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Elizabeth of York, Queen of Henry VII

Chapter XXI of Agnes Strickland’s Queens of England, Vol. I (1882)

elizabeth of york and henry the seventh

Full text of Chapter XXI: Elizabeth of York, Queen of Henry VII from Project Gutenberg.


A.D. 1466-1503

This princess was the daughter of Edward IV. and Elizabeth Woodville, whose secret marriage caused so much trouble. She was shut up in the sanctuary while her father’s throne was in jeopardy, and danced at the balls given to celebrate his restoration. She was at that time only six years old, and when she reached the advanced age of nine her hand had been promised in marriage four times as a peace-offering from her father to other monarchs.

Elizabeth of York was well educated, for at a very early age she could read and write her own language, as well as French and Spanish. She was sixteen when her little brothers were murdered in the Tower, and her love for them had been so great that she grieved very deeply over their cruel fate. Her engagement with Henry of Richmond, who afterwards ascended the throne, turned her attention from this dreadful event somewhat. Elizabeth was separated from her mother when they left the sanctuary, and went to the court of Richard III., whose queen always treated her with great kindness and consideration.

Lord Stanley, Henry Tudor’s stepfather, occupied a very high position at court, and to him the Princess Elizabeth applied for assistance in getting possession of the throne, to which she knew she had a right. Stanley had several secret interviews with the princess on this subject, and assured her that, at his bidding, his adherents in the northwest would fly to her side, armed and equipped for battle. But, like many of the earls of his day, Lord Stanley could not write, and he did not dare trust a public scribe with his directions. Thereupon Elizabeth assured him that if he would only dictate, and affix his seal, she would do all the necessary writing. For this purpose they met in disguise. Six letters were duly prepared and sealed, and committed to the care of Humphrey Brereton, a knight who had been attached to the cause of Edward IV. These dangerous despatches were delivered according to their directions, and on his return from the expedition Brereton met Stanley and Elizabeth at an old inn in the suburbs of London, with a party of gentlemen who had returned with him. This meeting took place at night, and when Elizabeth had satisfied herself that no prejudice existed among these men against her Lancastrian lover, she agreed to send him a ring through them as a token that he might trust himself in Stanley’s power. Brereton carried this ring to Henry, who was at a monastery some miles from Rennes. The lover kissed his lady’s present, but kept the messenger waiting three weeks for his answer. Henry Tudor had been a fugitive and a prisoner nearly all his life, and extreme caution had become second nature to him.

At last he consented to undertake an expedition that would either make or mar him, and sailed from Harfleur with a large fleet. He was received in England with a hearty welcome, for the people regarded him as a saviour who was to preserve them from Richard’s tyranny.

A.D. 1485

On the evening of the 21st of August, 1485, three weeks after his arrival, Henry encamped with his army near Bosworth. The next day the celebrated battle was fought, which terminated the life of Richard III., and placed Henry Tudor on the throne.

After the death of Anne of Warwick Richard III. had sent his niece, Elizabeth of York, to a castle in Yorkshire, where she was kept as a close prisoner, and the first intimation she had of her royal lover’s success was when the people of the neighborhood gathered about the gloomy building with shouts of joy. A guard of nobility and gentry escorted her in state to London, and she went in company with her mother to live at Westminster Palace.

Henry VII. was recognized as King of England, and crowned soon after; but he seemed in no hurry about his marriage, which did not take place until January 18th of the following year. The event was celebrated with bonfires, banquets, dancing and songs, and the prelate who performed the ceremony held a bunch of red and white roses, tied together for the first time. This was in commemoration of the union of the rival houses of York and Lancaster.

A.D. 1486

The royal couple then went to live at Winchester, where in the course of a year their first child was born. He was named Arthur, after King Henry’s favorite hero and ancestor.

A.D 1487

The birth of this prince was succeeded by his mother’s coronation, which took place in November, 1487. On the Friday before that important ceremony Elizabeth went with her husband from London to Greenwich. She was accompanied on the river Thames by a grand pageant of boats, the finest being rowed by the students of Lincoln’s Inn, who had beautiful music performed on their barge throughout the route, and kept side by side with that of the queen. That night was passed at the Tower, where the king created eleven Knights of the Bath, and the next day Elizabeth proceeded through the city to Westminster Palace. An immense crowd collected to behold their queen, as this was her first public appearance since her marriage. She was not quite twenty-two; her figure was tall and handsome; her complexion fair and brilliant. She had, besides, soft blue eyes and delicate features, set off by a profusion of yellow hair. Her costume on this occasion was a gown of white silk, brocaded with gold, and a mantle of the same material, bordered with ermine and fastened across the breast with gold cords and tassels. A close-fitting cap, formed of rich gems in a golden network, encircled her head, and her hair fell loosely around her shoulders.

The young queen was borne in an open litter, and four of the new Knights of the Bath supported a rich canopy over her head. She was preceded by four baronesses, riding on gray horses, and Henry’s Uncle Jasper, as grand steward. Lord Stanley, now Earl of Derby, was high constable, and the Earl of Oxford, Lord Chamberlain. The queen was followed by her sister Cicely, who sat in an open chariot with the Duchess of Bedford, and a long train of other vehicles containing noble ladies, the rear being brought up by six baronesses on horseback. The streets were all decorated, and a chorus of children, dressed as angels, sang the queen’s praises as she passed along.

The following morning Elizabeth entered Westminster Hall in a rich robe of purple velvet edged with ermine. A coronet of gold, set with large pearls and colored gems, encircled her brow. She stood under a canopy of state, and then, followed by her attendants, proceeded to the abbey. A strip of carpet over which she walked was cut to pieces and distributed among the throng assembled to gaze upon her, and so eager were they to possess themselves of this memento that several people were trampled to death. King Henry and his mother took no part in the coronation, but sat in a latticed box placed for their use, and observed both the church ceremony and the banquet, at which the queen presided, afterwards. From that time she appeared in public with all the splendor of a Queen of England.

A.D. 1489

In 1489 a little princess was born; she was named Margaret after the king’s mother, who presented the infant with a silver box filled with gold pieces. At the christening a play was performed before the royal family at the palace.

A.D. 1491

The second prince, who afterwards reigned as Henry VIII., was born June 28, 1491. He was always remarkable for strength and robust health, but we shall have more to say about him hereafter.

Queen Elizabeth was so generous, not only to her own family, but to those of her subjects who brought her trifling presents of early vegetables, fruit, or flowers, that she often found herself in debt, and had to pawn her plate or jewels to satisfy her creditors. But her own wants were limited, and she managed her personal expenses with economy.

A.D. 1495

In 1495 the king and queen were in great trouble on account of the invasion of Perkin Warbeck, who was married to one of Henry’s nearest relatives. This man was an impostor, but so active in his movements, appearing in quick succession in various parts of the realm, that for seven long years there was danger of his usurping the crown. At last, the battle of Blackheath decided his cause; for it was won by King Henry, and Perkin was soon after captured. Henry did not wish to shed the blood of this kinsman, but it became absolutely necessary before peace could be restored. He was therefore hanged at Tyburn, November 16, 1499. The Earl of Warwick had allowed himself to become so implicated in Perkin’s schemes that he too was condemned to death; his execution took place on Tower Hill a fortnight later.

A.D. 1499

A dreadful plague broke out in England, the same year, and the king felt so alarmed for the safety of his family that he took them to Calais, where they resided for a couple of months. During that period two marriages of great importance were agreed upon. One was between the little Princess Mary, Henry’s youngest daughter, and Charles, son of the archduke, Philip of Austria; the other was between Arthur, Prince of Wales, and Katharine of Arragon, but within five months, Prince Arthur was dead. The king and queen were at Greenwich Palace when the loss of their eldest son was made known to them. Each tried to comfort the other and to bear the sad bereavement with Christian fortitude. But Arthur had been a promising youth, and it was long before his afflicted mother could reconcile herself to his death.

The following January, 1502, the Princess Margaret was betrothed to James VI. of Scotland. The ceremony was performed at St. Paul’s Cathedral and presided over by the queen, who afterwards led her daughter by the hand to a grand banquet prepared at the Bishop of London’s Palace Margaret, who was only a little over twelve years of age remained in England to finish her education under her mother’s care.

A.D. 1503

But on February 11, 1503, the gentle, pious, lovely, and dearly-loved Queen Elizabeth expired, suddenly, after a very short illness. This event cast a gloom over the whole city; the bells of St. Paul’s and of all the churches in London tolled dismally, and the utmost sorrow was felt in every household.

The queen’s body was embalmed and placed within the Tower Chapel where it lay in state for twelve days. Then? after mass had been celebrated, it was placed in a hearse covered with black velvet, on which was a large white cross. An image exactly representing the queen was placed in a chair above. This image was decked out with royal robes, crown, sceptre, jewels and everything just as Elizabeth had appeared when living. Four women kneeled by the chair, on top of the hearse, which was drawn by six horses, in black velvet trappings, from the Tower to Westminster.

The horses were led by men robed in black; eight ladies of honor rode singly after the hearse, followed by the lordmayor, other authorities, and a long train of citizens. At every door in the city stood a man bearing a lighted torch, and at various points groups of thirty-seven virgins, that number corresponding with the queen’s age, were stationed, all dressed in white and holding lighted tapers. Torches burned before all the churches, and bands of monks and nuns, singing anthems, met the funeral procession as it moved along. The Earl of Derby led a party of nobles, who preceded the hearse into the churchyard of St. Margaret, Westminster. The body was carried into the abbey, where it was placed on a dais richly covered with velvet drapery, on which the queen’s motto: “Humble and Reverent,” was embroidered. All the lords and ladies in attendance then retired to Westminster Palace and took supper. Next morning the remains of Elizabeth were put in the grave.

Henry VII. lived seven years after his wife’s death, and developed some very bad traits when her influence was removed. He had never permitted her to have any voice in the government of the realm, but in her gentle loving manner she had prompted him to many a generous, sensible action. He died in 1509, and was buried in the splendid chapel at Westminster Abbey which bears his name.

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