At the time of Bridget’s birth, she had seven of nine full siblings and two half brothers still living, the only exceptions being a sister, Margaret of York, who had died in infancy eight years prior, and a brother, George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Bedford, who had died as a toddler in 1479. Before little Bridget turned three, another sister, Mary of York, had passed away, her father had died, she and her siblings had been declared bastards, her uncle had taken the throne as King Richard III, she and her mother and her surviving sisters were cowering in the the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey, her half-brother Richard Grey had been executed, and her brothers, King Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York, had disappeared and were presumed murdered.
That is a lot to have happened to one before one has been fully potty trained.
On 1 March 1484 her uncle, King Richard, swore before a mass of extremely important witnesses that he would do nothing to harm the Bridget’s mother (who was now called Dame Elizabeth Grey rather than acknowledged as the dowager queen) or any of her daughters if Dame Grey would come out of sanctuary and place herself and her girls under his protection. He also promised to get the girls good husbands of suitable rank, and give Dame Grey an annuity of 700 marks a year. ‘
Elizabeth Woodville’s acceptance of the king’s offer is seen as evidence that she didn’t think Richard had killed her sons Edward V and the Duke of York (just her son Richard Grey and her brother, Anthony Woodville, Earl of Rivers!), or is sneered at because what kind of mother/sister patches things up with the man who killed at least one son and a brother? Those people are sneering from the comfort of the 21st century and should shush.
Elizabeth’s other options were that she and all her daughters could have entered a nunnery, or they could have stayed in sanctuary until Richard III dragged them out by the hair and married her girls off to the men he chose for them anyway. Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s sole surviving son, Thomas Grey, Earl of Huntingdon, had fled to Brittany to join Henry Tudor, but his wife and several of Elizabeth’s small grandsons by Grey were still in England. She had good reason to not irritate Richard further, especially when it was futile and could only harm more of the people she loved.
Thus, Bridget turned five years old once again in royal keeping, but this time as the bastard niece of the king rather than a princess.
Richard III spent the time between his assumption of protection over the Woodville nieces and the abrupt end of his reign arranging unions for his brother’s supposedly illegitimate daughters. He rewarded one of his supporters, Ralph Scrope of Upsall, a younger brother of Thomas Scrope, 6th Baron Scrope of Masham, with the hand of Cecily of York, and he was in negotiations to marry Elizabeth of York off to the second son of Ferdinand, Duke of Viseu, in Portugal.
This unions would have given the girls high-born husbands, but husbands that could have never challenged the Richard for the throne in their wives’ name.
All of Richard III’s plans for his nieces came to naught after 22 August 1485, when he died in the mud of Bosworth Field. The victorious usurper, King Henry VII, then wed Elizabeth of York and annulled the marriage between Cecily and Thomas Scrope. Cecily then married John Welles, 1st Viscount Welles, the new king’s maternal half-uncle. Anne of York would eventually wed Thomas Howard, the future 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and Catherine of York married William Courtenay, heir to the 1st Earl of Devon.
Bridget, however, was never back on the marriage market after her uncle’s death. She seems to have been destined for a nunnery from the cradle, and sometime before 1492 she entered Dartford Priory and became a Dominican nun. Dartford Priory was one of the largest and most important priories in Medieval England, so it was a worthy religious house to receive a princess.
Bridget remained close to her eldest sister (who was also her godmother) even after Elizabeth became queen. Frequently, the queen sent money and letters to Bridget. “On the 6th July, 1502, 3l. 6s. 8d. were paid by her sister the Queen to the Abbess of Dartford, [Elizabeth Cressner was the abbess from 1489 to 1536] towards the charges of Lady Bridget there; and in September following, a person was paid for going from Windsor to Dartford to Lady Bridget, with a message from her Majesty.” There was another payment of 66 shillings sent to the priory for Bridget in March of 1503, a few weeks after Queen Elizabeth passed away.
Interestingly, rumors have abounded that Queen Elizabeth also sent money for the expenses of Agnes of Eltham, an orphan being raised and educated at the priory, because she was “the illegitimate daughter of Princess Bridget of York.” The trouble is there is no actual evidence that Queen Elizabeth ever sent any money to the priory for Agnes of Eltham or any other woman named Agnes there.
Even if the queen had sent money, that wouldn’t mean that Agnes was Bridget’s daughter. Agnes could have been the by-blow of any of the men connect to the Woodville family rather than a child of Elizabeth’s sister. There were several known extra-marital children of King Edward IV, as well, and Elizabeth might have been paying for a child parented by one of her many paternal half-siblings.
In reality, there is no evidence that Bridget was anything other than a devout, pious nun. She was certainly treated as a nun and a scholar by her family. Her grandmother, Cecily, Duchess of York, bequeathed Bridget three books in her will when she died in 1495: “a copy of the Legenda Aurea, a life of St Katherine of Sienna, and “the boke of St Matilde.”
Bridget, daughter of royalty, died in 1517. She was buried on the grounds of Dartford Priory, where she had spent the majority of her 37 years on earth.
At the time of her death her nephew, Henry VIII, was king and a devoted Catholic. During her life she must have prayed for him often. In turn, Henry had favored her priory, which he continued to do for at least a decade after her death. However, in the mid 1530s Dartmouth Priory became a target of the king’s henchman and Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell, and was eventually a victim of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the spring of 1539.
After 1539, “Henry VIII kept the site and buildings of the priory in his own hands as a house for the residence of himself and his successors.” The Priory then passed onwards to Thomas Seymour in 1547, Anne of Cleves in 1548, and was briefly re-established as a priory under Queen Mary I. The priory once agains reverted to the crown under Queen Elizabeth I, who “kept them in her own hands and rested at her own house here on her return from progression into Kent in 1559 and 1573.”
While in Queen Elizabeth’s hands, “large parts of the manor house were demolished and the building materials were removed to be re-used in other building projects. It is believed that an area of the site was used for smelting a black ore which was thought to contain gold.” Now, nothing is left of the priory except a few stones of the boundary wall and the west gatehouse, which is erroneously called the ‘Priory House’ by locals.
No one knows what happened to the grave site, tomb, or headstone of Bridget of York, princess and nun.