WCW: Elizabeth Woodville

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I specifically left out the more major queens from my Queens of England series, because I knew I would need lots of room to cover them. Queen Elizabeth Woodville (lived c. 1437-92, queen 1464-70 and again from 1471-83) is yet another fascinating historical figure. She’s unusual for an English queen, in that she was English herself and not nobility (her mother was the daughter of a count, and aunt-by-marriage to King Henry VI). She married a minor knight who died during the Wars of the Roses, with whom she had two sons.

She famously (and perhaps apocryphally) met King Edward IV while he was riding in the forest; she was there with her two sons to plead for financial support from the crown. He was so taken by her beauty that he married her secretly. Eventually the truth came out and Elizabeth’s family ascended the ranks of power, causing all kinds of problems. She and Edward had numerous children, including Queen Elizabeth of York and the princes in the tower. After Edward’s death, she sought to support her son’s claim to the throne, but that was usurped by Henry VII — who her daughter Elizabeth married.

The marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. Illuminated miniature from Vol 6 of the Anciennes chroniques d'Angleterre by Jean de Wavrin, 15th century, Bibliothèque nationale de France

The marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. Illuminated miniature from Vol 6 of the Anciennes chroniques d’Angleterre by Jean de Wavrin, 15th century, Bibliothèque nationale de France

Portrait of Elizabeth Woodville as Queen of England, c. 1471, Queen's College, Cambridge

Portrait of Elizabeth Woodville as Queen of England, c. 1471, Queen’s College, Cambridge

There’s so much that could be said about Elizabeth Woodville, but let’s get to her depictions on screen!

There are many early films for which I can’t find images of the actress playing Elizabeth:

  • Violet Farebrother in Richard III (1911)
  • Carey Lee in Richard III (1912)
  • Jeanne Delvair in Les enfants d’Édouard (1914)
  • Maud Yates in Jane Shore (1915)

And again some later ones:

  • Jane Wenham in An Age of Kings (1960)
  • Stephanie Bidmead in The Shadow of the Tower (1972)
  • Rita Békés in III. Richárd (1973)
  • Caroline Burns Cooke in Richard III (2005)
  • María Conchita Alonso in Richard III (2008)

Here’s the ones that I can find!

 

Barbara O’Neil in Tower of London (1939)

1939 Tower of London
1939 Tower of London

Copyright: Courtesy Everett Collection

1939 Tower of London

 

Mary Kerridge in Richard III (1955)

1955 Richard III 1955 Richard III

 

 

Susan Engel in Wars of the Roses (1965)

1965 Wars of the Roses

 

Rowena Cooper in The Third Part of Henry the Sixth and The Tragedy of Richard III (1983)

1983 The Tragedy of Richard III 1983 The Tragedy of Richard III

 

Annette Bening in Richard III (1995)

Richard Iii 1995 Richard Iii 1995 "For you have made the happy earth my hell." "I had rather be a country serving-maid, than a great queen in this condition."

 

Penelope Allen in Looking For Richard (1996)

1996 Looking For Richard

 

Rebecca Ferguson in The White Queen (2013)

2013 The White Queen 2013 The White Queen 2013 The White Queen 2013 The White Queen 2013 The White Queen 2013 The White Queen 2013 The White Queen 2013 The White Queen

 

Keeley Hawes in The Hollow CrownHenry VI and Richard III (2016)

2016 The Hollow Crown 2016 The Hollow Crown hollow crown The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses (2016)

 

Essie Davis in The White Princess (2017)

2017 The White Princess 2017 The White Princess 2017 The White Princess Essie Davis, The White Princess (2017)

 

Which is your favorite depiction of Elizabeth Woodville on screen?

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About the author

Kendra

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Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

16 Responses

  1. Alissa

    Although there were rumors that Richard III intended to divorce his wife and marry Elizabeth of York, daughter of Elizabeth Woodville, he never actually did so. Elizabeth of York married Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII.

    Reply
    • Northcountry gal

      I was about to say- Richard III was married to Anne Neville, and there were rumors that after her death he wanted to marry Elizabeth of York, but that didn’t happen – she married Henry VII.

      Reply
    • Lynne Connolly

      There were no contemporary rumours that Richard III wanted to divorce Anne Neville. It seems to be a rumour started by the Tudors, who had reason to blacken his name. It wouldn’t have made sense for him, because it would actually have been an annulment, which would have made his son illegitimate.
      From contemporary accounts, Richard was devoted to his wife and son, and after they both died, he appeared to lose heart. There were negotiations for him to marry a foreign princess after Anne died, but Bosworth intervened. Richard might well have given up by that point.

      Reply
      • RobinTMP

        Alison Weir seems to believe it for some idiotic reason or another, and is even convinced that Elizabeth slept with him. It sounds silly, but I have to admit that’s when I lost all faith in her as a historian.

        Reply
    • Aleko

      There’s no evidence at all that he ever contemplated such a thing. It would have been completely mad: not only because of course it would be a shocking thing to do, requiring a full papal dispensation, but because it would have undermined his whole claim to the throne, which depended on the proposition that Elizabeth and all her siblings were illegitimate.

      After the death of his much-loved wife Richard opened negotiations to marry Joan, the Princess of Portugal, and also to marry Elizabeth off to Manuel, heir presumptive to Portugal. It seems that someone, either ignorantly or deliberately, misunderstood this dual proposition.

      Reply
  2. Roxana

    Poor Elizabeth Woodville got the blame for every unpopular thing Edward IV did, a common trope. In fact except for an understandable desire to advance her numerous siblings she doesn’t seem to have been very political.
    It is highly likely that it was Edward’s decision to advance his Woodville in laws as a counterbalance to over mighty subjects like Warwick. Edward clearly regarded his father and brothers in law as persons he could trust.

    Reply
    • Brandy Loutherback

      Is that Elizabeth Woodville or Galadriel in the White Princess? Please to clarify.

      Reply
    • Aleko

      Which was perfectly true, for the simple reason that he and his favour were their only claim to power, wealth and influence: they needed him, and after his death they would need to protect his heir, who would be their kinsman. If he were to turn against them they’d instantly be toast, and they knew it.

      Reply
      • Patrick

        Similar to the Tudor strategy of promoting social climbers who would be dependent on them, as seen with Empson and Dudley, Wolsey, Cromwell, and the Cecils, among others.

        Reply
  3. Al Don

    I remain of the opinion The White Queen (2013) isn’t worth the time of day – they couldn’t even be arsed to do a decent production.

    I do love Richard III (1995). I think it’s my favourite Shakespeare adaptation that retains the prose but changes the time/setting. (Kurosawa’s Shakespeare adaptations, though brilliant, only liberally borrow the story – Ran especially – so they’re kind of in a separate category.) Just ingenious. And having the great Annette Bening’s take be inspired by Wallis Warfield Simpson is an excellent touch.

    Reply
  4. MsNomi

    I have only seen Elizabeth Woodville portrayed in Olivier’s 1955 Richard III. I think I might have to look up the modernized 1995 version. As much as I adore Essie Davis, I don’t think I can bring myself to watch The White Princess (isn’t that another Phillipa Fuckin’ Gregory one?)

    Reply
    • Ciara

      The White Princess is one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. The show runners made up even more nonsense that even Philippa Gregory has distanced herself from it.

      Reply
  5. H.D.

    I wish there were more photos from the Wars of the Roses production, those costumes in the poster look promising!

    Reply
  6. Kate

    Elizabeth’s sons, the two princes, were dead long before Henry set foot back in England, and despite a recent vogue for pretending otherwise, it’s exceptionally likely that it was Richard III who had them disposed of, not Henry Tudor.

    Reply

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