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Coronation of Elizabeth of York: Edward IV’s Daughter Finally Queen

Updated on November 25, 2013
Elizabeth of York was Henry VII's Queen of England.
Elizabeth of York was Henry VII's Queen of England.

On November 25, 1487, Elizabeth of York was crowned Queen Consort of England. It was just over two yearsafter Henry VII of England had taken the crown from her uncle, Richard III, and her brothers had mysteriously disappeared, presumed dead, from the Tower of London. Elizabeth would be known for joining the warring Houses of York and Lancaster and helping to create a more stable England.

However, her life was never easy. During her young life, she found herself in sanctuary for her safety on two occasions. She witnessed loss and suffering and saw her right to the throne stripped away from her. This coronation was important to her and her family. It was a show that Edward IV’s line still lived on.

The Early Life of Elizabeth of York

Elizabeth was the eldest child of Edward IV of England and his wife, Elizabeth Woodville. She was named after her mother, a name that would be passed down to one of her daughters and later her granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth I of England.

Most of her young life was comfortable; however, the Houses of York and Lancaster were constantly at war. Her birth on February 11, 1466, was during the Wars of the Roses; known then as the Cousins’ War. She was instantly aligned with the House of York, being the daughter of the Yorkist King of England, and would constantly see people attempt to de-throne her father in favour of Henry VI of England; the Lancastrian King.

On one occasion during his reign, Edward did lose his throne. He was forced into exile in the low countries. Elizabeth’s mother realised that something was wrong quickly and thought on her feet. Her children were in danger and despite being pregnant for the fourth time with what they hoped would be a boy, she took her three daughters into sanctuary. Elizabeth was just four years old at the time but she was old enough to remember the situation and the fear that her father may never return.

While in sanctuary, she saw the birth of her baby brother, Edward Plantagenet, who would later become Edward V of England. After that, it didn’t take long for her father to fight his way back into England, depose Henry VI for a second time and reclaim his crown. Elizabeth and her family could come out of sanctuary and their lives could go back to normal. However, Elizabeth of York was no longer the heir presumptive. The birth of her brother led to him becoming the heir apparent and she would be second in line to the throne.

The death of Edward IV led to Elizabeth of York fleeing to sanctuary again.
The death of Edward IV led to Elizabeth of York fleeing to sanctuary again.

The Death of Edward IV of England

It all seemed to go smoothly for the Princess of York. Elizabeth grew up in court and gained the best education possible. She found herself a big sister to more siblings, one of those being another boy, Richard, Duke of Shrewsbury, so she was replaced as second in line to the throne.

It all changed in April 1483. Her father died suddenly and her 12-year-old brother became King of England with her uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester as Regent. Her mother sensed danger again, especially after Edward V was taken to the Tower of London by Richard and Anthony Rivers and Richard Grey, Elizabeth of York’s uncle and half-brother respectively, were taken to Pontefract Castle and executed.

Elizabeth Woodville pulled together everything she could find and took her children to sanctuary in Westminster Abbey again. Elizabeth was now almost 20-years-old and expected to help her mother care for her brother and sisters. She wouldn’t have liked the situation and there were questions as to whether Richard Plantagenet was on their side or not.

It all became clear after he asked for her brother, Richard, to join Edward V in the Tower of London to prepare for the boy king’s coronation. It took a while but Elizabeth Woodville agreed; although historians like Philippa Gregory believe that Elizabeth switched her son with a boy who looked similar to him to protect her youngest boy. Whatever happened, the next step was to make the marriage between Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville void; Elizabeth of York was deemed illegitimate.

In sanctuary and illegitimate, nobody can guess the feelings that the 17-year-old girl was going through. Her brothers went missing, presumed to have been murdered, and her uncle became Richard III. It led to a dangerous decision for her mother, who conspired with Margaret Beaufort to remove Richard and place Margaret’s son, Henry Tudor, on the throne. There was one condition for Elizabeth Woodville and it involved her daughter.

See Elizabeth's Story in Video

Elizabeth of York's mother, Elizabeth Woodville
Elizabeth of York's mother, Elizabeth Woodville

Elizabeth of York Betrothed to Henry VII of England

Elizabeth of York soon found herself betrothed to the possible future King of England. There were some major flaws in the plan, though. First of all, Henry Tudor was a Lancastrian—although this did offer some benefit in the future. Second of all, Henry was in exile in France. He wasn’t allowed back to England, despite Margaret Beaufort trying to convince Edward IV to allow it before his death.

Finally, Henry Tudor was an illegitimate descendent of Edward III. Even if he did somehow take the crown off Richard, there were doubts that the English people would accept him as their monarch. Of course, Henry VII did defeat Richard and did take the crown, but he had many of the same worries. To defeat one of those, he married Elizabeth of York and repealed the bill that voided her mother’s marriage to her father.

Elizabeth of York was now technically the rightful heir to the throne. However, Henry VII had claimed it through battle. Be making her legitimate, he just helped to strengthen his claim. He also stopped the Wars of the Roses because York and Lancaster married; the Tudor Rose was created.

However, it was only after the birth Arthur Tudor that Henry VII allowed the coronation. Whether this was on purpose or for other reasons is unclear. However, Elizabeth did fall pregnant quickly after their marriage, so there may have been a reason for it. Her coronation was held on November 25, the year after the birth of her first son and the heir to the Tudor dynasty.

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