Posted By Claire on July 25, 2013
Elizabeth of York is an incredibly fascinating woman but I must admit to not knowing an awful lot about her, apart from the bare facts about her being the eldest child of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, the wife of Henry VII and the mother of Henry VIII. She’s a woman that has lived in the shadows of history and I’m so glad that Amy Licence has ‘fleshed her out’ in this excellent biography. Licence is an historian who is particularly interested in women’s history and I enjoyed the way she used her study of Elizabeth’s life to examine “the nature of the female experience, universally and specifically”, looking at what it was like for a woman of Elizabeth’s status in the 15th century, what it was like to be a queen and also a mother. Very interesting.
While some Tudor biographies have come in for some criticism from readers and reviewers recently for being more about the times the person lived in or their family, this biography HAD to go into details about those topics. Readers need to know exactly where Elizabeth fits in to the turbulent times of the Wars of the Roses and how she was related to the key characters in those struggles; there’s no way round it. Those who have enjoyed watching the BBC adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s “The White Queen” will enjoy finding out the real story about Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville and finding out what happens to the “White Princess” as she grows up.
The biography is divided into a prologue and eleven chapters:
- Prologue – The prologue sets the scene by taking the reader back in time to 29 March 1461, the Battle of Towton, known for being the bloodiest battle of the Wars of the Roses. Edward, Earl of March, was victorious, defeating Henry VI, and became King Edward IV.
- The Rising Star, 1466-9 – This chapter covers Edward IV’s love-match marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, a woman deemed unsuitable and a match that upset foreign policy, through the birth of the couple’s first child, Elizabeth of York and the uprisings against the King.
- Reversal of Fortune, 1469-71 – Here we learn about the Earl of Warwick’s plot against Edward IV, the man he helped make King, the accusations of witchcraft levelled against Duchess Jacquetta, the Queen and her children having to flee to sanctuary, Henry VI reclaiming the throne and Edward taking it off him again. The chapter ends with the murder of Henry VI.
- The Life of a Princess, 1471-83 – Although Licence admits that she cannot reconstruct Elizabeth’s life, she discusses medieval childhood in general and looks at the evidence that does give us some insight into Elizabeth’s early life: spending on clothing and jewels, Christine Pizan’s “The Book of the City of Ladies”, childrearing and parenting advice from the time, “The Black Book of the Household” and “Ordinances” of 1478, Edward’s collection of manuscripts etc. The chapter ends with the breaking of Elizabeth’s engagement to the Dauphin.
- Uncle Richard, 1483-5 – Here, we are taken from the death of Edward IV, Elizabeth’s father, through the events of summer 1483 when Richard, Elizabeth’s uncle, went from Protector to King, the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, the alliance between Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort, and Richard’s alleged plans to marry Elizabeth of York.
- A Royal Wedding, 1485-6 – The chapter begins with the Battle of Bosworth and the rise of Henry Tudor as Henry VII, gives details on the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth, and ends with Elizabeth becoming pregnant.
- Motherhood, 1486-7 – Licence gives details on what pregnancy and childbirth were like in the 15th century, the birth and christening of Prince Arthur. Elizabeth’s coronation and the reputation of Elizabeth Woodville, the dowager queen.
- Married Life, 1487-1500 – This chapter looks at what Henry VII was like as a man, what we know about Elizabeth and Henry’s marriage, the births of the couple’s other children, up until Prince Edmund in 1499.
- Imposters, Edward VI and Richard IV, 1487-99 – Details on the uprisings claiming that Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck were in fact Elizabeth’s brothers, the Princes in the Tower.
- The Spanish Princess, 1501-2 – The arrival of Catherine of Aragon and her marriage to Prince Arthur, Elizabeth’s eldest son.
- A Year in the Life, 1502-3 – Licence writes of how Elizabeth’s final year was the best-documented year of her life and how the Privy Purse records of 1502-3 “enable us to see her movements and expenses and give the most detailed impression possible of her daily life. In this chapter, we learn about the death of Prince Arthur, Elizabeth’s grief and her religious faith, her charitable giving, the entertainment she enjoyed and her spending on clothes etc.
- Surprised by Time, 1503 – Elizabeth’s eldest daughter, Margaret, marries James IV of Scotland and Elizabeth dies after giving birth to a little girl, who also dies. Licence gives details on the reaction to the Queen’s death and the influence she had on her husband and her son, the future Henry VIII.
The book is also full referenced and has a Notes section, bibliography and genealogical tables.
Amy Licence concludes her biography of Elizabeth by saying “the real Elizabeth remains comparatively inaccessible through the lack of surviving records but her success as a wife and mother cannot be called into doubt.” She goes on to talk of how she was “the standard for queenship” and that she “was responsible for delivering the future and her legacy long outlived her.” The evidence may be lacking, but Licence has managed to write a book that brings Elizabeth and the times she lived in to life. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and found the style engaging and easy to get into.
Blurb from Amazon
As Tudors go, Elizabeth of York is relatively unknown. Yet through her marriage to Henry VII she became the mother of the dynasty, with her children including a King of England (Henry VIII) and Queens of Scotland (Margaret) and France (Mary Rose), and her direct descendants including three Tudor monarchs, two executed queens and, ultimately, the Stuart royal family. Although her offspring took England into the early modern world, Elizabeth’s upbringing was rooted firmly in the medieval world, with its courtly and religious rituals and expectations of women. The pivotal moment was 1485. Before then, her future was uncertain amid the turbulent Wars of the Roses, Elizabeth being promised first to one man and then another, and witnessing the humiliation and murder of her family. Surviving the bloodbath of the reign of her uncle, Richard III, she slipped easily into the roles of devoted wife and queen to Henry VII and mother to his children, and has been venerated ever since for her docility and beauty. Yet was she as placid as history has suggested? In fact, she may have been a deeply cultured and intelligent survivor who learnt to walk a difficult path through the twists and turns of fortune. Perhaps she was more of a modern woman than historians have given her credit for.