Full text of Chapter XIX: Elizabeth Woodville, Queen of Edward IV from Project Gutenberg.
When Elizabeth Woodville was maid of honor to Queen Margaret of Anjou she little supposed that she would ever ascend the throne of England, yet that was her destiny not many years later.
But, first, she became the wife of John Grey, son and heir of the wealthy Lord Ferrers, who owned the domain of Bradgate, where she lived until her husband’s death. John Grey was a brave, handsome man of twenty-five when he married Elizabeth, and occupied the important position of leader of Queen Margaret’s cavalry. He was killed at the second battle of St. Albans, leaving his young wife with two little children, named Thomas and Richard, both under four years of age. By the cruel fortunes of war these little ones were deprived of their inheritance of Bradgate, and so, with their mother, went to live at the Castle of Grafton, which belonged to the Duchess of Bedford, Elizabeth’s mother.
One day when Edward IV. was hunting in the forest of Whittlebury, the young widow waylaid him, and throwing herself at his feet, pleaded earnestly for the restoration of Bradgate to her fatherless boys, who stood by her side. Struck by her beauty and downcast looks, the king listened attentively to her request, and not only granted it, but fell in love with her on the spot. This interview took place beneath the shade of a wide-spreading tree that is known to this day as the Queen’s Oak.
Elizabeth met her royal lover many times after that in the same place, and when the Duchess of Bedford, who was a most ambitious and manoeuvring mother, found out how matters stood, she arranged for a private marriage, which took place May 1, 1464, in the town of Grafton.
The king’s mother became very angry when she heard of this unequal match, for she was queen at that period, and could not bear to resign her place to the daughter of a man who began his career as a poor squire. However, it was too late to lament, and in the autumn the bride was led by the young Duke of Clarence to the abbey-church of Reading, where the king took her by the hand, and presented her to the council of peers assembled there as his lawfully wedded wife. Elizabeth appeared that day in a dress of rich blue and gold brocade with a long, full train bordered with ermine. The sleeves and body were tight, and a band of ermine around the neck, and, passing down either side of the open skirt in front, displayed a rich satin petticoat. Over her yellow hair, which fell loosely down her back, she wore a lofty crown. A costly pearl necklace encircled her throat.
Queen Elizabeth soon gained unbounded influence over the mind of her husband, which she too frequently exerted for the advancement of her own relatives. She had a soft, caressing voice, and always assumed an air of humility, when desirous of gaining a point, that had its weight with Edward. The acknowledgment of the king’s marriage was followed by a series of the most brilliant feasts and tournaments ever witnessed in England.
The coronation of the new queen took place at Westminster Abbey, May 26th. That morning the king had knighted thirty-two citizens, who preceded the queen’s litter on horseback. After the coronation, which was conducted with great solemnity, a grand banquet was held, the royal couple presiding.
Elizabeth was most unfortunate in soon incurring the ill-will of Warwick, the prime minister, who had been all-powerful in England for several years. It was increased by the influence gained through her instrumentality by the various members of her family. Before long, the popular rage was excited against the Woodvilles, and England was in a state of insurrection.
The queen’s father and one of her brothers concealed themselves in a forest, but were discovered and beheaded, without judge or jury. This was a dreadful blow to Elizabeth, who was warmly attached to her family. The king went north to inquire into the cause of the outrage, but could not get back for a long-time because Warwick and the Duke of Clarence kept him under a kind of restraint; however he escaped at last, and got back to London. Then Warwick and Clarence were so frightened at having interfered with the king’s movements that they got away with their families as quickly as possible and went to France.
All this time the queen was safely lodged in the Tower. But it was not very long before Warwick returned to England, and Edward came so near falling into his hands again that he fled half-dressed one night just as the troops approached the castle, and embarked on board a ship at Lynn.
Elizabeth was so alarmed for her own safety and that of her family that she went at once to a gloomy monastery, called the Sanctuary, where her mother and her three daughters, Elizabeth, Mary, and Cicely, accompanied her.
It was there that the first son of Edward IV. was born. He was named after his father, and christened with as little ceremony as though he had been the son of the poorest man in the kingdom.
By the time the little prince was five months old, the Duke of Clarence had parted from Warwick, and Edward returned to London, where he was warmly received. He hastened to meet his family, and removed them from the Sanctuary to his mother’s palace, Castle Baynard. Several battles that he fought and won after his return put an end to so many of Edward’s opponents–among them Warwick, the most formidable–that the house of York was at last firmly established in power and the rebellion crushed. Then followed several years of peace, when the royal family were settled at Windsor or at Westminster, holding court with great state and splendor.
King Edward’s second son, Prince Richard, Duke of York, was born during this season of enjoyment, and when he was five years old he was formally married to Anne Mowbray, infant heiress of the Duchy of Norfolk, aged three.
The following spring the singular death of the Duke of Clarence occurred. He had been condemned to execution for an offence against the king, his brother, but one morning he was found drowned in a butt of malmsey. Clarence was in the habit of drinking to excess, and it was supposed that he fell into the butt of his favorite wine while in a state of intoxication.
In 1483 King Edward was seized with an attack of fever that resulted in death. After lying in state for several days his body was interred with great pomp in the Chapel of St. George.
Queen Elizabeth was left in a more unprotected state this time than when her first husband died. The young king was pursuing his studies at Ludlow Castle, under the care of her brother, Lord Rivers. Elizabeth proposed to the council that he should be at once escorted to London with a powerful army, but Lord Hastings, who presided, could see no necessity for such a step, and so, unfortunately for young Edward, it was not taken.
Meanwhile the Duke of Gloucester, who was in Scotland, caused Edward V. to be proclaimed at York, and wrote such a kind, deferential letter to the queen, that she felt she had a friend in this first prince of the blood.
The council then commanded Earl Rivers to bring the young king to London, and Elizabeth was eagerly awaiting him, when news was brought to her that the Dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham had met him with an armed force, seized his person, and arrested Earl Rivers and Lord Richard Grey, who were with him. The poor mother could scarcely believe such an astonishing report. As soon as the Archbishop of York heard what had happened, he took the great seal and carried it to Elizabeth, assuring her that if an attempt were made to crown anybody but her eldest son he would take it upon himself to crown Richard. But, when on the following day, he saw the Thames covered with boatloads of Gloucester’s soldiers, placed there to watch the queen, he regretted what he had done, and went to the Sanctuary, where Elizabeth had taken refuge with the Duke of York, to get the seal back again.
The 4th of May had been appointed for the coronation of Edward V. He entered the city surrounded by a retinue of the Duke of Gloucester’s officers, headed by the treacherous duke himself, and, under some pretence, was lodged in the royal apartments of the Tower, the coronation having been postponed for some trivial reason.
Gloucester’s next object was to get possession of Prince Richard. He would have taken him by force, but the Archbishop of Canterbury took it upon himself to persuade Elizabeth to give him up. This he accomplished, after a great deal of persuasion, by working upon her sympathies and telling her of the loneliness of her eldest son, Edward, who was pining for a playmate. At last it was agreed that the child should go to his brother until after the coronation, for which preparations were going on night and day.
But the Duke of Gloucester intended that no such coronation should ever take place, so he brought shameful accusations against Elizabeth and her children, put several of her adherents to death, and finally had himself crowned King of England on the 26th of June.
In less than a month from that date the two little princes, whom he had kept shut up in the Tower, were murdered by his order. It is impossible to describe the agony of the poor mother when she learned the fate of her two dear little boys. She cried to God for vengeance on the wretch who had committed so foul a crime. Only a few months later Richard of Gloucester’s only son, for whose advancement he had shed so much innocent blood, died.
Elizabeth was forced to submit to the will of the usurper, whose acts of tyranny rendered her existence bitter in the extreme. But she lived to see her daughter Elizabeth on the throne of England, as the wife of Henry VII., and her own restoration to liberty.
She died in 1492, attended in her last ill ness by the most affectionate care of her daughter. Her funeral was conducted with the utmost simplicity, and she was buried at St. George’s Chapel, in the tomb with Edward IV. The monument is of steel, representing a double gate between two ancient Gothic towers. On a flat stone, at the foot of this monument, is engraved:
King Edward, and his Queen,