The marriage of Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York was not a love match. It was arranged by their mothers during their years of suffering under King Richard III. Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville, one woman under house arrest and one in sanctuary, agreed that Henry Tudor should move to claim the throne from Richard III. Once he had taken it, he would marry Elizabeth of York, uniting the two rival Houses of Lancaster and York. In December 1483, in the cathedral in Rennes, Henry Tudor swore an oath promising to marry Elizabeth, and began planning an invasion.

Henry was victorious in the battle of Bosworth, the last battle of the Middle Ages. He did not, however, march into London and sweep his bride off her feet. This is not a fairytale. Much is made of the five-month gap between Henry VII taking the throne and his marriage to Elizabeth of York. That the coronation of Henry VII took place a few months before his marriage to Elizabeth of York is often seen as an attempt to distance himself from his wife’s own claim to the throne. This is hardly a likely scenario. Despite the fact that Elizabeth of York was considered the rightful York heir to the throne, no-one was expecting, or hoping for, her to rule as Queen Regnant. One only needs to look at the disastrous marriages of her son Henry VIII to see how the nobility felt about a woman’s rule. Henry did indeed need to be declared King in his own right, the Battle of Bosworth may have been won, but one must be anointed and crowned.

Other more sinister, purely fictional interpretations abound. Some lately include the theory that Henry wanted to wait and see if Elizabeth was pregnant by her uncle Richard III. But there is no proof nor contemporary rumours that Elizabeth of York ever had an affair with King Richard III. Some Richard III admirers have sought to attribute any manner of cowardly and vile acts to Henry Tudor including forcing Elizabeth into his bed before the marriage to “test” if she was a virgin or the raping of his betrothed to see if she was fertile. To accuse Richard III of defiling his own niece or Henry Tudor of raping his betrothed needs to be considered only with the contempt it deserves. Let’s take a look at the facts.

A Long Engagement

Crowning Henry VII After the Battle of Bosworth c 1889

Crowning Henry VII After the Battle of Bosworth c 1889

So why the five month gap? Henry Tudor was victorious at Bosworth on the 22nd of August 1485. On the 15th of September writs were issued for Henry VII’s first parliament to be held on November 7th1. By then Elizabeth was installed at Coldharbour, the home of Henry’s mother Margaret Beaufort 2. Henry’s coronation was held on the 30th of October, a week before his first parliament. One of the most important issues to deal with was Titulus Regius, the act passed by Richard III that declared the marriage of Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV as illegal and their children illegitimate. Elizabeth’s legitimacy and rightful titles had to be restored before the wedding could go ahead, and the act was repealed in Henry’s first parliament. By now, the couple, who had probably never met before, were getting to know each other in the relative privacy of Coldharbour.

By December Elizabeth’s wedding ring had been ordered. Henry was also busy acquiring the necessary Papal dispensations, for the couple were related by blood in the double fourth degree of consanguinity3. Three dispensations would be issued in total. The first dispensation had been issued sometime before March of 1484, when Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort had first arranged the marriage in rebellion against King Richard III. However secrecy was essential lest Richard seek to thwart the marriage, and the dispensation was issued for a “Henry Richmond” and “Elizabeth Plantagenet”. Henry went about applying for a second dispensation after he took the throne, which arrived on the 16th of January 1486. The couple were married a mere two days after the dispensation arrived, which makes it obvious the dispensation was the main cause of delay. The third and final dispensation would not arrive until March 2nd, by which time the couple were wedded and bedded and Elizabeth pregnant.

Henry was determined to make the marriage indisputable, and the third dispensation removed the impediment of a possible fourth degree of affinity, relation through marriage4. This is hardly surprising considering Richard III was able to seize the throne by disputing his older brother’s marriage. Henry would take no such chances. So is a five-month gap really such a long period of time? Henry had rather a lot to do after he defeated King Richard III, he hardly had time to rest on his laurels. Peace had to be established, he had to be crowned and hold his first parliament, restore his wife to her rightful position and take the time to get to know her while they were waiting for the Papal dispensation to arrive. Elizabeth was likely content enough to wait a few months in her newly furnished rooms at Coldharbour after the two years of hell she had experienced after her father’s death.

My Lady the King's Mother - Margaret Beaufort

My Lady the King’s Mother – Margaret Beaufort

My Lady the King’s Mother

The propaganda surrounding Margaret Beaufort serves two purposes, it brings another villain into the mix in the mystery of the fate of the “Princes in the Tower” and it emasculates Henry VII. Fictional representations of Margaret show an unhealthy and obsessive love for her son in which she rivals her daughter-in-law for his affections. The most recent depiction of Margaret on television is maniacal, fanatical and outrageously sexist, for how better to denigrate a female than showing her as a hysterical woman constantly on the verge of tears, when not of course being devious and underhanded?

Henry and Margaret certainly were close. He was Margaret’s only child, born when she was merely thirteen, a difficult birth that nearly killed both of them. Margaret would never give birth to another child and was parted from Henry for most of his young life. Their affection for each other when they were finally reunited is plain in the surviving records of gifts and letters. Henry honoured his mother, she was the greatest landowner in the kingdom only after the King and Queen, declaring her femme sole, which gave her complete control over her own wealth. Margaret certainly was a constant presence at court, and was far more involved in Henry and Elizabeth’s affairs than most Kings’ mothers had been, but then Cecily Neville, mother of Edward IV, was also a constant presence during the early years of her son’s rule. Cecily even revised her coat of arms to include the royal arms of England, hinting that her husband, Richard Duke of York, had been a rightful king and that she was effectively Queen Dowager. When Edward married Elizabeth Woodville, he built new queen’s quarters for her and let his mother remain in the queen’s quarters in which she had been living.

Cecily Neville

Cecily Neville

Cecily Neville and Margaret Beaufort, in fact, held each other in great esteem. Considering Cecily was almost thirty years older than her and it is not inconceivable that Cecily’s influential role at court left an impression on a younger Margaret. Both had active political roles in the early years of their sons’ reigns. Both were afforded semi-regal status by their sons. Many observations have been made of Margaret Beaufort appearing in similar attire to her daughter-in-law the Queen, taking precedence just a step behind her. A miniature from the Lutton Guild Book (c 1475) shows Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville kneeling before an image of the Trinity. Cecily is depicted in royal robes, placed immediately behind the queen. 5 As Amy Licence points out, on key occasions such as Twelfth Day Elizabeth and Margaret appeared in “like mantle and surcoat” but then Margaret tended to her daughter-in-law’s crown as Elizabeth feasted.6

The difference between Margaret Beaufort and Cecily Neville is that Cecily was outraged at her son marrying the commoner Elizabeth Woodville. Margaret, however, had actively worked towards her son’s marriage to Elizabeth of York and may have been cherishing the idea long before Richard III took the throne. Her husband Stanley would recall that “long before communing was had between the said lord Henry and lady Elizabeth about contracting marriage, the said sworn [witness] heard Richard, earl of Salisbury, and the lady Margaret, wife of this sworn [witness], mother of the said king that now is, and divers other noble and illustrious persons saying that the said king Henry and lady Elizabeth were related in the fourth and fifth degrees of kindred, and reciting the degrees aforesaid, and affirming that they were true degrees lineally drawn from the said duke of Lancaster.”7. Margaret had been negotiating with Edward IV to bring Henry out of exile for years and was Edward was perhaps considering marrying Henry to one of his daughters to reign him in, he was after all the Lancastrian heir and still a threat.  A draft of pardon (undated) from Edward IV to Henry Tudor is written on the back of the patent of creation of Edmund Tudor as Earl of Richmond on 23 November 1452 suggest he may have been considering granting him his former title again. 8

So did Elizabeth of York resent her mother-in-law’s dominant presence at court? That Margaret was commanding and imperious cannot be denied, but then nor can her affection for both her son and daughter-in-law. There is no evidence Henry favoured his mother over his wife. A letter from Pope Alexander warned Margaret that Henry had already promised Elizabeth that he would appoint her candidate as the next bishop of Worcester, therefore Margaret’s candidate had to be dropped. 9 The most oft-repeated accounts of Margaret’s alleged dominance over her daughter-in-law are from the Spanish ambassadors. The first from Pedro de Ayala is usually repeated in this fashion “The King is much influenced by his mother…the Queen, as is generally the case, does not like it.” These two sentences are most often chosen to represent what he said, yet looking at the entire portion of the letter gives it a slightly different context.

The King is much influenced by his mother and his followers in affairs of personal interest and in others. The Queen, as is generally the case, does not like it. There are other persons who have much influence in the government, as, for instance, the Lord Privy Seal, the Bishop of Durham, the Chamberlain, and many others.10

de Ayala is in fact speaking of several persons who had a strong influence over the King, including his mother. That “The Queen, as is generally the case, does not like it” means, quite obviously, he is making a generalisation. It is not sound evidence of Elizabeth’s actual feelings nor that Henry would only listen to his mother in matters of state.

More telling perhaps is the letter from the sub-prior Of Santa Cruz to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, the parents of Prince Arthur’s betrothed, Katherine of Aragon. “The Queen is a “very noble woman,” and much beloved.” he wrote “She is kept in subjection by the mother of the King. It would be a good thing to write often to her, and to show her a little love.”11 This rather touching note on the end may indicate the sub-prior suspected Elizabeth could use a little more respect and attention, but this is purely speculative, on both his part and ours.

Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile - The marriage between Prince Arthur and the Infanta Katherine of Aragon was a great triumph for the Tudors

Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile – The marriage between Prince Arthur and the Infanta Katherine of Aragon was a great triumph for the Tudors

Another more obscure account is of John Hewyk of Nottingham, who was seeking a position in the Queen’s household “that he had spoken with the Queen’s Grace, and should have spoken more with her said Grace, had [it] not been for that strong whore the King’s mother.”12 It appears Margaret intervened on this occasion, yet again this is not indicative that Margaret was being domineering, she may have in fact intervened to get rid of an intrusive man, if his manners indeed are anything to go by. Publicly the two women put on a united front and collaborated on many projects together. It is unlikely that the Queen would let her frustration at her mother-in-law show in front of strangers. Elizabeth had a lifetime of royal training, she would have borne her mother-in-law’s less desirable qualities with her famous good grace.

It was Margaret who intervened for Elizabeth’s younger sister Cecily when she angered Henry with her marriage to a commoner, Margaret who gave Cecily and her husband shelter and negotiated with Henry on Cecily’s behalf so Elizabeth would not be placed in a difficult position. It was Margaret who looked after Elizabeth in the aftermath of Bosworth, newly renovating her rooms to keep her comfortable and allowing her the privacy to get to know her future husband. Margaret kept a permanent suite of rooms entirely for Elizabeth’s disposal at her estate in Collyweston. It was to Margaret’s house that Elizabeth fled with Prince Henry during the Cornish uprising of 1497. It was Margaret to whom Elizabeth turned when she was anxious about her daughter being sent to Scotland. Margaret had, after all, also experienced a dangerous childbirth at a tender age. Henry told the Spanish ambassadors-

“Besides my own doubts, the Queen and my mother are very much against this marriage. They say if the marriage were concluded we should be obliged to send the Princess directly to Scotland, in which case they fear the King of Scots would not wait, but injure her, and endanger her health.”13

Penury

Elizabeth of York display at Barley Hall - Picture © Henry Tudor Society Facebook

Elizabeth of York display at Barley Hall – Picture © Henry Tudor Society Facebook

One of the sillier myths surrounding the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York is that he kept her short of money and forced her to wear threadbare gowns that were mended over and over again. Henry always opened his purse when it came to spending money on his family, that a King who was so concerned with keeping a regal appearance would keep his Queen in rags beggars belief. However, to briefly address the gowns we need to look at Elizabeth of York’s Privy Purse Expenses.The first mentions payments to her tailor.

“It͠m the same day to Robert Ragdale tailour for making of two dublettes for twoo fotemen…It͠m for lynyng a gowne of blake velvet for the Quenes grace with wyde slevys with blake sarcenet with an egge of blake sattayne…and for mendyng of divers gownes and kirtelles of the Quenes” 14

It mentions “divers gowns” for mending, certainly. She was also paying her tailor for a new dress and two doublets of velvet for her footmen. Velvet was of course a luxury fabric and could not be washed in the usual way. The next mention of mending points out two velvet gowns.

“It͠m payed for the hemmyng of a kertelle of the Quenes of damaske…It͠m for mendyng of a crymsyn velvet gowne… It͠m for mendyng of a gowne of blake velvet…” 15

The tin buckles? Her wealthy mother-in-law wore the same, made from latten, a copper alloy. Was Elizabeth being forced to mend her gowns or was she merely mending some of her favourites? As Professor Arlene Okerlund told us “Such thrift is not a sign of penury or miserliness, but a sensible means of preserving elaborate gowns carefully crafted from expensive fabrics. If the myth implies that Elizabeth lacked the appropriate dress and accoutrements for a queen of England, a quick review of her “Privy Purse Expenses” will dispel that misunderstanding.”

Queen Elizabeth of York

Elizabeth’s portrait shows the elaborately crafted clothing she would have worn – her royal robes are lined with ermine, trimmed with cloth-of-gold and her hood studded with precious stones

Elizabeth was often short of money. Part of the problem was her generosity, she gave away thousands of pounds in gifts, huge tips to her servants and cash gifts to the poor who brought her small gifts of food. Alison Weir notes that “many poor folk came to the palace gates with humble offerings, such as butter, chickens, wardens (pears), pippins, puddings, apples, peascods, cakes, cherries in season, a conserve of cherries (several gifts of cherries are recorded, so they must have been known as among Elizabeth’s favorite foods), pomegranates, oranges, comfits (candied fruit), cheeses, several bucks, wild boar, tripes, chines of pork, a goshawk, pheasant cocks, capons, birds, a crane, Rhenish wine, roses, fine ironwork, and a cushion. None went away without a handsome reward, usually more than Elizabeth could afford. One man got 13s.4d. [£320] for bringing her a popinjay (parrot)”. Elizabeth also financially supported her sisters, she supported orphans, took children under her wing and raised them, and liberated debtors from London prisons. 16

Elizabeth loved good clothing, music, books and wine, she had her own pair of minstrels that travelled with her. She simply spent more than her yearly income, this is hardly unusual. As for Henry not giving her enough income, his frequent gifts not only included luxury items but everyday small items, meaning he supplemented her household out of the royal treasury. His wedding gift to his bride was 49 timbers of ermine for her Easter gown, totalling £44 2s, the equivalent of £28,950.00 today. Perhaps a £30,000 gown was worth mending.

A Loving Marriage

Henry VII - Detail from portrait of Henry VII and Henry VII by Hans Holbein the Younger

Henry VII – Detail from portrait of Henry VII and Henry VII by Hans Holbein the Younger

Henry VII’s reputation as a miserly king really began after the death of Queen. They, by all accounts, had a deep mutual affection and respect. Elizabeth had given him the family he sorely lacked in his own childhood, she was beautiful and beloved by not only her husband and children, but by all of her peers and subjects. Unlike his Elizabeth’s father or his own son, Henry never took a mistress, even though his wife was pregnant many times. It is plain he loved her. Henry was an indulgent husband. His frequent gifts to his wife were not all practical, one was a lion “for the Queen’s Grace,” costing £2.13s.4d. [£1,300], no doubt sent straight to the royal menagerie in the Tower 17 but rather a fun gift. He gave way to her when she insisted, as the Spanish ambassador reported

“Gave the Queen two letters from them, and two letters from the Princess of Wales. The King had a dispute with the Queen because he wanted to have one of the said letters to carry continually about him, but the Queen did not like to part with hers, having sent the other to the Prince of Wales.”18

It was the first terrible tragedy that struck their family that shows us something of their bond. When Prince Arthur unexpectedly died, it was Henry’s confessor that was left to break the news to him

When his Grace under- stood that sorrowful heavy tidings, he sent for the Queen, saying that he and his Queen would take the painful sorrows together.After that she was come and saw the King her lord, and that natural and painful sorrow, as I have heard say, she, with full great and constant comfortable words besought his Grace that he would first after God remember the weal of his own noble person, the comfort of his realm, and of her. She then said, that my lady, his mother, had never no more children but him only, and that God by his grace had ever preserved him, and brought him where that he was. Over that, how that God had left him yet a fair prince, two fair princesses ; and that God is where he was, and we are both young enough ; and that the prudence and wisdom of his Grace sprung over all Christendom, so that it should please him to take this according thereunto. Then the King thanked her of her good comfort. After that she was departed and come to her own chamber, natural and motherly remembrance of that great loss smote her so sorrowful to the heart, that those that were about her were fain to send for the King to comfort her. Then his Grace, of true, gentle, and faithful love, in good haste came and relieved her, and showed her how wise counsel she had given him before ; and he, for his part, would thank God for his son, and would she should do in like wise.”19

It is often glimpses of grief that give us the best insight. Elizabeth died less than a year later trying to give her husband another son. Henry VII would never truly recover from his beloved wife’s death. While the entire nation grieved the loss of their Queen Henry ordered his council to prepare the Queen’s funeral and went into seclusion. Her “departing was as heavy and dolorous as to the King’s Highness as hath been seen or heard of”. “Solemn dirges and Masses of requiems” were heard, Henry ordered 636 masses to be offered for her soul in London alone on the day after her death. Her State funeral was one of the most lavish ever seen.

Henry ordered clothing in blue and black, blue being the royal colour of mourning, and even had his books bound in blue velvet. It would be more than a year before the King’s grief would begin to subside, shortly after her death he became seriously ill and was close to death, Margaret fled to his side to nurse him herself. He emerged from his illness a changed man. The Tower of London, where Elizabeth had died giving birth, was abandoned as a royal residence. He did briefly consider other marriages, but he never did remarry. It might be overly-romantic to think his heart never mended, but Henry VII honoured his wife every year until his own death. Every February 11th a requiem mass would be sung, the bells would be tolled and 100 candles would burn in her honour. Henry retained the services of Elizabeth’s minstrels, who played for him at every New Year celebration up to his death. He now lies with his beloved wife in Westminster Abbey.

The tomb of Elizabeth of York and Henry VII

The tomb of Elizabeth of York and Henry VII

  1. Chrimes, S.B, Henry VII, Yale University Press 1999, pg 65
  2. Underwood, Malcolm G., Jones, Michael K., The King’s Mother Cambridge University Press, pg 65
  3. Okerlund, Arlene Elizabeth of York Palgrave Macmillan 2011, pg 52
  4. Okerlund, Arlene Elizabeth of York Palgrave Macmillan 2011, pg 53
  5. Underwood, Malcolm G., Jones, Michael K., The King’s Mother Cambridge University Press, pg 70
  6. Licence, Amy Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen, Amberley Publishing 2013 pg 157
  7. Calendar of Papal Registers Vol XIV July 1484-92
  8. Underwood, Malcolm G., Jones, Michael K., The King’s Mother Cambridge University Press, pg 61
  9. Okerlund, Arlene Elizabeth of York Palgrave Macmillan 2011, pg 136
  10. Calendar of State Papers Spain Vol I July 1498 210
  11. Calendar of State Papers Spain Vol I July 1498 205
  12. Weir, Alison Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen, Jonathan Cape 2013, pg 204 and Underwood, Malcolm G., Jones, Michael K., The King’s Mother Cambridge University Press, pg 161 n 67
  13. Calendar of State Papers Spain Vol I July 1498 210
  14. Privy Purse Expenses of Elizabeth of York
  15. Ibid
  16. Weir, Alison Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen, Jonathan Cape 2013, pg 198-199
  17. Weir, Alison Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen, Jonathan Cape 2013, pg 274
  18. Calendar of State Papers Spain Vol I July 1498 202
  19. Privy purse expenses of Elizabeth of York : wardrobe accounts of Edward the Fourth. With a memoir of Elizabeth of York, and notes

About The Author

Olga Hughes is currently pre-occupied with fairy tales, fantasy, misanthropy, medieval history and the long eighteenth century. She has a Bachelor of Fine Art from the Victorian College of the Arts, worked as a chef and bookseller for many years, and is currently majoring in Literature and History at Deakin. She also writes a monthly column on Tudor food for the Tudor Society magazine.

45 Responses

    • Olga Hughes

      I don’t think poetry is necessarily indicative of one’s feelings, flowery language and phrases were all pretty bog standard back then. I think the contemporary accounts show enough of to indicate their feelings for each other. I also think their shared grief after Arthur’s death and her haste to get pregnant again show Elizabeth’s level of devotion to her husband.

      Reply
      • nami

        I do feel the same, it’s just I think it would have been *maybe* a nice addition. in your previous articles you mention rumors less indicative or accurate, so a bit of romantism would have been nice (and totally irrelevant yes lol) but I understand your point! perhaps an article now about the wedding of Richard and Anne.

      • Olga Hughes

        Ah I don’t think romanticism is irrelevant, it’s nice to see them as real people. But if I were to choose a poem I’d choose the Song of Lady Bessy. (but that would need a whole article to itself) It has some awesome language in it.
        We’ve got another coming up on Elizabeth next but there is one on Anne Neville and Richard III from a few months ago. Anne didn’t exactly leave much behind though, it’s fairly brief.

  1. Hazel

    I have always been fascinated by them for many years. I think theirs is a beautiful love story especially in light of the awful events that brought about the marriage.

    It is disheartening that fiction hasn’t been kind and true to the couple. Most of the the historians who have written biographies about the Tudors (Penn, Okerlund, Weir, Starkey) all agree that it was a happy marriage. In the hands of a talented writer this could be a classic. Lots of material there – war, love, politics, betrayal and tragedy.

    Reply
    • Olga Hughes

      Well you can’t disagree with facts. I have only read Gregory’s fictional spin on it, but I have also heard of two other authors who allude Elizabeth was in love with her uncle Richard and Henry Tudor treated her badly, which quite frankly doesn’t do Richard any favours – even though the authors seem to think it does.
      A new interpretation would be nice, I agree.

      Reply
  2. Dawn

    Wow, great article about these two! 😀 The way you’ve written about and touched on Henry and Elizabeth is lovely without overly romanticizing their situation and marriage, and I also like that you did in-depth and reliable research with citations, delving further than the shallow surface that we usually ‘see’ of Henry and Elizabeth’s marriage (it was unhappy and Henry was a ‘bastard’ who mistreated her) and their relationships with others :)))

    They were and are, until now, very fascinating — both as individuals and together — and it’s sad that many historical novelists and creators of historical dramas nowadays overlook them or if they do take note of these two, their assessment is usually shallow, disrespectful, and unfair (from what I know of recent fictional depictions of them). It would be nice to see a fresh, ‘new’, and historically accurate interpretation of Henry and Elizabeth.

    Recently though, I have been troubled by some people (thankfully they are a minority) on Tumblr who have been disputing with us who believe that Henry and Elizabeth’s marriage was happy. They say that there is no good evidence for us to know of the nature of this marriage and we can only speculate that it could go either way (happy or unhappy). They further say that if there is proof, it has to ‘come out straight from their mouths’ (e.g.: diaries, etc.) and must/can be accredited 100% to Henry and Elizabeth themselves (which the poem apparently written by Elizabeth cannot be). Furthermore, since the overwhelming evidence put forward by many historians (there, however, appear to be a few exceptions to this — the book “Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses” by Sarah Gristwood, according to one Tumblr user, says that Henry took Catherine Gordon as his mistress during his marriage but, according to another user, maintaining that Henry and Elizabeth had a generally happy relationship). The last general point these people make is that many of us supposedly make out their marriage to be a fairytale (that apparently they ‘clicked’ or fell in love at first sight or was much infatuated with each other even before marrying) and if we do ‘ship’ it, we should be ‘shipping’ it realistically.

    The last point kind of confused me because, as an active Elizabeth/Henry ‘shipper’ on Tumblr and the Internet, most of us actually do ‘ship’ it realistically and interpret their love to have grown during their marriage. But yeah, I kind of understand as well because there are still some who kind of see it that way and there are also, apparently, fanfiction that apparently makes their love out to be a fairytale, so there you go.

    So about the rest of the issues raised, can I ask what are your opinions about that and if there’s anything you can say about the argument that their relationship is possibly pro-Tudor propaganda?

    Reply
  3. Olga Hughes

    Thanks for reading Dawn, I am glad you enjoyed the article.
    I would hazard a guess that the “pro-Tudor” propaganda argument comes from a Ricardian stance, and most Ricardians are happy to base the idea of Richard III’s allegedly blissful marriage on two sentences of evidence. One that Richard and Anne were mad with grief when little Edward died and the other that the doctors told him to avoid her bed when she was ill, which means they were likely still sleeping together. I’m sure they had a perfectly good marriage but we really have no evidence either way. This would be where I assume if there was any real disharmony it would have been recorded, Croyland did note the Queen being unhappy and the situation tense after their sons death, but nothing unusual.
    There is no evidence that Henry and Elizabeth had an unhappy marriage, and overwhelming evidence theirs was a harmonious marriage. There are some who don’t want to admit that because they can’t use it against Henry Tudor, along with the usual arguments of his ‘miserliness’ and his illegitimacy.
    What I find very odd, personally, is that many who try to insist Henry was a bad husband actually ship Richard III and Elizabeth of York, because of the many depictions of their allegedly romantic relationship in fiction.
    Did you say Gristwood said Henry did or did not have a physical relationship with Catherine Gordon? Although even if there was a relationship between them Elizabeth had watched her mother suffer through so many mistresses it wouldn’t have been a surprising situation for her. And Catherine remained one of Elizabeth’s favourites of course.

    Reply
  4. Dawn

    You’re welcome!

    Ah, I see. I think Richard and Anne had a harmonious enough marriage that worked out, but I guess we cannot really conclude whether there was much romantic love between them.

    I agree with you on that point about the ‘propaganda’ argument — I have pointed out again and again to those people that propaganda can’t cover anything, so there must be some truth to it that they had a happy enough marriage (with or without actual romantic love) if there was ever a layer of exaggeration or they had to feign the harmony of their relationship at times. Also, if it really was propaganda, then surely there would have been sufficient, reliable, and concrete evidence to contradict the supposedly happy nature of their marriage, but there are none!

    Yes, and sometimes it honestly annoys me when they ship Richard III/Elizabeth of York! I stomach my way through it when they ship it in a fictional context, but I can’t stand it when people try to insist that it’s a ‘historical probability’ or even that it was actually true and historically accurate.

    Well, according to one Tumblr user, they said that Gristwood said in her book that Henry and Elizabeth had a happy marriage, but a few others say that she also said in the same book that Henry took on Catherine Gordon as a mistress, apparently basing her conclusion on nothing but rumors that are not very trustworthy (I think it was mainly the “they looked secretly married” rumor, among others). Even so, it does not mean (for me at least) that Henry had an affair with Catherine when Elizabeth was still alive — they could have slept together after Elizabeth’s death, but perhaps his deteriorating health, piety, and devotion to his wife might have as easily prevented it, so we can’t really tell.

    The other thing that irritates me with the “Henry took Catherine as a mistress” argument is when people employ that ‘theory’ in their works of historical fiction (a good example would be Philippa Gregory’s “The White Princess”, which appears to be determined to blacken and slander the name of Henry VII as much as possible and attribute to him all kinds of bad deeds, focusing too much on his negative traits that even his children seem to hate him, as the author is a Ricardian who will not stop until Richard is exonerated fully and his actions, especially the bad ones, justified as ‘necessary’, and is seen as a ‘woobified’ chivalrous hero who is Elizabeth’s lover and knight in shining armor in her books who wouldn’t dare do the things Henry did or supposedly did) and have Henry flaunt her very publicly and hurt Elizabeth’s feelings very much.

    If Henry did have an affair with Catherine (though not likely in my opinion), he would have been very discreet with it, considering he is one of the few English kings without a recorded mistress. He would have been pragmatic and careful so as to keep up a good impression with the people and the Woodville Yorkists. But in those book/s, Henry appears to be a dumbed-down version of his real self who is very insecure (that, in TWP, he goes so far as to repeatedly rape his wife both before and during their marriage), suspicious of everyone, makes many unwise decisions, and listens mostly and is easily manipulated by his mother Margaret, who overshadows Elizabeth at every turn.

    I, fortunately, don’t buy it, and while these historical fiction books are indeed entitled to take some creative liberties with history, I wish they would retain some shred of dignity and respect for all the characters in their story even if they do not like them.

    Reply
    • Olga Hughes

      The actual allegations of abuse (and Philippa Gregory was not the first) are pure fiction. Most try to attribute the supposed ‘long delay’ in the marriage to either Henry forcing her into bed to see if she was fertile or to see if she was still a virgin because of her ‘affair’ with Richard.
      Unfortunately there is a mindset that the best way to exonerate Richard is either by pointing out how weak and cowardly Henry VII was or as posing Richard a romantic hero – who slept with his niece! In my opinion both of those tactics actually make Richard look worse. We have enough good historians around writing books based on factual evidence who give us a better picture of both Richard and Henry. And Elizabeth of York for that matter.

      There is no historical ‘probability’ that Richard and Elizabeth had an affair. Only a contemporary rumour that he intended on marrying her, and by Croyland stating that the Cat and the Rat told Richard he wanted to ‘gratify’ his lust for his niece that actually indicates nothing had gone on between them. I have discussed this at length in another article and with Alison Weir, who told us why the theory came about a couple of decades ago and why she no longer has that view (if you want to read either of those just click on the Elizabeth of York tag under the article title)

      I’ll read Blood Sisters shortly, it’s on my WOTR reading list anyway, I am curious to see what Gristwood says. If Henry were really having an affair with Catherine Gordon it would have been recorded, somewhere. Kings and Queens were never alone and things did not go unnoticed. Monarchs were not universally popular and if anything could be used against them by an enemy, it would. I have always thought it was just an example of courtly love.

      And in the end a mistress is no indication of an unhappy marriage. His son, Henry VIII loved and respected his first wife Katherine of Aragon (before the Great Matter of course) and he took plenty of mistresses during her repeated pregnancies. Edward IV loved Elizabeth Woodville and is famous for his mistresses. Considering how often Elizabeth was pregnant (every couple of years after the gap between Arthur and Margaret) it is surprising that Henry didn’t take more mistresses. I personally think it is an indication of his piety.

      Reply
  5. Jasmine

    I think the difficulty of trying to judge the state of a marriage made over 500 years ago is that we tend to look at things through 21st century eyes.

    Medieval noble families were brought up with the idea they would marry to consolidate their estates. Royal marriages were no different. There was an expectation that princes and princesses would marry whomsoever was chosen for them, regardless of anything else. That is why Edward IV’s secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville created such a impact – what he had done was unheard of.

    Elizabeth and Henry were married because the political situation demanded it and both had to make the best of it. It is possible they arrived at a position where they could live together harmoniously but whether this implied what we think of as love is debatable. As many posters previously have said, there is very little actual evidence either way.

    The famous quote about Elizabeth, after the death of Arthur, saying they were young enough to have more heirs is a simple reflection of a royal woman’s duty – to provide heirs. The Tudors, as a very young dynasty, having been reduced to one surviving male heir, were vulnerable, so having another ‘spare’ was important. We can see this writ large in the reign of Henry VIII with his desperate desire to sire a son. Elizabeth’s reported words do not imply love, but duty and it was a duty which cost her her life.

    Henry shut himself away for a time after her death. Again, this may not indicate love, but the loss of an ‘almost equal’ with whom he could relax. With no wife, a few recorded friends, Henry was only left with his mother. Of course, the loss would have affected him, but we can only assume what his real feelings are.

    Interestingly, there seems to be a modern view, perhaps fueled by historical fiction, that famous personages have had to have been in love with their partners – we see with with Elizabeth and Henry, with Richard and Anne as well as others – when in fact the concept of marriage during the Medieval period had nothing to do with personal feelings and everything to do with power, land and security..

    Reply
    • Olga Hughes

      Actually I’ll disagree on a couple of points there Jasmine, I think it is usually fairly easy to ascertain whether or not a marriage was harmonious. There is no privacy in a monarch’s life, and again I think were there real evidence of problems in a marriage there would be contemporary accounts of it. Especially in the cases of kings like Henry VII and Richard III – leaving the poisoning rumour aside. Both had enemies who would have loved to seize upon personal problems.

      As it is we have a very detailed account of all of Henry VIII’s marriages, which is no coincidence. There is plenty of evidence that Henry VII and EoY respected each other and had a close-knit family, despite marrying for political reasons. I would hazard a guess that Richard and Anne both liked and respected each other as well, they had at least known each other a long time before they got married and went to some great lengths to make it happen – which of course benefited them both.

      In regards to her famous speech, the actual entirety of the episode points out clearly they were concerned for each other’s feelings. We have no such record of how Henry VIII behaved when he lost his first son, in fact we have a rather deafening silence.

      But with all of that said you will find me fairly biased in this area, simply because I find many of the myths surrounding marriages such as Henry VII and EoY and Richard and Anne Neville are rooted in thoroughly sexist interpretations.

      Reply
      • Jasmine

        I don’t dispute the fact that the marriages of Henry and Elizabeth and Richard and Anne were harmonious – what I do dispute is the notion that they must have ‘loved’ each other. And by that, I mean the 21st century idea of romantic love which seems to be what most of the comments about their relationships I read try to prove

        Royal marriages, at their best, were strong partnerships which each supported the other. Each partner had a clearly defined role and was expected to fulfill it. It is interesting that Isabella of France was castigated and called The She Wolf because she dared leave her marriage. Henry VIII was considered cruel by many over his treatment of Catherine of Aragon. Both of these people failed to live up to the expectations of royal marriage partners.

        On the other hand, there is evidence that strong love did exist in some royal marriages – Edward I and his Queen Eleanor, for example. That was evidenced by the Eleanor Crosses he set up where her body rested each night on its journey to her tomb.

      • Olga Hughes

        I think much of that is influenced by fiction and I agree that our perception of love is much different, and should not be applied to royal marriages.
        As Dawn mentioned earlier people try to use an alleged affair between Henry VII and Catherine Gordon to prove their marriage was unhappy when kings taking mistresses was perfectly common. Even Charles II, with his many mistresses and illegitimate children, was devoted to his wife in his own way.

      • Neil Kemp

        Olga, you make a good point with your comment on Charles II’s marriage. Despite the fact that his Portuguese wife failed to provide him with an heir he still honoured both her as a wife and the marriage treaty that allowed her to practice her Catholic faith in England without hindrance, even standing by her when she was accused of sedition.
        The fact that he had many mistresses should not diminish the reality that he obviously cared for her as his wife and shows that marriages from history should be viewed in the context of their time and not by the moral standards of the 21st century.

    • Amazing

      Jasmine he didn’t just shut himself away, he shut himself away for 6 weeks and became deathly ill. I’m sorry but that’s love, thats losing someone who had been so important to you. It even was rumored, that although Henry VII died quite a few years after Elizabeth that he died of a broken heart. The fact that people started up this idea even though Elizabeth had long been dead by the time he died speaks volumes to me.

      Reply
  6. Olga Hughes

    I agree Neil, I think Charles is one of the best examples of this actually, especially considering his wife could not provide him with an heir. He stuck by her faithfully when he could have gone the way Henry VIII did.
    Looking at an earlier king, Edward IV, he also had many, many mistresses, but what people often fail to point out is that Elizabeth Woodville was pregnant every year and a half for fourteen years straight (off the top of my head). I am assuming that Edward would not have been sleeping with her when she was pregnant, therefore this hardly shows that his mistresses were anything other than a distraction while his wife was unavailable.
    Considering Elizabeth of York was pregnant possibly nine times it is a mark of Henry’s piety that he did not take mistresses.

    Reply
    • Jasmine

      Charles II is an interesting character, but I wonder if he wanted to keep Bombay and Tangier (part of Catherine’s dowry) more than he wanted an heir – after all he had James.

      I am not sure I believe that Henry VII was pious and that was why he had no recorded mistresses during his marriage to EoY. There may have been many reasons. He may, for example, have regarded sex purely for the procreation of children and he didn’t want to risk creating possible future problems for his fledgling dynasty by fathering a number of bastards.

      Reply
      • Dawn

        There is actually plenty of evidence of Henry VII’s (conventional) piety and devotion to his religion and God. I agree though, piety is not necessarily the reason why he had no recorded, long-term mistresses during his marriage to Elizabeth — plenty of kings and noblemen were pious and adhered to the traditional Catholic beliefs at the time but still took mistresses, and he certainly did not appear to be as pious as the later mentally unstable Henry VI. The reason for this could be because that he wanted to keep up good appearances and give off a relatively good impression of his marriage with his wife’s relatives and family supporters, but it is also probable that they really loved each other, though probably not in the modern 21st century sense and perception of ‘love’ as I think it mostly as a mix of platonic affections and romantic love (and really, I agree that we shouldn’t judge and view medieval marriages with goggles of modern standards and ideas of [romantic] love, because as Olga Hughes pointed out, plenty of marriages in which the men took mistresses were happy enough and the couple got along well with each other). I mean, is it really that far-fetched and hard to believe that Henry VII could have loved his wife? Plus propaganda doesn’t cover everything and Henry could still have gotten on well with his wife’s relatives without being that close to her and having a more or less happy and loving marriage with her, so I still believe that the most truthful nature of their marriage is one accepted by majority of historians.
        Henry VII did have a bastard before his marriage to Elizabeth, Roland de Velville/Veleville, during his exile in Brittany with a Breton woman, which *may* indicate that he was much capable of enjoying sexual relations with women so during his marriage, he possibly simply loved being with his wife and did not like to take long-term mistresses. I do think he may have had occasional ‘bed-mates’ during his marriage, especially when he was off to war and/or was away from his wife, but I also think he generally stayed faithful to Elizabeth and loved her all the same.

      • Jasmine

        We have no way of knowing, Dawn, so in the end it just comes down to how we interpret the information we have, or the lack of it.

      • Dawn

        Well yes, I agree with you. The later part of my comment was more of my headcanon and possible interpretations of the aforementioned actions of Henry and Elizabeth, but I do believe, by looking at the evidence and inferring what most likely happened, they had a more or less harmonious and happy marriage in which they cared and had affection for each other, but as to whether they truly romantically loved each other, the extent of their ‘love’ for each other was great, or they considered each other their ‘true love’, we can only guess and assume. But yeah, that’s just my takes on these two 🙂

      • Olga Hughes

        Actually Jasmine, no I don’t think Charles or any monarch would value land over an heir (and I am quite sure Charles knew what a disaster James would be). Other than his infidelity he respected his wife. I assume he simply took marriage vows seriously, not an unusual trait.

        At the end of the day people need to stop de-humanising monarchs, and others who lived in the middle-ages and beyond. They were still capable of the same normal emotions we experience today. There does not need to be a political explanation for everything they did. They were still people.

        One person we didn’t mention in this discussion is Margaret Beaufort. Her arranged marriage to Henry Stafford was very happy, considering she was only 15 and he well into his thirties. They celebrated their wedding anniversary every year until he died, a rather public display of affection.

      • Jasmine

        I find Charles II a fascinating character. He certainly stuck with Catherine, especially during the Titus Oates period, when popular opinion would have supported his separation from her. I do disagree with you, Olga, that he knew what a disaster James would be. I think he hoped that James would become a pragmatic king, rather than a dogmatic one. Charles had done his best for the Protestant cause by marrying his niece, Mary, to the Prince of Orange, so there was a sort of alternative to James in place if needed. He must have hoped that Mary would have children and these would provide Protestant heirs.

      • Olga Hughes

        Fair enough Jasmine, I suppose he had his best hopes for James. I am really interested in Charles but I am not going to get to him for a while yet unfortunately.

      • Jasmine

        So many kings, so little time (lol).

        There are some good biographies of Charles and the biography of Samuel Pepys is also good for a different ‘slant’ on him.

      • Dawn

        Olga, I know you’re not the biggest fan of the portrayal of Margaret Beaufort in “The White Queen” (but I do think Amanda Hale did the best she could with what she was given and had a strong presence on the show as well as her occasional powerful moments), but I’m curious — what do you think of the way it portrayed Margaret and Henry Stafford’s marriage?

      • Neil Kemp

        Dawn, sorry to jump in on this subject before Olga, but I thought I would give you my view on your question.
        To me the portrayal of Margaret and Henry’s marriage seemed one of grudging respect rather than any deep affection, although Margaret did show emotion during Henry’s deathbed scene which was perhaps supposed to indicate her true feelings which, until that point, had been hidden behind a mask of personal indifference, her emotional outpourings being reserved for arguing in favour of all matters related to her son.
        In conclusion, my opinion is that the portrayal of their marriage was rather harsh and I believe that affection as well as respect would have been more evident in reality than this portrayal would have us believe.

      • Olga Hughes

        Well I think Neil has been rather nice about it – and well said.
        In my opinion, in a word, false. There is evidence they had a happy marriage and were openly affectionate.
        In the book PG went a little easier on their marriage, and she gave Stafford a bit of character – from what I recall she tried to base him on some of her general reading about men who had abandoned the Lancaster cause.
        With that said there would have been no tension between them at all regarding Stafford supporting Edward IV. Margaret did not turn on the house of York until Richard III took the throne, before then she was working with Edward IV so she could keep her son alive and eventually bring him home.

  7. AmazingCat

    There is actually more proof for Anne and Richard’s marriage being happy. In his legal writings Richard calls Anne “His dearly most beloved consort” such words would be unnecessary in legal writings. Richard never takes a mistress during there marriage, he gave up alot of lands in order to marry Anne so if it had all been for Anne’s wealth Richard got the shorter end of that deal, he lavishes Anne with gifts, she is in his presence more then necessary, and he takes her to there favorite castle after there son’s death and doesn’t part from her until her death.
    The rumors of EOY and Richard III isn’t meant to shine a good light on Richard. It’s a rumor that Richard III is forcing his niece into an imincestious marriage, that would have been damning to one’s soul back then. And I really wish Ricardian fiction would reflect that, it frustrates me to no end. I really like Richard, I think he would have been a good King if he had lived, but the thing is in Ricardian fiction they try to make him out to be this romantic hero, which we have no evidence for. They also seem to just have it in for Henry VII, and that’s just not fair at all. I think one author, Sandra Worth I believe, wrote that Henry “smelled”. These Ricardian authors go off about what Shakespeare’s done to Richard but there doing the exact same thing to Henry VII.
    The Catherine Gordon thing is also beyond ludicrous, if she had been his mistress trust me history would have known. Kings were constantly watched. Also he gives her gifts only during the time when he’s trying to negotiate a match between Scotland and England, Henry couldn’t leave Catherine Gordon in rags now could he, that would have offend the King of Scotland extremely.

    Reply
    • Myrna Smith

      The ‘dearly beloved consort’ may have been unnecessary, but it was standard boilerplate at the time. One small clue about Henry and Elizabeth’s marriage is that he called for his newly rebuilt Richmond Palace to be laid out according to the plan of ‘our dearest wife the Queen.’ Not every man would let his wife take charge of what was essentially his dream house, not hers. So I think you could say there was probably mutual respect, at the least.
      About Catherine Gordon, nobody can know for sure, or even make an educated guess, but I would incline to the view that she was not Henry’s mistress.
      1. It wouldn’t be seemly, as she was the widow of Perkin Warbeck.
      2. (Probably more important.) As a Scot, she was the only person in England – barring some ambassadors – who was not his subject. Even his mother was. And she was his near-equal. A secret marriage or a sexual relationship would have changed all that. Henry’s account books depict her as a gambling buddy, perhaps a personal shopper, perhaps even a friend.

      Reply
      • Amazingcat

        Actually Richard calling Anne this did indicate he held affection for her. He wrote this about her in odd places, in particularized wrote this is legal documents. This would be like calling your wife your pet nickname for her in your checkbook. So while it was standard for the time it actually wasn’t the standard place to call your wife this.
        I agree with everything else though

      • Liz

        Myrna- I’d love to read more anoir Elizabeth’s involvement with Richmond Palace. Do you have a link/source? Thanks!

  8. Underdogge

    I know from something I read on another thread (or another site) that Olga thinks Shakespeare’s “RIchard III” may in part at least be a coded description of another person (whose identity I forget). I get fed up of modern people metaphorically bashing Shakespeare because he didn’t depict Richard as a shining knight – quite honestly if I had been writing during the reign of Elizabeth I who – who state the obvious – was Henry VIII’s daughter, I think I would have wanted to hang on to my head and therefore would have described Henry VII favourably and as a consequence portrayed Richard III less sympathetically. I think it is unfair to judge Shakespeare by twenty-first century criteria.

    Reply
    • Olga Hughes

      Yes that would be Robert Cecil, Underdogge, I think that the character of Richard III is based in part on Cecil.
      The Shakespeare bashing over Richard III is a bore. No one would have remembered Richard III if it wasn’t for Shakespeare’s play.

      Reply
      • Liz

        And now we have the perfect white knight romantic hero who everyone (including his niece :/) is in love with, in like 500 novels. Talk about a bore….

      • Olga Hughes

        Two nieces now…but let’s not despair. Hopefully that craze will die down at some point.

  9. Underdogge

    Sorry, it would have been more on point in my previous post if I had said that Shakespeare was writing in the time of Elizabeth I who was Henry VII’s granddaughter as it was actually her grandfather who went against Richard III in battle.

    Reply
    • Amazing

      Lol can you imagine Henry VIII trying to fight Richard III… that’s something I’d pay good money to see.

      Reply
  10. Tanguy

    I would just point out that Roland de Velville definitely was NOT Henry’s son. I have identified his ancestry from his coat-of-arms.

    Reply

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