Elizabeth Woodville
Crowned Queen 26 May 1465 by the Archbishop of Canterbury

     
                                                    Elizabeth Woodville                                                    Edward IV
                                                Elizabeth Woodville                                                  Edward IV

Elizabeth was born about 1437 and in all probability was born at Grafton, within a year of her parents' marriage. Little of her early life is known, but there are, however, two existing letters written to her when she was about fifteen seeking her hand in marriage for a certain Yorkist Knight Sir Hugh Johns. Evidently Sir Hugh's proposals were dismissed in favour of those of a Lancastrian Knight, Sir John Grey of Groby, for it was Sir John Grey she married - probably about 1452. The marriage is thought to have been a happy one, and in the ensuing years two sons were born, Thomas and Richard, Thomas the elder becoming Marquis of Dorset some years later.

Elizabeth's happiness was not to last more than a few years however, for the great struggle between the houses of York and Lancaster had begun. In 1455 the first battle of the war was fought: a war that was to last thirty years, and in which Elizabeth was destined to play a leading and tragic part. Early in 1461, Sir John was killed in battle leaving Elizabeth a widow in her early twenties with two young children, and thus Elizabeth experienced the first of many tragedies she was to have to bear. His lands being seized, his widow together with her two sons sadly returned to her old home at Grafton. In the very year that Edward IV became king, the lands which she should have had as her dower appear to have been forfeited or withheld. Sir Edward Grey and his wife had conveyed three manors, Newbottle and Brington in Northamptonshire and Woodham Ferrers in Essex, to a group of trustees to provide an annual income of 100 marks for their son John, his wife and heirs; and although Elizabeth quite reasonably expected to continue to receive the revenues after Sir John's death, her mother-in-law and her new husband Sir John Bourchier tried to recover them. Thomas, Elizabeth's elder son, had become heir to his grandmother's estates and barony when his father died at St Albans. Elizabeth feared Lady Ferrers would entail the rest of her lands on herself and her new husband in jointure with remainder to their heirs (if they had any) and only a reversion to the offspring of her first marriage. Elizabeth entered into an agreement with Lord Hastings (close companion of Edward IV) to share the profits of any Grey family lands (except the three manors that were earlier put in trust) which might be secured for Thomas while he was under twelve years of age. The formal indenture of covenants which 'Elysabeth Grey' signed on 13 April 1464 was an arrangement which was effectively cancelled when, only eighteen days later, she married King Edward.

We do not know when the first meeting took place between Elizabeth and the King, but it is probable it was as early as 1461 when the King, whilst staying at nearby Stony Stratford, pardoned her father for his support of the Lancastrian cause. In 1464, Elizabeth on hearing the King was hunting nearby, went into the Whittlewood Forest to plead with the King to help with the restoration of her lands. Evidently her downcast looks together with her beauty gained not only her lands but also the heart of the young King, for on the 1st May 1464, he secretly married her at "a town named Grafton near unto Stony Stratford" - probably at the Hermitage in Grafton. So secret was the marriage that besides Edward and his bride only Elizabeth's mother, two gentlemen, the priest and a boy who served at mass were present. The couple consummated their marriage. Later that day the King returned to Stony Stratford, and after explaining to his attendants that he had been hunting, went to bed as if to sleep off fatigue.

He returned to Grafton two days later where he was received with great honour and stayed for four days. The marriage continued to remain a secret, for the King and his bride did not meet in private until the whole household was asleep, when she was brought to him so secretly that " almoste none but her moder was of counsayll." With even Elizabeth's father remaining in ignorance, it is no wonder that the marriage remained a closely guarded secret.

Edward visited his new bride a number of times during the summer. He spent much of July and August at his palace at Woodstock in Oxfordshire, from where he could easily have ridden over to Grafton. On 15 July he was at Stony Stratford. News of the love match finally broke in September, when the magnates assembled at the Great Council at Reading and urged the King to consider making a suitable marriage, hoping he would accept Warwick's candidate Bona of Savoy. To their consternation Edward calmly announced that he was already married to Dame Elizabeth Grey. The idea that a King could have married for love was unheard of in the 15th century. Despite much grumbling that her pedigree was not sufficiently grand, there was little that the nobles could do without provoking outright rebellion, although news soon spread abroad that the match was unpopular. Fabyan later commented darkly that Elizabeth's mother Jacquetta had cast a spell over the King.

On Michaelmas Day Queen Elizabeth was presented to the peers of the realm in a magnificent ceremony at Reading. More remarkable still, not only had Edward acted in defiance of his greatest counsellors and nobles, but he had created Elizabeth Queen Consort. She was crowned with great splendour in Westminster Abbey on 26 May 1465 by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Once Elizabeth was truly Queen, her family received many royal favours and many of the Woodvilles were promoted to high positions of state, much to the jealousy and hatred of the Earl of Warwick, and indeed, the entire family of Nevilles. So intense was their hate that in 1469 Warwick turned against the King, and after defeating the King's forces at Edgecote caused Elizabeth's father and brother to be beheaded at Northampton. The King himself was taken prisoner soon after the battle. As for Elizabeth she was forced to suffer another tragedy - that of the deaths of her father and brother.

The King's liberation was not long in coming, but it was a puppet throne on which he sat, for the country was virtually governed by Warwick. This was not enough for Warwick however, for he planned to rid himself of the King altogether and put Edward's brother Clarence on the throne in his place. To achieve this end he plotted an uprising in the North but the King made a surprise attack on the rebels and defeated them at Losecoat Field near Stamford, their leader confessing before his execution that it was Warwick who had planned it.

Now the game was up. Warwick was forced to flee to France where he joined forces with the exiled Queen Margaret. This alliance was nearly Edward's undoing for Warwick returned with an army, and this time it was Edward who was forced to flee, leaving Elizabeth behind and in great danger. Leaving the Tower under cover of darkness she and her daughters took refuge in the Sanctuary of the Abbey at Westminster where shortly afterwards she gave birth to Edward V. Here, together with a few faithful friends, she was to live for the next six months.

Warwick's triumph was short, for the King returned in the Spring and defeated his enemy at Barnet (1471) Warwick being slain in the battle. When Margaret's army invaded from France within a month, it too was defeated at Tewkesbury and Margaret's son Edward was killed in the battle. On Edward's return to London, Henry VI, who had been a prisoner in the Tower, was put to death - thus all major Lancastrian claimants to the throne were dead and Edward could rule unchallenged. It must have been a happy reunion for Elizabeth when the King returned, for not only was a long period of uncertainty at an end, but she had what she and the King had wanted for so long, a son Prince Edward, then just five months old. In September of the same year the King and Queen went on a pilgrimage to Canterbury, most probably to offer thanks to God for their newly found peace.

The years that followed were comparatively happy ones for Elizabeth, though the death in 1472 of her mother, to whom she was so deeply attached, must have upset her terribly. Edward certainly did not want for children, for his Queen gave birth to ten in all, though two died whilst very young.

On April 9th, 1483, the King died at the early age of forty one. Though deeply distressed, Elizabeth lost no time in planning her son's Coronation. Prince Edward was at Ludlow when the news of his father's death was broken to him. Anthony Woodville was escorting him to London when Edward was taken by his uncle the Duke of Gloucester and his ally the Duke of Buckingham at Stony Stratford. Anthony Woodville and Richard Grey his half brother were imprisoned and later executed. The news reached Elizabeth at midnight which suggests that a loyal supporter had ridden hard throughout the day to convey it. Greatly dismayed, the Queen for the second time in her life sought sanctuary, taking with her her daughters and younger son Prince Richard. Shortly afterwards, Richard Duke of Gloucester, who by the will of Edward IV had been named Protector in Prince Edward's minority, entered London with his captive nephew.

Whilst the young Prince Richard was in his mother's keeping, the life of his brother Edward was safe, for had anything befallen Edward then Richard would have been crowned in his place. Thus the Protector sought to secure him too. To this end, he sent a deputation to the Queen, saying that the presence of Richard was essential to his brother. It was, however, decided that should the Queen decline their entreaties then force would be used. At length, overcome more by entreaties than convinced by argument, she took her son by the hand and placed him in the hands of the deputation, saying "Farewell my own sweet son, God send you good keeping, let me kiss you ere you go, for God knoweth where we shall kiss together again."

She was never to see him again, for the Duke of Gloucester seized the throne, after declaring that the marriage with Edward was illegal, and her children illegitimate. The young Princes being imprisoned in the Tower, he swiftly declared himself King Richard III. When at last she did venture from the sanctuary, she and her daughters were received honourably at court, her eldest daughter, Elizabeth, receiving many compliments. Indeed, it is said that Gloucester sought her hand in marriage himself, and that she listened favourably to his suggestions, her mother supporting the match. It seems incredible that mother and daughter should even consider such a proposal.

Following the announcement of the death of the Princes in the Tower, revolts broke out all over England. Richard moved to the Midlands to meet the threat and on 19 October halted at Grafton Manor. Although the 'bottled spider', as he was nicknamed, was successful in crushing the revolt, his ruthless behaviour continued to attract adherents to Henry Tudor, the heir of the House of Lancaster, who was living in exile in Brittany. Among these was Richard Woodville, 3rd Earl Rivers, Elizabeth's last surviving brother. In the late Summer of 1485 Henry landed at Milford Haven, accompanied by Rivers. The Dowager Queen, who had suffered a succession of tragic misfortune in losing a husband, two brothers and three sons killed or murdered in the Wars of the Roses, was avenged when Richard III was killed at the battle of Bosworth on 22 August. Henry Tudor was proclaimed King and crowned Henry VII on the field.

Shortly afterwards the two roses were united forever, when Henry married Elizabeth's daughter Elizabeth of York, and so for the first time in many years the country was at peace. In the following year Elizabeth was restored to her rightful position and dignity by an Act of Parliament. It seems that the remaining years of her life were spent peacefully though there was a story, now discredited, that the King, believing her to be behind a rebellion that sprang up in 1487, imprisoned her and seized her lands.

In 1488 her brother Edward was killed at sea, and three years later her only surviving brother died at Grafton. Perhaps her heart could no longer take these blows, for shortly afterwards she entered the convent at Bermondsey, where, on 10 April she dictated her will, in which she desired to be buried at Windsor beside her husband. She died on 8 June, the Friday before Whit Sunday 1492, surrounded by the daughters she loved. At her own request to have a speedy burial with little pomp, her body was conveyed by water to Windsor on the Sunday, without any ringing of bells. There, on the Tuesday following, it was laid beside the body of King Edward in St. George's Chapel, in the presence of all her daughters except the Queen, who was then about to be confined with her first child.

The daughters of Elizabeth and EdwardSuch is the story of Elizabeth Woodville of Grafton, Northamptonshire. Queen of England , grandmother of Henry VIII, great grandmother of Elizabeth I, and ancestress of our present Royal Family. Her memory is preserved by her portraits in the Queen's College Cambridge (of which she was a founder), the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford and the Royal Collection at Windsor. There are also portraits in stained glass in the windows of the North cross Chapel, Canterbury Cathedral, St. George's Chapel, Windsor, and Thaxted Church, Essex. Her tomb is to be seen in St. George's Chapel, Windsor, where she was laid to rest, and on a flat stone at the foot may be read:- "King Edward and his Queen Elizabeth Woodville."

It was here that Robert Southey wrote his immortal poem to her memory, and its beautiful and touching conclusion is reproduced here:-

"Lightly let this ground be pressed, A broken heart is here at rest."
                                                                                                                                               The daughters of Elizabeth and Edward


 
                        Richard, Duke of York                Elizabeth Woodville's Signature                Edward, Prince of Wales
                    Richard, Duke of York                        Elizabeth Woodville's Signature                          Edward, Prince of Wales
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