Elizabeth Woodville was born in 1436 as the daughter of the widowed Jacquetta of Luxemburg and her second husband Sir Richard Woodville. She should be seen as one of the most prominent female figures in the War of the Roses; an English war between Yorkshire (the White Rose) and Lancashire (the Red Rose) over who the rightful king should be. The union of her parents caused controversy; her father was a Knight who was far below her mother‚Äôs station, causing his imprisonment in 1437. He was pardoned in the same year by King Henry VI and they returned to establish a home at Grafton Castle with their children. Elizabeth Woodville married the Knight Sir John Grey in 1454 and together they had two children before his death in 1461, fighting for the Lancastrians at the Battle of St Albans. Due to their affiliations and the victory of the Yorkists, their children were denied their inheritance and they returned to Grafton Castle destitute.
Elizabeth pleaded with King Edward IV of York on a hunting trip near the castle and as she was thought to be a great beauty, he fell in love with her. They were married in May 1464, with the marriage being proclaimed on Michaelmas Day in September that year. This union caused much outrage against the Woodville family, as Elizabeth was considerably older than Edward, already had two sons and was a member of a prominent Lancastrian family. The Woodvilles switched their affiliation to the Yorkist King when they were granted the title of Earl of Rivers, and Princess Elizabeth was born in early 1465 with Elizabeth being crowned as Queen Consort shortly after in May. King Edward‚Äôs union with the Woodville family caused the Earl of Warwick, who had fought for the York cause until then, to turn his back on the king and join forces with the Lancastrians along with the king‚Äôs brother George, Duke of Clarence.
A rebellion began in Yorkshire in 1468 where Sir Woodville and his son were killed in the name of the Red Rose, causing an outburst of anger by King Edward IV. Edward was captured by Warwick and held in an attempt to reduce the influence of Queen Elizabeth over him. However, he escaped shortly after and chased Warwick and Clarence into exile on the coast of France before returned to Westminster. While the King was away, the Queen and their children would remain in the Tower of London as it was the most secure place. However, when the Earl and Duke returned to London with Edward VI in exile, she travelled up the Thames to the Sanctuary in St Margaret‚Äôs with her mother and daughters, where in November 1470 she gave birth to her first Yorkist son, the future King Edward V. Edward returned home and defeated Warwick once again at the Battle of Barnet in 1471 and the Lancastrians at the Battle of Tewkesbury in the same year before returning his family to Westminster Palace. The couple had a second son Richard, named after King Edward‚Äôs youngest brother, in 1473, and went on to have a total of ten children.
In his later years, Edward appeared to set his wife aside slightly and began an affair with his mistress Jane Shore. Upon his death in 1483, it had been decided that his younger brother Duke Richard of Gloucester would act as regent and he set about proclaiming Edward V as the King in York shortly after. However, on the boy King‚Äôs tour of the country, he intercepted the procession with an armed guard and arrested Earl Anthony Rivers, the Queen‚Äôs brother and her son from her first marriage, Lord Richard Grey, whom he eventually put to death. Richard then took control of the throne and went on to be known as King Richard III.
These actions caused the widowed queen to return to the Sanctuary once again in fear for the safety of her children, however she released her son Richard to King Richard III on the advice of the Archbishop of Canterbury. These two little boys are better known as the Lost Princes of the Tower who disappeared shortly after. During this same year, Duke Henry Stafford of Buckingham successfully proclaimed that Edward VI‚Äôs original betrothal to Eleanor Butler was not dissolved by the church and any children from his union with Elizabeth Woodville were illegitimate. This was eventually overturned following the Battle of Bosworth, and Princess Elizabeth married the Lancastrian Henry Tudor who became King Henry VII. Their marriage resulted in two heirs; Prince Arthur and Prince Henry, who went on to become King Henry VIII.
As a Yorkshire woman myself, I may be slightly biased towards a woman who considered herself to be a true Yorkist Queen. However, the actions of Elizabeth Woodville and the hardship that she suffered and overcame during the War of the Roses, show her to be a strong woman in English history.
Girl Museum Inc.