Book Review: The House of Beaufort, the Bastard Line that Captured the Crown by Nathen Amin

House of Beaufort by Nathen Amin
This is a book every history buff needs to read if they are interested in finding out about the roots of one of the most infamous dynasties in world history, who will continue to fascinate us in decades to come.
I absolutely loved how descriptive this book was. From start to finish, I was hooked. And this is one of those books that I just had to re-read again because being a huge history buff, I wanted to see what important things I hadn’t highlighted. Turns out that with a book like this, everything is a highlight so you might as well be stuck taking notes and going back to the original source when you want to check something you might have missed.
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Writing a biography is not easy, especially one that takes on the challenge of chronicling the life of a family that has been largely obscured by their most infamous and famous contemporaries. Nathen Amin begins with Henry Tudor’s ascension to the throne of England following Richard III’s defeat at the Battle of Bosworth. It is a tale that takes you back through time, to an era of deceit, love, loss, shifting loyalties and above all, survival.
When Margaret Beaufort watched her son being crowned, her confessor, later Bishop Fisher, said that they weren’t tears of joy but of fear. She was the only surviving member of the eldest son of John of Gaunt and his mistress (later wife) Kathryn Swynford. The fact that she had seen her family nearly fade into oblivion and lived through many reigns, was more than enough to worry about her son’s future.
But through it all, she like most of the first Beauforts persevered.
This is a tale of one’s family unlikely rise to power and whose descendants still sit on the throne of England. Those who are new to this era will learn a great deal about it from this book, and those who are already familiar with it won’t be disappointed either because unlike pop historians, the author was fairly objective, drawing his conclusions from reliable sources and forensic evidence.

I’m proud to say, this is a great addition to my collection of favorite books and I am guessing you will feel the same way after you finish it. This is a reminder that the impossible often became possible and that there were no shortages of twists and turns, often due to kings and aristocrats’ excesses and their miscalculation and plain sheer luck, that led to these least likely outcomes.

 

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The story of the Beauforts is also the story of a family being torn apart by dynastic warfare which was initiated by one of their own’s spouses when his enmity to the queen forced him to take a route that would change the course of English history, and propel one of their own’s unlikely candidate to become King of England. Through it all, this family produced some of the most notable members who worked alongside their Lancastrian half-brother and cousins, and most of them remained loyal but others, such as the women, were forced to make difficult choices in order to survive.
Kathryn Swynford and John of  Gaunt’s only daughter, Joan was the mother of the formidable Duchess of York, Cecily Neville aka “Proud Cis”. Never fully able to shake the stain of bastardry despite Richard II legitmizing in 1399 but his successor,  Henry IV, instating a clause that took them from the line of succession, became a pious woman and that piety was passed on to her daughter who in turn pass it on to her daughters and granddaughters (most notably, Princesses Elizabeth and Bridget of York). Then there is also the story of another Joan Beaufort, who had to go through unimaginable tribulations to protect her son’s throne and her ambitions. Another married into the up and coming Neville clan, producing one of the most formidable women of the age, Cecily Neville, aka ‘Proud Cis’, who married Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, a man who’d become the founder of a separate branch of the Plantagenet dynasty and whose ambitions and enmity with the queen, led to the dynastic civil war that lasted over three decades.

 

Portcullis 2
Through it all, a family whose last name died when its last male heir was beheaded after the battle of Tewkesbury, their legacy survived through one of its last descendants, Henry Tudor who besides creating a new device that embodied his dynasty, also included reminders of the House that passed his claim unto him.
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Henry VII: The Man Behind the Legend

Henry VII portrait

Henry Tudor was still young when he became King of England. His reign heralded a new era for the British Isles, including their troublesome neighbor to the North. While he loved to gamble, drink (moderately), and joke, he was a cautious man -something his granddaughter and last monarch of his dynasty, Elizabeth I, inherited.

This is due to his difficult upbringing. He became fatherless before he as born with his mother giving birth to him at the tender age of thirteen -something that wasn’t completely unusual, but advised against when a woman was not fully developed and her husband was older than her- leaving her unable to have any more children. He was quickly christened and handed over to his uncle. His mother visited him as often she could or was allowed to by her new male guardian, her second husband, Henry Stafford.

By the time that Edward IV became King, Henry became a ward of the notable Herbert family. The Herberts were up and comers in the English court with noble Welsh roots like the Tudors, but unlike them they happened to back a winning horse. In his biography of Henry VII, S.B. Chrimes, notes that it is highly possible that the new Earl of Pembroke (a title that once belonged to Henry’s uncle, Jasper Tudor) planned to marry him to his daughter and heiress.

Novelist Barbara Kyle wrote a brilliant article on this topic and how lucrative the wardship business was. What we would denounce as a sex crime or kidnapping or stepping over a parents’ rights, it was non-existent back then. It was very common for men to marry their female wards, especially if they were orphans and rich heiresses. Such was the case for men as well. Henry became a ward of William Herbert and his wife Anne, after the start of the Yorkist regime.

Henry’s time with the Herberts was idyllic but after Lord William was executed during the fiasco of Warwick’s rebellion, Henry temporarily went to his mother. Things seemed fine for the two when the dullard king, Henry VI, was reinstated as king of England in a period known as the “Lancastrian Readeption.” Unfortunately, this did not last and I say unfortunately because while many soon realized that the king was beyond redemption and had become a shadow of his former self, for the Beauforts and Tudors, including Henry, this was a major setback.

The first time that Edward IV had become king, he had presented himself as a noble, just and merciful leader but the time for pleasantries was over. He was done giving second chances. Following Warwick’s defeat at the battle of Barnet and the Henry VI’s son and his wife’s army at the battle of Tewkesbury, the Lancastrian royal and male Beaufort lines were wiped out.

All seemed well except for one thing … There was one young boy who could still posed a threat to the Yorkis regime. If left alive, he could grow up to become a figurehead, rallying men to his cause to usurp Edward or his descendants’ throne in the same manner as Edward and their ancestor, the first Norman king, William the Conqueror, had done.

Edward IV acted immediately and sent armies to get Jasper and Henry who had fled to Wales. They managed to hold them off for two months. But eventually Jasper realized that they wouldn’t for much longer. He and his nephew headed to France but powerful winds threw them off course, with them landing on Brittany instead.

The Duke of Brittany became Henry’s mentor and ironically, his protector. Initially, Francis II did not have Henry’s best interests at heart, he saw him and his uncle as two piggy banks he could cash in, demanding Edward IV grant him special favors or pay handsomely so he could have his prized possessions back. But time has a way of changing people and perhaps it was Henry’s character, something he saw in the boy, that made the Duke change his mind.

It’s too bad that wasn’t passed unto his courtiers. Intrigued by the youth’s clever wit and will to survive, they had to think about their duchy first. If Edward IV looked to France, then that could mean two powerful kingdoms against them and the last thing that Brittany wanted was to lose what was left of their sovereignty. Francis II’s advisers convinced him to hand him over.

It all seemed too easy. A young man about to be handed over to the Yorkist king who’d lock him up, place him under house arrest or marry him to a family deeply loyal to him, successfully neutralizing the last Lancastrian threat. But since when do things go according plan?

They didn’t factor in Henry’s acting skills or his quick thinking. As Henry was being led away from the Breton court, he probably pondered on these possibilities and before they made him board their ship, he feigned sickness and as quick as their backs were turned, he ran off to the nearest church and claimed sanctuary.

Henry lived to fight another day. This experience shaped Henry into the king he’d later become -a ruler who was suspicious of even his own shadow and left nothing to chance.

Henry Tudor TWQ.jpg

In her biography of the Tudors and Stewarts (Tudors vs Stewarts), Linda Porter says the following of the young man who had returned to England to claim the English throne after fourteen years of exile:

“At twenty-eight Henry Tudor was no longer a pretty land. In looks he was still personable, but an itinerant and uncertain youth had shaped a cautious personality. He was not a man who took anything for granted. The immense challenged of ruling the larger of the two realms that formed the island of Britain lay ahead of him. He had come by his crown in blood and battle.”

It is not hard to see why he had become this way, and why he looked more rugged than any youth.

Like him or hate him, Henry VII’s reign was a major game changer for the modern world. Prior to his reign, nobles could still muster armies at will, with kings struggling to keep control over them, leading to endless strife. Henry eliminated the last embers of a broken system that was also being abandoned in other parts of Europe. This system was feudalism and Henry recognized how useless it was becoming, and amending it would be like beating a dead horse.

Humanism the illustrated man

There was also a new religious revival that was being experienced throughout Europe that put man at the center of everything. While Henry was not an enthusiast of this current like his contemporaries, Ferdinand II of Aragon, Isabella I of Castile, and his successors were (especially his son and granddaughters), he recognized that the times were changing and that if he was going to have a successful reign, England had to keep up.

He and his mother encouraged many religious thinkers, and after hearing of many sea-faring voyages that promised new discoveries, he founded some of them. This naval exploration would experience a revival during his granddaughter, Elizabeth I’s reign, who sponsored many of these voyages to compete and out-rival her Catholic enemies.

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The sovereign had never been at the center of everything as when the Tudors became the new ruling House. This goes hand in hand with the new current of man being placed at the center of everything. Man is divine, man is the conduit between heaven and earth, and likewise, the king is more sacred than his subjects. Coins from his reign, show Henry, seated in the throne, holding the orb and scepter, wearing the crown of the confessor. He was the first English King to do this.

Tudor chronicler, Polydore Vergil, wrote the following of the first Tudor monarch in his mammoth work ‘Anglia Historia‘, a series of books chronicling the history of England:

“His body was slender but well built and strong; his height above the average. His appearance was remarkably attractive and his face was cheerful, especially when speaking; his eyes were small and blue, his teeth few, poor and blackish; his hair was thin and white; his complexion sallow. His spirit was distinguished, wise and prudent; his mind was brave and resolute and never, even at moments of the greatest danger, deserted him. He had a most pertinacious memory. Withal he was not devoid of scholarship. In government he was shrewd and prudent, so that no one dared to get the better of him through deceit or guile. He was gracious and kind and was as attentive to his visitors as he was easy of access. His hospitality was splendidly generous; he was fond of having foreigners at his court and he freely conferred favours of them. But those of his subjects who were indebted to him and who did not pay him due honour or who were generous only with promises, he treated with harsh severity. He well knew how to maintain his royal majesty and all which appertains to kingship at every time and in every place. He was most fortunate in war, although he was constitutionally more inclined to peace than to war. He cherished justice above all things; as a result he vigorously punished violence, manslaughter and every other kind of wickedness whatsoever. Consequently he was greatly regretted on that account by all his subjects, who had been able to conduct their lives peaceably, far removed from the assaults and evil doing of scoundrels. He was the most ardent supporter of our faith, and daily participated with great piety in religious services. To those whom he considered to be worthy priests, he often secretly gave alms so that they should pray for his salvation. He was particularly fond of those Franciscan friars whom they call Observants, for whom he founded many convents, so that with his help their rule should continually flourish in his kingdom, but all these virtues were obscured latterly only by avarice, from which…he suffered. This avarice is surely a bad enough vice in a private individual, whom it forever torments; in a monarch indeed it may be considered the worst vice, since it is harmful to everyone, and distorts those qualities of trustfulness, justice and integrity by which the state must be governed.”

It would be good to end this on a happy note but Henry’s life as his early struggles was anything but happy or peaceful. He faced many rebellions, dealt with one impostor and a pretender, and other personal struggles that worn him down, including the loss of his uncle, eldest son, wife and newborn daughter.

Almost everyone who had joined Henry in exile and marched with him to Bosworth, had died. The man who became like a father to him, his paternal uncle, died before the century was over. And then he lost his son, a young, handsome boy whom he had named after the mythical Welsh (and Anglicized) king who united all of the British Isles to fight the Saxon army, King Arthur. He represented his vision for the future, a future where the Tudor dynasty reigned supreme. When he lost Henry, his vision died with him.

Bernard Andre commented that the King was absolutely distraught. He and Elizabeth took comfort in each other’s presence, with his wife assuring him that they were still young and could still have more children. And while this is true, Elizabeth was young, the birth of her new daughter was too much for her. She died on her thirty seventh birthday with her newborn, princess Katherine, dying a day letter.

Henry was outlived by his daughters, Queen Margaret who had married James IV of Scotland in the North and whose descendants would rule England (and continue to rule England) after the death of the last Tudor monarch, his youngest, Princess Mary (whose descendants would be beset by tragedy), and his only surviving son, Henry VIII and of course, the woman who had always worked hard to ensure his survival, even from afar, his mother, Margaret Beaufort.

His reign is also a transitory period, representing the end of an era and a dawn of a new one, that space between the end of the medieval period and the beginning of the modern world.

Henry was buried at the lady Chapel next to his wife, Elizabeth of York. Their two effigies are a testament of their undying love, and his personal sacrifices.

Sources:

  • Porter, Linda. Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots. Martin’s Press. 2014.
  • Skidmore, Chris. The Rise of the Tudors: The Family that Changed English History. Martin’s Press. 2014.
  • de Lisle, Leanda. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013.
  • Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999.
  • Barbara Kyle’s ‘For Sale: Rich Orphans’

Medieval Child Marriage: Richard, Duke of York & Anne de Mowbray

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The union of Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York and Anne de Mowbray took place at the St Stephen’s Chapel in Westminster Palace in London, on January 1478, two years after her father, John de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk passed away.
Anne belonged to two of the most prominent aristocratic families in England. Besides the de Mowbray clan, she was also a Talbot through her mother, Elizabeth Talbot. After her father died, she became one of the most desired brides as well.

John de Mowbray Coat_of_Arms_of_John_de_Mowbray,_4th_Duke_of_Norfok,_KG
John de Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk’s coat of arms.


England had just experience over two decades of internal conflicts, and despite the Yorkist regime coming on top, Edward IV wanted to heal the wounds that his marriage, and later his cousin, Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick’s rebellion and after that, the Lancastrian Readeption, left on the country. Many of the noble families who had supported his claim felt betrayed after he married Elizabeth Woodville, who had no royal connection and brought nothing to the table except her extended family. Edward IV thought of marrying them to his in-laws whom he was sure they would be loyal because whom else did they owe their ascension or depended but him? This turned out to be a terrible miscalculation on Edward’s part, and it furthered the divide between him the and the old nobility.

Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville 1
Edward IV and Elizabeth in portraits and in the White Queen (2013) played by Max Irons and Rebecca Ferguson.


They began to blame the Woodvilles and before long, they sided with his enemies, first Warwick, then the Lancastrian queen exiled across the narrow sea, Margaret of Anjou and her son, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales.
After the Lancastrian Readeption, England was finally at peace. But tensions were still high. The wedding was a public display of unity and also an opportunity for the crown to gain her family fortune.
Richard and Anne were just five. Marriages like these weren’t common but they were not frowned upon either. James II of Aragon married his wife when he was a pre-teen, and Edward I of England married Eleanor of Castile when the two were teenagers, with Eleanor being three years younger than him. And let’s not forget Richard’s namesake, his grandfather, also Duke of York, who married Cecily Neville when the couple were teenagers.


It was recommended that for couples this young to wait until they mentally and physically mature enough to consummate the marriage. Given that the newlyweds were infants, the first years together, they spent them as cousins and friends rather husband and wife. The legal age for consummation varied between the ages of 12-14; so until that day came, Anne would be under the crown’s watchful eye, enjoying every privilege of being wife to the King’s youngest son.


Unfortunately, the two never got to know each other as husband and wife since Anne died when she was eight at Greenwich Palace in London. Two years later in 1483, Parliament decided to transfer her family fortune to her husband instead of her cousins.

Sources:

A Nice Change of Scenery: Margaret Pole in The White Princess

Margaret Pole TWQ Tudors WH

While The White Queen has taken many liberties and has been advertised as an accurate portrayal of fifteenth century courts, it has done a good job bringing attention to Margaret’s story –something that other shows have failed to do. The Tudors and Wolf Hall tried but were unsuccessful. The first only focused on a minor part of her later story and the latter depicted her as an active conspirator, making it seem as if she deserved her later fate.

Meg Pole being separated from Edward

There is a scene where she is with her brother and he is suddenly being taken away by Henry VII’s solders. The scene is absolutely heart-wrenching and it was done in such a way that you really feel for the poor girl.

Margaret is one of the most tragic figures of the wars of the roses and the Tudor era. She survived her father’s downfall and afterwards the fall of the fall of the York dynasty. The same cannot be said for her little brother, Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick. After Richard III usurped the throne, the throne should have passed to him instead but due to their father having been executed as a traitor, he and Margaret were excluded from the line of succession.

Following Richard III’s defeat at the battle of Bosworth, Henry began the proceedings to overturn parliament’s ruling regarding his future bride and her remaining royal siblings. Richard III’s claim rested on the invalidity of Elizabeth and her sisters, which rested on the argument that Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV were never truly married because he had previously been pre-contracted to another noblewoman. Shaky as it may seem, given that the two people involved were dead and the Woodvilles were unpopular among many aristocrats, this stuck. But now that he was gone, it was time for Henry to validate his own claim and the only way he was going to do that was by saying it stemmed by right of conquest, his mother’s Lancastrian ancestry, and his union with Elizabeth.

While he didn’t marry Margaret’s cousin right away, he was quick to secure the last legitimate male Plantagenet. At only ten years old, Edward was moved to the Tower of London where he lasted until 1499. By that time he was described as simple and for lack of another better word, insane. He was easily tricked into conspiring with the pretender, Perkin Warbeck, and before long the two were charged with treason and executed. Perkin Warbeck was hung while Edward was beheaded.

Margaret Pole was twenty four at the time, having been born two years before him. We do not know what was going through Margaret’s head at the time, but given everything she suffered, we can only imagine that it must have been a terrible –but not so unusual- ordeal for her.

In The White Queen, there is a scene where she is with her husband, shortly after the two are married and she tells him that rejects her last name ‘Plantagenet’ because it has brought her nothing but sadness. Philippa Gregory’s last book in the cousins’ war series is titled The King’s Curse and it deals with events from the first two Tudor monarchs’ reigns from Margaret’s point of view. For those of you who haven’t read the book, I recommend it. It has some memorable scenes, some that were very touching and others that seemed repetitive. While it focuses on Melusina’s curse, an invention of Philippa Gregory to account for Prince Arthur and many other Tudor princes’ deaths, the book’s title can also be seen as an apt description for Margaret, a woman whose life must have seemed like a curse.

Margaret Pole Portrait
By an unknown artist, this sitter is believed to be Margaret Pole due to her clothing and jewelry.

A portrait by an unknown artist that has been identified as Margaret Pole shows that she never forgot about her roots and personal tragedies. She wears a bracelet with a butt malmsey hanging from it, a clear reference to her father who was executed during her uncle, Edward IV’s reign, for treason.

The eldest daughter of George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville, eldest daughter of Richard Neville “the Kingmaker”, Earl of Warwick and Salisbury among other titles, and Anne Beauchamp; sought to survive by seeking favor with the royal family, especially the future queen of England, the Spanish Infanta, Katherine of Aragon.

COA and Meg Pole historical and fictional portrayals
Catherine of Aragon in the Spanish series Isabel (left), Margaret Pole in The White Princess (right).

It was this friendship that earned her the title of Countess of Salisbury. This was a big deal since not many women were title holders in their own right. As suo jure, Margaret became one of the richest landowners and influential courtiers in England. She also became Princess Mary, Katherine and Henry VIII’s only surviving child, governess and the two forged a strong friendship that would last a lifetime.

But not all was well in paradise. In spite of her friendship with the Queen, and the Queen’s patronage of Humanists and popularity with the people, her influence with the King was waning and following her last miscarriage, Henry’s eye began to wander again and it wasn’t only before it was set on her lady-in-waiting and former mistress’ sister, Anne Boleyn. After his marriage to Katherine was annulled, his daughter was bastardized and his union with Anne as well as her pregnancy became public, Margaret’s life was turned upside down. She chose to stay loyal to her best friend and former charge and unfortunately, this along with her royal blood and her son Reginald’s outburst against the King, became her undoing.

A book that I highly recommend that gives a hauntingly beautiful description of Margaret Pole’s ordeals is Dan Jones’ Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors. Here is a small snippet from it:

“At seven o’clock in the morning on Friday, May 27, 1541, within the precincts of the Tower of London, an old woman walked out into the light of a spring day. Her name was Margaret Pole. By birth, blood and lineage she was one of the noblest women in England … Margaret’s life had long been exciting. For twenty-five years she had been the countess of Salisbury, one of only two women of her time to have held a peerage in her own right. She had until recently been one of the five wealthiest aristocrats of her generation, with lands in seventeen different counties. Now, at sixty-seven –ancient by Tudor standards- she appeared so advanced in age that intelligent observers took her to be eighty or ninety.
Like many inhabitants of the Tower of London, Margaret Pole was a prisoner. Two years previously she had been stripped of her lands and titles by an act of parliament which accused her of having “committed and perpetrated diverse and sundry other detestable and abominable treasons” against her cousin, King Henry VIII. What these treasons were was never fully evinced, because in truth Margaret’s offenses against the crown were more general than particular … As she walked out into the cool morning air, Margaret Pole could therefore have reflected that, although she was due to beheaded that morning, she would at least die wearing new shoes.” ~Dan Jones, The Wars of the  Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors

The Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys who’d become very attached to the late Queen, Katherine of Aragon and her daughter, the lady Mary, wrote that Margaret was confused about her sentence. She wasn’t sure what her crime was, or how was it possible that she was easily convicted when there was hardly any evidence of an alleged treason. During these hard times, Henry VIII’s queen, teenager Kitty Howard and ironically Anne Boleyn’s cousin, sought to make her stay at the tower more comfortable by appealing on her behalf to her husband and sending her tailor so he could take her measurements and Kitty could order new clothes for the Countess. She also convinced Henry to send her new shoes. But in the end, nothing could save her from the same inescapable faith of her father and brother.

“At first when the sentence of death was made known to her; she found the thing very strange, not knowing of what crime she was accused, nor what she had been sentenced; but at last, perceiving that there was no remedy; and that die she must … walked towards the midst of space from the Tower, where there was no scaffold erected nor anything except a small block. Arrived there, after commending her soul to her Creator, she asked those present to pray for the King, the Queen, the Prince and the Princess, to all of whom she wished to be particularly commended, and more especially to the latter, whose godmother she had been. She sent her blessings to her, and begged also for hers …”

Chapuys added after her bloody execution had been carried out, that he wished that “God in his high grace pardon her soul”. Her execution was carried out by an inexperienced and rough youth who hacked her to pieces. An apocryphal account has her running away from her executioner, pleading for help only for him to chase her down and butcher her. Margaret had no reason to run away. Her speech is an indicator that she was ready to die and like so many present, she had no idea that her fate would be so gruesome. Like almost every other secondary source, especially one written centuries later, it should not be taken seriously.

If you want to read a full length-biography of her, I recommend the one by Susan Higginbotham who has also written one on the Woodvilles and plenty of historical fiction. Her book really brings to light the woman, the courtier, the mother and most of all, the survivor. I highly recommend it.

Like Anne Boleyn and so many others, sensing the end, Margaret Pole began to contemplate her own mortality and when she finally made peace with her fate, it is believed that she etched this poem on the stone walls of her cell:

“For traitors on the block should die;
I am no traitor, no, not I!
My faithfulness stands fast and so,
Towards the block I shall not go!
Nor make one step, as you shall see;
Christ in Thy Mercy, save Thou me!”

It is a sad end for a woman who had prided herself in being a survivor for most of her life. Two years before, her son and his alleged co-conspirators were executed. It must have been a terrible experience for her and at one point she must have thought she was cursed or that she would never be free of family tragedy. As previously stated, Margaret had lost her mother in childbirth, her father was found guilty of treason and executed by being drowned in a butt of malmsey and to top it all off, after Henry VII became King, her little brother was moved to the tower of London and fourteen years later executed. Margaret must have felt like she had avoided such fates by currying favor with the monarchy through the Spanish Princess, Katherine of Aragon but after Henry split from Rome,and Reginald’s words against him, Margaret’s family once again became a target and the rest as they say … is history. She begins her journey in The White Princess as a young woman who has no choice but to follow those in power and curry favor with them to stay alive and as a result, she becomes the most interesting and complex character in the show.

Sources:

  • Ridgway, Claire. “The Execution of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury.” The Anne Boleyn Files, 17 May, 2010, https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/the-execution-of-margaret-pole-countess-of-salisbury/5592/
  • Gregory, Philippa. The White Princess. Touchstone. 2013.
  • —. The King’s Curse. Touchstone. 2015.
  • Jones, Dan. The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors. Penguin. 2014.
  • Higginbotham, Susan. Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower. Amberly. 2016.
  • Mackay, Lauren. Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the writings of the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys. Amberly. 2014.

30 December 1460: The Debt is Paid

Richard Plantagenet and Edmund death

On the 30th of December 1460, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York and his forces were caught by surprise by the Queen’s at Sandal Castle near Wakefield where they had been stationed for over two weeks. Richard knew the battle was lost and that he would likely die so he sent his son (Edmund, Earl of Rutland), his brother-in-law (Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury) and his nephew (Thomas Neville) to safety.

Edmund 'The_Murder_of_Rutland_by_Lord_Clifford'_by_Charles_Robert_Leslie,_1815

Unfortunately this proved futile as those pursuing them had many scores to settle. One of them caught up with the teenage boy as he attempted to reach the chantry chapel of St Mary the Virgin to find sanctuary, and just as he had him, he told him “As your father slew mine.” The man was Lord Clifford and his father had been slayed at the battle of St. Albans, it seemed only fitting that he paid back the Duke’s debt with his son’s blood. And so he did. Ignoring Robert Aspall’s (who was Edmund’s chaplain) pleas, he plunged the dagger into the boy’s chest, thus ending his life.

The Duke of York had attempted to do what he could, fighting to the very end. Being an experienced fighter, it seemed like he could have escaped his inevitable fate, however the number of Margaret’s forces were too much and as he tried to make his way back to the castle, he was seized by Sir James Luttrell and beheaded.

 

Richard Neville and his son were captured while trying to flee North, and brought to Pontefract Castle where they were beheaded the following day.

Cecily Neville Collage

The news soon reached Cecily. She was now a widow and at the mercy of the Lancastrians once more. And once again, she was faced with a difficult decision. Knowing that her eldest son was still in exile, she feared for her remaining sons, Richard and George who were very young at the time, and so she sent them away with the help of their cousin, her nephew the Earl of Warwick to Burgundy, leaving Cecily with just her daughter, Margaret to keep her company.

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Robb Stark’s death in Game of Thrones is reminiscent of the Earl of Rutland who received a similar message as Lord Clifford stabbed him in the heart.

This was the real life game of thrones, a dynastic warfare that split the nation into more than two sides and caused a lot of bloodshed. The four men’s heads were displayed on Micklegate Bar in the city of York for everyone to see. On top of the Duke’s head a paper crown was placed as a way of mocking his attempts to become King of England. Their bodies were later buried on Pontefract.

Although it seemed like the last laugh belonged to the Lancastrian Queen, time would prove otherwise when the wheel of fortune turned once again in the Yorks’ favor.

Sources:

  • Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood
  • Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • The Plantagenet Chronicles (1154-1485) by Derek Wilson
  • Cecily Neville: The Mother of Kings by Amy Licence

Elizabeth Wydeville gives birth to Edward V in sanctuary

Elizabeth Woodville and Edward V

On All Souls’ Day, November 2nd, 1470, Elizabeth Wydeville gave birth to Prince Edward while she was still at sanctuary in the Abbot’s House at Westminster Abbey. She was expected to give birth amidst splendor in the Tower of London, but when the odds turned against her husband, she was forced to flee the comforts of her chambers with her mother and daughter to Westminster Abbey. In spite of Richard Neville [Earl of Warwick] animosity with the Woodvilles, he wasn’t cruel to Elizabeth and upon learning she was going to give birth, he and Henry VI sent Lady Scrope and others to assist her in her delivery three days earlier, in addition to paying for their fees.

Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville

In great contrast with her predecessor, the last Lancastrian Queen [Margaret of Anjou], Elizabeth didn’t ask the people of London to fight for her. When she learned that Warwick’s forces were approaching two months before, she ordered the lord mayor and the aldermen to secure the city of London, but when they told her that they couldn’t hold any longer, she accepted this and told them it was better for them to submit to the new regime.
Overnight, Elizabeth had become very popular with the people. This humble act demonstrated that she was a Queen who lived up to the ideals expected of a wife and Consort. She and her family subsisted thanks to the Abbot’s and the commons’ charity.

Thomas More, writing nearly a century later describes the boy’s birth, as being born “with no more ceremony than if he had been a poor man’s son.” This is not entirely inaccurate, since his father and uncles were still at Burgundy, planning for the right moment to strike, and with Henry VI back on the throne, it was unclear what the boy’s role would be (if any) if his father never got to reclaim it. The boy also received a humble christening. Instead of the traditional royal relatives, or stand-ins for foreign royals, his godparents were the Abbot Thomas Milling, the prior John Eastney and Lady Scrope.

No doubt, learning of his son’s birth, made Edward IV more determined. Less than a year after that, he returned to England, slaying the Earl of Warwick at the Battle of Barnet, and less than a month after that, his rival’s son (also named Edward) at the battle of Tewkesbury, and not long afterwards his rival himself.

Edward IV wasted no time investing his son as Prince of Wales and set up his household. Among the people elected to rule his son’s household were many of his wife’s relatives, including herself and her brother, Anthony Woodville, the Earl of Rivers.

Richard iii

Although he is commonly referred to as Prince Edward or Edward V, it should be noted that he was never officially crowned. After his father died, a crisis emerged between his maternal relatives and his uncle, including the nobles supporting him (because of their resentment against the Wydevilles), as to who would be his Regent. Since none of them trusted each other, and they both believed themselves better to handle the job; Richard made the first move, imprisoning Edward’s favorite uncle (Anthony) and Hastings. And he forced Jane Shore (Edward IV’s mistress) to walk a walk of penance to atone for her sins. After his brother’s marriage to Elizabeth was declared null and void, his nephews and nieces were declared bastards and barred from the line of succession, making him the only one eligible to be King.

After the summer of 1483, months after Edward had been put in the Tower of London before he was joined by his younger brother Richard, he was never seen or heard from again. Doctor Argentine on his last visit, said that while Richard looked more optimistic because he was younger, Edward did not and it was as if he knew that his days were numbered.

Sources:

  • The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family by Susan Higginbotham
  • Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir
  • Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
  • Elizabeth Woodville: The mother of the Princes in the Tower by David Baldwin

Richard Duke of Gloucester is born at Fortheringhay

Richard III symbology

On the second of October 1452, Cecily Neville gave birth to her youngest son at Fortheringhay Castle. Years after his death, Tudor chroniclers wrote fantastical tales about his birth. More said that she was in “much doe in her travail” and that he was born with a full set of hair and crooked teeth. There is no actual record of the birth and the chronicler of the Neville family, Rous, wrote that he was healthy and he “liveth yet”. The reason why he said this was because Cecily became pregnant again three years after and gave birth to a girl who died that same year. Also, infant mortality was high so the fact he survived was something to take into account.

At the age of seven, Richard was exposed to the realities of war. It is written that she was “despoiled” of her goods, and while this could mean rape, it could also mean that they looted her house. The latter was still a big humiliation, to see her possessions being taken by common men and soldiers.
Cecily went to the city of Coventry where Parliament was held (a parliament that became known as “Parliament of Devils”) and submitted herself to royal mercy. But at this point, tensions were too high and it was clear that only one victor could emerge from this conflict.

“Without her husband by her side, Cecily had little choice but to submit to the rule of Henry VI and was placed in the custody of her sister Anne at Tonbridge Castle in Kent.” (Licence)

Anne was the Duchess of Buckingham through her marriage to John Stafford and as such, a staunch Lancastrian. Initially Cecily took her sons with her, but in the end she decided to send them away to Burgundy.

Margaret of Anjou
Margaret of Anjou

Sarah Gristwood in her biography notes that the “comparative lenience with which Cecily was treated was the result of her friendship with Queen Marguerite” yet she also notes what the chroniclers at the time said, that she was kept “full straight with many a rebuke” from her sister. “The future prominence of Cecily’s son” Gristwood points out, referring to her eldest, Edward the Earl of March “had never looked more unlikely.”

In 1460 however, the Yorkists scored a major victory when they took control of the capital and forced Henry VI to recognize the Duke of York as his heir. Cecily was sent for and the couple were not only Duke and Duchess of York anymore, but by right they were Prince and Princess of Wales. But things took a turn for the worse on that December when Marguerite’s troops took them by surprise at Sandal Castle and killed everyone, including Cecily’s brother, nephew, and her second son Edmund, the Earl of Rutland.

It wasn’t until 1461, when Richard’s oldest brother became King, that the family finally felt secure. Edward IV made Dukes of him and George. Richard was awarded the title of Duke of Gloucester. And then the rest –as they say- is history when he decided to marry a Lancastrian widow over Warwick’s proposal with Bona of Savoy. This split the Yorkist house in two ending with his cousin Warwick’s death in the battle of Barnet, the destruction of the Lancastrian, and seven years later the execution of his brother George. And then Edward died (possibly of a cold, although accounts vary) and the crown was free for the taking. It is very possible that Richard didn’t intend to take the crown at first like later Tudor version depict, but rather like his father, gain control of his nephew since he believed he was more suited to do so then the boy’s maternal relatives who were very hated with the nobility. But as the Queen locked herself in sanctuary, and then fearing repercussion from her relatives and allies, he executed her brother and his brother’s allies; he realized things had gone too far. And once again, like his father he was going to make a move that changed the history of the dynasty.

Richard III and Anne Neville.
Richard III and Anne Neville.

He and his wife, Anne Neville were crowned on July of that year, with their only son Edward of Middleham invested as Prince of Wales later that autumn in the North.

Although the Lancastrian royal line was wiped out, one scion remained and even though some considered his mother’s line a bastard line, many still saw him as the heir to the Lancastrian cause, and Edwardian Yorkists who were not too happy with Richard’s rule fled to Brittany to join him in his exile. The youth’s name was Henry Tudor, and like Richard, he had been privy to the horrors of war at a young age.

Besides the white rose, there was the sun in splendor and although Richard used these, he also used the white boar which was known as the Ebocarum. (
Besides the white rose, there was the sun in splendor and although Richard used these, he also used the white boar which was known as the Ebocarum. (“The boar was a visaul pun on Ebocarum – the ancient Roman name for York which was particularly shortened to Ebor.

Richard ruled for over two years. And to this day, he is the hot topic of almost every conversation regarding the wars of the roses. Was he a good or bad king? Or was he a victim of circumstance?

It is more probably as one historian pointed out in an interview that he was neither. On one front we have him doing great things for the country such as improving the law courts and allowing more common people to have representation, and he was very loved in the North; on the other hand we also have him be as ruthless as any king could be in this era, and executing as many as he saw fit to keep his power.
The rumors of him poisoning his wife are of course exaggerated, he probably loved her but as King he had to think of the future of his dynasty. When their son died in 1484 and she became sick with grief (dying the following year), he was looking for someone else to marry. He publicly denied that he wanted to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York and while he could have contemplated that (at one point), it seems highly unlikely that he would have done that in the end. His intentions in the summer of 1485 reflect that, when he was negotiating for a joint marriage for himself and his niece (Elizabeth) to a Portuguese Princess and Duke.

Sources:

  • The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Richard III: Road to Leicester by Amy Licence
  • Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood

May the 4th: The Twilight of the House of Lancaster

Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, only son of King Henry VI of House Lancaster and his Queen, Marguerite of Anjou.
Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, only son of King Henry VI of House Lancaster and his Queen, Marguerite of Anjou.

On May the 4th 1471, Edward Prince of Wales, otherwise known as Edward of Westminster for his place of birth, lost his life at the Battle of Tewkesbury. The prince was only seventeen years old, months short of being eighteen. He was the last hope of the Lancastrians. After the Earl of Warwick Richard Neville had been slain at the battle of Barnet the previous month, the Prince and his mother decided not to make any more haste and keep with the plan, and attack the Yorkists. Some historians like Skidmore believe that the death of Richard Neville might have been a blessing in disguise since it eliminated a potential rival, if they ever came to a complete win. However, others are not so sure of this. Jones, Higginbotham, Lisle, among many others view that Warwick’s death was truly the end-game for the Lancasters. The battle of Barnet destroyed whatever chance they had left. Marguerite of Anjou was never one to give up and continued to march forward unto the battlefield. With her, besides her son, was her daughter-in-law, Anne Neville. Anne Neville was the youngest daughter of Richard Neville, and the news of her father’s death when she touched English shore, must have been devastating. Yet, true to her position of Princess Consort of Wales, she kept moving and joined her husband and her mother-in-law in their fight, to completely restore the Lancastrian dynasty to its rightful place. Henry VI had already been captured and sent back to the Tower. London was back in Yorkist control but Marguerite remained optimistic. Weeks after they landed, they made their way to Exeter then to Bristol and the Severn Valley where Edward IV “prepared for a second round of battle, sending out orders to fifteen counties”. He wanted to stop them at all costs from crossing the river Severn but come the end of April he realized they were journeying to Bristol where they were joined by a larger army and supplied with more weapons.

Although Edward had the upper hand, one mistake (he knew) could’ve cost him everything. So it became a race against time, for the Yorkist King to encounter them when he was still strong before they reunited with others (such as Jasper Tudors who was far off and was looking forward to joining with them).

Edward of Westminster in the "White Queen" (2013)
Edward of Westminster in the “White Queen” (2013)

The Lancastrian army then reached Tewkesbury on 3 May. The next day they faced the Yorkist troops. The Prince of Wales along with the Duke of Somerset, Edmund Beaufort were the principal commanders. Marguerite and Anne Neville were likely hiding as Licence points out in her biography on Anne Neville; probably in Coventry with other Lancastrian wives waiting for news of the outcome.

The following day on Saturday May the 4th, Edward IV “donned his armor and divided his army into three divisions under the same leadership that had prevailed at Barnet -himself, Hastings and the brilliant young Gloucester, who was not given command of the vanguard.” Jones writes. The Lancastrias “were arrayed under Prince Edward” who was assisted by Lord Wenlock, Sir John Lagstrother (the prior of St. John) and of course his second in command Edmund Duke of Somerset, followed by John Courtenay the Earl of Devon. Edward IV began his assault with “a hail of arrows and gunshot” which was returned by the enemy. The Lancastrias had chosen a “strong defensive position” Skidmore notes “encamped on high ground to the south of Tewkesbury.” The battle raged on, “Somerset had chosen to command the right flank, placing the elderly veteran Lord Wenlock in charge of the center of the army.” Edward did not waste any time and told his brother leading the left flank to advance, the Lancastrians did their best to repel the wave of arrows flown at them, but they were soon overwhelmed.

“Outnumbered, Somerset’s forces force was slowly being driven back up the slope. It was at this point that Edward performed a masterstroke, ordering his 200 men-at-arms waiting hidden in the woods to launch a surprise attack into the side of Somerset’s beleaguered troops. The Duke’s men scattered, ‘dismayed and abashed’; some fled along the lanes, some into the park and down to the meadow by the river running alongside the abbey, but most would suffer the same fate of being cut down and killed as they ran. Somerset, however, refused to give up, making his way back to the Lancastrian center whose troops had stood motionless at Lord Wenlock’s order. Riding up to the aged nobleman, Somerset was in no mood for excuses; according to a latter account, in a fury, he raged at Wenlock, and before he had a chance to respond, Somerset seized his battle axe and beat his brains out, though a more contemporary chronicle suggests that this dramatic confrontation never took place, with Wenlock being captured and executed after the battle.” (Skidmore)

As everyone scrambled and ran to safety, Somerset took refuge in the Abbey with a few. The Prince was not so lucky.

“Exactly how Anne’s husband met his death is unclear. Literary and dramatic sources have presented a range of possibilities, implicating various Yorkists in differing degrees. Of the contemporary chroniclers recording the scene without being present, Commynes agrees with the Croyland and Benet chronicles, which clearly state that he fell on the field of battle, while the Arrival observes, ‘And there was slain in the field Prince Edward, which cried for succor to his brother-in-law, the Duke of Clarence.’ Even having sworn allegiance to him less than a year before, Clarenece clearly did not feel sufficiently moved to show the prince pity, stating in a letter to Henry Vernon that the Prince was ‘slain in plain battle’, differentiating his death from the ‘execution’ of Somerset also described in the correspondence. Warkworth agrees that the prince ‘was taken fleeing townwards, and slain in the field’, perhaps heading back for the safety of the abbey, or ‘poor religious place’ where his wife and mother waited. Tudor Historian Andre Bernanrd writing in 1501, also stated that the prince was slain in combat, even though, at the time, it would have been in his interests to slur the reputation of the Yorkist brothers. The alternative story of Edward’s murder began to gain credence soon after his death. Weeks after the battle, Bettini wrote to the Duke of Milan that the Yorkists had ‘not only routed the prince but taken and slain him, together with all the leading men with him’.” (Licence)

According to various accounts, he was executed before Edward IV, others say that he was killed by Richard III himself. Not surprisingly during the Tudor period the blame was lain on Richard’s feet. Even if this is true, as Licence argues in her biography of both of these men’s only wife, Anne Neville; he would not have risked doing something of that magnitude without his eldest brother and King, Edward IV’s approval. Edward IV wanted the entire Lancastrian line wiped, therefore he was not going to shrink away from executing him or giving the order to someone else if he was indeed brought before him.

Anne Neville played by Faye Marsay in the "White Queen" (2013).
Anne Neville played by Faye Marsay in the “White Queen” (2013).

The battle was a huge and decisive win, Jones notes for Edward because he had “at last gained a glorious victory” and two days after he had slain Edward Prince of Wales, he dragged Edmund Duke of Somerset, Sir John Langstrother, Sir Hugh Courtenay and other Lancastrians who had sought sanctuary inside the Abbey, to behead them. The following day on the 8th, he left Tewkesbury to track the Queen and her daughter-in-law, Anne Neville who was now a widow and like the Queen, at the mercy of the Yorkist King. Not long after, Henry VI also died under mysterious circumstances. No one believed the official story that he had died of melancholy.

Sources:

  • The Rise of the Tudors: The Family that Changes English History by Chris Skidmore
  • The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Anne Neville: Richard III’s Tragic Queen by Amy Licence
  • The Prince who did not become King: Edward of Lancaster (1453-1471) by Susan Higginbotham

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