I was tagged for this meme a while back by Gabriele, but I was slow to respond because of my last post. So here goes!
I'm having a difficult time thinking of seven things for Richard III, so I'll spite the ol' boy and instead do a slight variation, using instead seven "facts" about Elizabeth Woodville that have been disproven or called seriously into doubt, but which nonetheless still occupy a special place in Ricardian fiction (and, sadly, in some nonfiction as well). I was reminded depressingly of this Sunday at the gym, when I tried to read a new historical novel (which shall remain nameless) that not only regurgitated every known myth about Elizabeth, but added a few of its very own. (I would have happily banged this one against the wall, except that that doing so might have caused some distress to the person walking the treadmill in front of mine.) So without further ado, here goes:
1. Elizabeth Woodville, enraged when the Earl of Desmond, visiting England, told Edward IV that he thought he had been unwise to marry her, secretly signed a death warrant for the hapless Desmond and transmitted it to Ireland, resulting in the execution of Desmond and his two young sons.
Desmond was indeed executed in 1468 on charges of treason, which may well have been unjustified. (There's considerable question about whether his sons were executed with him.) His death, however, probably had everything to do with the brutal Irish politics of the time and nothing to do with Edward IV's choice of a wife. The story connecting Elizabeth with his death doesn't appear until the mid-sixteenth century in a letter by Desmond's grandson, which tells a rather unlikely tale of Edward pressing Desmond for the latest gossip about him, Edward reacting good-naturedly when told by Desmond that his marriage was "agreeable to your lusts, yet not so much to the security of your realm and subjects," and Edward proceeding to tell Elizabeth this after a tiff between the royal couple. No contemporary source associates Elizabeth with the earl's death, which occurred four years after his visit to England; the closest is a note of instruction to an envoy by Richard III in 1484, when Richard tells the envoy to tell Desmond's son that Richard believes the execution to have been unlawful, expresses fellow feeling in that he has suffered the loss of his brother Clarence and other relations, and authorizes the younger Desmond to take proceedings against those responsible for the elder Desmond's execution. Only if one assumes, as do writers like Paul Murray Kendall, that Elizabeth was also responsible for Clarence's death can this be taken as an accusation of Elizabeth, and even then it's a stretch. The younger Desmond never did proceed against Elizabeth for his father's death, although there was nothing stopping him from doing so during Richard III's reign had he believed her to be the responsible party. Most importantly, Richard III, who wasn't given to mincing words when it came to Elizabeth, never accused her of murder.
2. Elizabeth's siblings were all greedy vipers who reaped huge financial rewards from their sister's reign.
Elizabeth's unmarried sisters made very good marriages after she became queen, in one case to a duke, in the other cases to boys or young men who were expected to inherit earldoms. But other than these marriages (which were reasonable given the sisters' new status as royal in-laws), the sisters were not showered with gifts or unduly favored. One scarcely hears of them during Edward IV's reign except for their marriages.
As for Elizabeth's brothers, Anthony did gain some offices and lands thanks to his sister's marriage, but his rewards were hardly outlandish, and he gave valuable service to the crown in return, both as a soldier and as the guardian of the Prince of Wales. (By contrast, the king's brother Clarence enjoyed great financial benefits from being the king's brother, and caused Edward IV nothing but trouble.) Twenty-year-old John married the Duchess of Norfolk, who was rich and three times his age, but nothing indicates that the elderly duchess, Edward IV's aunt, was forced into the marriage--she had been married three times before, once without license, and may have relished the annoyance of her heirs, who seem to have been waiting with ill-concealed impatience for her to die. John served as Elizabeth's Master of Horse, hardly a position of great power or one offering the opportunity to acquire great wealth. Lionel, the third brother, became Bishop of Salisbury. He presumably gained his office because of his royal connections, but he had been educated appropriately for it, and there is no indication that he was incompetent or otherwise unworthy of his office. Richard and Edward, the youngest of the queen's brothers, never married. Richard played no important part in Edward IV's reign, and Edward, probably the youngest of Elizabeth's brothers, served Edward IV militarily toward the end of the reign, participating in the Scottish campaign led by Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Neither brother was a wealthy man.
3. Elizabeth was an unbearably haughty woman who forced her own mother to kneel before her for three hours straight.
Elizabeth's post-churching banquet after the birth of her first child was indeed a grand, mostly silent affair during which Elizabeth's mother, Jacquetta, knelt before Elizabeth, being bidden at intervals by her daughter to rise, and during which other attendants of noble birth had to kneel before the queen as well. This, however, was a special occasion celebrating a once-in-a-lifetime event, the birth of Edward IV's first child, not a typical meal with the family. (Elizabeth of York at her coronation banquet was similarly served by kneeling noble ladies, and has never been accused of conceit.) Would Elizabeth's detractors be happier had Elizabeth propped her feet upon the table, leaned back in her chair, tossed her scraps to the dogs, quaffed ale by the cupful, and encouraged her ladies to do the same? (It does make for an interesting picture.)
4. Elizabeth was a real meanie to her sweet little brother-in-law, Richard, Duke of Gloucester.
One of the more imaginative passages in Paul Murray Kendall's biography Richard the Third is this one: "The Queen, beautiful and rapacious, would know how to show her haughtiness to the undersized lad from Yorkshire with the awkward torso and solemn face." In fact, there's not a shred of evidence that Elizabeth treated Richard with a lack of respect for his rank as the king's brother or as to what she thought of him before 1483. Unfortunately, historical novelists have seized upon this and similar fanciful passages from Kendall and treated them as Holy Writ.
5. Elizabeth Woodville was greedy and rapacious (see above).
Elizabeth's few household records show that she managed on less money and had fewer servants than her predecessor, Margaret of Anjou. While she certainly lived in a queenly style, nothing indicates that she was unusually lavish for a queen or that the public regarded her lifestyle as overly extravagant or flaunting. (Henry VI, of course, had been criticized for his lack of kingly style and bearing.) Ignored by her critics are her acts of piety and charity, which compare favorably to those of other English queens.
Elizabeth was quick to snap up an heiress, Anne Holland, for her oldest son by her first marriage; she paid Edward's sister the Duchess of Exeter 4,000 marks for the girl's marriage despite the fact that Anne had been promised to young George Neville, nephew to the Earl of Warwick. But given the fierce competition for rich wards, this sort of transaction was hardly unique to Elizabeth, and George was eventually promised in marriage to the king and queen's daughter Elizabeth of York, an arrangement that was broken when George's father turned against Edward IV and not by any act of Elizabeth Woodville's.
6. Elizabeth Woodville procured the death of George, Duke of Clarence.
Elizabeth had every reason to hate George, for he and his mentor the Earl of Warwick had caused the deaths of her father and of her brother John in 1469. She might well have thoroughly approved when Edward IV executed his brother, for reasons which were murky at the time and even more so now. She might well have encouraged him to order the execution. But nothing suggests that Edward IV was a henpecked husband or one who would order an execution just to humor his wife. Probably Edward believed that George's execution was justified by his increasingly erratic and dangerous behavior (such as his execution of his late wife's servant Ankarette Twynho), his possible continued involvement with Lancastrians like the Earl of Oxford, and his penchant for spreading rumors that Edward IV was not the son of the Duke of York.
7. Elizabeth Woodville was a witch.
The only evidence of this is that Richard III (not exactly a disinterested party) said so, which for some is quite good enough. It's not. (And where, pray tell, were Elizabeth's powers when she needed them most, in 1483?)
For those wanting to get a balanced picture of Elizabeth Woodville, four sources are particularly valuable: Anne Sutton's and Livia Visser-Fuchs' article in the 1995 Ricardian, "A 'Most Benevolent Queen': Queen Elizabeth Woodville's Reputation, her Piety and her Books," J. L. Laynesmith's The Last Medieval Queens, David Baldwin's Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower, and Arlene Okerlund's Elizabeth: England's Slandered Queen. Anne Crawford's The Yorkists also contains good information on Elizabeth.