The Last Medieval Queen

Elizabeth of York's mother, Elizabeth Wydville, queen to King Edward IV, died in 1492. When I read that, I thought well, there goes the Middle Ages. Because elsewhere in the world, completely unknown to the English crown, a sailor from Genoa thinks he's about to land in Japan. Cipango, he called it, after a tale told by Marco Polo. Only one thing stood in his way. The double-decker landmass that thwarted Columbus' ambitions also stuck a spanner in the assumptions of heads, crowned or not, all across Europe. It was the death-knell of the Medieval.

Alison Weir's is a history of the interim.

Elizabeth of York is, for all intents and purposes, the last one standing from the Wars of the Roses. Her little brothers are the Princes in the Tower. Her uncle Richard "My Kingdom for a Horse" III probably had them killed. She married the man who defeated him, whose ancestors' claims to the throne had been thwarted by her father. It was complicated.

She was the mother of Henry VIII, the grandmother of Elizabeth I. She was also the mother of Margaret Tudor who, in 1503, married James IV of Scotland and, in doing so, became the great great great ancestor of every post-Elizabethan English monarch right down to the present day. In that same year, the year of Elizabeth of York's death, Spain is already securing trading rights with the "New World." Vasco da Gama has reached India by sea. Leonardo da Vinci is painting the Mona Lisa, Hieronymous Bosch is working on the Garden of Earthly Delights, and the pocket handkerchief is all the rage in Europe. The Middle Ages are over, and the Renaissance has begun.