Elizabeth of York

Let’s talk about the story of Elizabeth of York, an important English queen, wife of Henry VII, and a significant woman in the Wars of the Roses, in the medieval England.

Ritratto di Elizabeth of York
Tempo di lettura articolo: 4 minuti

Elizabeth of York was a very significant woman in the history of England, during the Middle Ages. In fact, following her marriage with the Lancastrian Henry VII Tudor, which ended the Wars of the Roses, she became Queen of England. She was also very famous for her personality, for her different passions and, especially, for the influence she was said to have over the king.

Elizabeth of York was the eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. She was born on 11 February 1466 in the Palace of Westminster, in London, where the House of Lords and the House of Commons, which are the two Houses of the United Kingdom’s Parliament, are located nowadays. So, her christening was celebrated in Westminster Abbey, one of the United Kingdom’s most notable and prestigious religious buildings. It is said that Elizabeth had many passions and that she transmitted them to her children with a lot of commitment. She loved literature, music and dancing. Moreover, she owned a great number of greyhounds, which she looked after and cared for, because of her love for hunting and archery.

Elizabeth of York

The Wars of the Roses

At the time of her birth, in England, the Wars of the Roses had already been fought for ten years. It was a dispute which broke out between the two rival houses of Lancaster and York, due to the enormous losses of land and wealth that both the families had suffered. Later, it degenerated in a civil war. This conflict is known as the Wars of the Roses because the emblem of both families was a rose: red for Lancaster and white for York. The dispute was settled with Elizabeth’s marriage with the Lancastrian Henry VII, which was celebrated in January 1486. It is important to remember that Elizabeth married Henry VII after his success in the Battle of Bosworth, which was decisive for the end of the Wars of the Roses.

Elizabeth of York and Henry VII

Many people wonder if Henry really loved Elizabeth. Although the marriage was celebrated for political reasons, historical sources report that the king was very fond of his wife. Of course, the couple’s early years together may have been challenging, since there was no trust between the two rulers. In fact, up until a few months before their wedding, Elizabeth and Henry VII had been part of two rival families. They had seven children together, but, unfortunately, their eldest son Arthur, Prince of Wales, died in 1502, when he was only fifteen years old. Their second and only surviving son became King Henry VIII of England, after the death of his father. Over time, the king learned to love and trust his wife, especially for her great personality.

Elizabeth of York and Henry VII

There are many theories about how much power the king granted to Elizabeth. In general, Henry VII did not allow any kind of power to his wife, as all kings used to do. However, it is said that Elizabeth was sometimes involved by the king in his diplomatic relations, especially in helping to arrange their children’s marriages, which was a task that all the queens were able to do, during the Middle Ages and beyond. Furthermore, Elizabeth of York was known to have a great influence over Henry VII. So, for this reason, many powerful people gave her a lot of precious and valuable gifts in order to secure her favour. This means that Elizabeth was a very important person at court, despite having no legal power. 

The death of Elizabeth of York

The grave of Elizabeth of York and King Henry VII

Elizabeth of York died on 11 February 1503, when she was thirty-seven years old, after giving birth to her daughter Katherine. She passed away due to an infection from childbirth, which also killed her newborn daughter a few days later. Henry VII seemed sincerely shocked and saddened by his wife’s death, and he organised a magnificent funeral for her. Elizabeth was buried in Westminster Abbey, into a chapel built especially for her. Henry VII, who died a widower in 1509, was buried next to his wife. In fact, it was believed that, in this way, the love between the two rulers continued to exist even after death. However, Elizabeth’s greatest love was the one that she felt for her homeland, England.

Nowadays, we remember Elizabeth of York for her qualities as a mother and wife, for her interesting personality and for her love for her country, as well as for the significant role that her marriage played for the end of the Wars of the Roses.


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