Cheyneygates, Westminster Abbey, Elizabeth Woodville’s Pied-à-terre


Reblogged from A Medieval Potpourri Cheyneygates, Westminster Abbey, Elizabeth Woodville’s Pied-à-terre


A tantalising glimpse of  an ancient passage leading to Abbot’s Court and the steps leading up to Jericho Parlour.  Cheyneygates was situated to the right of the steps.  Photo Dr John Crook Country Life Picture Library.

This updated post was written with the help and input of my friend Sandra Heath Wilson… 

Its known well how that old fickle wheel of fortune dealt with Elizabeth Wydville, taking her down. taking her up, whirling her around a couple of times and then dumping her, finally, in Bermondsey Abbey, where  she died, impoverished mother in law to the King, Henry “Tudor”.

What I would like to focus on here is her last stay in Cheneygates, part of the Abbot’s House complex in Westminster Abbey.   It seemed she liked it there,  after all it was very convenient  being just over the road from Westminster Palace where her daughter Elizabeth of York , now Queen, would sometimes stay, because she took out a  40 years lease which has survived. However as they say man makes plans and the gods laugh because her son-in-law,  and his advisers sagely decided to call time on her sojourn there and with another and final spin of that old wheel of fortune off she went to Bermondsey which is yet another story.

How did Elizabeth come to rent Cheyneygates?  When Edward IV died suddenly in April 1483,   Elizabeth, his bigamous wife and her rapacious family,  attempted to take control of her eldest son, the new king, Edward V, in order to maintain their hold on power.  This was completely riding roughshod over her very recent deceased husband’s will and with hob nail boots to be precise.  The Wydevilles  endeavoured, foolishly and unsuccessfully, to outmanoeuvre Richard, Duke of Gloucester, her husband’s only remaining brother, who had been named in Edward’s will  as Lord Protector ( 1 ) The Woodvilles would not fare well under Richard, so I imagine their aim was to be rid of him entirely and there is good reason to believe that there was a plot to assassinate him  while on his journey to London possibly near the Wydeville stronghold at Grafton Regis.  However he confounded her, and on 30 April 1483  took Edward V under his wing besides arresting Elizabeth’s brother, Earl Rivers and her son, Sir Richard Grey.  When tidings of this event reach London ‘the following night’ Elizabeth panicked (2).   For reasons at the time best known to herself, Elizabeth skedaddled over the road  to sanctuary at Westminster Abbey, taking her remaining and no doubt confused children as well as her, probably unconfused mother, Jacquetta,  with her. In her scramble to take as much  stuff  her as she could,  a hole had to be  knocked in the wall separating the abbey from Westminster palace to accommodate all the treasure and other loot she’d grabbed. Not very dignified, but then dignity was not uppermost in her mind at that point.  According to More,  the Chancellor, Bishop Rotherham also in a rush to take the Great Seal to Elizabeth found ‘much heaviness,  rumble, haste and business, carriage and conveyance of her stuff into Sanctuary; chests, coffers, packers, fardels trussed all on mens backs; no man unoccupied, some lading, some going, some discharging, some coming for more, some breaking down the walls to bring in the nearest way, and some yet drew to them that helped to carry a wrong way (I think this means there was a bit of  looting going on here..oh the irony!) (3).

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