Elizabeth Woodville (c. 1437 – 8 June 1492) was Queen consort of England, as the spouse of King Edward IV from 1464 until his death in 1483.
At the time of her birth, her family was of middle rank in the English social hierarchy.
Marriage and Children
Elizabeth's first marriage was to a minor supporter of the House of Lancaster, Sir John Grey of Groby. He died at the Second Battle of St Albans, leaving Elizabeth a widowed mother of two sons.
Her second marriage to Edward IV was of the day, thanks to Elizabeth's great beauty and lack of great estates. Edward was the first king of England since the Norman Conquest to marry one of his subjects, and Elizabeth was the first such consort to be crowned queen. Her marriage greatly enriched her siblings and children, but their advancement incurred the hostility of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, 'The Kingmaker', and his various alliances with the most senior figures in the increasingly divided royal family. This hostility turned into open discord between King Edward and Warwick, leading to a battle of wills that finally resulted in Warwick switching allegiance to the Lancastrian cause, and to the execution of Elizabeth's father Richard Woodville in 1469.
Edward IV had many mistresses, the best known of them being Jane Shore, and he did not have a reputation for fidelity. His marriage to the widowed Elizabeth Woodville took place secretly and, though the date is not known, it is traditionally said to have taken place at her family home in Northamptonshire on 1 May 1464. Only the bride's mother and two ladies were in attendance. Edward married her just over three years after he had assumed the English throne in the wake of his overwhelming victory over the Lancastrians, at the Battle of Towton, which resulted in the displacement of King Henry VI. Elizabeth Woodville was crowned queen on 26 May 1465, the Sunday after Ascension Day.
Elizabeth sought sanctuary in Westminster Abbey, where she gave birth to a son, Edward (later King Edward V of England). Her marriage to Edward IV produced a total of ten children, including another son, Richard, Duke of York, who would later join his brother as one of the Princes in the Tower. Five daughters also lived to adulthood.
Following Edward IV's sudden death, possibly from pneumonia, in April 1483, Elizabeth Woodville became queen dowager. Her young son, Edward V, became king, with his uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, acting as Lord Protector. Now referred to as Dame Elizabeth Grey, she and the Duke of Buckingham (a former close ally of Richard III and now probably seeking the throne for himself) now allied themselves with Lady Margaret Stanley (née Beaufort) and espoused the cause of Margaret's son Henry Tudor, a great-great-great-grandson of King Edward III, the closest male heir of the Lancastrian claim to the throne with any degree of validity. To strengthen his claim and unite the two feuding noble houses, Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort agreed that the latter's son should marry the former's eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, who upon the death of her brothers became the heiress of the House of York.
Retirement and Death
Dowager Queen Elizabeth spent the last five years of her life living at Bermondsey Abbey, to which she retired on 12 February 1487.
Elizabeth was treated with the respect due to a dowager queen. She lived a regal life on a pension of £400 and received small gifts from Henry VII. She was present at the birth of her granddaughter Margaret at Westminster Palace in November 1489 and at the birth of her grandson, the future Henry VIII, at Greenwich Palace in June 1491. Her daughter Elizabeth of York visited her on occasion at Bermondsey, although another one of her other daughters, Cecily of York, visited her more often.
Henry VII briefly contemplated marrying his mother-in-law to King James III of Scotland, when James III's wife, Margaret of Denmark, died in 1486. However James III was killed in battle in 1488.
Elizabeth died at Bermondsey Abbey, on 8 June 1492. With the exception of the Queen, who was awaiting the birth of her fourth child.