Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The White Queen's daughters

Elizabeth Woodville was the commoner who became a queen.  And once she had her crown and her king, she could reasonably expect riches, power and thrones for her own children.  Her boys would inherit the kingdom of England and her girls had a whole continent full of eligible young princes and kings to chose from.  After all, English princesses had married into the courts of Europe for almost four hundred years since the Conquest.  The daughters of the King of England were prizes worth chasing.  But did the ambitions and determination of the first commoner consort turn her queens in waiting into commoners themselves?

Elizabeth Woodville (Rebecca Ferguson) is crowned queen of England in the BBC telling of her story, The White Queen.  Only one of her seven daughters ended up with a crown of her own.

Elizabeth had seven daughters.  Elizabeth, Mary, Cecily, Margaret, Anne, Katherine and Bridget.  Seven girls and their main role, as royal women, was to marry well.  But only one of them wore a crown - in fact, she was the only one who made what could be considered a marriage fit for a king's daughter.  The others married far below what might have been expected on the days of their birth.  In fact, after the final tussle between Edward, York King and the supporters of Henry VI, Lancastrian monarch, in 1471 it was anticipated that just as Elizabeth Woodville had gobbled up all the good marriages in England for her siblings, so she would nab every eligible European prince and princess for her children.

Elizabeth and Edward (Max Irons) liked their own crowns so much they spent a large amount of the most peaceful part of their reign trying to grab European versions for their daughters

Edward had several important husbands lined up for his daughters before his sudden death in 1483.  Perhaps surprisingly, it was his youngest surviving daughters who seemed closest to a crown at the time.  His sixth daughter, Catherine of York, was in line to be Queen of Castile after mum and dad secured an engagement to the only son of the European power couple that was Ferdinand and Isabella.  Juan, Prince of Asturias was just one at the time of the betrothal in 1479.  Catherine was two weeks old.  That makes her possibly the youngest princess ever to be betrothed.  At the age of fourteen days her future was apparently decided - she was to be queen of the combined Spanish kingdoms that were reshaping the whole future of Europe.

Five of the daughters of Elizabeth and Edward IV - Catherine is seen far right in the stained glass

Her big sister, Anne, was to take on the role of consort to another European superpower in the making.  The fourth daughter of Edward and his commoner queen was betrothed to the boy expected to become Holy Roman Emperor. He was Philip, son of Maximilian I of Austria who himself was the son of Frederick III, current emperor.  A direct descendant of Charlemagne and still one of the most powerful men in Europe, the emperor had enough clout to dictate the future of much of the continent.  Anne was five and Philip aged just two when they were betrothed in 1480. 

Edward and Elizabeth chose Philip, son of Maximilian of Austria, as a husband for their fourth daughter, Anne of York.  The European alliance ended with Edward's death in 1483

But at the time of his death, finding titled husbands for his three eldest surviving girls was proving tricky for Edward IV.  As many English kings before him had done, he had opened negotiations with the French king for an alliance between his eldest daughter and the future monarch of France.  Elizabeth of York had been promised in marriage to the dauphin, Charles, in 1475 but Louis XI had called off the wedding just months before Edward's unexpected death.  Instead, Louis planned a marriage with Margaret of Austria - the sister of the boy engaged to Anne of York.

Princess Elizabeth (Freya Movor) in The White Queen - she had come close to being queen of France but King Louis XI had got one over on her father yet again and her potential marriage never happened

Cecily of York, daughter number three, had been promised to several claimants of the Scottish throne but again, 1482 proved to be a decisive year in the marriage plans of the older princesses as Edward stopped paying her dowry in that year and negotiations for her marriage to any of the claimants stopped.  By then, Cecily was the second most important of the girls in the York nursery as her older sister, Mary, had died the month before at the age of fifteen.  At one time, she had been spoken of as a future queen of Denmark but those plans foundered in 1478 when the heir to the Danish throne married a princess from Saxony.  Another daughter, Margaret, had died eight months after her birth in 1472 and the youngest York girl, Bridget, arrived in 1480 but was never mentioned in marriage negotiations.  Her father died when she was two and a half and she ended up spending her life in a convent.

Elizabeth and Cecily of York were princesses without prospective princely marriages when their father died unexpectedly in April 1483

Edward's death in 1483 changed everything for his girls.  Within weeks they went from being daughters of the king and princesses worth courting to illegitimate offpsring of a marriage declared invalid by an uncle who had made himself monarch.  Unsurprisingly, Anne and Catherine both found themselves ditched by their fiancees and on a very dusty, cold shelf with Elizabeth and Cecily in the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey.  In the summer of 1483 the chance of any marriage, let alone a royal one, seemed all but impossible to the daughters of York.

The dauphin of France, Charles, shown after he became Charles VIII in 1483.  His marriage alliance with Princess Elizabeth of York had been called off before her father died and she briefly lost her royal rank

The White Queen, currently showing on BBC One, is about to look at one of the most mysterious periods of English royal history.  In 1484 and early 1485, Richard III was as secure as he would ever be on his throne.  And that was not very but still clinging on.  The death of his wife, Queen Anne, in March 1485 seemed to affect him greatly but rumours were already rife that either Cecily or more likely Elizabeth of York might soon be replacing the former Miss Neville on the consort's throne.  The attraction between uncle and eldest niece was remarked on by some and in the end, the king had to issue a denial of any attraction or bond between them and open negotiations for a suitable marriage for young Elizabeth.  Richard's plan seems to have been to make her queen consort of Portugal but he was too late.  Her mother had already promised her to Henry Tudor and when he invaded England and defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth, Elizabeth of York finally got her crown.  Her white rose would entwine with Henry's red rose to end the wars that had destabilized England for decades.

Elizabeth of York is portrayed in the back row of this famous painting by Remegius.  It was commissioned by her son, Henry VIII, long after her death to show the four founders of what he hoped would be a great dynasty.

Henry Tudor didn't make good on his promise to marry Elizabeth until he was crowned and established as king.  There would be no joint coronation in case anyone thought he was ruling in lieu of a wife whose claim to the throne was just as good, if not better, than his own.  And that concern over the power of his wife's family, and perhaps most of all her mother, may have been why the surviving York girls ended up marrying so comparatively badly.  Henry needed to keep his friends close and his enemies closer and deep down the Woodvilles were still a problem and one that needed containing by making sure the survivors didn't have too much power in their hands.

Did Elizabeth Woodville's ambition lead to her son-in-law making sure her daughters didn't form alliances that could threaten his throne?

Cecily, the one time future queen of the Scots, ended up with a Lancastrian lord called John Welles who was a viscount, the lowest rank of the English aristocracy.  He was also Henry's half uncle - half brother to his power hungry and Woodville hating mother, Margaret Beaufort.  Cecily was wed once Elizabeth was securely married to Henry and had produced a son.  Henry was keeping a York girl in reserve, just in case the first didn't make it to the altar.  She was widowed at the age of thirty and married again, to a man even further down the social ladder.  Cecily, princess of England, ended her life as Mrs Kyme and her children got no claim on her land or money.

 Margaret Beaufort is said to have been fond of Princess Cecily of England - she must have been, there's no way she would have lined her up as a replacement queen consort for her Henry otherwise
Anne, the one time future empress, married a man originally chosen for her by Richard III.  In his reign a marriage was agreed with a certain Thomas Howard.  After Henry VII became king that union went ahead and Princess Anne was wed to a lord, albeit one from an ambitious family on the up.  But the woman who was marked out to rule half a continent in fact died before her husband was elevated - first to the rank of earl and later to duke, on the death of his father.  Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, made this princess of England the wife of a lord but never a duchess.  However, while they were married his sister did have a little girl who she named Anne, possibly after the princess of England.  That Anne did wear a crown - as the second wife of Henry VIII.

Was Anne Boleyn named after the daughter of Edward and Elizabeth who became her aunt by marriage?
Catherine, lined up to be queen of Castile and Aragon, was offered a semi royal marriage by her brother in law, Henry Tudor, who at one point had her bundled up with her mum and an unnamed sister in a mega marriage contract with James III of Scotland and two of his sons.  The King of Scots died before anything could happen and Catherine finally married a man called William Courtenay who was at one point a big favourite of Henry VII but managed to get drawn into a conspiracy against the king and ended up in the Tower.  He was pardoned by Henry VIII and succeeded his father as Earl of Devon for a whole month before dying. Meaning that Princess Catherine of England ended up as a countess for four weeks rather than queen of several Spanish territories for most of her life.

Queen Regnant of Castile, Isabella, was set to marry her only son, Juan, to Princess Catherine of England making the English woman a queen consort.  Isabella's own daughter, Catherine, did get a crown when she became consort of England to Henry VIII
And the future of the princes lined up for marriage to these York princesses was a mixed bag as well.  Juan of Asturias, promised to Catherine,  died before he could become king.  The combined crowns of Castile and Aragon that were meant to come to him went to his sister, Juana, instead.  And she married Philip, the would be emperor lined up for Anne.  In the early 15th century he visited the English court where he made a big impression the new heir to the throne, Henry, daughter of the now dead Elizabeth of York.  Philip had been welcomed there because of his family links to a young woman who was living at court and who would have a huge influence on English history.  He was there to see Juana's sister, Catherine, the princess from Aragon who was the widow of Henry's brother, Arthur, and the woman who would chase Henry into changing England forever.

Mary I, the first queen regnant of England, married the grandson of Philip of Burgundy who early in his life had been engaged to Anne, the great aunt of her father, Henry VIII.

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