Elizabeth Woodville

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Elizabeth Woodville or Wydville (c. 14377/8 June 1492) was the Queen consort of King Edward IV of England from 1464 until his death in 1483.

Contents

Early life and first marriage

She was born circa 1437 at Grafton Regis, Northamptonshire, the daughter of Sir Richard Woodville (later made first Earl Rivers) and Jacquetta of Luxembourg. She was a maid of honor to Margaret of Anjou, Queen of Henry VI. In about 1452, she married Sir John Grey, 2nd Baron Ferrers of Groby, who was killed at the Second Battle of St Albans in 1461, fighting for the Lancastrian cause. (This was ironic, as Edward IV was the Yorkist claimant to the throne.) Elizabeth had two sons from the marriage, Thomas (later Marquess of Dorset) and Richard.

Queen consort

Edward IV had many mistresses, the most notorious being Jane Shore, but Elizabeth insisted on marriage, which took place secretly (from the public but not from their family and friends) on May 1, 1464, at her family home in Northamptonshire. At the time, Edward's adviser, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, was negotiating a marriage alliance with France. When the marriage to Elizabeth Woodville became common knowledge, it was the cause of considerable rancour on Warwick's part, and when Elizabeth's relatives, especially her brother, Earl Rivers, began to be favored over him, he changed sides.

Nor was Warwick the only one who resented the way the queen's relatives scooped up favours and lucrative opportunities; in 1480, for example, when Elizabeth's obscure brother-in-law Sir Anthony Grey died, he was interred in St Albans Cathedral with a brass marker to rival the one for that abbey's greatest archbishop. That was nothing compared to the marriages the queen arranged for her family, the most outrageous being when her 20-year-old brother John Woodville married Lady Katherine Neville, daughter of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland by Joan Beaufort, widow of John Mowbray, 2nd Duke of Norfolk and dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Katherine had been widowed three times and was nearly 80 years old but very wealthy. The queen also married her sister, Catherine Woodville, to her 11-year-old ward Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham.

Queen Dowager

Elizabeth and Edward's marriage had produced ten children, including two sons who were still living at the time of the king's sudden death in 1483. The elder, Edward, had been born in sanctuary at Westminster Abbey in 1470, during the period when Edward IV was out of power during the Wars of the Roses. Elizabeth now, briefly, became Queen Mother, but on June 25, 1483, her marriage was declared null and void by Parliament in the act Titulus Regius on the grounds that Edward had previously promised to marry Lady Eleanor Butler, which was considered a legally binding contract that rendered any other marriage contract invalid as bigamous. (It was said that Eleanor Talbot had done the same thing Elizabeth Woodville did later: A widow who caught Edward's eye, she refused to give in to him until he promised to marry her.) This information came to the fore when a priest (believed to be Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells), testified that he had carried out the ceremony.

On the basis of his evidence, all Elizabeth's children by Edward, including King Edward V, were declared illegitimate, and her brother-in-law, Richard III, accepted the crown and kept the two princes in the Tower of London, where they had already been lodged to await the coronation. The exact fate of the so-called Princes in the Tower is unknown but both were dead in this or the next reign. Elizabeth now lost the title of Queen Mother and was called The Dame Elizabeth Grey. She and her other children were in sanctuary again, fearing for their safety. This may have been to protect themselves against jealous courtiers who wanted their own back on the entire Woodville clan.

Elizabeth then conspired with Lancastrians, promising to marry her eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, to the Lancastrian claimant to the throne, Henry Tudor (later King Henry VII), if he could supplant Richard. Following Henry's accession in 1485, Elizabeth Woodville's marriage Edward IV was declared to have been valid, and thus their children were once again legitimised (because Henry wanted his wife to be the Yorkist heir to the throne, to cement his hold on it). At this point, Elizabeth was accorded the title of Queen Dowager. She died on June 8, at Bermondsey in London and was buried on June 12 in the same chantry as her husband King Edward in St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle.

Children of Elizabeth Woodville

By Sir John Grey

By King Edward IV

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