For this week’s Femme Fatale Friday here at White Rose of Avalon I have chosen to look as the negative rumors spread about Elizabeth Woodville! I have spoken about her love story with her King Edward IV before. Earlier this week I wrote a comparison between her and Guinevere. Given that the 22nd is the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth Field, usually given to be the official end of the Wars of the Roses, it seemed appropriate to choose a femme fatale from this era!
Today’s post will in particular focus on Elizabeth Woodville as a manipulative vixen. Manipulation, and being a vixen (or harlot) is something Elizabeth was often accused of during her time as a queen of England! This was especially true early on, as in her later years she finally began gaining respect. Elizabeth Woodville caught the attention of the new York King Edward IV in 1464. At the time Elizabeth was a young widow (and former supporter of Lancaster) and she was trying to regain her husband’s lands for their two young sons.
When it comes to their legendary meeting, it is almost like a fairytale, with Elizabeth standing beneath an oak tree with her sons awaiting the king’s hunting party. At this point Edward was so taken with her beauty that he knew he must bed her. She famously rejected his advances, not wanting to be a simple mistress. Legend has it she went so far as to threaten to cut her own throat with his dagger, and that showed her dignity and self respect. She was obviously not a woman to be taken as merely a lover! This would lead to Edward IV asking for her hand in marriage. They married secretly in May of 1464 with only the chaplain and Jacquetta Woodville present as a witness. Beyond all reason (in the eyes of the royals and nobles of house York) Edward did not set aside this secret wedding when a French princess sent for by Warwick arrived at court. Edward made a proclamation to his court that he could not marry a French princess, as he had already married a woman of his choosing!
It is at this point that the members of Edward’s court began to question Elizabeth’s virtue. Rumors were spread that she had bewitched the king using black magic, and these were amplified by the fact that her mother’s bloodline was said to be descended from the faerie Melusine! The Earl of Warwick would go so far as to put Elizabeth’s mother Jacquetta Woodville, Duchess of Bedford, on trial for witchcraft! The duchess was found not guilty in the trial, but it was a further black mark on the Woodville name.
The manipulation of the Woodville’s in the time Elizabeth as queen of England was much talked about. The family was seen as upstarts in the court, even though Jacquetta was of noble birth. The fact was that Jacquetta had married a humble squire after the death of her first husband, the Duke of Bedford. This caused a great scandal, and the children were seen as commoners due to their father’s status as a commoner.
Elizabeth arranged good marriages for all of her siblings to the most elite of York allies and nobles. The act of making these marriage alliances had Elizabeth looked at as a manipulative vixen to many in the court, especially the Earl of Warwick and his family. It did not matter that making good marriage alliances for relatives of the crown was common practice, with the Woodvilles already maligned this looked very suspect. All of these things would continue to make some of the nobles dislike the queen.
In time Warwick would try to place George, Duke of Clarence, (the king’s brother) on the throne in place of Edward, who refused to be controlled by Warwick. Warwick had already married his elder daughter off to George without the king’s permission, and this was a huge slight to a king! An uprising with Warwick and Clarence teaming up with Margaret of Anjou (the queen of former Lancastrian King Henry VI). Much of this can be seen as a direct result of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth! This union had marked the first time that Edward’s goals were not in line with Warwick’s, and this began a breakdown between the two.
After the death of Warwick and Henry VI (finally quashing the Wars of the Roses until the death of Edward IV twelve years later), Clarence and his wife became more and more paranoid of Elizabeth. He would even go so far as to plot the deaths of both his brother, the king and the queen! As this was high treason, he would be executed for his crimes. The story of his execution is a famous one, as Edward allowed his brother a choice of method of execution, and Clarence chose to be drowned in a cask of malmsey wine!
Elizabeth was at the center of much of the court intrigue during her reign as queen. She is often accused of plotting the downfall of her enemies, and certainly was often plotted against. This view of her as a vixen, and enchantress who manipulated her husband to gain power in court ignores a lot of the good she did. She was a patron of Queen’s College, and was a committed mother! At the end of the day this queen was ruling with her husband, who defied convention to marry for love, at a time of great change. Anyone who defies societal norms is likely to be hated by contemporaries!
I hope you have enjoyed this post on the perception of Elizabeth Woodville as a manipulative vixen. Thank you for joining me for Femme Fatale Friday, here at White Rose of Avalon! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note: I am going on my honeymoon, so I will be on a brief hiatus from writing here at White Rose of Avalon from tomorrow August 21, 2021 until September 1, 2021. Therefore, I will see you for another Femme Fatale Friday in two weeks.
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is a painting of Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV. I found the image on dragonattheendoftime.com.
- Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower by David Baldwin
- Elizabeth: England’s Slandered Queen by Arlene Okerlund
- Elizabeth Woodville: A Life by David MacGibbon
- Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: A True Romance by Amy Licence
- The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
- The White Queen (2013) ~These last two are fictional interpretations of her life!