NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Bestselling historian Alison Weir tells the poignant, suspenseful and sometimes tragic story of Elizabeth, eldest daughter of the Yorkist King Edward IV and sister of the Princes in the Tower, a woman whose life was inextricably caught up in the turmoil of the Wars of the Roses and the establishment of the usurping Tudor dynasty. She was the wife of Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII.
Many are familiar with the story of the much-married King Henry VIII of England and the celebrated reign of his daughter, Elizabeth I. But it is often forgotten that the life of the first Tudor queen, Elizabeth of York, Henry’s mother and Elizabeth’s grandmother, spanned one of England’s most dramatic and perilous periods. Now New York Times bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir presents the first modern biography of this extraordinary woman, whose very existence united the realm and ensured the survival of the Plantagenet bloodline.
Her birth was greeted with as much pomp and ceremony as that of a male heir. The first child of King Edward IV, Elizabeth enjoyed all the glittering trappings of royalty. But after the death of her father; the disappearance and probable murder of her brothers—the Princes in the Tower; and the usurpation of the throne by her calculating uncle Richard III, Elizabeth found her world turned upside-down: She and her siblings were declared bastards.
As Richard’s wife, Anne Neville, was dying, there were murmurs that the king sought to marry his niece Elizabeth, knowing that most people believed her to be England’s rightful queen. Weir addresses Elizabeth’s possible role in this and her covert support for Henry Tudor, the exiled pretender who defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth and was crowned Henry VII, first sovereign of the House of Tudor. Elizabeth’s subsequent marriage to Henry united the houses of York and Lancaster and signaled the end of the Wars of the Roses. For centuries historians have asserted that, as queen, she was kept under Henry’s firm grasp, but Weir shows that Elizabeth proved to be a model consort—pious and generous—who enjoyed the confidence of her husband, exerted a tangible and beneficial influence, and was revered by her son, the future King Henry VIII.
Drawing from a rich trove of historical records, Weir gives a long overdue and much-deserved look at this unforgettable princess whose line descends to today’s British monarch—a woman who overcame tragedy and danger to become one of England’s most beloved consorts.
Praise for Elizabeth of York
“Weir tells Elizabeth’s story well. . . . She is a meticulous scholar. . . . Most important, Weir sincerely admires her subject, doing honor to an almost forgotten queen.”—The New York Times Book Review
“In [Alison] Weir’s skillful hands, Elizabeth of York returns to us, full-bodied and three-dimensional. This is a must-read for Tudor fans!”—Historical Novels Review
“This bracing biography reveals a woman of integrity, who . . . helped [her husband] lay strong groundwork for the success of the new Tudor dynasty. As always in a Weir book, the tenor of the times is drawn with great color and authenticity.”—Booklist
“Weir once again demonstrates that she is an outstanding portrayer of the Tudor era, giving us a fully realized biography of a remarkable woman.”—Huntington News
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
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About the Author
Alison Weir is the New York Times bestselling author of several historical biographies, including Mary Boleyn, The Lady in the Tower, Mistress of the Monarchy, Henry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Life of Elizabeth I, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and the novels A Dangerous Inheritance, Captive Queen, The Lady Elizabeth, and Innocent Traitor. She lives in Surrey, England, with her husband.
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Table of Contents
Genealogical Table xvi
Prologue: "Now Take Heed What Love May Do" xxvii
1 "The Most Illustrious Maid of York" 3
2 "Madame la Dauphine" 38
3 "This Act of Usurpation" 70
4 "The Whole Design of This Plot" 92
5 "Her Only Joy and Maker" 119
6 "Purposing a Conquest" 142
7 "Our Bridal Torch" 162
8 "In Blest Wedlock" 188
9 "Offspring of the Race of Kings" 223
10 "Damnable Conspiracies" 245
11 "Bright Elizabeth" 260
12 "Elysabeth Ye Quene" 272
13 "Unbounded Love" 287
14 "Doubtful Drops of Royal Blood" 322
15 "The Spanish Infanta" 358
16 "Enduring Evil Things" 383
17 "The Hand of God" 407
18 "Here Lieth the Fresh Flower of Plantagenet" 430
19 "As Long as the World Shall Endure" 446
Appendix I Portraiture 459
Appendix II Elizabeth of York's Ladies and Gentlewomen 471
Select Bibliography 477
Notes and References 503
Reading Group Guide
A Conversation with Alison Weir
Random House Reader’s Circle: What inspired you to write Elizabeth of York?
Alison Weir: I have always been interested in women’s histories, especially those of queens, and in the 1970s I did a lot of research on medieval queens and Elizabeth of York. I’m hoping to write three books on the medieval queens, but I felt that Elizabeth deserved a full biography. Over the years many people urged me to write one, but after Sarah Gristwood included Elizabeth in her wonderful book Blood Sisters, about the women who helped shape the Wars of the Roses, I held off. Sarah, most generously, encouraged me to go ahead with the project.
RHRC: What was the hardest part of writing this particular book?
AW: Frustration at gaps in the sources. Sometimes it is just not possible even to speculate. That is the nature of medieval biographies, particularly of women.
RHRC: Do you have a specific writing style?
AW: No, I just do what I do and hope for the best! I think that each book is an improvement on the last in terms of writing style.
RHRC: How did you come up with the title?
AW: The title, Elizabeth of York, was the obvious one; I wanted the subtitle, A Tudor Queen and her World, to sum up the essence of the book.
RHRC: Do you think that historians bring to their work something of their own perceptions and moral codes?
AW: Perhaps, but I think it is important to be as objective as possible, and to look at the subject within the context and moral compass of the age in which they lived. I have been accused, for example, of calling Katherine Howard promiscuous, because she took lovers before and after her marriage to Henry VIII; in modern terms that probably doesn’t make her so, but people in Tudor England certainly made such a judgment. It is tempting to judge historical figures by our own standards, but it should be resisted.
RHRC: What books have influenced your life most?
AW: Possibly the Bible, The Complete Peerage, and Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots. Reading that as a teenager, I decided that I wanted to write historical biographies.
RHRC: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
AW: Sarah Gristwood, who has kindly read over the manuscripts of my recent books and offered valuable and constructive comments.
RHRC: What book are you reading now?
AW: Norah Lofts’ Is There Anybody There? She is my all-time favorite author.
RHRC: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
AW: Yes, several, notably Chris Laoutaris, whose new biography, Shakespeare and the Countess, has fully fired my imagination!
RHRC: What are your current projects?
AW: I am writing a biography of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, called The Princess of Scotland; I am completely revising my book The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1991), as I want to update it. I am also planning several novels and a series of books on England’s medieval queens.
RHRC: Can you share a little of The Princess of Scotland with us?
AW: Here’s a tiny taste of this work in progress:
“While the eyes of the world had been focused on Anne Boleyn’s fall, Margaret Douglas, now twenty, had been living in her fool’s paradise with Thomas Howard. For a woman of royal blood to indulge in a clandestine romance was to court scandal and disaster—as the world had just so spectacularly witnessed. Margaret was second in line to the throne, and a valuable counter in the intricate game of diplomacy and power politics; her marriage was in the king’s gift, to be made to his advantage. It was not for her to choose the man she would wed. All the same, when the court moved to Whitehall Palace on June 7, 1536 for the opening of Parliament, she dared to enter into a betrothal, or pre-contract, with Thomas Howard ‘in the presence of witnesses.’ ”
RHRC: Do you see writing as a career?
AW: Yes, absolutely—and a full-time one.
RHRC: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
AW: Getting started. The first paragraph is crucial. Once I have that, I’m away!
RHRC: Do you have to travel much in the process of writing a book?
AW: I visit the important sites of historical interest. It’s very important to immerse yourself in the environment in which events took place.
RHRC: Did you learn anything surprising from writing Elizabeth of York? If so, what was it?
AW: When researching a subject in depth, you always learn a lot about them, even if you thought you were conversant with them beforehand. You never know what the sources will reveal or how they enable you to achieve new perspectives. In researching this book I discovered a link in the royal accounts that literally made my jaw drop. It connected Elizabeth of York with Sir James Tyrell, the man who apparently confessed to murdering her brothers, the Princes in the Tower. No one had made the connection before.
RHRC: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in the book?
AW: Not a thing.
RHRC: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
AW: A huge and heartfelt thank-you for buying and reading my books, and for all the lovely messages and letters that you send me.
1. How important was Elizabeth of York dynastically?
2. Why was the fate of Elizabeth’s brothers, the Princes in the Tower, pivotal to her future? What do you think became of them?
3. Do you think that the Buck letter was genuine? What were Elizabeth’s motives in writing it?
4. How far do you believe that the ballad “The Song of Lady Bessy” portrays real events?
5. What do you think was the significance of Elizabeth’s visit to the Tower in May 1502? Was it connected with Tyrell’s confession?
6. Would you agree that the author has succeeded in discounting assertions that Elizabeth lived under subjugation to Henry VII? Was she a more influential queen than has hitherto been assumed?
7. How much influence did Elizabeth have on her son, Henry VIII? Did her early death have lasting consequences for him?
8. Were you convinced by the theory that Elizabeth died as a result of iron deficiency anaemia rather than puerperal fever?
9. Would you agree that Elizabeth’s relationship with Margaret Beaufort was probably much as it is described in this book? Why do you think Margaret Beaufort is often portrayed as a sinister character? Is there any historical foundation for that?
10. Are you convinced by the author’s assessment of Elizabeth’s character? Did you think she was, as one reviewer suggested, “dull”?
11. Did anything you read about Elizabeth, or the events that took place during her lifetime, surprise you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Alison Weir is a phenomenal author. In Elizabeth of York she provides a stunning image of the life and times of the title character. The book is very well researched and very well written. A top notch book from beginning to end.
One of Alison Weir's best! Well researched. Very detailed. Ms. Weir includes listing how much Elizabeth spent each day in her account books. It is interesting to see how much servants and tradesmen were paid and she translates it into todays value. She gives such beautiful descriptions of clothing, churches and palaces. You feel as if you are there seeing it with your own eyes! I learned a lot as she put a lot into her research for this book. I have a much better feel for this part of English History and Royalty. This book is very enjoyable and well worth the effort!
I was very impressed with Elizabeth of York: a Tudor Queen and her World. It seemed to be expertly researched. The writing was very good. I found the book to be thoroughly interesting. Highly recommended.
Truly brings Elizabeth to life.
This book isn't much of a narrative of Elizabeth. It lists about the time and people rather than a story. Interesting facts, but difficult to read.
Honestly, it's really hard for me to give this an accurate rating. I think I saw this book, the topic, and the author and said yes....without really reading the description. Why does this matter? I'm not big into nonfiction. I love this time period, but a book presented in this manner just doesn't hold the same appeal. However, I fought my way through this. It honestly was work for me, but I did it! There's a lot of information here. It seems a lot of it comes from speculation as there is very little documented information out there to accurately portray how Elizabeth might have felt about anything. We know the events and the politics and we know that Elizabeth was at the basis of a lot of things. But, we will never truly know how she reacted to any of it. When you put it all in this format, I found Elizabeth's life to be breathtaking. She endured some much over life span. From her fathers death, her uncle taking over the crown, the high likelihood of her brothers being murdered, the death of a child, and her own illness, you would think one person could not overcomes so much in one lifetime. I'll be the first to admit this was struggle but I'm glad I finished it!
Far more engrossing than any soap opera ever conceived, the battle for the throne of England is such a twisted maze of gamesmanship, marriage, passions and power grabs that provide endless intrigue and information to fuel imaginations. Elizabeth is a little lost among her more colorful relations, with her father Edward IV being embroiled in the War of the Roses, her mother and grandmother thought to be practicing witchcraft, her uncle Richard III, thought to be responsible for her brothers’ deaths and even her flamboyant son Henry VIII, best known for his profligate ways and trail of dead and beheaded wives. Although quietly outlasting her more flamboyant and notable relatives, she also has been said to have been the model for the Queen of Hearts in early decks of cards, some lasting legacy. Despite Weir’s extensive research and utilization of the few personal remains of Elizabeth’s life, she doesn’t make wild leaps into defining her intentions or thought processes, preferring to give up options for potential action while understanding the forces at work. Meticulous detail including inserts of personal correspondence, fashion and even mixing in the better known information available to all, a picture of this queen who was lost amid the squalling of her more flamboyant contemporaries begins to appear. Readers are treated to a scholarly work that utilizes the sense and feel of the time to inform. Truly a treat of a read, if weighted with detail and drier historical tidbits, especially for those who are fans of the 15th century games of musical chairs played for the throne. While personally I would have enjoyed a more flowing account that had the feel of a story and not a textbook, details are so well presented as to provide fuel and food for imagination, and I can delve back into my historical fictions having a better sense of the treachery surrounding the throne of England. I received an eGalley copy from the publisher via Edelweiss, for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
I enjoyed this book. I don't normally read biography, but I found it educational and interesting. I find the entire Tudor era interesting actually.
Not sure I will finish it. Reads like a newspaper article instead of a novel. Dry and boring.
Alison Weir is my very favorite historian and I'd recommend any of her books, both biographies and her historical fiction.
This is the first book of Alison Weir that I read; I can understand why she is a very popular writer. I felt at times I was being teleported into Tudor times. What makes this book interesting are its descriptions of the historical period in which Elizabeth of York lived. However, Elizabeth of York herself is not that interesting as a historical person. Elizabeth of York was the mother of Henry VIII and grandmother of Elizabeth I. If women could have ruled at the time she would have been a ruling Queen. However, because of the times it was Henry the VII ,her husband, who had the political power. Much about Elizabeth of York remains unknown; Alison Weir needs to do a lot of speculation about what Elizabeth of York was actually like and what she thought. I think some people in the US will find the parts of the book hard because they don't understand the War of the Roses. I had to Google the subject and here is a very simplistic summary of the war. The Wars of the Roses were named after the heraldic badges of the two combatants: the white rose of York and the red rose of Lancaster. They were a dynastic struggle between rival Plantagenet factions which lasted many years. Some historians think the war ended under Elizabeth of York’s father Edward the VII. However, most historians think that it ended with Henry VII assumed the throne who was from the house of Lancaster. The significance of the marriage Henry VII and Elizabeth of York is that it united the house of Lancaster and York. With the marriage of the heirs of the House of Lancaster and York, the monarchy becomes united. (This is a very simplistic view of history). The parts in the book Elizabeth of York which describe the rule of Henry VII are quiet interesting and vivid. Henry the VII had to face some serious challenges to the throne. Ms. Weir writes in great depth about the court life in England from the time of Edward the VII to Henry VII. I was amazed about how much of court life we can know about from this period. The parts of the book that are about Elizabeth of York’s sons Arthur (who dies young) and Henry the VIII I also very well written. However, much about Elizabeth of York herself remains unknown. Alison Weir thesis is that she was a good, pious and popular Queen who softened many of Henry VII’s rough spots. However, sadly, good, pious but nonpolitical queens do not make for interesting reading. For me for royalty to be interesting they either had a) political and/or historical impact b) they had somewhat scandalous lives (I admit it). So if you want to read about a historical period, you might like Elizabeth of York. However, Alison Weir failed to convince me that she herself was an important and/or interesting historical figure. Book provider by Netgalley for an honest review.
Well written & interesting....just slow moving. I ended up skipping chapters and then going back to read them later.
Haunting visual & emotional gift from writer Alison Weir. Historical respect and character development without fictionalizing. Loved this book, Anne
The book is very informative about the life styles of the royalty and, because of lack of medical knowledge, the frailty of life in those days. However I found the book to be too pedantic.
A very well done book. Detail abounds and some may not have the patience to follow her very complete look at this very important person in history.