Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Tea at Trianon Review: Elizabeth of York

Elena Maria Vidal reviews Alison Weir's biography of Elizabeth of York, Henry VII's queen. To quote:

I found the biography to be inspiring on a spiritual level as well. From earliest child hood, Elizabeth was carefully taught and trained in the practice of her Catholic Faith, being taken to Mass every day and learning to pray the Divine Office. As a little girl she was instilled with a great devotion to Mary which she nourished throughout her life by private devotions and by frequenting the many Marian shrines throughout the kingdom. Elizabeth saw being a queen as participating in the Queenship of the Mother of God. Her accounts show that she was constantly giving gifts to people of every estate, especially those who petitioned her. On the other hand, she was a recipient of gifts from the people, who would send her fruits and preserves (she appeared to have a fondness for cherries), game, wine, cloth, crafts, works of art, books, and anything else that they thought she could use. It seems Elizabeth made herself accessible to the people; she seriously considered their petitions and took the role of intercessor on the behalf of the multitudes. As a young woman she was referred to in a ballad as "Lady Bessy" which shows a certain fond familiarity. (p.145) Many tolerated Henry only because of Elizabeth, and loved her children because they were hers. She was Queen of Hearts, and it is claimed that the playing card is based upon Elizabeth of York.

After the sudden death of her eldest son Prince Arthur, Elizabeth's health began to fail. In spite of her poor health and her last pregnancy, Elizabeth spent the final months of her life traveling around England, praying at various shrines, as well as visiting her Plantagenet sisters and cousins. Weir thinks it might have been because she had finally had a falling out with Henry. (p. 389) It might also be supposed that she was unsettled by the recent confession of James Tyrell, under torture, that he had murdered her brothers at Richard III's command. (p.389) Even though an astrologer had prophesied that she would live to be ninety, it could be that she had a premonition of her own imminent passing. Elizabeth died on her 37th birthday, February 11, 1503, from complications due to childbirth. Her baby Katherine followed her in death. Henry VII had a complete collapse and became a near recluse, so in a way her surviving children, Henry, Margaret and Mary, lost both parents. The future Henry VIII never recovered from losing his beloved mother. Upon the hearing of the death of Elizabeth, Queen Isabel of Castile, who had corresponded with her, wrote to the the Spanish ambassador in England that he was to offer consolation to King Henry, who was "suffering the loss of the Queen his wife, who is in glory." (p.417)

The most tragic and bitter theme that occurs repeatedly throughout the book are in the descriptions of the beautiful shrines and chapels so loved by Elizabeth and endowed by either herself or her husband. Within the next fifty years they were to be destroyed by her son Henry VIII. One can almost be relieved that Elizabeth did not live to be ninety so she did not have to see the destruction of the symbols of her Faith, a Faith which carried her through a tumultuous era and which she valued more than life itself.

Read the rest there. Based on Vidal's strong recommendation, I purchased the book.

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