On the 11th of February 1465, Elizabeth, the first child of Edward IV and his wife Elizabeth Woodville, was born at Westminster Palace, London.
Elizabeth already had two legitimate step-brothers; her mother was a widow when she married Edward, and possibly a few illegitimate siblings as well – Edward was a notorious womaniser!
Like most princess at that time, betrothals were made, and discarded to suit the political aspirations of the king. Unusually, Elizabeth’s first proposed match was with a Duke of the Realm, the Duke of Bedford. That was set aside, and Elizabeth was betrothed to the Dauphin of France, who broke off the arrangement when Elizabeth was about 16.
In 1470, when Edward was forced to flee England after the restoration of Henry VI, Elizabeth Woodville and her three daughters took sanctuary in Westminster for about six months.
It was not the last time that Elizabeth Woodville sought sanctuary for herself and her children. In 1483, after Edward died, Elizabeth fled to Westminster with her surviving five daughters and elder son, Edward, heir to the throne.
It is well known that Richard, Edward’s brother, declared that Elizabeth Woodville’s marriage to Edward was invalid, and that all their children were therefore illegitimate. Richard took the throne for himself. Under a guarantee of safety, provisions for the future and suitable marriages for her daughters, Elizabeth Woodville finally left sanctuary in March 1484.
Edward IV is reputed to have entrusted the care of Elizabeth to Lord Stanley. That would seem a little odd, since Stanley was the step-father of Henry Tudor, heir to the Lancastrian claim to the throne. However, if it is true and Elizabeth did lodge with the Stanley’s after leaving sanctuary, then it would explain how a marriage between Elizabeth and Henry was arranged. The marriage, it was hoped, would unite the claims of the Houses of Lancaster and York and end the dynastic turmoil of nearly a century.
After Henry won the Battle of Bosworth on the 22nd of August 1485, he sent for Elizabeth, and declared her Duchess of York. But, being determined to have his own right to the throne acknowledged and not wanting it to appear that he based his claim on Elizabeth’s heritage, Henry did not marry Elizabeth until five months later. That being the case, she was crowned at Henry’s coronation on the 30th of October that year. That event took place in November the following year.
Henry and Elizabeth had a total of seven children. The last child, named Katherine, was born and died on the 2nd of February 1503. Soon after, Elizabeth was taken ill. She died on her thirty-eighth birthday, 11th of February 1503.
Henry and Elizabeth’s marriage was based on political considerations, yet it is clear that they came to care for each other deeply. When Elizabeth died, Henry was stricken with grief and ‘privily departed to a solitary place and would no man should resort unto him‘.