The Birth and Death of Elizabeth of York

by AlexandriaIngham

February 11 is the day that Elizabeth of York was born and died. She was 37 years old at the time of her death, but didn't have the easiest life as a Princess of England.

February 11 is an important date for Wars of the Roses and Tudor fans. It is the birthday and anniversary of Elizabeth of York’s death. She was 37 years old at the time of her death in 1503, presumably of childbed fever after giving birth to Henry VII’s last of their seven children together, Katherine.

While Elizabeth was the Queen of England at the time, she did not always have an easy life. From her birth, there were expectations and trials that she would have to go through.

The Birth of Elizabeth of York

Elizabeth of York was born during a difficult time for England.

Elizabeth of York was the daughter of Edward IV, which played a major factor for Henry VIIElizabeth was born on February 11, 1466. It was five years into her father’s reign as King of England, which was only possible due to the start of the Wars of the Roses. Edward IV had finally deposed Henry VI of England; at least for the time being.

She was the first child for Edward IV and commoner wife, Elizabeth Woodville. They had married in secret at some point in 1464. The most accepted date is May 1, but the announcement of the marriage wasn’t until May 25. This would play an important role for Elizabeth of York later in her life.

Despite being a girl, she received a lavish christening. Elizabeth Woodville was one of 14 children and already had two children from her previous marriage. Edward IV had high hopes that she would prove to give him the heir and backups that he would need.

Elizabeth of York Forced Into Sanctuary

Elizabeth was just four years old when she was first forced into sanctuary.

When she was just four years old, the princess was forced into sanctuary with her pregnant mother and three younger sisters. Edward IV had been deposed by Henry VI’s army, led by his once faithful friend and cousin, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, better known as The Kingmaker. Edward and his youngest brother, Richard, were forced into exile and Elizabeth Woodville did as was best for her children by taking them into Westminster Abbey where she could find sanctuary.

While there, Elizabeth Woodville gave birth to the young princess’ brother and heir to the throne, Edward Plantagenet. They would remain there for around six months until Edward and Richard had enough power to take the crown back, killing Warwick at the Battle of Barnet and imprisoning Henry VI’s wife and killing his son at the Battle of Tewksbury. Elizabeth of York was able to leave sanctuary and become a Princess of England once again. However, she was now no longer the heir apparent. The birth of her brother meant that he was now first in line for the throne.

Articles About the Wars of the Roses

Learn more about the wars that tore England in two.
It was known at the time as the Cousins War. The family tree grew very tangled between the House of Lancaster and the House of York.
The Medieval struggle for the English crown continues. The House of York and the House of Lancaster pitted cousins against each other on the battlefields of Britain.
Known at the time as the Cousins' War, this was a dynastic battle for the English crown. It was the House of Lancaster (red rose) versus the House of York (white rose).

Betrothals for Elizabeth of York

Edward IV wanted the best possible marriages for Elizabeth for his own security and power

Edward IV wanted the best marriage for his daughters.Edward IV knew that he could use his daughter as a political pawn. That was the way all royal daughters were used during this time. The first betrothal he arranged was in 1469 to his cousin George Neville. He was the son of John Neville, 3rd Earl of Northumberland. However, the Nevilles changed their loyalty when Warwick focused on removing Edward IV off the throne. Edward decided that this was not the right match for his daughter.

In 1475, Edward arranged a marriage to the Dauphin of France, Charles. That betrothal lasted seven years when Louis XI decided against it. It would be the last betrothal Edward would set up for his daughter, after dying of natural causes in April 1483.

It would be her mother who would focus on betrothals for her daughter. However, all of this was done from sanctuary.

Elizabeth of York Escapes to Sanctuary Again

When her father died, Elizabeth Woodville forced her children back into sanctuary to protect them.

Elizabeth Woodville wanted to keep her children safe.After the death of Edward IV, Richard, Duke of Gloucester was made the regent for the young Edward V. Elizabeth Woodville wasn’t completely happy with the decision and started to fear for her life and that of her children’s when Richard took Edward V to The Tower of London and had Anthony Woodville and Richard Grey—Elizabeth Woodville’s brother and son—executed. She took her children to sanctuary once again.

Within two months, Elizabeth of York was declared illegitimate. Richard stated that his brother had had various secret marriages before Elizabeth Woodville, and knew that at least one of them was true. Therefore, the marriage to Elizabeth was never valid. Edward V could not be crowned king and it would mean Richard would become King of England. Just before this, he had convinced Elizabeth Woodville to let her youngest son, Richard, Duke of Shrewsbury, to join Edward V in The Tower of London. The two boys mysteriously vanished, presumed death.

Whether Elizabeth Woodville knew that her sons were dead or had any idea who caused it is unclear, but she worked on protecting her surviving daughters.

There was on card she could play: put Henry Tudor, son of Margaret Beaufort, on the throne. Even though his came from an illegitimate line, he did come from royal blood and he was the Lancastrian House’s only hope. But she wanted something in return; she wanted her daughter to become Queen Consort of England. Elizabeth and Margaret conspired together to ensure Henry Tudor would kill Richard III and then marry Elizabeth of York.

Elizabeth of York Leaves Sanctuary

It was a year later that Elizabeth of York got out of sanctuary.

In 1484, Richard III and Elizabeth Woodville came to an arrangement and the family left sanctuary. Elizabeth of York had a prominent place in the English Court, but there were rumors that Richard was planning on marrying his niece. At this time, his only son had died and Anne Neville, his wife, was no longer sharing a bed with him. Anne died in 1485, and Richard needed an heir to secure the throne for his family.


There has never been any conclusive evidence of this. In fact, after his wife’s death, Richard focused on an alliance with John II of Portugal and tried to arrange a marriage with his sister, Joanna. He also tried to arrange a marriage for Elizabeth to marry Manuel, who would be the future king.

This never happened. On August 22, 1485, Richard III was forced to go into battle; one that would end his life. Henry Tudor was leading the enemy, and succeeded in taking the crown by force. Henry upheld his family’s side of the deal by marrying Elizabeth of York, knowing that it would strengthen his claim to the throne, join the two warring houses together and bring some sense of peace in the country. He did make her legitimate first!

More Articles About Elizabeth of York and Her Family on Wizzley

Uncover more secrets into the lives of Edward IV, Richard III, Edward V and Elizabeth of York

The Death of Elizabeth of York

Elizabeth was 37 when she died. It was shortly after giving birth to her seventh child, Katherine.

It seems that the marriage was somewhat happy between Elizabeth and Henry. She produced the heir that he needed within nine months of their marriage and they grew fond of each other. After her death in 1503, Henry Tudor never remarried, even though there were opportunities and options available.

Elizabeth had seven children with Henry, but only four of them survived childhood. Their first, Arthur Tudor, would die young though and it was heartbreaking for the couple.

It was Elizabeth’s final child that led to the end of her life. On February 2, 1503, she gave birth to a baby girl, Katherine. The baby would live for about eight days before dying just like many infants at this time. Elizabeth would not recover from this labor. She succumbed to childbed fever, an illness that killed many mothers during the Tudor period. In fact, it was an illness that killed two of Henry VIII’s wives, Jane Seymour and Katherine Parr (Katherine would die after Henry VIII’s death and after marrying Thomas Seymour).

Henry VII had a reputation for being a thrifty king, but he spared no expense for his wife’s funeral. She was buried in the Lady Chapel that Henry VII had built in Westminster Abbey, with her daughter. Henry VII would be buried with her after his death in 1509.

Updated: 02/11/2014, AlexandriaIngham
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


Only logged-in users are allowed to comment. Login

You might also like

England Under the Tudors: Would King Edward VI Have Been a Goo...

Edward VI reigned between 1547 and 1553 when he was just a boy. It's hard to ...

Lady Jane Boleyn: Vindictive Woman or Pawn in a Plot?

Jane Boleyn is known for her part in bringing down the Boleyn faction. How mu...

Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...