Elizabeth of York: The Absent Queen of Shakespeare’s Richard III

In his longest historical play Richard III, William Shakespeare examines the events leading up to Richard’s defeat at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 and the birth of the Tudor Dynasty. Although this history certainly contains some historical truth, its function as a literary work necessarily requires the examination of the accuracy of Shakespeare’s portrayals of the individuals about whom he wrote. One should be wary of regarding Richard III as the purely cold-hearted and manipulative murderer of Shakespeare’s account, and Shakespeare’s decision to omit the character of Elizabeth of York, the wife of Henry VII and the forebear of the Tudor line, should not be considered an indication of her insignificant role in the events detailed in the play. Shakespeare’s depiction of Elizabeth warrants consideration even though she does not figure as a character in the play, and close inspection of the text raises questions regarding Shakespeare’s depiction of Elizabeth’s staunch unwillingness to marry Richard, the desperate attempts on her mother’s part to prevent this marriage, and the unitive power of her marriage to Henry. Continue reading