Me and Joan Neville, Countess of Arundel

Joan Neville and I go back a long way. In fact, my love of history, stately homes and a predisposition to being nosey could well be attributed to our early acquaintance.

Joan Neville, Countess of Arundel

Joan Neville, Countess of Arundel

My parents weren’t big on history, but we did regularly go out on day trips and if there happened to be a stately home thereabouts, well sometimes we gave it a try! Not very often, I have to admit, but here is the photographic evidence that one day in the late 1950s we stormed the Castle Keep at Arundel.


We were on a day out with mum and dad’s friends known as ‘the Robos.’ I think their name was Robinson and I’m sure that aged 5ish I must have called them Uncle and Auntie something or other, but today I only remember them as ‘the Robos.’ How they fitted into our small family with an even smaller circle of friends, I don’t know. They had two sons, the younger of whom was called Eric and there is another photo of us three children standing fully clothed in a paddling pool at Caister Holiday Camp, but I digress.

These 6cm square, grainy, black and white photographs were taken at Arundel Castle, the marital home of Joan, Countess of Arundel. Situated some four miles north of Littlehampton the 11th century castle was built by Roger de Montgomery, one of the Conqueror’s principal counselors and most probably a cousin as well. His reward for keeping the home fires burning back in Normandy while William helped himself to ours was most of West Sussex and Shropshire and a handful of manors in Surrey, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Middlesex, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Cambridgeshire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire. Not bad going, eh!

A view from the Castle Keep across West Sussex

A view from the Castle Keep across West Sussex

When Joan Neville married William Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel in 1438 the castle was practically a new build, a mere 300 years old and owned by the Fitzalan family since the 13th century. Mary Fitzalan, their great great granddaughter would be the last member of the family to own the property. Mary became the 15 year old bride of Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, whom she married in the spring of 1555. A son, Phillip, was born two years later but sadly Mary died just 8 weeks after his birth, aged 17. It has been written that “all who knew her could not but love and esteem her much.”


Jumping on 400 years and here I am pictured climbing the steps to the Castle Keep. Probably built by William d’Albini II towards the end of the 11th century, today the Keep is open to the elements although there is evidence of fireplaces on the inner walls and of an upper floor.


And here am I pictured astride the Coade stone horse that stands on duty on a bridge over the dry moat. This and the companion lion is representative of heraldic beasts on the Norfolk coat of arms. These two sculptures once stood on the Norfolk Bridge at Shoreham on Sea but when the bridge was demolished and rebuilt in 1922 they were brought up to the castle. I bet little children are not allowed to sit on them now – perhaps they weren’t in the 50s either – I do look a little bit smug!

With both Medieval and Victorian architecture the Castle has provided the back drop for a whole raft of period films and TV programmes, including The Young Victoria (2009) and Henry VIII (2003).

Mary Fitzalan, Joan's great great grandaughter.

Mary Fitzalan, Joan’s great great granddaughter.

Arundel Castle remains in the Norfolk family today and is open to the public from April-October. Visit the website for further details.

Alice Neville, Lady Fitzhugh

Now more than half way through the ten part series and the success of The White Queen is no longer up for debate. You are either absolutely enthralled, watching and reading every last column inch about the characters and cast – or you’re not. Denigrated as a medieval soap opera, accused of being economical on historical fact, with British viewers even getting a sexually watered down version, you either love the Philippa Gregory adaptation – or you don’t.


Returning to the Neville women, sisters of the dastardly Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, we come to Alice. There seems to be varying opinions as to whether Alice came in 3rd or 4th place in the family line up but I am sticking with historian and lecturer David Baldwin who places Alice between sisters Eleanor and Katherine, born after 1432 and before 1442.

Alice married Henry, Lord Fitzhugh of Ravensworth Castle, Richmond in Yorkshire in c 1447/8 and during some 25 years of marriage she gave birth to at least eleven children.

The ruins of Ravensworth Castle

The ruins of Ravensworth Castle

Henry, Lord Fitzhugh was another canny character during this period of shifting fortunes. Henry’s association with the Neville family was long, but he also maintained a tenuous link with the Lancastrians and stood alongside Margaret of Anjou at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460. However a year later and Henry was fighting with the Yorkists at the Towton bloodbath.

Alice is said to be the most similar in temperament to her despotic brother, so not a cuddly type then.

After Henry’s death in 1472 Alice resisted the temptation to remarry. She had status and wealth enough and preferred not to risk either at the hands of a second, controlling husband. She divided her time between the family seat at Ravensworth, moving to the dower castle at West Tanfield following her eldest son’s marriage.

The affection between the sisters during these difficult years is not always obvious but more is known about the relationship between Alice and Katherine. Alice is known to have been not only emotionally supportive of Katherine following her husband’s execution, but also to have provided practical assistance.


When it came to issuing invitations to the coronation of Richard III and his wife Anne, Alice, Lady Fitzhugh was the only one of the surviving Neville sisters to receive one. As aunt to the Queen and cousin to the King, Alice played a prominent role in the proceedings; following the couple in the long and slow procession to Westminster the day before the coronation. Alice was among the ladies who supported the Queen during the ceremony and sat with her at the banquet held in Westminster Hall later that day.

Anne Neville, Richard III's Queen

Anne Neville, Richard III’s Queen

But three short years later and Alice’s niece Anne was dead, Richard was slain at the Battle of Bosworth and Henry Tudor reigned. Time to retreat?

Alice survived the Lambert Simnel uprising of 1487 in which her son in law Francis Lovel was heavily implicated, and spent her later life occupied by the domestic. She was involved in arranging those all important marriages for her grandchildren, and always had her finger on the pulse of family life.

Alice was the longest lived of the six sisters. She died c 1503 not far short of her 70th birthday. She had outlived most of her eleven children. Presumably someone was left to attend to her memorial, most probably erected at Jervaulx Abbey, but a great deal of religious upheaval has passed under the historical bridge since then and sadly no evidence remains.

Henry VIII's sixth wife, Queen Katherine Parr

Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Queen Katherine Parr

For further reading visitors to Good Gentlewoman might also like to call upon TudorQueen6 and follow the fortunes of Queen Katherine Parr, Alice’s great-granddaughter.

Eleanor Neville, Lady Stanley

This week’s episode of The White Queen placed the scheming Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, centre stage with his daughters at his mercy, waiting to hear their fate.

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick

Viewers were introduced to Queen Margaret of Anjou and her dull looking son Edward, Prince of Wales who had barely a word of dialogue in this episode.

As the two Queens jostled for the throne, Margaret wields all the power while pregnant Elizabeth Woodville seeks refuge in Westminster Abbey. Jacquette reminds her daughter that women have other weapons at their disposal, by which she means witchcraft, a hobby that would see her end up arrested and quizzed by the loathsome Warwick. In a strange twist of fate it is only Jacquette’s previous friendship with Queen Margaret that saves her.

Queen Margaret of Anjou and son Edward, Prince of Wales

Queen Margaret of Anjou and son Edward, Prince of Wales

Family and friends were crucial during these turbulent times and no one understood this better than Eleanor Neville, Lady Stanley. Eleanor was named after her father’s sister Eleanor, Countess of Northumberland and was one of six siblings born during the 1430s; brothers Thomas, John and George were all born by 1432 followed by Eleanor, Alice, and Katherine.

By 1457 Eleanor was married to Thomas, Lord Stanley who has gone down in history as being a professional fence sitter, adroitly skipping between opposing sides during the War of the Roses. Eleanor was known to be a feisty, forceful personality, a fitting helpmate for her duplicitous husband.

His career began in 1454 when he was Esquire of the Body to the Lancastrian King Henry VI. By 1471 he was Steward of the Household of Yorkist Edward IV. In 1483 he was made Constable of England under Richard III by which time he was married to his second wife Margaret Beaufort and therefore stepfather to Henry Tudor.

Margaret Beaufort embraces her son Henry Tudor and her brother in law Jasper

Margaret Beaufort embraces her son Henry Tudor and her brother in law Jasper

Third sister Eleanor was certainly astute enough herself to keep ahead of the game. During a time when little domestic written material remains, two of Eleanor’s letters have survived. In one case Eleanor has been asked to intercede in a dispute over land and in the other non payment of an annuity, suggesting that not only could she be trusted with delicate negotiations, but that she had influence as well.

The couple produced at least thirteen children, several of whom were pretty colourful characters themselves. James, Bishop of Ely, could be said to be unsuited to a priestly lifestyle, and appears to have never actually lived at the Cathedral. Meanwhile brother Edward, 1st Lord Monteagle was described as ‘a devil raiser and alchemist’ in WE Hampton’s 1979 book Memorial of the Wars of the Roses.

Pregnant Queen Elizabeth in hiding

Pregnant Queen Elizabeth in hiding

In his will Thomas Stanley ordered seven effigies to be made of various family members, including Eleanor, and placed in Burscough Priory and that he should be buried there with his first wife. However Eleanor had died at the family’s Derby House in St Paul’s Wharf, London in around 1472 and was buried in St James’s Church, Garlickhithe. There is no evidence to suggest that her body was re-interred at Burscough. The effigies were damaged during the Dissolution of the Monastries and today the remaining figures can no longer be accurately identified.


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

Joan Neville, Countess of Arundel

During the 15th century the Church banned sex on every Sunday during Lent, and for pretty much half the rest of the year as well. But you seriously have to wonder how much notice anyone took of this papal ruling, especially if you’re watching The White Queen (BBC1 Sunday).

Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville tear each other’s clothes off every time they see one another and in yesterday’s episode even pious Margaret Beaufort returned to the marital bed, although she only did it for king and country.

Amanda Hale as Margaret Beaufort

Amanda Hale as Margaret Beaufort

The ‘no sex please, we’re British’ had little impact upon the number of births either, with high born women suffering more than their peasant, breast feeding sisters. Aristocratic ladies handed their new borns to a wet nurse and were pretty soon pregnant again.

White Queen, Elizabeth had a total of twelve children by two husbands while her mother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Countess Rivers had fourteen, and these were just the babies who survived long enough to make an entry in the history books.

Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick and the infamous Kingmaker, was himself one of ten children, although his own progeny appeared to number just two long suffering daughters.

Isabelle Warwick.

Isabelle Warwick.

It was his daughter Isabelle viewers witnessed give birth at sea during a storm conjured up by witchcraft and Elizabeth Woodville, her mother and Elizabeth’s sweet faced daughter. Isabelle, the wife of Edward’s traitorous brother George went on to have at least two children that survived to adulthood. Her daughter was Margaret, Countess of Salisbury.

But let’s return to roguish Richard Neville and his sisters who surely deserve a series of their own, or at the very least, a novel by Philippa Gregory.

Philippa Gregory standing next to Margaret Beaufort's tomb in Westminister Abbey

Philippa Gregory standing next to Margaret Beaufort’s tomb in Westminister Abbey

Marriage was the only career option for the medieval woman, and even then they had very little say in the matter. Advantageous dynastic pairings were everything, which indirectly led to the whole Cousins’ War disaster.

Divorce was unheard of and the only way to escape an unhappy marriage was to discover you were related to your husband or prove you had previously been contracted to another. If you had been married under age that counted as well, although with betrothals made in childhood this might be a tricky one to argue. One get out clause was an impotent husband, but merely being violent didn’t count. Husbands were allowed to beat their wives with sticks or whips because apparently it was good for them. However, if you could prove your husband intended to kill you, then that was a valid reason for an annulment.

All that being said, Richard’s elder sister Joan seems to have fared pretty well in the marital stakes. Joan was born in 1424, the first of Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury’s large brood by his wife Alice Montacute. Fifteenth century babies were usually named for their Godparents who played a prominent role in the child’s life. Joan, however, appears to have been named for her paternal grandmother, Joan Beaufort.

Joan spent her early childhood at Middleham Castle, the Salisbury family seat In Wensleydale, Yorkshire. She may have been removed to a neighbouring nobleman’s household to learn the art of estate management, as was the medieval custom.

Joan Neville's marital home at Arundel Castle

Joan Neville’s marital home at Arundel Castle

Her expensive marriage contract to William Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, was bought from the Crown by her ambitious father, and she was married at around the age of 14. Her groom was nearer 21 years old, but it is not know if the couple set up home together immediately following the ceremony, especially as their eldest son was not born until 1450. Joan’s marital home was Arundel Castle in Sussex, owned by the Fitzalan family from 13th to 16th century. Joan had at least five children. Thomas, Lord Maltravers, the Arundel heir married Margaret Woodville, Elizabeth’s sister.

Joan died in 1462, shortly before her sister Katherine’s marriage to Lord Hastings. She was buried in the Fitzalan Chapel adjoining St Nicholas’s Church near Arundel Castle, where her husband eventually joined her.

William survived his wife by 25 years, during which he showed no inclination to remarry. He withdrew from national politics and tried to keep his distance from war mongering brother in law, Richard Neville.

Joan Neville, Countess of Arundel.

Joan Neville, Countess of Arundel – see also TudorQueen6

The magnificent memorial to Joan and William enjoyed a makeover in 1982 when it was re sited on a slate slab in front of the altar. Husband and wife rest their feet on the Fitzalan horse and a griffin, their heads supported by angels. Joan wears a York collar depicting suns and roses and the effigies still bear traces of original colouring and gilding.