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


Lady Anne Clifford

Don’t you just love the St John women – intelligent, feisty, and brave? From Anne St John, Countess of Rochester who juggled her estates, protecting her family fortunes during the English Civil War, to Anne Douglas, Lady Dalkeith who laid her life on the line to protect baby Princess Henrietta Maria, the 17th century St John women showed their mettle.

And here is the story of another, earlier, Anne – Anne Clifford, whose ancestry can be traced back to two St John women on both the maternal and paternal sides of her family.

In 2013 a lost portrait of Anne was discovered in a private European collection and purchased by the National Portrait Gallery – but the story of Anne is far from lost and her name appears in scholarly works and books by eminent historians such as Professor R.T. Spence and Lady Antonia Fraser.

Anne Clifford

Anne Clifford

Anne was born on January 30, 1590 at Skipton Castle, Yorkshire, the Clifford family seat. As the third child and only daughter of George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, and his wife the former Lady Margaret Russell, Anne’s future was pretty much mapped out for her.

However with the death of her two elder brothers Anne became heiress to the title Baroness Clifford suo jure and extensive land and property in the north of England – but claiming her inheritance would be far from plain sailing.

The death of their two sons coupled with the de rigueur bad behaviour of the 3rd Earl, saw Anne’s parents drift apart and for much of her childhood the couple lived separately. Anne grew up with her mother’s family at the great Russell owned mansions Chenies in Buckinghamshire and North Hall in Northaw and was at the very centre of court life. When the Queen died in 1603 thirteen year old Anne wrote in her diary:

‘When the corpse of Queen Elizabeth had continued at Whitehall as long as the Council had thought fit, it was carried from thence with great solemnity to Westminster, the Lords and Ladies going on foot to attend it, my mother and my aunt of Warwick being mourners, but I was not allowed to be one, because I was not high enough, which did not trouble me then, but yet I stood in the church at Westminster to see the solemnity performed.’

 Surrounded by her intellectual relatives and all the big names on the 17th century arts scene, Anne grew up well educated.Throughout her lifetime she was a great reader with Chaucer a particular favourite. Anne could also be found swotting up on Turkish history and there was nothing she enjoyed more than being read to.

But then in 1605 her father died and Anne’s long battle to secure her inheritance began.

In his will George Clifford left his daughter a useful £15,000 portion but the extensive estates in the north he bequeathed to his brother Francis.

Anne’s mother, Lady Margaret, rapidly took up the legal cudgels on behalf of her 15 year old daughter and secured occupancy of the Skipton properties, although Francis retained possession of these and the rest of the estates. It would take more than 40 years of litigation and the death of Francis and his son Henry, before Anne could claim her rightful inheritance.

Before that she weathered two pretty unhappy marriages. The first to Richard Sackville, Earl of Dorset in 1609 who was dubbed ‘one of the 17th century’s most accomplished gamblers and wastrels.’ The couple had five children, three sons who died young and two daughters.

Richard Sackville, Earl of Dorset

Richard Sackville, Earl of Dorset

Dorset was openly unfaithful to his wife and even brought his mistress, Lady Penistone, to live at the family home of Knole House.

Even worse, Dorset involved himself in Anne’s inheritance battle, complicating the situation and winding up Anne at the same time. In 1615 the couple were told they could either have the Skipton and Westmorland estates or the £15,000 portion but not both. Dorset’s interference led to all the estates going to Francis and his male heirs while Anne received £17,000 in compensation which Dorset promptly snaffled.

Despite an injection of wealth on the death of Dorset in 1624 life didn’t get any easier.

The first thing Anne did was to buy from the crown the wardships of her two daughters Margaret and Isabella before securing her own future with a marriage to Charles I’s Lord Chamberlain, Philip Herbert, Earl of Mongomery and Pembroke in 1630.

Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery and Pembroke

Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery and Pembroke

Now in her forties Anne was not prepared to stand for any nonsense and as soon as he started with the ‘I want Skipton Castle …’ malarkey she left him to it. Taking her younger daughter Isabella with her, Anne divided her time between Pembroke’s Wiltshire homes until the outbreak of the Civil War, by which time he had moved across to the Parliamentarian side and needed her to guard his treasures at his London home, Baynard’s Castle.

Following Pembroke’s death in 1649 Anne spent her last years doing – well, exactly what she wanted to. She restored numerous castles on her estates between which she progressed with royal like splendour. She built properties and almshouses for her retainers and commissioned works of art and monuments. A generous friend she bought books in bulk, mainly of a devotional nature, to give as presents.

Lady Anne Clifford in later life

Lady Anne Clifford in later life

Anne died on March 22, 1676 in Brougham Castle aged 86 – one of the wealthiest noblewomen of her time – and was interred in St Lawrence Church, Appleby.

Anne Clifford's monument in St Lawrence Church, Appleby.

Anne Clifford’s monument in St Lawrence Church, Appleby.

The recently recovered portrait was painted by William Larkin in about 1616 when Anne was 26/28. Anne’s description of herself – ‘The colour of mine eyes was black like my father’s and the form and aspect of them was quicke and lively like my mother’s. The hair of my head was brown and very thick … with a peak of hair on my forehead and a dimple in my chin’ was one of the contributory factors when it came to identifying the portrait.

On her paternal side Anne’s 3x great grandmother was Anne St John, the daughter of Sir John St John and Alice Bradslaugh. Sir John was the elder son of Oliver St John and Margaret Beauchamp and headed the senior, Bletsoe branch of the St John family. He was half brother to Margaret Beaufort and therefore uncle to Henry VII.

On her maternal side Anne’s grandmother was Margaret St John, the daughter of Sir John St John and Margaret Waldegrave. This Sir John was the grandson of Sir John and Alice – I know, it’s tricky keeping tabs on everyone.


The Great Picture tells of Lady Anne’s family history and was commissioned by her in 1646. It hung in Appleby Castle for more than 300 years and today is on show at Abbot Hall Art Gallery.Visit the website to learn more about the picture.

In 1615 St John St John 1st Baronet of Lydiard House, Wiltshire commissioned something very similar to commemorate his family history. The polyptych in St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze, will be open on the weekend of July 25 and 26 to celebrate its 400th anniversary.

St John polyptych

St John polyptych

For more about the history of Lydiard House see Status, Scandal and Subterfuge.

Pole Position

On this day in 1541 Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury was beheaded at the Tower of London. She was 67 years old and had already served two years imprisonment in the London fortress. She had arrived there another victim of Thomas Cromwell, but ironically he met his death before she faced hers.

Portrait of a woman said to be Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury.

Portrait of a woman said to be Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury.

Margaret was everything Henry VIII feared most. As the last Plantagenet she was more royal than he. She was cousin to his mother Elizabeth of York; she was wealthy, powerful and a staunch supporter of the Princess Mary, having served as a Lady in Waiting to Catherine of Aragon.

Henry VIII

Henry VIII

Although all of these factors were troubling, Henry could probably have turned a blind eye, until Margaret’s son Cardinal Reginald Pole started mouthing off.

From the safety of Padua, Reginald spoke out against the annulment of the King’s first marriage, then he waded in criticising Henry’s policies to reform the church in England. At that point Henry could no longer ignore the Pole problem.

Thomas Cromwell

Thomas Cromwell

Cromwell issued a Bill of Attainder against Margaret and despite a plea to her son to put a sock in it, she was whisked off to the Tower.

The poor lady’s execution was truly awful. Arranged in haste, the official executioner could not be found and an apprentice was called in to do the job. Lady Margaret continued to protest her innocence and unlawful imprisonment and some reports say she tried to run away. The stand-in executioner, no doubt unnerved by the whole affair, made a terrible botch of the job, landing eleven blows before he eventually managed to sever Lady Margaret’s head from her body.

So how was Lady Margaret Pole related to the St John family, I hear you ask? Well, in 1487 Margaret Plantagenet had become the second wife of Sir Richard Pole, who was the son of Geoffrey Pole Esquire and his first wife Edith St. John.

Geoffrey was a member of the Welsh supporters that followed Owen Tudor to England. With property in both England and Wales, Geoffrey was Constable of Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, councillor of Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke and brother of Edmund Tudor, Henry VII’s father, and he also served as Marshal of the great and petty sessions at Carmarthen and Cardigan, a position he held for life.

Margaret Beauchamp courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball

Margaret Beauchamp courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball

His wife Edith was the daughter of Margaret Beauchamp and her first husband Oliver St. John, and therefore half sister to Margaret Beaufort, the daughter of her mother’s second marriage to John Beaufort.

Margaret Beaufort was married off to Edmund Tudor at the tender age of 12 and a year later gave birth to a son who would become Henry VII. Geoffrey and Edith’s familial and royal connections were therefore close. Their son Sir Richard Pole, poor Margaret’s husband, was a cousin of the half blood to the new Tudor monarch.

Lady Margaret Beaufort

Lady Margaret Beaufort

The Pole family figure prominently during those terrifying Tudor times. And as if that’s not enough Pole family history Margaret Beaufort had been the ward of William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk following her father’s death. William, steward of the royal household, recognised a good marriage prospect when he saw one and married off the six year old Margaret to his seven year old son. But in 1453 Henry VI revoked the de la Pole wardship in favour of his two half brothers. He had the marriage between Margaret and John de la Pole dissolved, paving the way for a union with Margaret and his half brother Edmund Tudor.

Sadly and inevitably, little is know about Edith St John. She died in about 1459 and when Geoffrey made his will in October 1478 he requested that he be buried at Bisham Priory, Berkshire in the same grave as his first wife.

I have included in this post a portrait supposedly, but much disputed, of Margaret Pole. The painting is held by the National Portrait Gallery (NPG 2607) and is titled Unknown woman formerly known as Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury by Unknown artist.

In her biography of Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen Alison Weir writes about the execution of Margaret’s father, George, Duke of Clarence.

“Because the Duchess Cecily had protested against her son being executed in public, Clarence was put to death privately on 18 February 1478 in the Tower of London. It was said that, allowed to choose how he would die, he opted to be drowned in a butt of Malmsey (Madeira) wine. He left behind a three-year-old son, Edward, Earl of Warwick, who was barred by his father’s attainder from ever inheriting the throne or any of Clarence’s lands and titles; and a five-year-old daughter, Margaret, who would wear a tiny wooden wine butt on a bracelet all her life in commemoration of her father; it can be seen in her portrait in the National Portrait Gallery, London.” And there it is!