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.’

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.

Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland

When the remains of Richard III were found beneath Greyfriars Car Park, Leicester in September 2012 many had great and perhaps unrealistic expectations.  Some hoped his skeleton would show a straight spine, quashing the Shakespearean caricature.  But sadly Richard did indeed suffer from scoliosis. And his remains were unable to redeem his character either, no matter how much members of the Richard III Society wished that they could, and there is still little doubt that he was responsible for the murder of his young nephews – the Princes in the Tower.

A reconstruction of his skull and facial features reveal a remarkable similarity to the 15th/16th century portrait that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

And me, well I hit the genealogy trail in the anticipation that he would be connected to the extended St John family and I for one wasn’t disappointed.

Richard III’s niece Elizabeth of York married the man who defeated and succeeded him, Henry VII.  Henry Tudor was the grandson of Margaret Beauchamp whose first husband was Sir Oliver St John.  But I knew all this already – I was sure there must be another link, and of course there was.

Joan Beaufort was born in about 1379. The date and place of her birth remain up for debate, probably because she was one of several illegitimate children born to John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, and his mistress Katherine Swynford.

John of Gaunt

Katherine had initially been employed as governess to John’s daughters Phillippa and Elizabeth – and then … well you know how these things happen?

It is believed that Joan was probably born at Kettlethorpe Hall, Lincolnshire, a property owned by her mother’s first husband Sir Hugh Swynford. But then she might also have been born at Beaufort Castle on her father’s French estate.

When she was about ten years old Joan and her three brothers were declared legitimate by their cousin Richard II. John of Gaunt made sure there was no misunderstanding and got the seal of Parliamentary approval in 1397 as well. And then just to make jolly well sure, he married their mother in Lincoln Cathedral on January 13, 1396 with papal approval.

It is likely Joan spent her childhood in France where in 1391 she was married off to Baron Sir Robert Ferrers.  Joan was widowed with two daughters before she reached the age of 16.  On February 3rd 1397 she married Ralph de Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, who had also been married once before.

Joan had fourteen children by this second marriage. Four sons died young but the rest of the children made advantageous marriages. Daughter Lady Cecily Neville married Richard 3rd Duke of York and was the mother of two kings, Edward IV and the recently discovered Richard III.

Edward IV

The Beaufort descendants played a major role in the War of the Roses, a period of tumultuous upheaval in Britain.  With more contenders for the throne than you could shake a stick at, the warring cousins juggled the crown jewels between them during a thirty year period.

But this is only one thread in the St John genealogical tapestry.  Joan’s brother was John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset and it was his son, John 1st Duke of Somerset, who married the widowed Margaret Beauchamp, Lady St. John.  Their daughter was the saintly Margaret Beaufort, who like her great aunt Joan was married off young. The son she bore when little more than a child herself, went on to become Henry VII, the first of the Tudor monarchs and married his third cousin, Joan Beaufort’s great granddaughter.

Elizabeth of York, Joan Beaufort’s great granddaughter, married Henry VII

Joan died on November 13, 1440 at her Yorkshire home in Howden.  She was entombed next to her mother in the Katherine Swynford chantry close to the High Altar in Lincoln Cathedral.

The tombs of Katherine Swynford and Joan Beaufort courtesy of jenthelibrarian

Oh and by the way, more than 350 years later, on May 23, 1804 Lady Joan’s descendant, Lady Sarah Sophia Fane, daughter of the 10th Earl Westmorland married the 5th Earl of Jersey, George Child Villiers, another St John descendant – more follows about this Good Gentlewoman.

File:Sarah Sophia Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey (née Fane) (1785-1867), by Alfred Edward Chalon.jpg

Lady Sarah Sophia Fane, Countess of Jersey