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

  On Thursday, November 18, the first of the planned tournaments was held. The wide yard before Westminster Hall had been strewn with gravel and sand “for the ease of the horses,” and lists were set up. Around the grounds were flower displays and artificial trees heavy with fruit. To the south was a stand hung with cloth of gold and furnished with cushions of the same costly fabric. “As soon as dinner was done in the court,” the Queen, the Princess of Wales, Cecily, Viscountess Welles, the other princesses, and a train of “two or three hundred ladies and gentlewomen” entered this stand from the right, and the King, Prince Arthur, Prince Henry, and many lords entered from the left.

  “Round the whole area were stages built for the honest common people, which at their cost was hired by them in such numbers that nothing but visages presented themselves to the eye, without any appearance of bodies. And when the trumpets blew, the nobility and chivalry engaged to tilt appeared in the arena, riding under fanciful canopies borne by their retainers.” The Earl of Essex must have drawn many eyes, as he “had a mountain of green carried over him as his pavilion, and upon it many trees, rocks, and marvelous beasts climbing up the sides,” and “on the summit sat a goodly young lady, in her hair [with loose hair], pleasantly beseen.” The Queen’s half brother, Dorset, “had borne over him a rich pavilion of cloth of gold, himself always riding within the same, dressed in his armor.” Elizabeth’s brother-in-law, Lord William Courtenay, made his appearance “riding on a red dragon led by a giant, with a great tree in his hand.”

  Twenty or thirty contestants rode around the arena, cheered on by the commons, then the tournament began, and they engaged in the tilt “with sharp spears, and in great jeopardy of their lives, breaking a great many lances on each other’s bodies.” Fortunately, no one was killed. When the jousts were over, the royal party, followed by throngs of lords and Londoners, proceeded into Westminster Hall, where a royal dais had been erected, and a magnificent cupboard—which stretched the whole length of the wall of the Court of Chancery—was laden with a display of plate, mostly of solid gold. Elizabeth, Margaret Beaufort, and the Princess Katherine sat down at elevated seats at the King’s left hand, with their ladies and the royal children on their side of the hall, while Prince Arthur sat at his father’s right hand, with the nobles seated according to degree on his side.

  Stages with scenes of a castle, a fully rigged ship with sails, and a “Mount of Love” were wheeled in, and pageants performed. The castle—representing Castile—was lit enticingly from inside, and eight gentlewomen could be seen looking out of its windows. At the top sat a lady wearing Spanish dress, representing Katherine of Aragon, and in the towers were the children of the King’s Chapel in full chorus. The castle was drawn by “marvelous beasts”—men dressed as gold and silver lions harnessed with huge gold chains. The ship was manned by mariners “who took care to speak wholly in seafaring terms,” and in it were men dressed as sailors and a girl playing a Spanish infanta. The princess in the castle was courted by “two well-behaved and well-beseen gentlemen called Hope and Desire,” who emerged from the ship, but she disdained them, at which point eight knights emerged from the “Mount of Love” and stormed the fortress, forcing the ladies to surrender, whereupon they emerged from the castle, partnered the victors and danced with them “goodly roundels and divers figures,” before vanishing out of sight.

  Arthur now led his aunt Cecily onto the floor, “and danced two basse dances,50 and then departed up again, the prince to his father and Lady Cecily to the Queen her sister.” Next, the Princess Katherine and one of her ladies, both wearing Spanish dress, danced two basse dances, then “both departed up to the Queen.” After this things livened up. Ten-year-old “Henry, Duke of York, having with him his sister, Lady Margaret, in his hand, came down and danced two dances, and went up to the Queen.” There was such applause that the pair came down again, and young Henry “suddenly threw off his robe and danced in his jacket with the Lady Margaret in so goodly and pleasant a manner that it was to the King and Queen a great and singular pleasure. Then the duke departed to the King and the Princess Margaret to the Queen.” At the end of the evening a hundred lords and knights paraded into the hall with gold cups of hippocras and gold plates of spices.

  On the following Sunday, November 21, there “was laid out a table in the White Hall, or Parliament Chamber, for a lavish dinner. The King sat at the side table next to his own chamber, with Katherine at his right hand,” her duenna beside her. The door to the King’s chamber was open, and within “the Queen sat at the table at the bed’s feet, which was the table of most reputation of all the tables in the chamber,” proclaiming to the world the esteem in which Henry held Elizabeth. Seated below the Queen were her sisters Cecily and Katherine, Margaret Beaufort, and a Spanish bishop. Arthur presided over a third table, seated with his siblings, Margaret and Henry. After dinner Katherine presented the prizes won in the jousts. The Duke of Buckingham received a great diamond, Dorset got a ruby, and the rest rings set with precious stones. Then the King and Queen led their guests into Westminster Hall, where they watched an interlude and were diverted by disguisings and a pageant in which lords and ladies danced in celebration of the union of the prince and princess. Just before midnight eighty earls, barons, and knights served a void of hippocras and comfits, offering the royal family golden plates of spices and gold cups, which were filled from a golden ewer by a lord of high rank.

  The bridal pair spent the next few days at Baynard’s Castle, during which period more tournaments took place, and there was a huge gathering in Westminster Hall for more disguisings and pageants, during which the King presented prizes to those who had been victorious in the jousts, and everyone departed “with excellent mirth and gladness.” On Saturday, November 27, the royal family and the court left London in sixty barges, among which numbered those of the Lord Mayor and the City livery companies, decorated with “their standards and streamers, with their cognizances right well decked.” The journey was made delightful by “the most goodly and pleasant mirths of trumpets, clarions, shawms, tabors, recorders, and other diverse instruments, to whose noise upon the water hath not been heard the like.” At Mortlake everyone “took horses and chariots, and so rode to Richmond,” arriving late at night by torchlight. The King had arranged for the celebrations to continue in the great palace, “the bright and shining star of building, the mirror and pattern of all palaces of delight, commodity, and pleasure, there intending to finish, conclude, and end the royalties of this most excellent wedding.”51

  The next day being Sunday, the King and Queen attended Mass “with pricked song and organs, and goodly ceremonies in the choir and altars.” Then, “after divine service, the King sped with the court through his goodly gardens to his gallery on the walls,” where he and his family watched lords playing chess, backgammon, cards, and dice. Later “a framework with ropes was fixed in the garden, on which went up a Spaniard, and did many wondrous and delicious points of tumbling and dancing.” Afterward the King led a hunt in Richmond Park, which Elizabeth did not attend.

  In the evening, Henry, Elizabeth, and Katherine took their places on the dais in the hall, which was lavishly furnished with carpets and gold cushions, and watched a pageant in the form of a rock drawn by three seahorses; on the rock sat models of mermaids, in which were hidden the children of the Chapel Royal, “who sang sweetly with quaint harmony.” When the pageant reached the dais, “instead of dancers were let out of the rock a great number of white doves and live rabbits, which creatures flew and ran about the hall, causing great mirth and disport.” At the end of the evening, after the void, the King distributed gifts to his Spanish guests, in gratitude for their having brought their princess safely to England, and so ended the wedding celebrations.

  The next day Katherine bade farewell to the Spanish lords, who returned home bearing letters from the Queen for Ferdinand and Isabella. Noticing that she was looking sad and pensive after their departure, Henry realized she was homesick. Kindly,
he took her and her ladies to his new library and showed her “many goodly pleasant books” to divert her; he even summoned a jeweler, from whose wares she was allowed to take her pick. The remaining jewels were given to her Spanish ladies.52

  At the end of November the court moved to Windsor Castle. It had been decided that Arthur should return to Ludlow to resume his duties, but there was much debate as to whether Katherine would go with him or stay with the Queen and Princess Margaret, at least for the winter. The King still felt that Arthur was not old enough to give free rein to “the duties of a husband,” and that the couple should wait a while before they lived together; others were worried that Katherine, coming from the warmer climate of Spain, would find it hard wintering on the Welsh border. Some councilors agreed that cohabitation should be delayed, on account of the “tender age of our son,” as Henry would explain to Ferdinand and Isabella in February.53 The tragic memory of the Infante Juan had hovered like a specter over the debate.

  Doña Elvira and Pedro de Ayala urged that the princess remain behind, arguing that Ferdinand and Isabella would be “rather pleased than dissatisfied” if the couple “did not live together” for some time, on account of Arthur’s tender age. Katherine herself declared to the King that she had no other will than his in the matter. But her chaplain, backed by Dr. de Puebla (who had fallen out with Doña Elvira), insisted that it was the true wish of Ferdinand and Isabella that the prince and princess should not be separated; if they were, the Spanish sovereigns would be displeased and the homesick Katherine “in despair.” The “indecision continued four days, during which [the King] caused the prince to use his influence with the princess, and to persuade her to say that she preferred rather to go than to stay, and, as she refused to say it, the King, making show of great sorrow, decided that she should go to Wales, although nothing in the world he regretted more.” In this way Henry bowed to the perceived wishes of Katherine’s parents, declaring that he was allowing her to go to Wales “even to the danger of our own son.”54 It was a decision he would soon come to rue. Elizabeth’s wishes in the matter are not recorded, but she may well have felt some concern.

  On December 21, Arthur and Katherine left together for Ludlow, where they set up their small court. There, Arthur again presided over the Council of the Marches, learning how to govern his principality as a preparation for kingship, and continuing his studies with Dr. Linacre. Henry, Elizabeth, and their younger children spent Christmas at Richmond Palace.

  Elizabeth was present when, on January 24, 1502, the treaty of marriage between Princess Margaret and James IV was concluded at Richmond,55 and she played an important role in the ceremony of betrothal the following day, which was conducted with much pomp, and attended by many lords and high-ranking clergy, including Henry Deane, Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Savage, Archbishop of York, and Robert Blackadder, Archbishop of Glasgow. On this occasion, Katherine Courtenay and Katherine Gordon were in attendance on the Queen, and the latter took precedence after the royal party.

  Clarencieux King of Arms left an account of the ceremonies: “First the King, the Queen, with their noble children, except the prince [Arthur], heard the High Mass” in the Royal Chapel, after which Richard FitzJames, Bishop of Rochester, “made a notable sermon.” Then “the King and the Queen, accompanied with the Duke of York, the Lady Mary,” the papal legate, the ambassadors, and the company of about ninety persons, processed to the Queen’s great chamber for the betrothal; the room had been newly decorated with entwined Tudor roses and Scottish thistles in honor of the occasion.

  The King and Queen seated themselves beneath the canopy of estate, with Prince Henry and Princess Mary on stools at their feet. Princess Margaret stood before them, with all eyes upon her. During the ceremony, the Archbishop of Glasgow asked the King, the Queen, and the princess if they knew of any impediment, and all three assured him there was none.

  Then the Archbishop turned to Margaret. “Are you content without compulsion, and of your own free will?”

  And Margaret, displaying none of the independence of spirit of her later years, replied dutifully, “If it please my lord and father the King, and my lady my mother the Queen.” “The King showed her that it was his will and pleasure, and then she had the King’s and the Queen’s blessing,” whereupon the Archbishop proceeded to the betrothal ceremony, with Patrick Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, standing proxy for the bridegroom.56 Although she was not to go to Scotland until September 1503, Margaret was now Queen of Scots, and would henceforth be honored as such at her father’s court, and be assigned her own apartments at Westminster and Windsor.57

  Trumpets sounded from the leads of the chamber and minstrels played “in the best and most joyfullest manner” as “the King went to his own chamber to dinner” with the Scots and English ambassadors, and “the Queen took her daughter, the Queen of Scots, by the hand, and dined both at one mess, covered”—meaning that both were now married and therefore they covered their heads—in Elizabeth’s great chamber. Jousts followed in the afternoon, and in the evening there was “a notable banquet,” while in London Te Deums were sung in churches, bonfires were lit in celebration, and hogsheads of wine were passed around in the streets.

  The next day the little Queen of Scots appeared in state in her mother’s chamber, and “by the voice of the principal officer there gave thanks to all those noble men who had taken pain to joust for her sake.” Prizes were presented to the winners in the lists, and afterward “there was in the hall a goodly pageant, curiously wrought with fenestrals [windows], having many lights burning in the same in manner of a lantern, out of which sorted various sorts [pairs] of morris [dancers].” There followed “a very goodly disguising of six gentlemen and six gentlewomen, which danced divers dances,” then one more “great and notable banquet.” The next day there was another tournament, after which the King distributed gifts to the Scots envoys.58

  Preparations were now put in hand for Margaret’s departure for Scotland. The Queen took a personal interest in her daughter’s trousseau, purchasing for her a gown of crimson velvet with cuffs of fur, white and orange sarcenet sleeves, three pewter basins, a brass chafer, two washing bowls, a fire pan, “a great trussing basket,” and a pair of bellows; she also paid “Giles the luter” for strings for the Queen of Scots’ lute.59 A painter, called “Minour”—who was almost certainly Maynard Wewyck, the King’s painter—was commissioned to execute portraits of the King, the Queen, and the princess, which he took to Scotland himself and presented to James IV.60

  It might have seemed to Henry and Elizabeth that the high point of the King’s reign had been reached with the culmination of his hard-negotiated treaties, and that all was set fair for a glorious future. Yet the euphoria surrounding the wedding and betrothal celebrations did not long endure. In February 1502 two new threats to the Tudor dynasty emerged, and both would impact badly on Elizabeth.


  “Enduring Evil Things”

  The year 1502 was to prove Elizabeth’s annus horribilis. In 1500, after the elimination of Warwick and Warbeck, a Milanese envoy had observed of Henry VII: “From this time forward, he is perfectly secure against Fortune.”1 Alas, that prediction was shortly to be confounded, for now “there suddenly came a lamentable loss and mischance to the King, the Queen, and all the people.”2

  “The Shrovetide following the marriage [the week ending February 8, 1502, which was Shrove Tuesday], Prince [Arthur] began to decay and grow feeble in body,” so the Duke of Suffolk recalled in 1529. He had heard the details from Maurice St. John, who was of the opinion that the prince’s illness was the result of too much indulgence in the marriage bed. This testimony chimes with that of Sir Anthony Willoughby, who had “heard say” that the prince and princess “lay at Ludlow together the Shrovetide next following”;3 and it is supported by the contemporary account in The Receyt of the Lady Katherine, which dates Arthur’s decline “from the Feast of the Nativity of Christ unto the solemn feast of the Resurrection, at the
which season grew and increased upon his body, whether it was by surfeit or cause natural, a lamentable and most pitiful disease and sickness.”

  News of Arthur’s illness reached the court within days, and must have occasioned the royal parents much concern. But that was not all they had to worry about, for there was a new threat to the Tudor throne. The King had restored the attainted Lincoln’s younger brother, Edmund da la Pole, to the peerage, but only to the extent of making him Earl of Suffolk—not duke, like his late father. Suffolk’s resentment had smoldered. He was after all regarded by some malcontents as the rightful Yorkist claimant to the throne. A bold, rash man, he had murdered “a mean person in rage and fury” the previous year. Henry VII pardoned him but had long distrusted him, and with good reason. In the summer, Suffolk, provocatively calling himself “the White Rose,” and his brother Richard had fled, with the aid of Sir James Tyrell, to the court of Maximilian of Austria, now Holy Roman Emperor. This had rightly been viewed by an alarmed Henry VII as a new threat to his security. It “vexed and misquieted” him, making him anxious lest “some tumultuous business should be begun again,” for Suffolk’s claim to the throne was arguably better than his own. On February 22, 1502, Suffolk was publicly condemned in a sermon preached at Paul’s Cross, and excommunicated.4

  Suffolk was Elizabeth’s first cousin, and he had played a prominent part at her coronation and in court ceremonials. He was part of a circle that included her brother-in-law, William Courtenay, and her kinsman, Henry Bourchier, Earl of Essex.5 She was close to his mother, her aunt Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk, and possibly to him too, so his defection must have come as a shock to her.

  Numerous people suspected of being in contact with the de la Poles had been under surveillance in recent months, and Henry learned that Courtenay had banqueted and dined with Suffolk just prior to his defection. The King’s agents also uncovered disquieting intelligence that Courtenay had corresponded with Suffolk, and he was suspected of having invited the de la Poles to invade England in the West, where his family had their power base.

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