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.

Anne of Cleves – The Lucky One?

Anne of Cleves by Holbein

Anne of Cleves by Holbein

Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s 4th wife, was buried in Westminster Abbey on this day in 1557, outliving Henry by 10 years. Whenever we talk of Henry VIII’s wives it is often said that Catherine Parr was the wife who outlived him and that this somehow makes her the lucky one. This is indeed true although Catherine only managed to outlive Henry by 1 year 7 months, dying herself in September 1548. I believe out of all of Henry’s wives, the one who got the best deal was in fact Anne.

Let’s take Catherine Parr as the contrasting example. Catherine spent 3 and a half years married to Henry and spent much of that time being his nursemaid as well as helping him reconcile with his children, who she had a close relationship with. This was a marriage based on duty to her King and country.

After Henry’s death she was finally able to marry her true love, Thomas Seymour, although this itself was marred by a certain tragedy as he was a bit of cad who flirted with her step daughter, the young princess Elizabeth, entering her room at night and stealing kisses. There is a famous and strange incident when Catherine herself held Elizabeth down while Seymour cut off her black gown. In the end Catherine decided enough was enough and sent Elizabeth away. They continued to show affection through letters, which shows that Catherine probably followed this course of action to protect Elizabeth’s reputation rather than out of spite, although it’s very sad to think she never saw her beloved step daughter again. Continue reading

Henry Marries Catherine of Aragon

A young Catherine of Aragon c1502

A young Catherine of Aragon c1502

On the 11th June 1509 Henry VIII married his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, in a church just outside Greenwich Palace.

Catherine was the widow of Henry’s brother Arthur and because of that a special dispensation was required from the Pope in order for them to be allowed to marry. This stated that Catherine’s first marriage had ‘perhaps’ not been consummated, a rather ambiguous turn of phrase. Henry could never have imagined at the time that this dispensation or the use of that little word ‘perhaps’ would be the subject of much argument later on in his marriage!

Despite the legalities Henry was officially betrothed to Catherine on the 23rd June 1503 but Henry VII then spent the next few years arguing over the terms of her dowry with Catherine’s father, Ferdinand of Aragon. He basically made her life a misery in a bid to persuade Ferdinand to send more money!

A Young Henry VIII c1509

A Young Henry VIII c1509

Henry VII had also been widowed in 1503 which put him back on the marriage market. By the summer of 1505 he was rumoured to be seeking a triple Habsburg alliance, marrying his daughter Mary to the future Charles V, Henry to Charles’ sister Eleanor or Austria and himself to Charles’ aunt, the Archduchess Margaret of Austria. Catherine was basically left hanging whilst Henry VII toyed with these various marriage alliances and argued over money. She was left isolated, made all the worse by the fact she couldn’t yet speak English fluently and could barely provide for her own household because of the situation with her dowry. Catherine’s health started to fail with the stress and she finally wrote to her father in the spring of 1509 saying she could no longer take being persecuted by Henry VII and wanted to return to Spain. As it turned out there would be no need for this as Henry VII died on 21st April 1509, releasing Catherine from his clutches after nearly 7 years. Henry VIII was now King and his marriage to Catherine could finally move forward! Continue reading