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Richard III's forelives: rewriting Elizabeth(s) in Tudor historiography.

ELIZABETH I's paternal grandmother and Henry VII's queen consort, Elizabeth York, provided a fleeting but useful precedent for the reigning queen in 1559. Elizabeth I's pre-coronation procession from the Tower to Westminster Abbey on January 14 included a series of pageants designed to please the new monarch, the first of which emphasized Henry VII and Elizabeth York as the beginning of the Tudor dynasty. An account of the procession printed nine days later parses the pageant as a complimentary comparison of Elizabeth I to her female ancestor:
  This pageant was grounded upon the Queenes majesties name. For like
  as the long warre betwene the two houses of Yorke and Lancastre then
  ended, when Elizabeth doughter to Edward the forth matched in manage
  with Henrye the seuenthe heyre to the howse of Lancastre: so since
  that the Queenes majesties name was Elizabeth. and forsomuch as she
  is the onelye heire of Henrye the eight, which came of bothe the
  howses as the knitting up of concorde, it was deuised that like as
  Elizabeth was the first occasion of concorde, so she another
  Elizabeth myght maintaine the same among her subjectes.... (1)

Lines delivered by a child appointed to "open the meaning" of the pageant describe Elizabeth York and Henry VII as "two princes that sit under one cloth of state," and the printed text of the procession repeatedly refers to the royal couple as "those two princes." (2) Judith M. Richards argues that the pageant presented Elizabeth York and Henry VII as "coequal monarchs" and linked both Elizabeths together as queens with "shared capacities to end 'all dissention' from dynastic struggle." (3) The pageant emphasizes Elizabeth York's right and ability to rule in order to confirm Elizabeth I's own "eligibility to wear the crown" and to assert the legitimacy of female succession. (4) Thus, Elizabeth York was recursively formed into an appealing precedent for Elizabeth I's female rule through the selective imagining of a princely alliance of co-rulers.

This remaking of a queen consort into a joint monarch was rich with possibilities of flattery or imitation for Elizabethan writers, as it demonstrated an appealing vision of the new queen's familial past as well as support for her current rule. For dramatists taking up this story of union during the vogue of history plays in the 1590s, even stronger precedents for women's political engagement abounded in the Tudor political and chronicle histories that comprised their source materials. In Thomas More's The History of King Richard the Third (1543, written c. 1513-18), Polydore Vergil's Anglica Historia (History of England) (1534, written c. 1513), and Edward Hall's The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancastre & Yorke (1548 and 1550), historiographers committed to dynastic politics that afforded women of royal blood important political agency envision key female subjects as model agents and readers of history who inform the authors' own analyses of national events. More, Vergil, and Hall establish the centrality of these women through narrative techniques privileging women's political and maternal responses. These histories were likely to have pleased the future queen in their sympathy for women's participation in politics, though such narratives are often maligned as the source of historical drama's exclusion of women as well as the source of that drama's events. Yet when Shakespeare represented the same female historical figures in Richard III, he rejected not only the royal cue of Elizabeth I's coronation pageant but also the precedent of his narrative sources in order to downplay women's authority. The play makes starkly different revisions to record the beginning of the Tudor dynasty by casting Henry Tudor as England's singular savior and eliminating Elizabeth York entirely. The larger exclusion of women from the dramatized political world of the Wars of the Roses, of which Elizabeth York's lack of representation is only one instance, has been adroitly outlined by feminist criticism of Shakespeare's history plays. (6) This essay locates Richard III's much-discussed exclusion of women within this richer context of narrative and dramatic Tudor historiography by reading the play alongside narrative accounts of Elizabeth York's mother, Queen Elizabeth Woodville Grey. Narrative historiography under the Tudors portrayed dynastic models of the state, which allowed women with personal ties to the monarchy, like Elizabeth Woodville Grey, power as political agents. However, Elizabethan history plays drawing on these narratives, such as Richard III, dramatized nationalist models that increasingly saw these personal ties as solely familial and separated them from national concerns.


Famous for its enduring portrait of a wicked and hunchbacked Richard, More's History is often considered a vehicle of Tudor propaganda and the foremost source of Shakespeare's great stage villain. (7) Rarely acknowledged, however, is the History's prominent depiction of women as participants in political and historical change. (8) Through narrative strategies of interjected evaluation, invented dialogue, and interior perspective. Elizabeth is ascribed a privileged knowledge of Richard's aspirations that aligns her character with More's own authorial voice. (9) More likewise calls attention to her central role in historical events and her reflexive awareness of her ability to intervene in dynastic negotiations on overlapping familial and political levels.

More's narrative structure moves directly from Edward IV's death to Richard's attempts to wrestle power from the widowed queen. Dialogue assigned to Richard indicates that he sees Elizabeth as a formidable enemy with the potential to prevent his manipulation of dynastic succession and to turn public opinion against him. Richard accuses her of "womanish forwardness" as well as "great malice toward the king's councillors" and suggests her intent in taking sanctuary is to "bring all the lords in obloquy and murmur of the people." (10) Richard's first task is to stir up antagonism toward Elizabeth in order to challenge her influence and control over the princes. More's villain must work hard to do so, and he is forced to "secretly" use "divers means" to convince her that her sons should travel without escorts, while Hastings and Buckingham, "men of honor" and "great power," "were of themselves ea[sy] to kindle" when Richard set them "afire" against the queen. (11) By juxtaposing a perfunctory account of the ease with which Richard draws in Hastings and Buckingham with a description of his struggle to persuade Elizabeth, More depicts her as both the strongest impediment to Richard and the most wisely skeptical member of Edward IV's former court. The council, further demonstrating how easily Richard can persuade everyone except the queen, affirms Richard's motion to persuade her and her younger son out of sanctuary as "good and reasonable" and shortly agree that the Duke of York can be forcibly removed, "thinking none hurt earthly meant toward the young babe." (12) More thus portrays the king's councilors as dupes who accept Richard's facile gendered arguments against Elizabeth and utterly fail to suspect the threat he poses. Unlike those around her, such as the Archbishop of York, who "trusted the matter was nothing so sore as she took it for," and the councilors who do not question Richard's motives, Elizabeth rightly predicts that Richard "is one of them that laboreth to destroy [her] and [her] blood." (13)

Set apart from other Yorkist figures by her resistance to Richard, More's Elizabeth also demonstrates a belief in her own power to influence the future when she learns Richard has deceived her. Upon hearing of the arrests of her brother and son enabled by her own earlier concessions to Richard, Elizabeth seeks sanctuary for the rest of her family: "in great flight and heaviness, bewailing her child's ruin, her friends' mischance, and her own infortune, damning the time that ever she dissuaded the gathering of power about the king." (14) More gives Elizabeth an interior perspective acutely aware of the efficacy of her individual decisions; the distress that More imagines she feels also shows her awareness of Richard's larger intentions. She astutely assesses her errors and anticipates future danger to her children that others cannot predict, understanding Richard's seizure of the young king as a crucial moment in his accumulation of power. More conceives of her actions as both personal and political: her maternal fear for her sovereign son and other children is also presented as a dynastic fear for Edward's heirs and the ruler of her country.

More devotes about a fifth of his entire text to Elizabeth's debate with the Lord Cardinal over her right to sanctuary and guardianship of her youngest son, highlighting her considerable intellectual skill and her continuing awareness of Richard's intentions. Alan Clarke Shepard argues that Elizabeth's dialogue in sanctuary exhibits an "empowered female voice" that ably mobilizes legal discourses usually reserved for men. (15) Elizabeth's empowered voice in fact uses a hybrid rhetoric that privileges her maternal role and simultaneously positions that maternal role as inextricable from her political defense of Edward V's succession. Elizabeth invokes the laws of nature, God, and English common law to argue for her maternal, legal, and religious prerogative: "man's law serveth the guardian to keep the infant, the law of nature will the mother keep her child, God's law priveilegeth the sanctuary." (16) The core of this debate is familial access to the royal heirs and the implications of that access on the future succession. Elizabeth initially depoliticizes her claim by arguing that motherhood makes her a naturally superior caregiver for her child--a claim that "no man denieth"--but her subsequent insistence that the duke is also her legal ward carries significant political consequences: "He is also my ward; for, as my learned counsel showeth me, sith he hath nothing by descent holden by knight's service, the law maketh his mother his guardian." (17) This legal defense of her guardianship reads as a veiled challenge: applied to her older son, the underage Edward V, such an argument could undermine Richard's right as Lord Protector. Elizabeth's arguments of maternal nature and legal designation emphasize her overlapping political and familial roles of mother and guardian.

Elizabeth's defenses of her guardianship are paired with her distrust of Richard, which she voices to unwilling listeners. Forced to argue with men unwilling to see Richard's ambition, Elizabeth circumspectly veils her knowledge of his intentions to deliver a warning about how those intentions might backfire: "I marvel greatly that my lord protector is so desirous to have [the Duke of York] in his keeping, where if the child in his sickness miscarried by nature, yet might he run into slander and suspicion of fraud." (18) Rather than directly challenge Richard's motives, Elizabeth claims that she fears "no further than the law feareth," citing existing law that forbids custody to men who might gain from the deaths of their wards and raising the question of Richard's fitness as Protector. (19) The debate ends only when the naive Lord Cardinal, who "neither believed and was also loath to hear" the queen's "biting words against the protector," grows tired and testily tells Elizabeth she must think "that he and all other also, save herself, lacked either wit or truth" to determine whether the Duke of York should be removed from sanctuary. (20) More's characteristic use of irony indicates that in his eyes, Elizabeth is the sole possessor of wit and truth here and in the rest of the narrative.

The privileged insights into Elizabeth's thoughts offered throughout the History sanction her political decisions and intellectual arguments, foster readerly sympathy for her choices, and align her with More's own authorial voice. Judith Anderson argues that the History's force and drama comes from its emphasis on an internal, subjective perspective focused on Richard, whereby More "imagines, enters, and inevitably shapes Richard's thoughts and motives, in addition to interpreting or commenting in a variety of less immediate ways on their significance." (21) Certainly More's attention to crafting Richard's thoughts and motives makes his villain a compelling subject. However, More's similar perspective on Elizabeth's awareness of Richard ascribes to her an even more compelling historical forethought similar to the author's point of view. In her discussion with the Cardinal, Elizabeth incredulously asks, "Troweth he that I perceive not whereunto his painted process draweth?" showing More imagines for her a historical recognition (shared with More and his readers) of the extent of Richard's goals and his means to achieve them. (22) She also labels Richard's concern for her youngest son the Duke of York a "trifling pretext." (23) Elizabeth makes More's narrative possible by delivering its perspectives and its key subjects: hers is the only voice in the unfinished History, besides More's, that expresses the historical Tudor vilification of Richard as a dissembler who uses "painted processes" and "trifling pretexts." By attributing an awareness of Richard's evil to Elizabeth, More acknowledges her as a privileged historical source. Thus, he retrospectively claims her as not only a powerful historical figure, but as a model reader of history who informs his own politicized analysis of the events of the History. Given authorial understanding of the History's villain and depicted within the narrative as an active opponent to Richard, Elizabeth shows that women's roles in history and historiography are neither apolitical nor circumscribed, as later drama often stages them to be.

The History's sympathetic representation of Elizabeth's role in history is not an anomaly in early modern historical narrative. Polydore Vergil's 1513 Anglica Historia, long considered the origin of the Tudor myth and the greatest example of royally solicited propaganda about the Wars of the Roses, shares with More's History a comparable approach that adopts Elizabeth's viewpoints and underscores narrative historiography's willingness to sympathetically represent women's active, political roles in history. (24) When More and Vergil write about the same events in her life--Richard's attempts to convince Elizabeth of his goodwill toward her sons, her retreat to and the removal of her youngest son from sanctuary--they overlap significantly in tone and narrative strategy. For example, Vergil's account of Elizabeth's flight into sanctuary uses interior perspective and ascribes to her privileged suspicions about Richard: "Elyzabeth the quene was much dismayed, and determynyd furthwith to fly; for, suspecting eaven than that ther was no plane dealing, to th intent she might dlyver her other children from the present danger, she convayed hirself with them ... into the sayntuary at Westmynster." (25) Vergil does not present a long debate and foregoes Elizabeth Woodville Grey's internal struggle; the Anglica Historia simply reports that Elizabeth's son is "pullyd owt of his mothers armes" immediately. (26) However, Vergil records her refusal to turn over her son as one founded in accurate concerns about Richard that are shared only with the historiographer himself: "but the woman, foreseing in a sort within hir self the thing that folowyd furthwith after, could not be movid with any perswations to commyt hir self to the credyt of duke Rycherd." (27) This account of Elizabeth foreseeing the "future" "within hirself" privileges an inner narrative within the female subject as a source of history as well as a politically-shrewd observation of events. "The thing that folowyd furthwith after" is the historiographer's version of events, and only Elizabeth is given the ability to see and respond to that future. More's representation of Elizabeth calls attention to women's participation in history; Vergil's significantly shorter but analogous narrative of her likewise shows that historiography often used historical women's perspectives to foreground their own stories.

More and Vergil might be considered unlikely advocates of the voice and influence they both ascribe to Elizabeth Woodville Grey in their narratives of Richard III. Their similar interests in serving successive Tudor governments suggests that their histories needed to satisfy Henry Tudor and his progeny. While stories that emphasized Richard's tyranny fit the bill (and Vergil and More's certainly did), there is little indication that Henry VII's chief goal of legitimizing his Lancastrian claim to the English public and other rulers of Europe would have been well-served by these historiographers' similar portraits of Elizabeth Grey. While Henry welcomed the politically expedient narrative of providential union between himself and Elizabeth York, he had to balance that narrative with calculated suppression of Elizabeth York's better blood claim, lest her popularity and genealogy lead to claims that she could and should rule in her own right, rather than take up the role of queen consort. (28) Both More and Vergil would have been well aware of Henry VII's vexed relationship with his mother-in-law: placed on the throne in part because of her negotiations for his marriage to her daughter, Henry confiscated Elizabeth Woodville Grey's lands and consigned her to a nunnery in 1487. Ostensibly punishing her for relinquishing her daughters to Richard, his delay in doing so led early modern and modern historians alike to speculate that he suspected her political involvement in fostering some of the many pretenders to his throne, who often claimed to be her dead boys, saved from the Tower. (29) By the time Vergil and More began their respective histories, the necessity of the story of union with Elizabeth York was counterweighted by Henry VII's evident distrust of Elizabeth Woodville Grey. Given this context, neither historiographers' representations of Elizabeth Woodville Grey as a privileged authorial voice are directly in service of the particular Tudor myth Henry VII promoted. More and Vergil's dedication to male Tudor monarchs turns out to be somewhat ambivalent; their support of the Tudor succession was most enthusiastic when directed toward Elizabeth and her female offspring, not Henry or his male descendants.

Vergil's book on Henry VII's reign in the Anglica Historia reinforces a providential perspective asserting the Tudors as God's chosen rulers of England, but it is also somewhat critical of the first Tudor. Often describing Henry VII as a good prince, Vergil concludes his book on Henry with a final sentence noting that the king's virtues were obscured by avarice: "in a monarch indeed it may be considered the worst vice since it is harmful to everyone, and distorts those qualities of trustfulness, justice and integrity by which the State must be governed." (30) Vergil locates the majority of his praise of the Tudor dynasty not in its male founder but in the symbol of union manifested by the marriage of Henry and Elizabeth, and in its women. He heartily praises Elizabeth York as "a woman intelligent above all others, and equally beautiful," and attributes the true success of Henry's victory to be in the subsequent marriage between rival houses: "It is legitimate to attribute this [marriage] to divine intervention, for plainly by it all things which nourished the two most ruinous factions were utterly removed, by it the two houses of York and Lancaster were united and from the union the true and established royal line emerged which now reigns." (31) When Vergil wrote of other historical female figures of the Tudor family, he did so with praise more ebullient than that of the male monarchs. He calls Henry VII's mother Margaret a "most worthy woman whom no one can extol too much or too often for her sound sense and holiness of life" and a "woman most outstanding both in her pious love of God and charity to all men, and whose countless virtues each one of us may find it easier to admire than analyse." (32) Even in the foreign queen consort Catherine of Aragon he saw a model of gentle benevolence whose deathbed letters professing loyalty to Henry VIII brought out a sympathetic humanity in her erstwhile husband. Vergil's narrative of events after the close of the Wars of the Roses reveals a pattern of positive praise for the female figures wielding influence within the Tudor dynasty.

More's representation of Elizabeth in the History is also linked to his complicated political investment in English dynasty. Critical assessments of gender politics in his popular Utopia, written in 1516 shortly after the History, suggest More is an unlikely figure for an early modern protofeminist. (33) However, his views on women's education and the subjects of some of his lesser-known texts, including his English poetry written in the first decade of the 1500s, suggest that his account of women in the History is not an isolated case but a familiar narrative of women's influence well grounded by both his personal interest and his political associations with the Yorkists and the Tudors. More's "A Lamentation of Queen Elizabeth," an elegy written in 1503 upon the death of Elizabeth York, suggests strong parallels to his portrait of her mother in the History. The poem, like so many pieces of the History, is written from the perspective of its queen. Both Frederic Tromly and Lee Cullen Khanna cite the poem's ability to solicit readers' empathy as well as its emphasis on Elizabeth York's wisdom as part of the poem's unusual contribution to the elegiac form. (34) Khanna notes that the poem's "admiration of virtue" moves beyond description of Elizabeth York as the "traditional ideal of the chaste good wife," because she is portrayed as a "woman of authority and position" who is capable of gaining wisdom through a recognition of her role as God's servant. (35) The poem also suggests a specific evaluation of the Tudor family that helps establish the History's own relationship to the Tudor narrative of restorative union as one that surprisingly imagines alternative royal authority in the figures of Yorkist and Tudor queens. "A Lamentation of Queen Elizabeth" devotes four stanzas to the queen's goodbyes to her children, mother-in-law, and sisters. Her servants and subjects are the focus of the final stanza, and their obedience functions as a model for her own servitude to God. Her son Henry VIII is discussed for only two lines--"Adieu, Lord Henry, my loving son, adieu. / Our Lord increase your honour and estate"--while her daughter-in-law Catherine of Aragon is claimed as her "daughter" and asked by the queen to "Pray for my soul." (36) These goodbyes to her extended kin are women-centered, and they privilege her own position as one of matriarchal authority and imagine the Tudor line as one passed from woman to woman. In her goodbye to her husband, Elizabeth recalls the Tudor legacy as a partnership in which she played a key personal and political role:
Adieu, mine own dear spouse, my worthy lord.
  The faithful love that did us both combine
In marriage and peaceable concord
  Into your hands here I clean resign
  To be bestowed upon your children and mine.
    Erst were you father, and now must ye supply
    The mother's part also, for lo now here I lie. (37)

Elizabeth describes her marriage and children, as well as the "peaceable concord" created in their home and realm as a combined effort over which she always retained a great measure of control. Resigning her faithful love into Henry's hands, she nevertheless specifies its use: it is meant to be bestowed upon their children, and Henry is instructed to take up the indispensable part of mother that Elizabeth now leaves vacant in order for him to bestow that love properly. Thus, it seems that More's lament imagines Elizabeth York as both the moral and practical center of the Tudor dynasty, and the words he writes for her are counsel for his king, instructing Henry VII to take up Elizabeth's part as well as his own. More's belief in Elizabeth York's wisdom and virtue leads him to position her as that best "part" of the Tudor line, a perspective that clearly overlaps with his depiction of her mother as the center of morality, wit, and intellect in the History's account of Yorkist self-destruction. The poem also shares with the History a male writer's adaptation of a female perspective occupying both a personal and political realm, further indicating the extent to which some history-writing relied on the voices of its female historical figures as narrators.

"A Lamentation of Queen Elizabeth" is particularly striking in its contrast to More's prose coronation poem, "On the Coronation Day of Henry VIII Most Glorious and Blessed King of the British Isles, and of Catherine his Most Happy Queen, A Poetical Expression of Good Wishes By Thomas More of London," which marks the death of Henry VII and the ascension of Henry VIII in 1509 and was published with his Latin epigrams in 1518. More praises Henry VIII by distinguishing the king from his father, who was in More's eyes, a tyrant: "This day is the limit of our slavery, the beginning of our freedom, the end of sadness, the source of joy. (38) He recalls the unjustness of laws, the severity of taxation, and a climate of fear and oppression created under Henry VII and gloriously removed by Henry VIII. Lastly, he devotes a paragraph of praise to Catherine of Aragon, which includes his assessment of public opinion about the marriage as well as the role of Henry queen: "It was she, your wife, whom your people were happy to see sharing your power. (39) More characterizes royal marriage under dynastic rule as a power-sharing alliance that affords queen consorts political agency; in his poem the hope the English have for Henry VIII's new reign is grounded in the political benefits of this power-sharing arrangement and predicated upon their approval of Catherine as a co-ruler of sorts. Given More's dislike of Henry VII and the elder More's steadfast Yorkist loyalties, it is perhaps no surprise that More might find the silver lining of the Tudor dynasty in its women, imagining Elizabeth Woodville Grey, Elizabeth York, and even Catherine of Aragon as intelligent and compassionate queen mothers and consorts who might effectively participate in dynastic government through their familial ties to the monarch. (40)

More's poetry and historiography demonstrate a provisional, rather than propagandistic, endorsement of the Tudor family and its history. This endorsement was rooted in female Yorkists, like Elizabeth Woodville Grey, who provided a benevolent model of women's unofficial influence in dynastic politics, and Elizabeth York, whose own blood claim to the throne made her a plausible co-ruler under a dynastic framework that sanctioned queen consorts' political power. Conceived as potential alternative political authorities in More's poetry, Yorkist and Tudor women such as Elizabeth Woodville Grey function as model authorities on history who inform and authorize his own narration of the past in his historiography. More, of course, was not the only important early modern figure who imagined Elizabeth York as an alternative dynastic authority to her Tudor husband: his foregrounding of Tudor women prefigures the coronation pageant's rewriting of the story of union to position Elizabeth York as a precedent for female rule. More's historiography thus offered early modern playwrights ample source material for dramatic accounts that would have dovetailed with Elizabeth I's recognition and manipulation of the ideological power available in a history of the Wars of the Roses that privileged Tudor women. Mining More's History and its chronicle siblings for almost everything except this emphasis on women's perspectives, Shakespeare instead rejected early Tudor historiography's view of women within England's dynastic past.


Shakespeare, of course, accessed More's History through later Tudor chronicles that included and expanded upon More's text, such as Edward Hall's Union, posthumously published twice (1548 and 1550) during the reign of the child king Edward VI. The Union, like the History and Anglica Historia, surprisingly depicts Elizabeth Woodville Grey as an active historical agent whose personal and familial relationships enable her positive political involvement in the Tudor succession. However, Hall's portrait of Elizabeth has often served as key evidence in feminist arguments identifying narrative historiography as a genre that negatively evaluates or excludes historical women. Phyllis Rackin, Jean Howard, Nina Levine, and Barbara Hodgdon read Shakespeare's Elizabeth in Richard III as a more positive rewriting of what they consider a harsh portrayal of her in Hall's Union. These critics argue that Shakespeare recuperates Elizabeth's historical character because his queen appropriates and redirects against Richard Hall's charge that she is an inconstant woman who forgets Richard's murder of her sons and delivers her daughters to him like "Lambes" to the "rauenous wolfe." (41) Yet this perspective overlooks the intertextual influence of More's narrative and Hall's own portrayal of Elizabeth in the rest of the Union, which shares with its predecessors the use of narrative strategies highlighting women's political and familial agency. Hall incorporated More's History in its entirety in all editions of the Union, which were, in turn, printed in many other chronicle narratives of the early modern period. (42) The inclusion of the History in the Union changes the effect of Hall's more critical comments about Elizabeth by establishing the bulk of the historiography (and perspectives) about her accessible to readers. While Hall doesn't reproduce the Historia, he uses it to fill in the gaps about Elizabeth's life left by More's unfinished History through rewriting and expanding key scenes from Vergil's text featuring Elizabeth. Hall thus takes cues from both historiographers' interest in Elizabeth's active decisions and their assignation of authorial knowledge to her.

Hall begins his account of Elizabeth with positive interjected evaluations, documenting her "beautie & fauor," "sober demeanure, louely lokyng, and femynyne smylyng" as well as her "toungue so eloquent, and her wit so pregnant." (43) He details Elizabeth's sexual and intellectual influence over Edward IV as both well-deserved and well-executed: she "wisely" resists the king's desire to make her his mistress, and thus realizes an even more powerful position as his wife. Elizabeth's marriage is "profitable to her bloud," a means for the queen to elevate herself and her family through Edward's preferment, and her recognition and use of that profit is presented as shrewd but not inappropriate. (44)

Even Hall's reputedly negative evaluation of her marriage to the king as a source of great trouble is more ambivalent than critics generally allow. Claiming the common people objected to the preferential treatment given to Elizabeth's relatives after her marriage. Hall speculates that Edward IV's early death and the destruction of the Yorkist dynasty might be punishment for either the marriage or the murder of his brother Clarence. Whereas Vergil simply notes that the people "found muche fault with [Edward] in that marriage," Hall introduces and then evaluates such speculation: "But such coiectures for [??] most part, be rather more of mens phatasies, then of diuine reuelacion." (45) Describing with similar uncertainty Elizabeth's possible contribution to Clarence's death, Hall notes that the malice between Edward IV and Clarence might be due to "olde grudges" between the brothers or new resentments "set a fyre by the Quene." (46) As with his account of popular opinion holding Elizabeth responsible for God's punishment of her husband, Hall concludes his provisional indictment against Elizabeth with an even stronger qualification: "the certayntie therof was hyd, and coulde not truely be disclosed, but by conjectures, which as often deceyue the imaginacions of fantastical folke, as declare truth to them in their conclusion." (47) Thus, the statements Hall makes about Elizabeth Woodville Grey frequently understood as entirely unfavorable are actually heavily qualified with reminders that readers should be suspicious of negative information about her. Hall's provisos about Elizabeth show the English public as too quick to incriminate Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville Grey as a sign and symptom of corrupt favoritism and familial access. Though Hall's text offers, in general, a defense of Elizabeth's influence through her personal intimacy with the King as a legitimate political mechanism, the public anxiety he consciously refutes is part of what Curtis Perry identifies as an emerging redefinition of "the relationship between the king and the nation" that views favoritism with greater suspicion and concern than ever before. (48) Hall thus uses the public's conjectures to direct his readers to make better evaluations of Elizabeth and her participation in dynastic politics and to speak back to sentiment critical of queenly favoritism.

Hall's text retains and takes cues from More's use of narrative strategies, including interjected evaluation and invented dialogue, and adds to these a somatic form of interior perspective to situate women's perspectives as a legitimate source of history. (49) Included less than a paragraph after the close of More's History in the Union, Hall's account of Elizabeth's responses to her son's deaths is similar to More's representation of Elizabeth as a sympathetic maternal figure and active agent in history
  But when these newes wer first brought to the infortunate mother of
  the dead children yet being in sanctuary, no doubte but it strake to
  her harte, like the sharpe darte of death: for when she was first
  enformed of the murther of her. ii. sonnes, she was so sodainly
  amasyd with the greatnes of [??] crueltie that for feare she sounded
  and fell doune to the ground, and there lay in a great agonye like
  to a dead corps. And after that she came to her memory and was
  reuyued agayne, she wept and sobbyd and with pitefull scriches she
  replenished the hole mancion, her breste she puncted, her fayre here
  she tare and pulled in peces & being ouercome with sorowe and
  pensiuenes rather desyred death than life, calling by name diuers
  times her swete babes, accomptyng her self more then madde that she
  deluded by wyle and fraudulente promises delyuered her yonger sonne
  out of the sanctuarie to his enemye to be put to death. ... (50)

Hall imagines motherly bereavement as a physically painful experience, striking Elizabeth's heart "like the sharp darte of death." Hall's narrative becomes both a spectacular description of performative grief designed to elicit sympathy from his readers and an interior account of emotional response to tragedy. Borrowing Vergil's description of Elizabeth's physical response, which briefly describes her swooning, crying, shrieking, striking her hair and tearing her breast. Hall's account of her grief offers readers access to a historical event through Elizabeth's perspective. While Hall initially proposes--and then refutes--Edward's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville Grey and the favoritism he provides to her family as a possible cause for the king's divine punishment, the Union's depiction and evaluation of Elizabeth's performance of grief further distances her from such blame. The physical description and interior account of her sadness augments Hall's earlier narrative corrections of an overly critical public's judgment, providing readers with a compelling affective appeal that counters accusations against Elizabeth. As both More's and Vergil's do, Hall's interior perspective calls attention to the consequences, and power, of Elizabeth's own individual decisions: paraphrasing Vergil, where Elizabeth "condemn[s] hirself for a mad woman, for that (being dec[e]avyd by false promyses)," Hall shows Elizabeth lamenting her errors in judgment and holding herself responsible for being "deluded by wyle and fraudulent promises." (51)

The Union briefly prefigures Richard III's depiction of appeals to God's vengeance as the only recourse for Richard's female opposition when Hall's Elizabeth identifies God as a necessary vehicle for revenge: she "kne[els] downe and crie[s] on God to take vengeaunce for the disceaytfull periurie" because she "sawe no hope of reuengynge otherwyse, ... ." (52) After the deaths of her sons. Elizabeth does not imagine how her own actions might rectify past wrongs or limit future calamity and she self-conciously acknowledges she has lost the ability to influence the future. Yet Elizabeth's pleas of helplessness and acknowledgment of providence have not in fact impeded her desire or ability to enact political change in the larger schema of Hall's narrative, which includes material about Elizabeth's negotiations with the Countess of Richmond for the marriage of Elizabeth York and Henry VII. Dialogue ascribed to Buckingham reveals the unofficial influence Elizabeth retains even after she loses direct access to the court and identifies her and the Countess as the primary dynastic figures capable of defeating Richard:
  if the mothers of bothe parties and especially the erle hym selfe,
  and the ladye wyll agre, I doubte not but the braggynge bore ...
  shall not onely he brought to confusion as he hath deserued but that
  this empire shall euer be certaine of an vndubitate heyre, and then
  shall all ciuile and intestyne war cease ... and this realme shalbe
  reduced agayne to quietnes renoune and glorie. (53)

While also emphasizing the consent of Richmond and Elizabeth York, Hall indicates that Elizabeth Woodville Grey and the Countess have the most prominent role in establishing the Tudor succession. The Countess's messengers propose the marriage to Elizabeth as a means "to bryng your harte to comforte and gladnes," and "to reuenge [??] righteous quarel of you and your children" against Richard; if Elizabeth can simply "agree and inuent the meane" to marry her daughter to Richmond, Richard "should be shortly deposed, and Elizabeth's "heire againe to her right restored." (54) The Countess's rhetoric appeals to Elizabeth's twin political and personal desires: to reestablish her connections to the monarchy and to use that influence for revenge against Richard. In this series of invented dialogues, women's motives and interventions characterize dynastic notions of personal monarchy as redemptive for both family and country. Hall suggests that only widow-mothers arranging the succession through the marriage of their children can form a new dynastic line and restore peace to England.

Hall also identifies both women's interventions as the result of an accurate "reading" of the past. Hall asserts the appropriateness of Elizabeth's reception of the Countess's proposition by explaining its physical manifestations, which creates proximity between subject, narrator, and reader. He thus endorses her jubilant response and the subsequent political interventions called for by the Countess's suggestion: "When the quene had heard this frendly mocion ... lorde howe her spirits reuyued, and how her hearte lept in her body for ioye and gladnes." (55) Her somatic reaction to the proposed union of the houses of York and Lancaster is that of a mother rejoicing for the safety and future of her children and that of a Tudor reader of the past who recognizes the positive dynastic consequences of such a marriage. In the moments Hall most strongly aligns Elizabeth's emotions with those of his readers and his own narrative voice, he also shows her to be politically efficacious precisely because of her personal and maternal relationships. She promises the Countess the support of "all the frendes and fautoures" of her dead husband Edward IV, and she makes a critical demand: Richard must take "a corporall othe" to marry any of her living daughters. (56) Barbara Hodgdon identifies Hall's account of this demand as a negative critique of Elizabeth's opportunism, but when read in the context of Hall's chosen narrative strategies, inter-textual revisions, and larger account of the marriage negotiations, it is represented as a prudent and wise attempt to retain dynastic strength and ensure Richard's defeat. (57) Hall's account, like Vergil's and More's, demonstrates that some historiographers not only looked to women's perspectives for model readers and historical sources, but also valued and emphasized the personal emotions and relationships through which these historical women understood and achieved political action.

Even in the narrative report of Elizabeth Grey's "wolfish" handover of her daughters, so central to critical assumptions that chronicle history indicts and marginalizes its female figures and that Shakespearean drama redeems them as noble victims, Hall still echoes More's emphasis on Elizabeth's active decision making and intelligent resistance. Richard, determined to reconcile with Elizabeth through "faire woordes or liberall promises," sends messengers to excuse his actions and "promes promocions innumerable." (58) According to Hall, Richard is only successful because "men bothe of wit and grauitie so persuaded the quene with great and pregnante reasons, then with fayre large promises, that she began somewhat to relent & to geue to theim no deffe eare." (59) Though he concedes that Elizabeth is ultimately "blynded by auaricious affeccion and seduced by flatterynge wordes," Hall describes Richard's difficulty manipulating her; as it does in More, this suggests Elizabeth's serious opposition to Richard and his perception of her as formidable obstacle. Richard's seduction strategies, including words of praise and promises of preferment, evoke the corrupt processes of royal favoritism addressed by Hall's earlier account of public sentiment toward Elizabeth. Hall's condemnation of Richard's use of these processes and Elizabeth's eventual seduction by them underscore the problems of such alliances under personal monarchy, and his uncertain implication of Elizabeth suggests his concern about the possible abuses of the personal aspects of such politics. Such expressions of anxieties about the reach of monarchal authority and preferment can be briefly contextualized by a consideration of Hall's political investments. As Peter C. Herman notes, "the understanding of Hall's work and its relationship to early Tudor political culture" has changed, and some scholars, most notably Herman himself, have begun to recognize that "far from slavishly endorsing the Tudor myth," Hall's Union repeatedly critiques monarchal authority in general and Tudor authority in particular." (40) Herman argues that Hall's narrative valorizes the subtle dissent of the people against Henrician power. (61) However, Hall's earlier defenses of Elizabeth directed at a public he characterizes as overly suspicious of their queen and his representation of her as a privileged historical and authorial voice suggest at least a residual investment in the processes of personal dynastic power, particularly when enacted appropriately by Tudor women. Sympathetic to Elizabeth's historical participation in ending civil dissention through the formation of a dynastic marriage alliance, but wary of dynastic authority, Hall seems fundamentally ambivalent in his authorial evaluations of Elizabeth's personal access to the monarchy and its effects on England. This ambivalence in Hall's narrative, at least as it pertains to Elizabeth Woodville Grey, is generally interpreted as an indication of his--and the historical narrative genre's--exclusion of women from politics, as Hall strongly censures Elizabeth for actions he eventually traces to her gender. Yet this representation of Elizabeth might be better situated in the context of Hall's complicated perspectives about popular dissent and dynastic control, as his sympathy for and indictments of Elizabeth correspond to her ability to successfully use her familial access to the monarchy for the betterment of the nation.

Hall does ultimately characterize Elizabeth's concessions to Richard as the result of her gender, a misogynistic claim that incriminates female influence but also provisionally defends Elizabeth by asserting her own lack of choice: "surely the inconstancie of this woman were muche to be maurueled at, yf all women had bene founde constante, but let men speake, yet wemen of the verie bonde of nature wil folowe their awne kynde." (62) Her inconstancy is unremarkable because it is characteristic, an assumption of typicality that underlies later critiques of women in Richard 117. When she fails to understand the dynastic consequences of handing over her daughters and cedes to the corrupt promise of personal preferment, Elizabeth is no longer described as an active historical agent or good reader of history, but a woman subject to the determinism of her own gender. Only when her perspective differs from the ideal historical reader she exemplifies elsewhere does Hall condemn her actions as negative, female behavior. Turning to women's nature as an explanation for Elizabeth's political error, Hall ultimately critiques her ability to usefully influence dynastic politics through her personal relationships with royalty. Hall's assessment that Elizabeth is steered by nature rather than agency exists in tension with all three historiographers' descriptions of her astute political interventions and the effect of invented scenes eliciting readers' sympathy and aligning Elizabeth's agency with her narrators' authorial power. The Union thus privileges female perspectives, but it also presents an incongruous evaluation of women's nature and critiques the effectiveness of women's familial access under dynasty. In this tension between Hall's inclusive narrative strategies and his expressions of anxieties about female influence, we can see initial signs of history writing's political exclusion of women, which only becomes fully realized on stage.


Scholars studying early modern nationhood, including Richard Helgerson, Liah Greenfeld, and Jacqueline Vanhoutte, generally concur that national self-definition gradually shifted throughout the early modern period from the monarch's dynastic realm to the entity of the nation, defined by its citizenry and geographical space. (63) In addition to these ideological changes, England's governance, particularly under the Tudors, developed a more centralized administrative infrastructure, and regional and even religious control came to be located in the monarch and Parliament, rather than in the hereditary dynasty and aristocratic families. Greenfeld argues that the circumstances moving England from dynastic to national identity included transformations in social hierarchy and mobility, whereby nobility became increasingly defined not by descent and blood but by personal deeds, behavior, and learning. (64) The Protestant Reformation disenfranchised Catholic nobles, and changes in Henry VIII's government practices replaced informal, personal relationships of preferment with an "official elite" and a smaller circle of favorites. (65) According to Howard and Rackin, "ironically, the Tudors' relative success at building a more unified and centralized state created conditions in which the centrality of the monarch as the focus of allegiance could diminish." (66) Early modern nationalism as a governmental practice consolidated administrative power around the sovereign; nationhood as an ideological construct consolidated national identity around the country itself as a sovereign entity. Thus, emerging concepts of nationhood were strongly linked to the monarch but could also produce anti-monarchal (and anti-dynastic) sentiment through a newly conceived separation between obedience to the sovereign and loyalty to the nation.

Numerous critics attest to early modern literature's participation in this cultural change: Helgerson finds "traces" of the "never quite complete passage from dynasty to nation" in the self-conscious writing of young Elizabethans such as Shakespeare. (67) Vanhoutte, in an analysis of the trope of the motherland, notes that [n]ationalist writers had to redefine the country as a sovereign entity where it previously had been viewed as the patrimony of a monarch." (68) Though the change in governmental structures that helped to create this shift began under Henry VII and continued under Henry VIII, Shore's power as an inversion of gender hierarchy signaling the dysfunction of Edward's dynastic rule.

In Richard III, these male indictments of women's access to the monarch challenge the validity of female participation in dynastic politics, while staged representations of Elizabeth Woodville Grey further contrast with prior chronicle histories in their presentation of her place in history and her sphere of influence. The play does follow its narrative predecessors in emphasizing the affective power of Elizabeth's role as a mourning mother and casting women as moral arbiters of Richard's tyranny who elicit readers' sympathy. Feminist critics have read Richard III's depiction of Elizabeth as lacking subversive power but generative of sympathetic evaluation, though they do not see this evocation of sympathy or affect emerging from the play's narrative sources. (70) By diminishing the political dimensions of her maternal role, so clearly important in its narrative predecessors, Richard III limits Elizabeth to a strictly personal sphere of sympathetic mourning separate from politics. The play further modifies these sources to make women self-consciously voice their own inability to influence history in order to critique women's participation in dynastic politics. (71)

Shakespeare changes More's Elizabeth into a voice of the past who insists on the predetermined nature of future events. Her agency, like that of all the characters in Richard III, is circumscribed by the play's providential account of history. Curtis Perry has noted that the play's "historical determinism" is particularly evident in the play's "wailing queens," who "embody the idea ... of powerlessness vis-a-vis historical determinism in which the future is pre-scripted by the violence of the past." (72) Within this deterministic frame Shakespeare revises Elizabeth so that she identifies her own position within the play's fated history as a particularly limited one. Unlike More's privileged, knowledgeable Elizabeth, whose actions have potent effects on others, Shakespeare's Queen is portrayed as righteous but nevertheless fruitless in her resistance to Richard. Elizabeth responds to the news of her kin's arrests not, as she does in prior historiography, with regrets that highlight the efficacy of her own decisions, but with an assessment of ensuing events as "already" historical:
Ay me! I see the ruin of my house.
The tiger now hath seiz'd the gentle hind;
Insulting tyranny begins to jut
Upon the innocent and aweless throne.
Welcome destruction, blood, and massacre!
I see (as in a map) the end of all.
(2.4. 49-54)

Narrative historiography generally imagines Elizabeth's responses to Richard's actions as struggles to use her political power to change the outcome of events. Shakespeare's Queen speaks prophetically but gives up instantly, "welcom[ing]" certain disaster. Seeing the end of "all" in an already-written map, as one reads recorded history, she seeks sanctuary not as a means of resistance but as an expression of defeat. Elizabeth moves from a political agent and historical scriptor providing later historiographers a privileged source to a reader and interpreter not of history itself but of already-recorded chronicles.

Shakespeare forgoes the rich invented dialogue, ripe for dramatic adaptation, of More's debate over sanctuary, reducing it to a short conversation among men in 3.1. The decision to violate sanctuary is made perfunctorily, as the Lord Cardinal is dismissed to fetch the Duke. Buckingham assesses Elizabeth's claim as an "indirect and peevish course" and it is short work for him to convince the Cardinal that the young Duke of York "hath neither claim'd it nor deserv'd it" (3.1. 31, 51). Richard's authority is already inviolate: as the Cardinal confesses, he is overpowered by will rather than swayed by argument: "My lord, you shall overrule my mind for once" (3.1.57). Snatching the Duke from sanctuary is a foregone conclusion rather than the result of a vividly imagined argument as in the History, and Elizabeth is given no place in its negotiation.

Elizabeth Is further stripped of power to intervene in ensuing events when the argument More's queen makes in sanctuary is turned into a mangled plea at the Tower gates. Elizabeth questions the lieutenant who denies her visitation to her sons: "I am their mother, who shall bar me from them?" (4.1.21). Reduced to a shorthand that neither intelligibly evokes natural nor common law, Elizabeth's assertion is enlarged by the Duchess of York, "I am their father's mother, I will see them," and Anne: "Their aunt I am in law, in love their mother;" (4.1.22-23). The intellectually viable defense used by More's Elizabeth is transformed in Richard III into a means to demonstrate a morally superior but unrealized maternal right to familial access. Denied the contact with male family members lending their maternal roles influence, the women's dialogue emphasizes access to male relatives as the sole source of their power and bemoans the loss of such access. Elizabeth characterizes this loss and its consequences when she instructs her son Dorset to "speak not to me ... Thy mother's name is ominous to children" (4.1.38, 40). Motherhood and matrimony no longer signal legally protected, powerful unofficial influence; they register either unavoidable, unwished death to offspring or unwelcome power to monstrous children like Richard. The play's women are thus given sympathy only when they position themselves as mourners denied political participation and use their own words to define dynastic familial relationships as impotent, and even destructive, political positions. Thus, the play critiques the efficacy of those dynastic relationships dependent on royal women's diplomacy and political negotiation.

Shakespeare fixes Elizabeth and her female relatives in history as helpless mourners through their represented action and dialogue; they express grief while acknowledging the inability of such expressions to change the past. The cursing of Elizabeth and the Duchess emphasizes female resignation to a vocal but ineffective objection. Elizabeth demonstrates an awareness that this form of truth-telling has no impact beyond the women themselves: "though what they will impart / Help nothing else, yet do they ease the heart" (4.4. 130-31). The duchess implores Elizabeth: "go with me, / And in the breath of bitter words let's smother / My damned son" (4.4.132-34). By their own estimation, their resistance to Richard is measured by their ability to speak about what he has done rather than their ability to limit his power. Richard registers the potential efficacy of their verbal opposition, and he requests noise to drown it out: "Let not the heavens hear these tell-tale women Rail on the Lord's anointed" (4.4.150-51). In spite of this recognition, the represented action afforded to Shakespeare's Queen as a "tell-tale" woman ascribes to her a retelling of history that calls attention to women's limited agency.

In one key scene, often viewed as one of Shakespeare's most positive departures from his narrative sources, the play complicates Hall's account of Elizabeth turning her daughters over to Richard. (73) In a conversation with Richard about his desire to marry Elizabeth York. Elizabeth resists his attempts to swear his love to her daughter on the time to come" (4.4.387). In doing so, the Queen also reifies her own fixed place in history:
That thou hast wronged me in the time o'erpast;
For I myself have many tears to wash
Hereafter time, for time past wronged by thee.
The children live whose fathers thou hast slaughter'd,
Ungovetn'd youth, to wail it [in] their age;
The parents live whose children thou hast butchered,
Old barren plants, to wail it with their age.
Swear not by time to come, for that thou hast
Misused ere us'd, by times ill-used [o'erpast].

Elizabeth's lines remind Richard and the audience of her dead sons as well as Richard's impending fall. However, they also conceive of Elizabeth's future as one of static mourning; she refers to the living left behind after Richard's slaughter, but ascribes to those parents of the dead only wailing. The future itself remains off-limits to Richard's oath because it has already been corrupted by the past--it is "misus'd ere us'd"--and Elizabeth intends to wash the future with tears. Elizabeth's accusations condemn Richard, but they primarily identify her motherhood as a wailing remembrance of the past that forecloses her participation in future political events. Even as she discusses the living child whose marriage to Henry Tudor she orchestrates in prior narrative accounts, Shakespeare's Elizabeth is only given voice to speak of her dead children and to describe herself as a barren parent, thus eliding her historical participation in the formation of the new Tudor dynasty through her daughter.

The account that Shakespeare's Elizabeth gives of her own motherhood as a "barren" position of mourning is suggestive of another metaphorically "barren" Elizabeth: Shakespeare's reigning monarch, Elizabeth I. Katherine Eggert, Leah Marcus, and Nina Levine have all analyzed the first tetralogy's engagement with Elizabethan succession concerns. (74) Reading Richard as the end of a line of succession and a figure of dynastic disruption analogous to Elizabeth I, Eggert sees the "national obsession" with Elizabeth I's childlessness projected onto him. (75) While the play expresses anxiety over the Elizabethan succession, this anxiety is strongest not in a comparison of Elizabeth I's and Richard III's dead ends, as Eggert argues, but through the play's emphasis on Shakespeare's royal analogue, Queen Elizabeth Woodville Grey, as a barren and helpless mother of dead children who is particularly unable to impact the progress of history. (76) Richard III ambivalently insists that Elizabeth Woodville Grey's motherhood both matters and matters not. While the play privileges maternity by casting mothers as morally superior witnesses, it also revises its sources to exclude mothers from Henry VII's political victory and makes Elizabeth voice her own ineffectiveness in order to downplay her political involvement in the creation of the Tudor dynasty. By repeatedly figuring Elizabeth Woodville Grey's motherhood as unimportant to securing the succession, Richard III denies the political dimensions of royal maternity and points toward a fantasy of masculine restoration only possible through the dynastic disruption created by Elizabeth I's childlessness.

Shakespeare thus refuses the positive queenly allusions available through narrative histories that detail Elizabeth Woodville Grey's active role in securing the Tudor succession. Interestingly, he also rejects Hall's sole anomalous example of Elizabeth's inappropriate interventions into politics, and the moment in the Union that most closely approaches the tenor of the play's political exclusions of women: Elizabeth's handover of her daughters, and Hall's attribution of that decision to her inferior female nature. After reminding Richard of his crimes and insisting her daughter cannot love him, Shakespeare's Elizabeth departs, asking, "Shall I go win my daughter to thy will?" (4.4.426). Some critics read this as an acquiescence to Richard's desires, and pair the entire conversation with Richard's wooing of Anne as examples of Richard's rhetorical force, while others see Elizabeth biding time in order to establish an alliance with Richmond. (77) The play recasts Hall's charge of inconstant female behavior as Richard's: he unconvincingly dubs the absent Elizabeth a "Relenting fool, and shallow, changing woman!" (4.4.431). When Shakespeare might easily lift an anecdote from Hall that would preserve the playwright's own emphasis on women's necessary exclusion from politics, he denies explicit precedent, and, rather than stage Elizabeth's error, he reframes Hall's isolated negative judgment of Elizabeth as Richard's misreading. Shakespeare's revisions therefore allude only briefly to Elizabeth's orchestration of her daughter's marriage and gloss over her capitulation to Richard: in the play, she neither endangers nor ensures the Tudor dynasty as she does in Hall. Through this manipulation of available narratives, Shakespeare minimizes Elizabeth Woodville Grey's power to affect the succession in favor of either Richard or Richmond by recasting royal motherhood as apolitical, and hints that Elizabeth I's own failures of motherhood matter little to England's succession.

Richard III's evocation of Elizabeth I through the historical figure of Elizabeth Woodville Grey--and the play's overall attitude toward women's political participation--is part of its expression of a new nationalism marked by the exclusion of women and a revision of sources that have previously recorded English history through the stories of its dynasties. John Watkins sees in another Shakespearean history play, King John, a privileging of proto-national independence from continental ties through a critique of interdynastic marriage. (78) According to Watkins, this critique "manifests itself in a pervasive distrust of women as the vehicles, and sometimes the negotiating agents of such alliances" and demands the disappearance of female characters, whose prior participation in politics embodies the inadequacies of a dynastic system. (79) Vanhoutte likewise finds in King John a challenge to monarchical institutions that allow women access to power, arguing that the play "attributes many of the difficulties associated with the monarchy to its tolerance of female agency." (80) Richard III similarly identifies women's diplomacy as failures of a dynastic structure allowing queens and mistresses corrupting influence. From its early censuring of Mistress Shore's and Elizabeth Woodville Grey's political negotiations to its attempts to downplay the importance of Elizabeth's role in the Tudor succession, the play rewrites narrative accounts to situate women's power as a key symptom of dynasty's dysfunction.

The play minimizes the fundamental role of maternal marriage negotiations and the political necessity of Henry's marriage to Elizabeth York, in spite of the fact that alternative histories emphasizing those processes were readily available and historically appealing to Elizabeth I. Moving women to the margins allows praise of Richmond's triumph as a masculine victory and paradoxically dynastic solution to the problem of the Yorkist dynasts that nevertheless conceives of England's future as national and free from female intrusions into politics. The story of union recounted at the play's end finds Richmond characterizing England's civil conflict as analogous to an irrational woman, who "hath long been mad and scarr'd herself" (5.5.23). Yet the fallout of dynasty's female self-mutilation is metaphorized in terms of its cost to men, in spite of the play's memorable string of female mourners: "The brother blindly shed the brother's blood, / The father rashly slaughter'd his own son, / The son, compell'd, been butcher to the sire" (5.5.24-26). Richmond's promise to "unite the White Rose and the Red" (5.5.19) and produce heirs who will "Enrich the time to come with smooth-fac'd peace" (5.5.33) is predicated upon the recuperative power of his masculinity to repair the damage of (female) civil war. As Vanhoutte says, Richmond's closing speech and Elizabeth York's absence "expres[s] a fantasy of generation" without women and "foregroun[d] the primary relationship between Richmond and England, so that their metaphorical marriage and not the dynastic union of the houses of York and Lancaster becomes the source of national redemption." (81) Eggert, however, finds the triumph occasioning such fantasy hollow, since Richmond's success only makes way for the "entirely feminine, dynastically disastrous" Elizabeth 1. (82) The play's conspicuous exclusion of women does in fact both look forward to restorative masculine rule and backward to dynastic catastrophe, but not by bankrupting Richmond's victory. Rather, the play betrays an unspeakable desire for its own Elizabethan Richmond, and assuages concerns about the disruption created by Elizabeth's childlessness by bankrupting royal motherhood and seeking continuity through a national England.

While the Gracechurch pageant envisions the stability of the Tudor dynasty emerging from the Yorkists via Elizabeth York and passing to Elizabeth I, Richard III's reframing of the beginning of the Tudor line marks it as a masculine and national break from the dysfunctional dynastic system preceding it. The play paradoxically looks forward to the Tudor dynasty's demise as a masculine redemption, pointing toward James I and a continuity rooted, not in the bloodlines of its ruling family, but in the community of England. (83) When Shakespeare told his story of Tudor genesis, he also created a means to understand the dynasty's end as a new beginning. In the process, he staged a critique of the access and influence possible under an earlier dynastic system, deployed most strongly against women's participation in politics and history. Understanding dramatic exclusions of women as the result of differing conceptions of access to the monarchy under dynastic and national models has many implications, including overturning our placement of the Shakespearean history play at the center of discussions of women in early modern history writing.


(1.) The Quenes Majesties Passage through the Citie of London to Westminster the Day before her Coronacion, ed. James M. Osborn (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1960), 33.

(2.) Ibid., 31, 34.

(3.) Judith M. Richards, "Love and a Female Monarch: The Case of Elizabeth Tudor," The Journal of British Studies 38.2 (1999); 133-60, esp. 148. Helen Hackett also sees in the "description of the spectacle a determined attempt ... to refute dissent against rule by a woman" in Virgin Mother, Maiden Queen: Elizabeth I and the Cult of the Virgin Mary (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995), 41.

(4.) Richards, "Love and a Female Monarch," 149.

(5.) Many feminist critics, including Barbara Hodgdon and Jean Howard, concur with Phyllis Rackin's assessment that "women had no voice" in the historical record of the chronicles and also see in Shakespeare's dramatic adaptations a "legacy of oppression" emerging from historical sources' marginalization of women through "the discursive exclusions of an elitist, patriarchal culture." Stages of History: Shakespeare's English Chronicles (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990), 147, xi; See Rackin and Howard, Engendering a Nation: A Feminist Account of Shakespeare's English Histories (New York: Routledge, 1997); Barbara Hodgdon, The End Crowns All: Closure and Contradiction in Shakespeare's History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991). Others critics, such as Nina Levine, see Shakespeare's revisions as redemptive, providing political agency for women excluded from the masculine record of his narrative sources. Women's Matters: Politics, Gender, and Nation in Shakespeare's Early History Plays (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1998).

(6.) For a discussion of Elizabeth York's absence from Richard III, see Jacqueline Vanhoutte, Strange Communion: Motherland and Masculinity in Tudor Plays, Pamphlets, and Politics (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2003), 152, and Levine, Women's Matters, 117-18.

(7.) While many scholars note both More's personal and political dislike of the first Tudor king and the History's skeptical attitude toward Tudor rule, the text's vilification of Richard certainly furthered the Tudor dynasty's re-imagining of Richard's reign as Yorkist tyranny. See Richard Marius, Thomas More: A Biography (New York: Knopf, 1984), 52, and Peter L. Rudnytsky, "More's History of King Richard III as an Uncanny Text," in Contending Kingdoms: Historical, Psychological, and Feminist Approaches to the Literature of Sixteenth-Century England and France, ed. Marie-Rose Logan and Rudnytsky (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1991), 149-72.

(8.) The notable exception is Alan Clarke Shepard's 'Female Perversity,' Male Entitlement: The Agency of Gender in More's The History of Richard III," The Sixteenth Century Journal 26 (1995): 311-28.

(9.) "Interior perspective" is Judith Anderson's term. Biographical Truth: The Representation of Historical Persons in Tudor-Stuart Writing (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984).

(10.) Thomas More, The History of King Richard the Third: A Reading Edition. ed. George M. Logan (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005), 33, 30.

(11.) Ibid., 20-21.

(12.) Ibid., 32, 38.

(13.) Ibid., 26-27.

(14.) Ibid., 25.

(15.) Shepard, "Female Peversity," 326.

(16.) More, The History of King Richard the Third, 45.

(17.) Ibid., 44-45. The queen argues that her son's landholdings are not by knight's service, so he is not legally independent but her ward. See More, 44 n. 34.

(18.) More, The History of King Richard the Third, 42.

(19.) Ibid., 46.

(20.) Ibid.

(21.) Anderson, Biographical Truth, 92.

(22.) More, The History of King Richard the Third, 44.

(23.) Ibid.

(24.) Vergit's history of England was commissioned by Henry VII around 1506-7; on its status as the source of the "Tudor myth," see George M. Logan, introduction to The History of King Richard the Third. A Reading Edition by Thomas More (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005) xxx and xlv. Logan and Levy assert that More and Vergil were unlikely to have read or borrowed from each other's concurrent histories; the two writers certainly could have discussed them. See Logan, xxx and F. J. Levy, Tudor Historical Thought, (Kingsport, TN: Kingsport Press, 1967), 53. Dominique Goy-Blanquet alternatively claims that More did use Vergil as one of his sources. Dominique Goy-Blanquet, Shakespeare's Early History Plays: From Chronicle to Stage (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 210.

(25.) Polydore Vergil, Three Books of Polydore Vergil's English History Comprising the Reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV, and Richard III, from an early translation, preserved among the mss. of the old royal library in the British Museum. ed. Sir Henry Ellis, K.H. (1844. London: Camden Society. Repr.. New York: Johnson Reprint Corp., 1968), 175.

(26.) Ibid., 178.

(27.) Ibid.

(28.) See J. L. Laynesmith, The Last Medieval Queens: English Queenship 1445/503 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 91.

(29.) See David Loades, The Tudor Court (London: Batsford, 1986), 149; Francis Bacon, The History of the Reign of King Henry the Seventh, ed. Brian Vickers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 25.

(30.) Polydore Vergil, The Anglica Historia of Polydore Vergil, A. D. 1485-1537. Translated by Denys Hay (London: Office of the Royal Historical Society, Camden Series, 1950), 147.

(31.) Vergil, Anglica Historia, 7.

(32.) Ibid., 7, 51.

(33.) See Janel Mueller, "'The Whole Island like a Single Family': Positioning Women in Utopian Patriarchy," Rethinking the Henrician Era: Essays on Early Tudor Texts and Contexts, ed. Peter C. Herman (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), for an analysis of the highly ambivalent position of women in More's Utopia: See Pearl Hogrefe, Tudor Women: Commoners and Queens (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1975), 98-102, for an analysis of More's attitude toward and contributions to women's education in the sixteenth century.

(34.) Frederic B. Tromly, "'A Royal Lamentation' of Elizabeth: Thomas More's Transformation of Didactic Lament," Moreana 53 (1977): 45-56; Lee Cullen Khanna, "Images of Women in Thomas More's Poetry," Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies. Quintessential Essays on St. Thomas More 10 (1978): 78-88.

(35.) Khanna, "Images of Women," 86.

(36.) More, "A Lamentation of Queen Elizabeth," The New Oxford Book of Sixteenth-Century Verse, ed. Emrys Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) 64-65, 63.

(37.) Ibid., 43-49.

(38.) More, "On the Coronation Day of Henry Most Glorious and Blessed King of the British Isles, and of Catherine his Most Happy Queen, A Poetical Expression of Good Wishes, By Thomas More of London" The Latin Epigrams of Thomas More, trans. L. Bradner and C. A. Lynch (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), 138.

(39.) Ibid., "On the Coronation," 142. The blatant critique of Henry VII offered in this coronation poem did not damage his relationship with Henry VIII; Marius argues this critique might have even endeared More to the later Henry, who was reputed to have had a tense relationship with his father and sovereign, 52. It did, however, attract notice from the French humanist Germanus Brixius, who years later accused More of slandering Henry VII in this poem and advised Henry VIII to banish him for it. See Marius, Thomas More, 50-53 and 246-47, for an analysis of More's coronation poems for Henry VIII and his feud with Brixius over his alleged slander of Henry VII.

(40.) See Elizabeth Story Donno on the elder More's political loyalties, most obviously manifested in his will, which provided money "for masses to be said for the King's soul nearly forty-five years after his death," 408. "Thomas More and Richard III," Renaissance Quarterly 35 (1982): 401-47.

(41.) Edward Hall, Hall's Chronicle, original title, The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancaster & Yorke (1548 and 1550. Repr., London: J. Johnson et al., 1809), 406. Shakespeare gives Elizabeth dialogue reminiscent of Hall twice in the same scene: "Wilt thou, 0 God, fly from such gentle lambs / And throw them in the entrails of the wolf? ... No doubt the murd'rous knife was dull and blunt / Till it was whetted on thy stone-hard heart / To revel in the entrails of my lambs" (4.4.22-23, 227-29). According to Rackin and Howard, Shakespeare "appropriates for Elizabeth's use against Richard the very arguments, and even the terms," that Hall uses to describe her, Engendering a Nation, 108. All citations of Shakespeare's works are from The Riverside Shakespeare, 2nd ed. ed. G. Blackmore Evans (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1996).

(42.) Hall's Union was reproduced in Holinshed's 1577 Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Grafton's 1568 This Chronicle of Britain, John Stow's 1580 Chronicle of England, and John Speed's 1611 History of Great Britain. Goy-Blanquet traces Hall's use of More and Vergil, and Holinshed's use of the latter as they pertain to Richard III. Shakespeare's Early History Plays, 197-288.

(43.) Hall, Union, 264.

(44.) Ibid.

(45.) Vergil, Anglica Historia, 117; Hall, Union, 265.

(46.) Hall, Union, 326.

(47.) Ibid.

(48.) Curtis Perry, Literature and Favoritism in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 17.

(49.) Hall's rearrangements include adding a heading, "The Tragical Doynges of Kyng Richard the Thirde," and a subsequent introduction describing Richard's coronation before returning. unacknowledged, to More's text. 374.

(50.) Hall, Union, 379-80.

(51.) Vergil, Anglica Historia, 189; Hall, Union, 379.

(52.) Hall, Union, 380.

(53.) Ibid., 389.

(54.) Ibid., 391.

(55.) Ibid.

(56.) Hall, Union, 391; Vergil also mentions the queen's solicitation of Richmond's promise to marry either of her living daughters, Anglica Historia, 195-96.

(57.) Hodgdon, The End Crowns All, 109.

(58.) Hall. Union, 406.

(59.) Ibid.

(60.) Peter C. Herman, "Hall, Edward," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004-9), 4, 6. E. M. W. Tillyard and F. J. Levy argue for Hall's wholehearted endorsement in the Tudor myth, and while their similar claims about other historiographers (and in Tillyard's case, Shakespeare's history plays) have been repeatedly challenged, that has not been the case for Hall's work until recently. See Tillyard, Shakespeare's Histoty Plays (1944. Repr., London: Chatto and Windus, 1974), 42-45, and F. J. Levy, Tuder Historical Thought, 173-77.

(61.) Peter C. Herman, "Henrician Historiography and the Voice of the People: The Cases of More and Hall," Texas Studies in Literature and Language 39, no. 3 (Fall 1997): 259-75.

(62.) Hall, Union, 406. Vergil's shorter narrative also combines a charge of female inconstancy--"for so mutable is their sex"--with Richard's difficulties in persuading Elizabeth, Anglica Historia, 210.

(63.) The degree to which early modern nationalism resembles modern nationalism has been usefully contested, as has the "dating" of emergent nationalism. See Elizabeth Sauer and Julia M. Wright, Reading the Nation in English Literature: A Critical Reader (London: Routledge, 2010) 2-16, and Andrew Escobedo's chapter, "No Early-Modern Nations?: Revising Modern Theories of Nationalism" in that same volume, 203-10, as well as Liah Greenfeld, Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), 18-47. On the ideological shift from dynasty to nation in the literature of the period, see Rackin, Stages of History; 4; Richard Helgerson, Forms of Nationhood: The Elizabethan Writing of England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992); Vanhoutte, Strange Communion, and Andrew Escobedo, Nationalism and Historical Loss in Renaissance England: Foxe, Dee, Spenser, Milton (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004).

(64.) Greenfeld, Nationalism, 44.

(65.) Ibid., 47.

(66.) Howard and Rackin, Engendering a Nation, 12.

(67.) Helgerson, 10.

(68.) Vanhoutte, Strange Communion, 18.

(69.) On changes in government, see G. R. Elton, The Tudor Revolution in Government: Administrative Changes in the Reign of Henry VIII (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953), On Elizabethan national identity, see Helgerson, Forms of Nationhood, Andrew Hadfield, Literature, Politics, and National Identity: Reformation to Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), and Claire McEachern, The poetics of English nationhood, 1590-1612 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

(70.) Many critics see Shakespeare's Elizabeth as indicative of the history play's typical marginalization of women. Howard and Rackin argue that Richard III modifies Shakespeare's earlier representations of women as "dangerous, demonic Others" in the first tetralogy by simultaneously ennobling and disempowering them as "pitiable victims," Engendering a Nation, 106. Madonne Miner and Nina Levine argue for a greater degree of theatrical and moral power in these women's positions of maternal authority. Madonne Miner, "'Neither mother, wife, nor England's queen': The Roles of Women in Richard III," The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, eds. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980), 48-52. Levine, Women's Matters, 24,102.

(71.) Rackin and Hodgdon see Richard III's women as voices of, rather than agents in, the past. Rackin, "Women's Roles in the Elizabethan History Plays," The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare's History Plays, ed. Michael Hattaway (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 79; Hodgdon, The End Crowns All, 105.

(72.) Curtis Perry, "Determined to Prove a Villain: Richard III and the Historiography of Senecan Drama," unpublished essay, 51.

(73.) See note 41 above.

(74.) Katherine Eggert, Showing Like a Queen: Female Authority and Literary Experiment in Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000), 57-76; Leah S. Marcus, Puzzling Shakespeare: Local Reading and Its Discontents (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 51-96; Levine, Women's Matters, 97-122.

(75.) Eggert, Showing Like a Queen, 75.

(76.) Ibid.

(77.) See Rackin and Howard, Engendering a Nation, 111-12, and Levine, Women's Matters, 104, 107-9.

(78.) Watkins, "Losing France and Becoming England: Shakespeare's King John and the Emergence of State-Based Diplomacy," Shakespeare and the Middle Ages, eds. Curtis Perry and John Watkins (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 87.

(79.) Ibid., 87-88.

(80.) Vanhoutte, Strange Communism. 150.

(81.) Ibid., 152.

(82.) Eggert, Showing Like a Queen, 75.

(83.) Such emerging national identity was not even conditionally separate from the monarch, as Greenfeld notes, but the sovereign under this national schema had greater obligations to a collective nation defined by a public character than to a dynasty defined by blood, Nationalism, 74. Kavita Mudan Finn's The Last Plantagenet Consorts: Gender, Genre, and Historiography, 1440-1627 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), published as this essay went to press, redresses critical neglect of Elizabeth Woodville, offering counterpoints to my readings. Finn argues that Vergil undercuts Elizabeth's agency while More recasts her as a "victim of political circumstance" (64, 68). Hall, Finn notes, reads Elizabeth as a "surrogate for Anne Boleyn" and a "successful adversary" in Richard III (94, 171).
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Author:Meyer, Allison Machlis
Publication:Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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