Cecily, Princess of York

There’s no denying the Woodville women were a fine-looking lot. Elizabeth Woodville was said to have used her beauty and maybe some feminine sorcery, to ensnare the king, Edward IV into an illicit marriage.

Richard Neville alias Warwick the Kingmaker was not happy. He was busy at the time negotiating a marriage for Edward with either Anne of France or Bona of Savoy in an attempt to strengthen ties with Louis XI of France, and any way what about Eleanor Talbot (Butler/Boteler) with whom there was supposedly a ‘contract of marriage’ or Elizabeth Lucy (Waite) his long standing mistress who also possessed a pre-contract. Ah well, these things happen.

Edward and Elizabeth’s union produced five daughters who survived to adulthood and two sons, the unfortunate Princes murdered in the Tower of London. The whole family is portrayed in stained-glass in the Royal Window in the northwest transept of Canterbury Cathedral. The original 1483-84 version was damaged during the 1640s, and the one on view today is a modern replica. The image of Cecily, kneeling between her sisters Elizabeth and Anne is now held by the Burrell Collection in Glasgow.

Cecily was born on March 20, 1469 at the Palace of Westminster, the third of Edward and Elizabeth’s children. Before her second birthday Cecily was with her pregnant mother and sisters as they sought sanctuary in Westminster Abbey. In due course she would be stripped of her royal status and declared a bastard.

But as the crown bounced back and forth between the warring royal cousins, daughters were an important commodity during the turbulent times of the fifteenth century and Sir Thomas More pretty much summed up her life when he described Cecily as ‘not so fortunate as fair.’

By the time she was just five years old, Cecily had been betrothed to first James III’s son and heir and then to the Scottish king’s brother Alexander Stewart, Duke of Albany. Neither of these betrothals came to fruition and in 1485 she was briefly married to Ralph Scrope of Upsall, a marriage arranged by her uncle Richard, who had by then declared himself king.

But later that same year the exiled Henry Tudor returned, seized the crown and married Cecily’s elder sister Elizabeth, so it was goodbye Ralph. The marriage was promptly annulled and Cecily was lined up for another dynastically advantageous marriage – and this is where the St John family link comes in.

During the winter of 1487/88 Cecily married John Welles, 1st Viscount Welles KG. John was the son of Margaret Beauchamp and her third husband Leo (Lionel) Welles, 6th Baron Welles. John was half-brother to Margaret Beaufort (and also to her St John half siblings) and therefore the King’s uncle of the half blood. John had received his returning uncle when he landed at Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire on August 7, 1485, and was knighted that same day. He went on to fight alongside Henry at the Battle of Bosworth, so his credentials were pretty sound.

Was this marriage a happy one? To be honest I don’t think happiness was a big consideration for a woman in Cecily’s position. Cecily was 18 at the time of her marriage and John approximately twenty years her senior. The couple had two daughters, Elizabeth and Anne, both of whom died young.

Cecily made frequent appearances at court, as befitted the daughter of one king and the sister-in-law of another and one who had a dodgy claim to the throne, it has to be said. In 1486 she carried her baby nephew Arthur to his christening and the following year she was one of the attendants at her sister’s coronation as Queen Consort.

But then in 1499 John Welles died and following a short period of widowhood Cecily decided when she married again it would be to a man of her own choosing. The date of her marriage to Thomas Kyme is not accurately recorded, but is believed to have taken place between May 1502 and January 1504 and without Royal License and boy was Henry displeased when he found out. He promptly banished her from court and confiscated her land.

Margaret Beaufort, the King’s Mother, championed Cecily’s case and allowed the couple the use of her home, Collyweston Palace. The marriage was a short one. Cecily, Princess of York died on August 24, 1507. Yet despite her high status, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about Cecily’s life and death.

Some sources claim that Cecily went on to have two children with Thomas Kyme, but as their existence was not ‘discovered’ until the 17th century, this seems unlikely. Thomas Kyme (or Kymbe or perhaps Keme) is described as a Lincolnshire gentleman, but an estate on the Isle of Wight also figures in their story. In fact, there is a legend that Cecily died at East Standen on the Isle of Wight and was buried at Quarr Abbey. However, there is evidence that she most likely died at a property in Hatfield owned by Margaret Beaufort where she had been staying for several weeks before her death. Margaret’s household accounts indicate that she paid most of Cecily’s funeral expenses at “the friars,” – could this be King’s Langley, a Dominican priory in Hertfordshire with a family connection and where Edmund of Langley, Duke of York was buried in 1402?

You’d really think there would be more concrete evidence about the lives of these women. I suppose that’s why such characters are much loved by historical novelists as they can invent the unknown bits.

So, there we have it – Cecily, Princess of York and another connection to the fascinating St John family from Lydiard Park.

Royal window Canterbury Cathedral

The Royal Window – Canterbury Cathedral published courtesy of Casey and Sonja

Princess Cecily

Cecily, Princess of York

Margaret Beaufort's tomb

Margaret Beaufort’s tomb in Westminster Abbey


Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s Queen.


Lady Margaret Beauchamp published courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball


Fonmon Castle and another St John connection

The Lydiard Park estate came in to the possession of the St John family when Oliver St John married Margaret Beauchamp in about 1425. The North Wiltshire estate would remain in the family for more than 500 years, but when did the  St Johns themselves arrive in England?

1 Lydiard House 2

Lydiard House and Park

Originally from St.Jean-le-Thomas in Normandy the St John name appears on a charter dated 1053 witnessed by none other than William, Duke of Normandy who just thirteen years later would invade and conquer England. And there are Charters linking Thomas St. John, Sheriff of Oxford as Thomas St. John, son of Raoul and formerly of St. Jean-le-Thomas.

Some forty years later there is a record that Thomas de St John was granted land by Henry I, which led to a theory that the St Johns didn’t leave Normandy until after 1066.

These facts also dispel the myth that a St John was, supposedly, one of the twelve knights that conquered Glamorgan under fitzHamo in the late 11th century.

But by the end of the 13th century there is a definite sighting of the St Johns at Fonmon Castle, ten miles west of Cardiff.

It is believed the first castle was a timber built structure. The stone version was built in 1180 by Baron Adam de Port, Lord Basing, about the same time that he married Mabel, the daughter of Reginald de Aurevalle and the grandchild and heir of Roger St John. However, the supposed connection between de Port family and Fonmon is very new and without documentation. Several historians have ‘suggested’ that William St.John (son of Adam de Port) is the person who signed a Glamorganshire 13th century charter, but as yet no one has found any proof.

Adam De Port’s son William declared on entry to parliament that he (William de Port) was from this day forward to be known as William Sancto Johannes. It is likely
that William’s mother died before the St.John inheritance passed to her
son. Panel two of the St John polyptych in St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze, shows these relationships and GEC Complete Peerage quotes the Latin text of William’s declaration to parliament.

In a charter dated to before 1121, Thomas St. John of St. Jean-le-Thomas mentions his brothers John and Roger and a nephew Ralf de Port so there must be other family relationships between the two families.

During the early to middle 13th century additions to the stone built structure included a square tower to the south and a round tower joining the main block.


Fonmon Castle

Fonmon Castle along with lands at Bletso in Bedfordshire descended through the elder son of Oliver St John and Margaret Beauchamp until 1656 when it was sold to Colonel Phillip Jones, MP, Privy Councillor and Cromwell’s right hand man and 7x great grandfather of the present owner.

And for more than 250 years the property descended down the male line of the Jones family until Oliver Henry Jones died in 1917. Oliver had no children and the estate passed jointly to his nieces Beatrice and Clara Valpy, the daughters of his sister Edith Alicia Jones. Clara married Sir Seymour William Brooke Boothby, the grandparents of Sir Brooke Charles Boothby, 15th Bt and the present owner of Fonmon Castle.

It has been the family’s proud claim that during the castle’s 800 year history it has only been owned by two families, the St John and the Jones, but guess what – it get’s even better then that.

In 1976 Sir Brooke Charles Boothby married Georgiana Alexandra Russell, the daughter of Aliki Diplarakou (Miss Europe 1930) and her second husband Sir John Wriothesley Russell. Now does the Russell name ring any bells with you, I wonder?


Aliki Diplarakou

Well let’s skip back a couple more generations – Sir John Wriothesley Russell’s father was Sir Thomas Wentworth Russell, Commandant of the Cairo City Police and Director of the Narcotic Intelligence Bureau; then we have Rev Henry Charles Russell, Rector at Wollaton, Northants and Lieutenant Colonel Lord Charles James Fox of the 52nd Regiment until we arrive at John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford.

Now we skip through the generations of the dukedom, back to Francis Russell, 4th Earl of Bedford, born at the end of the 16th century.

Nearly there – we have arrived at William Russell 1st Baron Russell of Thornhaugh. William was a professional soldier who gained the rank of Lieutenant General in 1585. The following year he fought in the Battle of Zutphen in the Netherlands and in 1587 became the Governor of Flushing. He was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland on May 16, 1594.

But more importantly, for readers of this blog, William was the fourth son of Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford and his wife Margaret St. John.

Margaret St John, Countess of Bedford was the daughter of Sir John St John and Margaret Waldegrave. Sir John was head of the senior branch of the family, a great grandson of Margaret Beauchamp and had been raised at court by Margaret Beaufort (mother of Henry VII). Soldier and statesman Sir John entered the court of his kinsman Henry VIII.  In 1533 he served as knight of the body, was ‘custos’ (guard) to Princess Mary in 1536 and chamberlain in the household of the Princess Elizabeth.

Margaret was one of four daughters born to this couple. After her first short lived marriage to William Gostwick,  Margaret married Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford. The couple had at least seven children and the stories of Lady Anne and Lady Margaret have already featured in this Good Gentlewoman blog.

Margaret died at Woburn, the Russell family home, on August 27, 1562 from smallpox. She was buried at Chenies, Buckinghamshire where Francis later joined her in an elaborate alabaster tomb complete with coloured effigies of the couple and a lengthy inscription.

On April 6, 2014 Sir Brooke Boothby handed over the running of Fonmon Castle to his daughter Aliki Currimjee, 13x great granddaughter of Margaret St. John.

Now doesn’t that make a good story. My thanks to Sonia St John for passing it on.

Aliki Currimjee

Aliki Currimjee


Katherine Neville, Baroness Hastings

So who did kill the Princes in the tower? Sunday’s penultimate episode of The White Queen did a good job of considering all the likely suspects.


Ricardians will be delighted that Richard received a TV absolution – no real evidence here then, according to Phillipa Gregory, although his meddling wife Anne may have been responsible for 500 plus years of bad press.

Sadly I have to admit that pious Lady Margaret Beaufort and her slippery husband Lord Stanley are looking none to innocent, which brings me circuitously to another Neville sister, Katherine.

Slippery Stanley played by Rupert Graves

Slippery Stanley played by Rupert Graves

Katherine, named for her father’s sister, Katherine, Duchess of Norfolk, was born during the 1430s and was first married to William Bonville, Lord Harrington in 1458. This marriage proved to be a short one as Lord Harrington was killed at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460 along with the Duke of York and Katherine’s brother Thomas. Her father, the Earl of Salisbury, was executed at Pontefract the day after the battle. Katherine’s daughter Cecily was born after Harrington’s death.

The Princes in the Tower by John Everett Millais

The Princes in the Tower by John Everett Millais

Katherine’s second marriage to Edward IV’s friend William Hastings was most probably arranged for her by her brother Warwick.

During these difficult times large landowners such as Hastings had to box clever, but there was never really any doubt as to where William’s loyalties lie. In 1461 he joined Edward’s campaign to take the throne for which he was created Baron Hastings of Hastings, and later chamberlain. Hastings fought at Barnet, the battle that saw the fall of Warwick, and again at Tewkesbury, where Margaret of Anjou was defeated.

Just how happy Katherine’s second marriage was is difficult to assess. The couple had five children that survived infancy, a relatively small family by the standards of the day, probably because Hastings was frequently absent from the marital bed, for various reasons! As Edward’s right hand man and best buddy, William, like his king, was a notorious womaniser.

The Princes in the Tower by Paul Delaroche

The Princes in the Tower by Paul Delaroche

But actually no one had a bad word to say against William – well, apart from Elizabeth Woodville who was not overly keen on him as she suspected he encouraged the king in his licentious ways. But everyone else thought he was a good bloke. So where did it all go wrong? 

Hastings and the slippery Stanley were all for crowning the young prince, King Edward V. When Richard imprisoned the boys and their uncle, Earl Rivers, Hastings and Stanley apparently accepted his explanation that Elizabeth Woodville was being obstructive. But then Richard had Hastings, Stanley and others he suspected of conspiracy, seized in the Council chamber. Stanley escaped with a minor injury – well he would, wouldn’t he – but Hastings was beheaded without the formality of a trial.

The Princes in the Tower by James Northcote

The Princes in the Tower by James Northcote

How did these events impact upon Katherine? Well, she never married again, for one thing. And she lost much of the land Edward IV had given to his loyal servant. However, when Henry VII took the throne, Katherine and her son had some of their property returned. Unfortunately for Katherine her recovered estates included tenants who were slow to pay their rents and she in turn frequently found herself in debt.

Richard III played by Aneurin Barnard

Richard III played by Aneurin Barnard

Katherine died at the beginning of 1504. In her will dated November 22, 1503 she stated her wish to be buried ‘in our Lady Chappell within the parish church of Ashby de la Zouch, between the image of our Lady and the place assigned for the vicar’s grave.’

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 www.telegraph.co.uk

Philippa Gregory standing next to Margaret Beaufort’s tomb in Westminister Abbey http://www.telegraph.co.uk

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.

Warwick the Kingmaker

In this week’s episode of the White Queen (BBC1 9pm Sunday) St John sister Margaret Beaufort joins Warwick’s rebellion against Edward IV.

Lady Margaret Beaufort

Lady Margaret Beaufort

However, this celebration  of medieval matriarchs doesn’t tell the complete story of the myriad of mothers moving behind the scenes.The scheming Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, may have been the Kingmaker, but he couldn’t have done it without his army of female relatives.


Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick

Richard Neville was the son of Richard, Earl of Salisbury and Alice Montacute. Born in 1428 Richard was the first of the couple’s five sons – Ralph and Robert who both died young; Thomas who was killed in the Battle of Wakefield in 1460 (their father, Salisbury, was captured and lynched at Pontefract the following day); George, Bishop of Exeter and later Archbishop of York and John, Marquess of Montague who was to die with his illustrious brother at the Battle of Barnet in 1471.

But in the background was a bevy of female relatives who were betrothed, gave birth and managed extensive estates. It could be said their lives were not their own – although this might be a naive opinion, considering the influence both Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville managed to wield.

Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV's Queen.

Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s Queen.

During the coming week I will be posting articles about Warwick’s six sisters, Joan, Cecily, Eleanor, Alice, Katherine and Margaret, whose lifetimes spanned the turbulent period of the War of the Roses – the Cousins’ War.

The White Queen

Are you captivated by the new BBC1 historical drama The White Queen – or are you busy looking for zips, down-pipes and Georgian windows?

Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen, played by Rebecca Ferguson

Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen, played by Rebecca Ferguson

Some reviewers have unkindly pointed out such irregularities while another, wrongly, drew attention to an age discrepancy between the royal lovers, stating that he was just 13 while she was ‘matronly.’ In fact Edward IV was 22 when he married the 27 year old widow Elizabeth.

This lavish 10 part series is based on three novels by Philippa Gregory – The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker’s Daughter. Starring Rebecca Ferguson as the ethereal but deceptively shrewd Elizabeth Woodville, Amanda Hale, the future Henry VII’s absent mother and slightly deranged Lady Margaret Beaufort and Faye Marsay as Anne Neville, wife of Richard III.

Edward IV played by Max Irons

Edward IV played by Max Irons

The male characters are easy on the eye, especially Edward IV (Max Irons.) Even the villainous ‘Kingmaker’ Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (James Fran) is none too shabby.

'Kingmaker' Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, played by James Fran

‘Kingmaker’ Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, played by James Fran

But this is a story about women, or so the beeb would have us believe. Amanda Hale (Lady Margaret Beaufort) has something to say about that.

Lady Margaret Beaufort, played by Amanda Hale

Lady Margaret Beaufort, played by Amanda Hale

“You go into something that purports to be a women’s drama, with women in the leads, and then you find every script has got these really gratuitous nude scenes. Isn’t it enough that it’s about women? Do we also have to be naked?” she asked Gerard Gilbert of The Independent.

So will viewers persevere with the medieval mayhem? If you’re a stickler for historical fact and costume accuracy, maybe not, but don’t give up on all the gorgeousness that is on offer. This is a rattling good tale about, what is after all, an incredibly complicated period of British history.

So, good gentlewomen, where is the St John family connection?

Lady Margaret Beaufort

Lady Margaret Beaufort

New readers might care to visit my blog posts on Lady Margaret Beaufort and her mother Lady Margaret Beauchamp to save me repeating myself – but there is an additional link in this War of the Roses saga.

Kingmaker Richard Neville acquired the title Earl of Warwick through his wife Anne, the daughter of Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick and his wife Isabel le Despenser. The title passed to their son Henry de Beauchamp, 1st Duke of Beauchamp, but when he died without a male heir the title went to their daughter Anne Beauchamp.

Anne traces her paternal line back six generations to Walter de Beauchamp and Isabel Mauduit, the 5x great grandparents of Margaret Beauchamp who married Oliver St John in about 1425.

Anne Neville, Countess of Warwick, played by Juliet Aubrey

Anne Neville, Countess of Warwick, played by Juliet Aubrey

This makes scheming Anne, wife of the Earl of Warwick, played by actress Juliet Aubrey 5th cousin once removed to Frances Tomelty’s nasty Margaret Beauchamp.

Lady Margaret Beauchamp played by Frances Tomelty

Lady Margaret Beauchamp played by Frances Tomelty

The White Queen continues on BBC1 Sunday 9pm.