Margaret Beaufort & Her Four Husbands

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Margaret Beaufort is arguably the great winner of the Wars of the Roses. Certainly she is one of the few to have lived through the war in its entirety and, as such, became the matriarch of the House of the Tudor. Mother to Henry VII, she is an ancestor to every English/British monarch since Henry VIII (as well as Scotland’s James V and Mary Stuart). But though she existed in the same world as Marguerite of Anjou, Elizabeth Woodville and Anne Neville, she is rarely seen as exciting as them – she never wore a crown and by the time she held substantial power, she was a woman in 50s. Instead, she is usually depicted as the mother-in-law from hell, a meddler and a jarring mix of pious and power-hungry.

To some, she is even a contender as the true killer of the Princes of the Tower.

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The Dynastic Dispute

Payne, Henry Arthur, 1868-1940; Plucking the Red and White Roses in the Old Temple Gardens

Two days ago, we covered the usurpation of 1399 and the events leading up to it. Today, we’re going to examine the issue raised at its end, which dealt with the supposed dynastic crime against nature that the accession of Henry IV rendered. This, of course, links the beginning of the royal House of Lancaster with its end, when Henry IV’s grandson, Henry VI, was deposed in favor of his cousin, Edward IV.

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The Divorce of Anne of York, Duchess of Exeter

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It says something about the House of York that one of its highest-ranking women could go through a divorce in the 15th century and end up forgotten by history. After all, between Elizabeth Woodville, Richard III and two disappearing princes, there are enough colorful figures much closer to the throne that the ups and downs of Anne of York, Duchess of Exeter are easy enough to forget. Nevertheless, two of Anne’s brothers were kings of England, while her first marriage put her in the unique position of having a husband on one side of a civil war and blood family on the other. Her first marriage is tinged with hints violence, while her subsequent divorce and remarriage show a woman with as much fortitude and willfulness as her more famous brothers.

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In Elizabeth of York’s Shadow: Cecily of York, Lady Welles

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Cecily of York has always perplexed me. A daughter of one queen and sister to another, she was not only at the epicenter of “Wars of the Roses” drama, but unlike her younger sisters, Anne, Katherine and Bridget, she was old enough to know what was happening. She also came very close to playing a more high-profile role thanks to her betrothal to the future James IV of Scotland, and had her first marriage abruptly annulled when power changed hands in 1485. So, who exactly was this woman?

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The Long & Short of Elizabeth Woodville

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We’ve talked about Elizabeth Woodville’s wedding date, her siblings and what the significance of her filling the role of Edward IV’s consort was before, but we’ve never just straight up covered her life from beginning to end. Elizabeth has seen a surge in popularity over the last decade, which doesn’t surprise me – it’s honestly more surprising that it took this long for her to get trendy. She had two husbands, 12 children and seemingly nine lives. She was a commoner who married a king, accused of witchcraft and sensationally beautiful. She lived through the reigns of five kings, was mother to another queen consort, attached to one of history’s biggest murder mysteries and may have ended her days under glorified house arrest. In short, there was a lot going on.

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The Matriarch: Cecily Neville, Duchess of York

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One of my favorite figures from the Wars of the Roses is Cecily Neville, Duchess of York who came very close to becoming England’s queen through her husband and ended up mother to two, Edward IV and Richard III. She was grandmother to the Princes in the Tower, mother-in-law to Elizabeth Woodville and Anne Neville, mother to a Duchess of Burgundy and rival to Marguerite of Anjou. In short, she was something to almost everyone and while we know where she was and what she did more often than most women of her time, we know remarkably little about who she actually was.

If you’re familiar with her, it’s actually a bit astonishing given the wealth of information we have to parse through and the level of fame that her family achieved. We have flashes of activity over the course of several decades, but only two real moments of humanity shine through, both of which relate to her children. We know that she was beautiful, though it’s unclear to what extent that was exaggerated given her rank. We believe that she was religious based on her increasingly public piety and retirement to a convent. We assume she mourned the loss of her husband and children.

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When Did Edward IV Marry Elizabeth Woodville?

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Well, traditionally the answer is today in 1464. According to some versions of the story Edward IV happened upon Elizabeth Grey (née Woodville) under an oak tree near her family home in Northamptonshire where she played the damsel in distress card and petitioned the king for help in reclaiming her son’s inheritance. Taken by her beauty, Edward tried to make her his mistress and when she refused, he married her, kept it to himself for five months and then dramatically announced it at court when his cousin and first councilor, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, was pressuring him to marry King Louis XI of France’s sister-in-law.

But there are some problems with this narrative. First, the whole oak tree imagery is a bit over the top. Second, the date of May 1 or “May Day” is very romantic, but the very fact that it is romantic should raise some eyebrows. Third, there is clear indication from events in the summer of 1464 that there was no plan to present Elizabeth as queen. And four, it is unlikely that Edward and Elizabeth only met for the first time that year.

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Lancaster’s Decision to Stay in England After the Battle of Barnet

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Today in 1471 the Battle of Barnet was fought in England between the House of York’s Edward IV and the House of Lancaster’s Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. The battle resulted in Lancaster’s defeat and Warwick, the “Kingmaker,” was killed while attempting to escape the field. At the time of the battle, Edward IV had recently been deposed thanks to Warwick’s betrayal when he defected to the Lancastrian cause, turning his back on the House and family on which he had built his career.

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