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February 11, 1503 – Death of Elizabeth of York

Elizabeth of York, by an unknown artist (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)
Elizabeth of York, by an unknown artist (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Elizabeth of York was an amazing woman. Eldest child of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, she married Henry VII after he defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. By all accounts, the marriage was a successful one. Not just on a political level (the union of the White Rose of York with the Red Rose of Lancaster ended the War of the Roses that had plagued England for too long), but on a personal one as well (it is said that Henry VII took no mistresses during his marriage – rare and admirable restraint for a king). She certainly was well-beloved by the English people, and when news of her death from childbed fever spread through the land, “the utmost sorrow was manifested among all ranks of her subjects.”

Sir Thomas More wrote an elegy for her. It starts by highlighting the folly of the astrologers who had predicted that all sorts of good fortune would befall Elizabeth in 1503 (!) then goes on to mention the people she left behind – all in careful order of protocol. After the King her husband is named (and gets two stanzas!), then comes her daughter Margaret (she had been married by proxy to James VI so she was technically Queen of Scotland though she hadn’t yet left the country); then her mother-in-law Margaret Beaufort; then Catherine of Aragon as widow to her oldest son Prince Arthur (!); then her son Henry, the new heir; then her daughter Mary and the newborn Katherine to whom she had just given birth (and who would follow her into death a few weeks later); then her sisters (first the three who remained at court, then the youngest, Bridget, who had taken the vows of a nun); and finally everyone else.

Yet was I lately promised otherwise,

This year to live in weal and in delight;

Lo! To what cometh all thy blandishing promise,

O false astrology and divinitrice,

Of God’s secrets vaunting thyself so wise!

How true for this year is thy prophecy?

The year yet lasteth, and lo! Here I lie.

Adieu! Mine own dear spouse, my worthy lord!

The faithful love, that did us both combine

In marriage and peaceable concord,

Into your hands here do I clean resign,

To be bestowed on your children and mine;

Erst were ye father, now must ye supply

The mother’s part also, for here I lie.

Where are our castles now? Where are our towers?

Goodly Richmond, soon art thou gone from me:

At Westminster, that costly work of yours,

Mine own dear lord, now shall I never see,

Almighty God vouchsafe to grant that ye,

For you and children may well edify;

My palace builded is, for lo! Now here I lie.

Farewell my daughter, lady Margarete,

God wot full oft it grieved hath my mind

That ye should go where we might seldom meet;

Now I am gone, and have left you behind.

O mortal folk! But we be very blind,

What we least fear full off it is most nigh,

From you depart I first, for lo! Now here I lie.

Farewell, madame, my lord’s worthy mother;

Comfort your son, and be of good cheer,

Take all at worth for it will be no other.

Farewell, my daughter Katherine! Late the phere

Unto prince Arthur, late my child so dear;

It booteth not for me to wail and cry,

Pray for my soul, for lo! Now here I lie.

Adieu, lord Henry! Loving son, adieu!

Our lord increase your honor and estate;

Adieu my daughter Mary! Bright of hue,

God make you virtuous, wise, and fortunate;

Adieu sweetheart, my little daughter Kate!

Thou shalt, sweet babe, such is thy destiny,

Thy mother never know, for lo! Now here I lie.

Lady Cicely, lady Anne, and lady Katherine,

Farewell! My well-beloved sisters three,

Oh! lady Bridget, other sister mine,

Lo here the end of worldly vanity!

Now are you well who earthly folly flee,

And heavenly things do praise and magnify,

Farewell, and pray for me, for lo! Now here I lie.

Adieu my lords! Adieu, my ladies all!

Adieu, my faithful servants every one!

Adieu my commons! Whom I never shall

See in this world: wherefore to Thee alone

Immortal God, verily three in one,

I me commend; thy infinite mercy

Show to thy servant, for now here I lie!

RESOURCES

As always, Wikipedia is a great place to begin for an overarching view.

And Agnes Strickland is a wonderful source for great, more in-depth material. Lives of the Queens of England, Volume IV.

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Published inOn This Day

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