More on Cersei and Elizabeth Woodville

This post continues from my previous post on Elizabeth Woodville and Cersei Lannister.


Cersei Lannister. Source: Linked from Wikia.

Elizabeth, like Cersei, had her share of sorrows. Elizabeth was the mother of twelve children, including the heir to the throne, the blonde-haired Prince Edward.  After Edward IV died, his brother Richard (later Richard III) effectively kidnapped Prince Edward and imprisoned him in the Tower along with his brother. Neither boy was ever seen again.

While Elizabeth experienced grief, she also shared in the moral ambiguity seen in Cersei’s character. Admittedly, however, Elizabeth Woodville’s motivations are hazy and hard to make out – especially five hundred years later.


Edward V was one of the fated Princes in the Tower. Source: Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers by Caxton. Expired copyright.

Elizabeth Woodville may have tried to broker a marriage between the man who may have murdered her sons (Richard III) and her daughter. Elizabeth may have encouraged the match and put her daughter clearly in Richard’s sights.

According to Croyland, Elizabeth sent five of her daughters to court in Christmas 1484 to keep great state and attend to Richard III’s dying Queen Anne. Shortly after this, in January 1485, the attraction between Elizabeth and Richard III became known at court.

As Alison Weir writes, “For all the former Queen’s ambition, it must have cost her dearly to contemplate marrying her daughter to the man who had murdered her sons, but with such advantages in view, scruples had to be suppressed.”*

For me, Elizabeth Woodville orchestrating a match between her daughter and Richard III puts Elizabeth in a very murky light. Did she believe Richard murdered her son? Did she know somebody else murdered them? If she thought Richard killed her sons, what does it say about her if she was willing to marry her daughter to him?

Was Elizabeth Woodville the ultimate survivalist? Or, was she a woman who would metaphorically eat her young to satisfy her ambition? Admittedly, there could be something else at play here. Elizabeth might have known her sons were alive and well and secreted out of the tower.

George RR Martin may also draw from mythology to create a loose thread to Elizabeth Woodville. The name Cersei is reminiscent of Circe — the witch in Greek mythology who murders her husband and is exiled to live alone on a remote island. Skilled with herbs, drugs, and magic, she often turned those who angered her into animals and turned Odysseus’ crew into pigs.

Interestingly, at the beginning of the series, Cersei is shown obtaining some sort of potions from Grand Maester Pycelle. Nobody is ever turned into a pig, but Robert Baratheon is killed by a pig.


This portrait shows a melusine being discovered in the bath. You can almost hear the man in the red coat saying, “Oh my!” Source: Roman de Mélusine par Jean d’Arras. Expired copyright/ in the public domain.

Cersei’s name also sounds a little like “sea siren.” Legend had it that Elizabeth Woodville and her mother, were descended from the melusine, a mermaid-like water creature whose legs would turn into a tail whenever they were soaked in water.

The melusine legend is connected to that of sea sirens, whose allure causes sailors to crash their ships. Many historians believe that Edward caused many of the problems in his reign and ultimately the downfall of the house of York through this exceptionally unwise marriage. Essentially, this marriage made his dynasty crash against the rocks.


*p. 203. The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir.

Read More, Learn More

Mesuline on Wikipedia

Princes in the Tower



Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."


  • Reply November 6, 2016


    Richard didn’t imprison nor kidnap Edward. Edward was supposed to be put in the tower for his coronation. He was supposed to take control of him since he was going to be the protector.

    • Reply December 23, 2016

      Jamie Adair

      I said “effectively,” but this is a matter of perspective. In my books, if you need an armed body of men to present a show of force and then you arrest a boy’s legal protector so you can gain control of the boy, and you take the boy despite his protests, you’re awfully close to kidnapping him.

      Admittedly, Richard had the legal authority to do so (in my opinion). Although Edward V lacked the legal right to protest, he did not go willingly. The law may have been on Richard’s side, but if I was Edward V or Elizabeth Woodville, I would absolutely see this as kidnapping. If I was Richard, I would see this as legal and justified. Nonetheless, Richard seized control of the king through force, intimidation, and subterfuge — it may have been legal, but it certainly looks like kidnapping from a ten thousand foot perspective.

      The large body men “escorting” Richard would have sent Edward a not so subtle message. In those days, being arrested or detained likely meant death. When you (foolishly) set out with a limited number of men to guard you and then your Protector and co. are captured and likely to be executed, that’s pretty intimidating.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.