We follow-up last week’s post and look at a deadly love story involving George, Elizabeth, Edward and Richard. This article follows our introduction to the Wars of the Roses available here and our article on Edward III’s descendants and the causes of the Wars of the Roses available here. Later were the battles of the war from 1455-1464 and the Kingmaker. The most recent article was on Prince George’s treachery.


George’s fate was finally sealed by the Queen.

18 February 1478 saw the legal execution of a Prince of the realm. This was the first for the Plantagenets who preferred to send their enemies to France (or murder them in the night). Thanks to Shakespeare we now think George was drowned in a barrel of wine as punishment for challenging Queen Elizabeth. On general principle, most historians disagree with anything Shakespeare said, but could there be some truth to this story? Royals in the tower were known to bath in the barrels. Could an executioner have come up behind the Duke mid-bath and drowned him? History tells us nothing.

Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers and William Caxton present the first printed book in English to King Edward IV of England

Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers and William Caxton present the first printed book in English to King Edward IV of England

Richard had seen first-hand what happened to men who tangled with the Queen, so perhaps that was why he spent the remainder of his life distrusting Elizabeth and working to protect himself and England from her.

By the time Elizabeth had given Edward ten children, his mistresses had given him five. That we know of. There were probably many, many more. Edward never let his marriage vows stop him from filling his bed with the pretty maids at court. And there was no end to pretty maids. There was an end to Elizabeth’s youth though. By the time she was middle-aged, something new was happening in England. A new mistress named Elizabeth Shore saw Edward more than the Queen did and the King’s favorite brother, Richard, had won a battle against the Scots making him the most popular man at court. So popular in fact, that Edward seemed to be ignoring Elizabeth and only listening to Richard. Was Elizabeth finally losing control of her husband?

And then Edward died in April 1483.

The official story is that Edward died of either pneumonia or typhoid, although this has been frequently brought into question. Edward had in no way taken care of his health. He had more than let himself go in the peaceful years of his reign. But he was merely unhealthy, not sickly. For him to suddenly take ill and die within days and for his physicians to be utterly clueless as to what was wrong is highly suspicious. Despite what Hollywood would have us believe, the medical professionals of the past weren’t as utterly useless as they are portrayed. Pneumonia and typhoid were known illnesses. Had Edward had one of those, his physicians would have said so. Heart attacks and strokes were also a known affliction. If Edward had had one of those, his physicians would have said so. The fact that his medical records state that he died of a mysterious illness suggests that something was quite wrong. Was he poisoned? And if so, by whom?

We know that Elizabeth is famous for her “quick action” after her husband’s death. This quick action being the arrangements of an army of 2,000 men escorting her son back to London. The sweet, newly widowed Queen should have been in mourning, not organizing an army. How sweet of her to sacrifice. Although one needs to wonder why she was organizing an army to bring the Prince to London. What was she fearing? And how did she rustle up 2,000 soldiers in a matter of days? And why then did she run into hiding when Richard and 200 mourners began their journey south? Could it be that the soldiers were arranged before the King’s death because the King’s death was actually planned? Did the Prince need an army to escort him because Elizabeth feared that the English would rise up against this Prince who would now be King but controlled by the highly unpopular Woodvilles? Did she go into hiding because she feared Richard? Why did she fear Richard? Plantagenet women, even unpopular ones, were never harmed. The worst that would have happened to Elizabeth had she been caught was exile. But people often don’t see things as they truly are. Did Elizabeth run because she assumed that Richard would have killed her, as she would have killed him if roles were reversed? History refuses to tell us what happened to Edward or why Elizabeth ran when Richard posed no obvious threat - we can only speculate and assume.

Officially Edward died of pneumonia or typhoid, but the circumstances are suspicious. Elizabeth’s actions are suspicious. Did the Queen finally lose control of the King and so poisoned him? Did she plan to rule through her son? He was only 12; he needed a protector to rule until he was 16. Edward ordered Richard to be this protector. Why not his wife and her brother? Did he know something we didn’t?

As ever, there are few answers, but many questions. All we know is that 1483 was one frantic year.


By M.L King, a history enthusiast and part-time blogger. You can connect with her on Facebook here.

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Selected references

  • www.thewarsoftheroses.com
  • British History by Miles Kelly
  • www.britannica.com
  • www.battlefieldstrust.com