Part V: Memoir of Elizabeth of York: Assumption of the throne by Henry VII through discussion of his treatment of Elizabeth Woodville.

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Henry’s own conviction was, however, that he obtained the crown by right of conquest alone; and this opinion, to which he slightly alluded in his first address to Parliament (98), but found too repugnant to the feelings of the country to repeat, is apparent from his will, though no historian has hitherto noticed it. The passage alluded to is the following:

“We will that our executors cause to be made an image of a King, representing our own person, the same to be of timber, covered and wrought with plate of fine gold, in manner of an armed man, and upon the same armour a coat of armour of our Arms of England and France enamelled, with a sword and spurs accordingly, and the said image to kneel upon a table of silver gilt, and holding betwizt his hands the crown which it pleased God to give us with the victory of our enemy at our first field.” The said image he bequeathed to God and Our Lady, and ordered it to be placed in the midst of St. Edward’s shrine, at Westminster.

It would, indeed, have been difficult for Henry to find any other title to the throne than that of conquest. His descent afforded him no just pretensions; and had he admitted that he derived a right from his marriage, he would have tacitly confessed he was, in the first instance, and until Parliament met and recognized him as sovereign, an usurper. Not satisfied with the admission of his alleged right by Parliament, Henry resolved that his coronation should also precede his nuptials, and on the 30th of October that ceremony took place at Westminster. Nearly two months more were allowed to elapse, and still nothing was done with relation to the marriage. Some writers have attributed the delay to his intending to offer his hand to the heiress of Brittany, and it has been generally said that he fullfilled his pledge with Elizabeth with great reluctance. If it be true that she professed a desire to marry Richard the Third, and thus abandon him for his rival, his coldness, when fortune proved propitious, independent of any personal objections which he may have entertained, was neither surprising nor unnatural. On this subject nothing certain is known; but that some suspicion was felt as to his intentions with regard to Elizabeth, and that the nation was most anxious for their union, is placed beyond doubt by the petition of the commons on the 11th December, 1485, immediately before Parliament was prorogued. The Speaker, Sir Thomas Lovell, then prayed the King, “that in consideration of the right to the realms of England and France being vested in his person, and the heirs of his body, by the authority of the said Parliament, he would be pleased to espouse the Lady Elizabeth, daughter of King Edward the Fourth, which marriage they hoped God would bess with a progeny of the race of Kings (99), to the great satisfaction of the whole realm.” The Lords spiritual and temporal, rising from their seats, and bowing to the throne, expressed their concurrence in the request, and Henry answered that he was willing to comply with their wishes (100).

This intimation was too decisive not to be complied with, and on the 18th of January following the nuptials of the King and Elizabeth were solemnized with great splendour and magnificence at Westminster. The doubt which had been entertained as to whether Henry would have fulfilled his engagement, had he not been addressed in so unequivocal a manner by his Parliament, is somewht strengthened by the dates of the bulls for the purpose, the sanction of the Holy See being requisite in consequence of their being related within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity. Application appears to have been made to the Pope very soon after the request of the Commons, but the first of three bulls which were granted is dated on the 2nd of March, 1485- 6, in which the importance of the allliance is pointed out, and Elizabeth is recognized as the undoubted heir and eldest child of Edward the Fourth, but it is evident that the Pontiff was ignorant that the marriage had taken place (101). Nor does he appear to have been aware of the circumstance on the 27th of that month, when he issued a second rescript, confirming the instrument of the 2nd of March; and, after stating that the title of Henry was by right of war, by indisputable hereditary succession, by the election of his subjects, and by the consent of the three estates of the realm, he denounced the penalties of excommunication to all who might rebel against his authority (102).

Power had been delegated to the Bishop of Imola, the Pope’s legate, to grant a dispensation to any twelve persons to marry, notwithstanding the impediment of consanguinity; and Henry availed himself of the circumstance to avoid waiting the arrival of the permission for which he applied to the Pontiff; but doubts arose in the breasts of one or both the parties whether their marriage, by virtue of a dispensation under a delegated authority, and before the sanction of the Holy See was obtained, might not be impeached as irregular. A third bull was consequently sought, which was granted on the 27th of July. It notices the preceeding rescripts, states that it was granted at the instance of Henry and Elizabeth, that they had been married by virtue of Imola’s dispensation, and fully confirms and ratifies their union (103).

It is manifest from these documents, that the dispensation was not applied for until the end of the year 1485, whereas, if, from the moment of Henry’s accession he intended to espouse Elizabeth, it may be presumed that a dispensation would have been sought some time before, even if he purposed postponing the ceremony until the legislature had recognized his right to the throne. There is, however, an appearance of haste, after an unnecessary delay of five months, in his availing himself of the power vested in the Pope’s legate instead of waiting for a specific bull for the purpose from Rome, which tends to shew that the nation was impatient for the union, and that Henry felt it would be dangerous to defer the fulfilment of his engagement. To these bulls much importance has been attached, as a contemporary states that the King being at Coventry on St. George’s Day, 1487, at which time he was raising forces to subdue the rebellion of the Earl of Lincoln, “the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishops of Winchester, Ely, London, Worcester, Exeter, and the Prior of Coventry, all in pontificalibus, read and and declared the Pope’s bulls, touching the King’s and Queen’s right, and there in the choir, in the Bishop’s seat, by the authority of the same bulls, cursed with book, bell, and candle all those that did anything contrary to their right, and approving their titles good (104).

It was one of the acts of Henry’s first Parliament to restore the widow of Edward the Fourth to the title and dignity of Queen of England, and this was done by simply enacting that she should have the same rank and style as she would have had if the statute of Richard the Third, by which she was degreaded, had never been passed (105). The restitution was immediately followed by the repeal of the act by which her marriage with Edward was declared invalid and their children illegitimate (106), so that the hereditary pretensions of the House of York to the throne would have been revived, but for a clause providing that nothing contained therein should prejudice the act “establishing the crown to the King and the heirs of his body.”

Elizabeth’s marriage did not, if historians are to be credited, wholly remove the jealousy of her party with respect to the King’s conduct towards her. They naturally expected that her coronation, a ceremony to which more consequence was attached formerly than at present, would speedily follow; but though it did not take place for eighteen months, it is scarcely possible to discover any sinister motive which could have induced her husband to defer it. The delay may, in the first instance, be attributed to her delicate situation, she being in the family way immediately after her marriage, which was perhaps the reason why she did not accompany Henry in his progress to York in the spring of the year 1486; and after her confinement, the rebellion of the Earl of Lincoln must have occuppied the King’s mind too much to allow of his attending to any other affair.

The Queen was delivered of her first child at Winchester on St. Eustacius’s Day, the 20th of September, 1486, being a month sooner than the usual period of gestation. He received the name of Arthur, and on the Sunday following was baptized in Winchester Cathedral, with much ceremony, of which a very minute description is preserved (107). It is remarkable, as indicative of the good feeling which Henry entertained towards his mother-in-law, Elizabeth Wydeville, that she, rather than his own mother, the Countess of Richmond, was a sponsor to the young prince, to whom she presented a rich covered cup of gold.

In testimony of her gratitude to heaven for her safe delivery, Elizabeth founded a chapel, dedicated to Our Lady, in Winchester Cathedral, in which her arms were placed, surmounted by the words, “In Gloriam Dei (108).” Her recovery from her confinement was retarded by an attack of the ague, but when able to travel she removed to Greenwich, and there kept the Feast of All Hallows (109).

About the middle of March, 1487, Henry made a progress into Essex, Suffolk, and Norfolk, and thence to Warwickshire. On St. George’s day, he was at Coventry (110), and within three weeks he heard of the landing of the Earl of Lincoln and Lambert Simnell, in Ireland; for, on the 13th of May, being then at Kenilworth, he wrote to the Earl or Ormond, the Queen’s chamberlain, stating that he had received tidings of the landing of the rebels in Ireland on the 5th of that month; that he had sent to the Queen and his mother to come to him; that he wished to have the Earl’s advice about subduing the rebellion; and he commanded him, in pursuance of his duty of attending the Queen’s person, to accompany her to his presence (111). Her Majesty and the Countess of Richmond accordingly joined Henry at Kenilworth, and not long after their arrival news were brought that the Earl of Lincoln and his adherents had landed near Furnesse (112).

This effort in favour of the first of the impostors who disturbed Henry’s reign was quelled by the battle of Stoke, on the 16th of June; and as soon as peace and order were fully re-established, preparations were made for the Queen’s coronation. In September, writs were issued from Warwick, summoning the peers and others to attend that ceremony on the 25th of November following (113). Their Majesties commenced their journey from Warwick on the 27th of October, and celebrated the Feast of All Hallows at St. Albans. Henry was received in the metropolis on the 3rd of November as a conqueror, in reference to his victory at Stoke, and he proceeded to St. Paul’s, attended by a numerous retinue of lords, knights, and citizens. The Queen, the Countess of Richmond, and other ladies of distinction, viewed the scene, privately, from a house in St. Mary Spitell, without Bishopsgate; and as soon as the procession passed she went to Greenwich.

On Friday, the 23rd, the Queen left Greenwich by water for her coronation, of which a very interesting narrative is extant (114). Arrayed in the robes of royalty, she was accompanied by the Countess of Richmond, her mother-in-law, and by an extensive retinue of peers and peeresses, and was escorted by the Lord-mayor, sheriffs, and aldermen of London. Each Company furnished elegant barges, decorated with silk banners and streamers, richly emblazoned with the arms and badges, and rowed by men dressed in the proper liveries of the respective crafts. Amidst the various objects of attraction, the Bachelor’s barge claimed particular notice for its superior splendour, and from its carrying a red dragon, the ensign of the house of Tudor, which spouted fire into the Thames. Music of all kinds lent its aid to enliven the scene, and, thus attended, her Majesty arrived at the Tower. As she entered it, she was received by the King in the most gracious manner, or, to use the words of the narrator himself, “the King’s highness welcomed her in such manner and such form, as was to all the estates and others there being present a very good sight, and right joyous and comfortable to behold.” Eleven Knights of the Bath were then created; and on the next day, after dinner, her Majesty, being “royally apparelled, in a kirtle of white cloth of gold of damask, and a mantle of the same suit, furred with ermine, fastened before her breast with a great lace, curiously wrought of gold and silk, and rich knobs of gold at the end, tasselled; her fair yellow hair hanging down plain behind her back, with a call of pipes over it, and wearing on her head a circle of gold, richly garnished with precious stones,” quitted her chamber of state. Her train was borne by her sister, the Lady Cecily, and being attended by a great retinue of lords, ladies, and others, she entered her litter, in which she was conveyed to Westminster. Most of the streets, which were lined with the city companies in their liveries, were hung with tapestry and arras, whilst in Cheapside, and some other places, rich cloths of gold and velvets and silks were displayed. The houses were filled with spectators, and the crowd is represented as being immense, all eager to “see the Queen in her royal apparl,” a feeling which had perhaps a deeper source than the gratification of idle curiosity. Children, in the dresses of angels and virgins, were placed in various parts, who sung the Queen’s praises as she passed; and, preceded by the Duke of Bedford as Lord Steward, the Earl of Oxford as Great Chamberlain, the Earl of Derby as Constable, and the Earl of Nottingham as Marshal of England, by the Duke of Suffolk, the Lord Mayor, Garter King of Arms, the Heralds, and other official persons, and by the newly made Knights of the Bath, with their banners borne before them, her Majesty proceeded through the city, sitting in her litter, under a canopy borne by Knights of the body. Her sister Cecily, her aunt the Duchess of Bedford, the Duchesses of Norfolk and Suffolk, the Countess of Oxford, in two chairs, and six Baronesses, mounted on palfreys, immediately followed the Queen; and in this order the procession arrived at Westminster, where she slept.

The next morning she was arrayed in a kirtle and mantle of purple velvet, furred with ermine laces in front, and wore in her hair a circle of gold richly set with pearls and other jewels. In this dress, she proceeded to Wenminster Hall, where she remained under a canopy of state until the procession was ready. From the place where she stood to the pulpit in the Abbey, the ground was covered with new ray cloth, and the struggle of the crowd to cut it to pieces after she passed was extremely great. The Earl of Arundel bore the staff with the dove, the Duke of Suffolk the sceptre, and the Duke of Bedford, who was bareheaded, the crown. On one side her Majesty was supported by the Bishop of Winchester, and on the other, by the Bishop of Ely, and she was immediately followed by the Princess Cecily, who held her train. In this order she entered the west door of Westminster Abbey, and took her seat near the pulpit, when the usual ceremonies were performed; after which she returned to the Palace of Westminster. The King was a spectator from a handsome latticed stage, between the pulpit and the high altar, where also stood his mother, and many other ladies of rank.

An account of the dinner, including even the dishes, is extant, at which it would appear, that those only who formed part of the procession were present, the King and his mother viewing it privately from a latticed seat or stage, erected out of a window on the left side of the Hall. The words in which the author concludes his narrative of the Queen’s coronation convey the idea of the deep interest which the country felt on the subject, “And then the Queen departed with God’s blessing, and to the rejoicing of many a true Englishman’s heart. (115).”

The next morning the King and Queen, with their court, heard mass in St. Stephen’s chapel, after which “she kept her estate” in the Parliament Chamber, the King’s mother sitting on her right, the Duchess of Bedford, her aunt, on her left, and her sister Cecily at the end of the table. At the side table sat the Duchesses of Suffok and Norfolk, the Countesses of Oxford, Wiltshire, Rivers, and Nottingham, many Baronessess, and the ladies attached to the Queen’s person. After dinner her Majesty and the other ladies danced; and the following day she returned to Greenwich, in consequence of Parliamentary business, which prevented the continuance of the feast (116).

From the moment in which Elizabeth of York became Queen of England her life loses its political interest, and the few instances illustrative of her domestic habits and of her personal character which are preserved, are to be gathered from the account of the private expenses of herself and her husband. It has been asserted that Henry treated her with austerity and unkindness, and that her happiness was seriously affected both by his conduct towards her and by his severity towards her mother. Bacon remarks, “that he shewed himself no very indulgent husband towards her, though she was beautiful, gentle, and fruitful; but his aversion towards the House of York was so predominant in him as it found place not only in his wars and councils but in his chamber and bed (117).” There seems, however, to be as little proof that Henry behaved ill to his Queen, as that his conduct towards her mother was cruel or rapacious. Dr. Lingard is the first historian who has suggested these charges are partially, if not wholly, unfounded (118); and the conclusions to be drawn from the Privy Purse Expenses of the King, to which that writer had not access, fully justify the view which he has taken of Henry’s behaviour as a husband. It has been observed by an able delineator of the human character, who assumed that the ill treatment of Elizabeth Wydeville, and of her daughter, by Henry, actually occurred, that “if the Queen loved her mother with that feminine filial tenderness which is heightened by participation in calamity, she could not possibly have cherished much affection for her husband (119).” Both these questions are so closely connected with the life of Elizabeth of York, that it is requisite to discuss them.

On the accession of Henry the Seventh, he found the late Queen one of the most pitiable objects in his dominions. Stripped of her dignity and estates, her honour and virtue impeached, her children bastardized, her kindred banished and attainted, and herself destitute of any other means of support than the annuity of 233 l., which Richard the Third granted her (120). It seems scarcely possible for Henry to have increased the misery of her situation, excepting by depriving her of her liberty; but if historians are to be credited, he seized on all her possessions, and, from a suspicion of her having countenanced the rebellion of the Earl of Lincoln, in1487, imprisoned her for life in the Monastery of Bermondsey, the pretext being, that, after having consented to her daughter’s marriage with him, she delivered her into the hands of Richard the Third.

Nothing can be more untrue than part, or more absurd than all these statements. It was among the earliest acts of Henry’s reign (121) to restore her to her fame as a woman, and to her dignity as a Queen, by reversing the statute which had deprived her of both; and as that act did not vest in her any of the lands which were forfeited by the statute that degraded her, the King, by letters patent, dated on the 4th of March, 1486, granted her various lordships for life (122), as part of the dower belonging to her after the death of Edward the Fourth; and the next day he granted her, in full satisfaction of the residue of her dower, 102l. per annum out of the fee farm of the town of Bristol. Instead of being exiled from her daughter’s court, she was the only godmother to Prince Arthur, and attended the font. The period when it is said she was placed in confinement is about June, 1487, whereas, in November of that year, Henry evinced his confidence in her by treating for her marriage with his ally the King of Scots, “for the greater increase of the love and amity between them;” agreeing, at the same time, that James, the second son of that monarch, should marry the Princess Katherine, and that the Prince of Scotland should marry another of the daughters of Edward the Fourth (123). Had Elizabeth Wydeville incurred his displeasure for aiding the revolt of the Earl of Lincoln, a thing in itself incredible, and been confined lest she should divulge the secret that her son, the Duke of York, was still living, or had Henry not felt assured that she was persuaded of the deaths of her sons Edward the Fifth and his brother, would he have given her the opportunity of plotting against him which her situation as Queen of Scotland would afford her (124)?

The projected alliances were interrupted by the rebellion of the Scotch barons, and were finally frustrated by the death of the King of Scots, in June, 1488; but proof exists that the Dowager Queen was occasionally about the court subsequent to that year, for shortly after her daughter “took her chamber” for her confinement in November, 1489, she gave an audience to the French ambassadors, “when her mother, Queen Elizabeth, and my Lady, the King’s mother,” are mentioned as being present (125). The latest notice of her in relation to Henry the Seventh is on the 10th of February, 1490, when he assigned her an annual pension of 400l. a year, a sum fully adequate to her wants even, but which does not appear to be the case, if it were given in lieu of the lands granted to her in the first year of his reign (126). Her will has been considered evidence of her destitution and imprisonment, but such an interpretation of that document is not just. It is dated on the 10th of April, 1402, and from being witnessed by the Abbot of Bermondsay, she is supposed to have been then an inmate of that monastery. She styles herself Queen of England, and orders her body to be buried at Windsor, with her late husband, King Edward, but forbids any pomp or great expense on the occasion; directions which indicate that she would be interred wherever she might desire, and that her funeral would be conducted, not like that of a disgraced prisoner, but according to her elevated rank. She proceeds, “whereas I have no worldly goods to do the Queen’s grace, my dearest daughter, a pleasure with, neither to reward any of my children according to my heart and mind; I beseech Almighty God to bless her Grace, with all her noble issue, and with as good heart and mind as is to me possible, I give her Grace blessing, and all the foresaid my children.” Her not having any property to bequeath arose from her interest in her income and lands being for life only, and not, as been supposed, from Henry’s having seized her estates. Such “small stuff and goods” as she possessed she desired might be appropriated to the payment of her debts, and the health of her soul, as far as they would extend, but “if any of her blood” wished any part of her property, she ordered them to be allowed the preference. The Prior of Shene, and Doctors Sutton and Brente, were executors, and she entreated her “dearest daughter, the Queen,” and her son, the Marquis of Dorset, to assist in seeing her wishes fulfilled. An account of her funeral, and of the attention and kindness of her daughters to her in her illness is extant (127).