Last night as I was going to bed, it occurred to me that I have never done a blog post about the last will of Elizabeth Woodville. So here it is!
Elizabeth died at Bermondsey Abbey on June 8, 1492, aged about 55. By this time, all of her eleven brothers and sisters were dead except for her youngest sister, Katherine, Duchess of Bedford and Buckingham. Only one of her four sons is known to have survived her: Richard Grey had been executed by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in 1483, and her two royal sons, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, disappeared that same year.
Elizabeth had been living at Bermondsey since around March 1487. Why she lived there has been fiercely debated. Vergil claims that she was sent there by Henry VII as punishment for having made her peace with Richard III in 1484, but this seems like a rather delayed reaction on Henry VII’s part, especially since Elizabeth had already been allowed to serve as godmother to Prince Arthur in 1486. Later historians, beginning with Francis Bacon and recently David Baldwin, have argued that she was forced to go to Bermondsey because she had been involved in Lambert Simnel’s 1487 rebellion. Others have rejected this story as unlikely. Elizabeth had leased the abbot’s house at Westminster on July 10, 1486, which as David MacGibbon notes already shows an intention to live away from court and her own estates. Although she was deprived of her dower lands, which were transferred to her daughter Queen Elizabeth in 1487, Michael Hicks has pointed out that “no late medieval English king permitted dower to two queens simultaneously.” She was given an annuity of 400 marks, increased to 400 pounds in 1490. Henry VII occasionally gave her grants, including a gift of 50 marks in December 1491, and she appeared at court from time to time. She was even considered as a bride for King James III of Scotland (d. 1488), an unlikely match for Henry VII to make if he believed that Elizabeth had been plotting against him. The more likely scenario, then, appears to be that Elizabeth chose voluntarily to end her days at Bermondsey, a perfectly respectable lodging for a dowager queen.
Like her predecessor Margaret of Anjou, Elizabeth apparently had little of value to leave at her death (in contrast to the royal mothers Cecily, Duchess of York, and Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, whose wills go on for pages). We do not, however, know what comprised the “smale stufe and goodes” Elizabeth refers to; perhaps she had more comforts around her than is generally assumed.
IN Dei nomine, Amen. The xth daie of Aprill, the yere of our Lord Gode Mcccclxxxxii. I Elisabeth by the grace of God Quene of England, late wif to the most victoroiuse Prince of blessed memorie Edward the Fourth, being of hole mynde, seying the worlde so traunsitorie, and no creature certayne whanne they shall departe frome hence, havyng Almyghty Gode fressh in mynde, in whome is all mercy and grace, bequeath my sowle into his handes, beseechyng him, of the same mercy, to accept it graciously, and oure blessed Lady Quene of comforte, and all the holy company of hevyn, to be good meanes for me. It’m, I bequeith my body to be buried with the bodie of my Lord at Windessore, according to the will of my saide Lorde and myne, without pompes entreing or costlie expensis donne thereabought. It’m, where I have no wordely goodes to do the Quene’s Grace, my derest doughter, a pleaser with, nether to reward any of my children, according to my hart and mynde, I besech Almyghty Gode to blisse here Grace, with all her noble issue, and with as good hart and mynde as is to me possible, I geve her Grace my blessing, and all the forsaide my children. It’m, I will that suche smale stufe and goodes that I have be disposed truly in the contentac’on of my dettes and for the helth of my sowle, as farre as they will extende. It’m, yf any of my bloode wille any of my saide stufe or goodes to me perteyning, I will that they have the prefermente before any other. And of this my present testament I make and ordeyne myne Executores, that is to sey, John Ingilby, Priour of the Chartour-house of Shene, William Sutton and Thomas Brente, Doctors. And I besech my said derest doughter, the Queue’s grace, and my sone Thomas, Marques Dorsett, to putte there good willes and help for the performans of this my testamente. In witnesse wherof, to this my present testament I have sett my seale, these witnesses, John Abbot of the monastry of Sainte Saviour of Bermondefley, and Benedictus Cun, Doctor of Fyfyk. Yeven the day and yere abovesaid.
Elizabeth’s funeral, as she requested, was a modest one, deserving of its own blog post.
David Baldwin, Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower. Gloucestershire: Sutton, 2004 (paperback edition).
Michael Hicks, ‘Elizabeth (c.1437–1492)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, May 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/8634, accessed 23 July 2010]
J. L. Laynesmith, The Last Medieval Queens. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005 (paperback edition).
David MacGibbon, Elizabeth Woodville: Her Life and Times. London: Arthur Baker, Ltd., 1938.
J. Nichols, A Collection of all the Wills, now known to be extant, of the Kings and Queens of England . . . . London: J. Nichols, 1780. (Available on Google Books.)
Arlene Okerlund, Elizabeth: England’s Slandered Queen. Gloucestershire: Tempus, 2006 (paperback edition).