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


  Spurred on by news of the birth of his heir, and enriched by funds provided by the Duke of Burgundy, Edward IV began gathering a fleet and raising an army, intent on reclaiming his kingdom. In the spring of 1471 he invaded England, which fell to him shire by shire. Clarence abandoned Warwick and made peace with his brother. On April 9, marching south from Dunstable, Edward sent “very comfortable messages to his Queen”80 in sanctuary, giving her great cause for hope that he might prevail over his enemies. Two days later he marched into London unhindered and reclaimed his throne in St. Paul’s Cathedral. Henry VI was again deposed, and returned to the Tower.

  That day, after Edward had given thanks in Westminster Abbey for his victory, and come in procession to the Palace of Westminster, the Queen and her children were escorted there from the sanctuary. There followed a joyful reunion, which proved almost too much for Elizabeth Wydeville, and Edward had to comfort her, for she had been deeply affected by her long ordeal in sanctuary. “Ne’theless, she had brought into the world, to the King’s greatest joy, a fair son, a prince, wherewith she presented her husband at his coming, to his heart’s singular comfort and gladness.”81 Edward was to refer to his son and heir as “God’s precious sending and gift, and our most desired treasure.”

  Elizabeth must have been overjoyed to see her father again. A contemporary poem celebrated this touching reunion:

  The King comforted the Queen and other ladies eke [also],

  His sweet babes full tenderly he did kiss;

  The young Prince he beheld, and in his arms did bear;

  Thus his bale [anguish] turned him to bliss.

  After sorrow, joy, the course of the world is.

  The sight of his babes released part of his woe;

  Thus the will of God in everything is do.82

  In July 1471 the King would appoint Abbot Milling chancellor to Prince Edward in reward for his kindness to the Queen and her children while they were in sanctuary, and in 1474 he made him Bishop of Hereford. In return for his “true heart,” Butcher Gould was given permission to load his ship, The Trinity of London, at any port and to trade freely with her for a year. Dr. de Sirego was paid £40 [£20,000] for attending the Queen’s confinement, and Mother Cobb received a pension of £12 [£6,000] for her services.83 In 1478, in thanksgiving for the safe delivery of her son in the most difficult circumstances, the Queen founded a chapel in Westminster Abbey dedicated to St. Erasmus, the protector of women in childbirth.

  That night “the King returned to London, and the Queen with him,” and their children. They stayed at Baynard’s Castle, the London residence of Edward’s mother, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York.84 There, young Elizabeth found herself enjoying her first taste of freedom in over five months. In the evening, the King and Queen attended divine service, and the next day, April 11, the royal family kept Good Friday with all solemnity.85

  Afterward the King “took advice of the great lords of his blood and others of his council” on his next strategy,86 and later that day the Queen, her children, her mother, and the Duchess of York, accompanied by Earl Rivers and the Archbishop of Canterbury, moved to the royal palace in the Tower of London for safety, while the King marched north to meet his enemies. On Easter Sunday, April 13, Edward defeated Warwick’s forces at the Battle of Barnet, leaving the mighty Warwick, whom men had called “Kingmaker,” dead on the field. Warwick’s brother, Lord Montagu, whose son Elizabeth was to have wed, was also slain.

  But Queen Margaret and her son were still at large, recruiting men. Relentlessly, Edward’s forces marched west, pursuing them toward the River Severn, to prevent them from linking up with Lancastrian supporters in Wales, and on May 4 he decisively defeated them at the Battle of Tewkesbury. Edward of Lancaster was slain after the battle—probably killed by Clarence and Gloucester on King Edward’s orders87—and Queen Margaret was taken prisoner. The King then marched in triumph to London, his throne secure at last.

  Even now “the fury of many of the malignants was not averted.”88 The last days of this first phase of the Wars of the Roses were not without terrifying drama—and young Elizabeth was at the center of it. On May 12, Thomas Neville, the Bastard of Fauconberg, Warwick’s cousin, Vice Admiral of the Fleet and one of Queen Margaret’s most zealous supporters, made a bid to free Henry VI from the Tower. Having sailed up the Thames with a force of seventeen thousand men of Kent and “the remains of Warwick’s mercenaries, mariners, and pirates,”89 he arrived at the gates of London Bridge—“a very famous bridge built partly of wood and partly of stone [and on it] houses and several gates”90—intending to “subject this most opulent city to their ravages.”

  Declaring that he had come to dethrone the usurper Edward and restore King Henry, he demanded permission from the Lord Mayor to march through the City and promised that his men should commit no disturbance or pillage. Then he showed the Lord Mayor and the citizens his commission from Warwick, only to be told it was no longer in force as Warwick was dead. Fauconberg was stunned by this news; he would not believe it, and persisted in his demands, but the City fathers resisted him, closed their gates, and began building barricades. They also, “with right great instance, moved the King in all possible haste to approach and come to the City, to the defense of the Queen, then being in the Tower of London, my Lord Prince and my ladies his daughters, all likely to stand in the greatest jeopardy that ever was.”91

  The Bastard had his cannon ranged along the shore. He ordered his men to set fire to London Bridge, and simultaneously bombarded Aldgate and Bishopsgate, “where they made most furious assaults and laid waste everything with fire and sword.”

  “God gave the Londoners stout hearts”:92 they bravely defended their bridge, while the cannon from the Tower thundered out in response to the attack. But the Bastard sailed downstream and unloaded five thousand men below the Tower, with the intention of attacking the City from the east. There was a real danger that these troops and the Lancastrian artillery might breach the Tower’s defenses; the Bastard’s men had already fired beer-houses near the fortress. In retaliation “the citizens lodged their great artillery against their adversaries and with violent shot thereof so galled them that they durst not abide in any place along the water side but were driven even from their own ordnance.”93

  In the Tower, five-year-old Elizabeth would have heard the bombardment and the noise; it was the closest she ever got to a battle. It must have been a terrifying episode—and one she probably never forgot. Outside, men were dying as the rebel assault was repelled, but now her uncle, Earl Rivers, accompanied by the Lieutenant of the Tower, Edmund Grey, Earl of Kent, led forth a force of five hundred men out of the Tower Postern and went to the aid of the citizens, “falling at the head of his horsemen upon the rear of the enemy” until they were overcome, and then chasing them as far as Stratford and Stepney. Seven hundred insurgents were killed in the fighting, and hundreds more taken prisoner afterward.

  Fauconberg was forced to retreat across the Thames to where his ships were waiting, and fled.94 “Everyone rejoiced” at the vanquishing of these rebels, and soon after, “King Edward entered London in state for the third time, with a retinue far greater than any of his former armies, and with standards unfurled and borne before him. There was now no enemy left for him to encounter.”95

  But Edward was taking no chances. “And the same night that King Edward came to London”—May 21, 1471—“King Henry was put to death between eleven and twelve o’clock,”96 struck down while at prayer, according to a very old tradition. The chronicler John Warkworth noted that the King’s youngest brother, Gloucester, was at the Tower at that time. It was given out that Henry had died “of pure displeasure and melancholy” on hearing of the fate of his wife and son.97

  The body of the King was “chested” and displayed at St. Paul’s Cathedral, “and his face was open that every man might see him, and he bled on the pavement there.” Then his corpse was moved to the Blackfriars, where it bled again, before being conveyed to Chertsey
Abbey for burial.98 In 1910, Henry’s skull was examined, and it was noted that it was “much broken” as if it had been crushed by a blow, and still had attached to it hair that was “apparently matted with blood.”99

  Richard of Gloucester—who was to play a fateful part in Elizabeth’s life—was then eighteen, and while he may not personally have struck the blow that killed Henry VI—for it must have been Edward IV who had “chosen to crush the seed”100—he was probably sent to the Tower by the King to convey the order and ensure that the deed was done. But there were rumors. “The common fame was that the Duke of Gloucester was not all guiltless.”101 Gloucester, asserted Commines, “killed poor King Henry with his own hand, or else caused him to be killed in his presence.”

  Richard of Gloucester’s formative years had been overshadowed by war, treachery, and violent death. He was eight when his father and brother Edmund were killed in battle. He grew up in an insecure, ever-shifting world, and twice suffered the misery of exile. He saw the King his brother betrayed by Warwick, who had been as a father to Richard. By now, Richard had become hardened to the realities of political expediency.

  It was after Tewkesbury that Richard’s ruthlessness first became apparent, when, as Constable of England, he had exercised his right to try and sentence to death Edmund, the last Beaufort Duke of Somerset, and other prominent Lancastrians, including one in holy orders who was entitled to immunity from the death penalty. Whether he struck the fatal blow that killed Henry VI or not, Richard, at an impressionable age, had been shown that it was prudent, even necessary, to eliminate the threat posed by the continued existence of a deposed king, and that the end—peace and stable government—justified the means.

  Richard was undoubtedly an able man, hardworking and conscientious. He had in him that which inspired loyalty, and his share of the Plantagenet charisma, as well as “a sharp courage, high and fierce.”102 In many respects he was a typical late medieval magnate: acquisitive, hungry for wealth and power, brave in battle, tough and energetic. He took a keen interest in warfare and heraldry, and loved hunting and hawking. He was loyal to his brother, King Edward, and to his own followers, but would not scruple to ride roughshod over the rights of others.

  His treatment of his future mother-in-law, the widowed Anne Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick, was a case in point. In 1471 the countess sent letters to the five-year-old Elizabeth—“my lady the King’s eldest daughter” (among others)—pleading for the restoration of her lands,103 which Richard and Clarence were determined to appropriate. She received no reply. Evidently the King did not think it politic for his daughter to respond. Under pressure from Richard, he was soon to sanction the division of the Warwick estates between his brothers as if the countess were dead.104

  The deaths of Henry VI and his only son brought to an end the first phase of the Wars of the Roses. Clarence had submitted to Edward IV and, at the mediation of the duchess their mother, was forgiven. The House of Lancaster had been vanquished. But there remained a distant sprig of the family tree in the person of Henry Tudor, the posthumous son of Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond. Henry had inherited his claim to the throne through his mother, Margaret Beaufort.

  Born in 1443, Margaret was the daughter of John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, and through him descended from King Edward III in a line tainted with bastardy. Margaret’s grandfather, John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset, had been the oldest son of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and Katherine Swynford. Their four Beaufort children had been born before their marriage in 1396, but were legitimated the following year by a statute of Richard II. Yet in 1407, Henry IV, in letters patent confirming their legitimacy, added a qualification that the Beauforts could not inherit the crown. Although letters patent could not overturn a statute, a doubt remained, and the question of the Beauforts’ right to the succession greatly exercised legal minds during the fifteenth century.

  Margaret Beaufort was only twelve when she was married to Edmund Tudor in 1455. He did not spare his young bride: he got her pregnant immediately, but died of plague in 1456 before his son was born. Many regarded the Tudors themselves as bastard stock. Edmund Tudor had been the offspring of a liaison—there is no good evidence that it was a marriage—between Queen Katherine of Valois, widow of Henry V, and Owen Tudor, a Welsh squire. Owen Tudor, or Tewdwr, came from an obscure Anglesey family of landed gentry that could trace its descent back only to the thirteenth century. The genealogies later commissioned by Henry Tudor to show that the Tudors were descended from ancient Welsh and British princes through Rhys ap Tewdwr, Prince of Deheubarth, Wales (d. 1093),105 cannot be substantiated.

  The whole procedure of pregnancy and birth seems to have been traumatic for Margaret Beaufort, and the child she bore on January 28, 1457, at Pembroke Castle was to be her only one. She was then thirteen, and had been a widow for twelve weeks. “Like Moses, [Henry] was wonderfully born and brought into the world by the noble princess his mother, who was very small of stature, as she was never a tall woman. It seemed a miracle that, at that age, and of so little a personage, anyone should have been born at all, let alone one so tall and of so fine a build as her son.” But the infant Henry was weak, and it was thanks only to his young mother’s devoted care that he survived.106 He spent his earliest years with her at Pembroke Castle, under the protection of his uncle, Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke.

  In 1461, when Edward IV became King, Pembroke Castle fell to the Yorkists, and Margaret Beaufort and her son were placed under the guardianship of William Herbert, a staunch Yorkist. Henry was raised as Herbert’s ward at Raglan Castle. He had been Earl of Richmond from birth, but the King deprived him of this title in 1462. Already, he recognized the five-year-old boy as a potential rival for the throne.

  By then Margaret Beaufort had grown up to be an erudite, pious, and virtuous woman of strong character. By 1464 she had married a loyal Yorkist, Sir Henry Stafford. Because of her Lancastrian affiliations, Edward IV had shown himself hostile toward her, but this new marriage changed things, and she was now treated with the deference due to one of royal blood. Young Henry saw little of her during these years, but Herbert proved a kindly guardian and had the boy well educated; Henry’s tutor, Andreas Scotus, observed that he had never seen a child so quick in learning. A marriage was planned between Henry and Herbert’s daughter Maud.

  But Henry’s childhood was not easy. Later, he would recall to Commines that “from the time he was five years old he had been either a fugitive or a captive.” In 1468, Jasper Tudor having fled abroad, Herbert was given his earldom of Pembroke. In 1469, Warwick, now in rebellion against Edward IV, had Herbert executed for treachery. The following year, Henry was reclaimed by Jasper Tudor, who had been returned to favor after the restoration of Henry VI, and who took him to court to meet the King; it was his one and only visit prior to his accession.

  In 1471, Margaret Beaufort’s husband, Henry Stafford, died, probably of wounds received fighting for Edward IV at the Battle of Barnet. Newly widowed, Margaret had to face a long parting from her fourteen-year-old son, for after the Lancastrian defeat at Tewkesbury Jasper Tudor fled into exile, taking Henry with him. Still styling himself “Earl of Richmond,” Henry spent his youth in penury at the court of Brittany. Both he and Jasper remained stoutly loyal to the House of Lancaster, and after the death of Henry VI, Henry Tudor was regarded by some as his natural heir; indeed, he was the only viable Lancastrian claimant. Henry always deferred to his mother, Margaret Beaufort, as the heiress of the House of Lancaster, but neither of them ever contemplated her actually ruling, because she was a woman. All Margaret’s ambitions were for her son, but clearly Edward IV did not perceive him as much of a threat, since he made only sporadic attempts to capture him. It would be many years before Henry’s claim was taken seriously by the Yorkist kings.

  2

  “Madame la Dauphine”

  After Tewkesbury the long-standing rivalry between Lancaster and York was thought to have been consigned to history, and Christmas of 1471
was kept splendidly at Westminster, with a disguising and a great banquet for the Lord Mayor of London and the City fathers. The Queen was excused from the customary wearing of her crown because she was expecting another child.

  Edward IV was finally established on his throne, and settled down to rule England firmly and well. Having seen the splendors of Bruges during his exile, he was even more determined to emulate the Burgundian court, and its influence was greatest during this latter part of his reign. In 1472 he had the “Black Book” drawn up, the first set of ordinances to regulate English court ceremonial details and etiquette, and in them the influence of Burgundy was manifest. Edward’s purpose was to create a display of magnificence, as Burgundian custom dictated. From now on there would be two households at court: abovestairs, so to speak, the Lord Chamberlain’s department, “the King’s house of magnificence”; and belowstairs the Lord Steward’s department, the “house of providence.” Edward IV was determined to impress foreign visitors, and his own subjects, with the outer trappings of majesty, and observers were struck by his extravagance, his luxurious “chambers of pleasaunce” hung with rich hangings, the ostentatious clothes he wore, the costly jewels, and the sumptuousness of his table. All of this made a lasting impression on the young Elizabeth, who was herself to preside over a splendid court based on the Burgundian model, upon which her own tastes were probably influential.

  Mancini described Edward IV as gentle and cheerful by nature. Courtesy and the common touch came as naturally to him as it did to Warwick, his mentor. Elizabeth inherited these qualities from her father, who was “easy of access to his friends, even the least notable. He was so genial in his greeting that if he saw a newcomer bewildered at his royal magnificence, he would give him courage to speak by laying a kindly hand upon his shoulder.” But Edward had another side to him: “should he assume an angry countenance, he could be very terrible to beholders,”1 and as terrifying as his grandson, Henry VIII, who much resembled him.

 
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