Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville

Edward IV, meeting Elizabeth Woodville by John Leech

One of the most romantic true love stories in the history of royal Britain is that of King Edward IV and his Queen Elizabeth Woodville.   Elizabeth was a commoner and widow with two young boys, and five years Edward’s senior.    Her husband had been killed in second Battle of St. Albans, fighting for the side of Lancaster, against the new York King Edward!    The famous tale of their meeting goes that Elizabeth took her two young sons out to an oak tree while the King had been out hunting (and she knew he would pass by).   In fact this tree is still referred to as the Queen’s Oak!    She wanted to ask him for the return of her husband’s lands, and to swear fealty to the new King.

When Edward first saw her, he knew he wanted her.   Elizabeth Woodville was said to be the most beautiful woman in England in her day, and she was also smart and ambitious!   He was single and in need of a queen, but as a commoner Elizabeth should not have been eligible to be more than a mistress, which she refused to ever be.   Yet she had royal blood in her veins, her mother was Jacquetta of Luxembourg, and had formerly been the Duchess of Bedford (before marrying a humble squire named Richard Woodville upon being widowed). 

Defying tradition, and his cousin the Earl of Warwick, Edward married Elizabeth in May of 1464!   When Warwick brought the French princess Bona of Savoy to England to meet Edward, he confessed he was already married to Elizabeth, former Lady Grey!   They had been married in private with only Elizabeth’s mother Jacquetta present!

In June of 1465 Elizabeth Woodville was crowned Queen of England in a lavish ceremony!   Edward wanted the coronation as lavish and beautiful as possible to show the English people his power, after all they had not given them a large royal wedding.   

It must be mentioned that Elizabeth Woodville has always been accused of witchcraft.   Most people argued that the only way the King would marry a commoner was if she literally bewitched him!   Personally I think that if Elizabeth was a witch, Edward not only knew, but encouraged her magic in order to help him win battles and become more powerful.   Her mother Jacquetta was even put on trail for witchcraft, and found not guilty!   There was a long tradition of belief that Jacquetta, and by extension Elizabeth, were decedents for the faerie water goddess Melusine!

Over the years Elizabeth Woodville became the mother of ten royal children.    First came three daughters, the eldest of which was named Elizabeth, for her mother (and would go on to become Queen to Henry Tudor).    Their sons were born later, and would go on to become the famed Princes in the tower.   Their eldest son, Edward, was born amidst the wars resurgence.    

There was a rebellion attempted by Warwick ,as he was no longer in favor with Edward.   During that rebellion Warwick tried to place Edward’s younger brother, George Duke of Clarence, on the throne instead.    Warwick’s older daughter was married to George.    When this failed Warwick went to France to join forces with Margaret of Anjou (wife of Henry VI).   Anne, Warwick’s younger daughter, was married to Margaret’s son to cement the alliance.    Henry VI was briefly put back on the throne.   Then Warwick died in battle, as did Margaret’s son, and Edward got the crown back from Henry VI.   After winning back his throne, Edward had to keep it, and luckily Henry VI died in the Tower.   In fact there are many that believe that he had the old king killed!

The most famous execution of Edward’s reign was in fact one of the strangest royal executions in history.   George, Duke of Clarence, brother of the king had tried to mount another rebellion.   This time he actually plotted to murder both the King and Queen!    As this was an act of high treason Edward had no choice but to order the execution of his own brother.    His one act of leniency was to allow George to choose his form of execution.    This is where the strange part comes in.    George of Clarence chose to be drowned in a cask of malmsey wine!   This is a true story, and if you look at portraits of his daughter, Lady Margaret Pole, she actually wore a bracelet with a charm shaped like a butt of wine in honor of her father!

Another factor to cover is Edward IV’s famous libido.    He had many lovers prior to marriage, and many bastard children.    He loved no one but Elizabeth, but he was sexually voracious and it was no surprise that the King took lovers while Elizabeth was pregnant.    The only lover that ever caused Elizabeth any concern was Jane Shore (whose birth name was actually also Elizabeth, but she was famously known as Jane).    Elizabeth worried Edward actually cared for her.    Edward would reassure Elizabeth that he loved only her, and the others were just for sex.    He certainly never tired of bedding his lovely wife, and it was her who was there holding him when he died in 1483!

Upon the death of Edward IV, his eldest son (then twelve years old), was called for.   Edward left his youngest brother Richard Duke of Gloucester as lord protector.     Of course Edward V never was crowned king, as he was taken from his uncle Anthony Woodville by his other uncle Richard.    Richard had him put in the Tower of London under the guise of preparing for his coronation.   Richard also had Edward’s younger brother Richard Duke of York brought into the Tower to be with him.   During this time Richard declared the boys, and all the children of Elizabeth and Edward IV bastards.   He claimed a previous marriage had taken place between Edward and one of his old mistresses (there is no proof of this having been true).    Richard even went as far as to claim his own mother cheated on his father and that Edward himself had been a bastard!

This is what allowed Richard III to usurp the throne!    He would reign only two short years, but in that time the Princes in the Tower would disappear (likely killed at the request of Richard III).   Richard III would die at the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485, and Henry Tudor would become King!

Henry Tudor would go on to marry Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville!    In this way Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville had blood descendants among all the Tudor and Stuart monarchs!    

I hope that this post made you interested in this highly romantic royal couple!!!

Note: I chose the spelling Woodville, but Elizabeth’s surname has several spellings.   This was common in this era, as there was no standardized spelling in the fifteenth century!    In her own lifetime her name was commonly spelled Wydeville.

Note on Image: The image at the top of this post is Edward IV, meeting Elizabeth Woodville by John Leech.   I found the image on art.com

Further Reading/Watching

  • Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville: A True Romance by Amy License
  • Elizabeth Woodville: A Life by David MacGibbon
  • Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower by David Baldwin
  • Elizabeth: England’s Slandered Queen by Arlene Okerlund
  • The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
  • The White Rose by Jan Westcott
  • The White Queen (2013) ~This television mini-series is based on the Philippa Gregory novel, and is beautifully done!