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


  He was still fretting about the favors that the King and Queen of England were pressing on him. He “did not like to accept the bishopric or the marriage offered to him because it seemed to him that a true servant of [Ferdinand and Isabella] ought not to do so.” It seemed the sovereigns agreed with him, because they failed to respond to the proposals, for which Puebla thanked them the following June, when he said he feared that Henry VII would still pursue the matter, and expressed his fears that the sovereigns would no longer trust him “if he were married by the Queen of England to a rich English lady.”1 Evidently Elizabeth finally got the message that her offer was unwelcome, and dropped the matter.

  From June 1499, England had suffered one of its worst-ever plague epidemics, which raged on through a mild winter into the late spring of 1500; in London alone, which suffered the most, it was said (probably with some exaggeration) that thirty thousand died. After “often change of places”2 to escape contagion, Henry decided to take Elizabeth abroad to Calais, the last remaining outpost of England’s continental territories. His intention was not only to avoid the pestilence but also to meet with Archduke Philip.

  With no pretenders left to challenge him, the King could safely go abroad at last, but not without anxiety, for it is clear his departure lacked fanfares. Puebla wrote: “The internal peace of the kingdom is perfect. It is so great that the King and Queen left England. Until two days beforehand no one knew of their intended journey.”3 The royal party traveled down from Greenwich to Dover with their households, attended by heralds and men-at-arms, and crossed the sea to Calais on May 8,4 arriving that night. This was the only time Elizabeth ever went abroad.

  The next day the King and Queen put on a splendid show when, “with many lords, ladies, knights, esquires, gentlemen, and yeomen,” they set out to greet the Archduke, who had married Juana of Castile, Katherine of Aragon’s sister. Elizabeth was attended by fifty ladies of rank, all “beautifully adorned,” with Katherine Gordon prominent among them. The royal couple received the handsome but dissolute young Archduke with much pomp at Our Lady of St. Peter’s Church outside the city walls. The church had been “richly hanged with arras” and “parted with hangings into divers offices,” including an area where a feast was served. “And when they had all dined and communed, there was a rich banquet” of strawberries, cream, spice cakes, and cherries. Afterward, the Archduke “danced with the ladies of England, and then took leave of the King and Queen.”5

  Over the next few days, Henry and Elizabeth entertained their guest with pageants, feasts, and jousts. “The King and the Archduke had a very long conversation, in which the Queen afterward joined. The interview was very solemn, and attended with great splendour.”6 Elizabeth’s presence was required because Henry and Philip had agreed that the Princess Mary, now four, should be betrothed to Philip’s eldest son, Charles,7 who had been born in February. Charles was the heir to the Habsburg territories and also to Spain, and in time he would be the master of vast domains, so this was a brilliant match for Mary.

  Mary had recently been assigned a separate household, with ladies-in-waiting, gentlewomen, a wardrobe keeper, a schoolmaster, and a physician.8 In 1499 the three-year-old was provided with five beautiful gowns of green velvet edged with purple tinsel, black velvet edged with crimson, crimson velvet, blue velvet, and black velvet furred with ermine, as well as kirtles of tawny damask and black satin, both edged with black velvet, and two pairs of knitted hose.9 In 1502 the King would order that Mary be assigned the same number of attendants as Katherine of Aragon, then Dowager Princess of Wales.10

  Mary showed much greater promise intellectually than her sister Margaret, and was given the advantage of a good education. She learned French and Latin, music, dancing, and embroidery. Her brothers’ tutor, Giles Dewes, taught her French. Like most of her family, she was musical. Her father the King gave her a lute, and she also learned to play the clavichord and the regal, a small portable organ. In 1502, after the Borgia Pope, Alexander VI, had proclaimed a Catholic Jubilee year, Elizabeth paid 12d. [£25] so Mary could have a “letter of pardon”11—an indulgence that bought her remission from her sins. Possibly Elizabeth’s youngest daughter was a high-spirited, headstrong child whom she thought was in need of such remission—or the lesson the indulgence would have taught her.

  The King and Queen stayed for forty days in Calais. On June 16, when the plague had abated, they sailed back to Dover12 and journeyed directly to Greenwich. On or before their return, at a time when Prince Arthur’s health was giving them cause for concern, they were brought the tragic news that the infant Prince Edmund had died at the episcopal palace at Hatfield, Hertfordshire.13

  Edmund had lived for fifteen months. It is often stated that he died on June 16, but Henry VII’s privy purse expenses for May list £242.11s.8d. [£117,900] “for the burial of my Lord Edmund,”14 and it would have taken longer than five days to arrange the ceremonial funeral. A payment on February 14 for “hawk bells” for Prince Henry at Hatfield15 suggests that all the younger royal children had been living there too, isolated from the pestilence, while their parents were abroad in Calais, and that Edmund did not die of plague but of some childhood ailment.

  The little boy was given a state funeral. According to the provisions for the burial of a prince in Henry VII’s ordinances, his tiny corpse was “laid in a new chest covered with white damask, with a cross of red velvet thereon,” and an image of him “with a circlet on his head” was placed on top. The coffin and effigy were brought from Hatfield to London in “a chariot covered with black” pulled by “six horses trapped all in black,” followed by the chief mourner, Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, and other lords, all wearing mourning robes with “their hoods fair hanging over their ears.” Torchbearers went before, and the Lord Mayor and guildsmen of London lined the streets as the cortege passed. The coffin was received by the grieving King at Westminster. Henry’s ordinances provided for him to wear “his robes of blue” for the occasion, and since those same ordinances make it clear that women were not barred,16 Elizabeth was perhaps there too, trying to come to terms with the pain of losing a second child in five years, and watching the little coffin as it was borne on a hearse into the abbey, where a dirge was sung over it and the lords kept watch overnight. The next day, June 22, Mass was said, and the interment in the Confessor’s Chapel followed.17 There is no record of a tomb being raised to mark Edmund’s burial place.

  Sheen was not the only royal residence to be updated by Henry VII. In 1500–01 the King demolished the old palace at Greenwich and began rebuilding it, facing the buildings with red brick in the Burgundian style much favored by him and Elizabeth.

  Accessed through an imposing gateway opposite Queen Margaret’s Pier, the new Greenwich Palace was designed around three courtyards, known as Fountain Court, Cellar Court, and Tennis Court. Its riverside facade boasted bay windows and an imposing five-storied tower, which probably housed Henry’s privy chamber. Elizabeth’s lodgings were in a parallel range that lay behind, the two suites connected at one end by the hall and chapel. At the other end a gallery gave access to the convent of the Observant Friars, which had been refounded by the King, who drew up elaborate instructions for a stained-glass window in the friars’ church depicting himself and his family; it was completed around 1503.18

  In 1500 the King and Queen visited Coventry, where they were admitted as members of the Holy Trinity Guild, and watched a mystery play portraying the story of the world from Creation to Judgment Day. They also visited Nottingham.

  That year, the King summoned Katherine of York and her husband, Lord William Courtenay, to court. By October they had settled in their house in Warwick Lane with their children, and afterward were both often at court; early in 1501, William was granted an annuity for his daily diligent attendance on the King. Elizabeth must have been pleased to have her sister near at hand.

  In Spain, Isabella and Ferdinand were preparing to send the Infanta Katherine to England. Notwithsta
nding the assurances given by Elizabeth, Isabella evidently was anxious about her youngest child. “We ardently implore that the princess shall be treated by [King Henry] and the Queen as their own daughter,” she wrote to Pedro de Ayala on March 23, 1501.19 That month, Henry VII outlaid £14,000 [£6.8 million] for jewels from France “against the marriage of my Lord Prince.”20 No expense was to be spared for the wedding of his heir, which would reflect everything he had achieved in securing this crucial alliance.

  In mid-April the King and Queen kept their Easter court at Eltham.21 On May 8 the Portuguese ambassador in England reported to his master, King Manuel I, that “the Queen was supposed to be with child, but her apothecary told me that a Genoese physician affirmed that she was pregnant, yet it was not so.” Nevertheless, it looked very much like it to the ambassador, for she had “much embonpoint [plumpness] and large breasts.”22 This report and the double chin evident in the contemporary portrait in the Royal Collection (see Appendix 1) suggest that Elizabeth, like her father before her, was becoming prematurely obese in her thirties—or she had retained a fuller figure after her previous pregnancies.

  That month, accompanied by her duenna, Doña Elvira Manuel, and a train of sixty people, Katherine left the Alhambra Palace in Granada on the first stage of what was to prove a slow journey to England. In July, Puebla reported: “The King, the Queen, and the Prince of Wales have great pleasure in hearing that the Princess Katherine is beginning to speak French. The Queen especially rejoices in the progress the princess is making in the French language.”23 It meant she would be able to converse more easily with the daughter-in-law whose arrival she so eagerly anticipated.

  On October 2, Katherine of Aragon at last arrived in England, coming ashore at Plymouth after a stormy voyage. Ladies and officials had been appointed “to give their attendance upon the princess at her landing,” summoned by letters sent by the Queen herself.24 There was a formal reception, with “the King’s commendations made by my Lord Steward, the Queen’s by her chamberlain.”25 Elizabeth’s officers were actively involved in all the preparations, for the marriage of her son was an event that came within her sphere of influence. Her master of horse provided five chariots and twenty palfreys for the princess and her ladies, and henchmen to ride with them; her chamberlain was in charge of the etiquette to be observed and matters of precedence.26

  When Katherine of Aragon set out on her journey eastward to London, she received a rapturous welcome from the people who flocked to see her on the way. “The princess could not have been received with greater joy had she been the Savior of the World,” a member of her suite reported to Queen Isabella.27

  Henry and Elizabeth were then staying in the Tower of London, where they were preparing for the wedding celebrations. There were daily jousts on the tournament ground before the White Tower, and feasts in the King’s Hall, the great hall in the Inmost Ward. But Henry had a more pressing matter on his mind: he wanted to see his son’s bride and be reassured that she was as fit a mate for Arthur as he had been led to believe.

  The prince traveled from Ludlow, met up with his father, and rode with him to greet his bride. They caught up with the princess at Dogmersfield, Hampshire, on November 4. There was a tense altercation when Katherine appeared veiled, and her duenna and the Spanish ambassador informed the King that Spanish protocol dictated she must remain so until she was married; but Henry, ever suspicious, and no doubt fearful that his son’s bride was deformed or ugly, stood his ground. “Tell the lords of Spain,” he commanded, “that the King will see the princess even were she in her bed.” The veil was lifted. Arthur later wrote to Ferdinand and Isabella that he “had never felt so much joy in his life as when he beheld the sweet face of his bride,” and he vowed to be “a true and loving husband all his days.”28 After the meeting he returned with his father to London to rejoin the Queen, with Katherine’s procession following.

  Elizabeth had gone to stay at the newly rebuilt and restored palace at Sheen. By November 1501 the King had “finished much of his new building at his manor of Sheen, and again furnished and repaired that [which] before was perished with fire.”29 The renovated palace, which cost over £20,000 [£9.7 million], had only recently been made ready for occupation by the royal family. Built in late, ornate Perpendicular style around two broad, paved courtyards, it covered ten acres and faced the Thames to the south. It was dominated by Henry V’s massive donjon tower, which had survived the fire and was completely restored. Now surmounted by fourteen turrets, pepper-pot domes, and pinnacles, it contained the King’s and Queen’s suites of privy lodgings.

  Lancaster Herald described the new palace as “this earthly and second paradise of England, the spectacular and beauteous example of all proper lodgings.” He noted the towers, pinnacles, and weather vanes sporting the royal arms, painted and gilded, on every building in the complex; on windy days the tinkling of the vanes was “right marvelous.”30

  The palace was approached through a massive gatehouse with an archway eighteen feet high and eleven feet wide, which gave access from the green in front to the Great Court. Above the archway was emblazoned the Tudor royal arms supported by the red dragon of Cadwaladr and the greyhound of Richmond. From the gatehouse extended “a strong and mighty brick wall of great length,” encircling the palace complex. Lancaster Herald described it as having “towers in each corner and angle, and also in the midway,” with several stout oak gates studded with nails and crossed with iron bars. “Galleries with many windows full lightsome and commodious” overlooked the Great Court, where there were “pleasant chambers for such lords and men of honor that wait upon the King’s Grace.” A two-hundred-foot-long gallery afforded excellent views of the gardens.

  The smaller inner court—the River Court—was paved with marble and boasted a stone conduit and a drinking fountain sculpted with lions and red dragons guarding branches of red roses, from which the water ran clear and pure to a cistern beneath. This was where people washed their hands, for there was no running water inside the palace. To the west side was the great hall, a hundred feet long and resplendent with a tiled floor, a central hearth, and a timber roof lined with lead and decorated with hanging pendants and carved knots—all “most glorious and joyful to behold.”31 The walls were hung with rich cloths of Arras, including a fabulous one depicting “The Destruction of Troy,” and there were “pictures”—probably statues—of “the noble kings of this realm in their harness [armor] and robes of gold, like bold and valiant knights”—with Henry VII naturally prominent among them. Beneath the hall was a cellar, and next to it, on the ground floor, the Royal Wardrobe and domestic offices—“the pantry, buttery, kitchen, and scullery.” Coal and fuel were stored in the yards outside, well out of sight of the royal family.

  On the opposite side of the courtyard to the hall, up a flight of stairs, was the chapel, “well paved, glazed, and hung with cloth of Arras” and gold, with an undercroft beneath it. The altar was set with jewels and relics and laden with rich plate, and pictures of virtuous and pious kings of England—doubtless including St. Edward the Confessor and Henry VI—were displayed on the walls. A private closet to the left of the altar was shared by Elizabeth, her children, Margaret Beaufort, and their attendants, while the King’s closet was on the right side. Both closets were furnished with carpets, cushions, and silk curtains. The chapel ceiling was “checkered with timber lozengewise, painted azure, having between every check a red rose of gold or a portcullis.”32

  From the chapel “extended goodly passages and galleries, paved, glazed, and painted,” adorned with golden badges sporting Tudor roses and portcullises. These led to the three-storied donjon, which was accessed through an imposing arched doorway sculpted with the royal arms and the red dragon of Cadwaladr, and was notable for its many windows. Here, on the first floor, were the King’s chambers, the first, second, and third of which (watching chamber, presence chamber, and privy chamber) were hung with costly cloth of Arras; each room had “white-limed” and “c
heckered” ceilings, and “goodly bay windows” overlooking the river.

  Below, connected by a great staircase, were “divers and many more goodly chambers both for the Queen’s Grace, the prince and princess, my lady the King’s mother, the Duke of York and Lady Margaret, and all the King’s noble kindred and progeny.” These suites contained “pleasant dancing chambers and secret closets” and were “most richly enhanged, decked, and beseen.” More fine rooms were to be found in a new four-storied tower attached to the donjon.

  Both the King’s and Queen’s apartments were on the southeast side of the donjon and overlooked “most fair and pleasant” enclosed gardens and galleries with open loggias, a feature never before seen in England. There were kitchen gardens and orchards to the west, and a privy garden to the east. The latter had symmetrical railed beds with “royal knots” of flowers, and lions and dragons on decorative poles; alleys led through the beds and beyond, to “places of disport” and “houses of pleasure”—bowling alleys, archery butts, and tennis courts—another feature borrowed from the Burgundians.33

  Henry VII gave the palace a new name: “from this time, it was commanded by the King that it should be called Rich Mount,” or Richmond, “because his father and he were earls of Richmond” in Yorkshire.34 It became his favorite residence, and remained the largest English royal palace until Hampton Court was built in 1514.

  In 1499, Henry VII had founded, or refounded, six English houses for Observant (Grey) Friars of the Order of St. Francis, one of which was at Richmond. In May 1502 the King gave the friars the old manor buildings and chapel of Byfleet, and work began immediately on converting them into a convent. This was screened off from the palace by an orchard—no ordinary orchard, but a charming pleasaunce “with royal knots alleyed and herbed”; along its alleys were set statues of “many marvelous beasts, as lions, dragons, and such other divers kind, with many vines, seeds, and strange fruit right goodly beset.” And “in the lower end of this garden beith pleasant galleries and houses of pleasure to disport in.” Galleries, beasts, and houses of pleasure were all features of the Burgundian palaces.35

 
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