle on the Welsh Marches so that he could learn how to govern his principality of Wales. It was to be a practical apprenticeship for kingship. The precedent had been established by Edward IV, who had sent the future Edward V to be educated at Ludlow. Following in his uncle’s footsteps, Arthur was nominally to preside over the Council of the Marches and Wales, which administered the principality. Thereafter Elizabeth would see him only intermittently.

  His council was headed by his great-uncle, Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, and included his uncle, Dorset, Sir William Stanley, Thomas FitzAlan, now Earl of Arundel, Gerald FitzGerald, Earl of Kildare, who had been forgiven for helping to crown Lambert Simnel, and John Alcock, Bishop of Worcester, who served as President of the Council of the Marches, as he had for the future Edward V; his appointment may have been made at the Queen’s behest.

  Early in 1493, Sir Richard Pole was appointed chamberlain of the prince’s household.79 The other members of the Council of the Marches included Anthony Willoughby; Robert Ratcliffe, later Earl of Sussex; Maurice St. John of Bletsoe, a favored nephew of Margaret Beaufort who had entered royal service as a member of Henry VII’s elite bodyguard; and Gruffydd ap Rhys, who was the son of an influential Welsh lord and became close friends with Arthur. An interesting appointment, probably also made by the Queen, was that of Dr. John Argentine, former physician to Edward V, who was now to serve as Prince Arthur’s doctor. Dr. Argentine had been one of the last people to see the Princes in the Tower alive.80 After Richard III was crowned, he had fled abroad. Probably he had been able to tell Elizabeth much about her vanished brothers, and possibly this appointment and the many other benefices and marks of royal favor he received under Henry VII were rewards for his loyalty to and care for them both.

  Arthur’s governor and comptroller was Sir Henry Vernon. In 1501 the prince stayed at Vernon’s house, Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, where a room adorned with his coat of arms was once called “the Prince’s Chamber.”

  Arthur had commenced his formal education around 1490–91. His first tutor was his chaplain, John Rede, headmaster of Winchester College, who gave him a “deep acquaintance with knowledge, without great labor on either side.”81 When he was ten, Arthur twice stayed in the President’s Lodgings at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was served pike, tench, red wine, claret, and sack (sweet fortified wine), presented with gloves (as were all distinguished guests), and amused by a marmoset; he came across as “rather in the grave than in the gay aspect of youth.”82

  Henry VII was the first English king to encourage at his court the Renaissance culture of humanism, the study of ancient classical learning, and he was at the forefront of ideas in appointing humanist scholars to teach his sons. Around 1499, Rede was succeeded by the blind friar, Bernard André, who had been assisting Rede since 1496. Under André, Arthur studied classical and Renaissance literature, history, and philosophy, reading numerous works by authors such as Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Thucydides, Livy, Tacitus, and Erasmus. By 1501, according to André, Arthur “had either committed to memory, or read with his own eyes and leafed with his own fingers” the best Latin and Greek authors. André was joined after 1499 by Dr. Thomas Linacre, another humanist scholar, who had been in Italy and was a pioneer of the New Learning of the Renaissance as well as the King’s physician. To him was entrusted “the task of making the mind and body of Prince Arthur grow in wholesome vigor,” and he dedicated his translation of a Greek text, The Sphere, to the prince. Arthur was also instructed in music, horsemanship, and the arts of warfare. Giles Dewes, who served Henry VII and Henry VIII as clerk of their libraries, was “schoolmaster for the French tongue to Prince Arthur.”83 Dewes also specialized in grammar and alchemy and was an accomplished lute player.

  Thanks to his careful education, Arthur turned out to be studious, reserved, and thoughtful, “learned beyond his years, and beyond the custom of princes.”84 Of the royal children, only he, the heir to the throne, was brought up so far away from his family. The younger ones were reared in households nearer the court, and consequently enjoyed a closer relationship with their parents, especially their mother, who customarily spent more time with them. Elizabeth’s influence over her oldest son’s upbringing would be far less than she exerted over the lives of her other children.

  By July 1493, Henry VII’s intelligence had informed him that the young man whom he called “the feigned lad” was Peter, commonly known as Perkin, Warbeck, the son of a boatman of Tournai, and not of royal blood at all,85 whereupon he made a formal protest to Philip and Maximilian against harboring such a dangerous rebel. When this failed, relations between England and Flanders, usually harmonious, quickly deteriorated, resulting in a temporary trade embargo by England.

  Did Henry really believe this intelligence, or did it surface all too conveniently? His later conduct, as will be seen, suggests there remained at least a grain of doubt. And if the King was uncertain, then Elizabeth must have been too. Maybe she and her sisters were entertaining a faint hope that their brother was indeed still alive.

  But Warbeck’s story had already spread, which was bad news for Henry VII. “Conspiracies began to multiply. Desperadoes seeking refuge in sanctuaries broke forth to flock to Peter in Flanders. Many among the nobility turned to conspiracy. Some were actuated by mere foolhardiness; others, believing Peter to be Edward’s son Richard, supported the claim of the Yorkist party. Others were moved partly by resentment and greed.”86 One Edwards, the Queen’s own yeoman, defected to the pretender. Elizabeth was unenviably in the middle. The very silence of the chroniclers on her role in all this strongly suggests that she did what was expected of her.

  The Christmas season of 1493–94 saw lavish and unprecedented celebrations at Westminster. Henry and Elizabeth presided “with great solemnity,” and at 11:00 P.M. on Twelfth Nig
ht, after divine service and accompanied by the Queen’s ladies and the Spanish ambassadors, they went in procession “through both the halls” to Westminster Hall, which had been hung with tapestries for the occasion. Here they and their guests, including the Lord Mayor and aldermen of London, were entertained by an interlude (a short play) performed by the King’s players; “but ere they had finished came in riding one of the King’s Chapel,” the court composer and dramatist William Cornish, “appareled after the figure of St. George; and after followed a fair virgin attired like unto a king’s daughter and leading by a silken lace a terrible and huge red dragon, the which, in sundry places of the hall as he passed, spit fire at his mouth. And when Cornish was come before the King, he uttered a certain speech made in ballade royal,87 after finishing thereof he began this anthem of St. George, ‘O Georgi deo Care’ [‘O George, beloved of God’], whereunto the King’s Chapel, which stood fast by, answered ‘salvatorem deprecare, ut gubernet Angliam’ [‘Intercede with the Savior, that He may govern England’], and so sang out the whole anthem with lusty courage. In pastime whereof the said Cornish avoided with the dragon, and the virgin was led unto the Queen’s standing,” to be taken under Elizabeth’s protection.

  Then there appeared “twelve gentlemen leading by kerchiefs of pleasance twelve ladies, all goodly disguised, having before them a small tabret [tabor] and a subtle fiddle, the which gentlemen leaped and danced all the length of the hall as they came, and the ladies slid after them,” looking as if “they stood upon a frame running.” When they came before the King, they danced for an hour, and “it was wonderful to behold the exceeding leaps.”

  The King and Queen then entertained their guests at a private banquet, seating themselves at the King’s direction at “a table of stone garnished with napery, lights, and other necessaries.” Then the disguised gentlemen came in “bearing every each of them a dish, and after them as many knights and esquires as made the full number of sixty, the which sixty dishes were all served to the King’s mess, and as many served unto the Queen.” All the dishes were “confections of sundry fruits and conserves, and so soon as the King and the Queen and the other estates were served, then was brought unto the mayor’s stage twenty-four dishes of the same manner service, with sundry wines and ale in most plenteous wise. And finally, as all worldly pleasure hath an end, the board was reverently withdrawn, and the King and Queen with the other estates, with a great sort of lights [were] conveyed into the palace.” The Lord Mayor and aldermen of London did not get home until daybreak.88

  In April 1492, Henry VII had appointed ten-month-old Prince Henry Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, not only to honor him, but also to provide an income for his maintenance. The following year, to boost that income, Henry had been made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and Warden of the Scottish Marches. Now, in October 1494, in order to discountenance the pretender and proclaim him a fraud, the King created his three-year-old son Duke of York. Edward IV had given his second son that title; and henceforth, until the eighteenth century (and again today), the second sons of monarchs would customarily bear it. It is tempting to imagine that Henry created this precedent at Elizabeth’s request, in memory of her father’s house and perhaps of her brother Richard, Duke of York, but it is more likely that he did so to demonstrate that young Duke Richard was dead and the title was now firmly vested in the Tudor dynasty.

  On October 27, the eve of the feast day of Saints Simon and Jude, “the King, the Queen, and my lady the King’s mother came from Sheen to Westminster to dinner.” That same day, “about three in the afternoon, Lord Henry came through the City. He sat on a courser and rode to Westminster to the King with a goodly company,”89 escorted by the Lord Mayor, the aldermen, “and all the crafts in their liveries.”90 The King welcomed his son and “kissed him, and from thence went into the Queen’s closet.” There is a sketch of the child Henry at the age of two or three in the Bibliothèque de Méjanes, which shows him as a solid, placid infant with chubby cheeks and alert eyes.91

  Three days later the little prince waited upon his father with a towel while the King dined, then, having been signed with a cross by Henry and given Elizabeth’s blessing, he and twenty-two other candidates received the customary ceremonial bath before keeping vigil in St. Stephen’s Chapel throughout the night—a long ordeal for so young a child. The next day he was dubbed a Knight of the Bath. The ceremony of ennoblement took place the following day, when he was formally created Duke of York in the presence of the whole court, both houses of Parliament, and the Lord Mayor and aldermen of London. “My lord Shrewsbury bare my Lord Harry, Duke of York, in his arms, and ten bishops with miters on their heads going before the King that day about Westminster Hall, with many others of great estate.” In the prince’s honor, the King created new Knights of the Bath. Elizabeth was not present at the ennobling, but afterward she and Henry, crowned and robed in ermine, went with their son, who was wearing a miniature suit of armor, in procession to Westminster Abbey to attend a Mass celebrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury.92 The following day was All Souls’ Day, when, by tradition, the King kept a “day of estate” at court and he and Elizabeth again wore their royal robes and crowns.

  The celebrations in honor of the young duke went on for at least two weeks. There were three days of “jousts royal in the King’s Palace of Westminster,” where a special stand had been built for the royal party; “it was the most triumphant place that ever I saw,” wrote an observer. The people had flocked “to see the King’s Grace and the Queen so richly appareled, his house and stage covered with cloth of Arras blue, enramplished with fleurs-de-lis of gold, and within hanged with rich cloth of Arras and two cloths of estate, one for the King, another for the Queen, and rich cushions of cloth of gold, accompanied with the great estates of this realm, as the Duke of York, the Duke of Bedford, the Duke of Buckingham, and many other,” and with them “the fairest young princess,” “the Lady Margaret, the King’s oldest daughter.” On the first day the challengers wore the King’s livery of green and white, the Tudor colors, but all sported a badge with the Queen’s livery of blue and mulberry on their helmets. Other jousts were fought by lesser combatants, but were “honorable and comfortable to the King and Queen and many other great people there to watch, and a great pleasure to the common people.” On the second day the contestants wore Margaret Beaufort’s blue-and-white livery, and “by the advice of the King [and] the Queen, my lady the King’s mother gave the prize.”93

  On November 11, Henry and Elizabeth, sitting under their canopies of estate, presided over another tournament, which was followed by a comic display between mock knights. Two days later there were more jousts before “the King’s Highness, for whose pleasure, the Queen’s, and all the ladies,” the contestants took part, “especially for the pleasure of their redoubted lady and fairest young princess,” five-year-old Princess Margaret, who, prompted by her parents, presented the prizes. These were handed to her by three of her mother’s ladies: Elizabeth Stafford, Anne Percy, and Anne Neville, who, clad in white damask gowns with crimson velvet sleeves and gold circlets on their heads, had led three knights into the ring. By popular demand, more jousts were held on November 12, and on the following day “the King [and] the Queen entered the field to their house.”94

  In 1619, Paolo Sarpi, a Venetian scholar and church reformer, stated that Prince Henry, “not being born the King’s eldest son, had been destined by his father to be Archbishop of Canterbury, and therefore in his youth was made to study”; this assertion was repeated by Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Henry VIII’s seventeenth-century biographer, who opined that a career in the Church was a “cheap and glorious way” of advancing a younger son, and that the information came from a “credible author”; yet there is no contemporary evidence to support it, and the fact that Henry was given a secular dukedom contradicts it.

  That year the King held “his royal feast of Christmas” at Greenwich, where he entertained the Lord Mayor of London; “which disports being ende
d in the morning, the King, the Queen, the ambassadors … being sat at a table of stone, sixty knights and esquires served sixty dishes to the King’s mess, and as many to the Queen’s … And finally, the King and Queen were conveyed with great lights into the palace.”95

  On January 7, 1495, the court moved to the Tower, where Elizabeth was a silent witness to the grim events that followed. Two years earlier a knight, Robert Clifford, had been secretly communicating with Sir William Stanley; then Clifford had gone to the court of Burgundy and espoused the cause of Perkin Warbeck. Mysteriously, in December 1494, he was granted a free pardon, upon which he returned to England. On January 6, “forewarned of his coming,” the King went ahead to the Tower and had Clifford brought there so he could question him himself. During that interview Clifford—who was probably a royal spy or a double agent—incriminated Sir William Stanley and others who enjoyed his confidence, apparently asserting that Stanley had said he would not fight against Warbeck if he was the true son of Edward IV.96 Bacon asserts that resentment of Henry’s rule, his taxes, and his treatment of Elizabeth were at the root of Stanley’s disaffection.

  At first, according to Vergil, the King could not be persuaded to believe Clifford; he owed his crown to Stanley’s intervention at Bosworth, and since then Stanley had held a position of great trust as chamberlain of the royal household, an office that brought him in daily contact with the King; and he had grown very rich in Henry’s service. Elizabeth knew him well. He was also Margaret Beaufort’s brother-in-law, so these allegations came close to home. In the end Clifford convinced Henry that Stanley was plotting treason, and left the Tower with a gift of £500 [£243,000].

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