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

  King Henry, Queen Elizabeth, Margaret Beaufort, Princess Margaret, Prince Henry, and other “notable estates” were in residence at the time, but “to the King’s good comfort, the royal family escaped unhurt, and no man or Christian creature perished.” Even so, the King had been lucky, for a gallery collapsed immediately after he sped along it to safety.

  The damage, according to Soncino, was “estimated at 60,000 ducats [£7.3 million]. The King does not attach much importance to the loss. He purposes to rebuild the chapel all in stone, and much finer than before.”74 Yet he was concerned about some of the crown jewels being lost in the fire, and offered a reward of £20 [£9,700] to anyone finding them in the smoking rubble.75 Surveying the devastation, Henry decided to rebuild not only the chapel, but the palace itself, bigger and better than before.

  Fortunately, the old royal manor complex of Byfleet, moved to Sheen by Henry V, stood nearby, beyond the moat and gardens, and Henry and Elizabeth probably took up residence there for Christmas, as they were still at Sheen with the court on January 30, 1498, “in good health and merry, thank God”;76 and they were at Sheen again the following July.77

  Elizabeth’s privy purse accounts record that on June 6, 1502, she paid out £3 [£1,450] to Nicholas Grey, clerk of works, “toward such losses as he sustained at the burning of his house at Richmond,” presumably in the same fire that wrecked the palace. On February 7, 1503, she paid £20 [£9,700] in partial compensation to Henry Coote, a London goldsmith, “for certain plate delivered to the Queen’s Grace at Richmond, and there lost and burnt at the burning of the palace there.”78

  In April 1498 the King gave Elizabeth a gift of £6.13s.4d. [£3,250].79 That year, Prince Henry rode in great state into London, where the streets had been swept in his honor, and was presented with a gift by the City fathers, for which he made his first recorded speech, thanking them. On May 23, not quite seven years old, he beat his father at cards, winning 3s.4d. [£80].80 Four days later Henry VII paid out £3.6s.8d. [£1,620] to Robert Taylor, the Queen’s surgeon,81 possibly for drawing one of her teeth or letting blood. The generous payment reflects the King’s concern for his wife’s health.

  There was alarm when, on June 9, 1498, Perkin Warbeck escaped from the Palace of Westminster. Evading his two warders, he climbed through a window in the wardrobe and set out for the coast, but the King sent men after him and gave orders for the roads to be closed, and Warbeck only made it as far as Sheen, where he took sanctuary at the Charterhouse.

  On June 12 the prior of the Charterhouse arrived at Westminster and informed the King of Warbeck’s whereabouts. Henry immediately had the news conveyed to Puebla, who communicated it to Ferdinand and Isabella, to reassure them that the pretender had been speedily found. The prior begged the King to spare Warbeck’s life. Henry VII was not a bloodthirsty man, but he was no longer prepared to be lenient with Perkin. He had him put in the stocks in Cheapside and at Westminster, where he was again made to read aloud his confession, then he was marched under strong guard to the Tower and imprisoned in a cell where “he sees neither sun nor moon.”82 Bacon asserts that even now Warbeck was still insisting he was Richard of York, and declaring that when he was delivered from the Tower, he would wait for the King’s death, “then put myself into my sister’s hands, who was next heir to the crown.” But Bacon was writing much later, and—as we have seen—tended to see intrigue where none probably existed, especially in regard to pretenders. It is highly unlikely that Elizabeth was harboring sympathy for this young man, or that she still took his claim seriously.

  Certainly Pedro de Ayala did not, and he assured Ferdinand and Isabella that Henry VII’s crown was now “undisputed, and his government is strong in all respects.” But the years of uncertainty had taken their toll. Ayala added that Henry “looks old for his years, but young for the sorrowful life he has led.”83 Vergil too observed how Henry had aged: “his teeth [were] few, poor and blackish; his hair was thin and gray; his complexion pale.” Worry and anxiety may have taken their toll on Elizabeth too: a portrait of her painted in the 1490s, now in the Royal Collection (see Appendix 1), shows her looking older than her years—she was thirty in 1496—with pinched lips and a double chin.

  But now, with Warbeck securely imprisoned, the outlook for the future appeared brighter, and the way seemed clear for preparations for Prince Arthur’s wedding to the Infanta to proceed smoothly. It was what the King earnestly desired, and he “swore by his royal faith that he and the Queen were more satisfied with this marriage than with any other.”84

  On July 7, 1498, two Spanish diplomats, Commander Sancho de Londoño and Juan de Matienzo, sub-prior of Santa Cruz, “passed four hours with [King Henry] in conversation, at which the Queen and the mother of the King were present.” They reported to their sovereigns: “To hear what they spoke of Your Highnesses and of the Princess of Wales was like hearing the praise of God.” The envoys gave Elizabeth two letters from Ferdinand and Isabella and two letters from the Princess of Wales. “The King had a dispute with the Queen because he wanted to have one of the said letters to carry continually about him, but the Queen did not like to part with hers, having sent the other to the Prince of Wales.”85 It is hard to imagine Elizabeth defying Henry openly like this. More likely, the dispute was staged to demonstrate to the Spanish envoys the enthusiasm of the royal pair for the marriage of their son to Princess Katherine.86

  When, on August 25, 1498, Rodrigo de Puebla brought Elizabeth letters from the Spanish sovereigns and Katherine of Aragon, “and explained them, she was overjoyed.” She sent at once for her Latin secretary “and ordered him to write, in her presence, two letters, one of them to the Queen of Spain and the other to the Princess of Wales.” The secretary told Puebla afterward “that he was obliged to write the said letters three or four times, because the Queen had always found some defects in them,” saying, “They are not things of great importance themselves, but they show great and cordial love,” which had to be expressed in the proper fashion.87 This testifies to Elizabeth’s keen desire for a successful outcome to the marriage negotiations, as do her efforts to cement good relations with Puebla by finding him an English bishopric or an English bride.

  In February, Henry VII had informed Ferdinand and Isabella that “since Puebla could not be induced to accept a Church preferment, he was asked whether he would also refuse an honorable marriage offered to him. After many excuses, he has at last been persuaded, principally by the Queen, to accept the marriage, but under the express condition that his king and queen must first give him their consent. Wishing to marry Puebla well in England, he and his queen beg them [the Spanish sovereigns] to grant their prayers, and to give their consent. The marriage will be of great advantage to the Princess Katherine when she comes to live in England.” Puebla dutifully but reluctantly relayed the proposal to his sovereigns, and it seems that Henry and Elizabeth continued to press him to accept the hand of an Englishwoman of their choosing.88

  On the morning of Sunday, July 18, Commander Londoño and the sub-prior of Santa Cruz went to Sheen, accompanied by the Bishop of London and other great dignitaries of state, and there saw the King and Queen walking in procession after hearing Mass in the chapel. “The ladies of the Queen went in good order and were much adorned.” Later that day the envoys “took leave, and went to kiss the hand of the Queen.”89

  During their visit, Commander Londoño and the sub-prior of Santa Cruz made their separate observations about Elizabeth resenting Margaret Beaufort’s influence on the King. As discussed earlier, the envoys’ conclusions were probably overstated, for Elizabeth and her mother-in-law continued to present a united and friendly front to the world, and until now there had been no hint of discord between them. Several times during 1498 alone we find them amicably working and playing together. They displayed a joint concern to prepare Katherine of Aragon for her marriage. On July 17, Puebla reported: “The Queen and the mother of the King wish that the Princess of Wales should always speak French with the
Princess Margaret [of Austria, wife of Katherine’s brother, the Infante Juan, Prince of Asturias], who is now in Spain, in order to learn the language and to be able to converse in it when she comes to England. This is necessary, because these ladies do not understand Latin, and much less, Spanish. They also wish that the Princess of Wales should accustom herself to drink wine. The water of England is not drinkable, and even if it were, the climate would not allow the drinking of it.”90

  That summer, Margaret Beaufort accompanied the King and Queen on a progress into East Anglia, visiting Havering, Bury St. Edmunds, and Thetford on the way to Norwich, where they were received by the mayor, who made an oration in their honor.91 They again visited the shrine at Walsingham, and at Bishop’s Lynn (later King’s Lynn) they lodged in the Augustinian priory92 before journeying westward to Margaret’s house at Collyweston.93 Two years later Elizabeth collaborated with Margaret and Prince Arthur to secure the appointment of Thomas Pantry, a native of Calais, as Supreme Beadle of the Arts at the University of Oxford, although in 1501 they all supported rival claimants for the same post in Divinity, which shows that Elizabeth was not always swayed by her mother-in-law’s opinions.94

  In July 1498, Londoño and the sub-prior of Santa Cruz reported an instance of the King, Queen, and Margaret Beaufort sharing a similar sense of humor. They had heard of it from “a Spaniard, brought up and married in England,” who was “porter to the Queen of England. He said that some time ago the King was living at a palace about a quarter of a league distant from the town in which Puebla was staying. Puebla went every day, with all his servants, to dine at the palace, and continued his unasked-for visits during the space of four or five months. The Queen and the mother of the Queen sometimes asked him whether his masters in Castile did not provide him with food. On another occasion, when the King was staying at another palace, there was a report that Dr. de Puebla was coming. The King asked his courtiers, ‘For what purpose is he coming?’ They answered, ‘To eat!’ The King laughed at the answer.”95 This is a revealing insight into a private joke shared by Elizabeth, her mother-in-law, and her husband, which suggests that “subjection” was quite the wrong word to describe her relations with Lady Margaret.

  There was a good reason to account for Elizabeth being out of sorts or looking strained or irritable during the ambassadors’ visit: she was two months pregnant, and possibly suffering with it. The King paid out money to her physician, Lewis Caerleon, probably for consultations and treatment connected with her condition.96

  In the summer of 1498, during a visit to London, the Bishop of Cambrai (once alleged to be Warbeck’s real father) visited Henry VII and asked to see Perkin, who was duly produced for his inspection. Puebla observed that he was “so much changed that I, and all other persons here, believe his life will be very short. He must pay for what he has done.” Puebla, doubtless acting on the orders of King Ferdinand, did not cease urging King Henry to rid himself of this embarrassment, hinting that Ferdinand was having second thoughts about marrying his daughter to a prince whose future throne might not be secure.97

  On September 11, Bishop Fox was empowered to negotiate the marriage of Margaret Tudor and James IV. Henry was resolved upon cementing the peace between England and Scotland, and liked the prospect of his grandson sitting on the Scots throne. James too was eager for the marriage, and there was talk of an early wedding, but Henry revealed to Pedro de Ayala that his wife and his mother had worked in concert again, this time to protect Margaret from the perils of marrying too young. “I have already told you more than once that a marriage between him and my daughter has many inconveniences,” he said. “She has not yet completed the ninth year of her age, and is so delicate and female [i.e., weak] that she must be married much later than other young ladies. Thus it would be necessary to wait at least another nine years. Beside my own doubts, the Queen and my mother are very much against this marriage. They say if [it] were concluded, we should be obliged to send the princess directly to Scotland, in which case they fear the King of Scots would not wait, but injure her and endanger her health.”98

  Margaret Beaufort probably spoke from bitter experience, for her husband had not waited, and the likelihood is that giving birth at thirteen scarred her so badly, mentally as well as physically, that she had never borne another child. She and Elizabeth may also have heard reports of the Scots King’s womanizing and been concerned for Margaret. Bowing to this pressure from his womenfolk, Henry compromised and made James agree not to demand his bride before September 1503, when she would be nearly fourteen.99

  Early in 1499 a young Cambridge student, Ralph Wilford, the son of a London cordwainer, suddenly declared that he was the real Warwick. Like Lambert Simnel, he had been encouraged in his deception by an errant cleric, in this case a friar. He was speedily apprehended and “confessed that he was sundry times stirred in his sleep that he should name himself to be the Duke of Clarence’s son, and he should in process obtain such power that he should be King.” By now Henry VII’s patience was exhausted, and after personally interrogating the imposter, he did not hesitate to deal swiftly with him: on February 12, Wilford was hanged.100 Even so, the damage had been done, for the King was much disturbed by the appearance of yet another pretender, and—as he had probably feared—the Spanish sovereigns were dismayed when they heard of it.

  Elizabeth was then in the last stages of pregnancy. The Great Wardrobe Accounts for January 1499 record payments for linen cloth for bearing sheets, “headkerchiefs, biggins [bonnets for the baby], and breast kerchiefs,” kersey for twelve couches (beds), and fustian “for a bed for the nursery,” all purchased for the Queen. On January 20 the King sent for the silver font from Canterbury Cathedral, paying the prior £2 [£970] for the favor.

  Around the time she took to her chamber, Elizabeth had to deal with more bad news. On February 9, 1499, her brother-in-law, John, Viscount Welles, the husband of her sister Cecily, died of pleurisy at his London home. In his will he had passed over his other heirs and directed that all his property should go to Cecily for the term of her life, and that his body should be interred wherever she—with the consent of the King and Queen and the King’s mother—should deem appropriate. After his death Cecily sent to the King at Greenwich to discover his pleasure in the matter. He commanded that Welles be buried with great solemnity in the old Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey. Cecily apparently returned to the Queen’s household, where, given Elizabeth’s love and care for her sisters, she was assured of a sympathetic welcome.101

  By February 19, Anne Crown, mistress of the nursery (probably identified with Anne Crowmer), was installed and awaiting the arrival of her charge. Under her was Anne Skern, who had nursed Princess Mary, and “five gentlewomen of the nursery.”102

  Elizabeth bore her third son, her sixth child, on Thursday, February 21, 1499, at Greenwich.103 He was baptized there in the church of the Observant Friars on February 24. The Great Wardrobe provided linen for the silver font from Canterbury, cords for hanging the canopy that would be borne over the infant, red worsted, gilt nails, and other items104 against the christening, which was “very splendid, and the festivities such as though an heir to the crown had been born.”105 The baby was named Edmund, after Henry’s father, Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond.

  Margaret Beaufort was Edmund’s godmother at the font, and gave him the generous gift of £100 [£48,600], as well as handsomely rewarding the midwife and the nurses.106 Clearly she was relieved to see both mother and child safely delivered, for “there had been much fear that the life of the Queen would be in danger, but the delivery, contrary to expectations, had been easy.”107 A payment of 6s.8d. [£160] made by the King on the day after the birth to “Wulf the Physician at two times”108 may reflect the precautions put in place should something go wrong. We do not know why there were fears for the Queen’s life, unless the shock of her brother-in-law’s death and her sister’s bereavement had affected her badly, but the ministrations of her doctors the previous year suggest she
had had a difficult pregnancy.

  Prince Edmund was styled Duke of Somerset,109 a title proudly borne by his Beaufort ancestors, although he was probably never formally ennobled since no enrollment of any patent can be traced.

  Polydore Vergil recorded that “by his wife Elizabeth, [Henry VII] was the father of eight children, four boys and as many girls”; and John Foxe, writing in the reign of Elizabeth I, stated that “Henry VII had by Elizabeth four men children and of women children as many, of whom only three survived.” John Stow, the Elizabethan antiquarian, states that there was a fourth and youngest son called Edward. In the eighteenth century, Thomas Carte also asserted, in his history of England, that there was a fourth son who died in infancy, while in the nineteenth century, Arthur Stanley, Dean of Westminster, recorded a fourth son, Edward, who died very young and was buried in Westminster Abbey. However, the royal genealogist Francis Sandford, writing in the seventeenth century, says that Edmund was the third and youngest son.

  Modern biographers110 have put forward all kinds of theories about a fourth son. One names him George,111 but most call him Edward. His birth date has variously been given as 1487–88112 and 1495–96,113 suggesting some confusion with Princess Mary, 1497114 or 1500–01.

  There is no contemporary evidence to support any of these theories. Nor is there any record of Elizabeth having more than seven pregnancies. All are documented in one way or another, so it is unlikely that a prince called Edward ever existed. The most telling evidence in favor of the Queen having borne only three sons is to be found in two works of art. The St. George altarpiece at Windsor, which depicts Henry and Elizabeth and their children adoring St. George, and dates from 1505–09, shows four daughters and only three sons. An illumination in the “Ordinances of the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception,” dating from 1503, also shows three sons and four daughters. Given that all the known children who died young are included in each of these groups, which were painted after Elizabeth’s death, we might expect to see a fourth son—if there had been one—in both pictures.

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