Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: A True Romance by Amy LicenceWhen the tall, athletic Edward of York seized the English throne in 1461, he could have chosen any bride he wanted. With his dazzling looks and royal descent, the nineteen-year-old quickly got a reputation for womanising, with few able to resist his charm and promises. For three years he had a succession of mistresses, mostly among the married women and widows of his court, while foreign princesses were lined up to be considered as his queen. Then he fell in love. The woman who captured the king was a widow, five years his elder. While her contemporaries and later historians have been divided over her character, none have denied the extent of her blonde beauty. Elizabeth Wydeville had previously been married to a Lancastrian knight, who had lost his life fighting against the Yorkists. When she tried to petition the king to help restore her sons inheritance, reputedly waiting for him under an oak tree, the young Edward was immediately spellbound. But this did not prove to be just another fling. Conscious of her honour and her future, Elizabeth repelled his advances. His answer was to make her his wife. It was to prove an unpopular decision. Since then Edwards queen has attracted extreme reactions, her story and connections reported by hostile chroniclers, her actions interpreted in the bleakest of lights. It is time for a reassessment of the tumultuous life of the real White Queen and her husband.
The assassinated children of King Edward IV, who were buried beneath a stone staircase
Elizabeth Woodville also spelled Wydville , Wydeville , or Widvile [nb 1] c. At the time of her birth, her family was of middle rank in the English social hierarchy. Edward was the first king of England since the Norman Conquest to marry one of his subjects,   and Elizabeth was the first such consort to be crowned queen. This hostility turned into open discord between King Edward and Warwick, leading to a battle of wills that finally resulted in Warwick switching allegiance to the Lancastrian cause, and to the execution of Elizabeth's father Richard Woodville in After the death of her husband in , Elizabeth remained politically influential even after her son, briefly proclaimed King Edward V of England , was deposed by her brother-in-law, Richard III. Edward and his younger brother Richard both disappeared soon afterward, and are presumed to have been murdered.
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Through his scandalous marriage to unlikely queen Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV defied the expectation that he should use such a union as a diplomatic tool and instead prioritised love — or perhaps lust. Henry VIII tends to be the monarch who gets frequently cited for breaking the royal marital mould by choosing his own wives from among his subjects. In particular, the narrative arcs of his relations with cousins Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard continue to fascinate, five centuries after his passion turned to hatred and he sent both of them to their deaths. However, Henry was only following the example set by Edward IV, the Yorkist grandfather whom he resembled in both looks and appetite. Edward may not have had as many wives as Henry, but his liaisons with women were just as complex and, perhaps, equally destructive on a national scale. Instead of following the traditional kingly route and negotiating for an influential foreign bride, Edward followed his heart and chose his wife for her personal qualities. Despite the scandal this created, the marriage proved successful and lasted until his death.
He was the first Yorkist king. As a child, he grew up during the early phases of the Wars of the Roses , with his father Richard, 3rd Duke of York claiming to be the rightful heir to the throne in opposition to Henry VI. Richard had multiple times been offered, and later denied, the throne. A series of Yorkist military victories led, in , to the Act of Accord , in which Henry VI disinherited his own son Edward of Westminster and recognized Richard as his heir. The war continued, however, under the leadership of Henry VI's wife Margaret of Anjou , and only a few weeks later Richard was killed in battle, his claims to the throne devolving to his own son Edward. After a series of Yorkist victories over the Lancastrians, Edward proclaimed himself king in March, , traveled to London, and had himself crowned.
When Elizabeth Woodville died in , she was buried with little of the pomp and circumstance befitting a woman of her rank. Here, Elizabeth's arrival was met with silence rather than the typical tolling of bells. Based on context clues, records specialist Euan Roger tells Flood it seems likely that the queen in question was Elizabeth. This explanation makes sense in light of the fact that Elizabeth spent the last years of her life in relative isolation at Bermondsey Abbey. It also provides a reason for why she was buried immediately upon her arrival at Windsor instead of being laid out in the chapel for several days. Known to cause a cold sweat, fever, heart palpitations and dehydration, the sweat killed between 30 to 50 percent of those struck with the illness in just 3 to 18 hours. While Henry never contracted the plague or the sweat, thousands of his subjects were not so lucky.