Elizabeth Woodville (c. 1439-1492) was the daughter of a royal widow, Jacquetta Duchess of Bedford, and a minor gentleman, Sir Richard Woodville. Elizabeth’s first husband, was Sir John Grey, and they had two sons before he died at the Second Battle of St Albans. In September 1464 Edward IV revealed that he had secretly married Elizabeth without any of his counsellors’ knowledge. Five years later, the Earl of Warwick and Duke of Clarence rebelled against Edward IV, claiming that the king was too much influenced by the queen’s upstart family. She gave birth to her first royal son in sanctuary at Westminster in 1470 during Henry VI’s readeption.
After Edward IV’s death, Elizabeth tried to mediate between the factions on the king’s council. At the news that her brother and her son, Richard Grey, had been arrested by Richard Duke of Gloucester, she at first tried to raise an army to take Edward V back by force. She swiftly abandoned this plan and took her remaining children into sanctuary at Westminster. A letter from the Duke of Gloucester to the city of York in June 1483 reveals that he considered her a serious threat to his security. A few days later it was announced that her marriage to Edward IV had been invalid and she had never legally been queen. In March 1484 Richard III swore to protect her daughters’ safety and arrange appropriate marriages for them and so she permitted them to leave sanctuary and attend his court.
Henry VII married her eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, and Elizabeth Woodville was reinstated as Queen Dowager. Her dower lands were initially returned to her, but in 1487 king took them back in order to provide for his own queen and provided her with a pension instead. A year earlier she had taken out a lease on the mansion of Cheynegates in Westminster Abbey but by 1492 she was resident at Bermondsey Abbey where she made her will on 10 April and died two months later. She was buried with Edward IV at Windsor.
There are a number of articles in The Ricardian about Elizabeth Woodville by Anne Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs:
“A ‘Most Benevolent Queen’: Elizabeth Woodville’s Reputation, her Piety and her Books”, includes a convincing refutation of common allegations that are still often made against her.
“The Entry of Queen Elizabeth Woodville over London Bridge, 24 May 1465” These last two include the original source texts.
This audio podcast expands on the whole Woodville clan.