Elizabeth Woodville


1437(ish) – 1492

Family weddings – don’t you love ‘em. A few glasses of cheap bubbly, someone from the bride’s side insults the groom’s mother and all hell breaks loose. Bun-fights, punch-ups and the next thing you know someone’s started the next round of the Wars of the Roses…

So there was young Margaret of Anjou, who, if you remember, had married Crazy Henry VI and had just done up her new pad at Greenwich in girly colours and pretty patterns. Life had got a bit scary after Jack Cade’s rebellion so she’d decamped Ooop North and Round One of the Wars of the Roses had got underway.

Edward IV came to the throne in 1461 and was the complete opposite of Henry VI. He was the kind of squared-jawed burly-framed Hollywood Hunk that made women swoon – he was 6 foot 4 at a time when most people were about a foot shorter and his interests included hunting in Greenwich Park, gold-brocade outfits and knightly pursuits. I can just see those Disney-esque teeth gleam…

He married local girl Elizabeth Woodville (from Lee) probably for love, or at least lust, given her long black hair, her famed beauty and especially her lovely heavy-lidded eyes (“the eyes of a dragon”, one chronicler tells us. The mind boggles.) Apparently her USP was her skill at fluttering her eyelashes.

It was all hush-hush – not least because Lizzy’s first husband had been killed fighting for the Lancastrians – when Edward was the leader of the York contingent. When they found out, his advisers who’d had their eye on a nice political union with a French princess, were pretty fed up. Some even whispered that she’d bewitched him, a murmur that got rather louder when she bowled up to Westminster Abbey with some of her distant Luxembourgian relatives carrying shields with pagan goddesses painted on them and the whole thing had to be settled by fisticuffs.

Edward poo-pooed the lot of them and where the rest of us are lucky to get a toaster, he gave Lizzy Greenwich as a wedding present, including the tower and park. Nice work if you can get it.

They seem to have had a happyish life (considering that England was in turmoil and everyone hated everyone else) although he appears to have had a lot of mistresses, most of who also seem to have been called Elizabeth. I’m just glad Freud wasn’t going to be around for 700-odd years.) Edward had lots of children by both his wife and others, at least two of whom you’ll have come across – but we’ll get to that.

Sadly Elizabeth’s family were the original Sarf London chavs – they pushed themselves forward at every opportunity and won themselves no great favours at court. They made sure they married themselves into as many of the best families as possible (presumably wearing Burberry doublet-and-hose) and availed themselves of all the lucrative opportunities to shine, which many of the courtly toffs thought was dreadfully vulgar.

One splendid example of Early Bling was when one of Lizzy’s rather obscure brothers-in-law died, they interred him at St Albans with a gigantic, very shiny and much larger brass plaque than even that of the Bishop. It all became very embarrassing, but all Edward really wanted was an easy life and he tended to turn a blind eye to it all.

It was at Greenwich that the ultimate Little Britain family wedding took place. Elizabeth’s son by her first marriage was given the hand of Anne, an heiress, who had been promised to heavy-hitting York-supporter the Earl of Warwick who had been instrumental in bringing Edward to the throne and was naturally a bit pissed off at Edward’s short memory. I am so glad I wasn’t at that wedding – I imagine a surreal cross between an Alan Ayckbourn parlour drama, The Royle Family and a Quentin Tarantino shootemup. The slighted Earl of Warwick switched sides, withdrew to France and cooked up Round Two of the Wars of the Roses with New Best Friend Margaret of Anjou.

Meanwhile, back at Greenwich, it all got a bit nasty when Edward died. Elizabeth became, briefly, “Queen Mother,” to her two little princes who were the heirs to the throne, but – and I’m sure you can see where this is going – enter, stage left, Hiss! Boo! panto villain, Uncle Richard.

I have no idea whether Richard III was actually as evil as he is painted – or, indeed, any more evil than anyone else at the time – there is a lot of revisionist history going on just now – but one thing seems sure. Richard found a priest who said that he had presided over Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage and that since Edward was already promised to marry someone else, he had committed bigamy. Richard declared Dead Ed’s marriage null and void, Lizzy was banished from court and the two princes disappeared.

In later life, after being brought back into favour and seeing her daughter married to the future Henry VI, Elizabeth was allowed back to court for a bit, before being packed off to a nunnery in Bermondsey for possibly being involved in a rebellion (all that’s left now of Bermondsey Abbey is a rather sad-looking plaque on the wall of some council flats. You can see it if you travel into town on the 188 bus. ) She was nearly married to the young King of Scotland but he most inconveniently died, so the now-ageing ex-queen stayed in the convent, where she died too. She was given a no-frills funeral by her son-in-law King Henry VII which, as you can imagine, really offended her designer label-loving relatives.

But was she bovvered? I doubt it. Her daughter had just given birth to Henry VIII.


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