Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Question from Mary Kate - Character of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York

I keep hearing conflicting reports regarding the marriage of Elizabeth of York and Henry Tudor and also regarding their characters. I am very confused. Things really do not add up. I am sorry if this is long, but bear in mind I am very, very mixed up.

One source I have read, Bacon, says he was not "uxorious" towards his wife (uxor in Latin I know means wife, but I do not know if the source means he was not particularly deferential toward her and rightfully asserted his authority over her as husband, or if he genuinely just didn't give a damn what she thought, or if he just wishes to infer Henry was Mama Margaret Beaufort's boy and hers alone.)

Another source I have read states that Henry was just a mean, miserly, and nasty personality who spent the remainder of his life post-1485 killing off members of the House of York, and his meanness extended to his wife, using her as a baby factory while he and Mama Beaufort ruled England. And still other historians, some just after mentioning the above, emphasize them clinging to each other when Arthur died. I have even read one account where Henry VII is alleged to have had very low near asexual desire, something about low testosterone or some psychiatric disorder....and the man somehow managed to father many children (how did any historian come to this conclusion?!)

So, what gives?!! Was Henry Tudor really so vicious of an SOB that nobody liked him while he was alive, not a single friend; was he basically so foul that even his pet monkey had to be kept on a chain to keep from running away from him if afforded the opportunity?! ( I ask this in part because the curious thing is that pet monkeys require a lot of attention and fail to thrive without affection, yet no historian looks to this as potential evidence that there might be more to the popular image of Henry as a latter day Ebenezer Scrooge.) Did Henry have any redeeming qualities? ( I keep hearing lots of reports of there being much music at his court and we know his son and both daughters had some skill in this area. No report of Elizabeth of York ever playing a note-did they inherit the gift from dear old Dad's side of the family?) It is true he would have had a very busy schedule-did he ever get time away long enough to be with the rest of his family?

It is clear that Elizabeth and he were married for dynastic reasons, but even the wikipedia article says it is presumed that she had a happy marriage with Henry. She is also said to have had a sweet temperament. Question-how does a sweet tempered lady like that manage to have a good relationship with a sour ill tempered old goat and why is it that historians presume such an outcome is feasible?


Anonymous said...

According to Penn's "Winter King", Henry VII really fell apart (and became much more of tyrant) after Elizabeth of York's death. Whether this was due to loss of true love, or, at least in part, to many thinking that Elizabeth of York had a stronger claim to the throne than he did (so he would be regent for his son, not ruling in his own right)is up for debate. However, I think it rather significant that Henry VII was never reputed to have had any mistresses.


Mary R said...

You might also want to read Arlene Okerlund's excellent biography on Elizabeth of York; but it is rather expensive. If that is an issue, perhaps you can get it from the library (as I did:)

Henry VII's mother, Margaret Beaufort, did seem to rule the roost, supervising her grand- childrens' education and generally usurping many of the roles and priveleges that (by custom) were the queen's.

History does not give us much information on the subject, so we can only guess as to the true dynamics of these relationships.

This is pure speculation on my part; but I would guess that Henry really didn't want to get involved in a power-struggle between his wife and his mother. I would also guess that Margaret had a much stronger personality than Elizabeth did and basically ran roughshod over her!

Anonymous said...

Henry VII reputation suffers terribly but he wasn't as bad as some historians made him out to be. He loved to hunt and play at cards, as Robert Hutchinson says in his book Young Henry. Also he was a very proud father, adoring his eldest son, and since his surviving children Margaret, Henry and Mary were strong willed people who liked to get their way (especially insisting on marrying whoever they wanted to) it could be argued that Henry VII spoilt his children even if he did not see them too often. As for his marriage with Elizabeth of York I think (but I'm no historian) that for the most they had a good marriage, and the verdict that he treated her bad because she was a Yorkist is exaggerated. As been stated previously he had no known mistresses, he and his wife clung together when Arthur died showing if not love then a strong companionship, and after Elizabeth's death he never remarried even though he had the opportunity to do so and he only had one surviving son. The claim that he was a 'miser' is also not 100% true, he was cheap but when he chose to be had lavish celebrations (prince Arthur's wedding) he built a fabulous palace called Richmond and rewarded his courtiers well. In the first half of his reign he was in constant need of money, especially the very early years when he uses his use of the young duke of Buckingham's wardship to pay for Arthur's nursery (Elizabeth of York, Okerlund pg 63) By 1503 he had become rich and by the time of his death he was one of the wealthiest rulers, and it's not hard to see why he valued money so much, when he became King he was a penniless exile, by 1497 the Cornish rose against him when he needed the money to fight the Scots. Henry VIII would also learn by the 1520s how important it would be to be King and have money even though he squandered his inheritance. After Arthur and Elizabeth''s death, his grip of the throne was too shaky and he became more tyrannical, and most tyrants become so because their fear their loss of power, and Henry VII had a good reason to fear uprisings after his wife and eldest son's deaths. The part were Henry VII killed off the members of the York isn't exactly right either. It's true he executed Edward, Earl of Warwick and there is no excuse for that but of the de la Pole's who were living in Henry's time, only John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln was killed, and he died in battle. If anything it was Henry VIII who killed the Yorkists, Edmund de la Pole was executed in 1513, his brothers one; William, died in the tower on Henry VIII's orders, and the latter Richard died in battle in 1525 at the battle of Pavia. Of Henry VIII Yorkists cousins; Margaret, Countess of Salisbury and her sons, Henry VIII had Lady Salisbury, her eldest son Henry, Lord Montagu executed, Montagu's son and heir disappeared into the tower of London and never seen again. Henry VIII's cousin Henry, Marquess of Exeter was also killed even though they had been close in childhood. If anything Henry VII tried to incorporate his wife's family with his own, he married Cecily to his uncle and they seemed to have had a happy life (Cecily and Mama Beaufort were even close sister in laws) Anne of York was married to Thomas Howard, and Catherine of York was married to William Courtenay who she loved dearly, Elizabeth's sisters although they never married important men seemed happy enough. To me Henry VII is not as well known as his son because he lacked the personal touch of his son, the easy going manner, and larger than life personality, but he was also not a cruel selfish tyrant like his son. Penn's "Winter King" is one of the best books on Henry VII and if you haven't read it, you should. Also Arlene Okerlund's biography of Elizabeth is very good, and she never even hints that Henry and Elizabeth had less than a loving relationship.

Mary Katherine said...

Yeah, but the thing is I don't understand how historians come to the conclusions they do, even when they read the same sources. For example, I once read a tome going over Henry VII's accounts. The thing that struck me was that whenever it was a family purchase, he opened up his wallet. (Spent quite a bit on his daughters, especially with their music lessons and dresses.) When his wife was loaning money to her sisters, he rarely objected and just let it pass. I also noted that historians seem to overlook that he tore down Sheen Palace and in its place built Richmond Palace. Richmond Palace must have been enormous and though we can only speculate what was inside, I really doubt Henry would go through all that trouble to build a cavernous palace and force his entire family to sleep on the floor in rags. If we use his Lady Chapel as a reference, and consider that he died there, perhaps it is safe to conclude that the old Richmond Palace was at least as impressive as Hampton Court, and perhaps an excavation is in order?

Foose said...

There's always the consideration (for aspiring Tudor fiction writers out there) that the alleged tension between Elizabeth of York and Margaret Beaufort was actually an extremely clever strategy of Elizabeth herself - for someone to appear blameless, saintly and popular, i.e., "the good Queen," it helps to have someone else doing all the dirty work and having the blame displaced on to them.

Perhaps young Elizabeth observed that her mother, perceived as an active political Queen (whether this was a correct perception or not) attracted a lot of negative feelings, comment and reactions, which may have contributed to the success of Richard III's coup. Her predecessor, Margaret of Anjour, was also a busy political Queen, resulting in an image that proved disastrous for the Lancastrian cause.

So it could perhaps be argued that Elizabeth of York intentionally chose to be domestic and beloved and externally hapless, while her mother-in-law was seen to run everything. If someone had to be disappointed of a court post, it was Margaret Beaufort who did the talking. If someone had to put the stick about and keep people in line, it was likely Mother Beaufort. Meanwhile, sheltered by the all-pervading belief that Margaret Beaufort ruled the roost, Elizabeth enjoyed a reputation for "powerlessness" that meant nobody really blamed her for court and political outcomes they didn't like and she could quietly pursue her chief interest - providing effective and generous succour to her immediate family and friends.

Certainly the alternative argument is much more influential - that Elizabeth was sat upon by her mother-in-law and resented it. But I can't help feeling there may have been compensations for the younger woman.

Anonymous said...

Hi all, my name is Mary and I'm a York/Tudor buff. I had heard that Henry VIII starved the grandson of Margaret Pole once the kid became a young adult. I just read here that the child disappeared, never to be heard from again, just like the Princes in the Tower. If that's the case, why isn't Henry famous for that, as Richard III is famous for the Princes? Second, can anyone give me some good sources for reading about Henry VII and Margaret Beaufort? I can't find much besides encyclopedia type stuff. Thanks.

denise k said...

I tend to think that EofY was gentle and trying to survive a mean husband and the mother in law from hell. I read a great book from the 1950s by Ms Barnes which suggested EofY was starved of love by her husband and just kept living for her children. Which I tend to think was feasible - but I think she would have been initially full of life (her kids must have taken after one of their parents. So I don't think they were "happily" married as suggested.

Anonymous said...

From what I have read, it seems that Margaret Beaufort had the most control over what went on in the royal family. Not only did she have control, but she took many of the rights and privileges of a queen onto herself, thus diminishing the power and importance of Elizabeth of York.

This makes it possible to assume that Margaret Beaufort's power and control over her son was also greater and that her opinions often influenced him away from his wife. I believe that Henry VII did not hate his wife or mistreat her as terribly as is said but he did not love her as he was too attached and consumed with his mother.

Mary Katherine said...

I have come back to this post after some time, and actually I think that Henry did love Elizabeth. I suspect there are a few things we don't realize about Elizabeth , and for some historians, the answers are staring them in the face. This I think is the real narrative

Elizabeth I suspect was a daddy's girl: there is evidence to suggest she was more like her father in humor and intellect. There was also a poem called Song of Lady Bessy; it was written for her wedding day and probably had to have her approval and Henry's for it to see the light of day (it definitely embellished certain things for artistic license, but certain elements had to stay intact, or its believability would have been too compromised: Yorkists would read this thing too, including and especially the disaffected ones that supported Henry: they would not have liked it if their Bess did not resemble the real one in personification.) Unfortunately for her, daddy's life had been threatened more than once because of the crown, and when he died, poor Elizabeth, because all hell broke finally broke loose. Her mother and sisters were in a dangerous position, her uncle almost certainly killed her brothers, and if Vergil is to be believed, he was looking at his own niece like a lion looks at a raw steak one Christmas when his wife Queen Anne was dying of TB (dressing up your teenage niece in very, expensive, probably revealing clothes meant for a queen sends quite the message at court.) The cherry on top of the crap cake was that her meddling mother kept trying to up the ante in a fight Elizabeth just wanted to end.....but now Elizabeth was the only surviving heir of her father, and she had several younger sisters that were in danger if something happened to her.

Enter Henry. It must be remembered that it was not Henry and Elizabeth's generation that did most of the fighting and bickering in the Wars or the Roses-it started when they were toddlers at best. Henry Tudor, by winning the throne, also got the power to make it all stop: he himself had to live like a refugee and hunted animal as the sole surviving Lancaster and it is doubtful he was terribly happy to be in exile. Stopping the endless vendettas I suspect was not only a means to consolidate power, but a personal wish. Both Henry and Elizabeth knew that by marrying they could subdue the two factions and maybe have a chance at quiet. It explains the later political arrangement where Elizabeth Woodville gets packed off to an abbey, stopping her from making mischief, Margaret Beaufort gets to handle some of the more difficult political pyrotechnics, Henry gives marching orders to everybody, and Elizabeth is queen, but when she does not have to be at court she slips away to a quiet life at Eltham Palace with no more mayhem or murder. (When she is at court she exercises soft power: unlike Henry, she grew up knowing how to make pageantry at court work.) Henry Tudor gave her what she most wanted: security. And she gave him a family. Grandma Beaufort was a bit of a nuisance, but historians may not realize Elizabeth did not want to be like her mother and be politicking all the time when all it got her was unpopularity, her sons killed, and always just antagonized who was out of royal favor. She grew to love Henry, and it is known when she died he was heartbroken since there is a book showing him in mourning robes for at least a year.

Anonymous said...

Okay I'm responding the claim that EOY was meant to be a bride for Richard III there is no evidence at all this is true, nor is it true he showed her any favor over his wife Anne. The report is that she and Anne clothes swiped during a Christmas pageant something that happened alot and showed EOY had great favor with Queen Anne not Richard. The report was also made my monks so keep that in mind that men of the church might have been a bit overwhelmed by court life.
Richard gave Anne very lavish presents during that christmas time, and he was also still sleeping in her bed up until doctors told him he could no long do so. He never parted from his wife after there son died. He brought her to there favorite Castle. During there coronation Richard gave Anne a gift of a sapphire and pearl ring and she gave him a purple robe. And Richard had about a years time between the death of his son and the death of Anne to plan for a divorce and he never does. He was faithful to her and called her in his legal writings "Most dearly beloved consort". So no Richard III was never planning on divorcing Anne.
He does plan to remarry, as it becomes apparent Anne will not survive her illness plans are made to betroth Richard to Princess Joanna of Portugal and Elizabeth of York is to marry Duke Manuel, later Manuel I of Portugal.
This was a pretty good alliance given that the Portuguese house was a direct descendent of John of Lancaster.
That being said the marriage between EOY and Henry VII was undeniably happy, EOY polishes Henry's helmets herself, she writes to him in France begging him to come home to her. He himself gives EOY everything she truly needs, EOY actually spent alot of her money though gambling or giving away money to her relatives.
They have 7 children and he never has a none affair. He was deep upset when she died, its said he locked himself away for 6 days and became deathly ill and would only be tended by his mother.
There marriage was a happy one, it's plain to anyone who reads anything on them.
The accounts that say different tend to be unreliable to say the least.
There's also no evidence that Margaret Beaufort hate or was throated by her daughter in law, in her letters she's actually quite of alot of concern for EOY, while she is opinionated that is clear, she shows concern over and over again for EOY's health and well being.
They also both work together to get Henry VII to delay the marriage of Princess Margaret Tudor and the King of Scotland.

Cassandra said...

Polydore Vergil is not to be believed.King Richard was trying to destroy the betrothal with Henry Tudor. The attention paid to Elizabeth, according to Buck was feigned. Richard actually entered into negotiations to marry Joanna of Portugal after Anne's death.
Richard, according to Buck tended to uxoriousness to his wife (extreme fondness) and spent lots of money on her
Elizabeth was to marry the Portuguese Duke of Beja and would one day be Queen of Portugal. This might be the reason for dressing her like a queen at Christmas. Her social status had changed.
referring to her in his Leger as 'our beloved consort'