On This Day in History – 1 May – Marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville


Romanticised image of the first meeting of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.
Romanticised image of the first meeting of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.

Event– Marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville

Year– 1464

Location– Grafton House, England

Although the date of the wedding isn’t certain, it is generally accepted that Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville on May Day 1464, at the bride’s home of Grafton Regis, with only a few witnesses, including the bride’s mother, in attendance.

It is said that Elizabeth first met Edward when she went to petition him for the return of her dead husband’s lands. It was said that Edward tried to force himself onto Elizabeth so she threatened to take her own life with a dagger. Edward became so enamoured of her that he married her. Elizabeth bought no dowry or international connections, which would be expected of a Queen of England.

The marriage was significant because it was first time that an English king married a commoner without having a foreign wife first. Not only that, but Edward IV was the first Yorkist king, but the Woodville family supported the Lancastrian side in the Wars of the Roses, and Elizabeth’s first husband, John Grey, had died fighting for the Lancastrians. It was the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville that gave rise to the idea that a commoner could marry a King – this was the idea from which the likes of Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour managed to rise up from ladies-in-waiting to Queens.

Elizabeth and Edward’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth, married the future Henry VII, and their two eldest sons, Edward and Richard, became the ill-fated Princes in the Tower.

Further Reading

  • David Baldwin, Elizabeth Woodville (2002)
  • J.L. Laynesmith, The Last Medieval Queens (2004)
  • Amy Licence, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: a True Romance (2016)
  • Charles Ross, Edward IV (1974)

Monarchs are often remembered for just one or two events and this paints them as either good or bad for the rest of history. Why do we do this and how do perceptions change if you examine their reigns in their entirety?


Monarchs seem to be remembered for perhaps one or two events or actions that then define them in English history. This doesn’t seem fair, as people have both good and bad inside them, and our actions are often dictated by the circumstances in which we live, and the events that take place around us. Most of our actions have good intentions when we start out, but it doesn’t always end that way. Monarchs who are seen as good have made mistakes, and monarchs who are seen as bad have also done good things. Here I will examine Richard III, King John, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

Late 16th Century portrait of Richard III, housed in the National Portrait Gallery.
Late 16th Century portrait of Richard III, housed in the National Portrait Gallery.

The most eponymous “bad” monarch is Richard III, most remembered for the mysterious disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, presumed murdered by Richard himself. What people don’t always remember is that the Princes were in fact his nephews, and Richard never showed any previous inclination to take the throne, unlike his brother George Duke of Clarence.[1] The Princes’ mother, Elizabeth Woodville, didn’t seem to hold Richard accountable for their deaths and she emerged from sanctuary, putting her daughters under Richard’s protection. Either that, or she was so ambitious that she didn’t care that her brother-in-law killed her sons, and just wanted some power for herself.[2] However, if this was true, she would be sadly disappointed. Richard did a lot of positive things during his reign – he strengthened the economy and ended the wars with France.[3] He also strengthened ties with the north of England, due to his marriage to Anne Neville, daughter of a northern magnate. The bad is always remembered above the good where applicable, especially where there is so much mystery surrounding an event, like the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower. Continue reading “Monarchs are often remembered for just one or two events and this paints them as either good or bad for the rest of history. Why do we do this and how do perceptions change if you examine their reigns in their entirety?”

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