Elizabeth of York: Life Story

Chapter 10 : Growing Tension

The years immediately following Elizabeth’s coronation were quiet. In March 1489, the Treaty of Medina del Campo agreed a marriage between Prince Arthur and Katharine, youngest daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Spanish sovereigns.  In late November 1489, Elizabeth gave birth to her second child, a daughter, Margaret, later Queen of Scots. This birth took place at Westminster, but shortly after, in consequence of an outbreak of measles in the palace, Elizabeth quickly moved to Placentia, the royal house at Greenwich. The court was back at Westminster by Candlemas (2nd February) 1490, where they were entertained by a masque in celebration. Later that month, Arthur was invested as Prince of Wales.

In June 1491, Elizabeth bore a third child, the welcome second son, Henry. This took place at the Placentia, as did the birth of Mary in 1496. Between Henry and Mary, there was another daughter, Elizabeth, but she died aged three.

Not long after the birth of Prince Henry, rebellion once again reared its ugly head. Unlike the Lambert Simnel affair, this conspiracy grew over a long period of time, and continued to dog the royal family until 1497.

The first news Elizabeth probably had of it, was the information that in Cork, Ireland, a young man had been recognised, first as the Earl of Warwick, then miraculously, as her missing younger brother, Richard, Duke of York. Both then and now, people wanted to believe that the young man was indeed the missing prince, although the preponderance of evidence suggests that he was, as he later confessed, a Flemish youth named Pieter (or Perkin) Warbeck.

Elizabeth’s feelings can only be imagined. She consistently showed herself deeply attached to her sisters, so the thought that her brother might be alive must have thrilled her, whilst at the same time, if Henry were to be overthrown, Elizabeth’s own children would probably meet a dismal fate.

Warbeck received muted support in Ireland – the debacle of the Simnel affair had probably reduced any appetite there for renewed struggles for the White Rose. He went to France, where he was warmly received by Charles VIII. Although the French had bankrolled Henry’s invasion, now he was King, the old Anglo-French rivalry continued.

Useful though Warbeck was to Charles, the French King was far more interested in making gains in Italy. Henry, well aware of this, raised a considerable army for a French invasion, calculating that Charles would agree terms to allow himself to focus elsewhere. This proved to be the case. Henry, Bedford and Oxford landed at Calais with some 15,000 troops, reinforced with another contingent from Flanders.

Charles quickly came to terms, and agreed to expel Warbeck, as well as pay considerable arrears due in satisfaction of the Treaty of Picquigny and Henry’s recent expenses on his unsuccessful campaign to protect Brittany from the French. As well as coming to terms with France, Henry also pursued a truce with Scotland.

During the summer of 1493, Henry was still anticipating an invasion by Warbeck. Despite Burgundy having sent troops to support Henry in France, the duchy was still supporting the Pretender, influenced by Dowager Duchess Margaret, who had given him refuge after he left France. Henry reacted with a trade ban, a severe economic step for both countries.

To counteract Warbeck’s claim to be Duke of York, in November 1494, Elizabeth’s second son, Henry, was invested with the title. Only three, he endured a long ceremony in which he was dubbed a Knight of the Bath, and the next day received the dukedom.

Perhaps to enhance wavering support from former Yorkists, Elizabeth’s sister, Anne, was married to Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey – a match first suggested by Richard III. Elizabeth herself provided the couple with an annual income and a regular weekly allowance.

Whilst there was no clear focus for the conspiracy, former Yorkists began to congregate in Burgundy, and even in the royal household there were sympathisers. In early 1495, Henry had amassed enough evidence to bring some members of his own household to trial for involvement with Warbeck. Astonishingly, one was Sir William Stanley, whose last-minute support of Henry at Bosworth had swung the victory in his favour. Stanley was tried and executed.

In early 1495, Elizabeth’s income was significantly enhanced by the death of her grand-mother, Cicely Neville, Duchess of York which released the Duchess’ dower lands. As the oldest representatives of the House of York, Elizabeth and her sisters were the inheritors of the great lordships of Mortimer, Clare and Ulster. Unlike the usual arrangement in which sisters inherited jointly, Henry assigned all of the lands to his wife.

In July 1495, Warbeck landed in Ireland, supported with money and men from Duchess Margaret. He was defeated in a skirmish at Waterford, but escaped. Throughout this period, Elizabeth and Henry were constantly together, travelling around their kingdom, showing themselves to their subjects and promoting the idea of the unity of Lancaster and York.

It was whilst she was at Woodstock that September that Elizabeth heard of the death of Princess Elizabeth. The little girl was buried with lavish ceremonial in Westminster Abbey. Shortly afterwards, Elizabeth provided an income for her sister, Katherine, on her marriage to William Courtenay, Earl of Devon in yet another York-Lancaster union.

Shortly afterward, news came that Warbeck was now in Scotland.

Elizabeth of York

Elizabeth of York

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