Wife of the first of the reigning Tudors, Henry VII, Elizabeth of York is the least interesting of them all. Daughter of Elizabeth Woodville and King Edward IV, niece of Richard III, daughter-in-law to Margaret Beaufort, and mother to Henry VIII, she would have had to have been extraordinary indeed to stand out. Instead she chose the path of compliance. The result was a married life of comfort and free from danger. The example of so many of her relatives, including her brothers the Princes in the Tower, taught her the important survival lessons of being inconspicuous and well-behaved.
It saved her life, but makes for boring reading. She was a good, obedient wife and mother. Loved by her spouse and the people, she had little opportunity to develop a personality of her own. With Elizabeth Woodville for a mother and Margaret Beaufort for mother-in-law, she would have had to possess an unusual strength of character to stand out. By not being noticed, by obedience and dignity, she saved her life. Plots swirled around her all her life, but there is no evidence that she ever took part in them. So many of her close relatives and in-laws were put to death, can anyone blame her for being powerless and inoffensive?
Describing Henry VIII’s desiderata in a wife—fidelity, dignity, piety, virtue, fruitfulness, intelligence, and docility—Weir attributes them in full to his mother. There is nothing to criticize in living a blameless life except that it makes for dull reading. In spite of Alison Weir’s writing skill, even she cannot make an interesting character out of Elizabeth of York.
There is so much interest in the Tudors, I used to wonder why so little was written about Elizabeth of York. Now I know.