Elizabeth of Schoenau

Elizabeth of York

Elizabeth of York (11 February 1466 – 11 February 1503) was the Queen Consort of King Henry VII of England, whom she married in 1486. Elizabeth was the eldest daughter of Edward IV and the sister of King Edward V. She was the mother of King Henry VIII by Henry VII.

Princess of England

She was born at Westminster, the eldest child of the marriage between King Edward IV and his Queen consort Elizabeth Woodville, who had already borne two sons to her previous husband. Her younger siblings included Mary of York, Cecily of York, Edward V of England, Margaret Plantagenet (Princess of York), Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York, Anne of York, George Plantagenet, Duke of Bedford, Catherine of York and Bridget of York.

She was named a Lady of the Garter in 1477, along with her mother and her paternal aunt Elizabeth of York, Duchess of Suffolk.

At the age of 5 years old, she was briefly betrothed to George Neville, the son of John Neville, Earl of Northumberland, a supporter of Edward IV; Northumberland switched sides, however, and the betrothal was broken off. In 1475, she was offered as the bride of Charles, the Dauphin of France; that plan was scrapped when Charles' father, Louis XI, decided against the offer.

The end of the civil wars

In 1483, Edward IV died, and Elizabeth's younger brother, Edward V, became King; her uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was appointed regent, and protector of Edward IV's sons. Shortly after his brother's death, Richard began taking steps to isolate his nephews from their Woodville relations. He intercepted the young Edward V on his way from Ludlow (where young Edward had previously been residing as Prince of Wales) to London to be crowned; Edward was then placed in the royal residence of the Tower of London, ostensibly for his protection. Elizabeth Woodville then went with her youngest son, Richard, and her daughters to Westminster Abbey. Gloucester then requested that young Richard go to the Tower to keep his brother company; the boy's mother agreed. Two months later, on 22 June 1483, Richard had Edward IV's marriage declared bigamous (Edward, it was claimed, had at the time of his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville already been married to Lady Eleanor Butler) and invalid; this made the children of the marriage, including young Elizabeth, bastards and ineligible for the succession. Gloucester then had Parliament issue a bill, Titulus Regius ("The Title of the King"), in support of this position: it legally bastardised the children of Edward IV, and declared Richard III king. Edward V and his brother disappeared shortly afterwards, and were rumoured to have been murdered.

Elizabeth now became the subject of dynastic scheming. Her mother made an alliance with Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor: the pair agreed that Henry should move to claim the throne, and that once he had taken it, he would marry Elizabeth. Henry swore an oath to this effect in Rennes in December 1483, and began planning an invasion. In an attempt to eliminate her value as a prospective marriage partner, Richard III made plans to marry her to an unimportant naval officer, a son of Robert Stillington; however the putative groom, a navy officer, was captured by the French along the coast of Normandy and imprisoned in Paris where he died in prison "of hunger and poverty".

In 1484, Elizabeth and her family left Westminster Abbey and returned to the court, where the King was behaving more favourably towards them. It was even rumoured that her own uncle, Richard III, intended to marry her himself: his wife, Anne Neville, was dying, and he had no children. Richard denied this rumour; the Crowland Chronicle claims he was forced to do so by the enemies of the Woodvilles, who dreaded the family returning to royal favour. There is no conclusive evidence of Richard genuinely having intended to marry Elizabeth, although Sir George Buck later claimed to have uncovered a letter from Elizabeth (now lost) which indicated she had been involved.

On 22 August 1485, her fiance and her uncle fought at the Battle of Bosworth Field; Richard, betrayed by his most powerful retainers, was killed in battle and Henry took the crown by right of conquest as Henry VII.

Queen consort

Henry had taken the throne by right of conquest, as the leader of the House of Lancaster. Although he acknowledged the necessity of marrying Elizabeth, in order to secure his claim to the throne and weaken or nullify the claims of the surviving members of the House of York, he had no intention of calling his own rights into question: he wanted it to be clear that he ruled as King, not as Elizabeth's husband, and he did not intend to share power with her. Because of this, although he had the Titulus Regius repealed immediately by his first Parliament (which had the effect of legitimising the children of Edward IV, including Elizabeth, and acknowledging the 'reign' of Edward V), since he did not want either the legitimacy of his wife or her claim as heiress of Edward IV to be called into question (indeed, he ordered that all copies of the bill be destroyed without being read, so determined was he to nullify its effects), he chose to be crowned on 30 October 1485 still unmarried. Even then, he did not marry her, having not yet received the Papal dispensation to do so; eventually, Parliament made a petition on behalf of the people that he honour his sacred oath and marry her. After receiving the Dispensation, he did so on 18 January 1486. Their first son, Arthur, was born on 20 September 1486; Henry had Elizabeth crowned Queen consort a year later, on 25 November 1487.

The marriage would prove relatively successful, and both partners appear to have cared for each other. As a queen, she was unimportant; but she was gentle and kind, and generous to her relations, her servants and benefactors; so much so that her income never covered her expenses. She was fond of dancing, of music, dicing; she kept greyhounds, and she may have been fond of archery and hunting. It is well known that Henry VII personally signed the account book of the Treasurer of his Chamber; Elizabeth signed her own accounts too.


Elizabeth was a renowned beauty- inheriting both her parents' fair hair and complexion. Elizabeth and Henry VII had seven children (or possibly eight, but only seven are shown in the commemorative picture painted in about 1509):


On 14 November 1501, Elizabeth's eldest son, Arthur, married the Spanish infanta, Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, and the pair were sent off to Ludlow Castle, the traditional residence of the Prince of Wales. Half a year later, Arthur was dead, and Catherine widowed. The news caused Henry VII to break down in grief; Elizabeth comforted him, telling him that "my Lady his mother had never had no more children but him only, and that God . . . had left him yet a fair prince, two fair princesses; and that God is where he was and we are both young enough [for more children]".

Arthur's death prompted the couple to become pregnant once more, in an attempt to strengthen the succession. Elizabeth, who was already nearing age 37, carried the baby successfully to term. However, the resulting child, a girl named Katherine Tudor, was born and died on 2 February 1503. Succumbing to a post-partum infection, Elizabeth herself died on 11 February, her 37th birthday. Her husband appeared to sincerely mourn her death: according to one account, he "privily departed to a solitary place and would no man should resort unto him". Despite his reputation for thrift, he gave her a splendid funeral: she lay in state in the Tower and was then buried in Westminster Abbey, in the Lady Chapel Henry had built. He later entertained vague thoughts of remarriage in order to renew the alliance with Spain - Juana, Dowager Queen of Naples (the niece of Ferdinand II of Aragon), Joanna, Queen of Castile (the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella), and Margaret, Dowager Duchess of Savoy (the sister-in-law of Joanna of Castile) were all considered - but eventually died in 1509, still a widower. He was buried with Elizabeth; they can be found today, buried under their effigies in his chapel.


Her second son Henry VIII of England followed his father as king, her eldest daughter Margaret married James IV of Scotland, and her youngest child Mary married Louis XII of France. Margaret was the mother of James V of Scotland, the grandmother of Mary, Queen of Scots, and thus the great-grandmother of James VI of Scotland and I of England, from whom all subsequent British monarchs are descended.

Elizabeth of York is the only English Queen to have been a wife, daughter, sister, niece and mother to English Kings.



  • Ashley, Mike (2002). British Kings & Queens. Carroll & Graf. ISBN 0-7867-1104-3. page 227



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