on the needles

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Elizabeth Woodville

There is no knitting content in this post! I do have a lot to catch up everyone up with in my knitting life but I couldn't find the camera today and I refuse to post without photos.

Except for this - go on over and vote at Mama-E's. She's got a poll going where you can vote for your favorite colorway of her new yarn. I got my skein of Mermaids the other day & it is fabulous so go over and vote for it! It was winning last time I checked. :)

So today's post is largely for Carrie who, as far as I know is the only other knitter who seems as interested in British history as I am! Give me a shout if there are more of you out there!!

I finished Arlene Okerlund's Elizabeth Wydeville: The Slandered Queen and it was oh so good! The author has done her homework and does much to dispel some of the myths about Elizabeth Woodville's character and actions. I was surprised to see how unsubstantiated so many of them were - in fact much of what has been repeated as fact is blatant fiction. Most of the accusations against the Queen and her family came from the Warwick camp and at various times from Edward IV's brothers Clarence and Gloucester. In every instance it was a case of power hungry men seeking to grasp at even more power. Throughout history the one sure and easy way to undermine women has been by to accuse them of being either witches or whores. Elizabeth Woodville (and many of the other powerful women around her) faced both of those accusations at various times throughout her life. But look at the source - Gloucester, when attempting to secure the throne for himself accused his own mother of adultery, conveniently leaving only himself as the "legitimate" heir. Is it any surprise that he came up with a trumped up charge that Elizabeth's marriage to Edward was invalid - thus she was a whore and all of her children bastards.

And when Warwick lost his bid for control of the King one of his sneers was that Edward IV had married inappropriately beneath him, having been "bewitched" by Elizabeth and her mother Jacquetta and that the Woodville family had gained all they had through "their wives" (ie. marrying into money and status). The author does a good job of showing the prominence and status of the Woodville family and that they in fact gained very little through their sister's marriage to the King. Indeed Warwick is truly calling the kettle black since he gained the Warwick earldom through his own marriage.

There were some things that were left somewhat unexplained. But this is due to the author's refusal to build speculation into fact. Where there was not enough actual evidence, the author offered a reasonable opinion as to what happened and left it at that. An example is, why did Elizabeth choose to leave sanctuary after the disappearance of her sons in the Tower and place herself at the mercy of Richard III, whom she must have strongly suspected of the Prince's deaths? The author tells us she had little money and was dependent upon charity. Richard III had been compelled to put his name to a very detailed public declaration which guaranteed the safety of Elizabeth and her daughters. And sanctuary must have been an unpleasant place - cooped up with several daughters of marriageable age. Perhaps Elizabeth felt she could secure their futures more easily on the outside. She may also have already been plotting the marriage of her eldest daughter to Margaret Beaufort's son Henry Tudor. This would have been easier to do outside of sanctuary as well. In the end, she probably knew she would have to come out of sanctuary at some time and maybe she felt it would be more advantageous to do so when Richard's hold on the throne was still unstable, leaving room for her to maneuver. but this doesn't explain why she allowed her eldest daughter Elizabeth to take such a prominent position at court, although it was probably far less that what has been previously portrayed, it was obviously enough to raise the common talk that Richard III planned to do away with his wife and make his niece his next Queen. Although Richard was compelled to publicly declare that he had no intention of marrying Elizabeth - this seems to have been a response to the criticism rather than a convincing denial that he had ever planned to do so. Elizabeth Woodville's role in all of this has never been fully explained. Was she really contemplating letting her daughter marry her own uncle? The man who had murdered her own brothers? Was it a ruse to distract Richard from the true scheme to unite the Tudor and Yorkist claims? Or was Elizabeth powerless to stop the marriage if Richard willed it? We may never know.

In all the book was a very good read. I appreciated the information about the Woodville family as a whole, and also what happened to the rest of Elizabeth and Edward IV's children, who aside from the vanished Princes in the Tower and their eldest daughter Elizabeth who married Henry VII are usually totally ignored. Plus, the book has tons of genealogy tables, maps, a chronology and a decent section of illustrations (regrettably in black and white). And better yet, this book was the first in what is to be a series of serious biographies of England's forgotten Queens! Yay!! The next is Anne Neville: Queen to Richard III by Michael Hicks. The crappy part is that these books are only available at present in England so I have to order them & pay the $$ for shipping. :( But you can bet your booty I will pony up the cash anyhow!

So I decided to stick with the era and have started The King's Mother which is about Margaret Beaufort. I was intrigued by some remarks (with evidence) in the Elizabeth Woodville book which suggested that the two women were actually friendly with each other. This is totally not what other authors have portrayed but I haven't read a book totally dedicated to Margaret Beaufort yet so we will see.


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