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

  Henry did not wish to alienate Thomas Stanley, but “in the end severity won and mercy was put behind.”97 Sir William and his contacts were arrested, arraigned and condemned for aiding the cause of the pretender Warbeck and plotting the death and destruction of the King and the overthrow of his kingdom. Stanley was accused of passing on privileged information to the pretender, thus abusing the trust placed in him by the King. The allegiance he owed Henry VII may have been compromised by his resentment at not being awarded a peerage, and by Henry’s curbs on the power of the nobility, but he must have known that he stood to lose more than most if Henry were overthrown; possibly he hoped for more from Warbeck. The twelve days of executions that followed, culminating with Stanley’s beheading before dawn on February 16 on Tower Hill, caused a sensation.

  Warbeck’s cause was now “as stone without lime” in England, and he knew it. In return for continuing financial support from Maximilian and Philip, he resorted to pledging them part of his kingdom if he died childless—and, of course, was in possession of it; and he promised to give away all Henry VII’s personal effects, even down to the toys of his children. Then he set about raising mercenaries to “try his adventures in some exploit upon England, hoping still upon the affections of the common people toward the House of York.”98

  With Warbeck at large on the Continent and Sir William Stanley proved guilty of treason, Henry VII was aware that his enemies might scheme to use Elizabeth’s unmarried sisters against him. Wishing to avert that threat, he arranged marriages advantageous to himself for Anne and Katherine. On February 4, 1495, at Greenwich, Anne was married to Lord Thomas Howard, son of the Earl of Surrey, who had affirmed to the King that they had been betrothed since 1484.99 The royal family attended the wedding and Henry VII gave the bride away, himself presenting the offering at the nuptial Mass.100 The marriage marked the return to favor of the Howards: Thomas’s father, the Earl of Surrey, had fought for Richard III at Bosworth and spent three years in prison in the Tower for it, but his refusal to seize an opportunity of escaping had marked him to Henry VII as an honorable, upright man, and secured his pardon and release, and the restoration of his estates and the earldom of Surrey. Since then Howard had proved his loyalty and worth to the new dynasty, paving the way for the marriage of his son to the Queen’s sister, which would bind the Howards to the royal house by kinship as well as loyalty.

  On February 12, Elizabeth met with Surrey to finalize Anne’s marriage settlement—which shows that she had been involved in arranging the match. The King had not advanced the marriage portion of 10,000 marks [£1.5 million] willed to Anne by Edward IV, so Elizabeth undertook in this indenture to provide the couple with an annuity of £120 [£58,300], to which the King had agreed to contribute £26 [£12,600, considerably less than Anne’s father had willed] annually from the crown lands; in addition, Elizabeth promised to pay allowances of 20s. [£500] a week for the upkeep of the couple’s estate, food, and drink; £51.11s.8d. [£25,000] for the wages of two female attendants, a maid, a gentleman, a yeoman, and three grooms; and £15.11s.8d. [£7,600] a year to maintain seven horses. In addition, “the said Queen’s Grace, at her costs and charges, shall find unto the Lady Anne all her sufficient and convenient apparel for her body, at all times” until the couple came into their inheritance on Surrey’s death.

  In return, the cash-strapped Surrey settled on the couple, as jointure, four manors that would revert on Thomas Howard’s death to Anne’s half brother, Dorset, her royal nephew, Henry, Duke of York, and others of the Queen’s choosing. The indenture was signed in Elizabeth’s own hand.101 At her request and Surrey’s, the settlement was approved by the King in Parliament in 1496, the act being passed “at the special desire” of the Queen, since it was “her very will and mind” that the settlement be paid in full.102 This is another instance of Elizabeth exercising her authority within the conventional bounds permitted to queens.

  After her marriage, Anne did not frequent the court: her name is not recorded there again. Tragically, her four children—Muriel, Katherine, Henry, and Thomas—were all to die in infancy. They were buried in the Howard aisle in St. Mary’s Church at Lambeth.103

  Later in 1495 (certainly by October), Elizabeth’s other unwed sister, sixteen-year-old Katherine, was married to Lord William Courtenay. The Courtenays, who were descended from Edward I, had long supported the House of Lancaster. William’s father, Edward Courtenay, had been one of Henry Tudor’s adherents during Buckingham’s rebellion; after being attainted he had defected to him in Brittany and fought for him at Bosworth, for which he had been rewarded with the earldom of Devon. His son William made a worthy and honorable match for a princess: Vergil praised his courage and his manly bearing, and Hall called him “a man of great nobility, estimation, and virtue.”104

  Elizabeth almost certainly helped to arrange this marriage too, negotiating with the Earl of Devon a similar settlement to what she had negotiated for her sister Anne and Thomas Howard; no indenture survives, but the Queen appointed the same men to hold the lands in question.105 After the wedding, Katherine resided mainly at the castles of Tiverton, Colcombe, and Powderham in Devon, or at her husband’s London residence in Warwick Lane, Newgate. She bore Courtenay two sons and a daughter.

  On March 27, 1495, to supplement her dower, Henry gave Elizabeth the castle, manor, lordship, and town of Fotheringhay,106 the chief seat of her Yorkist forebears, a gift that must have been very welcome to her. Strangely, given that so many members of her family were represented, her arms were missing from the lost heraldic glass in Fotheringhay Church and College, as described by William Dugdale in the seventeenth century.107

  In April the King named Elizabeth Chief Lady of the Order of the Garter. Prince Henry, not quite four, was made a Knight of the Garter on May 17, wearing a crimson velvet gown and cap for his investiture.108

  Death carried off Elizabeth’s grandmother, the eighty-year-old Cecily, Duchess of York, on May 31, 1495, at Berkhamsted Castle. Cecily, clothed in the black Benedictine habit she had worn for many years now, was buried with her husband, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, in the collegiate church at Fotheringhay, the ancestral mausoleum of the House of York. In her will, she bequeathed to Elizabeth a psalter with a relic of St. Christopher;109 Margaret Beaufort was left an exquisite breviary, which suggests that the two matriarchs had got on well.

  On Cecily’s death, her revenues reverted by inheritance to her granddaughter the Queen, bringing Elizabeth a further £1,399.6s.8d. [£680,200] a year, which considerably boosted her income and helped to clear the debts she had amassed. She also inherited Baynard’s Castle, which fittingly made her the owner of the two great seats of the House of York. Baynard’s Castle was a place she had known well from childhood, for it had been the London residence of Cecily Neville from 1461, and in 1461 and 1483, respectively, Edward IV and Richard III were offered the crown of England in its great hall. A castle had stood on the site since Norman times, when, along with the Tower of London and Mountfichet’s Tower, Baynard’s Castle had been one of three fortresses guarding the City.

  The house Elizabeth inherited was the third to be built on or near the site. It was “situated right pleasantly on Thames side, and full well garnished and arranged, and encompassed outside strongly with water,”110 its wall rising sheer from the river. It consisted of four wings built in a trapezoid shape around a double courtyard with lovely gardens, from which rose a hexagonal tower. It became Elizabeth’s favorite London residence and she spent liberally on its gardens. In 1500–01, Henry VII “repaired or rather new builded this house, not embattled, or so strongly fortified castlelike, but far more beautiful and commodious for the entertainment of any prince or great estate.”111 His additions included five projecting towers between the two existing great octagonal corner towers on the riverfront. The principal chambers, which may have been located in these towers, were freshly decorated, with new glass in the windows, expensive ironwork, and tapestries.112

  On July
1, 1495, Henry and Elizabeth departed on a progress northward, visiting Chipping Norton, Evesham, Tewkesbury, and Worcester before arriving at Bewdley, the residence of Prince Arthur, on July 10. They were with their son at Ludlow two days later;113 he had traveled ahead to receive them. Entertainments had been laid on, and the prince watched a play in the “dry quarry,” an amphitheatre on the site of the modern swimming pool. Henry and Elizabeth then left for Shrewsbury.

  This progress came at a fraught time, as an invasion by Perkin Warbeck was expected daily. Sir William Stanley’s execution had cost Henry much popularity in the northwest, where the Stanleys had a great affinity. In Lancashire they were important landowners and commanded more respect than the monarch, and in this period they were steadily increasing their extensive land holdings in the county. It was not the most convenient time to be away, but the King felt it necessary that he should be seen in those parts with his popular Queen in order to regain the love of his subjects.

  The royal couple rode northward to Combermere Abbey, Shropshire, where they stayed in the lavish Abbot’s Lodgings. From there they traveled via Holt to Chester, and thence to Hawarden in Wales, where Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby, awaited them. On July 27 he accompanied the King and Queen to Vale Royal Abbey, then escorted them north to Lathom House,114 his palatial mansion at Ormskirk, Lancashire. To ease the royal journey, Derby had a fine stone bridge built at Warrington, which lasted until the nineteenth century.

  Lathom had been in the possession of the Stanleys since 1390. It was set in a deer park bounded by the River Tawd, Eller Brook, and Douglas Brook, and overlooked the town of Burscough and the marshlands of Martin Mere and Hoscar Mossit. The estate, part of the parish of Ormskirk, was mentioned in the Domesday Book. Lathom House, begun by Derby in 1485, was a palatial mansion boasting eighteen towers and a moat eight yards wide; it is said that this splendid house, which was unique in the northwest, was Henry VII’s inspiration for Richmond Palace. Derby was now busily converting Lathom into the chief administrative center of the region, but it was still a peaceful retreat, far from the turmoil of the court.

  In the early seventeenth century Samuel Rutter, Bishop of Sodor and Man, described Lathom before its destruction: “Lathom House was encompassed with a strong wall of two yards thick; upon the walls were nine towers, flanking each other. Without the wall was a moat eight yards wide; upon the back of the moat was a strong row of palisades; beside these there was a high strong tower, called the Eagle Tower, in the midst of the house surrounding all the rest; and the gateway was also two high and strong buildings, with a strong tower on each side of it. There is something so particular and romantic in the general situation of this house, as if Nature herself had formed it for a stronghold or place of security.”115 The names of seven of the towers were the Eagle Tower, the Tower of Madness, the Tower at the Kitchen Bridge, the little tower next it, the next tower to that in the corner, the Chapel Tower, and the Private Tower.116

  Henry and Elizabeth stayed at Lathom for four days as guests of Derby and Margaret Beaufort. During their visit Henry rewarded “the women that sang before the King and Queen.”117 A tale persisted in the Stanley family that the King, after being shown over the house, was taken up to the leads by Derby to see the fine view of the countryside roundabout. The earl’s fool accompanied them, and seeing the King standing near the unguarded edge of the leads, he muttered to Derby, “Tom, remember Will.” He was referring, of course, to Sir William Stanley. Henry heard his words and, perceiving what was meant, hastened back downstairs to Elizabeth and terminated his visit immediately, leaving the fool wishing that his master had had the courage to avenge the death of his brother.118 But there is no historical evidence to back up the story.

  Late in July, while Henry and Elizabeth were at Lathom, Warbeck and fourteen ships carrying his mercenary force of what Vergil called “human dregs” finally anchored off Deal. The pretender sent his soldiers ashore to reconnoiter prior to invading, but the men of Kent were already on the alert and summoned the King’s forces, who cut them to pieces,119 prompting Warbeck’s fleet to scurry away to the west. By the end of July, Warbeck was in Ireland. His attempt to attack Waterford was fiercely repelled by the able Sir Edward Poynings, the King’s Deputy. Driven off, Warbeck sailed toward Cork, disappeared for a time, then made his way north to Scotland.

  On August 3, Henry and Elizabeth moved south to Derby’s hunting lodge at Knowsley, east of Liverpool, where Derby had built for them a set of detached royal lodgings. He had perhaps also commissioned a new four-poster bed—the “Paradise Bed”—which was very similar in size, design, and ornamentation to another bed that he had had made for himself, either for Lathom or Knowsley. Both were probably built by the same craftsmen; the standard of carving is exceptionally high and reveals Burgundian influence. It is not known whether the Paradise Bed was installed at Lathom or Knowsley, or whether it was built some years before this visit, but it may have been specially made for the new royal apartments at Knowsley.

  The royal bed has a triptych of panels set into the headboard; the central panel portrays the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and the side panels display the royal arms of France and England respectively, which are repeated on the footboard. The lion and the dragon, supporters of the Tudor arms, appear in the central panel. Tudor roses appear on the head posts and on shields supported by the heraldic lions surmounting the posts. The center crest bears the royal arms of England and France quartered. The cross of St. George—a saint much invoked by Henry VII—dominates the side crest of the bed, which is formed by a carved knotted cord that may symbolize the King’s devotion to the Observant Friars. These symbols are all to be seen in the Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey. The faces of Adam and Eve bear some resemblance to those of Henry and Elizabeth—especially as carved in the Sudbury Hutch (see Appendix I)—and maybe Derby wanted a parallel drawn between the progenitors of humanity and the founders of the Tudor dynasty.120

  If the Paradise Bed was at Knowsley, then Henry and Elizabeth slept in it for just one night. The next day they were in Manchester, then a market town, and on September 6 proceeded southward, lodging at Macclesfield, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Stafford, and Lichfield, before diverting northeast to Burton-on-Trent and Derby, then south via Loughborough to Collyweston, Margaret Beaufort’s house. They continued south to Rockingham, and then to Northampton, Banbury, and Woodstock, where they stayed for ten days. By now Elizabeth knew she was to have another child, so possibly she needed to rest. On October 20 she and Henry were at Ewelme, the Oxfordshire seat of her cousin, Edmund de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, then they moved on to Bisham Priory, Berkshire, the burial place of many of her Neville ancestors. From there they went to Windsor Castle, and then to Sheen, arriving on October 31.121 They were to have four days in which to relax after their travels before calamity struck.


  “Doubtful Drops of Royal Blood”

  Infant mortality was high in Tudor times, and in an age long before antibiotics even royal children succumbed to minor illnesses. Elizabeth faced tragedy when, on October 7, 1495,1 when she was nearly five months pregnant, her three-year-old daughter Elizabeth died at Eltham Palace. Her death came at a time when her father was negotiating a marriage for her with the future King Francis I of France, then a year-old child. As the King and Queen were at Sheen when their daughter died,2 her death was probably unexpected.

  On November 16, 1495, bravely setting aside their grief, they honored with their presence the traditional feast held by the newly appointed Serjeants-at-Law amid the splendors of Ely Place in Holborn,3 Elizabeth and her ladies dining in one room, and Henry and his retinue in another, as was customary. Ely Place would have held a special relevance for both Henry and Elizabeth, for their common ancestor, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, had lived there with his third wife, Katherine Swynford, mother of his Beaufort children, in the late fourteenth century; but on this occasion it was more likely that Elizabeth’s thoughts were with th
e child she had lost.

  The body of the infant princess was brought from Eltham in a black “chair,” or chariot, drawn by six horses to the gate of Westminster Abbey, where the prior was waiting to receive it. The King and Queen were nearby at Westminster Palace4 but did not attend the obsequies, for which Henry had outlaid £318 [£155,480] on October 26. The funeral was arranged by Cardinal Morton, Giles, Lord Daubeney, the Lord Chamberlain, and others. It took place a month later, on November 26, was conducted with great ceremony and attended by a hundred poor men who had been given black gowns for the occasion.5 Soon afterward the grieving parents raised to the memory of “our daughter Elizabeth, late passed out of this transitory life” a small tomb chest of gray Lydian marble with a black marble cover “on the right-hand side of the altar, just before St. Edward’s shrine, the foundation of which the foot of the grave almost touched.” It cost £371.0s.11d. [£181,400].6

  Originally the tomb bore a copper-gilt effigy and inscription, but these have long disappeared, presumed stolen. Fortunately the inscription was copied and preserved by the Elizabethan antiquarian John Stow. It read: “Elizabeth, second daughter of Henry VII, the most illustrious King of England, France, and Ireland, and of the Lady Elizabeth, his most serene wife … On whose soul God have mercy. Here, after death, lies in this tomb a descendant of royalty, the young and noble Elizabeth, an illustrious princess. Atropos, most merciless messenger of death, snatched her away. May she inherit eternal life in Heaven!”7

  It is this reference to the goddess Atropos, the oldest of the Fates, that has led historians to conclude that Princess Elizabeth died of “atrophy,” a wasting disease that can have many causes, although the Tudor age understood it to be the result of poor nourishment. It is hard to imagine that Henry, Elizabeth, or Margaret Beaufort would have allowed a child to perish through such neglect; in fact, the epitaph clearly referred not to a disease, but to the dread task of the severe and inflexible Atropos, which was to choose how a person would die and cut the thread of their life short with her shears. The princess had probably succumbed rapidly to a childhood infection that would be easily treated today. There is nothing in the historical record to suggest she was delicate or suffered a long illness.

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