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

  Horace Walpole, who owned the picture in the eighteenth century, and published an engraving in his book, Anecdotes of Painting in England, incorrectly described it as Henry V and his family, but he was probably correct in claiming that it was a votive altarpiece, possibly commissioned by Henry VII for St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, or for the Chapel Royal at Richmond Palace. The earliest record of it is the engraver George Vertue’s description ca. 1726, when it was at Tart Hall, St. James’s, London, in the collection of William Stafford, Earl of Stafford; it may have been one of the pictures that had come down to Stafford from Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, who owned the Howard letter, another artifact connected with Elizabeth of York.26

  At Syon House, Isleworth, there is a painting on canvas of Elizabeth and her daughters that derives from the St. George altarpiece, although the costume and jewelry are different and the figures have a more realistic quality. Syon House also has a companion panel of the King and his sons. These are perhaps nineteenth-century copies of two lost panel paintings based on the figures in the altarpiece, last seen in 1863 when they were owned by Sir John Stephen Barrington Simeon of the Isle of Wight.27 Again Elizabeth wears her beautiful imperial crown and the traditional robes of estate—a gown, high-necked surcoat with a furred stomacher, and a long mantle—the design of which dated from the fourteenth century. The background is a plain hanging, studded with Tudor roses and surmounted by banners bearing roses and portcullises.

  A similar depiction of Henry and Elizabeth appears in an illuminated manuscript, “The Ordinances of the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception,” and is dated 1503, the year the confraternity was established in London; its ordinances were drawn up on March 22.28 It shows the King and Queen with their seven children, kneeling before the Immaculate Conception, represented by the figures of Joachim and Anna at the place where, according to medieval belief, they conceived the Virgin Mary—the Golden Gate of Heaven (which looks remarkably like a Beaufort portcullis). Again, this is a posthumous image of Elizabeth (her death is mentioned in the text), portraying her four infants who died young, who again are shown as grown children. Little attempt at accurate portraiture has been made.

  Two carved wooden medallions in the window recess of the dining room of Haddon Hall in Derbyshire are possibly portraits of Henry VII and Elizabeth dating from ca. 1500, although it has also been suggested that they depict the then owner, Sir Henry Vernon, and his wife. Elizabeth’s eldest son, Prince Arthur, stayed at Haddon Hall in 1501 as the guest of Sir Henry, his governor and treasurer.

  A tiny sculpted figure of Elizabeth, encircled by a Tudor rose and surmounted by a crown, is to be seen in the southwest corner of the Antechapel of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge; it is one of many early Tudor royal emblems decorating the chapel. Founded by Henry VI in 1446, the building was completed after 1508 by Henry VII and Henry VIII as a fitting memorial to their revered royal ancestor.

  The Sudbury Hutch, a contemporary cupboard chest made ca. 1500 and named after retired vicar Thomas Sudbury, who presented it in 1503 to St. James’s Church, Louth, Lincolnshire (where it still reposes), bears carved medallions of Henry and Elizabeth, with a crowned Tudor rose between them. The arches surmounting the medallions are early examples of Renaissance carving in England. Elizabeth is portrayed in an open-arched crown with her hair loose; Henry wears an imperial (closed) crown.29

  The full-length, stained-glass figures of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York appear, surrounded by Tudor heraldic symbols, in the east window of the chancel of St. Nicholas’s Church, Stanford-on-Avon, Northamptonshire, which dates from ca. 1537–40. Beneath the Queen is the label “Elizabetha R.” In the background the royal motto, “Dieu et mon droit,” appears in diagonals on a gold ground. The figures derive from Holbein’s Whitehall mural. The window was at Stanford Hall until the 1880s, and it has been suggested that it was originally commissioned by Henry VIII for one of his palaces, and that there may have been other panels showing Henry VIII and Jane Seymour.30 In support of that theory, the church organ in St. Nicholas’s is said by some sources to have been the one made in 1630 for the Chapel Royal of Whitehall Palace, which was removed by Oliver Cromwell and came into possession of the Cave family, who had owned Stanford Hall since 1430; other sources claim that the organ came from Magdalen College, Oxford. Possibly the Caves acquired the glass panels from the palace; as has been noted, they owned a portrait of Elizabeth of York.

  A full-length oil panel of Elizabeth in the Princes Chamber in the Palace of Westminster was executed by Richard Burchett between 1854 and 1860; it too derives from the Holbein mural. A miniature portrait in the Royal Collection by William Essex is dated 1844, and is based—according to the artist—on the portrait at Hatfield House, but its similarity to RC 403447 is marked. A fanciful nineteenth-century portrait of Elizabeth by Edward Penstone was auctioned at Aylsham, Norfolk, in 2010.

  Elizabeth appears in Victorian stained-glass windows in the Lady Chapel of Winchester Cathedral and Cardiff Castle.

  It is sometimes said that the Queen in the historic tapestry dating from ca. 1500 in St. Mary’s Guildhall, Coventry, is Margaret of Anjou, and that the tapestry depicts her with Henry VI and their court, which was established at Coventry for three years in the 1450s. But it is possible that it’s meant to show Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, who were admitted to the guild of the Holy Trinity in 1500. The tapestry was woven in Flanders around that time, and the costume and imagery give a vivid impression of the sumptuous attire of a queen of Elizabeth’s time and her attendants. This is not a portrait, but the figure of Elizabeth (or Margaret), who kneels at a prie-dieu, wears a gorgeous gown of cloth of gold figured with red, a heavy collar and chain, and a shorter Flemish hood of red velvet topped with a fitted coronet.


  Elizabeth of York’s Ladies and Gentlewomen

  Elizabeth’s ladies and gentlewomen are listed below in alphabetical order. The records, however, are incomplete. Much of the information comes from Elizabeth’s privy purse expenses of 1502–03; the rest, which is often of a fragmentary nature, has been pieced together from other sources.

  Elizabeth Baptiste was in service in 1503.1

  Frances Baptiste, who must have been related, was paid £2.13s.4d. [£1,300] in 1500, and was still in service in 1503.2

  Margaret Belknap (d. 1513), wife of John Boteler, was in service in 1503.3

  Margaret Bone was in service in 1503.4

  Mary Brandon (ca.1466–1529), wife to John Reading, was sister to Sir William Brandon, Henry VII’s standard bearer, who had died defending the King at Bosworth. She later transferred to the household of Elizabeth’s son, the future Henry VIII, and in 1515 was granted an annuity of £50 for her service to Elizabeth of York and her daughter, Princess Mary.5

  Elyn Brent, one of Elizabeth’s gentlewomen, was probably the wife of Robert Brent, gentleman usher of the Queen’s chamber, and was in service in 1502–03.6

  Anne Browne, sister to Sir Anthony Browne (and later the first wife of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, who divorced her), was appointed a maid of honor at Michaelmas 1502, receiving the lowly salary of just £5 [£2,400] a year.7

  Anne Buckenham was one of the Queen’s gentlewomen in 1502.8

  Elizabeth, wife of John Burton, was perhaps sister-in-law to Edmund Burton, a yeoman of the Queen’s chamber; Henry VIII later bestowed on her an annuity of 20 marks [£2,350] in recognition of her good service.9

  Elizabeth Catesby (ca.1438–1514), wife of Roger Wake, was the sister of Richard III’s adviser, Sir William Catesby, who was executed after Bosworth. She was in Elizabeth’s household in 1503,10 and later transferred to that of Princess Mary. In 1514, Henry VIII, describing her as his kinswoman, awarded her a pension for good service to his mother and sister.11

  Elizabeth, wife of Edward Chamber of Dorset, went on to serve her mistress’s daughter, Princess Mary. Henry VIII rewarded her with an annuity of £20 [£7,600] in 1515.12

  Anne Crowmer (or Cromer
) (ca.1470–after 1520) received £10 [£5,000] in 1503,13 by which time she had been appointed governess to Elizabeth’s daughters and lady mistress of the royal nursery. Anne may have been the daughter of Sir James Crowmer; she married William Whettenhall, Sheriff of Kent, in 1489.14 A William Crowmer was one of the Queen’s gentleman ushers and a servitor of the King; Elizabeth gave money to his daughter, a nun at the Minories, Aldgate.15

  Margaret Ellerbeck married William Tendring around 1500, and later served Katherine of Aragon.

  Elizabeth Fitzherbert was in service in 1503.16

  Nothing is known of Margaret Gough apart from her name. She was perhaps related to Lewis Gough, the Queen’s footman.

  Anne Green (ca.1489–1523) was another gentlewoman of honor. The daughter of Sir Thomas Green, she was an aunt of Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth wife.

  Anne Hubbard (b. ca. 1435), gentlewoman to Elizabeth and Margaret Beaufort, was rewarded in 1515 by Henry VIII with an annuity of 100s. [£2,000] for her good service.17

  Elizabeth Hubbard is another attendant about whom nothing is known. She may have been a member of the Hobart family of Norfolk, Hubbard being a variation of their name.

  Katherine Hussey (ca. 1461–1508) was the wife of the King’s trusted adviser, Sir Reginald Bray, and almost certainly owed her position to his standing at court. A friend of the humanist John Colet, Dean of St. Paul’s, she had served Margaret Beaufort before joining Elizabeth’s household, and she and her husband continued to maintain lodgings at Coldharbour, Margaret’s London house. She was buried with Reginald in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor.18

  Elizabeth Jerningham (d. ca. 1518), who served as Elizabeth’s wardrobe keeper, was the wife of John Denton, of whom nothing is known. In July 1486, “by the King’s commandment, by the hands of Elizabeth Denton,” £90 [£44,000] was delivered to the Queen.19 In 1496 she became lady mistress of the nursery of Prince Henry. She received £20 [£10,000] in 1503,20 and in 1515 was granted a pension of £50 per annum for “service to the late King and Queen.”

  Eleanor Johns, or Jones, was in service in 1502–03.21

  Elizabeth Lee was also in service in 1502–03.22

  Anne Neville (1468–after 1525) was probably the daughter of Ralph Neville, third Earl of Westmorland, and married William, Lord Conyers, before 1498.23

  Lady Anne Percy (before 1485–1552), who joined Elizabeth’s household around 1495–96,24 was the daughter of the fourth Earl of Northumberland, and was to marry William FitzAlan, Lord Maltravers, in 1510. She was lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth, and later served Princess Mary. Henry VII once gave her two gowns, a kirtle, a bonnet, a doublet, and other items, valuable and costly additions to her wardrobe.25

  Eleanor Pole, the wife of Sir Ralph Verney, was one of Elizabeth’s favorite ladies. She was the daughter of Geoffrey Pole by Edith St. John, and therefore Margaret Beaufort’s half sister. Later, she would serve Katherine of Aragon.26 Henry VIII awarded her a pension for good service to his mother.27

  Jane Popincourt—who was later to be at the center of a scandal at the French court, thanks to her affair with a married royal duke—served in Elizabeth’s household. She came from the nursery household at Eltham, where she was in post from at least 1500, when she had been provided with a black gown after the death of Prince Edmund. Elizabeth paid 8d. [£20] for repairs to Jane’s gowns in 1502.28 By then she was Princess Mary’s maid. Possibly she had been engaged to help look after Princess Mary from infancy; certainly she taught her French. Later still, Jane served Katherine of Aragon. There is no good evidence to substantiate modern assertions that she was an early mistress of Henry VIII.

  Eleanor Ratcliffe (d. 1518), who may have attended Elizabeth before her marriage, and was perhaps the “Mrs. Ratcliffe” later recorded in Margaret Beaufort’s household, later married the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Thomas Lovell of Elsynge Manor, Enfield, a house much visited by Henry VII.29

  Mary Ratcliffe’s salary in 1503 was £10 [£4,860].30

  Mary Reading, gentlewoman, received a substantial annuity of £50 [£18,980] in 1515 from Henry VIII in gratitude for her service to Elizabeth, which must have been sterling to deserve such a lavish reward.31

  Mary Roos (d. after 1540), granddaughter of Thomas, ninth Lord Roos of Hamlake, was closely related to Margaret Beaufort. Her brother, Thomas Roos, a staunch Lancastrian, had been beheaded in 1464. She married Hugh Denys, a prominent courtier and administrator of the Privy Chamber, and later served Katherine of Aragon. In 1496, Henry VII granted her an annuity of 40 marks [£1,050], which Henry VIII was still paying her in 1540.32

  Anne Sandys married Richard Weston around 1502. He was also in Elizabeth’s service and served the King as groom of the Privy Chamber. He was knighted in 1518. Their son, Francis Weston, would be executed in 1536 for adultery with Henry VIII’s second queen, Anne Boleyn. Mrs. Weston was in service in 1503.33 Richard Weston was often involved in transactions between Henry and Elizabeth, once defraying her expenditure of £100 [£48,600] on “Venice gold” for a gown for the King.34

  Elizabeth Saxby (“Mrs. Saxilby”) had married into an old Lincolnshire family. She later served Princess Mary.35 In 1514, when she is described as a widow, Henry VIII rewarded her with a pension of £20 [£9,680] for her services to his mother, father, and sister.36

  Anne Say was a gentlewoman to the Queen in 1502; when she fell ill at Woodstock during a progress, Elizabeth paid for her to be boarded out at Abingdon for several weeks until she recovered.37

  Katherine (d. 1505), daughter of Lord Scales and wife of first Sir Thomas Grey and then Sir Richard Lewkenor, was lady-in-waiting in succession to her kinswomen Elizabeth Wydeville and Elizabeth of York.38

  Elizabeth Scrope (d. 1544) married Sir John Pechey around 1500. She was in service in 1503.39 Henry VIII awarded her a pension for good service to his mother.40

  Alice Skelling was in service in 1503 and received £5 [£2,400] per annum.41

  Joan Steward was granted an annuity of £20 [£9,700] in 1511 by Henry VIII in consideration of her good service to his mother.42

  Jane Vaux (ca. 1465–1538) had previously served Margaret Beaufort, and, before 1499, was appointed governess to Elizabeth’s daughters.43 The King and Queen attended her wedding to Sir Richard Guildford, Comptroller of Henry VII’s household, before 1489. Henry VIII awarded her a pension for good service to his mother.44

  Katherine Vaux (née Peniston) (d. after 1509) was the mother of Jane Vaux. She had been lady-in-waiting to Margaret of Anjou from at least 1452, and was imprisoned with her in 1471 after the Battle of Tewkesbury, in which her husband, William Vaux, was killed. She returned to France with Margaret in 1476, and on the latter’s death in 1482 she came back to England. Henry VII reversed the attainder on William Vaux, paving the way for Katherine to enter Elizabeth’s service. She was present at the christening of Prince Arthur in 1486 and at Elizabeth’s coronation.45 Henry VIII awarded her a pension for good service to his mother.46

  He did the same for Dorothy Verney.47

  Anne Weston, sister-in-law of Anne Sandys, married Sir Ralph Verney around 1507–09. She features many times in the Queen’s privy purse expenses for 1502–03, and was clearly a prominent member of Elizabeth’s household. Her salary in March 1503 was £20 [£9,700].48

  Margaret Wheathill (d. after 1518) was the wife of John Ratcliffe, Lord FitzWalter, and remained in Elizabeth’s household even after her husband was beheaded in 1496 for his involvement in Perkin Warbeck’s conspiracy.49

  Margaret Wotton (1487–1541) seems to have been in attendance as a “gentlewoman of honor” on a part-time basis, as in 1503 she received £2 [£970] for six months’ service.50 Her mother was Anne Belknap, sister of Margaret Belknap, who was also in Elizabeth’s service. In 1509, Margaret Wotton would marry Elizabeth’s nephew, Henry Grey, Marquess of Dorset.

  This book is dedicated to

  seven little people:

  Neve Marston

  Jake Preston

  Eleanor Weir

  Emily Weir

  Piper Weir

  Susan Weir

  Wren Weir,

  and to two great friends,

  Shelley and Burnell


  I should like to express my gratitude to the kind, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic people who have supported me in the writing of this book. To Sarah Gristwood, for hours of discussion about Elizabeth of York, and for giving so generously of her time to read the typescript, correct errors, and make suggestions; to her and to Josephine Wilkinson for their views on the vexatious matter of the Buck letter; to Nicola Tallis, for sending me academic papers on Elizabeth; to Professor Anthony Goodman, for advice on precontracts in the fifteenth century; to Ian Coulson, for sending me his research on the Paradise State Bed; to Jennifer Scott, Curator of Paintings at the Royal Collection, for information on portraits of Elizabeth owned by Her Majesty the Queen, and for engaging in many enjoyable email exchanges on the subject.

  I should like to thank Will Sulkin, my publisher at Jonathan Cape for so many years, for commissioning this book, and indeed for all his wonderful support and friendship during those years. Special thanks are due also to my new publisher, Dan Franklin, for his prompt and professional assistance and expertise; to Clare Bullock, for her work on the illustrations and for administrative support; to Frances Jessop, for her creative input; to Neil Bradford, for excellent design and production; and to Clara Womersley, for her enthusiasm and ever-supportive help, way beyond the call of duty! Thanks also to Jane Selley and Mary Chamberlain for work on the manuscript.

  I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my editorial director, Anthony Whittome, not only for his creative guidance but also for his original and convincing theory about Elizabeth of York and the Buck letter.

  I should add that the conclusions I have reached in this book—and any errors—are my own. Having researched firstly from primary sources, I had formulated my own conclusions on many aspects of Elizabeth’s story before I came to read the secondary sources and found that some historians had evolved similar theories. Those whose views and insights have had a bearing on my work have been credited in the notes.

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