The second in the Great Women series has appeared in The Lady. We had a bit of a grumble about the layout especially as the portrait miniature by Sandy Nightingale was enlarged! But being constructive we sent in a suggested layout for the series to the magazine. Sandi Toksvig likes it too, as does her splendid agent Carol MacArthur, so we wait to see if they thought it was helpful.
Great Women No.2 - Elizabeth Woodville
Elizabeth was born in 1437 to a noble family who were good at most things apart from spelling. Today we write Woodville but in her own time anything from Wydeville to Widvile would have been just fine which suggest a pleasing medieval disinterest in identity theft.
Elizabeth was said to be the most beautiful woman in Britain with ‘heavy-lidded eyes like those of a dragon’ – not a compliment you hear much these days. When she was about 19 she married Sir John Grey of Groby, a Lancastrian, who history books say ‘fell at St. Albans’ in 1461. Many have fallen at St Albans during parky weather but sadly, John was killed in battle and left Elizabeth with two sons. By now Edward IV, a Yorkist, was King of England (hold on tight as we race through some parts of history). As a Lancastrian Elizabeth was on the other side of a dispute over the correct colour for roses that had managed to rage with the Yorkists for about 100 years. Liz, however, was bold. She wanted land for her sons so she went to see King Ed and, after one of those romantic meetings in the woods you normally only get in films, she and the king plighted their troth and married secretly.
It’s fair to say no one was pleased and things got worse when Elizabeth, who I think has been dead long enough for me to get away with calling her greedy and unscrupulous, kept getting the King to give land and money to her relations.Liz and Ed had ten kids of whom the ‘Princes in the Tower,’ Edward V and his brother, Richard, did least well. When Liz’s husband Edward IV died a heady game of numbers followed where, trust me, I can only scratch the surface. Ed V was only twelve so his uncle Richard of Gloucester (the hunchback one in Shakespeare) took the throne as Richard III, imprisoning Ed V and young Richard. Richard III then demanded that Elizabeth also turn over to his custody her daughters so she did. Eventually Richard III was killed by Henry Tudor (Bosworth Field but there isn’t the time). Henry became Henry VII and married Elizabeth’s daughter (also called Elizabeth) who followed in the family business and became queen. The Princes were probably murdered in the tower and Elizabeth Woodville retired to a nunnery where she had plenty of time to consider her failure to win Mother of the Year. She died there in June 1492 aged 55.