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 If you have only envisioned a Henry VII who is miserly, withdrawn, and admittedly determined, I challenge you to open your mind and picture him in private with his beautiful wife.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.