Elizabeth Woodville

Portrait of Elizabeth Woodville held at Queen’s College, Cambridge (16th century). Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Andrea Sillen-McMillen

Elizabeth Woodville was born in 1437 to Richard Woodville or “Wydeville,” the first Earl Rivers, and Jacquetta de Luxembourg, dowager duchess of Bedford.  Elizabeth was the oldest of the large family, consisting of five brothers and six sisters.

Elizabeth’s first marriage was to a Sir John Gray in 1456, eldest son and heir to Edward, Lord Ferrers of Groby, and Elizabeth Ferrers. Elizabeth Gray bore John two children, Thomas, later the marquess of Dorset and Richard.

John Gray died in 1461, which led to a dispute over Elizabeth’s ability to secure her jointure from the family of her late husband.  She then sought the assistance of Edward IV. While securing her inheritance and negotiating marriages for her sons she secretly wed Edward IV on 1 May 1467 at her father’s house in Grafton, Northamptonshire.

The marriage was disclosed when it became known that Edward was to marry another; Bona of Savoy, a match negotiated by the Earl of Warwick and Louis XI of France. It was argued that Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth held no political significance and dismantled plans for future Anglo-French relations. To many, the suitability of Elizabeth as a queen was controversial as she was a widow, not a virgin, with two children and a large family suggesting a future burden to crown finances.

Elizabeth was crowned on 26 May 1465. Elizabeth of York, her first child with Edward, was born in February 1466. Elizabeth and Edward had ten children before his death in April 1483. Their two eldest sons, Edward V and Richard, duke of York, the “Princes in the Tower” died in the summer of 1483.

It was not until 1485, after Richard III’s defeat at Bosworth by Henry Tudor, and his marriage to Elizabeth of York in 1486, that the former queen’s title was restored as Queen Dowager. Elizabeth retired to Bermondsey Abbey 12 February 1487 with a pension of £400 and occasional gifts from Henry VII. She died on 8 June 1492 with a funeral 4 days later.

Recommended Reading

Arlene Okerlund, Elizabeth: England’s Slandered Queen (England’s Forgotten Queens)(Cheltenham: The History Press, 2006).

David MacGibbon, Elizabeth Woodville – A Life: The Real Story of the ‘White Queen’ (Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2014).

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