Woodville, Elizabeth, Queen of England

(c. 1437–1492)
   Through her secret marriage to EDWARD IV, Elizabeth Woodville (or Wydeville), a shrewd and strong-willed woman, brought her large and ambitious family sufficient political power to alienate both Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, and Richard, duke of Gloucester, and thereby helped to bring about the later phases of the WARS OF THE ROSES. The daughter of Richard WOODVILLE, Lord Rivers, and JACQUETTA OF LUXEMBOURG, duchess of Bedford, Elizabeth married Sir John Grey in about 1450. After Grey died fighting for HENRY VI at the Battle of ST.ALBANS in 1461, Elizabeth was denied her portion of the Grey estates by her mother-inlaw and was forced to make suit to Edward IV for redress. The king was smitten by the attractive widow, but his sexual advances were rebuffed, and he could only attain his desire by marrying Elizabeth secretly on May Day 1464. When revealed later in the year, the marriage, which was the first royal match with an Englishwoman since the thirteenth century, was immediately unpopular; it brought England no diplomatic advantages and saddled Edward with numerous in-laws seeking political influence and economic preferment.
   Besides her parents, Elizabeth had five brothers, seven sisters, and two sons by her first husband. Because the king felt bound to find titles, lands, or marriages for these relatives, the Woodvilles soon claimed the bulk of royal patronage. Feeling shut out from the king’s bounty, and opposed to the pro-BURGUNDY foreign policy espoused by the queen’s father and brothers,Warwick and the king’s brother, George PLANTAGENET, duke of Clarence, launched a rebellion in 1469 and eventually overthrew Edward with French and Lancastrian assistance in the autumn of 1470 (see Angers Agreement; Edward IV, Overthrow of). The queen, who eventually bore Edward three sons and eight daughters, was delivered of her first son, the future EDWARD V, while in SANCTUARY at Westminster in November. After Edward IV’s restoration in 1471, the WOODVILLE FAMILY became the center of an increasingly powerful political faction, which was led by Elizabeth and her eldest brother, Anthony WOODVILLE, who had succeeded his father as Earl Rivers when the older man was executed by Warwick in 1469 (see Edward IV, Restoration of). The Woodvilles probably pressed for the destruction of Clarence in 1478 and, through Rivers’s guardianship of the prince, positioned themselves to exercise a strong influence over the future king (see Clarence, Execution of).
   On Edward IV’s death in April 1483, Elizabeth, with the assistance of her eldest son, Thomas GREY, marquis of Dorset, took charge in LONDON while Rivers conveyed Edward V to the capital from Ludlow. Seeking to establish immediate Woodville dominance, the queen attempted to have the twelve-yearold king declared of sufficient age to rule. This device aroused strong opposition and gave Richard, duke of Gloucester, the king’s surviving paternal uncle, the initial support he needed to establish a protectorate and eventually usurp the throne (see Usurpation of 1483). Gloucester seized custody of the king; executed Rivers and the queen’s son Richard Grey; and forced Elizabeth to seek sanctuary at Westminster with her remaining children. AlWOODVILLE, ELIZABETH, QUEEN OF ENGLAND 301 though convinced (or compelled) to yield her younger son, Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, to Gloucester’s custody in June 1483, Elizabeth was soon persuaded that Gloucester (now ruling as RICHARD III) had slain both her sons, for in the following autumn she helped plan BUCKINGHAM’S REBELLION, which aimed at replacing Richard with Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond. Elizabeth joined the uprising on the understanding that Richmond would marry her eldest daughter, ELIZABETH OFYORK, once he had secured the Crown. In March 1484, several months after the rebellion failed, Elizabeth accepted a pension and her daughters’ reception at COURT as the price for leaving sanctuary and abandoning Richmond. Although Richmond (then HENRY VII) married Elizabeth of York in January 1486, five months after winning the Crown at the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD, he showed little favor to his mother-in-law. In 1487, the ex-queen fell under suspicion of supporting the Yorkist plot then forming around Lambert SIMNEL. Henry deprived Elizabeth of her property and dispatched her to Bermondsey Abbey, where she remained until her death in June 1492.
   See also all other entries under Woodville
   Further Reading: “Elizabeth Woodville,” in Michael Hicks, Who’s Who in Late Medieval England (London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1991), pp. 325–327; MacGibbon, David, Elizabeth Woodville: Her Life and Times (London: A. Barker, 1938); Ross, Charles, Edward IV (New Haven, CT:Yale University Press, 1998).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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