The Romance of Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York

By Samantha Wilcoxson

Romantic is not a word that is typically applied to Henry Tudor, but there is evidence that he and his Plantagenet bride, Elizabeth of York, had a happy marriage. If you have only envisioned a Henry VII who is miserly, withdrawn, and admittedly determined, I challenge you to open your mind and picture him in private with his beautiful wife.

Elizabeth of York was the oldest child of Edward IV and his scandalous bride, Elizabeth Woodville. Though people do not agree on the extent to which Elizabeth Woodville influenced Edward’s rule, few would say that their marriage wasn’t passionate. Growing up in a large family, Elizabeth of York would have always known that she was loved, even as rebellions against her father sent them into sanctuary.

Henry, on the other hand, had spent much of this time in exile. His few drops of royal blood were enough to make him a Lancastrian focal point, and Edward would not allow him to step foot in England, despite Henry’s mother’s pleading. Without any family besides his uncle Jasper to support him, Henry grew up in an ill-defined, precarious position.

Though their lives before 1485 could not have been more different, Henry and Elizabeth would be tossed together after Henry’s surprising victory at Bosworth made him King Henry VII. A betrothal had been arranged previously, but one must wonder how much hope Elizabeth had placed in Henry ever being capable of claiming his bride.

He did. On January 18, 1486, the couple was married in a stunning ceremony that was carefully designed to draw together any remnant of Lancaster or York rebels. The peace that the couple hoped to instill in England was undoubtedly one of the things that drew them together.

Evidence of their happiness appeared a short 8 months after their marriage when their greatest hope for the future was born. Prince Arthur was likely born prematurely, possibly even conceived on Henry and Elizabeth’s wedding night. The royal couple praised God and asked his blessings on their future as they welcomed this sure signal from God that their union had His favor.

Their faith is another element of Henry and Elizabeth’s relationship that would have drawn them close together. When Henry landed at Mill Bay to begin his conquest of England, he is recorded to have dropped to his knees and quoted Psalm 43, pleading “Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause.” Upon meeting and quickly marrying Henry, Elizabeth would have done so because she saw it as God’s plan for her life and the best hope for her dwindling family.

Henry is one of the few English monarchs noted for their apparent faithfulness. Though some rumors swirl around about Catherine Gordon, the wife of Perkin Warbeck, Henry did not marry her when he had the chance after Elizabeth died. In fact, he never married again, though two of his three sons had predeceased Elizabeth. In the turbulent early sixteenth century, that is a strong sign of devotion and love.

When Henry and Elizabeth had experienced deaths of their children, Elizabeth and Edmund in infancy and Arthur heartbreakingly later, they are known to have found comfort in each other and their faith in God. Arthur’s death is particularly documented. Fifteen years old, heir to the throne, and recently married, his parents had legendary hopes for the future good King Arthur. If his birth had been a sign that their marriage was blessed, what did his untimely death portend?

While Henry and Elizabeth surely experienced the ups and downs of any marriage, the historical evidence suggests that a true love grew between them. When Elizabeth died in childbirth on her 37th birthday in 1503, Henry was crushed and ordered a lavish funeral. It is one of the few public displays that demonstrated the romantic side of Henry VII.

I greatly enjoyed delving into the personalities and relationship of this intriguing couple as I performed research for my book, Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York. Elizabeth may have been a quiet and devoted presence, but she skillfully bridged the gap between the Plantagenet and Tudor dynasties, a feat that Henry may not have been capable of successfully handling on his own. With devotion to her husband, her family, and her faith as a driving force, Elizabeth set aside any future she may have been expecting and took on her role as the first Tudor queen and mother of a new dynasty.


Samantha Wilcoxson is an American writer and history enthusiast. Besides three novels, Samantha has written on a variety of topics as freelance work for global websites. Living with her husband on a small lake in Michigan with three kids, two cats, and two dogs, Samantha has plenty of writing inspiration.Her book ‘Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen’ is available now.


10 thoughts on “The Romance of Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York

  1. I would’t even say rumors swirled around Catherine Gordon, when you look at it during his lifetime their were no rumors. The only person who makes the claim is Francis Bacon, who has a very unfavorable opinion on Henry VII in general. And even he didn’t claim an affair happened, all Bacon claimed was that Catherine Gordon was very attractive and the King noticed. And if that’s the case it’s hard for any person in general not to notice an attractive person (man or woman).
    But very nice article. I think the two compliment each other, I think Henry offered secured to Elizabeth, she experienced two years of utter hell, and Elizabeth offered Henry the chance at a family he had never known before.

  2. Agree with Amazing. The C.Gordon thing is mainly in recent fics that use the narrative that Henry was a terrible husband. They take Bacon’s statement that henry noticed her beauty, and turn it into an affair, to further discredit Henry as a spouse.
    Great article! I agree, their marriage is one of the love strories that came from an arranged marriage.

  3. Very nice article, the story of Elizabeth and Henry together or separately barely has any portrayal in historical fiction and the works that I do know that exist about these two do not treat them very well, there’s a tedious and baseless pattern in fiction that portrays their relationship as a cold one when all evidence suggests otherwise. I can’t wait to see your take on her story! ^^

  4. The rumor is based, I beleive, on a dispatch of The Scottish ambassador in residence. He noted that Katherine Gordon was so often in the King’s company that one”would have thought they were married…”.This was after EOY’s death. No other allusion exists except her accompanying him at cards and helping to nurse him when he was sick.

  5. We Must remember that Elizabeth was looking forward to a royal Portuguese marriage. She was not betrothed to Henry Tudor when he usurped the crown.
    Parliament insisted on the marriage. It was the only way to even marginally justify his claim. His lineal claim was non existent so he switched to a right of conquest claim.
    Elizabeth was basically forced to marry him.
    A wife was supposed to travel with her husband. After all he was trying to keep.her pregnant. Love? Henry had advancing periodontal disease. An ambassador described his teeth as few and those black in later years.
    He was none too handsome and had no knightly accomplishments. He sat out Bosworth, remaining horsed and safe behind his Swiss Pikemen. He shared his mother’s flinty meanness. Putting a good face on things through court historians like Vergil is what I call it. Read “The Winter King”

  6. I don’t believe that any romance existed between Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York. Henry swore to marry Elizabeth because this gained him acceptance with the nobles and supporters of the House of York as well as dissidents, and Lancastrians. His mother and Elizabeth Wydeville had negotiated this match and Henry made a sacred promise to marry her after he took the crown. I doubt Elizabeth had any choice but to do her duty and agree to this marriage, but the relationship that developed between them grew into affection, stability, trust, confidence and devotion. Whatever they felt for each other early in their marriage, they do appear to have become fond of each other fairly quickly and they grew into a strong partnership. It was more married love than romantic love and when Elizabeth died, trying to give her husband a replacement male heir, Henry never married again and he was far more private afterwards as well.

  7. Elizabeth of York did what she was told, hence a ‘happy’marriage. She no choice but to marry Tudor or go to a convent. That’s the way it was then. Marriage was not romantic. That’s a romance writers tale. She bore sons. It was her duty. She was shunted aside in favor if Henry’s mother. It is a fiction that she preferred to spend her time in her garden raising her children. I don’t believe anything romantic about them.

  8. Perhaps this was not a love match..but definitely grew into a love marriage…the strife and uncertainty of the wars of the roses brought these two common ground…affection, loyalty,trust…yes …after all are these not the things love is made of…many a noble marriage was shunted aside when more advantageous options became available…not the case here…

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