The Tudor Society

18 January 1486 – The marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York

On this day in history, 18th January 1486, the twenty-nine-year-old Henry VII married the twenty-year-old Elizabeth of York.

They made a striking couple. Elizabeth of York had classic English Rose looks – blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin – and Henry was tall, slim, dark haired and handsome. They were the perfect couple, and their marriage brought hope to the country. It reconciled the warring Houses of Lancaster and York, and began a new royal house and era: the Tudor dynasty.

The bride, Elizabeth of York, had been born on 11th February 1466, and was the daughter and eldest child of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. Her father had managed to capture and imprison Henry VI in 1461, dethroning him and taking the crown for himself, starting the royal House of York. In 1464, he secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, a young widow. It was a love match, not a diplomatic one, and caused trouble when Elizabeth alienated powerful Yorkist supporters, causing them to side with Lancastrians and challenge Edward. The result was that Edward was driven into exile and the throne became Henry VI's once more in October 1470. Henry's reign was short-lived, though, as Edward overthrew him once again in April 1471. It was a brutal coup. Ex-Yorkists and Lancastrians were defeated in battle, and Henry VI was killed in the Tower. Edward had stamped out his enemies.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck the House of York at Easter 1483 when Edward caught a chill on a fishing trip. He died on 9th April, and his thirteen-year-old son, Edward, became Edward V. Edward V was too young to reign in his own right, so his uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, became the Protector. However, to cut a rather long story short, this was not enough for Richard. With Edward and his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York, ‘residing’ in the Tower of London, Richard was crowned King Richard III on 6th July 1483, and the boys disappeared, going down in history as ‘The Princes in the Tower’.

Elizabeth of York mourned the loss of her brothers, but her mother decided on revenge, and this is when she decided to approach Lady Margaret Beaufort. Although the two ladies were supposed to be on different sides, Elizabeth being from the House of York and Margaret being a Lancastrian, neither lady was happy with Richard on the throne, and decided that a union between their children could bring about Richard's downfall.

The bridegroom, Henry VII, was born at Pembroke Castle on 28th January 1457. His parents were the thirteen-year-old Lady Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond, who, unfortunately, had died of the plague three months before Henry's birth. Both Margaret and Edmund were linked to the House of Lancaster. Edmund was the son of Owen Tudor and Catherine Valois (Catherine of France), the widow of Henry V and mother of Henry VI. Margaret Beaufort was descended from John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (third son of King Edward III) and his mistress and eventual wife, Katherine Swynford. Neither of Henry's parents had a strong claim to the throne, with Edmund having no English royal blood and Margaret being descended from a line which was deliberately excluded from the succession. This, however, did not stop Henry VII from claiming the throne after his Lancastrian forces defeated Richard III's Yorkist forces at the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22nd August 1485, where Richard was killed.

On 27th August 1485, Henry entered London as King Henry VII, and he was crowned on 30th October. On the 10th December, Parliament petitioned him to marry Elizabeth of York, the Speaker declaring “Which marriage, they hoped God would bless with a progeny of the race of kings, to the great satisfaction of the whole realm”. Henry agreed, and the marriage took place five weeks later.

You can read more about the couple's betrothal and marriage in the Henry VII e-book which is available to Tudor Society members at

Also on this day in history, 18th January 1510, Henry VIII and twelve of his men disguised themselves as outlaws, or Robin Hood and his merry men, and surprised Queen Catherine and her ladies - click here to read more.

(Taken from On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway)

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