Elizabeth of York: Life Story

Chapter 3 : Not as Single Spies...

Edward IV was now at the height of his powers. He had two sons, several daughters who were to be married advantageously, a Queen he loved, despite his numerous affairs, and the general support of the populace. The one cloud on his horizon was his tiresome brother, George, Duke of Clarence. Despite having been forgiven for his part in the events of 1471, Clarence could not leave well alone.

He constantly undermined the Queen, had attempted to arrange a marriage with Mary, Duchess of Burgundy, without Edward’s permission, and had even taken to suggesting that Edward himself was illegitimate. To cap it all, he had one of his late wife’s waiting women hanged on suspicion of poisoning the Duchess, who had died in childbed.

Clarence was brought before Parliament, accused of treason by Edward in person, and sent to the Tower, condemned to death. His execution, whether or not it was in the traditional butt of malmsey wine, took place in the Tower of London, leaving his children, Lady Margaret Plantagenet and Edward, Earl of Warwick, as orphans. Edward took responsibility for them and Margaret at least probably lived with her cousins.

The time had now come for Elizabeth to go to France to be married, but Louis began to drag his feet. The Dauphin was still too young to marry - he was only eight and could not marry for another six years. The French King would not therefore, settle the jointure that had been agreed for Elizabeth until after the wedding. That meant that, if Elizabeth went to France, she would have no independent income, and would be entirely dependent on the French King.

The English began to get restive, fearing that Louis would abandon the match. The French King showed a little more enthusiasm when Mary, Duchess of Burgundy, and her husband, Maximilian, King of the Romans, declared that they wanted their baby son, Philip, to marry Elizabeth. This was hardly practical, as Philip was only a year old, but Louis offered a compromise on the jointure.

The outraged Edward, angry that Louis was attempting to overturn the Treaty of Picquiny, refused the compromise. Louis continued to hedge, but he would not break off the match until he was sure of defeating Maximilian in his struggle to wrest parts of Burgundy back into France.

The matter dragged on. Elizabeth passed her fourteenth birthday, and when she was nearly fifteen stood godmother to her youngest sister, Bridget, who later became a nun.

It is apparent from the evidence of Elizabeth’s later life that she was sincerely attached to her siblings. She would have known her sisters and younger brother very well and must have been deeply upset at the death of her sister Mary in 1482 when Mary was fifteen. Her elder brother she would have known less well, as he spent most of his time at Ludlow in the Welsh Marches, being trained for kingship.

Still there was no certainty about Elizabeth’s departure for France. Matters finally came to a head when the young Duchess of Burgundy was killed in a riding accident. To enable the smooth transfer of the Duchy to her son, Philip, her widower, Maximilian, agreed in the Treaty of Arras that his and Mary’s daughter, Archduchess Marguerite, would marry the Dauphin, instead of Elizabeth. Marguerite was immediately sent to France, and the terrible news arrived in England in January 1483.

Edward’s fury knew no bounds. His daughter had been publicly jilted and humiliated. The only small benefit to be derived from the disaster was the possibility that the niggling Lancastrian threat of Henry, Earl of Richmond, might be negated by arranging a marriage between him and Elizabeth. This was hardly on the same scale of grandeur as being Queen of France, but might ensure a more peaceful reign for Elizabeth’s brother.

So, Edward began to talk of the matter with Richmond’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. It is of course possible, and probably likely, that Edward had no intention of bestowing his daughter on a mere earl who had been living in exile for thirteen years – he may just have been concocting a plan to get Richmond into his hands.

Within a few months of the collapse of the French match, Elizabeth’s world was turned up-side down. Edward IV, still only forty-one, died suddenly. From an extraordinarily handsome and athletic youth, he had become extremely corpulent, and given to heavy drinking, womanising and gluttony, all of which had told on his health.

Elizabeth of York

Elizabeth of York

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