While much is made by Tudorites of what they in their foul-mindedness regard as Richard III’s excessive attention to his niece during the Christmas of 1484, few recognise the true significance of this event.
Newly released from sanctuary, where she had been held as a bargaining tool by her selfish mother, her hopes of a great marriage blasted by her father’s folly in entering into a precontract, young Elizabeth of York sorely needed some cheer at Christmas. Richard, despite his own heartache as he witnessed his beloved Queen Anne wasting away from consumption, could not stand by and watch his niece’s gloom. As Paul Murray Kendall has pointed out, ‘often Richard scattered small gifts like a benevolent agent of Providence’, and the Christmas of 1484 was no exception. He ordered that a gown be made of the finest silk to match that worn by Queen Anne, carefully wrapped the completed garment in a package, and presented it to young Elizabeth on Christmas morning. How Elizabeth’s eyes shone! In her gladness of heart, she did not even realise that Richard had started a custom that survives today–the giving of Christmas presents.
Sadly, Elizabeth was to never know another Christmas like that of 1484. She spent the Christmas of 1485 in dread and gloom, knowing that her beloved uncle lay dead in a car park and that she would soon be bartered in marriage to Henry Tudor to bolster his weak claim to the throne. Her worst fears proved true, for her miserly, cruel husband not only eradicated the Plantagenets, but the fledgling tradition of giving Christmas gifts–destroying all of the unused Christmas gift tags, gift wrap, and gift bags left behind at Richard’s court at the same time he destroyed Titulus Regius.
Obliged to play cards during the holidays to supplement her meager allowance , made to wear furs taken from the skins of ermines and other lower animals, and forced to assume the role of a royal consort instead of a bastard niece, Elizabeth pined away until she finally left this world in 1503, joining in death the man who had presented her with her first and only Christmas gift.
Paul Murray Kendall, Richard the Third
Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Jeff Borden wishes you a Merry Christmas, if it’s possible to have one in a world devoid of Plantagenets.