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?
Of all the rather memorable personalities and (borderline) incestuous pairings during the Wars of the Roses, the one that I find the strangest is without a doubt Jasper Tudor and Katherine Woodville. They literally make zero sense to the point that I honestly sometimes forget about them. And yet! They existed.
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.
Remarkably given their dynastic importance, the chaos with which they were surrounded and their potential for mischief, the daughters of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville were a quiet lot. Much like the eldest, Elizabeth of York, there are only flashes of agency against an overarching pattern of obedience for the younger daughters.
While we know that Elizabeth became the queen consort of Henry VII and the third sister, Anne of York, married Thomas Howard, future 3rd Duke of Norfolk, today we’re going to focus on the second-to-youngest daughter, Katherine, whose life followed a very interesting Medieval pattern.
Speaking of the Tudor Myth, a fun little twist to exanining Richard III is seeing two wildly divergent schools of thought on him. While there are presumably some objective histories of his life and reign, most fall into two camps: those that revile him and those that apologize for him.
This is particularly evident in the question as to whether or not Richard III made plans to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York, in 1485. What exactly the nature of their relationship was has been eroded by time, but there is far too much smoke around the issue for there not to have been at least a reasonably-sized fire. In this case, the theory is borne out by the fact that there was contemporary speculation on the subject, as well as the fact that Richard took the pains to publicly deny it.
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.
The pairing of John, Duke of Bedford and Jacquetta of Luxembourg is one which never fails to jar me in hindsight. What are the odds that the Duke’s second wife would go on to become the mother of a queen of England via her own second marriage, particularly given the outrageousness of each match? Well, they’re nil. Much like how it can still be difficult to fathom that the marriage of Katherine of Valois’s that became most dynastically significant was hers to Owen Tudor and not Henry V.
Lately I have been reading John Ashdown-Hill’s “The Private Life of Edward IV.” I’m not too far into it yet, but so far it’s been enjoyable and it’s certainly a fresh look at the King’s reign, which is usually examined through the lens of the civil war of which he reigned in the middle. Broadly, it argues that perhaps Edward IV was not quite the ladies’ man for which his reputation has given him credit.
Ashdown-Hill has gained some notoriety of late for his theory that Edward IV did, in fact, marry before his queen consort, Elizabeth Woodville, and that their children’s legitimacy was undermined. It’s an interesting argument, one that would add some nuance to Richard III’s usurpation of the throne from his nephew, Edward V. However, this post is not about the veracity of that argument or even, really, about Edward’s relationship with Elizabeth.
On February 11, 1466, Elizabeth of York was born to King Edward IV and his wife, Elizabeth Woodville, at the Palace of Westminster. Thirty-seven years later, Elizabeth would die in the residence of the Tower of London as the consort of King Henry VII. Within that time span, she would be the daughter, sister, niece and wife of four English kings, while six years after her death, she would become the mother of one when Henry VIII ascended the throne.
Of all the characters that made up Henry VIII’s court, perhaps none are as famous as his second wife, Anne Boleyn, except the King himself. Equally as notorious was the family behind her – the Boleyns, yes, but also the immensely powerful Howards. At their head was Anne’s uncle, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk (her mother, Elizabeth, was his sister).
By the time Thomas ascended the dukedom in 1524, he was already a central figure in Tudor politics. Ten years later, when his niece was on the throne, he seemed unstoppable. Indeed, he was a force to be reckoned with, even up against the skills of Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. Like a cat with nine lives, he managed to survive Anne’s downfall in 1536. He saw life again when another of his nieces, this one via his brother, Edmund, married Henry as his fifth wife – the ill-fated Katherine Howard. Once again, he made it through her divorce and execution in 1542.
It wouldn’t be until his eldest son and heir, Thomas, Earl of Surrey, began to eye the throne in preparation of Henry VIII’s death that father and son would be arrested in December 1546. Surrey would be executed on January 19, 1547, while Norfolk would be granted a reprieve by Henry VIII dying before his execution was carried out. His life spared, he spent Edward VI’s reign in the Tower of London, only to be released when Mary I ascended the throne in 1553 and he was duly restored to his offices and titles for the remainder of his life.