500 Years ago the ‘Right noble and Excellent Princess Mary’ was born

600 Queen Mary

On the 18th of February 1516, Princess Mary Tudor was born. Her parents were King Henry VIII and his first Consort, Queen Katherine of Aragon. The long awaited Prince turned out to be a girl. While this was a minor disappointment on her parents, they were nevertheless joyful and considered this as a sign of good will. After all, Henry had replied to the Venetian Ambassador “If it was a daughter this time, by the grace of God, sons will follow.”

COA Six Wives of Henry VIII

Immediately after her birth, the child was cleaned and presented to her parents. Two days later she was christened at the Church of the Observant Friars. Following tradition, her parents were not present. Her godparents were Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (who was fast becoming a favorite of her father), the Duchess of Norfolk and her grand-aunt, Catherine of York, Countess of Devon. Present at the ceremony were an army of courtiers; gentlemen, ladies, earls and bishops who were in awe of their new Princess.

After she was blessed, she was given the name Mary, her paternal aunt who had risked royal wrath a few years back, but had worked things out with her brother. Henry had always felt closer to his younger sister than his older one, and now was honoring her even further by naming his only surviving child after her.
Afterwards, she was plunged three times into the basin of holy water, then anointed with holy oil, dried, swaddled and finally taken to the high alter where it was proclaimed:

“God send and give good life and long unto the right high, right noble and excellent Princess Mary, Princess of England and daughter of our most dread sovereign lord the King’s Highness.”

Mary Tudor 4

Mary’s life would not be without struggle. She was constantly under suspicion and despite her father’s actions -influenced by her last stepmother, Katherine Parr- to restore her and her half-sister to the line of succession, she still had many enemies and her troubles continued well into her brother’s reign. Following her half-brother’s death, she rallied  the people to her cause after she found out the King had taken his sisters out of the line  of succession in favor of their cousins, the Grey sisters.
Mary’s popular revolt was astounding because she reclaimed her birthright without the need for bloodshed. After Mary’s forces became too much for the new regime, the Council turned their backs on her cousin and her family, and sent her a letter, pledging their allegiance to her.

600 Mary I coronation

Mary was declared Queen and she entered the city of London triumphantly. Months later she was crowned Queen of England, becoming the country’s first female monarch.

Mary’s reign however wasn’t easy. Once more she faced a lot of disagreement and tragedy, as well as an inability to bring what her dynasty needed the most: a male heir. Mary’s phantom pregnancies became an embarrassment to her, and her contributions became forgotten and attributed to her sister (who also appropriated her motto on her coronation progress). To make matters worse, her wishes to be buried next to her mother (as well as having her mother’s body moved to Westminster) were never carried out. She was given a modest plaque. Her eulogy changed to fit the new rhetoric of Elizabeth’s reign being a godsend as opposed to Mary’s. And after her sister died, her successor James Stuart, created an elaborate monument and put the two sisters together. But only Elizabeth’s effigy was included, Mary was once again absent except in the plaque that read:

0Tudor tombs elizabeth mary

“Partners both in throne and grave. Here rest we, two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hopes of the resurrection.”

David Loades lists Mary I’s achievements in a BBC History Magazine article he did in honor of England’s first Queen. These include:

  1. Preservation of the Tudor succession
  2. Strengthening of the position of Parliament by using it for her religious settlement.
  3. Establishment of the “gender free” authority of the crown
  4. Restoration and strengthening of the administrative structure of the church.
  5. Maintenance of the navy and reforming the militia.

In her book “Mary Tudor. Princess, Bastard, Queen”, Anna Whitelock adds more, saying that she refounded various universities. Linda Porter in her biography “Myth of Bloody Mary” also adds that she established a curriculum that brought an emphasis to Humanism, and forced every priest to serve their parish” and had very little tolerance for those that didn’t bend their knee to royal authority.

Sources:

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The Youngest Spanish Princess is born at Alcala de Henares

Isabel I bebe Catalina

A Very Happy Birthday to Henry VIII’s first Queen Consort, Catherine of Aragon who was born on the 15th of December 1485, in Alcala de Henares, Spain. The Palace was located over twenty miles to the North of Madrid and the local seat of the archbishop of Toledo. It dated all the way back to the thirteenth century and it was likely *“decorated in the Mudejar style of elegant white filigree carving, tile work and ornamental metals set around gracious courtyards.” It must’ve been a sight to behold in its time.

She was the youngest daughter of the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. The two had made Spain one of the greatest kingdoms in Western Europe and received their titles years later after their achievements during the Reconquista and the expulsion of the Jews and Moors who refused to convert to Christianity.

Catherine was named after her ancestress, her great-grandmother, the daughter of the first Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt and St. Catherine who was an intellectual, defender of the Christian faith and Princess. Like the latter, Catherine was one of the most educated women of her time. Her mother didn’t learn Latin until she was an adult. Although she received an education expected of highborn women, she could not speak Latin fluently, something she regretted and didn’t want her daughters to experience. Ferdinand was a warrior born and bred and like his wife, he wanted their children to receive the best of the best.

KOA and her mom Isabella

 

Cunning, conniving and ambitious, Catherine took after them. Physically though, she took after her mother. She had a nearly round, heart-shaped face, auburn hair, blue eyes and fair skin. When she arrived in England and met her father-in-law-to-be, King Henry VII weeks later, he was pleased with what he saw. She was everything they expected in their future Queen. When she married her second husband, Henry VIII, the two were jointly crowned in June of 1509.

Catherine was a patroness of education and widely praised by many scholars including Juan Luis Vives who wrote a long dedication to her and Sir Thomas More who said she was an example for all women. She was also a fashion icon in her day introducing the farthingale or vertugado which was a hooped, bell-shaped skirt into England.

KOA and Henry VIII signatures

Out of all Henry’s marriages, his marriage to Catherine was the longest, with him naming her his Regent in 1513 (the only other of Henry’s wives to be named Regent was Katherine Parr who was likely named after her) while he was away fighting in France in what became known as the battle of Spurs. Under her leadership the English won of the most significant battles against Scots and gave death to their king, James IV of Scotland who was her brother-in-law through his marriage to Henry’s eldest sister, Margaret Tudor.
Although Parliament and the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, declared their marriage null and void in May of 1533 (just one month before Anne Boleyn was crowned Queen of England) to many Catholics she remained their Queens of Heart. She died less than three years later on the first week of January of 1536. She was given the full honors of a Princess Dowager and buried on St Peterborough.

Sources:

  • Isabella: Warrior Queen by Kirstin Downey
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence*
  • Catherine of Aragon by Garrett Mattingly
  • Sister Queens: The Noble and Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox

Edward of Westminster ‘the most comfortable earthly treasure’ is born

Edward of Westminster and his parents

On the 13th of October 1453, on the feast of St. Edward the Confessor, Prince Edward was born on the Palace of Westminster. He was the son of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. There are many misconceptions regarding this prince, the principal one consisting of an apocryphal story where Margaret presents her son to her husband and he says that he must have been conceived by the holy spirit. In the “White Queen” the Neville sisters repeat this myth saying adding there is no way the prince is the king’s son because the king was asleep at the time of his conception but this story is false and didn’t come about until 1461. Henry VI was within his mental capabilities at the time of his son’s conception. When Margaret knew she was with child, she and the Duchess of York went on a pilgrimage to Walsingham in Norfolk to give thanks to the Blessed Virgin.

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Cecily Neville wrote the unborn child was “the most precious, most joyful, and most comfortable earthly treasure that might come unto this land and to the people thereof.”

But then something happened. On July 17 the town of Bordeaux was lost, it was a humiliating defeat for the English and when Henry was told he went into a catatonic state. Nothing could wake him up. Margaret went into her confinement uncertain of what the future would hold for her and her baby. She gave birth to her only son in Westminster. Immediately the birth was announced to London, according to Bale’s Chronicle:
“Wherefore the bells rang in every church and Te Deum was solemnly sang.”

The next day the prince was christened by William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester (Henry’s confessor). His godparents were the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edmund Beaufort (Duke of Somerset and Margaret Beaufort’s uncle), and Anne Stafford nee Neville the Duchess of Buckingham who was also Margaret Beaufort’s mother in law and Cecily Neville’s sister.
But as one historian points out, “if the birth was cause for great joy, it was also clear that the condition of the boy’s father could no longer be ignored.” His son was presented to him but Henry could not recognize him and his mother tried to make a bid for power and establish a regency council in her husband and son’s names but the nobles favored Richard (including the Tudor brothers, Edmund and Jasper).
With the destruction of the royal house of Lancaster, Margaret of Anjou remained in England for some time, until she was ransomed back in France where she died. If Edward had become King, given the education he was given, and the models he was taught to admire, he would have likely taken after his warring ancestors, including the much admired, Henry V. His life was cut short in the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. His father followed suit. The official story was that he died of melancholy after he was informed of his son’s death. Not many believed this story, and the rumors abounded that Edward IV had him killed. Not long after his death, a cult grew around him, and during Henry VII, Edward’s tomb was also visited by many pilgrims.

Sources:

  • The Prince who did not become King: Edward of Westminster 1453-1471 by Susan Higginbotham
  • Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir
  • Cecily Neville: Mother of Kings by Amy Licence

‘Jane the Quene brought in childbed of a Prince’

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Rejoice all around for a son has finally been born! This was the sentiment all around the country when they heard that Henry’s third queen, Jane Seymour, had given birth to a baby boy. Jane had gone into labor three days before, on the ninth and on the eleventh St Paul held solemn procession to pray for a safe delivery. Hours later, at two o’clock in the morning, on St. Edward’s day, a boy was born at Hampton Court Palace. He was named after his patron saint, and possibly after his Yorkist ancestor Edward IV, and his parents’ common ancestor, Edward III.

“Henry VIII would look back on Jane Seymour as the wife whom he had ben uniquely happy; forgetting perhaps those early years with Catherine of Aragon, the charming young Spanish Princess so eager to please.” (Fraser)

Indeed, Henry’s dreams of securing the Tudor dynasty via a son had been fulfilled (through Jane) but they came at a high cost and his wife would pay the price less than two weeks later when she lay on her deathbed. There is the apocryphal posthumous tale of Jane dying because Henry told her doctors to cut her open when he was forced to make a decision between his wife and son’s lives. In the Tudors they allude to this, but this tale is false. The Death of Queen Jane which is a collection of ballads done three hundred years after her death, take romantic license on this.

“He gave her rich caudle
But the death-sleep slept she
Then her right side was opened
And the babe was set free …”

Jane Seymour didn’t die because of a badly perform caesarean section. “Such procedures” historian Amy Licence explains, were uncommon in England at the time, and when they did come into practice, there were only for extreme cases when doctors had to remove “living fetuses from dead or dying mothers”. Furthermore, Henry was away at the time and he didn’t come until he heard she’d given birth to a healthy boy.

“It had pleased God so to remember Your Grace with a prince … and also us all, your poor subjects.” -Dowager Marchioness of Dorset when she heard the news.

As soon as the news spread throughout the city, Te Deums were sung, church bells rang, and bonfires were lit. “Eager to impress”, Skidmore writes in his biography on Edward VI, “German merchants at Steel Yard distributed a hogshead of wine and two barrels of beer to the poor.” And they weren’t the only ones, the entire city was going crazy. At last, what Henry had torn his country apart for, was here. A son. A male heir to secure the Tudor dynasty. The guards at the Tower of London fired off over two thousand rounds of canon fire, and as soon as Jane recovered, she wrote to the country, announcing the birth of her son:

“Right trusty and well-beloved, we greet you well, and for as much as by the inestimable goodness and grace of Almighty God, we be delivered and brought in childbed of a prince, conceived in most lawful matrimony between my lord the King’s Majesty and us, doubting not but that for the love and affection which you bear unto us and to the commonwealth of this realm, the knowledge thereof should be joyous and glad tiding unto you, we have thought good to certify you of the same. To the intent you might not only render unto God condign thanks and prayers for so great a benefit but also continually pray for the long continuance and preservation of the same here in this life to the honor of God, joy and pleasure of my lord the King and us, and the universal wealth, quiet and tranquility of this whole realm.”

The tournament celebrating the Prince’s birth went on in full vigor, and the word ‘Prince’ unlike before with her predecessor, wasn’t altered, and Jane’s letter was copied and distributed throughout the country bearing her signature and the royal seal which had the arms of France and England next to hers.

Mary Tudor carrying Prince Edward

The baby was christened right away three days later in which his eldest sisters participated, with Mary acting as one of his godparents. Jane, as custom dictated, wasn’t present for the christening and had to wait to see her son until it was over, carried over by the lady Mary. Three days after that, on the eighteenth, he was proclaimed Prince of Wales, created Duke of Cornwall and Earl of Carnarvon. The Seymour family was thoroughly rewarded, with his uncle and namesake, being elevated to an Earl and his younger brother, Thomas, was knighted.

It was all well in paradise for Jane’s family, or at least it would have been if Jane hadn’t died. We can’t say for sure what would have happened if she had lived, but it is safe to assume that she would have become very influential. In her biography on Jane Seymour, Elizabeth Norton makes the case point, that there were times where Jane exhibited traits of rebelliousness found in her predecessors, but she was a woman who knew how to play the game of politics really well (having served under them) so she stayed silent most of the times, because she knew that at this stage, Henry was not a man you wanted to cross. He was no longer the Sir Loyal Heart that her first mistress Katherine of Aragon had married, or the man who acted as a besotted teenager when chased Anne Boleyn. Henry wanted a son, he needed an heir to secure the Tudor Dynasty. Now more than ever since he’d broken away from Rome.

Jane Seymour historical and the one from the Tudors But in dying, she adds, her legacy had an “entirely unexpected” turn of events, becoming the model of the ideal woman, just as her late mother-in-law had been. Perhaps it is true what they say ‘It’s always the quiet ones’. Silence, can speak louder than words. For Jane it certainly did, and since the birth of her son, she’s become the object of ridicule, admiration, and speculation.

Sources:

  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s True Love by Elizabeth Norton
  • Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
  • Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore
  • In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence

The Queen is delivered of a ‘fair young lady’

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On the 7th of October 1515 Margaret Tudor, Queen Dowager of Scotland and Countess of Angus ‘was delivered and brought in bed of a fair young lady’ she called Margaret after herself and her grandmother. Lady Margaret Douglas was christened on the following day ‘with such convenient provisions as either could or might be had in this barren and wild country’. This referred to Margaret’s hasty departure, running away from her son’s Regent, the Duke of Albany whom she and her husband were at bad terms. She had left Linlithgow where she was supposed to start confinement for Tantallon Castle which was the Douglas stronghold. She didn’t stay there for long and ended up in England where she gave birth at Harbottle Castle. Lord Dacre gave the news to Henry.

Margaret Douglas would become a vital figure in Tudor politics, from being a best friend to her cousin, Queen Mary I, and being considered at one point her heir, and then conspiring during her second cousin, Queen Elizabeth, to marry her eldest son (Darnley) to their distant cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots; to working arduously to ensure the safety of her grandson James VI of Scotland and future I of England.

The Lennox jewel as it is known shows her dedication to her family, as well as her dynastic ambitions. Out of all the Tudor girls, it was Lady Margaret Douglas, future Countess of Lennox through her marriage to Matthew Stewart, who took the most after her namesake Margaret Beaufort.

Margaret Beaufort SOT and HVII

Margaret Beaufort tried very hard to ensure her son’s lands and title would be restored, and when that failed and the princes disappeared, she began conspiring to crown her son King. After the battle of Bosworth, she became one of the most powerful women in England and suo juror becoming Countess of Richmond in her own right. She sponsored scholars, founded colleges and after her death, her chaplain (John Fisher) gave a beautiful eulogy where he commended her courage and determination, and also her scholarship.

Similarly, Margaret Douglas, held strong ambitions for her family. She was very learned as many high-born ladies at the time, and she wanted the best for her family, especially her eldest son and jewel, Henry Stewart. While Elizabeth I made no plans to leave an heir, she told Mary’s ambassadors that she would consider her naming her, her heir, if she married someone she would approve. Mary, Queen of Scots waited but eventually she got impatient and took the first offer that came to her. Lord Darnely was a distant cousin, both descended from Henry VII through his eldest daughter and he was English and reputedly Protestant, which would endear her to her detractors. Unfortunately for both, the marriage went downhill pretty fast and after his murder (for which Mary always claimed she had no part of), his mother turned against her and focused her attentions on their son, James who became King shortly after his mother was forced to abdicate.

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After his first regent died, Margaret’s husband became his protector and when he was killed, Margaret became depressed but no less determined to ensure his safety. The Lennox Jewel shows her grandson being crowned and blessed by the heavens, much like Margaret Beaufort wanted the Tudor dynasty to be portrayed: as a dynasty blessed by God.

In the end, after she had made her peace with everyone and became convinced that Mary had nothing to do with her son’s murder, she ingratiated herself to Elizabeth’s councilors, primarily Lord Burghley and after falling ill in 1578 after a dinner she had with Robert Dudley, she made her last arrangements for her funeral. Like her namesake, she was buried with full honors, and the funeral was not one of a noble but as a princess and her efforts also paid off when nearly three decades later, after her cousin died, James VI became the I of England.

Sources:

  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Dynasty by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter

Red and White it flows: The Birth of Prince Arthur

Arthur Tudor rose

On the 20th of September 1486, Queen Elizabeth of York gave birth to the first prince of the Tudor dynasty, a baby boy named Arthur at St. Swithun’s Priory next to Winchester Cathedral. This was no coincidence as Henry wanted his crown heir to be born in the place where it was believed Camelot once stood.

Henry was proud of his Welsh roots and he wanted to exalt them, by naming his crown heir, Arthur after the legendary king who unified all Britain. From the start, Henry VII, was doing his best to solidify his place in English history and the rest of Europe. When he married Elizabeth of York that same year, their union was widely celebrated. A new emblem was a created.

“Henry had been born at Pembroke Castle in Wales and spent his early years at Raglan in Monmouthsire. His paternal grandfather, Owen Tudor claimed descent from Arthur and he had marched under the banner of a red dragon, the Pen Draig, or Pendragon, at Bosworth. Breton minstrels and early Welsh texts had been drawing on the legend long before the Tudors …The present round table in Winchester’s Great Hall has been carbon dated to 1250-90 … Even Elizabeth’s father, Edward IV, had been drawn to Arthurian ideals and produced genealogies to justify his wresting the throne from Henry VI.” (Licence)

Tudor banner

Not surprisingly then, Henry VII felt even more drawn because of his Welsh roots. On the road to Bosworth, he chose for his main standard the dragon of Cadwalldr and thanks to his uncle Jasper’s popularity in that area, the bards sang songs about him being their prophesized savior.

Arthur was the embodiment of these myths, being born at the place where many believed Arthur’s fabled city of Camelot once stood, and where a replica of the round table was held at the ceiling of Winchester Cathedral, and of his father’s ambitions. He was a prince of both Lancaster and York.

For her part, Elizabeth had been preparing for the birth since Easter with the help of her mother-in-law, the indomitable Margaret Beaufort [Countess of Richmond]. Besides her, Elizabeth had the company of her mother and other female relatives. Birth in this period was exclusively a female thing and although doctors were present, they were not normally involved in childbirth. They were just there to act as consultants. It was up to Elizabeth’s women and the midwives to assist her during the birth.
When her labor began on the 19th, natural creams would be applied on her abdomen. These would mostly consist of a mixture of distilled marjoram and saffron and brandy to “aid the contractions and help lessen the intensity” of these.

Although medical knowledge was limited, Alison Weir writes that the “practices employed by midwives” were fairly modern.

“Documentary evidence suggests that women were encouraged to give birth in a sitting or squatting position. They were encouraged to do breathing exercises for labor, much as they are today, but there was no pain relief beyond opiates and herbs.”

Weir adds that it is possible that Elizabeth of York might have had the protection of the Virgin Mary via her girdle which was held at Westminster Abbey and it “was sometimes lent to queens and high-ranking women, so that they could tie it around themselves in labor.”

Tudor Rose Prince Arthur of Wales

When his birth was announced, the country rejoiced and many poems such as the following, illustrate this:
“I love the red rose
but red and white it flows
is that your pure appetite?
To hear talk of them
is my delight
loved may we be
our prince to see
and roses three.”

Arthur was christened four days later at Winchester Cathedral. His godparents were John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, his grandmother the Queen Dowager, Elizabeth Woodville, and his step-grandfather, Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby. After the ceremonies were over, the Queen’s sister, lady Cecily returned the baby to his mother. Less than a year later, Elizabeth would be crowned.
Margaret Beaufort was not present at this event, but she was very present in the child’s life.

“She had ordered, for example, that a physician supervise the nurse breastfeeding Elizabeth’s baby, and a yeoman test the king’s mattress daily … She was furthermore always there, her tiny frame an almost inescapable presence.” (Lisle)

While the proud parents would boast of more children, only three would survive them. Margaret, Mary and Henry Tudor would go on to become Queens and King, while their crown heir would die before his time.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen & her World by Alison Weir
  • Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
  • In bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence
  • Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle

Margaret Beaufort: The Real Countess of Richmond

Margaret Beaufort Portcullis 21

On the 31st of May 1443 Margaret Beaufort was born at Bletsoe Castle, Bedforshire to Margaret Beauchamp and John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. John Beaufort suffered from a terrible reputation and lacked leadership skills which, according to some of his contemporaries, led him to commit suicide when Margaret was only one.  Margaret grew very close to her maternal family, her half-siblings and her step-family when her mother married for a third and last time. Margaret Beauchamp was firstly married to Sir Oliver St. John. On his death in 1437, she remarried to John Beaufort four years later. The two only had one child (Margaret). Following his death and possible suicide, she acquired a new license to remarry four years later. It is a myth that Margaret was resentful of her family. The White Queen plays feeds on negative rumors and propaganda written against Margaret during her lifetime and centuries after her death. One of her many critics was none other than Bacon who wrote during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. You might ask why would a man writing for two direct descendants of Henry VII would write against the mother of the Tudor Dynasty. The answer is religion. The religious landscape of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries had changed. England had been largely Catholic for over a thousand years. Suddenly one day, Henry VIII decides to change everything, claiming that his conscience would not let him rest until he did what was right –and from his view this meant getting himself an annulment so he could marry Anne Boleyn. Henry believed his first marriage was tainted because he had married his brother’s wife and according to Leviticus this was a sin. Never mind that in another book, it said it was okay. Henry was a man who was going to get what he wanted and in the end that is what happened. As a result, Margaret turned from devoted mother of the Tudor Dynasty’s first monarch, scholar, and religious matron to wicked stepmother. Suddenly she was being accused of using witchcraft against her enemies and the last Plantagenet King who had previously been demonized by the Tudors, was now idolized with Margaret being the main culprit behind the Princes in the Tower’s disappearance. (We will never know what happened to the Princes. Even if we find the bodies –as some historians are pressing the public to rise up in their defense, to call for the urn that was uncovered under the steps in the Tower in the seventeenth century to be examined to see once and for all if that is them- it won’t give us any answers).

The real Margaret Beaufort was human and as all humans, a very complex figure. For those that see her as a tyrannical being, I should point out that when her son became King, she commended some of her servants who had served the previous King –Richard III- for their loyalty to him. Furthermore, she continued with her religious devotion and did as so many others of her predecessors (Elizabeth Woodville, Cecily Neville, royal mothers themselves too) had done, endowing universities and adding new ones.

But before Margaret’s rise to fame, her road ahead was filled with many obstacles.

King Henry VI.
King Henry VI.


After her father died, Henry VI decreed that her mother couldn’t take care of her (despite that she had other children she had taken care of before Margaret was born) and gave her custody to William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk. Some have accused Suffolk of coveting her wardship so he could get closer to the throne by marrying the young heiress (and also the King’s cousin) to his son John. But people forget that this was an ambitious and ruthless era. Wards were a profitable business. If the boys or girls were wealthy heiress their guardians would benefit by marrying them off to their heirs, thus making themselves richer. After Suffolk’s death in 1450, Margaret was brought before the King and his councilors to swear against her marriage. She was only nine. With tensions brewing between the King and the Duke of York, it became imperative that she married someone loyal to the King. She was promised to the Earl of Richmond, Edmund Tudor who also obtained her wardship. Edmund didn’t wait to consummate his marriage to the young heiress. The age of consent for girls was twelve, but that didn’t mean that everyone would approve of their marriage. Sometimes girls married older men or boys their age, and they waited years to consummate their marriage for fear it would hurt them and they would be unable to have more children. Edmund however was eager to get Margaret pregnant to get ahold of her fortunes, preventing any Yorkist from taking them. Edmund was a realist as everyone was during this time. After the first battle of St. Albans, it became clear that everyone’s lives and fortunes were at stake. Edmund could die or be captured, and if his marriage was unconsummated, it could be annulled and then she would be free to remarry, possible a Yorkist if the latter got the upper hand. Edmund was no staunch Lancastrian. He was a pragmatist as his brother Jasper Tudor, the Earl of Pembroke. Both had supported the Duke of York many times when he fought Margaret of Anjou for the regency. They knew he was more experienced and had the loyalty of his men, and despite their disagreements, he would make a good Regent. But when it came to taking sides between their King and half-brother and the Duke, they would obviously stay with the former.

Unlike how she has been portrayed in popular dramas and documentaries like “The White Queen” and “The Real White Queen and her Rivals” , the real Margaret Beaufort was renown and even praised by her piety –which was not unconventional at the time and many women of her rank practiced the same religious practices she did (i.e. Cecily Neville, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne Neville, Elizabeth of York, etc).
Unlike how she has been portrayed in popular dramas and documentaries like “The White Queen” and “The Real White Queen and her Rivals” , the real Margaret Beaufort was renown and even praised by her piety –which was not unconventional at the time and many women of her rank practiced the same religious practices she did (i.e. Cecily Neville, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne Neville, Elizabeth of York, etc).

Margaret gave birth to Henry Tudor under strenuous circumstances. After she had learned of her husband’s death (possibly as a result of disease and wounds inflicted on him during his captivity) –fearing for her life- she escaped to Wales, to Pembrokeshire where she gave birth to her only offspring, Henry Tudor in January 1456. During the Lancastrian Readeption her son’s lands and titles were restored and they and his uncle Jasper Tudor were back in favor again. But when Henry VI’s only son was killed in battle, and her cousin was dragged from the Abbey –along his other companions- to be beheaded, and the Lancastrian King himself was murdered; Henry and Jasper had no choice but to flee the country. They would not see each other for fourteen years. During that time Margaret lost her second husband, Henry Stafford and remarried to one of England’s up-and-coming courtiers, Thomas Stanley. And took care of securing for herself a position where she could gain Edward IV’s confidence and respect so she could convince him of allowing her son to come back home unharmed.
But Edward IV had no intention of returning the youth to his mother. He (rightly) saw Henry as a threat following the destruction of the legitimate line of the Lancastrian House and began to set his eyes on Henry. His father Edmund Tudor had been the son of Katherine of Valois and her first husband’s Welsh squire –Owen ap Meredith ap Tudor. By a mistranslation of his name, he became Owen Tudor. (Imagine if they had translated his name right. We would have a dynasty of Merediths instead). The couple’s torrid love affair became public after Katherine’s death in 1438, after which Edmund was probably eight years old. The two had probably married a year before that. Owen was one of the more adventurous Tudors. Like his grandson Henry Tudor, he lived a life of dangerous escapades but like so many others in the wars of the roses, his life was cut short when he was beheaded in 1461, shortly after the battle of Mortimer cross.
Though the Tudors had no Lancastrian blood running through their veins, the Beauforts did and Margaret had passed on her distant claim to her son. When John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster married his mistress, Kathryn Swynford, the Beauforts were legitimized by an act of parliament under Richard II. But his successor –John’s eldest son- altered the act, adding that they could be legitimate but not inherit. This was a huge blow to the Beauforts, but it didn’t stop them from being fiercely loyal to their house. In fact the Yorkist King and his siblings were descendant of John of Gaunt through their mother Cecily Neville who was the daughter of John and Kathryn’s only daughter –Joan Beaufort. But being descendants of Gaunt’s line through the female line hardly mattered. Henry Tudor was the descendant of this house through the eldest male line. This made him very dangerous. Henry IV had usurped the throne under the pretext that Richard II was bad king, and that he descended from the third eldest son of Edward III and other royals with greater claims than his other cousins. It didn’t matter if they believed his claims, as long as he had a powerful army and discontent nobles backing him.

Young Henry VII
Young Henry VII


All Henry Tudor needed was discontent nobles and foreign allies, and Edward IV could look to another invasion from another Lancastrian. Luckily for Henry, he evaded captured by feigning sickness when Edward’s men were about to board him on a ship to take him to England. Hiding in a church, he was able to send a message to the Duke of Brittany –Francis II- of his suspicions of Edward’s intentions and he was brought back to safety. Edward did not have to worry about Henry becoming a danger when the real danger was closer to home. His younger brother, George, Duke of Clarence was accusing the Queen’s family of poisoning his wife and baby and captured one of the servants that allegedly were on the Woodville’s payroll and administered cruel punishment. When Edward found out about this he imprisoned his brother and executing him, drowning him in a butt of malmsey wine. This was 1478, by this time Edward IV was becoming obese and consumed by what Mancini later described as his “vices” that were encouraged by his in-laws. As his health deteriorated, his worries over Henry Tudor waned. He agreed with Margaret to bring her son back and was about to sign up an agreement, that guaranteed he would stay true to his word –and marry him to Elizabeth of York- when he died.

Richard III
Richard III


The reign of Richard III changed everything. Never mind the mystery of the uncrowned Prince and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, known forever as the “Princes in the Tower”. There were many discontent nobles that believed they should have received more favor for supporting Richard’s usurpation. In the North he was beloved. He had adopted the white boar –also known as Ebocarum- as his sigil and to further show his appreciation for the region, he had held the ceremony of his son’s investiture as Prince of Wales there. People in the South were not happy. The common law courts that Richard had created to help the poor and those who were unable to get a good defense, were not helping his cause. Richard as those before him, had proven he could be both ruthless and merciful. While he was remembered fondly in the North and by the people he helped, he was also greatly disliked by the families of the people he executed and the many people he went after.

Margaret worked very hard to appease the new King and Queen. She played an important part on their joint coronation, holding Anne Neville’s train and her husband formed a part of the King’s government, though not of his inner circle. After the Princes’ disappearances, she began meeting with the Duke of Buckingham who was her nephew by marriage. Many have taken this as a sign that she conspired with Stafford to create havoc on England, or kill the Princes for good,  so her son would take the crown. But there are many problems with this theory. First is that Margaret’s husband did not have direct access to the Tower. Richard Brackenbury did, and only he would have the power to open the boys’ chambers and do any harm. Secondly, given Margaret’s past ambitions, it is more probable she was looking to Buckingham who was probably dissatisfied with Richard, to convince him to support her son’s claim. She might have reasoned that if the Princes were indeed dead as many foreign ambassadors believed they were, than that left only one option for her son to come back home: As a King rather than a captive.

Whatever Margaret’s aim was, it failed. Buckingham’s rebellion was crushed and her son’s first attempt to invade England also failed. Richard released a public statement next year, swearing that he would do no harm to his late brother’s remaining children, his nieces. Bess Woodville came out of sanctuary and her two eldest daughters, Elizabeth and Cecily, were brought to court to serve the Queen.

Despite Richard’s best attempts to put the rumors of kin-slaying to rest, people began to whisper once more. This time they were saying that he intended to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York. Some historians do lend credibility to these rumors and I don’t doubt he might have had as these types of marriages were common back then. But he would have needed a special dispensation from the pope since they were in a closer degree of affinity, not to mention that her maternal family’s reputation amongst the high nobility. His son also died that year and his wife began to grow ill. What Anne Neville must have thought when she heard these rumors is something we will never know. But like her husband, the pressure got to her and shortly before her death, her husband was already looking for a new wife to secure the future of his kingdom and to neutralize the Tudor threat. Publicly forced to swear that he never had any intention of marrying his niece, he began making plans for her. He got to arrange to double marriage for him and his niece to the Infanta of Portugal and the Duke of Beja -both of whom had Lancastrian blood running through their veins. It was his own way of symbolically uniting both Houses and keeping Henry Tudor away from Elizabeth of York.

Margaret Beaufort Portcullis (left) at Cambridge next to the Tudor rose and the red dragon and greyhound.
Margaret Beaufort Portcullis (left) at Cambridge next to the Tudor rose and the red dragon and greyhound.

Following the victory of Bosworth Field (which was won with the support of Stanley’s armies when he and his brother switched over to Henry’s side) she became one of the most powerful women in English history and began styling herself “My Lady the King’s Mother” and signed her documents “Margaret R”. The “R” likely stood for Richmond as it was her title now as suo jure.

Margaret outlived her son, eldest grandson and daughter-in-law, dying a few days after her youngest grandson -Henry VIII’s- coronation on June 29, 1509. She was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey at the south aisle of the beautiful Lady Chapel Henry VII had constructed for him and his descendants.

Margaret is credited with being one of the greatest learned women of her age and this is not mere flattery. Margaret was in fact very learned and she is known to have founded many colleges –among these John’s College in Cambridge and the Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School and refounding God’s House in Cambridge and turning it into Christ’s College and establishing the Lady Margaret’s Professorship of Divinity. And in addition, she translated many French works into English.

Sources

  • Tudor. Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty by Elizabeth Norton
  • Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors
  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir
  • Elizabeth of York by Amy Licence

The Birth of Philip II of Spain

Philip II in black and gold armour.
Philip II in black and gold armour.

On May twenty first 1527, the Infante Philip of Spain , Prince of Asturias was born at the Palacio of Valladolid to Isabella of Portugal, Queen and Empress to Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire and I of Spain. Philip was the couple’s firstborn and only surviving son. He was followed by two sisters, Maria and Juana.

The Wedding of Charles V and Isabella of Portugal in Seville, Spain from the upcoming series "Carlos, Rey Emperador" (2015)
The Wedding of Charles V and Isabella of Portugal in Seville, Spain from the upcoming series “Carlos, Rey Emperador” (2015)

The couple had been married the previous year on 10 March 1526 on Seville. They were well-matched. Isabella was the daughter of King Manuel I of Portugal and Maria of Aragon, sister to Charles V’s mother, Juana I of Castile (otherwise known unfairly as “Juana la Loca”). What began as an arranged marriage soon became a love match. Initially Charles V was pledged to marry his other first cousin, whose mother was his mother’s youngest sister; Princess Mary Tudor. Henry VIII’s (then) only child. When he visited England during the summer he found the girl charming and very accomplished. According to contemporary writers, Mary was a young beauty and very precocious, curious and eager to please. However as the years passed by, Charles grew very disenchanted with an English alliance and listened to his councilors who never wanted him to marry the English Princess (or any other foreign Princess) in the first place. Charles V was for lack of better words, not very loved by the Spaniards when he ascended to the throne after the death of his maternal grandfather, King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Regent for Castile. He didn’t speak any Castilian and he brought with him many foreigners whom he appointed to key positions in government. In the beginning of the 1520s a popular revolt called “Las Comunidades de Castilla” had been led by the commons and the dissatisfied nobles who called for the cessation of Charles’ policies. Among these many policies were taxation and the appointment of German and Austrian to key positions in government. Their motto was basically Spain for Spaniards only. Charles managed to placate the rebellion but he learned from this experience. To his councilors, it was imperative that he married someone who could understand Spain and could help him rule in his absence when he would be looking after his other territories. As appealing as the idea of marrying the daughter of the Catholic Queen’s favorite daughter, and one who was heiress presumptive at the time; it was better that he married his other first cousin. Someone who was closer to him in age and understood the customs of Spain better.

Isabella of Portugal, Holy Roman Empress and Queen Consort of Spain.
Isabella of Portugal, Holy Roman Empress and Queen Consort of Spain.

Isabella was fierce, ambitious and smart as he was. The two soon fell in love.
When she was in labor, she asked for “a veil to be placed over her face so that no one would see her agony”. One of the midwives reassured her that no one would judge her if she cried or screamed. To this, the young Queen and Empress responded: “I would rather die. Don’t talk to me like that: I may die, but I will not cry out.” Many hours later at 4pm, Philip was born, much to the joy of his father who was so “overjoyed and delighted by his son”.

Their son was baptized six weeks later by the bishop of Toledo at the monastery of St. Pablo in Valladolid.

Monastery of St. Pablo Valladolid
Monastery of St. Pablo Valladolid

Philip became the Prince of Asturias and on his marriage to his second wife, Queen Mary I of England, King of Naples so he would not be inferior in status to her. This however, did not prevent Mary from forcing him and his party to agree to her terms that there would be no other boss in her country except her. Mary I was a stern, calculate and pragmatic woman. Like her sister, the future “Glorianna”, she was both cruel and compassionate. While she wrote desperately to Philip and his father Charles V when he was away to return, her letters are not those of a love-sick girl but of a woman who was demanding his presence because she believed he was vital to help her deal with the rebellions in her country.

Philip next to his second wife, Mary I of England.
Philip next to his second wife, Mary I of England.

After she died, he briefly entertained the idea of marrying her sister, the new Queen, Elizabeth I. After she made it clear that she was toying with him, he looked elsewhere for a bride. His eyes landed on France, on the beautiful pre-teen daughter of Henry II and Catherine de Medici. The couple had two surviving daughters, who became Philip’s favorite offspring, Isabel Clara Eugenia and Catalina Michaela. His letters to her still survive and they speak of great parental devotion. His fourth marriage to his niece, Anna of Austria did the trick providing him with a healthy male heir. The future Philip III.

Modern view of the Monastery of San Lorenzo El Escorial.
Modern view of the Monastery of San Lorenzo El Escorial.

Philip II died at his great monastery of San Lorenzo El Escorial that he had built in Madrid on the 13th of September 1598. He was buried there.

Sources:

  • Imprudent King: A New Life of Philip II by Geoffrey Parker
  • Philip II of Spain by Henry Kamen
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway

The Birth of the Duchess of York, Cecily Neville

Cecily Neville Collage 2

On this day in Plantagenet history Cecily Neville was born in Raby Castle, Durham. Nicknamed the “Rose of Raby”, “Proud Cis”, “Queen by Rights”. The real Cecily Neville has been lost to us thanks to the proliferation of negative portrayals of her.

The Neville family could trace its roots back to William the Conqueror with whom they were related. Cecily’s eleventh century ancestor Richard de Novavilla’s mother was the Conqueror’s cousin. As the years went by the Nevilles climbed up the social ladder by marrying into prestigious families.
Cecily’s father was the First Earl of Westmorland and had already been married, by the time Cecily was born she had sisters who already had children of their own. Her mother was none other than Joan Beaufort, only daughter of John, Duke of Lancaster and his third wife Katherine Swynford. By an act of parliament during Richard II’s reign, John and Katherine’s children were legitimized however this act was severely altered when John’s eldest son, Henry IV, came to the throne. The new act parliament passed maintained they were legitimate but barred them from the line of succession. As a result Joan Beaufort developed a strong religious identity she passed on to her daughter.

When she married Richard Plantagenet in 1429 she became Duchess of York and one of the leading women in England. After a series of conflicts that pit her husband against Henry VI, he made a bid for the crown of England. Before his triumphant entrance to London in 1460, he had visited Cecily so both could share his triumph. However parliament refused to replace their anointed sovereign with Richard and instead an agreement was brought up that he would be King’s official heir. He was granted the titles of Prince of Wales, Earl of Chester, and Duke of Cornwall. As a result Cecily’s status was elevated as the second highest ranking woman in England. It would be by a cruel stroke of fate that she would never wear the crown of England. Her son and second son were killed later that same year by Lancastrian forces.

While Cecily never became Queen of England, she started using the moniker “Queen by Rights” around the time her eldest son married Elizabeth Wydeville to emphasize her high rank. It is unclear what role she played -if she played any- during her son George’s rebellion or during her youngest son, Richard’s reign.
After the Yorkist regime fell, she retired from the public scene, leading a highly ascetic life. She died in May 31st, 1495. She is buried next to her husband in Fotheringhay Castle.

Sources:

  • Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Cecily Neville: Mother of Kings by Amy Licence

Dispelling myths: The Truth Behind Edward IV & Cecily Neville

Cecily and Edward IV
Edward IV “the Rose of Rouen” and his mother “Proud Cis” Cecily Neville, Duchess Dowager of York.

Today historians still debate Edward IV’s parentage but a poem done in his honor, shortly after he was sworn in as King, leaves it very clear he was Richard, Duke of York’s son:

“Y is for York that is manly and mighty
That be grace of God and great revelation
Reining with rules reasonable and right-full
That which for our sakes hath suffered vexation.

E is for Edward whose fame the earth shall spread
Because of his wisdom named prudence
shall save all England by his manly deeds
Wherefore we owe to do him reverence

M is for March, through every trial
Drawn by discretion that worthy and wise is
conceived in wedlock and coming of blood royal
Joining unto virtue, excluding all vices.”

There was a scene in the White Queen, both in the book and the mini-series where Cecily Neville, Duchess of York and “Queen by Rights” is completely humiliated by her daughter-in-law and her mother, Lady Rivers. She threatens to disown her son Edward in favor of George because she is mad he married a Lancastrian impoverished widow. Elizabeth Grey nee Woodville’s father was a knight, albeit he had been made a Baron thanks to his service to the Crown –and Jacquetta’s friendship with the Lancastrian Queen. Her mother was Jacquetta of Luxemborg whose lineage was quite impressive. However in the middle ages, if your father was a nobody, it didn’t matter if your mother was a somebody, to their standards, you were technically a nobody unless you married above your station. Edward was the first King of the York dynasty –another branch of the Plantagenet Dynasty. His position was very unstable as Henry VI was still alive somewhere and his warring wife and son were seeking the support of Scotland and France to invade England and restore her husband to the throne. Everything he did or said could be used against him; he couldn’t afford to be his own man until he was safely installed. Yet, Edward disregarded this –as he did many things- and went ahead and married Elizabeth Woodville.

There are many possible reasons as to why he did this. Susan Higginbotham in her biography on the Woodville posits that he could have done it as another plot to convince Elizabeth to sleep with him, or for the simplest reason that he genuinely fell in love with her. Dan Jones in his latest book on the wars of the roses and the Tudors, give another approach that combines all reasons: That Edward was uncertain regarding his cousin Warwick’s proposal to marry the King of France’s relative, Bona of Savoy. If he agreed to marry this girl then he would be seen as Warwick’s tool. People were already saying that Warwick ruled. Edward didn’t want to give them any more reason to think this way. It was a great risk he was running but he did it anyway. Marrying Elizabeth was a public statement of his independence and furthermore that he was not going to show favoritism to any nobles regardless of their previous affiliations. The Woodvilles like so many former Lancastrians, had been pardoned in 1461 but there was still a lot resentment between noble families. People expected Edward IV to be like his counterpart and his wife and take retaliation against the people that supported his enemies.

He clearly didn’t.

Edward IV and Elizabeth in portraits and in the White Queen (2013) played by Max Irons and Rebecca Ferguson.
Edward IV and Elizabeth in portraits and in the White Queen (2013) played by Max Irons and Rebecca Ferguson.

His marriage with Elizabeth could have been handled better, and publicized more as his daughter’s to Henry VII was. Perhaps Edward believed that marrying her was enough for people to get the message of a reconciliation between both parties. It failed drastically. As we all know, Warwick and the rest were appalled at his decision. These were no simple dissatisfied nobles after all. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick had lost his father and younger brother when they helped Edward’s father, Richard Duke of York and his second eldest son Edmund Earl of Rutland fight the Queen’s army at Sandal Castle. His father as the rest, were beheaded, their heads stuck on a pole and exhibited on top of the gates as traitors. Warwick had to flee many times and muster whatever men he could, with what money he had left for his cousin. To have his cousin all the sudden say ‘sorry dude but I don’t like you anymore. Get the hell out’ was a huge slap in the face.

Warwick also had other motives for hating this union. Edward IV had always felt close to Burgundy. His mother had ties to that royal family, but Warwick wanted an alliance with France for obvious reasons (the Lancastrian Queen, Margaret of Anjou was there, begging the King to send troops to invade England and restore her husband. If she succeeded, then it was the end of everything and everyone they loved. Plain and simple. The best way to avoid that was by marrying Edward to the King’s relative so Margaret of Anjou would be completely cut off from allies. Now thanks to Edward’s latest marriage, that wasn’t going to happen).

Cecily had more reasons to hate that marriage though. She loved her son fiercely. Having lost her husband and her second son in such a brutal way, she became increasingly protecting of her remaining children. The year before her husband and son lost their heads (when they had to go abroad to escape the royal army) what do you think Cecily Neville did? She had to beg (I repeat, beg) for mercy and throw herself at the feet of her enemies so her youngest children would be spared. She counted on her friendship with Queen Margaret, to help her in these difficult times. It paid off.  Margaret of Anjou never lifted a finger against her and let her be (under the condition that she stayed with her sister, Anne, Duchess of Buckingham whose husband was a die-hard Lancastrian and who happened to be Margaret Beaufort’s mother-in-law). This time though, Cecily knew it wasn’t going to be so simple. Even *if* -and that was a big *if*- the Queen forgave her as before, she would see her youngest offspring (Richard, George and Margaret) as potential claimants who would one day rise to avenge their fallen brothers if Edward died too. Cecily had no choice but to send her two boys abroad to Burgundy where they were well taken care of. Imagine yourself as a forty five year old woman who had been married since she was twelve, who had lived through so much carnage and humiliation, and you suddenly found out that your sons could be seen as potential dangers to your best friend? What could you do? They say there is nothing a mother won’t do for her children, and that is what Cecily did. She let go of her children, and took refuge in God, praying that the next news she would receive would be a good one.

Edward’s choice therefore angered her. The White Queen made her look as if she hated Elizabeth because of her condition of ‘commoner’. But as much as I did enjoy some parts of the White Queen, we must look at it for what it is, fiction and acknowledge the facts. Cecily did not want to acknowledge Edward’s marriage to this Lancastrian widow because it was dangerous. She had seen the worse of humanity. She had lost nephews, uncles, husband, son, and a brother! Edward wasn’t even in his fifth year when he married Elizabeth. He had so many enemies, this marriage left him without alliances and completely naked to them. Not only that, but his failure meant the destruction of her family.

Cecily was not about to act all happy and ignorant and pretend this was okay. Her husband was gone but she was still there. Before Edward married Elizabeth, she was the most powerful woman in the land and many ambassadors met with her before they met with her nephew Warwick and her son, Edward IV. Elizabeth might become a good Queen, but her common status put them all in danger.

Cecily Neville is forced to bow to Elizabeth.
Cecily Neville is forced to bow to Elizabeth.

When Jaquetta and her daughter enter the Duchess’ chambers, smirking at her as if she is too far beneath them, the former threatens her to expose her as a “common whore”. Jacquetta says in the TV show that she vouched for her when the rumors began circulating that she had cheated on her husband with a Welsh archer. “Blaybourne, wasn’t it? Ah yes, I said that a great lady like you would not so demean herself as to lie with a common archer and let his bastard slip into a nobleman’s cradle like she was a common whore.”
Fiction sensationalizes these things to make them more interesting, I take it as an alternate universe where people are obviously very different from what they really were. A woman as conscientious of her lineage, her status, would never let herself be humiliated by a woman who was lower in rank than her. Even her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Woodville, was lower in rank to her since she had been the daughter of a knight and although her mother had great lineage, that didn’t matter. Queen she might be, but to Cecily she was lower than her. And furthermore, she and Richard were very close in age, the two got to know each other since they were children –when his custody as passed to her father Ralph Neville, the Earl of Westmorland and then her mother. Her mother was Joan Beaufort and she was the only daughter of John, 1
st
Duke of Lancaster and his mistress, Katherine Swynford. He had been married two times before he married her. When he did, Richard II agreed to legitimize their children for all the good services his uncle had done in government. John’s cruel nature was a small price to pay to protect his third wife and their children whom he obviously felt closer to. Their half-brother and the first Lancastrian King, Henry IV, added a new clause to their legitimate status where it excluded them from the line of succession. Because of this, many of them became very religious because they felt deeply ashamed of having been born a bastard and their birth being an impediment to being in the line of succession. The fact that they didn’t carry the last name Plantagenet, was awful enough. Joan spent her entire life praying and making huge donations to churches, and her piety was passed on to her youngest offspring, Cecily.
Many medieval women took comfort in religion. Contrary to what it shown in movies and TV, many women saw religion as a means to an end. It gave some of them power and comfort from their everyday hardships. A year before her third son’s George Duke of Clarence’s death, Cecily began to take on a rigorous religious routine and wake up at certain hours of the day for religious devotion.
With this in mind, it is impossible that a woman such as Cecily whose other nickname was “proud Cis” would have gone behind her husband’s back and cheat with the first bloke she saw. Status was everything and as I’ve stated, Cecily was very aware of her place in society. Of course some historians will then state the matter of Edward’s low key baptism. This can be explained simply. The belief of something in between heaven and hell: Purgatory. People believed that premature children would die quickly and if they died quickly without being baptized then that meant that their souls would never reach heaven and they would be stuck in a perpetual limbo.

Not something nice, isn’t it?

Cecily Neville and her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Woodville.
Cecily Neville and her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Woodville.

“Cecily fell pregnant soon after her arrival in Rouen. The exact timing of the conception has been the subject of much debate among historians and would later prove a significant bone of political contention. Edward would arrive on 28 April 1442. This would place his conception sometime at the end of July 1441 or in the early days of August, assuming that it was a nine-month pregnancy. Records discovered in Rouen recently detail that Richard, Duke of York was absent from Rouen on campaign at Pontoise for several weeks, returning to the city on 20 August. From this detail, several historians have inferred that Edward was not Richard’s son. They believe this proves that Cecily must have had an adulterous liaison during his absence, which would render Edward illegitimate.

There are a number of problems with using this timing as evidence. If Cecily conceived on the night of Richard’s return to Rouen, 20 August, this still allows for a pregnancy of thirty-six weeks … To be premature, a baby must be born before thirty seven weeks and there is a fair chance that Edward might have arrived early.” -Licence

Richard and Cecily were very young when they were married and they didn’t consummate their marriage right away. When Cecily’s first recorded pregnancy became known, it probably wasn’t an easy pregnancy as her baby died in less than a year. He was named Henry for the King and the loss devastated them both. They had a daughter later who thankfully was born healthy, but like any couple they would have been hoping for a son. If Edward was premature and conceived during Richard’s comings and goings from his camp to Rouen Castle, then it makes perfect sense why they wanted to baptize him right away. If they didn’t then he would likely die (being so frail) and his soul would be wandering off in purgatory. There were some extreme cases where –if a priest wasn’t found- the midwife could take on the role of the priest and baptize the baby instead. The other reason for his quick baptism could be that although he wasn’t premature, they were both worried that he would die like his brother or Richard could be killed any day. The two weren’t exactly living in a peaceful area. England was still at war with France and he had been sent there to defend Normandy from Charles VII’s forces.

Sources:

  • The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Cecily Neville: The Mother of Kings by Amy Licence
  • Royal Babies by Amy Licence
  • The Woodvilles by Susan Higginbotham