The Tudor Society

18 January – Henry VII and Elizabeth of York get married

On this day in Tudor history,18th January 1486, twenty-nine year-old King Henry VII married twenty year-old Elizabeth of York at Westminster Abbey.

This was over two years after he had vowed to marry her and nearly 5 months after his victory at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Why did Henry VII delay in marrying Elizabeth of York?

Find out what delayed the marriage, and more about the bride and groom, in today's talk.

Also on this day in Tudor history, 18th January 1510, King Henry VIII and twelve of his men disguised themselves as outlaws, or Robin Hood and his men, and surprised Queen Catherine and her ladies in the queen’s chamber. Find out more about what happened in last year's video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1543 – Baptism of Alfonso Ferrabosco, composer and court musician at the court of Elizabeth I, at the Cathedral of San Petronio, Bologna, Italy.
  • 1616 – Burial of John Bettes the Younger, portrait painter, at St Gregory by St Paul's.


On this day in Tudor history,18th January 1486, just under five months after his victory at the Battle of Bosworth, twenty-nine year-old King Henry VII married twenty year-old Elizabeth of York, daughter and eldest child of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, at Westminster Abbey. The service was conducted by Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Over two years earlier, on Christmas Day 1483 at Rennes Cathedral, Henry VII, when he was just Henry Tudor and in exile in Brittany, had made a pledge to marry Elizabeth to unite the Houses of Lancaster and York. But why had he not married her as soon as he had become king? Elizabeth’s biographer, Amy Licence, believes that the delay was down to several different factors, and none of them being that Henry was not sure that he wanted to marry Elizabeth:

1. His first Parliament had to sit
2. There was a terrible outbreak of plague in London in autumn 1485
3. There were things to sort out, e.g. “the Titulus Regis was repealed and the dowager queen’s reputation restored”.
4. And Henry “wanted to ensure his kingship was established and independent of Elizabeth’s claim before the ceremony took place.”

Parliament approved the marriage match on 10th December 1485, with 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”, and on 16th January 1486 a papal dispensation was issued to cover the degree of sanguinity within the fourth degree.

There is no contemporary account of the wedding ceremony but The Crowland Chronicle Continuations: 1459-1486, gives the following record of the marriage:

“…after the victory of the said king Henry the Seventh, and the ceremonies of his anointing an coronation, on the last day but one of the following month, by the hand of the most reverend father, Thomas, cardinal archbishop of Canterbury, and in due conformity with the ancient custom, the marriage was celebrated, which from the first had been hoped for, between him and the lady Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of king Edward the Fourth. This was duly solemnized, at the instance and urgent entreaty of all three of the estates of the realm, in the presence of the Church, on the eighteenth day of the month of January, in the year of our Lord, according to the computation of the Roman Church, 1486; a dispensation having been first obtained from the Apostolic See on the account of the fourth degree of consanguinity, within which the king and queen were related to each other.”

It’s such a shame that we don’t have a record of the ceremony and the couple’s attire.

Elizabeth and Henry 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, by right of conquest, after his Lancastrian forces defeated Richard III's Yorkist forces at the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22nd August 1485, where Richard was killed. Henry was crowned king on 30th October 1485.

The marriage of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York was a successful one, lasting until Elizabeth’s death on 11th February 1503, her 37th birthday. They had four children who survived childhood: Margaret Tudor, queen consort of King James IV of Scotland; Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, who died at the age of 15; King Henry VIII, and Mary Tudor, Queen of France.

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  1. R

    I rewatched the Real White Queen and her Rivals recently with Philippa Gregory which is about the women in her Cousins War series, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne Neville and Margaret Beaufort and the real history. Its not too annoying as there are several real historians and experts who give their take on the true stories behind these remarkable women.

    However, I nearly kicked the TV when Lisa Hilton an expert on Elizabeth I and Queenship when speaking about why Henry Tudor took several months to marry Elizabeth of York repeated the nonsense you hear amateurs who don’t know the story come out with, that he was waiting to see if she was carrying the child of Richard iii. I feel like screaming still because she is a renowned historian and should know better. Oh boy I bet PG was beaming from ear to ear.

    Now yes, there were rumours that Richard was in love with Elizabeth, his eldest niece, a real catch by now, that he wanted to marry her and she had a crush on him and Henry had heard those things but it would have been dismissed pretty quickly when he met her. Richard made a public proclamation to deny it and although it was a big rumour, it was also quickly dismissed. There is no contemporary evidence that Henry, once in England and having met Elizabeth, had any further concerns about her and Uncle Richard. The delays of several months was as stated in the Article.

    A number of political and legal issues stood in the way of the marriage between Elizabeth and Henry but I believe there were personal issues as well. I don’t believe Henry wanted to force the issue, given who Elizabeth was, a real Princess, the daughter of King Edward iv and the York figure head. Many of the supporters of the House of York wouldn’t have accepted Henry or sided with him without Elizabeth. Henry wanted to assure her she was safe and he was her champion if you wish and if she did hold a torch for Richard, which is possible, then she would need time to mourn him. The couple might have wanted time to adjust as well and the time taken to sort stuff out afforded them this.

    As the article says, Elizabeth was legally illegitimate and Henry had to reverse that stain on his future Queen. In order to do this his first Parliament had to meet, he had to be crowned first and he had to show his claim was not just because of Elizabeth but the fact he had won at Bosworth and beaten the current King, Richard iii whom to him wasn’t valid. Henry also needed to arrange a grand Royal wedding, send out the summons, give the bride time to prepare, get a dispensation and in fact arrangements were started after the coronation. Parliament met to repeal the Titular Regis, the Royal Title of Richard iii, which also declared Elizabeth and her siblings illegitimate and then Henry could proceed with the wedding. The Titular was not actually fully repealed because only 14 lines were read out and in order to legally repeal and Act of Parliament the entire text has to be read. Henry instead did a bit of legal slight of hand and it was declared reversed. He ordered every copy to be handed in and formally destroyed but it was recorded in the Chronicles and we have one original copy found in the Croyland Abbey in Gloucestershire hidden im the Chronicle. Good old Bishop John Russell. Henry could not have the truth coming out now, could he?

    So the reputation of Elizabeth was restored and the wedding arrangements made. These things all take time and I actually think they did well getting it all sorted as quickly as they did. Elizabeth was pregnant with Prince Arthur and so the relationship was off to a good start. I was disappointed that Dr Hilton would not have emphasised these things rather than opting for the scandal and mere rumours. She could have said there were rumours but this was the actual situation. I have to admit I am becoming more and more disappointed in so many reputable historians out there and in the subject itself sometimes because of this tendency to be sloppy with sources, make statements not supported by the facts and who overly speculate on stuff we know nothing about. Thank goodness I taught myself and had a couple of really good teachers otherwise I would have despaired of historical accuracy long ago.

    Elizabeth was a reconciler and a peace maker, a supportive wife and engaging mother, she was popular, a real beautiful woman, a strong and well educated woman, a loyal wife in difficult times and their marriage was affectionate and successful. I am not going to say it was a love match but I think love grew during their relationship. The couple consoled each other when Arthur and Edmund and their own little Elizabeth died. Elizabeth even risked her health and life to have another baby, hopefully it would be a baby boy, but she died soon after giving birth to a baby girl on her 37th birthday. Little Baby Catherine died nine days later. Henry Vii never remarried and together with Elizabeth he reposes in his Lady Chapel in an Italian built and designed tomb, finished by their son, King Henry Viii.
    I believe Elizabeth of York has been underrated and a lot of nonsense follows her and Henry vii and yet she was one of the most well documented Queen we have had. Flawed as they may be in places, I recommend Alison Weir, Elizabeth of York and Her World and her biography by Amy Linance and the Privy Purse of Elizabeth of York showing how much money was spent on her wardrobe, gifts, her expenses and her ceremonial life. Elizabeth could flaunt it and Henry was happy to settle up.

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18 January – Henry VII and Elizabeth of York get married