Known for: key figure in Tudor history and in the Wars of the Roses; Queen of England, Queen Consort of Henry VII, daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, mother of Henry VIII, Mary Tudor, Margaret Tudor
Dates: February 11, 1466 - February 11, 1503
For more basic facts about Elizabeth of York, see her profile: Elizabeth of York Facts -- includes a list of her children and other family members.
Elizabeth of York Biography
Born in 1466, Elizabeth of York's early years were spent in comparative calm, despite the disagreements and battles going on around her. Her parents' marriage had created trouble, and her father was briefly deposed in 1470, but by 1471, likely challengers to her father's throne had been defeated and killed.
In 1483, all that changed, and Elizabeth of York was at the center of the storm, as the eldest child of King Edward IV. Her brother was declared Edward V, but he had not been crowned before he and his younger brother, Richard, had been imprisoned in the Tower of London by Edward IV's brother, who took the crown as Richard III. Richard III had the marriage of Elizabeth of York's parents declared invalid, claiming a previous betrothal of Edward IV.
Though Elizabeth of York was by that declaration made illegitimate, Richard III was rumored to be planning to marry her. Elizabeth's mother, Elizabeth Woodville, and Margaret Beaumont, mother of Henry Tudor, a Lancastrian claiming to be heir to the throne, planned another future for Elizabeth of York: marriage to Henry Tudor when he overthrew Richard III.
The two princes -- the only surviving male heirs of Edward IV -- disappeared. Some have assumed that Elizabeth Woodville must have known -- or at least guessed -- that her sons, the "Princes in the Tower," were already dead, because she put her efforts into her daughter's marriage to Henry Tudor.
Henry Tudor succeeded in overthrowing Richard III, declared himself King of England by right of conquest. He delayed some months in marrying the Yorkist heiress, Elizabeth of York, until after his own coronation. Finally they were married in January, 1486, gave birth to their first child, Arthur, in September, and she was crowned Queen of England in November of the following year.
The symbolism of a Lancastrian king marrying a Yorkist queen brought together the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York, ending the Wars of the Roses. Henry adopted the Tudor Rose as his symbol, colored both red and white.
Elizabeth of York lived peacefully in her marriage, apparently. She and Henry had seven children, four surviving to adulthood -- a fairly decent percentage for the time.
Catherine of Aragon, a third cousin of both Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, married their eldest son, Arthur, in 1501. Catherine and Arthur became ill with sweating sickness soon after, and Arthur died in 1502.
It's been surmised that Elizabeth became pregnant again to try to have another male heir for the throne after Arthur's death, in case the surviving son, Henry died. Bearing heirs was, after all, one of the most crucial responsibilities of a queen consort, especially to the hopeful founder of a new dynasty, the Tudors.
Elizabeth of York died in 1503 on her birthday, at age 37, of complications of childbirth, her seventh child dying at birth. Only three of Elizabeth's children survived at her death. Elizabeth of York is buried at the Henry VII 'Lady Chapel', Westminster Abbey.
The relationship of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York is not well-documented, but there are several surviving documents which suggest a tender and loving relationship. Henry was said to withdraw in sorrow at her death; he never remarried, though it might have been advantageous diplomatically to do so; and he spent lavishly for her funeral, though he was usually quite tight with money.
Elizabeth of York is a character in Shakespeare's Richard III. She has little to say there; she is merely a pawn to be married to either Richard III or Henry VII -- because she is the last Yorkist heir (assuming her brothers, the Princes in the Tower, have been killed), her children's claim to the crown of England will be more secure.
More women's history biographies, by name: