Elizabeth Woodville: Edward IV’s controversial queen

Could she have saved her sons from Richard III? Did she mastermind an uprising against Henry VII? How did she react to the death of the princes in the Tower? Did Edward IV marry her for love? Sarah Gristwood unpicks the mysteries surrounding Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s controversial queen

An oil on panel portrait of Elizabeth Woodville

This article was first published in the May 2018 edition of BBC History Magazine

Why did Elizabeth Woodville’s marriage to Edward IV appal so many people?

When, in the autumn of 1464, Edward IV informed his councillors that he had made a secret marriage, his choice of bride – Elizabeth Woodville – went against all the conventions of his day. Kings were supposed to marry in order to cement a foreign alliance – Elizabeth would be the first English queen since the Norman Conquest. Kings were also supposed to marry fellow royalty – Elizabeth was the daughter of a mere knight.

The secrecy of the ceremony was another problem. In the years ahead, the first parliament of Edward IV’s brother, Richard III, would denounce this as an “ungracious pretensed marriage”, having taken place “secretly, without Edition of Banns, in a private chamber, a profane place”.

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