There are many myths that surround Elizabeth Wydeville’s reputation, but perhaps one of the most obstinate is the image of the arrogant, greedy and manipulative Ice Queen. She has been accused of witchcraft, of avarice, of murder and even of plotting against her own daughter’s husband and children. The nobility may have disputed her being a suitable bride for King Edward IV but was Elizabeth’s actual tenure really so controversial? Historian David Baldwin, author of Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower, joins us today to discuss Elizabeth’s role as Queen consort.

Can you tell us about Elizabeth Wydeville’s lineage and how her low birth is exaggerated?

Elizabeth’s father was a Northamptonshire county knight, but her mother, Jacquetta, was the daughter of the Count of Luxembourg and St Pol and the widow of John, Duke of Bedford. Her real disadvantage was that she was one of King Edward IV’s subjects, and he forfeited the twin benefits of a foreign dowry and an overseas alliance when he married her in 1464.

You discussed that perhaps some of the objections to Edward IV arranging advantageous marriages for members of Elizabeth’s family was due to the size of her family. So do you think if she only had one or two siblings to take care of there may have been less objection to the Wydeville family?

Yes. It was thought that Elizabeth’s position in society, her Lancastrian antecedents, and the fact that she had been married before she met Edward all made her an unsuitable bride for the reigning king of England, but perhaps a greater problem was that her many brothers and sisters and the sons of her first marriage all had to be provided for now that they were part of the royal family. The older noble houses were bound to resent the Woodvilles’ acquisition of lands, offices and marriages which, in other circumstances, would have come to them.

Dictes-Sayings-of-the-Philosophers-Edward-V

How do you think Elizabeth adjusted to becoming Queen Consort considering she had not really spent her life preparing for that sort of position?

None of Elizabeth’s critics ever accused her of lacking competence or of failing in her duty – something they would surely have seized upon if she had given them cause.

Elizabeth seems to have a rather unfounded reputation for greed and extravagance. You’ve examined the household accounts and contemporary records that are available, is there really any truth to this?

The evidence suggests that Elizabeth lived within her means and on a considerably smaller budget than her Lancastrian predecessor Margaret of Anjou. We should remember that magnificence and generosity were qualities expected of royalty, and no self-respecting king or queen would have demeaned his/her position by trying to live ‘on the cheap’.

What about the charges that Elizabeth herself was overly influential with Edward IV?

One of the queen’s roles was to intercede with the king on behalf of petitioners, and Elizabeth would undoubtedly have discussed these and other matters of concern with Edward. The key factor is that all such advice was given privately and was subject to Edward’s own final decision – no medieval king ever said he did something because his wife had told him to!

King Edward IV and His Queen, Elizabeth Woodville at Reading Abbey, 1464 by Ernest Board

King Edward IV and His Queen, Elizabeth Woodville at Reading Abbey, 1464
by Ernest Board

So is Elizabeth’s actual role in politics exaggerated?

Historians still disagree over the extent of Elizabeth’s involvement in the Simnel conspiracy, for example – it all turns on how the surviving evidence is interpreted. Contemporaries may have exaggerated her influence on occasion – if they disapproved of some royal decisions it was clearly easier to blame Elizabeth than Edward himself.

What is your opinion on Elizabeth’s career as Queen Consort?

Elizabeth displayed a remarkable ability to fulfil a demanding role for which she had received no formal training.

What do you think her conduct during some of the tragic periods of her life tells us about her character?

She was commended for her stoicism while Edward was in exile in 1470-71, and seems to have adopted a similarly pragmatic attitude towards Richard III. Richard had executed her brother and the younger son of her first marriage (whatever had, or had not, happened to the ‘Princes in the Tower’), but she was still prepared to negotiate with him to obtain the best possible outcome for her daughters and others.


Join us for an in-depth look at Elizabeth Wydeville this week

Monday 29th September: Susan Higginbotham discusses the marriage of Elizabeth Wydeville and Edward IV

Wednesday 1st October: Arlene Okerlund discusses Elizabeth’s life after the death of Edward IV

Thursday 2nd October: David, Susan and Arlene all return for a special history salon on Elizabeth Wydeville and her reputation.

Win a copy of Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower!

We have an eBook to give away courtesy of The History Press. To win a copy of Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower by David Baldwin just leave a comment below by Sunday the 5th of October.

David Baldwin, Feb 2013

David Baldwin is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society who devised and taught courses for adults at the Universities of Leicester and Nottingham for more than twenty years. His 2002 biography of Queen Elizabeth Woodville (Elizabeth Woodville, Mother of the Princes in the Tower) has been reprinted many times, and his other books include Stoke Field. The Last Battle of the Wars of the Roses (Pen & Sword, 2006), The Lost Prince, The Survival of Richard of York (The History Press, 2007), The Kingmaker’s Sisters, Six Women in the Wars of the Roses (The History Press, 2009), The Women of the Cousins’ War [with Philippa Gregory and Michael Jones] (Simon & Schuster, 2011), Richard III (Amberley, 2012), and Richard III, The Leicester Connection (Pitkin, 2013).

 

 

 

David-Baldwin-Elizabeth-Woodville

Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower
By David Baldwin, Published by History Press

Buy Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower

Elizabeth Woodville is a historical character whose life no novelist would ever have dared invent. She has been portrayed as an enchantress, as an unprincipled advancer of her family’s fortunes and a plucky but pitiful queen in Shakespeare’s histories. She has been alternatively championed and vilified by her contemporaries and five centuries of historians, dramatists and novelists, but what was she really like? In this revealing account of Elizabeth’s life David Baldwin sets out to tell the story of this complex and intriguing woman. Was she the malign influence many of her critics held her to be? Was she a sorceress who bewitched Edward IV? What was the fate of her two sons, the ‘Princes in the Tower’? What did she, of all people, think had become of them, and why did Richard III mount a campaign of vilification against her? David Baldwin traces Elizabeth’s career and her influence on the major events of her husband Edward IV’s reign, and in doing so he brings to life the personal and domestic politics of Yorkist England and the elaborate ritual of court life.


 

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 and is currently majoring in Literature and History at Deakin. She has contributed to websites such as History behind Game of Thrones, The Anne Boleyn Files and The Tudor Society.

43 Responses

  1. Brandy Kizziah

    Interesting view of Elizabeth Woodville given by David Baldwin. I’m a lover of historical facts and, in particular, English monarchy. I would love to win a copy of the book. It sounds like a must-read for all history buffs!

    Reply
    • vikki pickett

      I study anything “Tudor”. Without her, there would be no mother for Henry VIII. It is great to learn more about the extended family and not just the traditional 8 wives stuff.

      Reply
  2. Valerie Citta

    Thank you so much for providing us this great week worth of information about Elizabeth Wydeville. Perfect timing as I am currently reading The Lady of the Rivers. Tudor History fascinates me. But, the Plantagenent vs. Lancaster years just prior interest me even more. Fingers crossed I win the ebook. Sounds like a great author!

    Reply
  3. Libby

    This sounds a fascinating book, Elizabeth was a controversial Queen, who I think probably got a lot of bad press! She tried to do the best for her children in difficult circumstances,

    Reply
  4. kelly

    i love seeing a more objective approach to the woodville legacy. while i very much enjoy the whimsy and artistic views from authors like phillipa gregory and many others, sometimes the break of a third party examining contemporary accounts view really hits the spot and clears your mind of an authors story line to just basic facts. great read! and thanks for taking time to review her as a person!

    Reply
  5. janet

    i am so fascinated with all the kings and queens from the 1400s -1500. i have watched all the movies.i am waiting for some books to hit the use.i will have my winter full of fun reading. thank you janet.

    Reply
  6. Hope

    One thing that the Tudors were very good at was public relations and “changing” history to suit their needs. I am so interested in reading David’s book as I have a keen interest in the Women of Medieval and Renaissance periods. They were almost Shadow rulers in a world in which they were deemed insignificant. I always felt Elizabeth’s strength and smarts were passed on to her granddaughters and great granddaughters. I always question this and do not see it written about. Wouldn’t Elizabeth (the daughter) be the rightful heir after the disappearance of her two younger brothers? There was never any law on the books that a woman could not inherit, unless the struggle with Stephan and Matilda left a scar on the country.

    Reply
    • Olga Hughes

      No Hope they didn’t have a Salic law like the French, however Matilda was certainly always used as an excuse for why a woman shouldn’t rule – even thought she never really got to rule. I don’t think Elizabeth of York ever had her sights set on being Queen Regnant but as she was the rightful York heir it strengthened their new dynasty. That and being lucky enough to have a boy the first time 🙂

      Reply
  7. Milagros Rosario-Summers

    Always so interesting to read about this Queen and her accomplishments in life. What a legacy.

    Reply
  8. Sarah M

    I do think Elizabeth Wydeville seems to have suffered unnecessarily from the opinions of those that were affected by her position as Queen. I find this period of history fascinating and I shall add this book to my wishlist.

    Reply
  9. Liz

    This woman has always fascinated me – from how she enchanted a king to the strength she had to show through being left pregnant and alone, having to seek sanctuary, being left widowed with no friends and her husband’s family turning against her, losing her two sons and having to do a deal with the enemy to ensure her children would be OK and that at least one of her husband’s children would reign over England even if only as Queen Consort. Elizabeth came from unconventional stock and had an extraordinary life. People always think of her grandson Henry VIII as being the most dramatic royal story but hers is every bit as enthralling. Thanks for a great interview.

    Reply
  10. Christina A

    I would love to learn more about Queen Elizabeth. I’m such a huge fan of her, ever since the white queen. I know that some of that book was fiction, but I’m still fascinated by her.

    Reply
  11. Morgan

    Very informative interview, and the photos are lovely. Elizabeth is my favorite English Queen and I am so glad she is still remembered.

    Reply
  12. Lisa M

    I love hearing about Elizabeth Woodville. She was someone I would have liked to meet. I am interested on what really happened to the Princes in the tower.

    Reply
  13. jackie challoner

    Would love copy of book having read a little about Elizabeth previously

    Reply
  14. Lisa

    A fascinating woman. As daughter of Jacquetta and sister of Anthony she has a delicate line to walk and managed it well. I have read differing accounts of her – shy country girl to manipulative queen – would love to read this version.

    Reply
  15. aurora m

    I just can not get enough of all things “Roses” keep it coming! All very interesting and I have enjoyed every word. Look forward to reading your book.

    Reply
  16. Lori

    Thank you for the opportunity of winning a book. The historical significance of Elizabeth Woodville doesn’t seem to have been much discussed. Of course, it’s very hard to find decent academic historical conversation about this subject in Southern California. Hopefully it will be available here. Not much is.

    Reply
  17. Lyndsey

    Really good to finally read a balanced article about the mother in law of Henry Tudor – I fear historical attitudes to her may the result of the first MIL jokes!

    Reply
  18. Kelly

    I would love a copy of this book, I am fascinated by this period in time, and especially with England’s royalty, thank you

    Reply
  19. Nick Hildick-Smith

    Elizabeth is my 24th great grandmother on my grandmothers line. I only know what I have read from the usual historic sources, and some semi fictional writings I.e The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory. She must have been special and I would love to learn a more fact based view of her place in history. Long live the Plantagenets,,,

    Reply
  20. RACHAEL FOX

    Love David Baldwins work, would be very useful to me as I have just begun a Medieval History degree

    Reply
  21. Sheilah

    I didn’t know how it is that I haven’t read this book of David’s when I have read most of his others! I’ve been enjoying this re-evaluation of Elizabeth Woodville who, like so many other women of the time, worked with what she had to protect her family. Still not convinced that she was not an unpleasant person though!

    Reply
    • Olga Hughes

      Oh I think the more you read about her Sheila the more you’ll realise just how wrong the general view of her is.

      Reply
  22. Geoffrey Wootten

    Interesting stuff. I’d love to learn more about her and her political ambitions.

    Reply
  23. Olga Hughes

    Entries have now closed. Thanks to everyone for entering. Congratulations Valerie, you’ve won a copy of David’s biography of Elizabeth Wydeville!

    Reply

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