in the library

Women of History: Elizabeth Wydeville

Elizabeth Wydeville

WHO SHE WAS:  Elizabeth Wydeville was the first-born child of Sir Richard Wydeville and Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford.  Her social status was reflected by that of her father (so, not royal, even though her mom was), and so her first marriage was to a man of a similar status, Sir John Grey, a Lancastrian knight. Therefore, she and her family were Lancastrian fans.

HER PLACE IN HISTORY: Sir John Grey died in a Yorkist victory at the second battle of St. Albans leaving behind Elizabeth and her their two young sons. Prospects for the Lancastrians and their followers looking particularly bleak, Elizabeth and her family alter their allegiance. In the meantime, her husband’s death caused Elizabeth dower lands to be confiscated. This meant that she no longer had any income, and she literally had to move back in with her parents. In a curious twist of fate, Elizabeth, acting on behalf of her two sons, orchestrated a meeting with Edward IV to petition for the return of her lands and her sons’ inheritance, and in doing so captured the affections of the king. Elizabeth and Edward were married in secret, and the fact that she was a commoner incited quite a few tempers at court once England learned of their secret marriage. Marriages in medieval times were made to forge political alliances with foreign countries and because of her roots, she was never welcome on the throne. Later on, in line with all of the political matchmaking of the time, she would have particular influence in uniting the houses York and Lancaster.

INTERESTING BITS: A few years into her marriage to Edward–with four small girls and another baby on the way–the tides turned in Lancastrian favor, deposing Edward and forcing him to flee. Without her husband and with the country once again in upheaval, Elizabeth and her six children took sanctuary under Westminster Abbey, where Elizabeth gave birth to their first born son. Elizabeth and her family remained under the abbey until Edward came back with an army that forced the Lancastrians back once more.

Years later, during a particularly peaceful time in England, Edward suddenly passed away. At that time their eldest son was poised to take the throne but because he was still a child, he couldn’t actively rule the kingdom. Because of this, Edward made his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester Lord Protector, to rule through his young nephew until he was able.  What actually happened? Well, Elizabeth took sanctuary once more with her children under Westminster Abbey. History books today will tell you that Richard was power-hungry and evil, and seeing his chance, put Elizabeth and Edward’s two sons’ in the Tower of London, declared the children Elizabeth had with the king illegitimate, and seized the throne for himself. Elizabeth’s two boys (the “Princes in the Tower”) where never seen again and while no one can definitively say what happened to them, most people assume that Richard had something to do with it. Whether or not he was truly as cold-hearted as our history books and even Shakespeare has portrayed him, power was a fickle thing and those who possessed it had to fight tooth and nail to keep it; Richard’s solution for keeping the Wydeville family out of power was to sentence Elizabeth’s brother Anthony and her son Richard Grey to death.

Elizabeth made an alliance with Margaret Beaufort, a Lancastrian heiress whose son held a claim to the throne. Both women sought to put their children on the throne, and so Elizabeth gave her daughter Elizabeth’s hand in marriage to Henry Tudor (Henry VII was the father of Henry VIII–that one Henry of Anne Boleyn fame), thus insuring that the houses of York and Lancaster were united, effectively ending the War of the Roses, and paving the way for the Tudor Dynasty.

If you’d like to learn much, much more, I’d recommend the following books I’ve been reading:
The Women of the Cousin’s War by Phillippa Gregory, David Baldwin, and Michael Jones
The White Queen by Phillippa Gregory
Elizabeth Wydeville: The Slandered Queen by Arlene Okerlund
The Woodvilles: The War of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family by Susan Higgenbotham
Secrets: Richard III Revealed (This is a documentary that I found on Netflix. Its main focus is Richard, Duke of Gloucester–how he lived, how he died, and how a team of archeologists excavated the remains of who they believe to be Richard III, buried under a city parking lot…it’s very interesting!)

Read on and have a happy Tuesday!


I should point out that I am not in anyway an expert on The War of the Roses. I’m just incredibly pre-occupied by it! Also, links are affiliate, but also super good reads if you’re ready to geek out with me!


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