The eldest child of Richard and Jacquetta Woodville arrived in 1437 and grew up to be incredibly beautiful. As Richard Woodville was known as the most handsome man in England and Jacquetta was said to be beautiful, too, it is not surprising their offspring displayed startling good looks.
Elizabeth married Sir John Grey in 1457. Sir John was the owner of the Bradgate estate and had considerable wealth. He was Lancastrian by inclination, as was the Woodville family. It seemed a perfect match.
The couple had two sons and life seemed to be good, but Sir John was killed in the second battle of St Albans in 1461 and Elizabeth returned to Grafton, to the family home, with her sons.
She met Edward IV probably at a reception held by one of the local gentry and from then on her future was set. They were married on the 1st May 1464 in a secret ceremony at Grafton. It was some five months later when the news of the marriage finally came out and the court went into shock. The handsome young soldier king, who could have had the pick of any European Princess, had chosen a Lancastrian widow with two children. It was hard for courtiers to understand but it had happened and it was something they had to live with. Edward was kept busy arranging marriages and positions for every member of his new bride’s extensive family.
The marriage did not sit well with Richard, Earl of Warwick, who eventually turned against Edward and conspired to start a rebellion.
In May 1465 Elizabeth was crowned with great ceremony and feasting. The Woodvilles had arrived - in style. It should have been a spectacular occasion but it was marred by some of the Luxemburg kin arriving in London carrying shields depicting a water witch, but the face was clearly that of the new young queen. This was an insult guaranteed to start a ‘witchcraft’ rumour against Elizabeth. It is recorded that Antony drove the men out of the abbey and back to the dock, but he refused to allow them to embark until he had taken on every one of them in single combat to counteract the witchcraft claim. This was to surface later, though, as Jacquetta herself was accused of witchcraft, of using her wiles to help her daughter to ensnare the king’s affections.
The first child to be born to the couple was Elizabeth, then came Mary and Cecily, before the long awaited son and heir arrived in 1470. He was born in Westminster Abbey, as at that time Elizabeth was claiming sanctuary whilst Edward was out of the country, exiled in the Netherlands. His reign was briefly interrupted by Henry VI retaking the throne, a move engineered by his ever-scheming wife, Margaret Beaufort. Elizabeth had taken sanctuary for her own safety and that of her children and the unborn child.
After many ordeals and a treacherous sea crossing, Edward returned to England and, by devious means, won over the major cities in the North, before marching right down the country and into London, without losing a man. He went to the Abbey where his son and heir, Edward, Prince of Wales, had been born and where Elizabeth was patiently awaiting the arrival of her husband. It must have been a joyful reunion.
In all Elizabeth bore her husband ten children, two of whom were boys. The second son was Richard, duke of York.
Elizabeth had to wait at home while her soldier-king husband fought the battle of Barnet, where the Earl of Warwick was killed, the battle of Tewkesbury, where the hopes of the Lancastrians were finally defeated for a very long time, and endured his problems with his brother George, duke of Clarence.
The couple held a fine court for quite a few years and all was reasonably well for Elizabeth until Edward died after a short illness in April 1483. She once again fled to the sanctuary of the Abbey, this time taking so much in the way of furnishings and possessions with her that part of a wall had to be demolished for her to get everything in. Edward’s Will had appointed his brother Richard of Gloucester, then taking care of his brother’s affairs in the north of England, to be Lord Protector. Elizabeth knew well that there was no love lost between Richard and the Woodvilles. She sent a hasty note to her brother Antony in Ludlow with the young King Edward V, asking him to bring the boy to London with all speed and to arrange a large escort of armed men for him, too.
Antony and Richard met at Stony Stratford, the young king was put into lodgings and the two men, together with the duke of Buckingham, had a good meal and then went to their beds. Next morning Antony, his nephew Richard, Marquis of Devon and Sir Thomas Vaughan found themselves arrested and despatched to strongholds in the north. Richard appeared to be determined to remove all Woodville influence from the young king. They moved on to London in great style, everyone wearing black in full mourning for the late King Edward but with the young king wearing purple, to ensure he stood out for his people.
He was lodged in royal apartments whilst the business of preparing his coronation were undertaken, and all should have been well. But a bishop, one Robert Stillington, had come forward to talk of a pre-contract of marriage which Edward had entered into with Eleanor Butler. This rendered Elizabeth’s marriage invalid and made her children illegitimate and therefore unable to take the crown.
Richard was asked to take the crown instead. The young Edward went to the royal apartments in the Tower and Richard III persuaded Elizabeth to allow her son Richard duke of York to go there with him. The fate of the two boys is a mystery which has come down through the ages without any clear resolution. It has cast a pall over Richard III’s reign as few people look further than the Shakespearean slander on his character.
Elizabeth had not only been widowed, she had been deprived of her young sons and had the sad knowledge of the deaths of her brother Antony and her son Richard Grey, executed on the Lord Protector’s orders in June 1483. Her brother Edward went into exile in Brittany, along with other aristocrats who felt they had to leave the country because of the change of regime and what seemed to them like a witch hunt against all Woodvilles and others who did not fit in the new court.
Elizabeth Woodville’s daughter Elizabeth was betrothed to and finally married the new king, Henry VII, and the Tudor/Plantagenet alliance was finally sealed. Elizabeth herself went into a convent and there ended her days in 1492.