Cecily Neville: Duchess of York and Mother of Kings
Cecily Neville was born on May 3, 1415. As the daughter of Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmoreland, she was the great-granddaughter of Edward III through John of Gaunt’s illegitimate line with Katherine Swynford. Henry IV had made it clear that his half-siblings would never be allowed to inherit the crown, even though Richard II before him had legitimized them and allowed them to inherit the crown after John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford married.
She was just nine-years-old when she was betrothed to Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York. This match gave their children two connections to Edward III. In fact, with Richard it was an even stronger claim to the throne. Richard, Duke of York, was the grandson of Edmund of Langley, the fourth son of Edward III, and the great-great-grandson of Lionel of Antwerp, the second son of Edward III.
Cecily had landed herself the perfect husband if she wanted power.
The Marriage of Cecily Neville and Richard, Duke of York
Cecily married her betrothed in October 1429, when she was 14 years old. There is no given date for their marriage though.
It took 10 years for them to have their first child, a daughter they named Anne after Richard’s mother. A few years after the birth of that daughter, Richard was stationed to Rouen, in France. Cecily remained with him and moved across the seas. It was then that rumors started about her infedility.
Her next child was a son, Edward Platangenet, who would later become Edward IV of England. Due to the timing of his birth, there were rumors that the young king-to-be was really the son of a soldier. He did not have the strong claim to the throne that his brothers later had. However, Richard, Duke of York seemed to dismiss the rumors. These rumors would come back later by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick.
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Cecily and Richard had five more children after Edward. Three were boys and two were girls. Richard Plantagenet was the youngest of all children, but would later become Richard III of England.
There were other children between the six adult children, but none of them survived their infant/baby years.
Cecily Neville, Mother of Kings
Cecily was the mother of two Kings of England, and the grandmother of a queen consort. However, she lost her husband and one of her sons to place Edward on the throne. Richard, Duke of York and Edmund, Earl of Rutland were killed during the Wars of the Roses. It was just months before 18-year-old Edward defeated Henry VI’s army and took the crown.
However, she never let that stop her becoming a formidable King’s Mother. She tried to keep her family together, and that was clear when her third son, George, Duke of Clarence, betrayed Edward and sided with Warwick after Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth of York. George wanted the crown, and Warwick believed that he was the legitimate heir to the throne. When that did not work out, Warwick and George were forced to flee England and work with Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. Henry named George the second in line to the throne after his own son, Edward of Westminster.
Learn More About Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses
Cecily wanted her boys back together and offered George safe passage back home. There he and Edward reconciled for a brief period. It seems that George was either too power hungry or troubled mentally. He later tried to overthrow his brother and it led to his own execution.
After the death of her eldest son, she supported her youngest son’s rise to King of England. It helped that she was on good terms with Richard’s wife, Anne Neville.
Her position as mother of kings lasted from 1460 to 1470 and then 1471 to 1485. Apart from the last two years, it was Edward IV on the throne. Except for the six months between 1470 and 1471, there was some element of peace in England. That came to an end after Edward’s death and Richard decided to take the throne for himself. It was only in 1485 that Henry VII managed to bring about peace in England.
Cecily Neville’s Relationships With Queen Consorts
It is no lie that Cecily did not like Elizabeth Woodville. Part of that was due to the Woodvilles originally fighting on the side of the Lancastrian forces during the Wars of the Roses. They switched sides after Edward and Elizabeth fell in love.
Another issue was Elizabeth’s lowly birth. She was a commoner and a commoner had never married a King of England before now. It had usually been a foreign royal princess. Elizabeth was not good enough for her son, and Cecily used that against her every chance she got.
It was completely different when it came to Anne Neville. It did help that Anne was the daughter of Richard Neville, Cecily’s nephew. Being family, she would instantly support this rise. However, Anne and Cecily could also debate religion and other topics. It was something Cecily would never have been able to entertain with Elizabeth, due to the rumors that Elizabeth and her mother practiced witchcraft.
Cecily’s relationship with her granddaughter, Elizabeth of York, is unclear. Once Richard III was killed in battle and Henry VII ascended to the throne, Cecily decided to devote herself to her religion. She became well-known for her piety, and was hardly seen at court. Henry and Elizabeth never named a child after her, suggesting that they were never close. The two had four daughters, two named after their own mothers Margaret and Elizabeth, and the other two were named Mary and Katherine.
Cecily died in 1495, and was buried with her husband and second son.
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