Canterbury Socks, Fit for a Queen!

Elizabeth Woodville & Henry IV - Canterbury Glass

King Henry IV and Queen Elizabeth Woodville, Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral is known as the ecclesiastical center of England and is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England.  The original cathedral was built by the order of St. Augustine beginning in 598 AD, then mostly destroyed in a fire and rebuilt in 1067. 

The most beautiful parts of the cathedral are the famous stained glass windows, created in the late 1100s and early 1200s.

Stained glass was developed in the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages. Like tinted windows on a car, the original purpose was to let in some light, but not so much light that churches got too hot. The early stained glass makers had an artistic flair, and rather than just simply installing colored glass they created designs and figures.

At Canterbury Cathedral they have more than 1,200 square meters of stained glass.  The Cathedral has eight highly trained conservators and glaziers on staff to conserve and maintain the fragile windows.

It's hard to pick a favorite window.  It's not surprising that a tribute to a woman said to be "... the most beautiful woman in the Island of Britain" would be an impressive stained glass figure.  The window showing Elizabeth Woodville certainly is spectacular.

Elizabeth was born about 1437. Her parents had scandalized the court when her father, merely a knight, had secretly married her mother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg. Jacquetta had already started tongues wagging two years earlier when at age 17 she married her first husband, the 44-year-old (and in poor health) Duke of Bedford, the brother of King Henry V. When the Duke died just two years later, the pretty 19-year-old was a very wealthy, childless widow.

Jacquetta was required to seek permission from her brother-in-law the king before remarrying – but she didn’t! She married her knight-in-shining-armor and was charged a fine for her “crime” of marring beneath her, which was easily paid. Elizabeth was the first child for the socially unequal couple, but despite her father’s low rank, her mother’s wealth and close ties to the king meant Elizabeth and all of her siblings grew up living a life of privilege.

Elizabeth married her first husband in 1452 at age 15. He was killed in battle nine years later, leaving her with two sons.

Elizabeth Woodville

Elizabeth Woodville

Meanwhile, King Edward IV became king during the War of the Roses, a tumultuous time in England.  Plans were in the works for him to strengthen his position by marrying a French princess. Instead, the king secretly married Elizabeth!   Although Elizabeth was wealthy, well educated and her mother had close ties to the previous king, by rank Elizabeth was still a commoner.  It caused a scandal when the marriage was revealed, but the people liked the idea of him marrying a commoner – and her beauty was legendary!

Elizabeth was a Queen Consort, which means she had the rank equal to the king but would not inherit the throne upon the king's death. When Edward IV died n 1483, possibly from pneumonia, their son Edward V became king and Elizabeth became Queen Dowager (today this title is affectionately known as the Queen Mum).

Her son was only 13 years old when he became king, and the Duke of Gloucester (her husband’s brother and the young king’s uncle) and Elizabeth both struggled to control the young king. The Duke gained custody of the young king and was appointed Protector of the kingdom. But Protector wasn’t good enough, the Duke wanted to be king so had young Edward declared illegitimate and the Duke crowned himself King Richard III. Young Edward and his younger brother became known to history as the Princes in the Tower when they were both imprisoned in the Tower of London, never to be heard from again. The princes were believed to have been smothered to death at the command of their uncle, and Richard III became infamous as one of history’s greatest villains.

Life was difficult for Elizabeth under King Richard III, but when Henry Tudor invaded England and defeated Richard III to become King Henry VII, life got much better for her.  Henry agreed to marry Elizabeth's daughter, Elizabeth of York.  Elizabeth had been the Queen Dowager when her son was briefly king, now with her daughter as England's new queen Elizabeth was once again the Queen Dowager.  Done with court life, Elizabeth retired to Bermondsey Abbey where she was treated to all the respect due to a queen dowager. 

Regardless of whether you were born common or royal, you will look like a queen forever immortalized in the Canterbury stained glass while wearing the ​Canterbury Socks, the newest addition to our Sock of the Month World Traveler series. The cables on the leg of the Canterbury socks were inspired by the Cathedral's cloisters built in the 15th century - and the end result is simply royal!

Happy Knitting! ... Scout

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