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Elizabeth Woodville is considered to be the first commoner to be crowned as Queen of England. Her coronation, soon after her marriage to King Edward IV was revealed, was controversial at the time and would mark a formal beginning to a royal tenure that was filled with drama and conflict.
Elizabeth Woodville was born in 1437. She was the first child of Richard Woodville and Jacquetta of Luxembourg. Her mother was of noble birth and had firstly married John, Duke of Bedford, an uncle to King Henry VI of England. Following his death, she had secretly wed Richard Woodville who was of a far lower social rank than his bride. Once they admitted their marriage, King Henry fined them but allowed the union to stand. The financial penalty was later withdrawn and the couple built up a large family.
Elizabeth Woodville married, firstly, Sir John Grey of Groby. As the Wars of the Roses developed, he fought on the side of the Lancastrians and was killed at the second Battle of St. Albans in 1461. Elizabeth was left to raise their two sons and it’s reported that her desperation to claim their inheritance led her to beg the victorious York king, Edward IV, for help. He fell in love with her and they married, in secret, most probably on May 1st 1464.
They kept their union secret for some time as both knew Elizabeth was far from the ideal bride for a king. Edward was expected to marry royalty but when plans emerged for him to wed Bona of Savoy, he admitted he was already wed and caused an outrage. His new queen was considered of far too lowly birth to merit the title of consort but there was little courtiers could do.
Elizabeth was crowned Queen Consort on the 26th of May 1465, with many inside the Court and even the King’s inner circle opposing the move. However, Elizabeth’s Coronation was spectacular and followed tradition. The new queen spent the night before she was crowned at the Tower of London, as was usual, before a glittering parade to Westminster Abbey.
Elizabeth was anointed and then crowned before being seated on a throne. Her position as Queen of England was now unassailable.
That didn’t mean she was welcomed. She was ostracised by the Court, with some even accusing her and her mother of witchcraft. Despite this, her marriage to King Edward IV was fruitful, as it bore them a total of 10 children but it was far from peaceful. The Wars of the Roses continued and in 1470, Elizabeth found herself back at Westminster Abbey but in very different circumstances. When her husband was briefly deposed and held captive, she fled there with her children to claim sanctuary.
On November 2nd 1470, Elizabeth gave birth to her first son by Edward in the precincts of Westminster Abbey. He, too, was called Edward. The restoration of the House of York in 1471 led to a decade of prosperity and calm but in 1483, Edward IV died suddenly and the throne passed to the son who had been born in the Abbey. Edward V would never be crowned, however. He was deposed by his uncle, Richard III, just two months after his accession and before his own coronation had taken place.
Elizabeth’s royal story is closely connected to Westminster Abbey were she was crowned, against the odds, in 1465. But although she never saw a son crowned king there, she did witness her daughter’s coronation. Her eldest child with Edward IV, Elizabeth of York, was crowned consort in 1487.