The True Love Story Behind The White Queen – Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV

For the one year anniversary special of the podcast, medieval historian and author Gemma Hollman and I discuss the enduring love story between Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV…

Holly: Hello darlings and welcome back to Past Loves, the weekly history podcast that explores affection, infatuation and attachment across time to add a touch of romance to daily life. I’m Holly, your true romantic host, and this is the one year anniversary of the podcast special. Honestly, this is extremely exciting for me that Past Loves is now officially one year old and I would like to thank each and every one of you for supporting me with this project. I started Past Loves in the first lockdown in 2020 and it was an absolute dream to have a project to keep me so busy. But also the time to really invest in something I knew I was going to absolutely love doing. I remember the exact moment that I told my brother – who was the first person I told that I was thinking about doing a podcast about the greatest love stories in history called Past Loves – and his reaction, he just went ‘uh not a bad idea’ and at that moment, although that wasn’t, you know, dripping in enthusiasm, I realised if Joe could have that pretty good reaction, then I just needed to be brave and go for it. 

I really didn’t expect how much pleasure I was going to get from researching the couples, talking with my glorious guests, and connecting with all of you over on my Instagram page @pastlovespodcast. I started to like fizz with excitement again, which was something that I had really been missing and so to be here, one year on, is just wonderful. Looking back over the past year, we have managed to explore some truly wonderful love stories from the depths of the 19th-century Russian countryside with the Chikhachevs to British royalty with Victoria and Albert. We’ve ventured to the heart of the artistic milieu in Paris with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas as guides and has been offered access into the familial archives of some of the finest stately homes in Britain including Harewood House, Castle Howard and Belvoir Castle. From Tudor dynasties to 20th-century ballet stars, truly it has been quite the adventure over the past year and there are still so many stories to explore. For the anniversary special, we are going to delve into a love story that I have wanted to discuss for so long now. Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV. Now I think that it’s hardly surprising, especially because I’m far more comfortable in modern history than I am in the 15th Century, that my first interaction with that story was with the White Queen (which is the BBC adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s novels) which I thoroughly enjoyed. So I wanted to explore the fact behind the fiction and to discuss this with me today is the lovely Gemma Hollman. Gemma is a medieval historian who founded Just History Posts in 2016. She also writes articles for the likes of Stylist magazine, Inside history magazine and BBC History Extra. Her book Royal Witches: From Joan of Navarre To Elizabeth Woodville was published by The History Press in 2019. Royal witches explores the lives of Joan of Navarre, Eleanor Cobham, Jacquetta Woodville and Elizabeth Woodville in the 15th Century, looking at how rumours of witchcraft bought them to their knees in a time when superstition and suspicion were rife. So in essence, she explores how claims of witchcraft were used as a powerful political tool to limit it these women’s influences. It’s an absolutely fascinating book, which looks at witchcraft from an entirely different angle. But Gemma is also really wonderful at adding texture to these women’s lives, outlining the source material that we do have, and exploring the different ways in which it could be interpreted. For our purposes here, she explores the intertwined lives of Elizabeth and Edward, how their relationship blossomed over the years with some fairly significant consequences for Elizabeth, which is where the witchcraft ties in. So it’s quite the interesting narrative that we follow with this couple. Elizabeth and Edward are a fascinating love story set in a warring kingdom which is sure to capture your heart too.

Welcome Gemma and thank you so much for joining me today. 

Gemma: Oh, thank you very much for having me. 

Holly: So I’m very excited because we’re going to talk about quite incredible couple. Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV. But I thought we should start with Elizabeth, because I mean, I’m quite the fan of Elizabeth already. How would you describe her?

Gemma: Oh, that’s an interesting one. I think Elizabeth is a little bit of an enigma in history. She’s one of the sort of very divisive characters of the 15th Century, as quite a lot of the women of that period are, and she seems to be a little bit of love her or hate her kind of person and I think probably the reality lies somewhere in the middle, as is often the case. But she definitely seems to have been a very intelligent woman, a very cultured woman. She sort of inherited a lot of good traits from her mother who was quite a high status lady. So she had all of the right mannerisms that a woman of that period should have. She seems to have been sort of, you know, able to read, and possibly do some writing, possibly knew some languages. So definitely very cultured, intelligent woman and there’s a lot of very positive accounts of her character from her reign from contemporaries who knew her who said that she was beautiful, she was gracious, and, you know, in many ways, was an ideal, perfect queen. But there’s also these more negative aspects of her personality and that of her family that come from the same period and beyond of this idea that they were sort of greedy, social upstarts. They alienated people around them because they just wanted money and power for themselves and they didn’t really care who they hurt within that, and there’s a few sort of more nasty stories related to that that had kind of marred her reputation over the centuries. A lot more negative than I think she probably was in reality, you know, I’m not saying she was a perfect woman. But I think… 

Holly: Who is?

Gemma: Exactly and, you know, I think the sort of positive accounts of her and the way that she was clearly loved by the people of the kingdom far outweigh it and show that she probably was a very nice person, even when you take into account sort of possible propaganda and things, I think the way, it was very clear that she was really well loved, particularly by the people of London, so that she probably was quite a nice person and certainly, in terms of 15th-century standards was viewed as being an ideal woman and an ideal queen.

Holly: Yeah. Now, you mentioned her mother, Jacquetta. Can you explain who her parents were and the scandal behind their marriage? Because that’s quite important, isn’t it?

Gemma: Yeah. So again, Jacquetta – a very interesting woman. She was part of the Luxembourg royal family. She was sort of part of an offshoot, her father owned lots of lands in Northern France. He was Count of various places. But she was related to the French royal family in various ways and you know, lots of other noble families. One of her I think, like her fourth cousin was the Holy Roman Emperor. So you know, she had really powerful ancestry noble blood running through her so she was a very high-born woman, and her first husband was actually a Prince of England. She marries the Duke of Bedford, who was the uncle of Henry VI, and while she was married to him, he was the heir to the throne because Henry VI at the time was a 10 year old boy who wasn’t married, obviously didn’t have any children. So if fate had gone differently, and Henry VI died as a child, Jacquetta could have become Queen of England. So she’s definitely a really high-status woman who is viewed as a good enough person to marry such a man. But after her first husband dies, she very swiftly remarries and this is a really scandalous marriage. She marries a knight called Richard Woodville and he is of a much lower status than her. You know, in terms of the general hierarchy of the country, he was a pretty well to-do man. He was a knight. He had fair bits of land, been a soldier. He’d been a servant of the crown, who had sort of been involved in some vaguely important political events. So he wasn’t like just nobody. But he was he was in terms of the nobility, he was really far down the rungs and, although he would have interacted with the kings and dukes court, he would have been viewed more as an inferior person more of a servant rather than a friend and ally. And so for Jacquetta to marry a man of his status was a huge scandal. There’s accounts of her family back home being really upset about this. It was a big scandal at court. So yeah, it was a really shocking marriage and it was quite an unusual marriage in many ways. So it wasn’t necessarily hugely unusual for mismatched marriages in this period. I mean, her sister-in-law was Eleanor, who was Duchess of Gloucester and Eleanor was the daughter of a knight and she had also married Bedford’s brother, so she’d also married a Prince of England. But a lot of these cases that had happened over the last 100/200 years were of lower-status women marrying higher-status men and that was a lot more acceptable because the children status would be inherited from their father. So they would inherit his higher status, his land, his titles, and in terms of a wife, you know, although you did want status, because you would still get land and noble blood through that marriage of the wife, it was more important for the wife to have her own personal virtues and at the end of the day, anyone could give birth to a child. So although you still wouldn’t have married nobody, marrying a woman of a lower status wasn’t seen as as big a deal. So for Jacquetta as a high-status woman to marry a lower status man was a lot more of a problem, as will be seen later on, in trying to define the status of their children because they would inherit the status of their father, but you couldn’t ignore how noble the mother was. And so they kind of ended up being in a bit of a grey area in between sort of Jacquetta and Richard, and no one was entirely sure sort of how to deal with them. So Elizabeth was born into this environment where she is really a lower status woman a lot lower status than her mother, and it’s only really later things that sort of catapult her back up the social ladder really.

Holly: Yeah and this is all happening in the context of the War of the Roses, which as a context is pretty complex, but if you could just give a brief overview of what this means for the Woodvilles that would be really useful. 

Gemma: Yeah, so the Wars of the Roses are a sort of series of civil war, basically, in England in the 15th Century. And it’s sort of sparked by this rivalry between the two houses of York and Lancaster and so the king at the time was Henry VI who was part of the Lancastrian house, and he had become king when he was nine months old. So there have been years and years and years of sort of regency councils, and he wasn’t really in charge. And then even when he did become king, he doesn’t seem to really have taken the reins strongly like his father had and he relied a lot on the guidance of favourites and the guidance of his wife. But basically, at some point, he suffers a huge mental break, and he sort of becomes catatonic. He doesn’t respond to anybody, you know that he has no awareness of his surroundings. Nobody can talk to him, he won’t speak, he can’t move, he has to be fed and properly looked after. And he’s in this state for sort of over a year and obviously, you know, this is a terrible thing for the King of England to be completely unresponsive. And so a Regency Council is set up, and they try to keep going at him for a while, but eventually they need someone to act as king because there are things happening that only a king can authorise, and there’s no king around to do it and so they end up inviting the Duke of York to be Protector of the Realm, and the Duke of York was descended from Edward III through both of his parents, and many people viewed him as Henry’s heir because Henry didn’t have any children at this point. His wife was pregnant but you know, he was kind of his heir really. And so he’s takes over running the kingdom whilst Henry is in this state, and many see him as a much more competent king than Henry. He does a lot to recoup the royal finances. He helps secure the land in France when they had been losing the wars with France. He helped unite warring nobility that had been in all these petty fights that had been going on. So for many people, they were seeing him as a much more competent ruler and so once Henry VI recovers, there ends up being this rivalry between the two men where Henry undoes a lot of things that Richard York had done. But then at various points, Henry keeps on going back into this state where he is not able to rule and York has to be called back in his Protector. And so eventually, this kind of combination of things means that York’s under suspicion of treason. So Henry’s wife doesn’t like the power that he’s having and this idea that he could disinherit her son. And so you end up having the two sides fighting each other. York decides maybe he could be king, and he would be a better king and then you have Margaret and Henry on the other side, wanting Henry to stay king. And you just have the series of battles, and the country is split in two and people aren’t too sure who to support because they like the idea of York being king and he’s more competent, but also they don’t really want to overthrow a king – that’s  a really serious thing. And so, even though he might not be seen as a good king, he’s still the king and so you have over a decade of fighting between these two people. And eventually York gets recognised as heir to the throne. So he’s placed as regent over Henry. It’s stipulated that he can’t do anything to end Henry’s life. Henry will remain king in name until he dies. But once he dies, York and all of his heirs will become king. So he’s basically got the throne to himself. He ends up dying in battle whilst he’s trying to put down uprisings. Margaret’s using this chance to try and get the throne back just for Henry and his son. But York’s son, Edward doesn’t want to give up his own claim for the throne out, and he finally manages to win this battle and have himself crowned king and Henry is deposed. But it’s not quite that simple and sort of most of the rest of the century there’s still on and off fights between the two sides, trying to bring Henry back or trying to bring Edward back and the crown passes between them several times. So it’s a very messy period.

Holly: But the Woodvilles where Lancastrian is that right?

Gemma: Yes. So Jacquetta, having been married into Lancastrian royal family had been on their side and Richard Woodville had been a loyal servant and soldier for the Lancastrians across many decades, as had his father, and the couple became quite good friends with Henry VI and his wife, Margaret. So they did support them all through the Wars of the Roses and Elizabeth’s first husband actually died in battle, fighting for the Lancastrians. So they were definitely one of the most prominent Lancastrian families in the country and it’s only right at the end, once Edward is proclaimed king very firmly, that they finally move over to the Yorkist side. And that’s only when it’s very clear that it’s the end, you know, there’s no more hope and their choices, either exile and leave the country and have a precarious future or be reconciled to the new regime. So they choose to move over to the Yorkist and then once they’ve moved over, they their loyalty stays there.

Holly: So you mentioned I mean, fair enough with that much, you know, strife happening, you just accept

Gemma: Definitely, yes, you can understand it.

Holly: So you mentioned Elizabeth’s first husband. Can you describe briefly what happened there?

Gemma: Yeah, so Elizabeth was Jacquetta and Richard’s oldest daughter. She was married off around the age of sort of 15/16 years old to a local, not quite landowner, but they’re sort of a vaguely noble family. They were barons, the Grey family. So again, in terms of nobility, reasonably lower down the ladder. They were still titled, you know, they were lords and ladies. They had this baronet. But they’re not really high, they’re not dukes or counts or anything like that. So again, that marriage kind of reflects what Elizabeth’s social status was, at the time that they were really marrying in line with her father’s social status rather than her mother’s. So they were a local family. They were only about a day’s ride away from where the Woodville was lived. So it was very much a kind of local match, build up that power in that area with people that you knew where your land is going to be sort of intertwined with each other. She married when she was a teenager, and she had tow children with her first husband when she was in her late teens. But as mentioned, he does die fighting in the Wars of the Roses and so she is widowed. And she’s quite young when she is widowed, she’s only in her early 20s. And she’s got these two children to look after. So it is quite a precarious position for her to be in in having lost her husband. 

Holly: Yeah, so how had her financial situation particularly been affected, because that’s quite important for what happens later on.

Gemma: Yeah, so when she had married her first husband, he was the only heir to his parents, though his mother held sort of ladyship in her own right. They had numerous manors and lands and a couple of titles and so he was her heir and his father’s heir and then obviously, the two sons that he had with Elizabeth, were then to become his heirs. So when the couple were married, his parents had given them a couple of manors – I think there’s three manors – that was an income of about 100 marks a year, which was a fair amount of money for the time, especially for their social standing. And this was meant to sustain the couple’s so they could sort of, you know, live on their own two feet, rather than having have the parents give them money and it was meant to set up the inheritance for their children. But once the husband has died, this property is meant to stay Elizabeth’s land. It was gifted to the couple and their children. So you know, Elizabeth is meant to be in charge of it until her sons came of age and they could take over, and then she would have had her own portion of it as the widow. But it seems that basically something happened with her mother-in-law, either the mother-in-law didn’t like her, or maybe something happened after they were widowed that sort of coursed them to fall out – it’s not really very clear. But the mother seems to have tried to reclaim these manors that she had given them. She wanted them back for herself and they have this legal battle between the two of them about who’s allowed to keep this land.

Holly: And this fight for inheritance sits at the foundation of the legend around how Elizabeth and Edward met. Could you please tell the story that is kind of put through the ages of their mystical meeting?

Gemma: Yeah, so there’s a really great legend that builds up around Elizabeth Woodville and Edward VI, who she marries, and the legends actually start very soon after they’re married. You know, this isn’t sort of story that appears hundreds of years afterwards. Within a few years of their marriage, people are reporting this and they’re reporting it abroad. There’s Italian chroniclers writing about this beautiful love match between the two and it was really sold as this love story. And the story was that Edward and some of his royal court were nearby to where Elizabeth’s parents lived and he was out hunting, and Elizabeth had heard that the king was in the region. And so she decided she wanted to petition him personally, in this fight with her mother-in-law to try and get the Kings favour and getting to rule in her favour. And so she goes out and stands underneath this tree where she knows that the king’s going to ride past, and she brings her two young sons with her as well. You know, these handsome little boys – golden haired children – and she stands underneath this tree and looks very distressed and Edward rides past and he can’t help but see this beautiful young woman looking so sad, and rides over to her to see what’s wrong. And she explains her situation and he’s immediately charmed by her and immediately falls in love with her, wants to help her. So he helps her get her land and he’s comes back again and again to see her and he decides that he wants to seduce her and make her his mistress. He wants this woman. She’s so beautiful and lovely. But Elizabeth is this really chaste, clever lady, and she won’t stoop to be a mystery. She is a lady of noble birth mother has this grand lineage and so she’s far too good a lady to become someone’s mistress. And she’s constantly rebuffing him whilst he’s making his moves on her. And in one of the versions of the legends, there’s this really dramatic scene where he’s sort of in her house trying to make her sleep with him and she puts this dagger to her wrote and says, you know, I would rather die than sleep with you. Not in like in a harsh way

Holly: I mean it’s kind of questionable romance at this point isn’t it?

Gemma: So not too much into your horrible way but in you know, I won’t stoop to have sex outside of wedlock. I won’t be a mistress and all of this just makes Edward want her even more. In fact, it sort of drives him crazy with passion and the fact that she is rebuffing him in his eyes means that she’s actually a really noble lady, and she is worthy of him because she isn’t giving into him and this just makes him fall in love with her even more. So eventually he persuades her to marry him instead and, again in the story, she says, ‘Oh, you know, I’m far too good to be your mistress. But I’m not good enough to be your wife.’ And this is the kind of conflict, but eventually he does persuade her to marry him and they get married in secret on 1st May which is May Day – a day traditionally associated with love. So again, it’s really romantic wedding, they get married in secret, they consummate their marriage for hours it is said and then he rides back to his royal court and pretends that he was out hunting, and nobody knows they’ve gotten married. And so for the next few months, their marriage is kept a secret and he steals away from the royal court to keep on visiting her. There definitely is very dramatic, romantic story gets passed around very soon after their marriage.

Holly: I mean, however wonderful that story is, do we have any idea of other possible ways that actually they might have come across each other?

Gemma: Yeah, so the two of them probably will have met at some point in their lives. It’s a bit difficult to pinpoint when but Richard Woodville, so Elizabeth’s father, had served under the Duke of York who was Edward’s father. They’d served together in France and in fact, Edward’s mother and Jacquetta, Elizabeth’s mother, had also been out there at the same time. They’d all been together in this big retinue and so certainly, the parents knew each other, and they’d served with each other. And as mentioned, you know, Jacquetta was a lady in waiting at court, Richard was a Knight of the Garter and served in various positions at court. So they were at court at various points during their lives. And so the children probably would have met at some point. But the thing is, even if they did meet, they probably met when they were quite young children, because Elizabeth was actually few years older than Edward. And when she was getting married, to her first husband, Edward was only about 10 years old and once she’d married her first husband, she wouldn’t really have been a court would have been with her new husband in their home together. She wasn’t a really high status lady. So she wouldn’t have been taken part in lots of court festivities and things. So they probably wouldn’t have really known each other that much sort of through their teen years. Again, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t have met, you know, there might have been at court at Christmas time together or things like that. But there would have been some occasions for them to meet, but probably, by the time of them getting married, they probably wouldn’t have met in too many occasions, as Elizabeth wouldn’t really been at court that much. And, you know, Edward was really busy. He had seized the throne and so, he didn’t really have time for lots of parties and meeting lots of ladies at court, and he was busy fighting battles in person trying to keep hold his throne. So he had other things to worry about. So yeah, they certainly would have had chances to meet and their families definitely knew each other, and, and were friendly with each other. So it’s not that it probably would have been their first ever meeting at that time, but it might well have been their first meeting as adults.

The illuminated manuscript Anciennes Chroniques d’Angleterre which depicts the marriage of Elizabeth and Edward

Holly: And does Edwards behaviour marrying Elizabeth in secret suggest anything of the way he might have felt about her?

Gemma: Yeah, I think is telling on two fronts really. I think, on the one hand, it is telling that there was probably some aspect of this romantic story of them were true. You know, I think that there probably were strong feelings between the two of them for him to undertake this marriage. Part of it being in secret shows that he did know that it was possibly not the best marriage for him to be undertaking and that he knew that there would have been a lot of grievances against it, and that people wouldn’t want this to happen. If he knew that everything would be fine and he just loved this woman and wanted to marry her, there’s no reason for it to be kept a secret. And so he clearly did know that it was maybe not the best thing to do, which is why he did it in secret. But the fact that it was in secret, as I said, then in turn means that he probably did care for her and wants to marry her, because he had so many other options that he could have married. And so yeah, I think it does definitely suggest that there was a level of attraction between them. I do, however, still think that there was an aspect of politics to it. One of the arguments has been made, sort of for decades, around their marriage was whether it was the rash actions of a young man who was in love with this beautiful woman and he just had to marry her and didn’t think about the consequences, or whether it was actually really calculated on his behalf. I think it probably was a little bit of both. I do think that there was that attraction there and he wanted to marry specifically Elizabeth. But there were definitely advantages to it. Lots of the downsides have been cited and the fact that he was expected to marry a foreign bride, because that would have bought alliances with different countries to be really powerful for England, especially when England was quite weak after the Civil War. It could have bought lands and inheritance. It could have bought a really huge dowry, which again, was really needed for England, because all of the fighting meant that it ran out of money. So in all of those aspects marrying Elizabeth was terrible because he didn’t get any of that. But, on the plus side, he had seen how unpopular Henry VI’s marriage had been – he had married Margaret of Anjou – and although she was a foreign bride, who was related to the French crown and other royal families, the marriage was really unpopular in England, everybody really didn’t like her. The marriage was unpopular for political reasons because the England actually had to give away land that they owned for the marriage which was really unpopular. They’d been fighting for decades for this land in France that they just gave away on the marriage and she didn’t bring any money with her. So although she was a foreign bride, she still didn’t bring any of those benefits and it really did contribute to a lot of the strife during Henry’s reign, because people were really suspicious that the French crown were trying to steal England’s lands, and they sent this foreign women in to do it. So in that aspect, he was quite clever, not marrying a foreigner. And the other side of it was that she had so many siblings, and only two of them were married, so the majority of them were unmarried. And again, he’s only a few years into his reign, there’s still lots of rebellions from the Lancastrian side, Henry VI and Margaret are just across the boarder waiting for any opportunities to come back and so he really needs to get as much support in the country as he can to keep his hold on the throne. And throughout the previous few years, he had really had this policy of reconciliation, and any Lancastrian who wanted to come back and support him, he welcomed in, including Elizabeth’s own father. So by having all of these Lancastrians bought into the throne in her family, it not only gave him more support, but it meant that he could marry off her siblings to other members of the nobility, and that would bring them closer to the crown. So on that side, it was actually quite clever politically in many ways and I think he probably would have thought about all of that to an extent, because the fact that the marriage was done in secret shows that it was planned to an extent. They didn’t just suddenly elope – ‘by the way, we got married last night’ –  it was done in secret and it was kept secret for a while. So although it might have been rash, and due to love, I still think he would have thought about it. He’s had the council talking to him for years about who he’s going to marry. When he was three years old, it was proposed that he might marry one of the French princesses. So he’s had his whole life knowing that he’s expected to have a good match. And he would have never forgotten that. So I do think that he must have thought to an extent about the politics of the marriage, as well as just the love or lust for Elizabeth.

Holly: Yes, I agree. I think that makes far more sense than just, as you said, eloping. I think maybe we should talk a little bit about who Edward was, because we haven’t really touched on him much as a person yet. So how would you describe Edward?

Gemma: I think Edward’s a really interesting character as well really. He’s sort of grown up in this noble family. As I said, his father’s descended from Edward III and is viewed as an heir to the throne and lives quite luxurious lifestyle in many respects. They’ve got lots of land. They’ve got lots of money. They’ve got lots of titles. So he does have quite a nice upbringing. I mean, the family’s fortunes do change a little bit over time. So his father becomes Lieutenant of Ireland for several years and whilst this is a really prestigious position, he has to use all of his own money for it and it basically makes him almost go broke. And so the family is in quite difficult situation for quite a while, which would have impacted him as well. But he seems to have been quite a cultured man, how far his sort of education went isn’t quite clear. It’s not like he was super bookish. He definitely seems to have had interest in education and the arts, even though he was much more warfare based. But he was a very handsome man. Contemporaries are very clear that he was viewed as a very attractive, handsome man. 

Holly: He was very tall, wasn’t he? 

Gemma: Very tall, very tall. So he’s handsome he’s tall. He’s clearly very charismatic. He’s 22 years old when he marries Elizabeth. He’s about 18 when he becomes king, and although you do have things in his favour of Henry being unpopular, and his father already having paved the way for him to become king, for an 18 year old to overthrow a monarch and become crowned himself, I think shows that he must have been very charismatic and very personable, and people must have really liked him. And so again, that’s sort of always into his favour as to why for Elizabeth, he would be attractive. He’s not just tall and handsome, he’s nice. He’s charming, he’s amusing, got this personality, this pull to him – that’s all very attractive qualities as well. And he is a very successful military commander. He is powerful, he wins so many fights. He is very worldly as well to have been taking part in all of this at such a young age and to have all this responsibility. So he’s definitely a very capable person as well. I think the two of them were quite well matched in many of those respects. They’d both been brought up, taught about the courtly etiquette and how they needed to behave and how they needed to fulfil their roles in an ideal way.

Holly: So how did court react when Edward announced, actually my wife is Elizabeth Woodville?

Gemma: Yeah, so it as much as I thought to talk about the positives of their marriage, it was a big shock at the time and part of that is down to the way that Edward decides to make the announcement. This is a council meeting where his court have been looking at potential wives for him for a little while and there’s a few negotiations going on and there’s talks of marrying a relative of the King of France, the King of Castile offers up his sister, various Dukes in the French region is interested in alliances. So there’s quite a few options there for Edward and these have been pursued for various extents. But they need to kind of know what Edward wants so that they know which alliances to really hone in on. And so they’ve been pressuring him for a little while and there’s this meeting, and they’re really trying to pin him down and pressure him and say, you know, ‘what we’re going to do, who are you going to marry?’ And he sort of just suddenly goes, ‘I can’t marry any of them. I’m already married.’ And you can just imagine what that must have been like, you know, this group of men like ‘Right what are we going to do?’ and then he just sort of goes, ‘oh, sorry, guys, already taken’ 

Holly: Surprise. 

Gemma: So that alone is going to be a shock and then when he reveals who his bride is Elizabeth Woodville, it only adds to that. Again, there’s contemporary records of the reaction of the people in the room and they say, ‘Elizabeth, she might be very beautiful, and she might be very gracious, but she’s not a match to you.’ And that is kind of the view. And it does come back to this question mark over her status. And they even mentioned Jacquetta, ‘even though she’s Jacquetta’s daughter, she’s still not good enough for you.’ And that’s the kind of issue here really, that we touched upon at the start is, is she worthy to marry him because she’s the Jacquetta’s daughter, Jacquetta was good enough to marry a Prince of England and she’s related to all these royal families and has noble blood, or is she not good enough because she’s Richard’s daughter, who is a lowly knight and who has risen up the ranks and has become a very powerful man? He is a Knight of the Garter, which is the most prestigious thing a man can be in the kingdom. But he hasn’t come from noble birth. And so she probably isn’t good enough to marry a king, even despite Jacquetta’s status. It is a huge shock to them and Edwards just kind of blasts through it really, you know, he knows that they’re married, and that there’s nothing that can be said against it. They’re married, the marriage is consummated. There’s no actual reason they can’t get married beyond the social convention and so they can do about it. And so he’s brings her in, and has her presented to court and goes ‘Right, this is it. This is my wife, and you’ve got to deal with it.’ But again, I think it’s one of those things that once the dust settles, I think wasn’t too much of an issue really. I think, again, it’s been kind of been played upon over the centuries, this idea that it was just shocking marriage, and really alienated everyone in the kingdom and it was really terrible. But actually, after that initial shock comes out, and Elizabeth is presented at court. She is as I said, this ideal woman and she behaves exactly how convention is expected and she follows all the protocols to a tee and nobody can criticise her, she is acting perfectly. And when she has a coronation, I would make sure to emphasise lineage on her mother’s side. So her relatives from Luxembourg come over to remind people – ‘look she is related to powerful people.’ And you have these allegories, you have St. Paul is that a sort of representation of St. Paul is there, which is a kind of play on words of Saint-Pol which is the place in France, that grandfather on my mother’s side was count of. So against sort of saying, ‘Look, she is actually quite a noble lady.’ And so I think once the dust settles, and people see that, actually, she’s behaving very well, she’s what we would expect the queen, she does actually have decent lineage and we can marry all of her siblings and get lots of power and get close to the throne, I think kind of dies down a little bit. And you know, that’s not to say that everyone accepted it, certainly lots of people wouldn’t have accepted it, and some of the marriages did cause some problems. But I think overall, once the dust settled, it wasn’t viewed too badly and certainly by the end of his reign, when he dies, there’s no murmurs at all about her social status or anything.

Holly: The political landscape of Edward’s reign really affected how their relationship ended up functioning over the years and there was a particular uprising in 1470 so can you explain what happened there and what it meant for the couple.

Gemma: Yeah so one of the people who was certainly upset with Edward and Elizabeth getting married was Edward’s cousin who was the Earl of Warwick and he’s known in history as ‘The King Maker’ because he’s really the person who has helped Edward become king and maintain his early reign. He does a lot to get money and power and soldiers for Edward. He is sort of running the country in the early years when Edward is busy doing these battles, trying to keep his throne. Warwick’s there actually keeping the country going in the background so Edward really relies heavily on him. But sort of as time goes on and the country calms down a bit, Edward’s able to takeover affairs more for himself and so all these things that Warwick’s been doing, slowly Edward starts doing them and he starts to develop his own style and his own ideas and so he starts to rule things his own way. This starts to come into conflict with Warwick’s ideas. Warwick sort of follows this line of maybe an alliance with France but Edward really doesn’t want that. He’s seen how that’s failed with Henry VI’s reign and he doesn’t really want to repeat that and so he starts to favour other alliances and these alliances are the ones that his Woodville family – you know Elizabeth’s family – are also supporting because through Jacquetta they have their own alliances in Europe and so their wanting to bring those ties closer. And so I think, in Warwick’s eyes, it’s not that Edward is becoming an independent man, it’s that his wife is niggling in his ear and getting things for her family and he’s being pushed aside for the Woodvilles and this does start to create a lot of conflict between Edward and Warwick. So Warwick starts to build up his own alliances within the family with Edward’s brothers, particularly the Duke of Clarence, one of Edward’s younger brother, he becomes quite closely aligned with this and eventually Warwick decides that enough is enough and that if he can’t get his influence through Edward, he’s going to get his influence through Clarence. He’s already made Edward king so maybe he can do it again and so he kind of gets this idea to align himself with the Duke of Clarence and he has his daughter married to the Duke of Clarence and they have their own uprising. Not very clear aims – some have been suggesting that the idea was to you know put Clarence on the throne instead whether that’s more of a goal later on isn’t quite clear. But certainly his aim was to get rid of the Woodvilles so he can have his influence over Edward again. He thinks that if he can get rid of the Woodvilles, he will be powerful again and all will be okay. So yeah he creates this rebellion and he actually manages to capture Edward. So Edward is held as his hostage for several months and during this time he makes his moves against the Woodvilles. So he captures Elizabeth’s father and her brother and he has them executed without any form of legal trial. There’s this sort of show trial but there isn’t a legal valid one and he accuses them of ruling the realm for themselves at the detriment to the realm, they’re causing evil advice to the king and they’re just getting things for themselves and so he has them executed and these accusations come up again against Jacquetta saying that she’s been using witchcraft against the king and queen and against Warwick himself. It’s not really very clear what these accusations are but the kind of hints that she’s possibly trying to hurt Warwick with witchcraft or that she might have even used love magic to make Edward fall in love with Elizabeth and thus get her daughter to become queen. So Jacquetta is in the line of fire as well. Now luckily for Jacquetta she comes out of this unscathed because Edward’s been captured by Warwick for several months now and during this time, the country really falls apart. You know Edward’s been a really strong king. He’s kept the country in line. But as soon as he’s been removed all of these nobles start having fights with each other and all of these quarrels that have been kept in check by the king, he’s not there anymore so they start fighting over land and the country really starts to fall apart. It gets really dangerous for law and order and eventually Warwick realises that he has to let the king go free otherwise everything’s going to be a disaster. So he releases Edward. Edward quickly raises an army and he fixes all of the fighting that’s going on. But obviously all of that has quiet a strain on Elizabeth and Edward’s relationship as well. He mother is in danger, her father and her brother have been killed by her husband’s cousin and, after all this is said and done, Edward tries again to reconcile things and he loves his cousin and he wants to being him back in. So he does reconcile with him and brings him back in, back to court and I just think that it must have been such a tense atmosphere that Jacquetta and Elizabeth had to see this man every day or most days, knowing that he had killed members of his family without really cause. So you can imagine that must have caused strain on their relationship certainly.

Holly: Yeah, especially because Elizabeth had gone through so much anyway being in Westminster Abbey and she didn’t she give birth there as well whilst this was all happening so she had her own traumatic experience regardless of what had happened.

Gemma: Yeah, so not long after Edward bring Warwick back, he sort of stays at court for a couple of months but it’s a very superficial reconciliation and Warwick decides that enough is enough and he can’t actually be reconciled with Edward whilst these Woodvilles are around and so he allies himself with Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI and he helps them reclaim the country so he helps Henry Vi take the throne back and through a series of battles that are unfortunate on Edward’s side, he’s forced to flee the country and, as you say, at this point Elizabeth is left behind. So Edward has fled and you know the old king is coming back with the old queen and so Elizabeth’s in quite a dangerous position. So, as you say, she has to flee to sanctuary in Westminster Abbey to protect herself and her children – she takes her children who had been born by that point already with her, her daughters. She was pregnant already at the time and she gives birth to her first son by Edward in sanctuary. In later times this is great propaganda for the couple because his legitimate heir is born in sanctuary – a really powerful idea of God blessing his kingship. He allows his son to come whilst he was in sanctuary and it’s also really good in Elizabeth is seen suffering with the people of London because the people of London support Edward. They don’t like Margaret and so whilst Elizabeth is in sanctuary, she is seen as suffering with them. People knew that she was there and they could hear her and what was going on and so it’s this really great imagery of this poor, defenceless woman with her children hiding in the church whilst this evil king is on the throne. So in terms of later propaganda it’s great. But, as you say, Edward is out of the country for about a year until he manages to come back and reclaim the throne again. But during that time, Elizabeth had no idea what would happen. For all she knew he was never coming back and so she was either stuck in sanctuary or she would have to hope that Henry and Margaret would let her go free and go to be with Edward abroad. But her future is really uncertain and she is scared for her life. They could easily…they probably wouldn’t kill her but it’s not out of the question that they could view her as a treasonous usurper and sentence her to death. So it’s really terrifying, having that time away from Edward and not knowing what was going on, again definitely would have put a real strain on their relationship and you can kind of see, when he does come back, he has to for protocol, the first thing he has to do is go back and get the crown and be crowned in Westminster. But the very next thing he does once he’s back king, he rushes to sanctuary to see Elizabeth and his children. That’s what he wants to do, to be reunited with his wife and so that’s quite a human tender thing to understand about their relationship as well.

Holly: Yeah it sounds like a very tense few years is an understatement.

Gemma: You’d think being Queen of England would be great but not always what it’s cracked up to be.

Holly: Do you believe they had a happy marriage?

Gemma: I think so. I think the evidence that we’ve got shows that they had 10 children together..10/12…yeah she had 12 children together ten with him. So you know they had 10 children together so they obviously had some form of chemistry going on. They obviously didn’t despise the sight of each other. They do have this happy marriage and there’s this romantic legend of the start of their marriage, how far it’s true or not, I think that there has to be aspects of truth in there. Not only because of how early on, it occurs during their lifetime and not long after they’re married, but you know aspects are embellished for romance or for propaganda, they say that a good lie is based in truth and so I think that some aspects have to have been true even to keep their story straight. As I said they clearly seem to have had a happy marriage together, Edward does seem to have had some mistresses. The extent to how many he had isn’t quite clear. He has this later representation of being a real womaniser and sort of sleeping with any woman in the country. But we don’t really have that many confirmed mistresses of his and many of them are actually named after he’s dead and so even then we’re not sure how many are confirmed. There’s a mention from a contemporary who was at Elizabeth’s funeral that states that an illegitimate daughter of Edward’s was at the funeral so we know that he’s at least had one relationship at one point in time outside of their marriage. But you have to bring in contemporary standards and it’s not to say that people accepted the men having mistresses and the wives didn’t care or weren’t upset – there were many who were upset and didn’t like it – we have no evidence about how Elizabeth felt towards his other relationships. But I think, even though he did have other relationships, it’s very clear that there’s was very strong and it’s very clear that he did love her throughout their marriage. His various wills that he makes at various points throughout his life, when he’s going off to fight in France and isn’t sure if he’ll come back, he puts Elizabeth at the forefront of these wills and he says that he says that she’s ‘our most trusted and more beloved wife’ and throughout various grants throughout their lives, even when they’re newly married, he always refers to her as his ‘most beloved wife’ and I don’t think that’s just for show. I think the fact that he says it consistently throughout the whole of their marriage, I think they really did love each other and have a respectful relationship. You do get surprising glimpses of their domestic life in the records. So there’s an account from a foreign ambassador who is someone who helped Edward whilst he was exiled. He helped him get support from foreign Dukes and get men and money to come back and get his kingdom back and so once Edward has reclaimed his throne, he invites this gentleman back to England to say thank you and he’s this honoured guest of the court. He’s taken around and sort of shown the various palaces and he’s shown Windsor Castle. He comes home and writes about his travel and there’s a really lovely scene that he writes about when their at…I’m pretty sure it’s at Windsor Castle and he’s just talking about the family interacting. He says that Edward’s dancing with his 6 year old daughter and the ladies are playing skittles in another room and they sit together to have dinner and those little hints there that kind of suggest that it was a happy life. They weren’t necessarily trying to put on a show for him. They don’t know that he’s going to write this account that’s going to survive hundreds of years. It’s not that this is a big propaganda moment. It’s just them at home saying thank you for helping us, you’ve reunited this family, look how much we love each other kind of thing. So I think that there are definitely lots of signs that it was a real relationship. Whatever the start, whether it was made for love or lust or for politics or for whatever, I think that that attraction was there from the start and I think it lasted throughout their marriage. 

A presentation miniature from Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers which depicts Edward IV, Elizabeth and their son

Holly: Yeah and actually it’s quite sad that Edward dies relatively young and that leaves Elizabeth in quite an unusual position, particularly when Richard III, one of Edward’s brothers, takes the throne because Richard III really wants to solidify his position so what does he do to make sure that this is the case?  

Gemma: Yeah. Edward’s death is really a surprise. He’d been very fit and healthy up to this point. There’d been no hints of illness or infirmity at all. Christmas had been this really glamorous affair at court. The chroniclers are writing about how glamorous it was. Edward had managed to build up quite a lot of money by this point so they had these grand festivities and he’s got his really luxurious new clothes. All of the chroniclers are saying how fashionable he looks. It was a really like amazing Christmas for them and then by March, suddenly he’s dead and it’s not clear what he dies of. Even the chroniclers say, he just sort of suddenly got sick and died a few years later. So we have absolutely no idea what happened to him. It’s this really sudden death and he was only in his 40s and so, as you say, it was very young especially when he doesn’t have any other illness. Elizabeth is suddenly left a widow with no warning and she’s got all of these young children to look after. Her son by Edward, who’s now the new king, he’s only about 13 years old. So he’s not old enough to become king on his own. She needs to set a regency council to rule for him. But yeah very quickly things start going wrong and Richard he’s…whilst Edward’s son is being called back to London, because he wasn’t in London at the time he was elsewhere in the country, he’s being called back to London to get ready for his coronation and to set up this council and Richard meets him with some men and he seizes the men who are escorting his son who is also called Edward – very helpfully – the child Edward and sort of pledges his allegiance to him. So he was being escorted by some of Elizabeth’s relatives (one of her sons from her first marriage, one of her brothers as well) and he sort of follows this line of the Woodvilles are not what they seem. They’re these evil advisors and we’re your true subjects, we’re here to look after you and the people who have got you at the moment are not looking after you, they’re not out for your best interests. So he sort of seizes him and brings him down to London himself. Ostensibly he maintains that ‘yeah I’m just here to help him. I can help with the regency council and you know I’m Edward’s brother and so it’s my right to help rule whilst his child is young and we’ll prepare for his coronation – that’s fine’ and they even set a date for the coronation. And then, the date comes and goes and there’s still no coronation and Edward’s been put in the Tower of London which isn’t as ominous as it seems. At the time the Tower of London was a royal palace. The Tower of London was traditionally where kings would stay before their coronation but he’s put in the tower and he never comes out again and Richard kind of persuades Elizabeth, who’s become very aware that things aren’t quite right and so she’s fled to sanctuary again in Westminster and she’s bought her children with her and one of the children she brings with her is her second son by Edward, and Richard manages to get the Archbishop of Canterbury to persuade Elizabeth to release her son, her second son, into Richard’s custody because he’s saying ‘well we need to get ready for the coronation and how can he be crowned king when his mother and his brother are in sanctuary – what kind of message does that put across?’ So the Archbishop guarantees the safety of her son and so she reluctantly agrees to let him out of her custody and so he goes to the Tower of London as well and both boys are eventually never seen again and they’re known as the Princes in the Tower – one of the most infamous stories from history and it’s you know widely believed that they were murdered in the Tower at either Richard III’s orders or by someone who was supporting him. As I said, they never come out again. Edward is never crowned and suddenly Richard declares that he’s going to be king instead and he releases this thing with the Parliament called the Titulus Regius and this is basically a statement as to why Richard should be king because really he shouldn’t be king, Richard’s sons should have been king. He’s not in line at all for the throne…well he is but you know, not for quite a few more rungs.

Holly: You’re walking quite a far way from the main bit of the tree at that point.

Gemma: Yeah exactly. And so he has to like justify why he should be king instead of Edward’s sons and really the only way in which he would be king would be if Edward’s sons weren’t alive which at that point they still were or were maintained to be. But even if they were dead, there’s still his daughters to consider. Although England didn’t have a Queen Regnant yet, there’s lots of signs that the country would necessarily have been opposed to having a queen ruling in her own right at this point and so he needs to come up with reasons. So if the reason isn’t that they’re dead, the only other reason would be that they’re not allowed to inherit the throne and the only reason they wouldn’t be allowed to inherit the throne would be if they were illegitimate. So he releases these articles giving all of these reasons as to why Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage was invalid because if their marriage was invalid, then their children wouldn’t be allowed to inherit the throne. So it’s this really interesting document because it’s filled with all these flimsy reason so he lists the fact that their marriage happened in secret without the consent of the Lords and this no reason for their marriage to be invalid. Although tradition kind of dictated that the king should consult his council, it wasn’t law. So just because they got married in secret had no baring on whether their marriage was legal or not. The Church was very keen to enforce marriages in this period and as many men found out when seducing a woman under promises of marrying her, even the promise the marry was in many cases considered reason enough to get married and so just because they did it in secret, there was still a priest there, it was still a legal marriage. Another thing he says is that it was invalid because Edward was actually at the time engaged to another lady and again, under medieval law, if you were engaged to someone it was quite official. It wasn’t like ‘yeah we’ll get married at some point.’ It was a reason that if you were engaged to someone else and then you married someone else without properly breaking off that engagement, it was a reason for it to be invalid. But again it’s quite flimsy, it was something from years and years ago. There’s never any real proof that he was engaged to this woman.

Holly: She’s also dead at this point.

Gemma: Dead at this point. It had never come out at a previous point and for a marriage as long as Edward and Elizabeth’s, with so many children, there would have had to have been an insanely good reason for the Church not to uphold their marriage because at the end of the day, the Church wanted to uphold marriages more than it did to dissolve them and, although they were happy to dissolve marriages for proper reasons, if a couple had been married as long as they had – for 20 odd years if not more – with loads of children, they would much rather keep those children legitimate and keep that long marriage legitimate than say ‘oh yeah at one point he might have proposed to someone else but nothing really happened.’ That wasn’t going to be enough to annul it. And then interestingly for me, another reason that he says that the marriage is invalid is that he says that, as is the common knowledge of the realm, the marriage was only brought about “by Sorcerie and Wichecrafte” of Elizabeth and her mother Jacquetta which is a very interesting thing to slide in there for many reason. This idea that he was bringing back this thing that Warwick had decades before said that Jacquetta had been using witchcraft against the king and queen. He’s bring back this idea. So it shows that the rumours had never quite gone away about Jacquetta’s involvement or potential involvement in witchcraft. He’s also calling upon common knowledge. He doesn’t provide any proof for this. He just says ‘everybody knows this happened’ and he even says in the clause sufficient evidence will be provided at a later date if needed. So he’s not even saying ‘we’ve got proof, we’ll show you’, he’s saying ‘if you really need it, we’ll come up with something at some point but you know everyone knows they did it so whatever’ kind of thing. So again, it’s a very interesting thing to put in there.

Holly: I guess it highlights how precarious life at court was for women and how, as you mention in your book, witchcraft was repeatedly used. How they’re utilising it as a political tool against these women at this point.

Gemma: Yeah definitely. It’s a very interesting period really. It’s sort of a century when ideas about witchcraft and magic are developing and they’re gaining a lot more prominence. People are trying to decide what are witches? What kind of magic can people do? Is there certain types of magic that only certain types of people can do? For quite a while it had been male-focused magic because it was thought that the kind of nefarious magic that could be really dangerous and evil, you had to be very educated to do it. You couldn’t be anybody and access this type of magic. You had to be really intelligent. You had to read lots of books and learn how to do it and the only people in society who were capable of that were men because women were not educated in the same way and so for a long time, it was men associated with evil magic. But, during this century, this idea of emotional magic and love magic starts to develop and this is a lot more easy to centre around women because the idea is that it’s not a really deep, intellectual magic. It’s emotional magic and women are emotional creatures. We know how we women can be and how emotional we are.

Holly: Ah women!

Gemma: We love men and we want to seduce men and so we’ll use magic to do it and get our way. So this idea does start to latch onto these women and the four women that I talk about in my book, you can really see this development. So Joan of Navarre, who’s right at the start of the century, she gets accused in 1419 and she’s accused of evil magic, using magic to try to kill the king and she’s accused indirectly. She’s said to have hired people to do this for her because, as I mentioned, she’s not thought to be capable to have the magic herself. As the century goes on, it’s viewed as a lot more plausible that women are doing love magic. So it’s kind of those reciprocal relationships where changing ideas in society links women to love magic but, because they’ve been accused of love magic, that makes society think that women do love magic. So it kind of just spins round and round. 

Holly: Yeah. So Elizabeth’s position changes, well improves a bit when Richard III is defeated by Henry Tudor and Henry Tudor marries her daughter, also Elizabeth – they like all the same. What was the end of her life like?

Gemma: So the end of her life is a bit of an enigma really. She starts life very quietly being this daughter of this lower knight and this quiet upbringing and then she’s thrust onto this stage when she becomes queen and there’s so much documented about her. But the last few years of her life, she really vanishes from the records. So, as you say, her daughter marries Henry Tudor who becomes Henry VII and once this happens, Elizabeth retires a bit from court. There’s lots of political difficulties around her and her daughter because Henry Tudor, Henry Tudor marries her daughter to reunite the two strands – you know you have the Tudor rose with the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York, this idea of that the two houses are combined and the War of the Roses is over. And although he has some claim in his own right, Elizabeth who he marries actually has very strong claims herself if anything she has stronger claims in many ways. She’s the daughter of Edward IV and, as I said, even though England hadn’t had a queen in their own right by this point, it was only about 70 years until Mary I becomes queen and in some ways this makes things difficult for Henry because his claim is weaker and his claim is based a lot more on conquest, on the fact that he defeated Richard. Some people could see it that he’s ruling through the right of his wife which is obviously very weak for his own power and position. So having Elizabeth hanging around at court kind of reinforces that idea, of reminding people that she was married to the king, her daughter was the daughter of the king so it kind of stirs up some of this. So she’s a bit inconvenient any way and some people have suggested that he ousts her from court, sort of banishes her, pops her away. She retires to Bermondsey Abbey which is near the Tower of London and she has a very quiet retirement and her lands get taken away by Henry and so some people really sort of say that he was trying to get rid of her. She was inconvenient. But I don’t think it’s as simple as that. Although she did have some inconveniences, you know, she was his mother-in-law, he was married to her daughter and when you look at the negative things he does, they’re not actually what they seem. So he took away some of her land but he did that to give it to her daughter. England’s completely broke and he’s got a wife who is a ruling queen and the ruling queen need land and money and so giving her land that belongs to her mother who is the queen dowager which is a situation – you know having two queens in England hadn’t been seen since the start of the century – it’s not quite as bad. It’s not like he’s taking away her land to punish her, he’s taking away her land to support her daughter. But certainly she does have a quiet life. She does retire to this Abbey and pretty much vanishes. But she does stick around in a personal capacity. So she is recorded as being there at the births of her grandchildren, of Elizabeth’s children, so she’s there when Henry VIII is born. She’s his godmother. She is involved in the sort of familial side. So she is around somewhat in a personal capacity but she does disappear pretty much completely from court and from most of the records. And when she dies, her will is quite a sad affair really because she has no lands, she has no money. She’s very few items of her own and so she’s got this really short will where she sort of says ‘I don’t have anything to give to my children apart from my blessings and I hope that God will look after them’ and that’s pretty much all that she says and she asks for a really simple funeral. So she definitely ends life very quietly and sadly in comparison sort of in comparison to how it had been lived and I’m torn as to whether this is something of her choice. She’d had such a tumultuous life and she’d witness pretty much everyone she knew was dead by that point. She’s been queen for all these years but it hasn’t been a nice time as queen. She’s constantly been overthrown or in fear for her life and so part of me thinks, well maybe she just wanted to get out of it all. Her daughter was queen. Her daughter was secure and so she just wanted a quiet life and retire to this nunnery. Or it might have just been that she had nothing else to do and it wasn’t quite her choice but she had nothing else. So it is a sad end and how much of it was of her choosing or not is a bit difficult, but I don’t think it was wholly of her choosing. I think she did long for those days. In her will, she does mention Edward in her will. She wants to be buried next to him and she sort of says ‘that most noble prince of most blessed memory’ – you know along those kinds of words, so kind of invoking his name of like remember those days when it was me and him and you know we ruled everything. 

The five daughters of Edward and Elizabeth depicted at the Royal Window Canterbury Cathedral

Holly: Yeah. What do you see as their legacy as a couple then? 

Gemma: I think they certainly brought a level of romance to the throne. It wasn’t unheard of these vague love matches or at least for royalty to fall in love with their partners. But certainly the circumstance of their marriage and the idea that a king was human too and he could marry for love as well and marry an English woman, definitely set of that legacy changing future monarchs. Although they did still marry for diplomacy, there’s definitely a much more of a love element, certainly with Henry VIII’s there. And their descendants stayed on the throne. Elizabeth II, who is on the throne now, she’s descended from Elizabeth and Edward. So they have the kind of official legacy as well. But I think their story definitely still captures interest today, just look at the popularity of Philippa Gregory’s series, such an interesting and such a tumultuous period and I think people do latch onto the humanity of their relationship. They weren’t perfect, he had mistresses, they were struggling with keeping the kingdom together but at the core of it, they loved each other and they had this nice life, what they could make of it and I think that definitely has this enduring appeal today.

Holly: Absolutely. Well I have thoroughly enjoyed talking about their relationship with you. Thank you so much.

Gemma: Ah thank you very much. It’s been fun to have a little chat about them.                 

Holly: And thank you so much for listening. I really hope you enjoyed this very special anniversary episode all about this incredible love story which has had repercussions through the ages. I thoroughly enjoyed taking a deep dive into the love story between Elizabeth and Edward – honestly I think I have a bit of a soft spot for both of them but I find Elizabeth just endlessly fascinating. Her (and I’m going to use a very x-factor word her but her) journey is so complex and her life just is so rich to explore. I can totally understand why Gemma chose to write her book about her, her mother Jacquetta as well as Joan of Navarre and Eleanor Cobham. Royal Witches: From Joan of Navarre to Elizabeth Woodville was published by The History Press in 2019. I will leave a link in the show notes and a link to Gemma’s blog as well because her work is just wonderful and I highly recommend checking out the book. Her writing is so articulate that all the complexities of the period – and I think we kind of touched on them in this episode – are outlined with ease so that the voices of these women and their stories can finally be heard. 

If you have enjoyed this anniversary special then why not return to some of your favourite episodes in the archive or to any episodes you may have missed along the way – there are plenty more love stories to be whisked away in which I hope you very much enjoy. I would also be very grateful if you could rate, review and subscribe to the podcast wherever you are listening to it now. It means so much to me to hear what you think of the podcast – it really does give me so much joy as you can tell which is why I’ve been doing it for a full year now. You are the reason why this podcast is now one year old!

And then, I would love it if you were to follow me over on Instagram @pastlovespodcast where the conversation continues and then, with all of that, you really really won’t miss a single thing – which is very important if Past Loves has become your current love. Until soon!

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