Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Elizabeth Woodville: A Queen of the May

Elizabeth Woodville, artist unknown

On May 1, 1464 the beautiful Elizabeth Woodville secretly married the newly crowned Edward IV of England.  Contemporary rumour suggests that Elizabeth managed to bring this wedding about by her calculated refusal of the young king's amorous advances, the same tactic so famously used by Anne Boleyn sixty years later on Elizabeth's grandson, Henry VIII.  Talk about women who managed to change history.

Following her coronation on May 26, 1465, Elizabeth lived an extraordinary life at the centre of medieval England.  Ambitious and intelligent she saw the fall and rise of her family fortunes during the reigns of Richard III and Henry VII; her descendants rule over Great Britian to this day.  A powerful woman, she definitely evoked strong, conflicting feelings and was said to be both a witch and the inspiration for the Queen of Hearts playing card.

I have often come across brief, tantalizing glimpses of Elizabeth in tales of the Tudors and the Plantagenets so I was delighted to find Phillipa Gregory's new novel The White Queen which allowed me to spend a bit more time with this fascinating personage.

This novel manages to deliver a lot of historical fact wrapped up as pure entertainment with liberal doses of romance and mysticism thrown in for good measure.

After thoroughly enjoying Gregory's story, I dug up an old favourite to act as a scholarly companion,  Royal Blood: Richard III and the Mystery of the Princes by Bertram Fields.  Fields, a lawyer by trade, tackles the mystery of Elizabeth's two sons, Edward and Richard who were in line for the throne and disappeared under mysterious circumstances from the Tower of London. 

It's intriguing to get a feel for the political motives and propoganda that have shaped our perception of some major players in history.  Richard III certainly appears to be a much better man than was ever portrayed by Shakespeare, Henry VII and the Duke of Buckingham emerge as suspects and Elizabeth's actions are analyzed for clues.

After 500 years, we will probably never know the full truth of Elizabeth Woodville's life.  She remains an enchanting mystery but maybe that's exactly how it should be for a Queen of the May.

Update September 8, 2013: For more of my musings on Anne Boleyn see Anne Boleyn: The French Connection on Tatiana's Tea Room.

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  1. well, we already have much in common! ... gardens and history. i love philippa gregory's books, and the story behind the white queen captivated my imagination, to say the least! thanks for adding me to your blog list. ~ana

  2. You are most welcome, ana. I think that people that enjoy my blog will also like yours, as you say we have a lot in common :)