Friday, December 03, 2010

Was Elizabeth Woodville one of Margaret of Anjou's Ladies?

It’s stated as fact in the Wikipedia article on Margaret of Anjou, and elsewhere, that Elizabeth Woodville served as a lady-in-waiting to Margaret of Anjou. Fact or fiction? Unfortunately, the answer is uncertain.

The assertion that Elizabeth was one of Margaret’s ladies comes from Tudor sources. Sir Thomas More in his History of King Richard III writes in passing that Elizabeth was “in service with Queen Margaret,” and Hall’s Chronicle makes the same claim. At first glance, this is confirmed by Margaret of Anjou’s records. As A. R. Myers and George Smith each note, an Isabel, Lady Grey, was among the English ladies sent in 1445 to escort Margaret to England. Myers notes as well that an Elizabeth Grey, a lady in waiting to Margaret, received jewels from the queen in 1445-46, 1446-47, 1448-49, 1451-52, and 1452-53. “Isabel” and “Elizabeth” were often used interchangeably during this period, and Elizabeth’s first husband was John Grey.

As Myers, Smith, and other historians have noted, however, there are problems with assuming that the lady in the records is Elizabeth Woodville. Her birth date is generally estimated as being around 1437, which means that for Elizabeth to be the Isabel or Elizabeth Grey of the records, she would have been married and serving as Margaret’s attendant beginning at age eight. Girls did marry as children, but would an eight-year-old girl be assigned to travel to France to escort Margaret to England and to serve in her household? If she was there at all, it seems more likely that she would have been merely tagging along with her mother, Jacquetta, the Duchess of Bedford, and would not have been important enough to the queen to be the recipient of gifts in her own right.

Moreover, as Myers and Smith point out, there were other Elizabeth Greys around, including Elizabeth Woodville’s own mother-in-law. The most likely candidate for the Elizabeth Grey of Margaret’s records, however, is “Elizabeth, late the wife of Ralph Gray, knight, daily attendant on the queen’s person” who received a protection on June 27, 1445 (Calendar of Patent Rolls). This Elizabeth, daughter of Henry, Lord Fitzhugh, was a widow, whose husband Ralph died in 1443. (The couple have a splendid tomb at Chillingham, you can see some lovely photographs of it here.) Incidentally, Elizabeth and Ralph had a son, another Ralph, who after a brief accommodation with the Yorkists returned to his former allegiance and was besieged at Bamburgh in 1464. Badly injured when gunfire brought down part of a wall upon him, he survived long enough to be taken to Doncaster and beheaded.

So where does that leave Elizabeth Woodville? Even if the Elizabeth referred to in the records is another woman, it’s certainly not impossible that Elizabeth Woodville served Margaret of Anjou in the 1450’s, especially as her mother, the Duchess of Bedford, would have given her a natural entrée at court. Elizabeth’s parents were in Margaret’s company at Coventry in 1457, and her brother Anthony jousted before the king and queen in 1458. Still, the lack of any unambiguous contemporary reference to Elizabeth as a lady of Margaret’s leads me to think that while Elizabeth Woodville might have visited court from time to time in the company of her family, she was never one of her predecessor’s ladies.


David Baldwin, Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower. Gloucestershire: Sutton, 2004 (paperback edition).

A. R. Myers, Crown, Household and Parliament in Fifteenth-Century England. London and Ronceverte: Hambledon Press, 1985.

Arlene Okerlund, Elizabeth: England’s Slandered Queen. Gloucestershire: Tempus, 2006 (paperback edition).

Proceedings, Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, 1888.

George Smith, The Coronation of Elizabeth Wydeville. Gloucester: Gloucester Reprints, 1975 (originally published 1935).


Ragged Staff said...

I think that's a very sensible interpretation, but it's bound to upset some writers who just love to portray a very French EW swanning around being nasty to servants at court! (Because, apparently, Mummy is the queen's best friend and she can get away with it.)

Susan Higginbotham said...

Oh, yes, and casting spells in her spare time!

Kathryn Warner said...

It's so interesting the way so many things you think of as certain fact are anything but!

Theresa Bruno said...

Interesting post!

Elizabeth said...

I agree with Ragged Staff - very sensible. There are so many other considerations to be made and you have detailed a very good case for it possibly being a different Elizabeth Woodville.

It's so tempting at times to when searching for the 'missing piece' to a puzzle for a story, and exciting as well, that research could just stop there but you have shown how we should keep checking just to make sure.

trish wilson said...

Really Sue! Isn't all that talk about Edward 2 and his gentlemen more than enough?