|Marriage of Henry VII to Elizabeth of York|
At a 500-year remove, in an age that seldom recorded women’s lives, her character remains elusive. It’s hard to separate the flattering and politically aware descriptions ambassadors and contemporaries made about Elizabeth of York from the private woman. While chroniclers were not above obliquely criticizing queens, the most that we can assuredly ascertain from many of their remarks is that she was close to her family and relatively inoffensive — or shrewd enough not to reveal her true feelings. The portrait that comes down to us is, in some ways, the stock portrait of many medieval queens: kind, charitable, selfless, and loving — the ideal queen.
Yet most medieval nobles were not necessarily renowned for being loving and kind. Hugh Trevor-Roper once cynically remarked, “Why must the tomb be prefabricated, the masses prepaid? It is because, in spite of all this lip service to family, nobody really trusted anyone else, not even his sons, once his power over them was gone. In reality the family was not cultivated as such: it was a necessary alliance from which every man hoped individually to profit.” 1
Today many of us believe that the proverbial apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and neither of Elizabeth’s parents hesitated to exercise power. Elizabeth was raised to be a queen, addressed as the dauphine, and, as the eldest, privileged beyond all her other siblings, except maybe her brothers. It pushes credulity to believe that Elizabeth would grow up to be kind and humble despite all childhood indications that she would be as power hungry as her family or contemporaries – unless, of course, something changed.
Elizabeth’s childhood vacillated between privilege and anxiety. Perhaps, after her father’s death, anxiety ultimately overrode what might have been a tendency towards arrogance. (Read more.)Share