Sunday, 26 January 2014

King Richard III and Queen Elizabeth Woodville, Friends or Foe?

“against the queen, her blood adherents and affinity, which have intended and daily doeth intend, to murder and utterly destroy us and our cousin, … by their damnable ways …”
~By Richard’s own hand, June 10, 1483 in an urgent message to York asking for help against the queen. [1]

The relationship between Elizabeth Woodville (Wydevile) or also known as “Elizabeth Grey,” and King Richard III is one of complex study. It is questioned that their relationship changed numerous of times during Richard’s life. Most importantly, the impact of her favor with him or against him is what aided Henry Tudor’s rise to power.  It is a relationship that can be examined to come to some attempt at understanding the events of 1483 and other events of Richard’s life such as the death of his brother George, and the inevitable his fall from power.

Some believe that if there was a true rift between Richard and Elizabeth Woodville, it started long before he came to the throne. It might have been as early when Elizabeth came to court as his brother’s wife. The Woodville’s were a large family, but not one of noble birth. This was not very popular amongst those in court at the time. Also they were quite affluent in the local governments, creating uneasiness for many.  We know Richard was greatly affected when his brother George was executed in 1478.  It is noted, Richard was “so overcome with grief for his bother that he could not dissimulate so well, but that he was overheard to say he would one day avenge his brother’s death.”  Richard now seeks revenge, but not quite.  The Italian chronicler, Mancini also stated that Elizabeth strongly disliked George, but it might have been because George knew about the previous marriage of his brother Edward IV, and the illegitimacy of her children and George seemed to have talked a lot. (Location: 521 of Richard III, Return of the King) The animosity might have started then.  Never put a woman between two brothers, in this case, three, it doesn’t go down well.

When examining events previously to Richard sitting on the throne, it is well known the Woodville’s were of Lancastrian loyalty. In the rebellion of 1469, he did not join their cause, but fought with his brother. Thus showing loyalty to his brother Edward, which he continued to show this loyalty by having an acceptance of them at court.  It is also important to realize Richard spent quite some time in Warwick’s household. Warwick was not fond of the Woodville’s; hence the feeling may have become mutual. [2] The thought of a Woodville or Lancastrian king on the throne might have been enough for Richard to choose the actions he did.  There were also others in the realm that was uneasy with the thought of a Woodville dominated king. Nobles had been deprived of “due inheritance” and the council had voted against Woodville regency, meaning more than likely to make Elizabeth regent of her son, from statements made by Dorset.

Richard’s loyalty was to the Yorkist cause and rule, hence why accepted the position his brother gave him as Lord Protector of his son, Edward V.  This acceptance shows how loyal Richard was to his brother.  Right before Richard decided to reach for the throne, questionably pressured by others, and the thought of the risk of having the country ruled from the throne by a 12 year old prince, through his Woodville mother; whom her favor with the people was questionable; her likeness at court was constantly teetering.  This more than likely worried Richard greatly.

By January of 1484 Richard’s reign was pretty much locked tight. Richard went to Parliament and instituted Titulus Regius, that January of 1484; which made the widowed queen’s children and all her heirs to the throne illegitimate.  It is hypothesized that his mother, Cecily Neville, likely supported this. The path to the throne for Richard was now very clear and secure. The major point made to Parliament was that Edward IV his brother, was previously married, and not divorced, making his marriage to Elizabeth invalid therefore, her children all illegitimate.  Elizabeth was also accused of witchcraft and sorcery with her mother whom was deceased, as her accomplished. Why she was thought of a witch is a whole different story. That’s a study in the belief system and mind of the medieval man, and one of manipulation.

After Parliament had secured his title, and he had been successful in squashing previous rebellions earlier the year before (Buckingham’s Rebellion in the fall of 1483.); to the public eye, the young king was going to be ruling for quite some time.  Meanwhile in sanctuary, Elizabeth and her girls were facing a different fate.  They were living in poverty and off charity, with the grim outlook that she and her girls were facing a life living in poverty.  Elizabeth had to come to terms with Richard. This is where we see the queen negotiating a future for her daughters. That March in 1484, she came out of sanctuary and entrusting the care of her daughters to Richard by allowing them to be at court.  We don’t know if she had Woodville motive, but did this make Richard look like a Woodville or Lancastrian sympathizer? Not really, more than likely it helped his image and reputation that he wasn’t the insidious bastard or murderer that the Middle Ages “press” was making him out to be.  It was a smart move on Richard’s behalf to help save his reputation from being further tarnished over the incident with the Princes in the tower. He also hoped it would win him some support from Southern England, which he was seriously lacking. For he promised:

"I Richard, by grace of God, etc., in the presence of you, my lords spiritual and temporal, and you, my Lord Mayor and aldermen of London, promise and swear...that if the daughters of Elizabeth...will come to me out of the Sanctuary of Westminster and be guided, ruled, and demeaned after me, then I shall see that they shall be in surety of their lives...nor any of them imprison in the Tower of London or other prison, but that I shall put them into honest places..."


Some hypothizied that Richard as well, attempted to arrange a marriage for Elizabeth, the queen’s oldest daughter, to his son Edward of Middleham, now the Prince of Wales as an attempt to keep Henry Tudor away from the throne. But these plans didn’t go accordingly, as Edward died that March in 1484. (Source: (Weir, Alison "Elizabeth of York" pg. 110, endnote #50 "St. Aubyn author was unable to find a contemporary source.")

Elizabeth might have come to terms with Richard as well because she knew all too well what had happened to Margaret Beaufort for her aiding her son’s cause or the “great rebel and traitor.” She had been stripped of her lands, placed under house arrest, with her husband Thomas Stanley as her gatekeeper. Elizabeth more than likely did not want to face the same fate, as she would have gone to the Tower more than likely, if she were suspected of treason. She had also seen what had happened to her brother Anthony and one of her older sons, as well executed for treason.  Securing a future for her and her daughters was the priority, not the grief of her brother and sons deaths.

But the events after Richard’s fall show another side of the coin. If Richard ever had a reason to not trust her, he might have been correct in doing so. In 1487 she lost her dower (a widow’s share for the rest of her life of her husband’s estates normally monies.) due to a plot against the king, Henry VII. There was a Yorkist rebellion started by Lambert Simnel claiming to be the pretender Earl of Warwick. Her involvement is questioned amongst scholars today. ( Source:

Richard had every reason to hold some form of animosity towards Elizabeth. Did this directly influence fortune’s wheel and the outcome of events? Maybe, maybe not. It’s hard to say.  What is consistent is who and where Richard’s loyalties remained through out his life.  Richard’s goals in the end and above all were for his loyalty for his family, and for his plans for his reign.

1. Richard III by Charles Ross, 1981 ( accessed: 1/25/14)
7. Collins, Patricia J. Richard III: Return of the King. C. 2013

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