Lady Cecily Neville, Duchess of Warwick.

Second Neville sister Cecily was named for the least attractive female character in The White Queen BBC1 series, excepting Margaret Beauchamp. (I’m not sure quite what Lady Beauchamp did to upset Philippa Gregory – we at Lydiard are very fond of her as she brought the St John’s wealth, fame and a direct connection the the Crown.)

It can be safely said that in the BBC1 series no one seems to like poor Aunt Cecily, Duchess of York, not even her sons.

Caroline Goodall stars as Cecily, Duchess of York.

Caroline Goodall stars as Cecily, Duchess of York.

Aunt Cecily had married Richard, 3rd Duke of York, heir to the throne of his Plantagenet Uncle Edmund. Richard and Cicely never made it to the throne, but two of their sons did. Now you might have supposed that would have pleased Aunt Cis, but according to the Sunday evening saga nothing could be further from the truth.

She appears as a spectre at the wedding feast of eldest son Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, meanwhile encouraging second son, George, Duke of Clarence, to challenge his brother for the title.

She eventually gave up on all of them and lived out her last years in a nunnery, dying in her 80s.

The niece who was named Cicely for her sadly had a much shorter lifespan. The second daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury and his wife Alice Montacute was born in about 1426. Her father wasted no time in securing a favourable alliance and Cecily was married at the tender age of 9 in a double ceremony with her even younger brother Richard.

The nuptial agreement to marry his daughter to the Warwick heir cost Salisbury an arm and a leg, but it all paid off in the end.

By 1442 the young couple were living together as husband and wife, dividing their time between Warwick and Hanley Castles. In 1443 a daughter was born but their happiness would be short lived.

The teenage Henry Beauchamp, who had inherited the combined Despenser/Beauchamp/Warwick estates, died in 1446. The couple’s only child Anne died in early childhood, which left the whole caboodle up for grabs by the family. Well not exactly as Cecily’s Kingmaking brother was perfectly placed, married to Henry’s only sister of the full blood, Anne Beauchamp, so he pocketed the lot.

Cecily’s second marriage was to career politician John Tiptoft, later Earl of Worcester and she moved south to his home at Great Eversden, Cambridgeshire. This marriage lasted but fifteen months as Cecily died in 1450, most probably during childbirth.

Effigy of John Tiptoft.

Effigy of John Tiptoft.

So what can we glean from Cicely’s short life? Surprisingly, quite a lot, as her legacy opens a window on the lives of all the sisters.

Among her belongings Cicely left a collection of fine books and manuscripts. The Neville women, including the waspish Aunt York, were described by CM Meale as ‘significant figures in the history of piety and book patronage in the 15th century’ in Women and Literature in Britain 1150-1500 published in 1993.

While most 15th century reading matter was written to inculcate religious obedience and good behaviour it wasn’t all prayers and psalters. The girls’ grandmother, Joan Beaufort owned the odd Arthurian romance and the women had access to the stories of legendary figures and romantic tales – a medieval Mills & Boon.

Cecily died on July 28, 1450 and was buried at Tewkesbury Abbey three days later. Only one known representation of Cecily remains. Along with first husband Henry, brother Richard and his wife Anne, Cecily appears as a weeper on the magnificent tomb of her father in law Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick in St Mary’s Church, Warwick.

Cecily Neville, depicted on the tomb of her father in law Richard Beauchamp. Photo courtesy of Aidan McRae Thomson

Cecily Neville, depicted on the tomb of her father in law Richard Beauchamp. Photo courtesy of Aidan McRae Thomson

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6 thoughts on “Lady Cecily Neville, Duchess of Warwick.

  1. There are over 40,000 descendents of Edward III at last attempt to count them. I happen to be one of them, through George and Mildred Reade, also the American ancestors to Queen Elizabeth II, they are buried at Warner Hall in Virginia. Like a good genealogist, I have birth and death records, land records, marriage records and dozens of books and sources to back up my work. I have read at least ten books written about Cecily Neville, the younger sister to my ancestor, Eleanor Neville, Countess of Northumberland. Reading a book of historical fiction is easy, try reading a book based on historical fact, they can be boring. Cecily was anything but boring. Every historical book states that when she was young she was spoiled because of her youth and her royal blood. Her mother and father were very proud of this blood and the children of Joan Beaufort married very well. It is noted that she was a great reader, loaning books to Henry V, this was common in her family, but not in all noble families. This gave her the ability to write letters without a scrip. She wanted her husband to be king, she felt he was the rightful king, not Henry VI, even though she was related to him. She is known to have had a quick temper in her youth. She was well traveled, having following her husband on all of his assignments given by the king. Of all the things I have read about her she was a formidable woman, totally committed to the York family she married into, though Shakespeare does show her grieving for her sister, Eleanor. She was a “prisoner of her sister Anne” for a while, I doubt that Anne made her life all that miserable, though she was instructed to by the king. She outlived all of her children but one. She is known to have hated Queen Elizabeth Woodville and using her age as an excuse, she rarely went to court after Edward married her. I think her piousness in later life was to obtain forgiveness for the things she may have done in her younger years. I highly doubt that she would have stood for Lady Rivers talking to her like that, more likely she would have slapped her. She may a taken her place behind Woodville, but she would have let everyone know that she didn’t like it. I believe George was her favorite, though as smart as she was supposed to be, how she didn’t see how evil he was is beyond me. I am new to the site and love the information. Sorry for such a long blog but as you can see I am a Lancaster born and bred.

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment. I’m guessing you are probably correct in that the portrayal of Cecily, Duchess of York in The White Queen was not accurate – I think that likewise the representation of Lady Margaret Beauchamp was also a little harsh and Lady Margaret Beaufort came across as a rather unhinged, but that’s historical fiction for you! Could I point out that the blog post to which to refer is largely about Cecily’s niece, the daughter of her brother Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury, who was probably named in her honour. Cecily junior went on to marry Henry [de] Beauchamp, 1st Duke of Warwick, and therefore became Duchess of Warwick.

      • Are there any documents to suggest that Lady Welles (Margaret’s mother) was that harsh?

        Yeah, I’m just a little confused with the blog and comments on your page because it reads like Cecily, Duchess of York was the same person as her niece. Cecily married Henry who became Duke of Warwick — brother of Lady Anne de Beauchamp (later 16th Countess, wife of Cecily’s brother). It’s all in the blog I wrote on her. I’ve been researching the sisters for years now. I have stopped putting blogs up due to people taking the info and photos.

      • It is indeed popular fiction but it hurts when individuals are depicted in a way that cannot be justified by any evidence. Margaret Beaufort often stayed with her mother at Maxey Castle and the whole extended family of St.John, Beaufort and Welles. They enjoyed festive holy days together. The Crowland Chronicles record how mother and daughter prayed together at Crowland Abbey.

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