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Monday, January 18, 2016

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York

de bene esse: literally, of well-being, morally acceptable but subject to future validation or exception

Today is Elizabeth of York and Henry VII's 530th wedding anniversary. Their marriage united the houses of York and Lancaster after thirty years of conflict, and set the stage for Renaissance and modern England. Contemporary reports suggest that the two built a strong and loving relationship, and Henry mourned deeply at Elizabeth's death after seventeen years of marriage. Their children included a king and two queens – of England, Scotland and France.

In The White Princess I wanted to show the possible complexity and difficulties of an arranged marriage between conqueror and conquered which grew into love. I represented Elizabeth as a supporter (and lover) of the defeated Richard III, making the ground for a relationship with her new king particularly shaky. Nevertheless, in history and my novel, they built a new royal family, and a new England, on the remains of the past. Here Elizabeth talks to her mother Elizabeth Woodville on the day of the wedding:
‘I have lost the man I love,’ I say bitterly. ‘And this very day I am to marry the man who killed him. I don’t think I will ever walk to where I want to be. I don’t think that place exists in England any more, I don’t think that place exists in this world any more.’

She could almost laugh aloud in her easy confidence. ‘Of course you think that now! Today you are to marry a man that you despise; but who knows what will happen tomorrow? I can’t foretell the future. You were born at the very heart of troubled times. Now you will marry one king, and perhaps you will see him challenged, and perhaps you will see him fall. Perhaps you will see Henry go down in the mud and die under the hooves of a traitor army. How can I know? No-one can. But one thing I do know: today you can marry him and become Queen of England. You can make peace where he has made war. You can protect your friends and family and put a York boy on the throne. So go to your wedding with a smile.’

Philippa Gregory

Image: The effigies of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York on their tomb in Westminster Abbey. via Wikimedia Commons.

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