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

Sometime after May 13, 1502 (when Elizabeth repaid money Cecily had lent to her), Cecily made an illicit third marriage to an obscure man of low degree, Thomas Kyme (or Kymbe, or Keme) of Lincolnshire or the Isle of Wight. The date of their marriage is not recorded, and it is not until January 1504 that Cecily is first referred to as Kyme’s wife, in the Parliament Roll of 1503–04.9 As a princess of the blood, Cecily was not supposed to marry without the King’s permission, still less disparage the royal lineage by throwing herself away on a mere esquire; and unsurprisingly, when Henry discovered what she had done, he banished her from court and angrily confiscated the Welles lands, in which she had a life interest. The fact that Margaret Beaufort, who was sympathetic toward Cecily in her plight, began taking a busy interest in those lands from 1502 strongly suggests the marriage took place that year, after May 13.10

  There is no record of Elizabeth interceding with the King on her sister’s behalf, but such a conversation would surely have taken place in private, and if it did, then her pleas fell on deaf ears. It may be that she was as shocked and angered at the marriage as the King, and that she did not intercede at all, but this seems out of character; the fact that Margaret Beaufort, who had often worked in concert with Elizabeth, was not afraid to help Cecily, suggests not only that she was fond of her, but also that she knew she was better placed than Elizabeth to help her. Elizabeth was grieving for her son; she was pregnant and her health was precarious; she already had troubles enough with one sister’s misfortune, and her marriage may have been under strain as a result of that, so she was probably not in the best position to help.

  Margaret offered Cecily and Kyme shelter at Collyweston. From 1502 she took steps to assess the value of the Welles lands and drew up agreements with Cecily. By January 1504 she had negotiated a settlement with the King, whereupon Parliament restored Cecily’s life interest in the Welles inheritance.11

  Aside from resenting Henry’s impoverishment of her sisters, there is the possibility Elizabeth was aware of his fancy for Katherine Gordon and that this was another cause of distancing herself. Further than this we cannot speculate. The marriage of Henry and Elizabeth has always been seen as one of fidelity and mutual support, and there is no evidence that the King’s interest in the beautiful Katherine went beyond chivalrous appreciation in Elizabeth’s lifetime. But if that was as plain to his wife as it was to observers, then she had cause to feel threatened, and that could only have added to her resentment.

  Elizabeth and her sister first traveled to Colnbrook, where Elizabeth rewarded a poor man who had guided them to St. Mary’s Chapel so they could make an offering to Our Lady; she also gave alms to a hermit there. Then they boarded the ferry across the Thames at Datchet and rode northward via Wycombe, arriving that night at Notley Abbey, an Augustinian monastery by Thame, Buckinghamshire;12 their mother, Elizabeth Wydeville, had once owned lands nearby. The abbot’s house, where they lodged, still survives; its magnificent timber roof was recently revealed. While they were there, a messenger caught up with them with a letter from Lady Cotton at Havering bearing news of the sudden death of little Lord Edward Courtenay on June 13, and seeking to know the Queen’s pleasure as to where her nephew should be buried; that same day Elizabeth wrote to the Abbot of Westminster. Later she paid for the child’s funeral and gifts for his nurse and his rocker.13

  On July 14, Katherine having probably gone to Havering, Elizabeth rode northeast via Boarstall to Woodstock, where soon afterward she fell “sick.”14 It is possible that she was suffering the discomforts of the early months of pregnancy, but this might have been a continuation of her illness of the spring, exacerbated by her condition; there is evidence to suggest that she did not enjoy good health through her pregnancy, and we know there were fears that she would not survive her previous confinement. Either way, her malady may have been aggravated by grief for Arthur, revelations about her brothers’ fate, and stress over her sisters’ plight.

  It has credibly been suggested that she was suffering from iron-deficiency anemia as a result of repeated pregnancies,15 which would have predisposed her to the condition, as each pregnancy can place a high demand on a woman’s stores of iron. In such cases, the fetus and vital organs, such as the muscles that facilitate childbirth, can be starved of oxygen. Left untreated—and the condition was unknown in Elizabeth’s day—iron-deficiency anemia can have serious implications for the health of mother and child. The symptoms include breathlessness, tiredness, dizziness, fainting, pallor, palpitations, and headaches; and the effects can be a lowering of resistance to infections, the exacerbation of minor disorders of pregnancy, a risk of premature labor, perinatal mortality, hemorrhaging before or after delivery, and maternal death.16

  Whatever the cause, Elizabeth’s concern for her health—and probably for a successful outcome to her pregnancy—was manifested in the offerings she either made or sent by proxy to various shrines and churches: St. Mary Magdalene’s Church, Woodstock; St. Frideswide’s at Oxford; the Holy Rood at Northampton; Our Lady’s Well at Linslade, Buckinghamshire; and Our Lady of Northampton, where she paid five priests to say five masses.17

  By August 4, Elizabeth was well enough to travel on to the hunting lodge that Henry VII had built at Langley, Shipton-under-Wychwood, Oxfordshire; then it was on to Northleach, Coberley, “the rood beyond Gloucester” (probably the Holy Rood in the Saxon church at Daglingworth), and St. Anne in the Wood, a holy well near Bristol. Here, Elizabeth made an offering before proceeding to Over, where she stayed at the Vineyard, the Abbot of Gloucester’s house, and gave alms to an anchoress of Gloucester. On August 6, she was at Flaxley Abbey in the Forest of Dean, a Cistercian monastery dating from the twelfth century (now a private house) that had welcomed several royal visitors since the time of King John; the Queen made another offering at the high altar. She had arrived in Wales by August 14, when she was led by a local guide to Mitchel Troy, where she visited St. Mary’s Priory before traveling on to nearby Monmouth.18

  A red chasuble with opus Anglicanum (fine English) embroidery, dating from ca. 1502, is owned by St. Mary’s Church, Monmouth; it was one of two vestments believed to have been donated by Elizabeth to Monmouth Priory during her visit. The other is the contemporary Skenfrith Cope, embroidered with the Assumption of the Virgin, encircled by angels and saints; it is now in the possession of St. Bridget’s Church, Skenfrith.19

  From Monmouth, Elizabeth journeyed to Raglan Castle, arriving by August 19.20 Here she was the guest of Charles Somerset, Lord Herbert, the illegitimate last male descendant of the Beauforts, who was cousin to the King and served him as a diplomat. It may be significant that Raglan had been the seat of William Herbert, Earl of Huntingdon, who was close to Richard III, having married the latter’s bastard daughter, Katherine Plantagenet. They were both dead now, but the castle had come to Charles Somerset in right of his wife, Huntingdon’s daughter, Elizabeth Herbert; Henry VII and Elizabeth of York had attended their wedding on June 2, 1492.21 Elizabeth Herbert was Huntingdon’s child by his first wife, Mary Wydeville, and therefore the Queen’s cousin. Elizabeth Herbert’s uncle, Sir Walter Herbert, was married to another cousin, Anne Stafford, daughter of the late Duke of Buckingham by Katherine Wydeville; Anne’s sister Elizabeth served the Queen as her chief lady-in-waiting.

  This visit, therefore, was a family occasion, but during it Elizabeth might have had the fate of her brothers on her mind, possibly being in some turmoil in regard to Tyrell’s confession; maybe she hoped to find some clarification at Raglan. Wales was a long way for an ailing, pregnant woman to travel, even to visit her relations, so there must have been a compelling reason for going so far—and it was not to visit Ludlow, where Arthur had died, for she did not venture near there. Did she hope that Elizabeth or Walter Herbert, who had known Huntingdon and Katherine Plantagenet, could tell her anything about the fate of her brothers?

  During the Queen’s stay, a servant of Sir Walter Herbert brought her a goshawk, and a stranger came to deliver a pair of clavichords, pur
chased on her behalf from a foreign craftsman by Hugh Denys, a courtier who was married to one of her ladies; they must have been fine instruments, for they cost £4 [£1,950]. On August 24 she was gambling at “tables,” or backgammon, and during her visit her own minstrels entertained her.22 It is possible that she gave one of several sets of beautifully worked vestments, perhaps made by Robinet, “the Queen’s broiderer,” for use in the fifteenth-century galleried chapel in Raglan Castle, of which only ruins remain. A red-and-gold chasuble dating from ca. 1498, probably given by Elizabeth to St. Mary’s Priory, Abergavenny, during her visit to Raglan, now belongs to the Church of Our Lady and St. Michael, Abergavenny.23 While the Queen was in Wales, a Spanish servant came to her from Katherine of Aragon and was given 20s. [£490].24

  Elizabeth returned to England via Chepstow, where she arrived on August 28, then rode through Woolaston before taking the ferry across the River Severn and making for Berkeley Castle, where she stayed from August 29 to September 4 as the guest of the elderly Maurice, Lord Berkeley, a former Knight of the Body to Edward IV, and his wife, Isabella Mead. The “stuff of the wardrobe of her beds” was sent on from Raglan to Abingdon, and thence to London. While at Berkeley, Elizabeth received a servant of a Mr. Esterfields of Bristol, who came with a costly gift of delicacies, oranges and suckets (candied fruits), for which she gave 2s. [£50] in reward. That same day, August 29, she made an offering to the Virgin at the church at nearby Thornbury, and on September 2 she rewarded her minstrels for their performance at Berkeley. The next day she ordered that venison be sent on to London for her table; she feasted on venison while at Berkeley, and wine was bought for her in Bristol. During her stay her litter was repaired with silk points, pins, and a yard of frieze.25

  From Berkeley, Elizabeth traveled to Beverstone Castle near Tetbury, another seat of the Berkeleys. She then stayed at Coates Place near Cirencester, and was escorted by a local guide on to Fairford, where she lodged from September 10 to 14 and again dined on venison, and apples sent by Mary, Lady Hungerford, from Heytesbury. On September 16 the Queen was back at Langley, where she remained until October 3. She may have needed to rest because of her condition or poor health, for on September 17, John Grice, her apothecary, was paid £10.19s.11d. [£5,350] for “certain stuff of his occupation by him delivered to the use of the Queen”; and on September 21 she signed her accounts for the last time, after meticulously signing them daily for years, which suggests she was too sick or fatigued to attend to all her duties and had to let some things slide. But the Lord Mayor of London sent her two barrels of Rhenish wine, and venison was delivered to Langley for her table, so she was evidently not too ill to eat. The regular delivery of bucks and harts to the places where she stayed on her progress suggests that she may have had a craving for venison during this pregnancy.26

  On September 21, Elizabeth gave 16s. [£390] to John Grice’s servant “toward his wedding gown,” suggesting that the apothecary was still in attendance. Three days later, at her command, a messenger was dispatched from Windsor to her sister Bridget at Dartford, possibly to ask after her health and request her prayers. Again, Elizabeth was sending offerings and seeking intercessions at nearby shrines, notably Our Lady of Caversham and the Child of Grace at Reading, to which she gave a pleated lawn shirt.27

  The King, who had been staying at Woodstock and was perhaps concerned about Elizabeth’s health, joined her at Langley on September 28,28 and probably accompanied her for the rest of her progress. On October 6 she visited Minster Lovell Hall, where William Hamerton built her a bedstead.29 The hall was the former residence of Francis Lovell. He had disappeared in 1487 after fighting on the wrong side at Stoke,30 and the manor was now nominally in the hands of Prince Henry. The Queen gave money to an old footman to the prince who was now residing in an almshouse at Abingdon, where on October 13 she presented rich offerings to the silver effigy of Our Lady of Abingdon in the chapel of the Austin Friars.31

  At Ewelme more memories of the House of York awaited her, for the palatial house had been the seat of her kinsfolk, the de la Poles, so recently disgraced, and was now in royal hands. Here, Elizabeth played dice and received messengers from Prince Henry and Margaret Beaufort; she also marked the feast of St. Edward the Confessor. Three days later she had moved on via Henley to Easthampstead, Berkshire, a royal manor lying in the Forest of Windsor, where she rewarded a “disare,” or reciter, “who played the shepherd before the Queen.”32

  Elizabeth was back at Richmond Palace before October 25, when rewards were paid out to those who had brought her gifts of apples and woodcocks. Two days later she was rowed to Westminster, where she stayed until November 14. On the day of her arrival she sent her barge to Durham House to collect her daughter-in-law, Katherine, who stayed with her until November 6. The Queen made her offering on the Feast of All Saints on November 1, took communion, and rewarded the young choristers of the King’s Chapel for their singing. Later that day she visited Westminster Abbey with Henry to make more offerings in observation of the obit of his father, Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, and to pray at the shrine of St. Edward the Confessor. Around November 4, Elizabeth paid for fifty-two barrels of beer, which she gave annually in alms to the Observant friars of Greenwich, and two days later she sent 15s.8d. [£380] in alms to the Abbess of the Minories and the nuns she had succored there in May.33

  Her accounts show that in November and December her embroiderer, Robinet, and seven hired embroiderers were “working upon the Queen’s rich bed,” probably at Richmond, in readiness for her coming confinement, for “she intended to [be] delivered at Richmond”;34 the hangings were embroidered with white and red roses and clouds, and edged with red satin. Later that month Elizabeth paid out 33s.4d. [£810] for a new trussing bed with a ceiler, tester, and counterpoint of crimson velvet with blue panes, and great rings for the bed curtains; she also ordered a cloth of estate of rich crimson cloth of tissue (taffeta), a pile cloth (possibly a rug or a thick towel) of linen, and matching curtains, together costing £46s.4d. [£1,130].35

  Elizabeth was looking for suitable staff for her coming child’s establishment. Dame Katherine Grey recommended a nurse, a Mistress Harcourt, who had an audience with the Queen at Westminster on November 14, before Elizabeth left for Greenwich, but was dismissed with a gift of 6s.8d. [£160].36

  From Greenwich, on November 19, Elizabeth removed to Baynard’s Castle, where she received several gifts on November 23. Her cook, Brice, had bought chickens and larks prior to her coming.37

  Elizabeth was still looking after the needs of the Courtenay children. In November she paid a man to deliver messages from Lord Henry and Lady Margaret at Havering to the court, probably to their mother. She also paid for clothing for young Henry Courtenay: a gown of black damask lined with sarcenet, a gown of tawny medley bordered with sarcenet, a coat of murrey camlet, a bonnet and a petticoat (the little boy had not yet been put into breeches). She also reimbursed Margaret Cotton for hose, shoes, laces, soap, and other necessaries for the children, including candlesticks and cloth to line a cupboard.38

  On November 24 a French nurse was interviewed by the Queen at Baynard’s Castle; like the previous nurse, she too was sent away with 6s.8d. [£160]. The next day Elizabeth gave alms to a poor man who once served her father, and paid a messenger who had fetched bucks for the King from the estate of Sir John Seymour in Savernake Forest.39 If there had been a coolness between the royal couple, it was probably thawing.

  On November 26, Elizabeth returned to the Palace of Westminster. As the winter of 1502–03 drew on, she may still have been unwell or needed to rest, as she did not resume her daily checks on her account book. At the end of November her fool, Patch, was rewarded for bringing her pomegranates and apples. On December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas’s Day, when custom dictated that “boy bishops” be appointed in place of priests in churches, she made a generous gift of 40s. [£970] to “the Bishop of the King’s Chapel at Westminster.” Appropriately, on St. Nicholas’s Day itself, when gi
fts were given to children, the Queen outlaid 5s.6d. [£130] for the expenses of those who brought the Courtenay children “from Sir John Hussey’s place in Essex unto London,” in time for Christmas. She made offerings on St. Nicholas’s Day and in the chapel of Our Lady of the Pew in Westminster Abbey on the eve of the feast of the Conception of the Virgin Mary, and on the feast day itself, December 8. On December 9 she sent money to Henry Langton, another old servant of her father, and 12d. [£20] in reward to “a man of Pomfret” in an almshouse, who claimed to have lodged her uncle, Earl Rivers, in his house when the latter had been on the way to execution at Pontefract in 1483.40 It seems that her lost loved ones, and maybe the terrible events of 1483, were on her mind as Christmas approached.

  On December 12, Elizabeth moved to the Tower. The next day she distributed £20 [£9,720] in rewards to the grooms and pages of her chamber “against Christmas,” and was no doubt grateful to receive a monk of Westminster Abbey, who brought her one of the abbey’s precious relics, “Our Lady’s girdle,” and was rewarded with 8d. [£20].41 “Women with child were wont to girdle with” it,42 and perhaps Elizabeth had found that the relic helped—psychologically at least—during earlier deliveries, or felt it would afford her special protection during her coming confinement. Given her poor health during the past year and her many offerings at shrines, she may have been anxious about the outcome of this pregnancy, as she was before her previous labor, although there is much to suggest that she had good cause for concern this time: she had been unwell, on and off, for months.

  On December 21 the Queen went by barge to Mortlake and thence to Richmond, where she spent her first Christmas without Arthur—and the last Christmas of her life. Six does were delivered for her table on Christmas Day. When she went in state with the King to Mass on that solemn feast, Prince Henry was with them. The children of the King’s Chapel sang a new setting of a carol by William Cornish, for which Elizabeth rewarded him with 13s.4d. [£320]. She also rewarded the King’s minstrels with 40s. [£1,000] for their psalms. She made offerings on the feast days of St. Stephen (December 26), St. John the Apostle (December 27), the Holy Innocents, or Childermas, as it was known (December 28), and St. Thomas of Canterbury (December 29), and sent a “Dr. Uttoune” to offer on her behalf at Becket’s shrine and other places in Canterbury.43

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