Queen Elizabeth of York
– 1466-1503 –
Wife of Henry VII
Here in our beautiful church in the heart of the Cotswolds dedicated to St. Andrew there are 5 stone corbels set high up near the roof. They are reputed to be those of the Saint himself, Henry VII, his wife (Elizabeth of York – a noted beauty) – and those of a duke and duchess (possibly, the Duke of Clarence and his wife, Isabel).
Elizabeth is portrayed with her hair long, loose and curly and she appears to be smiling – both attributes which seem unusual in stone sculptures. It is said that Henry VII gave money to the church for the restoration of the windows and that Elizabeth visited Chedworth. There is a date – 1491 – carved into the porch, which could be the date of her visit – or of the dedication of the windows – or both. The road below the church (where the pub stands) is called Queen Street, supposedly in honour of her visit.
It is fascinating to think about Elizabeth and reflect on how life treated her. The fact that her uncle, Edmund, and grandfather, Richard of York, had been killed at Wakefield (1460) – and their heads exposed on stakes in York – must have caused the whole family untold grief. Her mother, Elizabeth Woodville, was probably saddened by her husband, Edward IV’s, philandering and then by his premature death at 40 when Elizabeth had reached the impressionable age of 17. His sudden death must have plunged the household into deep mourning. The death of her uncle George (see note 1), when she was 13, and 7 years later that of her uncle Richard (see note 2) must also have been traumatic and one can barely imagine the utter despair that must have overwhelmed the family when Elizabeth’s young brothers (see note 3) disappeared from The Tower.
Elizabeth was married at 20 to (the supposedly stolid) Henry and, although everyone must have rejoiced at this reconciliation of the Houses of York and Lancaster and the ending of the horrific Wars of the Roses, many family members might have alienated her for marrying the “enemy”. Her mother died when Elizabeth was in her 20s and, of the eight (?) children she herself bore, three died in infancy (the last daughter a few days after Elizabeth herself – the birth having caused the latter’s death) and only two daughters and Henry reached maturity (see Note 4). Probably the most heart-breaking of these deaths would have been the desperately sad loss of her 15-year old son, Arthur, shortly after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Elizabeth lost siblings, too, apart from the two young princes. Her sister Margaret died when Elizabeth was 6 and ten years later her sister Mary died, about a year before the disappearance of their two younger brothers.
One might wonder how many of these tragedies really affected her. The deaths of her uncle and grandfather happened 6 years before her birth and so, by the time she was aware of these facts, time had probably helped heal the family’s sorrow. She may not have got on with her mother, who was a very strong lady by all accounts. Her mother might not have been in love with Edward and therefore might not have been worried how he behaved – she was an ambitious woman and may only have wanted to obtain, by her marriage, lucrative posts for members of her large family. The death of Elizabeth’s father, Edward, probably did affect her, as daughters are usually very close to their fathers. However, it is possible that she did not feel particular affection for her uncles, although she must have known Richard well when he “imprisoned” her in Sheriff Hutton. (It was even rumoured that Richard wanted to marry her and the idea of marrying her uncle may have been abhorrent to her.) She would also have known Clarence – Uncle George. However, she might not have been well acquainted with her little brothers as they were brought up at Ludlow. She might even have known (or believed) that they were still alive when they “disappeared” and, therefore, not been worried about them.
However, one can only surmise that the deaths of her sisters and those of her infant children must have affected her deeply – as did, of course, the loss of Arthur. The latter’s death drew her closer to Henry who, it seems, was probably a good husband to her. Indeed, it is reported he was grief-stricken when Elizabeth died in childbirth on 11 February 1503 (her 37th birthday) and he became almost a recluse from then on. After his years of exile as a young man, he had finally a settled home and family, only to find it shattered by Elizabeth’s premature death.
Some people believe that death was so commonplace in the 15th century people became inured to it. It is hard to believe, however, that one can ever get used to it – particularly violent or premature death – and it is likely that Elizabeth was sensitive enough to have felt all the tragedies which touched her life. So, as one contemplates her gentle face, it is tempting to think that, if she can still smile after suffering so much, then who are we to worry about our petty woes?! She is an inspiration to us all! (She did, however, have one thing to smile about in the year 1491 – her second son, Henry, was born in June. So, if she did visit Chedworth that year, she was either expecting him, or he had recently been born. However, it is just as well she did not survive to see what a monster he eventually became – he was only 11 when she died.)
It is said by some that she came to Chedworth to visit her royal aunts and that she stayed at the Manor, which had by then passed from the Warwick Estate into the King’s hands. There does not appear to be any local tradition confirming this and, anyway, who were these aunts? If they were Isabel and Ann Neville (the Warwick heiresses), that is impossible – they were both dead by then!
The date of 1461 is carved into the outside wall. Although the carving is discoloured and eroded by exposure, the inscription suggests that Richard Scly (Sly, Sely) was involved in rebuilding that part of the church. He might well have been bailiff or steward of Anne, wife of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (“The Kingmaker”). The church was part of the Warwick estate and, as at that time (but not for long!) the great Earl was on the Yorkist side, this just might be a celebration of Edward’s accession.
The date 1485 is also carved into the outside of the church. It may celebrate the accession of Henry VII/his victory over Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. The splendid 15th century (Perpendicular) windows are thought to have originated at Henry’s expense – he is said to have reimbursed himself by annexing both church and manor.
(The dates are particularly interesting in another way – they are carved as Arabic numerals and as such were rare at that time. A local stonemason, Peter Juggins, who renovated the windows and carved the magnificent lectern, thinks the regal connection to the dates may be purely coincidental and that they probably indicate that work was done on the church in those years!)
Note 1. Killed 1478 (by being drowned in a butt of malmsey wine?).
Note 2. Richard III, killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field 1485.
Note 3. Edward V and Richard, Duke of York (?1485).
Note 4. Later Henry VIII, Queen of Scotland and Queen of France.
(Note: Unfortunately the dates given for some events vary from reference book to reference book!)
– The pencil drawing of Elizabeth of York is by Sue Walsh –
The Death of Queen Elizabeth of York – 11 February 1503
(by Wendy Moorhen – Published in “The Ricardian“, the Journal of the Richard III Society)
Queen Elizabeth left Richmond by barge on 26th January 1503 for the Tower of London where she planned to have her confinement. The birth took place on 2nd February. On Saturday, her 37th birthday, Queen Elizabeth died. The infant princess did not long survie here mother. The following day the King ordered that his wife should be buried in Westminster Abbey, sent Sir Charles Somerset and Sir Richard Guildford to comfort the Queen’s household and then withdrew to grieve. He did not attend the funeral, due to protocol.
Throughout the Sunday following the Queen’s death the bells would have been tolling from the London churches as masses were said and dirges were sung in the capital and beyond. During the day the Queen’s body was embalmed and placed in a lead coffin, which was covered with a black and white velvet cloth embellished with a white damask cross. The coffin was taken in a torchlight procession from the Queen’s chamber to the simple and beautiful Norman chapel of St. John in the White Tower. Here the stone interior of the chapel was warmed with burning tapers, but shadowed by the black cloth ‘furnished with scochins of her arms’ that hung from the windows. The principal mourner in this procession was Lady Elizabeth Stafford, the Queen’s cousin and daughter of the Duke of Buckingham executed by Richard III. She was followed by the Queen’s ladies, who walked two by two and wore ‘sadd and simplest clothing’ on their heads ‘thredden kierchiefs hanging on their shoulders and close under their chins’. They continued to wear this garb until their funeral garments were completed.
A nightly vigil was established with at least four gentlewomen watching over the coffin and supported by two men-at-arms and six grooms. In the morning they were relieved by six ladies who ‘continuelly did knele abouts the corps’ whilst prayers were read. Meanwhile in the Queen’s great chamber the Countess of Devon had arrived and assumed the role of chief mourner. She was joined by the earls of Surrey and Essex and with other ladies and gentlemen of the court listened to the requiem mass. This party then went to St. John’s chapel where the six ladies in the choir moved aside to give ‘roome to there betters’. The vigil continued with a sung mass. This performance was repeated every night and day until Wednesday 22nd February when the Queen’s body was taken in solemn procession to Westminster. Preceded by the male nobility, the Mayor of London, officers of the late Queen’s household and clergy, the hearse was placed on a ‘chaire’ and was followed by eight ladies of honour, including the Countess of Devon and Lady Elizabeth Stafford, who were mounted on palfreys ‘traped and embelled’ with black velvet. Each horse was led by a footman and in turn they were followed by the second carriage conveying four ladies followed by another eight ladies. Lady Katherine Gordon was in the third carriage with the Ladies Fitzwalter, Mountjoy and Bray and they were followed by another twenty-one ladies of the Queen’s household.
The procession made its way westwards, where it must have seemed that most of the citizens of London turned out to watch and even contingents of foreign merchants honoured the memory of the dead queen by appearing in black or carrying torches. It was estimated that between Mark Lane and Temple Bar there were some 3,000 to 5,000 torches set along the streets. A group of thirty-seven virgins, dressed in white, wearing white and green chaplets and holding lighted tapers, met the procession and in Cheapside the Mayoress provided a similar group. Passing the great memorial to another deceased queen at Charing Cross (Eleanor, wife of Edward I), the procession arrived at the graveyard of St. Margaret’s, Westminster.
The senior mourners retired to the Queen’s great chamber for supper whilst a ‘goodly watch of Ladies and Gentlewomen, knight, Esquires’ with twenty-four torch bearers stayed with the coffin which had been placed in the Abbey. At midnight when ‘mattens were done’, prayers were led by the prior and at 7 a.m. the final ceremonies began. The last act to be performed by the Queen’s ladies was to lay thirty-seven palls over her coffin. Lady Katherine Gordon received the fourth pall from a gentleman usher at the choir door, walked to the foot of the coffin, made an obeisance, kissed the pall and laid it over the coffin. After the sermon and a mass the ladies departed and Elizabeth of York was finally laid to rest.