Why Netflix Show ‘The White Queen’ Has Put Elizabeth Woodville On Everyone’s Radar

Her story is compelling enough to base an entire series around it.
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There’s nothing quite like a television series that gives us new insight on a completely different place in time—The White Queen is definitely one of them.

The series, recently picked up by Netflix, has renewed interest around the lives and loves of Britain’s royal family—the one’s that go way way back. And namely one royal in particular—Elizabeth Woodville. 

Based on the novels The Cousins Wars by Phillipa Gregory, it is set during the Wars of the Roses in 1400s England (a long-standing conflict between cousins belonging to the regal House of York and the House of Lancaster). The narrative focusses on Elizabeth Woodville, known as The White Queen, who fights to maintain the British throne alongside her husband King King Edward IV. 

It’s a story of love, loss, and betrayal—a golden trio for binge-watching, if we ever saw one. And with its extravagant costuming and charming old-fashioned dialogue, it’s undoubtedly a must-watch. 

But how much of the story is based on real events? Here, we look at the true story of Elizabeth Woodville.

(Credit: BBC)

Who was Elizabeth Woodville? 

Elizabeth Woodville, born in 1437, was the Queen of England while her husband, King Edward IV ruled between 1464 to 1470. 

Interestingly, the King wasn’t Elizabeth’s first marriage. She was previously married to Sir John Grey of Groby, and the pair shared two sons, Thomas and Richard. Sir John was killed at the Second Battle of St Albans in 1461, leaving Woodville free to marry again.

Per Oxford University Press, Woodville was known for her beauty. She was described as having “heavy-lidded eyes like those of a dragon”. She captured the King’s attention, and they married in 1464 in a secret ceremony. 

What happened to Elizabeth Woodville after King Edward IV was dethroned? 

Prior to being ousted in 1470, Woodville had four daughters with King Edward. But shortly after he fell from power in 1470, she had a son, named Edward who would later become King. 

Edward IV reclaimed the throne in 1471 until 1483 when he died from suspected pneumonia, after which Woodville became Queen Dowager and her eldest son became King Edward V. 

It didn’t last for long, however. As the battle for the throne waged on, the children of Woodville and King Edward IV were deemed illegitimate due to the fact that Edward had already been contracted to marry another woman. Because of this, their son was dethroned and Richard, Edward’s brother, became King. 

How did Elizabeth Woodville die? 

Elizabeth Woodville is believed to have died from the plague, nine years after her husband in 1492.

She spent the final years of her life at London Monastery Bermondsey Abbey. There are several theories that reason why she made the unusual departure from her life in the Court as Queen Dowager—some historians claim she had always planned to live a quiet religious retirement, while others say she was forced to live there. 

She was buried alongside Edward IV in Windsor Castle’s St George’s Chapel. 

Why was Elizabeth Woodville called The White Queen? 

Elizabeth Woodville married King Edward IV who belonged to the House of York. The emblem of the House of York is in fact a white rose, which is why many believe Woodville was given ‘The White Queen’ moniker. 

Interestingly, Woodville was actually born to a family who were die-hard supporters of the House of Lancaster, the very family who went head to head with the House of York during the Wars, which ultimately reasons why their marriage was secretive and their children were later deemed illegitimate given Edward was contracted to marry another woman. 

There’s no doubt Woodville’s life is an intriguing one, so it’s understandable a whole book series, then a television series was based around it. For more information on the series and its subsequent seasons, read our explainer here

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