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Royal romances: The Secret Queen
By Jenny Minard
BBC Berkshire Reporter

Elizabeth Woodville
Elizabeth Woodville 1472 from London Skinners

Everyone is talking about Royal romances with the news of Prince William and Kate Middleton's engagement.

So BBC Berkshire has been turning back the clock to dig deep into the love lives of England's monarchy.

And Reading Abbey features heavily in history - especially with the story of the secret queen, Elizabeth Woodville.

She was the Queen consort of Edward IV, King of England from 1464 until his death in 1493.

Elizabeth, the daughter of the daughter of Richard Woodville, 1st Earl Rivers and his wife, the former Jacquetta of Luxemburg, widow of John of Lancaster, Duke of Bedford.

Elizabeth had been married previously to John Grey who was a Knight from Lancashire.

He was killed in the War of the Roses at the second battle of St Albans just before Edward IV became King.

The King's marriage to the widowed Lady Grey took place with only the bride's mother and two ladies in attendance at her family home in Northamptonshire.

"We don't know when she met Edward IV, it could have been quite soon afterwards (John Grey died)," historian Joanna Laynesmith, said.

"Or they could have had a long affair. All we know is that they married in secret. It wasn't completely in secret because there was a priest and a couple of witnesses, but it was legal.

"The church didn't like it because they tried to encourage marriages to be more public to stop bigamy.

Reading Abbey

"But it was the only way that Edward could make sure he could marry her, because she was so much lower status. And because she was a widow, there was a lot of complaint.

"She was a lot older than him, she was 28. This was old for someone just marrying a King.

Reading Abbey Gate
Reading Abbey was founded by Henry I in 1121

"In fact she produced plenty of children but there was a fear at the time she would not."

Edward IV did not dare tell his Lords what he had done until the parliament met at Reading Abbey and he could postpone it no longer - six months after they were married.

Elizabeth was crowned Queen on Ascension Day, 26 May 1465 at Reading Abbey.

Elizabeth and Edward's marriage produced ten children, including two sons who were still living at the time of the King's sudden death in 1483.

Following Edward's death Elizabeth briefly became Queen Mother. But on 25 June 1483 her marriage was declared null and void by Parliament.

This was on the grounds that Edward had made a previous promise to marry Lady Eleanor Butler. This was considered a legally binding contract that rendered any other marriage contract invalid as bigamous.

Elizabeth lost the title of Queen Mother and was referred to as Dame Elizabeth Grey.

On the basis of the alleged pre-contract all Elizabeth's children by Edward, including King Edward V, were declared illegitimate, and her brother-in-law Richard III was given the crown.

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