Lady Cecily (born Neville), Duchess of York, aka “Queen by Right” was one of the leading women of the War of the Roses. Mother of Kings; she was mother to Edward IV and Richard III of the House of York. She was the youngest daughter of Sir Ralph, Earl of Westmorland and his second wife, Lady Joan Beaufort. Joan was part of the illegitimate children of Prince John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster (son of King Edward III) and his mistress, later wife, Katherine (née Röet). Katherine had been a lady-in-waiting to the Duke’s mother, Queen Philippa. Their romance started during Lancaster’s second marriage to Constanza of Castile. After Constanza’s death, Katherine and Lancaster were married. A bill in Parliament was passed to legitimise their children. However, they were barred from the Royal Succession.
Lady Cecily married to Richard of York (Plantagenet) when she was just a teenager. This was normal for the time. The legal age for girls to marry was twelve and for boys it was fourteen. Richard was only a few years older. He was the son of Lord Richard, Earl of Cambridge and Lady Anne de Mortimer. Both of his parents had claims to the throne as descendants of King Edward III. Lord Richard was a grandson of Prince Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York (fourth surviving son of King Edward) while Lady Anne was a granddaughter of Philippa of Clarence; daughter of Prince Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence (the second surviving son of King Edward).
When Richard and his son were killed at the battle of Wakefield in December of 1460, Cecily was forced to send her two youngest sons to Burgundy. At the time, Cecily’s cousin Isabel (of Portugal), was Duchess of Burgundy as the wife to Philip “the good”. The boys didn’t return until after their brother had successfully deposed Henry VI and made himself King.
Before Edward IV married Elizabeth, Cecily was one of the most influential women in the land. In the White Queen she is depicted as proud and an elitist, with many fans taking on the side of poor, poor, Jaquetta and her eldest daughter when they had to defend themselves against mean ol’ Cecily telling them she doesn’t approve of the marriage and will do anything to disinherit him, just to see the Woodvilles finished.
Portrayal in “The White Queen“
It is fashionable to see girl vs girl on screen, especially when it is royals. After all, in the realm of fiction it should be a woman’s show, right?
Except that this woman is based on a real person and contrary to popular belief, she wasn’t out to destroy the Woodvilles. Her son’s marriage really set things back for his dynasty (and the House of York). As far as Cecily knew, if one king could easily be deposed and coerced, another one could be too. And the Woodvilles weren’t royal so they brought no alliance, nothing to the table.
Elizabeth’s father was a mere knight when he married her mother. She lost her right to call herself Duchess of Bedford after their union. After he became Baron, she became Baroness, and the two were staunch Lancastrians. Elizabeth’s first husband, Lord Grey (a knight), had died fighting the Yorks after all. Cecily’s own husband, son, and brother died fighting for York. They were beheaded and paraded before the people. There must have been some animosity there on the part of the Yorks. Cecily would be denied her life long goal of becoming Queen of England only a few weeks before the wars ended.
Although the Rivers had been pardoned as early as 1461, after Edward IV became King, it didn’t change the fact that they had fought for the other side and after having lost so many family members, it was only natural Cecily was fearful of their union.
Elizabeth Woodville, proved to be everything that was expected out of a royal consort; but that didn’t make matters better for the nobles who saw this as a betrayal. They had risked their sons and fortunes to make Edward King, and when he turned their backs on them, choosing a Lancastrian widow over Warwick’s proposed betrothal with Bona of France, it was pretty much an all out war then.
No one is sure what Cecily’s role was during this time. If she instigated her next son and nephew to rebel against Edward is not recorded. However, why would she risk the shame of being labeled an adulterer? When the rumor of Edward not being the son of Richard, but of a Welsh archer named Blaybourne spread throughout the country, Cecily spoke against it. The rumour tactic was sparked after Edward married Elizabeth. As many know, it was not a good match. The royal family did not benefit. The match would bring Elizabeth’s large family to court. The Rivers wanted to make sure that they had a strong hold at court by marrying their children to the highest nobles. Some of the marriages were forced upon the nobles who had an impressive pedigree which would now be “tainted” by the common Woodvilles.
In the only biography of Cecily Neville, Amy Licence lists many possibilities, one of them being that Cecily probably didn’t agree with what George and Warwick were about to do but as a mother, gave her son his blessing before he went to Calais.
Another is that “she traveled to Sandwich in an attempt to talk George out of going through with the potentially dangerous union.” By this she meant the union between George and Warwick’s eldest daughter, Isabel. Warwick was a nephew of Cecily so the affinity was one that would have required a proper papal dispensation.
Following their disastrous attempt to overthrow Edward IV, the King reconciled with Warwick and George. We can only imagine what Elizabeth must have felt. After all, the Duke of Clarenece and Warwick had killed her father and younger brother before they imprisoned her husband. But she was forced to accept Edward’s reconciliation with them, having little to no agency.
Cecily in the meanwhile invited her sons the following year to Baynard’s Castle. “She may have had apologies” Licence theorizes, about the previous events. If she had attempted to dissuade George from turning against his brother, she might have felt she could have done more and this was her way of bringing her two sons together.
“For a woman of her status and pride, it seems unlikely that she would wish to see her sons in direct combat, as she knew all too well the personal, political and material losses she may suffer as a result.”
But if this was the case, it came to nothing. George and Warwick were back at their old schemes, only this time they didn’t only fail (again) but were forced to leave England and Warwick had to make another ally -one he probably swore never to make; an alliance with Margaret of Anjou, the Lancastrian queen.
Margaret of Anjou and the Duchess of York
Much has been said about the friendship between Jacquetta and Margaret of Anjou, but there is almost no mention of the friendship between her and Cecily.
At the time that Margaret was in the first stages of prregnancy, the two women travelled the countryside together. And it is very possible that the two visited Norfolk shrine to give thanks. That same year, the two women wrote to each other, once again expressing gratitude towards the holy mother.
Cecily had been previously placed under house arrest with her sister Anne, the Duchess of Buckingham following her husband and son’s exile. Her sister had sided with the Lancastrians out of loyalty to her husband (the Duke of Buckingham). It was also at this time that Cecily saw many of Henry and Margaret’s army rob her of her valuables. Hearnes’ Fragment, a chronicle written by a servant of Edward IV, recorded that the Lancastrian troops “burnt and pillaged the town; and the Duchess of York residing there, had her wardrobe rifled and her furniture spoiled.”
To make matters worse, Cecily had her three youngest children with her, and as many mother in her position would, she did everything she could to protect them. So she left the castle and bravely met with her old friend, the Queen, pleading with her. The Queen was merciful enough to let her stay with her sister, Duchess Anne.
After her husband’s return, he sent for Cecily. The two entered London triumphantly. Cecily was dressed for the occasion in a beautiful blue gown. It was at this time that Richard made his bid for the throne but the people were not ready for a Yorkist monarch, especially when their present King (although having proved himself incapable of ruling) was still alive. So Richard had to settle for an accord which stated that following the King’s death, he and his heirs would inherit the throne.
It is by this act alone that Cecily had ever right to call herself “Queen by Rights”. She was after all, one step away from being the first Consort of the House of York.
“It was at this time” Licence writes, referring to the year after Elizabeth Woodville was given a lavish coronation, “that she started using the title of “My Lady the King’s Mother” and retreated into the royal apartments whenever she was at court. As for her later self-given title, this came during the 1470s, after Edward IV had regained his throne and rid himself of the Lancastrian threat.
Cecily became very religious during this time, and while she still kept up with the latest fashions, the Duchess followed a strict regime.
The Princes in the Tower
“What did Cecily believe had happened to her grandsons? Did she and Richard have a conversation about their futures?” (Licence)
When Richard, Duke of Gloucester, her younger son, made a bid for the English throne, she stayed silent. In the “White Queen”, she is not silent. Instead, the show portrays the fictional Cecily as whispering in Richard’s ear along with the other PG’s Lady Macbethesque character (Richard’s wife) Anne Neville. The two women try to convince Richard to rid himself of the Princes in the tower. They are after all Woodville puppets.
It is true that Richard was fearful for his safety. Like the Woodvilles, he wanted control over his royal nephew. And while some historians contest that Richard was never made Lord Protector and that is was just a lie to get power. Other historians argue that he was and that the Woodvilles were simply out to get him. The truth is that they were all scrambling for power over the new boy King and that they were all in danger.
This was the real life “Game of Thrones” and the Woodvilles became more influential following the Lancastrian Readeption. The appointment of Elizabeth’s brother, Anthony, Earl of Rivers, as the Prince of Wales’s governor was also a road block after the death of Edward. As the new King was escorted to London, Richard intercepted them. The boy haughtily replied that he would trust no one other than his uncle Anthony. As the day went on, the boy showed that he had a defiant attitude towards his paternal uncle, Richard. The trust that was built with his mother’s family started early on, and it was apparent that it would not be broken.
To suggest that Cecily would have coldly advocated their murder is taking a lot of artistic licence. Hollywood loves to play loose with history and this time, there was no exception when it came to “The White Queen”. While there is some basis for her disconent, it is unlikely that she would have condoned two of her grandchildren’s murder. We don’t know what her feelings were; we can only speculate. Historically, Richard did use one of Cecily’s residences as he plotted his rise to power. But, nobody knows for certain if she was present. There is no evidence either way. However, that didn’t stop the show from placing her in residence as one of the plotters.
Amidst betrayal, intrigue, and more death, Cecily left this world in May of 1495. This was a woman who had lived through the murders of her husband, son, and brother; the internal war of her sons Edward and George, which ended in George’s execution; her House’s rise and fall, and the vilification of the last King of the House of York, her son Richard. The House of Tudor defeated Richard in 1485 and Cecily was still alive when her granddaughter, Elizabeth of York (eldest daughter of Edward), become queen to the new King, Henry VII.
Cecily left several religious items to the church at Fotheringhay and other valuable items to her next of kin, including her great-grandson, Prince Arthur (Tudor) of Wales. She even left something for the current “My Lady the King’s Mother”, Margaret Beaufort, which was a service book covered with black cloth of gold with gold claps.
Cecily was buried with her husband Richard and son Edmund in Fortheringhay. The current memorial is the work commissioned by her great-great-granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth I (Tudor).
For more information on Cecily, check out “Cecily Neville: Mother of Kings” by Amy Licence and “Blood Sisters” by Sarah Gristwood which is about all the women in the wars of the roses, stretching to the Tudor period with Henry VIII’s ascension and joint coronation with his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 56,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 21 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
On 5 September 1548, shortly before the death of the Dowager Queen Katherine, her will was written out and signed by the queen. The testament attests to the sanity of the dowager queen as she dictated her will. Other observations by the queen’s ladies differ from the statement in her will that “Lying on her deathbed, sick in body, but of good mind, perfect memory and discretion” as written in ‘The State of Mind of the Dowager Queen’.
It wasn’t until December 6th, 1548 that the will and testament was proved by the Archbishop Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury. It was probated or officially verified and approved–referring not only to the will itself but also to the certification of its having been proved, which was delivered to its executors. The original will was in Latin; it was edited and transcribed into English in Janel Mueller’s Katherine Parr: Complete Works & Correspondence (2011).
THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF DOWAGER QUEEN KATHERINE PARR, SEPTEMBER 5, 1548
By the lady Katherine Queen and wife
In the name of God, Amen.
Be it remembered and known that the fifth day of September, in the year of our Lord God a thousand five hundred forty eight, and the second year of the reign of the most excellent prince Edward VI, by the grace of God King of England, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, and the Church of England and also Ireland, in earth the Supreme Head:
The most noble and excellent princess, Dame Katherine, Queen of England, France, and Ireland; late the wife of the most excellent prince of famous memory, King Henry VIII, late King of England; and then wife to the right honorable Sir Thomas Seymour, knight of the noble Order of the Garter, Lord Seymour of Sudeley, and High Admiral of England.
Lying on her deathbed, sick in body, but of good mind, perfect memory and discretion; being persuaded, and perceiving the extremity of death to approach her; disposed and ordained by the permission, assent, and consent of her dear, beloved husband, the Lord Seymour aforesaid, a certain disportion, gift, testament, and last will of all her goods, chattels, and debts, by these words or other, like in effect, being by her advisedly spoken to the intent of a testament and last will in the presence of the witnesses and records undernamed:
This is to say, the said most noble Queen, by permission, consent, and assent aforesaid, did not only, with all her heart and desire, frankly and freely give, will, and bequeath to the said Lord Seymour, Lord High Admiral of England, her married espouse and husband, all the goods, chattels, and debts that she then had, or in value than they were or been; but also most liberally gave him full power, authority, and order, to dispose and prosecute the same goods, chattels, and debts at his own free will and pleasure, to his most commodity.
These were witness to the premises: Robert Huick, Doctor of Physic, and John Parkhurst. Given [at] the castle of Sudeley, the day and year aforesaid.
[Certification of probate]
The testament was probate in the presence of the lord Archbishop of Canterbury at London the sixth day of December, in the year of the Lord one thousand five hundred and forty-eight. He conjointly appointed Roger Lynute procurator and Thomas Seymour executor of this testament. And completion and approval were attended to with all due honors, so that we have faithfully attended to the same.
The Castles include Thurland which has been converted into luxury apartments and Westhanger. Both castles belonged to Queen Katherine’s ancestors.
Westhanger was part of her maternal grandmother’s family, the Fogges of Kent, from 1461 to 1509. Jane Fogge was a daughter of Sir John Fogge, who married a cousin and lady to Queen Elizabeth (consort of Edward IV).
In 1509, the two manors of Ostenhanger and Westenhanger which stood here were merged into one ownership by Sir Edward Poynings and we know from historic papers that he began to build magnificently. Unfortunately he died with the work incomplete in 1522 but his son, Sir Thomas Poynings, went on with the building, later exchanging Westenhanger with King Henry VIII for other lands.
By 1544 we know that the house was extensive and incorporated separate suites of rooms for the use of royalty. Later Queen Elizabeth I visited ‘her house at Westenhanger’. (From their official site)
Impressive though Westenhanger is, it isn’t the only castle with a history to be proud of on sale. Thurland was home to Queen Katherine’s paternal great-grandmother’s family; Alice, daughter of Sir Thomas Tunstall. Thurland Castle in Lancashire, although split into several apartments, still retains its moat and was owned by Sir Bryan Tunstall, a heroic soldier immortalised in a poem by Sir William Raleigh.
He was a hero of the Battle of Flodden in 1513, and was dubbed the ‘Stainless Knight’ by King Henry VII. He was followed by his son Marmaduke, who became High Sheriff of Lancashire.
My amazing radio career has begun! Which is to say, I’ve been on the radio once, on someone else’s show. But I didn’t spill coffee on the computers and, according to friends who I presume would not lie about such crucial matters, I didn’t sound like a blithering imbecile.
This weekend I had a quick jaunt back to my hometown of Bristol to appear on Dr Phil Hammond’s Saturday morning show on BBC Radio Bristol. (You can hear the show again here – I’m on for the first hour.) As part of that rather excellent experience, I had to decide who would be my four ideal dinner party guests. They could have been living or dead, but if I had turned up and said “my mum, my dad, my little brother and my husband” I think most listeners would have felt rather cheated. So for me, it was a…
Edward: I’m a shagger.
Elizabeth: I’m a breeder.
Stanley: I’m a schemer.
Margaret Beaufort: To tell you the truth, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be.
Clarence: Let’s go to France!
Edward: I’d rather shag. But why the hell not?
Gloucester: I’ve not forgotten you’re a derp, George.
Clarence: And I’ve not forgotten that you’ve got Warwick Castle, despite the fact that you live at Middleham.
Gloucester: It’s just this pesky truth thing, George. It’s so utterly boring.
Margaret Beaufort: That’s right! I’m a prayer. Oh, and I need another sign.
Woman: Destiny calls!
Margaret Beaufort: Good one, God!
Elizabeth: It’s a boy!
Margaret Beaufort: Here, let me save his life so I can have an attack of conscience when I decide to kill him and his brother in, let’s say, episode 9, just before I send him off to be Perkin Warbeck. Oh, look, he’s breathing. Elizabeth: I’ll…