Elizabeth of York & Richard III

Elizabeth of York

Elizabeth of York circa 1500

With “The White Queen” currently being shown on TV and the release of Phillippa Gregory’s new book “The White Princess” about Elizabeth of York, there has been some controversy over a story line which sees Elizabeth falling in love with her uncle, Richard III. As ever with Phillipa’s books her plots are not just plucked out of thin air but are based on some element of evidence which she has interpreted to make a good story!

In the case of the Elizabeth and Richard love affair there is no conclusive evidence but George Buck, who was Master of the Revels to James I, claimed in 1619 that he had seen a letter from Elizabeth to her uncle the Duke of Norfolk which indicates that she was a willing participant in a marriage alliance with Richard. Elizabeth wanted her uncle “to be a mediator for her in the cause of [the marriage] to the king who (as she wrote) was her only joy and her maker in the world, and that she was his hart, in thoughts, and in all, and then she intimated that the better half of Feb was past, and that she feared the queen would never [die].”

Richard III

Richard III by an unknown artist

Unfortunately this letter no longer exists and we have no way of knowing how accurate George was being in his recollection or how corrupt his subsequent manuscript became as his great nephew was involved in editing later on. We also cannot be sure if Elizabeth was definitely asking for help to marry the not yet widowed Richard or for help in getting Richard to arrange a marriage alliance for her with someone else. There is evidence that after Anne Neville died Richard began negotiating a joint marriage alliance with John II of Portugal, whereby Richard would marry his sister Joanna and Elizabeth his cousin, the future Manuel I.

It is also true that rumours of a love affair existed at the time but these were strenuously denied by Richard. The Croyland Chronicle (sometimes called the Crowland Chronicle), an important but not always accurate primary source written at the Benedict Abbey of Croyland in Lincolnshire, says that Richard was forced to deny the rumours by the enemies of the Woodville’s who feared them getting back into power. It would certainly have been in Richard’s interests to quash the rumours so again we have a situation that can be interpreted in different ways, which doesn’t help us piece together what really happened.

Another interesting fact worth noting is that following Richard’s death at Bosworth Henry VII waited 5 months before marrying Elizabeth. Salacious as this might sound, could it have been to ensure that Elizabeth was definitely not carrying Richard’s baby?! Sadly we’ll never know for sure and the lack of any real evidence means we’ll forever be reading between the lines and drawing our own conclusions, which, if nothing else, certainly makes for an interesting debate.

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