The marriage of King Henry VII to Elizabeth of York on 18 January 1486 was more than a simple marriage. And yes, it was even more than the pageantry filled wedding of a king to a woman of noble birth. Henry VII’s marriage to Elizabeth of York was a shrewd political move made with the purpose of helping the recently crowned Tudor king to secure his claim to the throne, while at the same time increasing the chances that he could begin a dynasty in his own name.
Henry Tudor had emerged as the senior Lancastrian claimant to the throne and with a combination of French and Welsh military support, Henry managed to wrest the throne from Richard III at Bosworth Field in August of 1485. Richard’s death on the field of battle effectively ended the War of the Roses, but Henry was not content to leave anything to chance. Several years earlier he had pledged to marry Elizabeth of York, but before he honored his pledge he made sure that he alone would hold the throne. He was crowned King Henry VII on 30 October 1485 at Westminster.
While no contemporary accounts of the actual wedding exist, we know that it took place at Westminster on 18 January 1486. Elizabeth of York, it is said, was “one of the beauties of her age.” The marriage was seen as being a happy one, and over its course the couple produced eight children. If your goal is to create a new ruling dynasty then eight children is a good place to start. Sadly, only four of the eight would survive. Of those four, Henry would be the next Tudor to take the throne as King Henry VIII.
Here is a pseudo-contemporary chronicle that gives us our best look at the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. It comes from the Croyland Chronicle, a record of events in the English court written by several unknown authors during the 7th through 15th centuries. This passage about the marriage of Henry to Elizabeth is near the conclusion of Croyland Chronicle: Part IX The Third Continuation of the History of Croyland Abbey: July, 1485 – April, 1486.
“…after the victory of the said king Henry the Seventh, and the ceremonies of his anointing an coronation, on the last day but one of the following month, by the hand of the most reverend father, Thomas, cardinal archbishop of Canterbury, and in due conformity with the ancient custom, the marriage was celebrated, which from the first had been hoped for, between him and the lady Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of king Edward the Fourth. This was duly solemnized, at the instance and urgent entreaty of all three of the estates of the realm, in the presence of the Church, on the eighteenth day of the month of January, in the year of our Lord, according to the computation of the Roman Church, 1486; a dispensation having been first obtained from the Apostolic See on the account of the fourth degree of consanguinity, within which the king and queen were related to each other.”
In conclusion, it is a quite interesting historical factoid to note the origin of the Tudor Rose. During the War of the Roses, the House of Lancaster was known by the Red Rose of Lancaster, while the House of York was known by the White Rose of York. The symbolic representation of the Tudor dynasty was an apt combination of the two symbols that represented the houses that combined to form the Tudor House: a white rose atop a red rose.