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Sunday, February 28, 2010

York’s Matriarch: Cecily Neville, Duchess of York

The White Rose of York

Cecily Neville was born in 1415 to Ralph Neville, the Earl of Westmoreland. The youngest of twenty-three siblings, she was also related through her mother to the Beaufort family. Margaret’s biting words in Richard III about the Duchess’ evil womb are made more poignant in light of the career she made of having children. Of the eleven children she bore in just sixteen years, only six survived. Richard III was her last surviving son. She traveled about the country with her husband, Richard of York and when things became dire during the ensuing conflicts. It was both of Cecily’s Richard Nevilles, the Earl of Salisbury and the Earl of Warwick, with whom her husband allied himself while attempting to rise to power. In 1459, after the Battle of Ludford Bridge, the Nevilles were attainted and Cecily, left by her fleeing husband, was placed in the custody of her sister and her husband, the Duke of Buckingham, who got in trouble for allegedly supporting her financially. But when York took control of the government, Cecily met him like a queen upon a blue velvet carriage. Ever concerned for her children, she sent Richard and George to Burgundy after York was killed at Wakefield until Edward took the throne.

Cecily lived mostly at Berkhamstead in Hertfordshire or at Baynard’s Castle on the Thames in London while Edward ruled. Although Cecily didn’t have much a political career, she was important when it came to family decisions. She was, for example, staunchly opposed to Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville in 1464. She also helped to orchestrate the reconciliation of her sons Edward and Clarence after his imprudent alliance with Warwick. Her family wasn’t always kind in return. Warwick, Clarence and Richard all spread the rumor that Cecily had begotten a bastard Edward by another man for political purposes, to her extreme distress. Even as a York, Cecily was treated well enough under Henry VII and died in 1495.

Baynard's Castle in London.

The Duchess of York was also extremely pious. She enjoyed reading the work of female mystics and writers of her time, like St. Catherine of Siena and St. Bridget of Sweden. Cecily was known to attend nine services a day for prayer and instilled her interest in mystics in her two children, Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy and Richard III, who also kept these volumes in their personal libraries.


Kendall, Paul Murray. Richard the Third. NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1956. Print.

Wagner, John A. Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc. 2001. Print.

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