Ask a Badass

Ask a Badass is an advice column answered by history’s hidden badasses, writing as they see their whole lives and our modern world.

Elizabeth Woodville answers Unsure

Elizabeth Woodville, Queen of England

Dear Badass,

I’m 27, and I really want to get married. I’ve wanted to get married since I was a little girl. My boyfriend and I have been together for 3 years, but he isn’t sure he wants to “put a ring on it”. I love him dearly, and I know he loves me. He’s just not sure about marriage. He comes from a broken home, and I think that really affected him. I just don’t know what to do. Our relationship is great other than this one thing. What should I do?


Dear Unsure,

I was born the daughter of Richard Woodville and I stayed that way until I was the wife of John Gray and I stayed that way until I became John Gray’s widow and the mother of Thomas Gray and I stayed that way until I became the wife of Edward IV and I stayed that way until I became Edward IV’s widow and the mother of Edward V and, in dizzying succession, the mother–in–law of Henry VII.  It wasn’t until I retired to a convent that I became simply Elizabeth. Defined by nothing but my own actions. It can be grounding to have a place in life, to define yourself by the people you care about the most. However, it can also lead you so far from your path that there is no way back.

I see two challenges in front of you, neither of them easy and both of them necessary. The first is to figure out what you want, independent of your boyfriend. Do you want to be married more than you want to be in your current relationship? Do you want children? Is there a time by which you want to have one or both? Most importantly, do you want this more than you want your boyfriend? How would you feel about your life if in fifteen or twenty years, you had the best iteration of your current relationship, but no marriage or children? There are no right answers to these questions, only your answers.

I wanted Edward the second I saw him, wanted him with a hunger that took my breath away, wanted him so badly I had to restrain each individual cell in my body from jumping on him right then and there in front of his men. There was only one thing in the world I wanted more than him, but that was my honor. In my time, a woman who slept with a man that wasn’t her husband was dishonored beyond measure, even by her lover.

The (mostly) men who study English history love to say that I issued an ultimatum, just like the one Ann Boleyn would issue to my grandson: I will sleep with you only if you make me queen. As if our men weren’t desirable without a crown or as if a woman’s chastity wasn’t constantly praised beyond all other virtues. An ultimatum, such as ‘marry me or I’m breaking up with you’ is a foolish, clumsy attempt at manipulation that does long-term damage, even if it gives you short-term gain. However, you must speak your spirit’s truth if it in fact is: “I need to have a family, not now but by this certain year. I love you and I will always miss you, but if you don’t want to have a family with me, I will have to find someone who does.”

I don’t counsel this lightly. I lost the father of my children twice. I lost the man I thought I would spend old age with – twice! I have lost children, brothers, mother, and father. I know the pain of parting and would not wish it on anyone.

However, I also know the slow corrosion of being unable to pursue your spirit’s desires. If you truly believe he is unsure now, set a time in a few months to check in again and do it. You can forgive a loved one for fear of commitment, fear of missing out, fear of losing his identity, but forgiveness does not mean subsuming yourself. Continue to check in with yourself before you check in with him and know that when your need for marriage or family or future planning outweighs your need to stay with him, it’s time to leave.

Elizabeth Woodville, Queen of England

About Elizabeth Woodville, Queen of England

Born around 1437 on the rural estate of Grafton, the first child of her parents’ scandalous secret marriage. Died in seclusion at Bermondsey Abbey in 1492 and was buried next to Edward IV in a simple ceremony. When her husband was killed in the Wars of the Roses, Elizabeth petitioned the newly crowned Edward IV for her widow’s portion. They married in secret shortly after. Elizabeth spent her life fighting for her kin but was unable to protect her sons from Richard III, chronicled by Shakespeare, among others. Her intrigues supported Henry Tudor as he led a rebellion against Richard III and married Elizabeth’s daughter to end the Wars of the Roses.

To hear more about the historical Elizabeth Woodville, check out The History of England.

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