Elizabeth of York: Life of a Tudor Queen (Guest Post)

Guest article by Lindsey Wolf

The day was February 11, 1503. The bells of Saint Paul’s Cathedral tolled while London’s wearied masses collected in assured astonishment of the news. The Queen was dead. Queen Elizabeth of York had been introduced to the realm 37 years to the day of her death in an England much different from the one she left. She was the first child of King Edward IV and her namesake, Elizabeth Woodville. Born amidst the turmoil of the dynastic wars; her formative years were spotted with war, instability, death and betrayal. Narrowly escaping the grasp of her Kingly uncle who stood in place of her misfortunate brothers, the succession of a Lancastrian incumbent would change her fortunes. Following the defeat of King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth, Elizabeth married the freshly crowned King Henry VII. By uniting their houses formally, the Tudor dynasty sought to establish itself as the premier royal house at all means necessary. England’s new Queen would play an essential part in her country’s security by providing the necessary heirs to its future. She would hardly disappoint. Nine months and one day after her wedding, she gave birth to the golden prince meant to be the first King to receive the crown by means of natural inheritance since the days of Henry VI; Prince Arthur.

In the course of her life, Elizabeth would provide seven additional children as adornments to the Tudor tapestry. By all accounts, Elizabeth would prove herself to be a figurehead for the ideal late medieval Queen. It is even suggested that through her, The Tudors earned their trademark coloring. Erasmus described her in singularity as “brilliant.” A Venetian report detailed Elizabeth as “a very handsome woman of great ability, and in conduct very able,” while commenting personally on her “charity and humanity”. She may have even conducted some power herself from underneath of her husband’s iron first in forms of rebuking letters sent to members of the peerage. Yet, despite all of her glories and characteristics, she too proved to be made of clay. Succumbing to postpartum infection following the birth of a short-lived daughter just over a week later. Her distraught and notoriously thrifty husband spent lavish sums on a funeral fit for her importance in a sum estimated at 721,270 in modern terms. A London lawyer delivered an elegy which effectively summed up the realms opinions of their lately departed Queen:

“If worship might have kept me, I had not gone,
If wit might have me saved, I needed not fear,”

That same lawyers name was to return to the chronicles of history again and again; Thomas More. Specifically when he served under the son of Elizabeth; Henry VIII. Ironically, it was from the death of Henry’s mother that one of the most prolific influences would enter his life stage. Henry, described as Elizabeth’s “loving son”, was a mere eleven years old at the time. His entire life had been turned on its axis the previous year following the death of his eldest brother. This left him as his father’s sole male heir. Gone was the Tudor’s golden egg and in its place, a scarcely known boy whose life had predetermined towards the church prior. As one could only imagine, the events of the past two years would prove to be traumatic for the pubescent Harry but how affected was he by the passing of his mother?

The Vaux Passional is an illuminated manuscript dated from the late 15th or early 16th century. In its rare, original binding lays some means to answer this question. The books first miniature depicts the same manuscript being presented to a regent that is thought to be Henry VII. Yet, just past that lays its true peculiarity. The background of the illustration contains two young girls before a fireplace in colors of mourning. Besides them, a young man seeming to weep into a bed of black cloth. His face hidden despite his full head of reddish-golden hair. It is almost with complete certainty that one can suggest these three children represent Margaret, Mary and Henry following the death of the Queen. Given it is likely a contemporary source, this manuscript seems to know better than we may about the reaction of the young Prince. Be it of her death of the events that had transpired in such quick succession. The miniature depicts not the Kingly man who Henry was to become but a small, broken boy. In a letter to Erasmus in 1507, Henry would later reflect following the death of Philip the Handsome that “never since the death of my dearest mother hath there come to me more hateful intelligence. And to speak truth, I was the scanter well-disposed toward your letter than its singular grace demanded, because it seemed to tear open the wounds to which time had brought insensibility. But indeed those things which are decreed by Heaven are so to be accepted by mortal men.” Henry was particularly fond of the archduke who was married to his wife’s sister and who had visited him in 1506. In many ways, Henry saw Philip as the ideal man of his era against the advisement of Henry’s own father. This death seemed to shake the Prince to his core. Another death so close to home as his life seemed virtually full of them.

Henry (by this time Harry) was no doubt profoundly upset by the lost of his mother which, to a modern audience, should come as no great surprise. Yet, by the contemporary standards of the day, it should be noted with some air of curiosity. Royal mothers were notoriously aloof in their parenting style and often too busy with matters of Queenship to be much concerned over their children. The job of caring for royal children was often shuffled off to high-ranking members of society who saw it not as a burden but as a rare honor and privilege. From virtually the moment of birth, Queens of medieval society vacated their responsibilities. To breastfeed one’s own child was unbecoming of their station and thus, the honor was passed to a wet-nurse and a number of attendants. From royal cradle rockers and beyond, A queen’s place was by the side of her husband and within her court. Children would be established in their own residences where their education and upbringing was monitored by those appointed to do so. That is not to say that a Queen did not care greatly for her children but it was merely the way of it. As best stated in Virtuous or Villainess? The Image of the Royal Mother from the Early Medieval to the Early Modern Era: “On the one hand, the royal mother is expected to produce and nurture future heirs who will ensure dynastic and political security, but on the other, a woman who appeared to have too much influence was seen as meddling, overwhelming in her authority, and a threat to the stability of the realm.” Due to this, Elizabeth of York would be expected to do much the same.

However, it is worth noting that Elizabeth’s own childhood was less than traditional by standards of the day. Elizabeth’s mother, Elizabeth of Woodville, had stolen herself and her family to the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey twice. First when Edward IV was forced to flee England due to the rebellion of his once allies; George, Duke of Clarence and Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. It was there that she’d give birth to her son and heir, Edward. The second time would be when her brother-in-law took possession of that same Edward and seized the title of Lord Protector. Rife with instability, Elizabeth would have likely spent vast amounts of time with her mother and her siblings. It is reasonable to suggest that her bond would have been more familial than most of her station due to this. Additionally, Elizabeth Woodville was a commoner before her royal marriage and was likely to have a much more hands on approach to parenting due to this. Thus, it is not difficult to suggest that Elizabeth of York’s relationship with her children would be reflective of her own childhood.

Little is known about Henry’s early life before the death of Arthur. It seemed almost not worth recording to contemporary scholars at the time. Incredulously, Henry’s grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, would incorrectly label his birth in her Book of Hours and seemed to amend it at a later date. However, it is within his obscurity that we may better understand Henry’s relationship with his mother. The evidence of deviation in royal protocol lays in an unexpected yet obvious place; Henry’s handwriting. As noted in David Starkey’s Mind Of A Tyrant series, Henry’s handwriting is uniquely his own and nothing like that of his tutor. Instead, it is much like his Queenly mother’s which suggests that she was the one to teach him in the first place. Though there is little known evidence of Elizabeth’s handwriting that remains, what we do have shows staunch similarities even to the untrained eye. Furthermore, Starkey recalls “it’s characteristic enough in weight, rhythm and letter forms to prove conclusively, I think, that Elizabeth was the first teacher of her daughters and her second son, Henry.”

Though we may never know the true extent of the bond between the two, the mere suggestion that the future King would be tutored firstly by his own mother allows us to better understand the man himself. Be it his devastation in the face of her death which smacks of modern maternal bonds, or how it later shaped him. All of this provides modern audiences with the early operative pieces of what was to be a Freudian daydream. In so many ways, the new age idealism that Henry aspired to can be traced back to Elizabeth of York and the marriage that begot him. His desire to love the woman he married was in homage to his father who was thought to never stray from his marital bed. The traits of loyalty, fidelity and humility which he sought most in a wife, was a mold first cast by his mother. A mold that had not had time to be broken due to her early and untimely death. Freudian theory tells us that his mother would have become something of an idolatrous figure for him. Aspiring to a flawless and immortal figure which could never belong to this life. All of this and more proves that while Elizabeth’s body may have been laid to rest in ceremony and pomp in the luxury of Westminster Abbey, her presence was very much there in Henry. All of his decisions regarding love, loss, standard and ultimately what it was to be King was due in part to her. That figure of the old world who died in the new. She who heralded the dynasty which would become the stuff of speculation for centuries to come; Elizabeth of York.


Weir, A. (2014). Elizabeth of York.
“Elizabeth of York: a Tudor of Rare Talent.” History Extra, 7 Aug. 2018, http://www.historyextra.com/period/tudor/elizabeth-of-york-a-tudor-of-rare-talent/.
“Sir Thomas More: ‘A Rueful Lamentation’, 1503 [Poem on the Death of Queen Elizabeth of York].” The Life of Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/ruefullamentation.htm.
“The Vaux Passional.” Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru – The National Library of Wales: Aberdulais Mill, Glamorgan, http://www.library.wales/discover/digital-gallery/manuscripts/the-middle-ages/the-vaux-passional/.
Wight, Colin. “Beaufort Book of Hours.” The British Library, The British Library, 24 Apr. 2012, http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/henryviii/birthaccdeath/beaufort/index.html.
Fleiner, Carey, and Elena Woodacre. Virtuous or Villainess?: the Image of the Royal Mother from the Early Medieval to the Early Modern Era. Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.
Starkey, David. Mind Of A Tyrant.

Understanding the Man: Henry VIII (Part One)

As many of you may already know, King Henry VIII is my favorite monarch of the Tudor dynasty. If it wasn’t for his reign I do not believe the Tudors would be as popular as they are today.

With the creation of Showtime’s THE TUDORS, many of us were aware of the name Henry VIII but really didn’t know much about him. In the show we were able to see that there was more to the man than the execution of two of his six wives. While I understand that THE TUDORS tv program had a bunch of historical inaccuracies, it also got people (like myself) to look deeper into the history by reading and absorbing as much as we possibly could. Over a decade later I feel like I have a fairly good grasp on the infamous king and would like to share my understanding of him with you all. Henry VIII was a man, well…maybe a man-child, but he wasn’t just the tyrannical ruler that many see him as today. There was much more to him than most understand. I hope with this series on his life that you will look at Henry in through new eyes.

Understanding the Man: Henry VIII

As stated previously, many of you may already know that Henry VIII is my favorite of the Tudor monarchs. My opinion isn’t always in the majority and I’m okay with that. Henry ruled England from 1509 until his death on the 28th of January 1547 and has helped to make the Tudors as popular as they are today.

As the second son of King Henry VII, young Henry was not expected to become King of England and so he was sent to Eltham Palace to be raised with his sisters. While at Eltham, Henry would have most likely had constant contact with his mother, Elizabeth of York.

When you consider Henry’s relationship with women in his life one must wonder if he was constantly on the search for a woman like his own mother. Elizabeth of York had a great influence on her son and may have helped educate her children during her lifetime.

Born at Greenwich Palace on the 28th of June 1491, Henry Tudor was the third child and second son of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. His parents marriage had put an end to decades of fighting between the Yorks and Lancasters in what we know as the Wars of the Roses.

For the most part, Henry’s childhood would have been idyllic, but not without occasional bits of drama. The fact that Henry’s father claimed the throne on the battlefield against Richard III did not sit well with supporters of the Lancasters…and for that matter the Yorks were not pleased either.

In 1487, a young man named Lambert Simnel was coerced to play the part of Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick to raise arms against the new Tudor king, Henry VII. At the same time, the real Edward Plantagenet was sitting in the Tower of London. It did not take long before Simnel was discovered as a pretender.

At some point around 1494, Perkin Warbeck came on the scene. The reason I say 1494 is because in 1494, young Prince Henry was given (by his father) the title of Lieutenant of Ireland.

This would not be the last time that Henry VII gave a title to his second son in an attempt to show control.

In July 1495, Warbeck took fourteen ships, funded by his supposed aunt, Margaret of York, along with 6000 men across the channel to England in hope that he could claim the throne of England. Things didn’t quite turn out the way he had planned and he and his men fled to Ireland. Before long they had moved to Scotland where Warbeck gained the assistance of King James IV of Scotland.

Warbeck was claiming to be one of the lost princes in the Tower, the younger of the two brothers, Richard, Duke of York. Many believed he was truly the young prince and that the throne of England should be his by right.

Henry VII would not have another pretender using a title that was meant for his son, and in 1494, three-year old Prince Henry was titled as Duke of York. There could not be two and Henry, at the moment, was the true title holder, not Warbeck.

At a young age Henry would have known that a monarch’s throne is never 100% secure. It also must have been a bit confusing for him and his sisters to understand that some of their mother’s family wanted to remove their father.

Everything changed in April 1502 when Henry’s older brother, Arthur, died unexpectedly at Ludlow Castle. Henry went from a mostly carefree childhood to a life that led to him being overly protected as sole heir to the throne of England. Gone were the days when he could run “freely” and have unrestricted fun – to feeling like a prisoner of his father’s.

Henry had been betrothed to Katherine Aragon in 1503, he was twelve years old. As stated previously, Henry’s life, once Prince of Wales, was thoroughly controlled by his father, the King. The betrothal to the dowager princess of Wales was something that would evolve with the ever-changing politics of the day.

While his brother Arthur had been, practically from birth, trained in the ways of kingship, Henry’s training did not begin until he was eleven years old. The young Prince of Wales was not used to the rigorous training he received to prepare him for the throne and he only had seven-year to cram for the biggest role of his life.

At Richmond Palace, on the 21st of April 1509, King Henry VII died. He was fifty-two years old. His son, who was only eighteen years old was now King of England.

When he came to the throne, Henry VIII was described as exceptionally tall, well-proportioned, had the features of a Greek god and moved gracefully. His complexion was fair, had auburn hair and a rounded face with the features so delicately formed that they ‘would become a pretty woman’. This new, young king naturally commanded attention and authority by appearance alone.

Henry had always been fascinated by Katherine. She was beautiful and he was enchanted by her. After the death of his father, Henry decided that he would marry Katherine of Aragon. And he would claim it was his father’s wish, on his deathbed. The couple was married six weeks after Henry accession at the chapel of the Franciscan Observants at Greenwich. Henry would also be quoted as writing to her father, Ferdinand of Aragon that, “If I were still free, I would still choose her for wife before all other”. They would have a double coronation, or crowning, thirteen days later, on Midsummer Day, 24th of June 1509.

It was the coronation that set the tone for Henry’s reign – it was the beginning of the Renaissance period in England. It had also been a long time since a King came to throne with such approval and adoration. It was a new era – one of education, music, jousting and overall fun. The court was full of young people, which was the opposite of the reign of his father. Henry was eager to open his father’s coffers (which were overflowing) to celebrate his new role.

Lord Mountjoy wrote to Erasmus only weeks after Henry’s accession and had this to say:

If you could see how everyone here rejoices in having so great a prince, how his life is all their desire, you would not contain yourself for sheer joy. Extortion is put down, liberality scatters riches with a bountiful hand, yet our King does not set his heart on gold or jewels, but on virtue, glory and immortality. The other day he told me ‘I wish I were more learned’. ‘But learning is not what we expect of a King’, I answered, ‘merely that he should encourage scholars’. ‘Most certainly’, he rejoined, ‘as without them we should scarcely live at all’. Now what more splendid remark could a prince make?

William Roper, the son-in-law of Thomas More also remembered how the young King was eager to learn. He recalled how More and the King would discuss astronomy, geometry, divinity and other worldly affairs all hours of the night. Henry truly enjoyed conversing with More and enjoyed learning from him and having discussions with him as well.

Henry VIII wasn’t always the tyrannical monarch who would execute you if you looked at him wrong – at the beginning of his reign he relented to public outcry against his father’s tax collector, Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley. While the public wanted to see the men put away Henry was eager to spend the fruits of their labor.

The mood at Tudor court had changed drastically since the changing of the guard – now there was laughter in the corridors at court and continuous festivals to enjoy. Under the new administration both high-born and low-born men had the same opportunities. While Henry understood the importance of having men of noble birth and experience in key positions he also appreciated men of ambition, like Thomas Wolsey – a man who would soon become pseudo king.

That’s where we’ll end Part One of this series on Henry VIII – next we will continue you on with the story of the life of Henry VIII and understanding him a bit better in Part Two.

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King Henry VII and the Mystery of Lady Catherine Gordon (Guest Post)

Guest article by Tony Riches

While researching about Henry Tudor becoming King Henry VII, I came across an account by the blind chronicler Bernard Andre, a French Augustinian Friar who describes the first meeting between Henry and Lady Catherine Gordon. Henry is cast in the role of hero, rescuing poor Catherine from a scheming pretender to the throne of England. The problem is that Bernard Andre was commissioned by Henry to write an account of his time as king.

So who was Lady Catherine? Born in Scotland in 1474, Catherine’s father was George Gordon, Earl of Huntly, and her mother Princess Annabella, daughter of King James I of Scotland. In July 1495, a man arrived in Scotland from Ireland, claiming to be the Richard, Duke of York, the second son of King Edward IV of England (who was thought to have been murdered in the Tower of London.) King James might not have believed him but saw an opportunity to undermine the English King Henry, and married the pretender to his cousin, Lady Catherine.

Henry VII receives Lady Katherine Gordon

After several poorly planned attempts to ‘claim his rightful kingdom’ the pretender, known as Perkin Warbeck, sought sanctuary in Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire before surrendering to Henry’s men. Lady Catherine ended up stranded on St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall and Henry sent for her when he arrived in Taunton to hear the pretender’s full confession.

This is where the mystery begins. Any other king would have had had Warbeck executed for treason. Instead Henry kept him under house arrest – in his own lodgings and Lady Catherine was made a lady-in-waiting to the queen. It is recorded that Henry ‘treated Catherine like a sister’ and allowed Warbeck to see her – but banned them from sleeping together.

In 1499, Warbeck was locked up in the Tower of London for attempting to escape from his house arrest – then hanged at Tyburn for conspiring to escape from the Tower. Catherine, a widow at twenty-five, might have been devastated at the death of her husband but became close to Queen Elizabeth. She even travelled with Henry as one of Elizabeth’s ladies to Guines Castle near Calais for a meeting with Archduke Philip of Castile.

King Henry VII by Unknown Netherlandish artist; NPG 416  National Portrait Gallery, London 2017

Henry kept detailed accounts which show he bought her horses and fine new gowns. For example, in November 1501 this included cloth-of-gold furred with ermine, a purple velvet gown and a black hood in the French style. In April 1502, Henry paid for black and crimson velvet for a gown and black kersey for Catherine’s stockings. In November 1502 he paid for black satin trimmed with mink for Lady Catherine. There are records of him losing money to her at cards, although oddly there don’t seem to be any suggestions she was his mistress.

When Queen Elizabeth died in 1503, Catherine was a chief mourner at her funeral. She might have been expected to return to Scotland or remarry but surprisingly chose to stay with Henry for the rest of his life. After Henry’s death, Lady Catherine became one of Katherine of Aragon’s ladies-in-waiting and eventually married James Strangeways, a gentleman of the King’s Chamber.

The known facts about Henry’s relationship with Lady Catherine Gordon raise more questions than answers. Even the blind friar Bernard Andre says she was beautiful and clever. In a surviving letter from Perkin Warbeck to Catherine he wrote:

All look at your face so bright and serene that it gives splendour to the cloudy sky; all look at your eyes so brilliant as stars which make all pain to be forgotten, and turn despair into delight; all look at your neck which outshines pearls; all look at your fine forehead. Your purple light of youth, your fair hair; in one word at the splendid perfection of your person?and looking at they cannot choose but admire you; admiring they cannot choose love but you; loving they cannot choose but obey you.

So did Henry fall for her? Or did he think of Catherine as the sister he never had? Catherine seems unimpressed by Perkin Warbeck (despite his compliments), so did she see her chance for an easy life at Henry?s court? Did Henry plan to use her in his negotiations with the Scots, then grew to like her? Did Catherine take advantage of the aging king, old enough to be her father? Did Elizabeth of York not think it odd that her husband spent so generously on one of her ladies? Did they discuss Perkin Warbeck, Catherine?s husband who claimed to be Elizabeth?s brother?

I believe all these are possibilities and decided to explored the complex relationship between Henry and Catherine in my book, HENRY ? Book Three of the Tudor Trilogy.

Henry Book Three of The Tudor Trilogy


Tony Riches

For information about Tony?s books please visit his website www.tonyriches.com
and his popular blog, The Writing Desk at www.tonyriches.co.uk. You can also find him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tonyriches.author
and Twitter @tonyriches.

Heroines of Plantagenet Embers (Guest Post)

Heroines of Plantagenet Embers

By Samantha Wilcoxson for Tudors Dynasty

A writer puts a little bit of themselves into every character they create. Maybe we are not as adventurous, devout, or charismatic as our beloved characters, but we wish we were, and somewhere deep inside us the potential is there. Same goes for the darker sides of our characters. Both the best and worst of us gets poured into our characters. I find it to be a satisfying release of emotions to transfer my deepest feelings into the ladies on the page.

The heroines of Plantagenet Embers are each as unique in my books as the historical figures they are based on were in real life, but I have reasons to love each of them. People are so multidimensional that it is easy to connect with some aspect of a person’s personality, if we are only willing to try.

Historical figures cannot be divided into heroes and villains. Complex people who lived varied lives, loved, and fought for what they thought was right existed on all sides of any historical controversy or war. It is those deep emotions and intricate personalities that I strive to explore in my novels.

When I decided to write about Elizabeth of York, I did not intend on creating a trilogy. At the time, I was simply drawn to the Plantagenet princess who, through her unique blend of quiet strength, selflessness, and piety, became the first Tudor queen. I connected with Elizabeth through her love of her children and country and her willingness to sacrifice her own desires for the good of others. She was a center of peace in turbulent times. I wished I could be as devout and loyal as Elizabeth was, but I feel like writing about her helped make me a better person.

During the course of writing about Elizabeth, her cousin, Margaret Pole, captured my attention in a way she had not before. I knew the story of the little girl whose father had been executed by his brother, but I had never carefully thought of the roller coaster ride of emotions that Margaret’s life must have been. I am drawn to an emotive tale and could not resist Margaret’s. She did not share Elizabeth’s position or submissiveness. Losing her husband at a relatively young age, Margaret became the matriarch of her family and struggled to balance loyalty to the new Tudor regime with ensuring her children’s positions in life. Margaret is independent in a way that I am not, but she strived to do God’s will and protect her children no matter what the cost. Her life was defined by high points that most of us will never reach and low points that I hope never to experience. Writing about her created waves of emotions within me that I hope I effectively shared with my readers.

However, nothing could compare with the storm of emotions that I went through when writing about Queen Mary I. I understand that some readers will never be able to think of her as anything other than Bloody Mary, but I was surprised to find that I felt the strongest connection to Mary. Into Mary’s tragic life I could pour every disappointment and hurt I had ever experienced. When she expressed to Reginald Pole that she has never felt she was first in anyone’s life, I had tears streaming down my face. I longed for her to receive the love and affection that I knew was not coming. My heart hurt for her in a way it never had for Elizabeth or Margaret. Maybe it was that Mary never even had children to love, while Elizabeth and Margaret at least had their families to take comfort in regardless of what else came into their lives. There are several passages of Mary’s story that I cannot read without crying. She just captivated my heart. I admire her faith, even if that faith led to terrible things being done in her name, but most of all she moved me to sympathy in a way few other people or fictional characters ever have.

As you have probably discerned, I do not always look closely at the big historical events occurring during my heroines lives unless they were physically present when they happened. My goal is to expose the personal side of the story and put my reader through the same ups and downs that these women experienced. I want readers’ heart to flutter when Elizabeth first realizes she can love Henry Tudor. I want them to feel the air crushed out of their lungs when Margaret’s oldest son is executed, and I want them to feel their heart squeezed at Mary’s defeat and desperation when she realizes she is not pregnant.

History is about so much more than dates and battles, and these women have amazing stories to share. It is sometimes difficult to remember that the historical figures we admire and discuss with such passion were living, breathing people rather than storybook characters. If I can make these ladies who died long ago feel alive to my readers, I consider my job well done.

Author the Author:

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Samantha Wilcoxson is the author of the Plantagenet Embers Trilogy. An incurable bibliophile and sufferer of wanderlust, she lives in Michigan with her husband and three teenagers. She lives in Michigan with her husband and three children. You can connect with Samantha at SamanthaWilcoxson.BlogSpot.com or on Twitter @Carpe_Librum.

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A Vehicle for Legitimacy: Early Tudor Coronations (Guest Post)

A Vehicle for Legitimacy: Early Tudor Coronations

Guest article by Sarah Norton

When, in August 1485, Henry VII claimed “glorious victorie” at the battle of Bosworth, the Tudors were a family of little importance, their nobility claimed from the second marriage of Henry VI’s mother Katherine of Valois, and through Margaret Beaufort’s descent through John of Gaunt from Edward III.[1] Henry Tudor was one of the “unlikeliest” men ever to ascend the throne of England, having spent most of his life in exile in France without even the experience of running his own household.[2]  The chances of Tudor winning the day at Bosworth – his first major battle – were relatively low.

As a result, following the battle the Tudors were keen to impress upon the nation their legitimacy at every opportunity they could. The dynasty was plagued with insecurity; when Henry VII took the crown there were other heirs lingering with much better claims than himself (the earls of Lincoln and Warwick, for example), and the string of pretenders to the throne made it imperative that the first Tudor king stress his legitimacy. For his son, too, legitimacy was an issue always at the forefront of his mind. Even fifty-six years after Bosworth, Henry VIII perceived such a threat from those with royal blood (direct Plantagenet blood especially) that he had Margaret Pole executed in 1541 despite her being a woman of sixty-seven years old.

One of the first major opportunities Henry Tudor had to display his legitimacy was his coronation. Grand public displays were “magnificent vehicles of Tudor state propaganda”[3] and for Henry VII public displays were in “direct relation to his dynastic insecurity”.[4] Henry was “crouned kyng by the whole assent as well of the comons as of the nobilite”[5], and he was received with “all honour and gladness” on 30th October 1485.[6] Vergil recites how he was widely welcomed, and the overarching theme of his coronation and early days on the throne was that of a country rescued from the throes of civil war and tyranny.

Before the ceremony, according to the French chronicler Jean Molinet, Henry VII proclaimed that if there were any with a better claim than himself to the throne, Henry VII would “himself help to crown him but no-one appeared”.[7] This is interesting as it is most certainly false, but it served Henry’s purpose and reinforced the ideology that the crown was taken by right rather than conquest. He also made sure his coronation was before the first parliamentary meeting on the 7th November by being crowned on 30th October – this removed all need for Parliament to declare him the rightful king and avoided any opportunity for resistance since he was already anointed. It shows his perhaps personal insecurity on the throne in that he felt the need to go above and beyond searching for ways to legitimise the dynasty even though by law of conquest the crown was legitimately his either way.

Particularly of significance to his coronation was the heavy mythological and Arthurian symbolism that was employed. Although other kings before him had exploited the Arthurian legend, Tudor was the first to exploit its full potential to bolster his rule. He traced his lineage back to the mythical Arthur and the last king of the Britons Cadwaladr. At his coronation his horse wore Cadwaladr’s arms, and after the ceremony he created a new pursuivant (office of the college of arms) named Rouge Dragon in reference to both Cadwaladr and Saint George.[8] He emphasised these connections to mythical figures in order to raise himself above the ordinary population. Henry is known for restoring the sacrality of kingship and the use of myths and legends almost suggests that Henry himself is akin to those great mythical figures. The presence of the King’s Champion at the coronation banquet, though used by kings since at least Richard II’s coronation in 1377, only furthered the chivalrous ideals Henry represented. A fully armed knight, usually a member of the Dymoke family of Lincolnshire, would enter Westminster Hall between courses and present a challenge to anyone who disputed the king’s right to rule.[9]  The champion’s role was to “validate authority and reinforce arrangements of precedence” and as such lent all kings, but particularly Henry VII and others with shaky claims to the throne, legitimacy.[10] It offered them a chance to reinforce their validity; the lack of challenge (because, of course, it would be madness to dispute the king’s right to rule at his coronation banquet, and you wouldn’t be leaving with your head on your shoulders if you did dispute it) to the Champion renders the king’s reign uncontested and legitimate since the king had offered the challenge. The role had “Arthurian symbolism encoded” within it and it was the first step in the exploitation of the Arthurian legend that would come to form such a huge part of Henry’s later reign.[11]

This ties in seamlessly with the presentation of himself as the unifier of a war-torn nation. He was eager to show his ascent as “as much by lawful title of inheritance as by the true judgement of God in giving him victory”.[12]  This perpetuates the idea of chivalry that was so central to the Arthurian myths. The Arthurian cult flourished under Tudor cultivation and Henry VII encouraged the study of ancient Britain, ensuring that the cult of Arthur gained prevalence in the sixteenth century. By linking the dynasty to the mythical kings of old – and encouraging study to make sure their prestigious heritage was known – they tapped into the rudimental English identity. Arthur, the pinnacle of English kings, served as an invaluable link to England’s past and her own sense of self. Since Henry VII had spent most of his life in France, this link to England was priceless. The mythical imagery was first brought out in grand display at the coronation of 1485, and its use as a tool for legitimacy must have been invaluable.

But it was not just the coronation of the first Tudor king that was manipulated to highlight his legitimacy; the coronation of the first Tudor queen got the same treatment. The perfectly stage-managed coronation of Elizabeth of York took place in 1487 and was, like her husband’s, similarly laden with heavy symbolism and was key to the Tudor policy of legitimisation.

The gap between the marriage that was loudly proclaimed to have united all England and her coronation is telling. There could be many reasons why the coronation of the queen was delayed by two years (Elizabeth giving birth to Arthur in September 1486 being one of them) but a convincing stance seems to be that the queen’s coronation was delayed on purpose. Perhaps it was to emphasise that although she had a stronger blood claim to the throne than her husband, she was not a crowned queen until he made her so. Her crown was carried by Jasper Tudor, the very embodiment of the Welsh roots of the Tudors. Since he was half-brother to the deposed Henry VI, Jasper essentially represented a return to the legitimate succession after the Yorkists since Henry VII claimed the throne as heir to Henry VI. The implication is that the crown is bestowed on Elizabeth by the Lancastrian claim from Henry VI, not her own Yorkist claim through her father, Edward IV. It was a way of “proclaiming the legitimacy of the Tudor dynasty to the world” and bolstered the image of Tudor right to rule that her husband had been carefully cultivating since 1485.[13]

On top of this, the coronation of Elizabeth of York spouted the same rhetoric of union that surrounded her marriage. Henry created fourteen new Knights of the Bath the night before her coronation, and of the 185 that attended the ceremony, 46% had been knighted since Bosworth.[14] Several others had fought for Richard III at Bosworth and their part in Elizabeth’s coronation shows the active effort made to unite the realm under one banner.[15] Though there were several new names at her coronation, old names remained. Suffolk carried her sceptre, also having carried it at all the coronations between 1465 and 1487.[16] His role has an element of tradition to it and he served as a link to previous Yorkist ceremonies. The role of Suffolk combined with the injection of fresh blood into the court illustrates effectively the ideology of the union of the roses, of both Lancaster and York coming together to bring peace. That some former Yorkists found tolerance under Henry VII only emphasises this further.

The Tudor coronations were vast, embracing vehicles for state propaganda declaring the legitimacy of the Tudor dynasty. Though the politics of kingship can be tricky, it should be pointed out that the process of anointing, arguably, erases any unsuitability for the throne since the king has been touched with God’s holy oil. This did not stop the routine efforts for legitimacy made by Henry VII and his successors, though, and so the entire coronation was subjected to elaborate displays of the dynasty’s validity, despite being technically valid the moment the oil touched their skin.

Henry VIII’s smooth accession to the throne and coronation in 1509 is a testament to the strength of Henry VII’s policy of legitimisation. In the words of Geoffrey Elton, Henry VIII’s accession was a “triumph” for his father’s policy, with Henry VII’s efforts at last “mingled into one unquestioned claimant to the throne”.[17]

Primary Sources:
Hall, E. Hall’s Chronicle (London: J. Johnson, 1809)
Molinet, J. Chroniques 1476-1506, (Paris: Verdiére 1828
Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, http://www.british-history.ac.uk.ezproxy.mmu.ac.uk/no-series/parliament-rolls-medieval/november-1485-pt-1#highlight-first [Accessed 24th February 2017]
Vergil, P. Anglica Historia, http://www.r3.org/links/to-prove-a-villain-the-real-richard-iii/these-supposed-crimes/polydore-vergil/
Secondary Sources:
Anglo, S. Images of Tudor Kingship (London: Batsford Ltd, 1992)
Attreed, L. ‘England’s Official Rose: Tudor Concepts of the Middle Ages’ in Hermeneutics and Medieval Culture, ed. Gallacher, P. J, Damico, H. (New York: State University of New York Press, 1989)
Byrne, A. ‘The King’s Champion: Re-Enacting Arthurian Romance at the English Coronation Banquet’, English Studies, (94), (2013), pp.505-518
Elton, G. England Under the Tudors, (Abingdon: Routledge, 1991)
Hammond, P. W. ‘The Coronation of Elizabeth of York’, The Ricardian, 6(83) (1983)
Hunt, A. ‘The Tudor Coronation Ceremonies in History and Criticism’, Literature Compass, 6(2) (2009) pp.362-372
Hunt, A. The Drama of Coronation, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008)
Rex, R. The Tudors (Stroud: Amberley 2012)
Sharpe, K. Selling the Tudor Monarchy: Authority and Image in Sixteenth Century England (London: Yale University Press, 2009)
Weir, A. Elizabeth of York (New York: Vintage, 2014)
[1] Edward Hall, Hall’s Chronicle, (London: J. Johnson, 1809), p.422
[2] Richard Rex, The Tudors, (Stroud: Amberley, 2012) p.9
[3] Alice Hunt, The Drama of Coronation, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), p.9
[4] Kevin Sharpe, Selling the Tudor Monarchy: Authority and Image in Sixteenth Century England, (London: Yale University Press, 2009), p.66
[5] Hall, Hall’s Chronicle, p.423
[6] Robert Fabyan, Great Chronicle in English Historical Documents: Volume IV, 1327-1485, ed. A. R. Myers, http://www.englishhistoricaldocuments.com/document/view.html?id=1119 [Accessed 2nd March 2017]
[7] Jean Molinet, Chroniques 1476 – 1506, (Paris: Verdiére, 1828) p.8
[8] Lorraine Attreed, ‘England’s Official Rose: Tudor Concepts of the Middle Ages’ in P. J. Gallagher, H. Damico, Hermeneutics and Medieval Culture, (New York: State University of New York Press, 1989), p.87
[9] A. Byrne, ‘The King’s Champion: Re-Enacting Arthurian Romance at the English Coronation Banquet’ English Studies 94 (2013) p.506
[10] Byrne, ‘The King’s Champion’, English Studies p.515
[11] Byrne, ‘King’s Champion’, p.516
[12] ‘Henry VII, November 1485’ in Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, http://www.british-history.ac.uk.ezproxy.mmu.ac.uk/no-series/parliament-rolls-medieval/november-1485-pt-1#highlight-first [Accessed 24th February 2017]
[13] Alison Weir, Elizabeth of York, (New York: Vintage, 2014) p.252
[14] Hammond, P. W; ‘The Coronation of Elizabeth of York’ The Ricardian 6(83) (1983) p.272
[15] IBID
[16] Hammond, ‘Coronation of Elizabeth of York’, p.270
[17] Geoffrey Elton, England Under the Tudors, (Routledge, 1991) p.70

Author Bio:

I am a 21-year old history masters student with an undergrad degree in medieval and early modern
history. My favourite periods include the wars of the roses, the Tudors, Renaissance Italy
(Leonardo da Vinci is my fave) and enlightenment era France. Favourite historical figures include
Da Vinci, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth Woodville, Richard III and Edward IV. I also love Lord of the
Rings, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, traveling the world, and furry four-legged creatures, specifically
my perennially-grumpy tuxedo cat and prince, and excitable fluff-ball Border Collie pup.

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