Judith Arnopp is guest-posting on my blog, a nonfiction article on Elizabeth of York, followed by an excerpt from A Song of Sixpence.
By Judith Arnopp
The unexpected death of King Edward IV in 1483 threw the county back into civil war. Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of the king, fled with her mother, Elizabeth Woodville, and her siblings, into Sanctuary at Westminster. Her uncle, Richard of Gloucester, took his place as Lord Protector and her brother Edward was brought to London to await his coronation, as was tradition, in the royal apartments at the Tower.
Shortly afterward it emerged (whether true or not is another question) that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was bigamous due to a prior contract of marriage. All children of the union between Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville were pronounced illegitimate. As we all know, Gloucester was declared King Richard III and at some point between 1483 and 1485, Elizabeth’s brothers disappeared from the record. (That is not proof however that they disappeared from the Earth – there are any number of possible explanations).
Elizabeth, lately the leading princess of the realm, was now a royal bastard, living in exile from court in the squalor of sanctuary.
We don’t know what happened to her brothers and it is possible she was similarly ignorant of their fate. It has been suggested her mother knew the boys were safe because, after scurrying into the safety of Westminster in fear of her life, she suddenly handed her daughters into the care of the very man suspected of injuring her sons. It seems an extraordinary thing to do if she had any suspicion of Richard being involved in the disappearance of the boys.
At the new king’s invitation Elizabeth and her sisters returned to court to serve Richard’s queen, Anne Neville. They were treated with every courtesy. Queen Anne was ailing and clearly dying. It was at this time that rumours began to circulate of a relationship between Richard and his niece, Elizabeth. It is now impossible to be certain of the truth behind the allegation but at the time gossip was strong enough for Richard to publically deny the accusation. Innocent or not, some scandal would have been attached to this, but she seems to have continued in a prominent position at court, serving the Queen until her death in March 1485.
In August, when Henry Tudor’s invasion was looming, Elizabeth and other children from the royal nursery, were sent north for safety.
Henry Tudor, the Lancastrian heir, to win support of the Yorkists had promised that, if he became king, he would marry Elizabeth of York and unite the warring houses of York and Lancaster, putting an end to the Wars of the Roses forever. He appears to have had few English followers. Most of his army was made up of mercenaries; his abilities as a military commander were untested. Yet he faced one of the most skilled soldiers of the age. Elizabeth, in all likelihood would have been quietly confident of her uncle’s victory when he rode off to make battle with Henry at Bosworth. The news of Tudor’s victory and her imminent joining with a stranger, and her family’s enemy may have been difficult to hear.
After Richard III’s defeat Elizabeth of York was taken to the king’s mother’s house at Coldharbour to await the wedding. But Henry was slow to marry her, and slower to crown her. Some historians see this as a deliberate ploy but they were eventually married in January 1486. In September the same year Elizabeth gave birth to their first child, a son whom they named Arthur. No further children were born until two years after her coronation which took place in November 1487.
Henry Tudor’s reign was fraught with rebellion. Pretenders emerged throughout, most were swiftly dealt with but one in particular, Perkin Warbeck, claiming to be Elizabeth’s younger brother, Richard, harried the king for years. We will never know his real identity, although the king went to great lengths to provide him with a lowly one.
Elizabeth is always described as a dutiful wife and devoted mother. She took no part in ruling the country and there are no reports of her ever having spoken out of turn or ‘disappointing’ the king. Henry appears to have been a faithful husband, his later relationship with Katherine Gordon, wife of Warbeck, was possibly no more than friendship.
Although Prince Arthur was raised, as convention dictated, in his own vast household at Ludlow, Elizabeth took an active role in the upbringing of her younger children, teaching them their letters and overseeing their education.
When Arthur died suddenly in 1502, both Henry and Elizabeth were distraught, the king thrown into insecurity at having been left with just one male heir. Reports state that the king and queen comforted each other and, although there had been some hint of a possible estrangement between them, Elizabeth promised to give Henry another son.
She quickly fell pregnant and gave birth to a girl, Katherine, ten months later but succumbed to Puerperal fever and died on her birthday, 11th February 1503.
Elizabeth was a strong, stalwart woman, bound by duty to serve her country as best she could. Once he had dealt with Warbeck, her union with Henry ended the battle between York and Lancaster, and the children she bore provided political unions between England and France, Scotland, Spain. Ultimately, she died doing her duty to England.
When a king gives his life for his country, on the battlefield defending it, or in his bed after a long and profitable rule, he becomes a hero, often, if he is on the right side, he is honoured throughout history.
Yet Elizabeth gave her life for England too. She married dutifully; quickly producing an heir, a spare, and several daughters to increase the king’s bargaining power. At the tragic loss of Arthur, England’s beloved heir, despite her age and the suggestion of medical problems, she took the most dangerous decision to try to give the king another heir.
She died in service of her king and country.
Below is an excerpt from A Song of Sixpence – available on Kindle now. The paperback soon to follow.
Elizabeth and her family are at Sheriff Hutton with her Plantagenet relations awaiting news of the outcome of the battle at Bosworth.
Sheriff Hutton Castle ―August 1485
I am bored, we all are. The babies are fractious, the infants beginning to quarrel; even Cecily and Margaret had a falling out earlier over a game of knucklebones. Only Warwick seems content, tormenting his kittens with too much love.
Allowing my sewing to fall to my lap, I stretch my arms and heave a hefty sigh. “This day is endless.”
Margaret looks up from her book. “Word will come soon enough.”
“Let us hope it is good news when it arrives.” The tone of Cecily’s reply leaves us in no doubt that she fears it won’t be. We subside into silence again and brood until a sudden scream from my little sister makes us leap from our seats.
“Bridget, let go!” She is clasping a handful of Catherine’s hair and has forced her sister to her knees, her mouth wide and her screams piercing. The nursemaid rushes forward.
“Oh, I am sorry, Madam. They are so naughty today.”
I wince as she spanks Bridget’s hand and Bridget immediately opens her mouth to add her cries to Catherine’s.
It is as if the children sense our tension. In other circumstances such domesticities would be a welcome interlude, something to laugh about later, something to add to a letter to make Mother smile. But today I am so distracted I offer them comfort with more impatience than empathy. I just want them to be quiet, to sit and be silent so that I can fret in peace.
When the children are calm, I summon the nursemaid from her corner. “I think they need to rest; they are fractious because they are tired.”
Amid wet kisses and sticky waves goodbye the children are ushered out, leaving Margaret, Cecily and I alone. I move to the window and look out across the battlement to the road beyond, where a puff of dust on the horizon betrays the approach of a small band of horsemen.
“Someone is coming.”
The girls hurry to the window, jostling for a view.
“Who is it? Can you see? What badge do they wear?”
As yet, they are too far off to determine. We watch as the horses grow larger and the shapes of the men slowly detach from the dun coats of their mounts. With a sick thumping heart I screw up my eyes to identify them, but their badges are obscured and they carry no flag. Cecily’s shoulder is pressed against mine as she strains to see.
“Tudor would come with an army. He’d not come with a small retinue like that.”
I turn away, smooth my skirts and try to arrange my thoughts.
“Tudor would not come at all. He would send a messenger, as would my uncle.”
I clench my fists, pray silently and rapidly that Richard is safe. If York should fail, my life, all our lives, will change beyond recognition. Soon, although it seems like hours, there are sounds of arrival in the bailey. A trumpet sounds and a door slams far below and someone shouts for a groom. A dog runs out barking frantically, setting off the others. I watch and wait, my heart a sickening throb in my throat. Blood pulses in my ears, and I know Cecily and Margaret are just as afraid as I. I can hear their high rapid breathing as we stand in the centre of the room, side by side, with our clasped hands hidden in our skirts.
Footsteps on the stair outside are followed by a curt command, and the door is thrown wide. “Sir John Willoughby,” my page announces. “And Sir John Halewell.”
Two men enter, draw off their helms and make a hasty bow.
York has lost.
My heart turns sickeningly.
I loosen the girls’ hands and move forward to stand behind my chair. I lift my chin, bite my lip and remind myself who I am, the house I represent.
It isn’t the end, I tell myself. It isn’t the end. Richard will rally and fight again. It isn’t the end.
Unsmilingly, I hold out my hand while they bow their perspiring heads. They are ripe with the stench of horse and sweat, the megrims of the ride.
“Well, my lords?” I say at last. “What is the outcome?”
Willoughby throws his gauntlets onto the table with a satisfied flourish. “Richard of Gloucester is dead and Tudor is victorious.”
The world swims but I clutch the back of my chair tighter, my nails digging into the carved wood.
“Dead?” I hear myself say. “York is vanquished?”
“Most certainly. Like a fool, Gloucester took one last insane risk and tried to fight his way through to the king. Luckily for us, Stanley, changing his allegiance at the last, moved in and his army beat the usurper down. I watched myself as Lord Stanley plucked up the fallen crown and placed it on the rightful king’s head.”
As he delivers this good news he beams around the room, nods familiarly at my sister and cousin as if they are tavern wenches and not of royal blood.
I am confused. His rightful king and mine are two different men. The news that Richard has fallen refuses to take root in my mind. I had thought that even if the battle was lost, we would fight another day. The see-saw of York and Lancaster has ever swung up and down, and up again, but now, now … who is left to fight on?
With my brothers in hiding or dead, who does that leave? My cousin, John Lincoln? My little cousin, Edward of Warwick? Neither are strong enough and neither have experience at rallying men. Richard cannot be dead.
While my mind pushes away the fact of Richard’s defeat and whirls with possibilities for York to regain power, Willoughby’s voice continues. I drag myself back to the dreadful present.
“We are sent to bring you and your sister”—he nods in a perfunctory manner in Cecily’s direction—“to London, and the boy, Warwick, too.”
A sudden movement, a boyish yelp of protest, and Warwick emerges from beneath the table. He has been there unnoticed all along and heard every word. For once I am glad he lacks the wit to fully understand. He struggles to his feet, still clutching his favourite kitten.
“I don’t want to go to London; I like it here.”
With a cry, Margaret swoops toward him, guides him as far as she can from the men who have come to detain us.
“We must do as the king says,” she says gently, for the benefit of Willoughby. “The king in his wisdom knows what is right and best for us.”
I realise then that she is trying to guide me, subtly beseeching me not to argue with them. We must not grieve for Richard, we must do all we can to pacify this new king. ALL we can.
I know she is right. There is little point in protesting. We must ride to London on the orders of this Tudor king and face whatever fate awaits us. Whether I find myself a prisoner in his Tower, or bedded as his wife, I have no choice.
To purchase your copy of A Song of Sixpence, click on the link below. Author.to/JudithArnoppbooks
Judith’s webpage: www.juditharnopp.com
Judith’s blog: http://juditharnoppnovelist.blogspot.co.uk/