Category Archives: in the library

in the library

Women of History: Elizabeth of York

August 12, 2015

Elizabeth of York

WHO SHE WAS: She was the daughter of Elizabeth Wydeville and Edward IV, the first born, although at that time a woman ruling England as queen regnant (ruling in her own right)  was unheard of and there would have been no thought to her ascension. That of course, would come years later, with Elizabeth’s granddaughter Mary I!

HER PLACE IN HISTORY: Like so many royals before her, she was still a political piece to be played to ensure that an alliance was made with Henry Tudor. This plan was put into action by Elizabeth’s mother and future mother-in-law; Elizabeth Wydeville knew that if Henry Tudor defeated Richard III, it would give Elizabeth of York a place on throne as queen consort through her marriage to  him.

INTERESTING BITS: As I’ve mentioned before, her marriage to Henry Tudor meant the end of the rift between the houses Lancaster and York. The War of the Roses left so many of her family dead, either by battle or by order of authority, so I like to imagine that perhaps the end of the turmoil would have brought her joy, knowing that she could finally live in the relative peace of the time. And as a queen to boot!

Elizabeth and her husband, Henry VII, had eight children in total, four of which survived infancy. Most notably, Elizabeth of York was the mother of Arthur, Prince of Wales (and the first husband of Catherine of Aragon) and Henry, Duke of York, who would later become Henry VIII.

Elizabeth died in 1503 when she was 37; after giving birth to her last baby girl, both Elizabeth and the baby passed away shortly thereafter.

Henry Tudor won the crown by right of conquest when he defeated Richard III in battle, but Elizabeth still had a stronger claim to the throne. Henry’s coronation took place shortly after the last battle and before his wedding to Elizabeth to solidify his position as a king through conquest and not through Elizabeth. Henry VII and Elizabeth were the first king and queen of the House of Tudor, a dynasty that put an end to over 300 years of Plantagenet rule.

If you’re interested in further reading, my main non-fictional account is Elizabeth of York: First Tudor Queen by Alison Weir and for a bit of historical fiction, check out Philipa Gregory’s The White Princess, a book that is part of her series about the Cousin’s War.

Happy reading!

-Becca

in the library

Women of History: Elizabeth Wydeville

July 15, 2015

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!

–Becca

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!

 

in the library

Women of History: Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford

June 14, 2015

Jacquetta of Luxembourg
Edited photo. Original from here, and licensed under the Creative Commons.

Has anyone been keeping up with The White Queen television mini-series on Starz lately? I managed to snag the episodes through Amazon Prime and have been obsessed with anything and everything about The War of the Roses! History is just about my favorite subject and I can never help myself from diving in elbows deep in a subject and coming out with my head spinning from the plethora of information I come across, and feeling super excited and flabbergasted about the history of the world, how different it was back then, and how far we’ve come.

The War of the Roses, known at the time as The Cousins War, was a series of conflicts that erupted between twe branches of the Plantagenet family, the Lancasters and the Yorks. That’s it in a nutshell. Beyond that is where it gets all jumbled and it’s difficult to to keep every duke and earl and king that ever had a hand in the war in mind and even after all of the material I have have read in the past month,  I can’t keep it all together in chronological order.  After the third book that I read, a light bulb went off in my head to create a series here on The Field Guide about three generations of women who made waves, rocked boats, and refused to apologize for their lives.

My first lady in this series is Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford.

Jacquetta of Luxembourg was born sometime during the Hundred Years War, a conflict between the House of Plantagenet of England, and the House of Valois of France. When she reached marriageable age, her uncle arranged for her marry John, Duke of Bedford, the third son of Henry IV of England. This marriage aligned her loyalty with the House of Lancaster, but it ended after two years when John, Duke of Bedford died in 1435.

Shortly after becoming a widow, Jacquetta, in secret, married her late husband’s squire, Richard Wydville, sometime after he escorted her back to England under the order of Henry VI. It was considered a scandelous union, namely because it happend so soon after the Duke of Bedford passed (before 1437) and because they married without a royal license.  The Wydevilles were made to pay a fine totaling one thousand pounds to appease the king. During their long marriage, they would change their political alliance to that of the Yorks, and have fourteen children. Their eldest child, Elizabeth Wydeville, would become the Queen Consort of Edward IV (the first Yorkist King of England!) Elizabeth Wydeville, like her mother, would find herself deeply involved in the political alliances that shaped the world of 15th century Britain. She would also make Jacquetta the grandmother of two little boys that would later mysteriously disappear after being taken to the Tower of London when their uncle Richard III usurped the throne. But more about that later!

An interesting fact about Jacquetta and her family is that the Luxembourgs claimed to be descended from Melusina, a water goddess found in European folklore. In The Lady of The Rivers by Phillipa Gregorgy, Jacquetta is described as being a woman who dabbled in magic and who would call upon her ancestor, Melusina, in times of trouble. Jacquetta was actually accused of witchcraft and arrested and even though the charges were dropped and Jacquetta released, the accusations that she suffered were not something people of that period would easily forget.  Jacquetta died in 1472 when she was around 56.

I really like this woman.  It seems remarkable to me that she was able to take charge of at least a small portion of her life as she did. I imagine her to be an intelligent woman, one that was capable of wading through the world that she was born into, albeit always trailing behind the famous men of the time. Phillipa Gregory does a marvelous job of bringing Jacquetta to life in The Lady of the Rivers. I think I got through that book in about two days, it flowed so magically and fluidly which just the right amount of drama and heart ache, and it was a fabulous post-read to Phillipa Gregory’s short essay found in the book The Women of the Cousins’ War.  I definitely recommend reading both!

Read on!

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!