Elizabeth of York: a Tudor of rare talent

Elizabeth of York was the eldest daughter of the Yorkist king Edward IV, sister of the princes in the Tower, and niece of Richard III. Her marriage to Henry VII was hugely popular, for the union of the white rose of York and the red rose of Lancaster was seen as bringing peace after years of dynastic war. She may not have sought the limelight as much as some of her contemporaries, but Henry VIII's mother was a Tudor of rare talent, says Alison Weir

Elizabeth of York has been overshadowed by more vigorous, proactive queens – unfairly so, in the eyes of Alison Weir. (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

In a richly illuminated manuscript, the Vaux Passional, in the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, there is an illumination showing the presentation of a book to Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch. Behind the throne can be seen an empty black-draped bed, and kneeling beside it is a boy in a green tunic, his red-haired head buried in his arms. Almost certainly this image portrays the young Henry VIII weeping for his mother, Elizabeth of York, who died in 1503 when he was 11.

This illustration suggests that Henry’s closeness to his mother was well known. We have his own testimony to his grief at her loss: four years later, in a letter about the untimely demise of Philip I of Castile – whom Henry had grown to admire when the two met in England in 1506 – the young prince wrote: “Never since the death of my dearest mother hath there come to me more hateful intelligence. It seemed to tear open the wound to which time had brought insensibility.”

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