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I'm reading Alison Weir's 'Elizabeth of York', and she makes claims as to why Elizabeth of York couldn't succeed to the throne after Richard III which are not supported by evidence. Legally, there doesn't seem to have existed any impediments for her succession, so it comes down to 'public opinion' against having a Queen Regnant. Please note I am not interested in whether the 'real' situation on the ground would have allowed for such a succession.

Are there 15th or 16th century English sources that exemplify Empress Matilda as an impediment to having a Queen Regnant?


[p1] In the wake of legislation to give women the same rights in the order of succession as male heirs, it is interesting to reflect that England's Elizabeth I would not have been the celebrated Virgin Queen but Elizabeth of York. But in the fifteenth century it would have been unthinkable for a woman to succeed to the throne. Elizabeth lived in a world in which females were regarded as inferor to men physically, intellectually and morally. It was seen as against the laws of God and Nature for a woman to wield dominion over men: it was an affront to the perceived order of the world. ...

[p170] ...no one seriously considered that a woman, even the legitimate, rightful heiress of the House of York, could actually rule alone as queen regnant. ... Traditionally women could transmit the crown—the royal houses of Plantagenet, York and Tudor derived their claim through the female line—but not wield sovereign power. Even Margaret Beaufort, with all her astute capabilities, had never been regarded—or regarded herself—as a contender for the throne.

[p171] There was no Salic law in England barring women from the throne, as there was in France, so there was nothing to prevent a woman from ruling, but memories of female misrule were long. People remembered how, in the twelfth century, the haughty, overbearing Empress Matilda's attempt to pursue her lawful claim to the throne had resulted in a civil war so bloody that it had been said that 'God and His saints slept'. That experience had left the English with an enduring prejudice against female rulers.

[p171] ... As Buckingham had bluntly put it, 'It was not women's place to govern the kingdom, but men's.'

—Weir, 'Elizabeth of York'


The above arguments start by making sweeping generalisations, but then say that there was no legal impediment (though possibly a religious one is implied at with those arguments?). The primary obstacle, other than realpolitik, which is described is the example of Matilda in the 12th century—though this is not referenced to a primary source. Also, this claim is made despite other neighbouring kingdoms having had successful Queens Regnant since Matilda: Margrethe I, Joanna I, Joanna II, Joan I, and Joan II to name some. Further, less than one hundred years after this statement, England will have been ruled by three Queens Regnant: Jane, Mary I, and Elizabeth I; two of whom married but whose husbands did not rule in the Queens' stead.

  • Another argument was that a 1483 or 1484 act of parliament Titulus Regius had declared Elizabeth illegitimate. It was repealed in 1485, but only after Henry was king – Henry Jun 3 '20 at 23:28
  • @Henry: That's a fair point! Weir goes on about this in considerable length, but sums this up as "not something people considered a problem", especially as Richard III also considered marrying Elizabeth, indicated her 'real' legitimacy. I'm not sure if anyone else supports this analysis, but it sounds correct. – gktscrk Jun 4 '20 at 4:14
  • Any particular reason why you mentioned 16th century? Just wondering, as the focus of the question seems to be on Elizabeth of York (or have I misunderstood the drift of your question?). – Lars Bosteen Jun 4 '20 at 14:28
  • @LarsBosteen: Only because Weir says that these impediments were no longer in place for Elizabeth the daughter of Henry VIII to inherit. Weir didn't mention Jane Grey or Mary I. – gktscrk Jun 4 '20 at 14:41
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    I'm quite well read on Matilda and haven't seen anything from the 15th and 16th centuries that singles her out (though I could have missed something of course). For the 13th century, Matthew Paris was pretty scathing (and refers specifically to the problem of her being a woman) but others were more positive. Also, Wikipedia's historiography section is of interest. I'll dig some more tomorrow perhaps. – Lars Bosteen Jun 4 '20 at 14:56

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