Woodville witches in “The White Princess”

Like a lot of histfic fans I’ve been enjoying Starz’ “The White Princess”. I’m not sure how historically accurate it is. I’m not sure it matters.

The story plays with one of the gaps in our knowledge that is so ripe for fictionalization: how did Henry VII and his queen Elizabeth of York develop a happy marriage? Sources tell us Henry mourned Elizabeth deeply when she died, but not how a woman could be happy with a man who killed her uncle and deposed her family.  Two episodes in I think the miniseries (based on Philippa Gregory’s novel of the same name) plays with this question admirably.

It also plays with the usual wild rumors: that Richard III intended to marry his niece Elizabeth of York and that one of the Princes in the Tower survived as Perkin Warbeck. But of course the most appealing historical mystery to me is whether Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s widow, practiced witchcraft.

animated gif of a woman in medieval gown spinning a pendulum
Essie Davis witching it up as Elizabeth Woodville in “The White Princess.” Image found by Gramunion via Tumblr.

I don’t have the time to do the subject the research it deserves, so alas, I’m not including any footnotes. It does seem Elizabeth Woodville’s mother Jacquetta was accused of witchcraft twice, both times by political enemies who conveniently had her imprisoned before they charged her. Jacquetta denied her guilt and the accusations dried up when the Woodvilles came back into power anyway.

Even if the Woodvilles did try to lure Edward IV into marrying Elizabeth through supernatural means they may not have had to: she was reputed to be a great beauty and charming to boot.

Essie Davis in costume as Elizabeth Woodville from The White Princess
If the real Elizabeth Woodville looked like Essie Davis it certainly didn’t hurt. Via Tumblr.

Still, if those lead figures were Jaquetta’s she was using them for something, but that may not mean much. People at all levels of society dabbled in witchcraft during the early modern period. For that I do have a footnote: Keith Thomas’ Religion and the Decline of Magic.

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Allison Thurman

Allison Thurman has always made stuff: out of fabric, metal, beads, even exaggerated fencing moves. Of late she makes stories out of weird history, with fragments of pop culture, unsolved mysteries, and science fiction mixed in for texture.

She lives in a galaxy far, far away (well, the DC metro area) with too many books and swords.

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