On this day in history, 8th of June 1492, Elizabeth Woodville, queen consort of Edward IV, died at Bermondsey Abbey aged about 55:

On this day in history, 8th of June 1492, Elizabeth Woodville, queen consort of Edward IV, died at Bermondsey Abbey aged about 55:

The cause of her death is not known, it is commonly suggested however that her health was failing in the last year since she made her will on the 10th of April 1492.  Like her predecessor Margaret of Anjou, Elizabeth apparently had little of value to leave at her death.

“ IN Dei nomine, Amen. The xth daie of Aprill, the yere of our Lord Gode Mcccclxxxxii. I Elisabeth by the grace of God Quene of England, late wif to the most victoroiuse Prince of blessed memorie Edward the Fourth, being of hole mynde, seying the worlde so traunsitorie, and no creature certayne whanne they shall departe frome hence, havyng Almyghty Gode fressh in mynde, in whome is all mercy and grace, bequeath my sowle into his handes, beseechyng him, of the same mercy, to accept it graciously, and oure blessed Lady Quene of comforte, and all the holy company of hevyn, to be good meanes for me. It’m, I bequeith my body to be buried with the bodie of my Lord at Windessore, according to the will of my saide Lorde and myne, without pompes entreing or costlie expensis donne thereabought. It’m, where I have no wordely goodes to do the Quene’s Grace, my derest doughter, a pleaser with, nether to reward any of my children, according to my hart and mynde, I besech Almyghty Gode to blisse here Grace, with all her noble issue, and with as good hart and mynde as is to me possible, I geve her Grace my blessing, and all the forsaide my children. It’m, I will that suche smale stufe and goodes that I have be disposed truly in the contentac’on of my dettes and for the helth of my sowle, as farre as they will extende. It’m, yf any of my bloode wille any of my saide stufe or goodes to me perteyning, I will that they have the prefermente before any other. And of this my present testament I make and ordeyne myne Executores, that is to sey, John Ingilby, Priour of the Chartour-house of Shene, William Sutton and Thomas Brente, Doctors. And I besech my said derest doughter, the Queue’s grace, and my sone Thomas, Marques Dorsett, to putte there good willes and help for the performans of this my testamente. In witnesse wherof, to this my present testament I have sett my seale, these witnesses, John Abbot of the monastry of Sainte Saviour of Bermondefley, and Benedictus Cun, Doctor of Fyfyk. Yeven the day and yere above said.”

It was not unusual for contemporaries to request a ‘simple’ funeral in the sure knowledge that their families would bury them with appropriate ceremony, but Elizabeth would have known that a deceased’s estate bore the cost of this and that queenly obsequies were beyond her means. King Henry could have relented sufficiently to make a dignified ending possible, but the evidence is that everything was done ‘on the cheap’…her body was placed in a wooden coffin, and taken by boat from Bermondsey to St George’s Chapel, Windsor, two days later. It was received there by a single priest and a clerk (‘prevely’ – privately or secretly – at eleven at night), and interred almost immediately, without, apparently, the dean and canons being present. 

Her son the Marquis of Dorset, his half-sisters Anne, Katherine and Bridget, and some other family members reached Windsor on the following Tuesday and Wednesday, and that night the Bishop of Rochester conducted the service of Dirige, the Office of the Dead. Elizabeth’s two eldest daughters did not attend – Elizabeth of York was heavily pregnant while Cecily was represented by her husband Lord Welles, the king’s uncle – and the others present were almost all relatives of Edward IV or the Woodvilles. One of the heralds was shocked by the meanness of the arrangements, remarking that ‘there was nothing done solemnly for her saving a low hearse such as they use for the common people with four wooden candlesticks about it’. There was, he adds, ‘never a new torch, but old torches, nor poor man in black gown or hood, but upon [approximately] a dozen divers old men holding old torches and torch ends’. Dorset paid the ‘dole’ (the customary distribution of money to the needy) and gave forty shillings to the heralds, presumably out of his own pocket.

Elizabeth as she requested was laid to rest beside Edward IV at St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

Not only was Elizabeth Woodville the first commoner in centuries to become Queen of England, she was also the mother of the two princes in the Tower, the sister-in-law to Richard III, the grandmother of Henry VIII (and his older brother, Arthur to whom she stood as godmother), the great-grandmother of Mary I and Elizabeth I, and the great-grandmother to two beheaded queens, Mary, Queen of Scots and Lady Jane Grey. As grandmother to Henry VIII’s older sister Margaret, who wed the King of Scotland, Elizabeth Woodville’s blood infused the stuart line, and eventually wended it’s way through the Hanovers down to the current ruling family of England, the Windsors.

sources: “The Women of the Cousin’s War”, chapter “Elizabeth Woodville (1437/38-1492) by David Baldwin” and “The Will of Elizabeth Woodville” by Susan Higginbatham


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