Thorney Tales


Elizabeth Woodville is one of the most fascinating, if transient, inhabitants of Thorney Island. She was a queen in her own right (wife of Edward IV), mother of another king (Edward the V, albeit uncrowned) and her daughter married yet another king (Henry VII) which resulted in her being declared Dowager Queen. But it is for her stay on Thorney Island – where she twice took sanctuary to avoid prison during the Wars of the Roses – that she is chiefly remembered. After her husband Edward IV was forced to flee the country she escaped from the Tower of London at night and claimed sanctuary in the Abbey on October 1st, 1470. 

She occupied rooms in the Dean's quarters known as Cheyneygates, which still exists (see photo) despite being bombed during the Second World War. The future King Edward V was born in the Sanctuary. He later became notorious as one of the Princes in the Tower who were - probably - murdered on the orders of Richard III who was desperate to eliminate rival claimants to his throne. 

Elizabeth was duped into letting her son leave the sanctuary during her second stay there in order to join his brother in the Tower of London, as dramatically told by Shakespeare in Richard III, on the spurious grounds that he would be looked after and that sanctuaries were for criminals not innocent chilldren.

As the Duke of Buckingham put it to Cardinal Bourchier,
 
"This prince hath neither claim'd it (sanctuary) nor deserv’d it,
And therefore, in mine opinion, cannot have it.
Then taking him from thence that is not there,
You break no privilege nor charter there.
Oft have I heard of sanctuary men,
But sanctuary children never till now." 
 
This gives only a fleeting glimpse of an extraordinary life. Elizabeth retired to the Royal apartments in Bermondsey Abbey in 1490 where she died two years later apparently destitute. She is buried beside her husband, Edward IV in St George's Chapel at Windsor.