‘Not So Fortunate As Fair’: The Life of Princess Cecily Plantagenet.
Princess Cecily Plantagenet was born in March 1469 at the Palace of Westminster, the third child of King Edward 1V and his Queen, the former Elizabeth Wydville. It is most likely that she was named after her grandmother, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York. She followed two sisters, Elizabeth, born in 1465 and Mary, born in 1468, into the royal nursery at the Palace of Shene.1 In 1466 Edward had granted Shene to his wife for her life and so it was here at her chief royal residence that the nursery was maintained, surrounded by a magnificent deer park and gardens. It was also within easy reach of transport by river to the capital, but at the same time a refuge from the frequently unhealthy environs of the city. Fresh meat and a continuous supply of the best fish catered to a diet few born at that time would have enjoyed. Noblewomen of the time, and certainly queens, had little to do with the day to day care of their children and each had their own nurses. The little Princess Cecily was nursed by Isabel Stidolf, 2 wife to Henry Sidolf, of Kent, a lawyer employed by the Queen, chosen because she had given birth at the same time as the Queen and was already known to the royal household. The lady mistress of the nursery was Elizabeth Darcy, who later held the same post under Elizabeth of York. As was the custom the royal nursery contained other noble children, for which the Queen received extra money.
Before she was barely out of infancy, Cecily was taken into sanctuary with her mother and sisters while her father strove to retain his crown. By then, Queen Elizabeth was already eight months pregnant with her fourth child, but Edward and his brother, Richard of Gloucester, sailed from King’s Lynn on October 2nd 1470, bound for the Low Countries.3 The continuing treachery of his brother the Duke of Clarence and his former ally the Earl of Warwick and their espousal of the cause of King Henry V1 and his scheming Queen, Margaret of Anjou, forced his flight abroad to gain strength and support for his attempt to regain his crown. St.Peter’s Sanctuary at Westminster was familiar but no less foreboding to Elizabeth Wydville as a refuge from the dangers that had occurred during the Yorkist fight for the crown. Originally built by Edward the Confessor, on the northwest corner of the abbey boundary at the end of St Margaret’s churchyard, it was a massive thick stone structure, sufficiently fortified to withstand a siege. The two storey, square, keep-like building had a heavy oak door which provided the only access and contained two chapels and several residential rooms. 4 The entire ground within the Abbey precincts was consecrated and therefore subject to the rules of sanctuary, which were considered to be inviolable. Mercifully, the young Princess Cecily was so young as to be little affected by the surrounding turmoil of the family situation. Many members of the court and public were supportive of their plight. Thomas Mylling, the then Abbot of Westminster sent “various conveniences”, while a local butcher, one John Gould, supplied “half a beef and two muttons every week.” 5 It was into this restless scene that on November 2nd, 1470, Queen Elizabeth gave birth to her first son, attended by her physician, Master Serigo and Mother Cobb, a midwife who herself dwelt in the sanctuary. Several of these people were later rewarded for their assistance and loyalty. 6
On 9th of April 1471, news reached the sanctuary that the King had returned and was approaching the capital. On 11th, he received a great welcome and having secured the city and the Tower of London, arrived at Westminster to release his family from their refuge and meet his son and heir for the first time.7 “the sight of his babies released part of his woe.”8 He gathered his family and their supporters and accompanied them to Baynard’s Castle, his mother’s London home by the Thames near St. Peter’s Wharf. The reconciliation was short-lived and the next day, Good Friday, he rode forth to meet Warwick’s army. On Easter Sunday, he overcame the rebels and the great Earl was slain on the mist-strewn battlefield of Barnet.9 The King returned victoriously to London but again his reunion with his family was to be cut short. Queen Margaret of Anjou had landed in England on the eve of the battle of Barnet and again the army rode out to confront the enemy. On Saturday May 4th his victory over Henry V1’s Queen and the cruel killing of her son finally ruined the Lancastrian cause. Queen Elizabeth had moved her household to the Tower before the battle of Tewkesbury but this now came under attack from Thomas Neville, the Bastard of Fauconbridge, who had refused to de deterred by Edward’s victories. “therein, were the queen, my lord prince, and the ladies the king’s daughters, all likely to stand in the greatest jeopardy that ever was”.10 They were ably protected by the Queen’s brother Anthony Wydville, Lord Rivers, while an advance company of the royal army put Fauconbridge and his Calais soldiers to flight.11 To safeguard her children from danger and to prevent London from attack, the Queen again retreated to the sanctuary at Westminster.
In 1474, Cecily joined all other princesses of the royal blood before her and became a marriageable pawn in the diplomatic relations of her father. At the age of five, she was betrothed to James, the infant son and heir of James III of Scotland. John 5th Baron Scrope of Bolton was sent as commissioner to negotiate a contract of marriage on July 29th, 12, and on October 8th, an English embassy led by the Bishop of Durham arrived in Edinburgh to formally sign the marriage treaty, thus leading to a truce between the two monarchs. The young pair were to marry within six months of their reaching marriageable age with other suitable offspring substituted should either of them die. Cecily’s dowry was 20,000 crowns, payable over seventeen years.13 Lord Scrope stood proxy for the Princess on October 26th at the betrothal ceremony. For a while Cecily was styled “Princess of Scots” but her father’s renewed conflict with the Scots later negated this betrothal in 1482.
Edward had thus secured prospective husbands for his first and third daughters. Elizabeth was to marry the Dauphin of Franceand Cecily, the future King of Scotland. His second daughter Marywas sadly kept as a reserve bride for her older sister until 1481 when she was betrothed to King Frederick I of Denmark.
In 1476, the entire royal family with a great entourage, travelled north to give honour to the memory of their relatives slain in the previous battles of the war against their Lancastrian enemies. Richard, Duke of York and his son Edmund Duke of Rutland were reburied with great pomp and ceremony in the family vault at Fotheringhay Castle. The rites lasted for two days and ended with a funeral feast for thousands of people.
In 1478, Cecily and her sisters joined in the celebrations which surrounded the marriage of their youngest brother, the four year old Richard Duke of York. Rather than seek a foreign marriage alliance for his second son, Edward chose the young daughter of the recently deceased John Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk. She was destined to be one of the wealthiest women in England and it has been said that the King had his eyes on this great fortune. The young girl was two years older than her bridegroom but their young age was not a bar to the festivities and the pair were married in St. Stephen’s Chapel, Westminster on January 15th. The King and Queen with their daughters and elder son and Cecily Duchess of York sat under a canopy while the ceremony took place, before moving into the King’s apartments for a wedding banquet.14 It is not known how much of a part the Queen played in the marriage arrangements of her sons but when her husband had made a will in 1475 in expectation of war with the French, he expressly wished that his daughters “bee gouverned and rieuled in thair marriages by oure derrest wiff the Quene”.15
In 1478, the Scots broke their truce with the English. After several border raids and the capture of Berwick, Edward demanded that James send his son to England to prevent his breaking the previous marriage treaty, as well as the immediate return of Berwick. James refused.
On St. George’s Day, April 23rd, 1480, Cecily, now eleven years old, together with her sister, Mary, was invested with the Order of the Garter, following in the footsteps of both her mother and eldest sister.16 The great ceremony attached to this honour must have been exhausting even for the well-schooled, young Princess, though in the Middle Ages the ladies did not receive full membership of the Order but were entitled to place L.G. after their surname or title, denoting Lady of the Garter. Two months later, the children’s aunt, Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy arrived for a three month visit to the land of her birth. This would be her only return since her magnificent marriage in July 1468, and she received a joyous welcome from her brother the king and the nephews and nieces that she had never met. The children would certainly have participated in the great and sumptuous festivities that accompanied her visit. The Palace of Greenwich was put at her disposal, as well as Coldharbour House, near to her mother’s London residence at Baynard’s castle, while she took part in diplomatic relations between the courts of Burgundy and England. A lavish state banquet in Margaret’s honour and that of her mother, Duchess Cecily, was held at Greenwich before she sailed from Dover on September21st/22nd.17
The Court of Edward IV was famed both at home and abroad for its richness and love of pageantry. No expense was spared and the royal children lived in a state as befitted their station as heirs to their Yorkist ancestors. Their father had spent many months of exile on the continent and especially in Bruges where he had developed a fondness for the luxurious trappings of the rich. He amassed great jewels and a massive library and although it would appear that Edward himself was no great scholar, his children would had access to manuscripts and knowledge as well as to the material comforts of their position.
The following year 1481, Edward IV began negotiations with Alexander Stewart,1st Duke of Albany, and brother of James III of Scotland, who was pursuing his claim to the Scottish crown.18 In January, 1482 John, Lord Scrope set forth once again to arrange the marriage of Cecily.19 Edward agreed to give Albany the hand of his daughter Cecily in marriage if he gained the throne of Scotland within the year, “if the said Alexander can make himself clere fro all other Women according to the Lawes of Christian Chyrche.”20 Albany was therefore expected to divorce his second wife, Anne, daughter of the Count of Boulogne and Auvergne, to marry Cecily. In July, 1482, the English army, under the command of Richard of Gloucester, met little resistance on the route to Edinburgh, taking the city at the end of July and meeting Scottish Lords only too willing to sue for peace. The indecisive Albany renounced his claim to the Scottish throne and the Scots requested the renewal of the former marriage contract between James, Duke of Rothsay and the Princess Cecily. Gloucester demanded the surrender of Berwick, and the return of all monies already paid as the dowry of the Princess. On August 4th the city authorities agreed that the marriage should go ahead or the dowry would be forfeit and would be repaid in yearly instalments. Edward however was dissatisfied with his policy in Scotland, and on October 26th 1482 he cancelled the marriage contract and demanded the return of all monies paid.
In the midst of these hostilities on May 23rd, the Thursday before Whitsunday, the fourteen year old Princess Mary died at the Palace of Greenwich, from what we do not know. She was interred on the following Tuesday, at St.George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.21
The court spent the Christmas of 1482 at Westminster and according to the Croyland Chronicler the festivities were of “quite a different cut to those which had been usually seen hitherto in our kingdom”. The King was at the centre of these lavish celebrations, “boasting of those most sweet and beautiful children, the issue of his marriage.” Observers at these festivities commented on the royal family who had frequently impressed foreign visitors with their elegance and handsome appearance, with “their five daughters, most beauteous maidens”22
Apart from a brief visit to Windsor, the Court otherwise remained at Westminster during the first months of 1483. Just before Easter, which that year fell on 28th to the 30th of March, the King joined a raucous fishing party but seems to have caught a chill.23 He was confined to bed and as his condition deteriorated, called his family and courtiers into his presence. Having encouraged the rival factions at his court to reconciliation and appointed his brother, Richard of Gloucester as Regent, he gave his final farewell to his assembled children with the exception of the Prince of Wales who was at Ludlow. He urged them to scholarship, gentleness and loyalty to their brother and reminded them of their duty to their great inheritance.24 He then instructed his advisers “my children by your diligent oversight and politic persuasion (must) be taught, informed, and instructed not only in the science liberal, virtues moral, and good literature”25 There was great speculation both at home and abroad regarding the passing of the King. Hall called it ague, probably due to Edward’s sojourn on the continent where malaria was rife, but many whispered the words poison. The King was noted for his physical appetite and numerous sexual liaisons to the point of excess so the more likely explanation to many was a death due to what was then called apoplexy.Edward’s body lay in state for eight days in St. Stephen’s Chapel. His children, dressed in mourning, were allowed a private farewell but they did not attend his final journey to Windsor or the final interment at St. George’s Chapel.26 They must have been distraught at the loss of such a vibrant father, but they likely received great care and comfort from their eldest sister Elizabeth, in contrast to the sometimes reputed arrogance and coldness of their mother. The fourteen year old Cecily and her family’s situation was about to change for ever.
Cecily and her siblings would have looked forward to the coming coronation of their brother and expected to play a full part in the proceedings. But the Queen had started to plot and scheme as soon as her husband had breathed his last.27 In defiance of her husband’s will she regarded herself as the natural Regent and was never prepared to accept the position of her brother-in-law, Richard of Gloucester. When her plans were thwarted, the downfall of her Wydville relatives was swift. Just before midnight on April 30th, the family was awoken by messengers bearing the news that Richard had secured the new King’s party on its journey northwards. The Palace of Westminster was thrown into confusion and panic. The Queen was hysterical, and children and courtiers alike were hurriedly put to gathering their possessions in order to flee. Escape was to prove impossible, so Cecily accompanied her mother, four sisters and younger brother into sanctuary. Such vast amounts of goods were taken with them that walls were breached in order to gain easier access.28 There were great crowds of people in the capital who had come to witness the coronation and the family’s flight can hardly have gone unnoticed. With them went their uncle, Lionel, Bishop of Salisbury, who they hoped would afford some protection because of his status, and their half-brother, the Marquess of Dorset, but the two later fled to Brittany The family listened to the celebrations that greeted the young king’s entrance into London and waited in earnest for news, but on the morning of Monday June 16th, a large force of armed men arrived at the sanctuary to persuade the Queen to surrender her son, the nine- year old Richard Duke of York. She was at first defiant but eventually gave him into the care of the Archbishop of Canterbury. 29 The other distressed children must have been given time to take their leave of their brother, but he had become ill while in the narrow confines of the sanctuary whether from fear or the loss of his father and his isolation from his unhappy mother and sisters now threatened to break his spirit.
On Sunday, June 22nd, a large crowd gathered to hear a sermon at St.Paul’s Cross, by Friar Ralph Shaa, brother to the London mayor, in which he cast a slur on Edward IV’s children with the biblical quote “bastard slips shall not take root” He told the crowd that all of the late king’s children were illegitimate due to his pre-contract of marriage and that therefore their uncle the Protector was the rightful King. Messengers reached the sanctuary quickly with this news but there is no record of the children’s horror at their change of fate, but Polypore Vergil reports that the sermon shocked many who heard it; “all agast with thowtragious crueltie of thorrible fact, to be in great feare of themselves because they war frindes to the kinges children; others, finally, to bewayle the misfortune of the children, whom they adjudgyed now utterly undone”.30 On Thursday July 6th, King Richard III began his reign while Cecily and her sisters still languished in the prison with their mother. Sometime in August 1483 word was spread abroad that their brothers were dead and the women’s position reached its lowest ebb. Their mother was inconsolable and once more they feared for their lives; now that their maternal uncles were dead along with their half-brothers, they had little protection save for the thick walls of the sanctuary. Despite the new King’s promises of friendship, the ex-Queen refused to leave and the sanctuary of St. Peter’s became even more like a fortress. The captain of the Guard, one John Nesfield, ordered a strict watch on visitors and barred all those without permission, in response to rumours that his charges were to plotting an escape abroad.31
Throughout these first turbulent months after their father’s death there is hardly any individual mention of the royal children. Cecily had lost a dearly beloved father, seen many of her mother’s relatives executed and tended to a distraught mother. The Christmas of 1483 provided a stark contrast with the magnificent festivity of the previous year. Now the dark apartments of St. Peter’s afforded no seasonal respite from their grim prison. The King’s first Parliament, held between January 23rd –February 20th 1484, passed the act entitled Titulus Regis. This explained the King’s entitlement to the throne of England and re-iterated the position of his brother’s children; “Also it appeareth evidently and followeth, that all th’Issue and Children of the seid King Edward, been Bastards, and unable to inherite or to clayme any thing by Inheritance, by the Lawe and Custome of Englond.” 32. On March 1st, he took a solemn oath before the Lords and city dignitaries concerning the inmates of the sanctuary; “I Richard…..promise and swear, verbio regio, that if the daughters of dam Elizabeth Gray late calling her selff Quene of England, that is to wit Elizabeth, Cecill, Anne, Kateryn, and Briggitte”were to leave sanctuary and put themselves into his care, he would guarantee their safety, provide for them marry them to “gentlemen born”. These men were charged to “love and entreat them, as wives and my kinswomen, as they will avoid and eschew my displeasure”33. The Dowager- Queen duly delivered her daughters into Richard’s care in the middle of March, but did not join them. It is not known where the former Queen was lodged and therefore we cannot know whether regular contact was maintained. She remained under the care of Captain Nesfield either in apartments at Westminster or at a retreat away from the city. None of these women ever apparently complained of their care at Richard’s hands and were received at court “with some appearance of regard” by their uncle, 34 and settled into the household of the Queen, Anne Neville. They spent the Christmas period of 1484 with the Court at Westminster. Despite the death of his only son in the previous April and the obvious deteriorating health of his Queen, the festivities were no less subdued than usual, and his nieces were the centre of his attention.35
At some time between late 1484 and early 1485, at the age of around sixteen, Cecily was married to Ralph Scrope, younger brother to Thomas 6th Lord Scrope of Masham and Upsall, who served in the King’s household. 36 Cecily, described as “not so fortunate as fair” by Sir Thomas More, may have instigated this marriage herself, as it seems likely that she was already acquainted with the bridegroom. There is no evidence surviving which suggests that there was any coercion from the king, nor indeed any disapproval. But the union, whether happy or not, was to be brief. In August 1485, in expectation of Henry Tudor landing in England, Richard sent Cecily and her sister Elizabeth first to Lancashire and then to the household of the Council of the North at the castle of Sheriff Hutton in Yorkshire while he journeyed towards Bosworth Field. 37 They joined the young Earl of Warwick, son of the dead Clarence, the Earl of Lincoln and possibly John of Gloucester, Richard’s illegitimate son. Thus those who may have had a claim to his crown were together and isolated, far from the capital.
With the victory of Henry Tudor at Bosworth, and his coronation on October 30th, the new King immediately sought to strengthen his position. Elizabeth and Cecily returned to London and were returned to the care of the Queen-Dowager. In his first Parliament, convened on November 7th, 1485, the act of Titulus Regis was repealed, re- legitimising the children of Edward IV. On December 16th a general pardon was granted to Cecily’s husband,” Ralph Scrope, late of Upsall, co.York, Esq.…….late of the household of Richard III….. But this did not enable him to stay married. At the end of this year, the case for the annulment of “the noble lady Cecily Plantagenet against Radulphus Scrope of Upsall” came before the Consistory Court at York and the marriage duly annulled. 38
There is no surviving account of the King’s marriage with Cecily’s beloved sister, Elizabeth on January 18th 1486, 39 but all are agreed that it was a private ceremony within the Palace of Westminster with very few witnesses. 40 In the autumn of that year, the Queen gave birth prematurely on St. Eustacius’ Day, September 20th ,to her first child at St. Swithun’s, Winchester,41 a place decided by her husband and she was attended by her younger sisters from whom she was rarely parted. Prince Arthur was christened in Winchester Cathedral on Sunday, November 5th, and in the joyful procession that made its way from the Prior’s Great Hall to the church, it was the child’s aunt Anne who carried the chrisom and his eldest aunt Cecily who carried the baby Prince to the font and afterward delivered him back to his mother. Their mother was also present on this occasion, so for a brief time the family was reunited. 42
Cecily remained in her sister’s household, and at the end of 1487 she again played a principal role, with the King’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, in the Queen’s long-awaited coronation.43 On Friday, November 23rd, the Queen and her ladies left Greenwich Palace by barge for the Tower, where they were met by the King. Here they spent the night and on the following afternoon, Saturday 24th, they were borne by litter in a magnificent public procession to Westminster Palace.44 On Sunday November 25th, St. Katherine’s Day, the Queen left the palace for Westminster Hall and thus to the abbey. She walked in stately procession, flanked by the Bishops of Ely and Winchester, and immediately followed by Cecily “who was still fairer than herself” 45 carrying the Queen’s train, and their sister Anne who carried the chrisom for the anointing rite. But on passing through the West Door, the solemnity of the occasion was interrupted. At this time the coronation carpet trodden by the Queen on the way to her coronation was traditionally given to the gathered commoners, but on this occasion the crowd proved too impatient. They surged forward tearing the carpet into pieces as relics, but many were trampled underfoot and several were crushed to death in full view of the noble women.46 The procession was delayed while the women re-composed themselves. Following the lengthy coronation ceremony, the procession reversed its route, returning to the palace to enable the Queen to have a brief respite surrounded by her attendants, before the sumptuous coronation banquet in Westminster Hall. The next day, Monday 26th, the royal family attended Mass in St. Stephen’s Chapel, followed by another banquet in the Parliament Chamber which continued into the night with dancing. There would be several days of further feasting and tournaments but the Queen, together with Cecily and her other attendants, returned by royal barge to Greenwich, to settle back into the ‘normal’ life of the court.
Between her sister’s coronation and Christmas 1487, Cecily married for the second time. There cannot be much doubt that this was a political union instigated by Henry VII, in an attempt to secure his Queen’s sisters to his own loyal Lancastrian supporters. The exact date of the marriage has not survived. Cecily’s second husband was John, Viscount Welles, maternal half-brother to the King’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, with whom by this time Cecily appears to have formed a close and friendly relationship. It also seems likely that the Lady Margaret herself would have played some part in bringing about this alliance and Cecily would certainly have known her widowed husband through his position in the King’s household. He was in the retinue of Henry Tudor on his final return from exile and was knighted on arrival at Milford Haven on August 7th 1485.47 before having his attainder reversed by Parliament a month later. Some have referred to him as Henry’s “old uncle Welles” though he was probably only in his forties, 48 but it should be remembered that Cecily was still only eighteen. At Christmas 1487 the court heralds announced Cecily’s entrance “Largesse, de noble Preincesse la soeur de le Reyne notre soveraigne dame, et Comtesse de Wellys” and Lord Welles is recorded as giving “for him and my lady wife” the sum of twenty shillings.49
It is entirely fitting that Cecily’s duties at court were reduced in order for her to settle into married life, and it is said that her sister Anne took over her attendance on the Queen. Lord Welles had many responsibilities and may well have been accompanied by his new wife on travels to the many lands that had been restored to him. By 1492, Cecily had given birth to two daughters, Elizabeth and Anne, and so in anticipation of a royal military campaign to France, Lord Welles made a will, recorded by an Act of Parliament 50 that on marrying the Lady Cicely he had promised to settle certain lands on her and any children they may have from the lands that had been restored to him in 1485. In view of his planned expedition overseas and to avoid expense, the said lands should be held in question to them and the heirs of his body. 51 He also requested that he be laid to rest at Windsor because at that time Henry had started the major refurbishment of St. George’s Chapel, with the financial help of the Lady Margaret. Both Cecily’s daughters died just before their father and were buried in the church of the Augustinian Friars in London.52 It may well be that they were brought up in the royal nursery with their cousin Prince Arthur until his departure for Ludlow and their mother thus continued to maintain her relationship with the court and in particular her friendship with the Lady Margaret.
Cecily’s mother, the Queen Dowager, had retired from court to Bermondsey Abbey and was only present at certain occasions, although it has been said that Cecily visited her often. She was present when the former Queen died at Bermondsey on Friday, June 8th, 1492, but did not attend the simple funeral at Windsor on Whitsunday.53 where Lord Welles stood in for his wife. This was likely due to the fact that the Queen had already begun her lying-in prior to the birth of a second daughter at which both Cecily and the Lady Margaret Beaufort would have been in attendance. By 1495 the Queen was providing financially for her sisters, often to the detriment of her own Privy Purse. She made an annuity of 50l while they remained single, and increased this to 120l paid to their husbands for their board as some recompense for the fact that they were married without dowries.54
John, Lord Welles died on February 9th, 1499 at Pasmers Place in St Sithes Lane at somewhere around the age of fifty. His will, dated February 8th was proved at York on June 22nd. 55 and reflected the high regard in which he held his wife.” Also I geve and bequethe to me dere beloved lady and wife Cecille, for terme of her lif, all my castelles, manors, landes and tenements,aswelle suche I have purchased as all odre during only her life,whome I trust above all oder.” He named “the saide Cecill, my dere beloved wife, and Sr Raynold Bray, knyght,” as his executors and asked the king and the king’s mother to be supervisors. They supported Cecily’s position but an agreement was made whereby the late lord Welles was buried in the Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey. He was laid to rest in great state, as befitting his close relationship to the royal family. 56 Within the space of two years Cecily had lost a beloved husband and two daughters and was now a widow at the age of thirty. Once again her family were her sisters and her friend the Lady Margaret. She must have spent considerable time dealing with the estate matters of her late husband and this would have required frequent communication with Sir Reginald Bray, co-executor of his will, an acquaintance which may have proved beneficial at a later date.
The King and Queen spent much of 1500 travelling, to Calais and around their realm while London was in the grip of another outbreak of plague.57 There is no record existing of whether Cecily accompanied them on one or any of these trips.
Plans for an alliance with Spain were finalised and on November 14th 1501, Cecily, with her sisters Anne and Katherine, attended the marriage of her nephew Prince Arthur to Princess Catherine of Aragon, at St. Paul’s Cathedral.58 She bore the train of the Spanish princess throughout the ceremonies and doubtless joined in the wedding banquet at the Bishop’s palace and the festivities that lasted for many days, before returning with the court to Richmond, newly completed after the devastating fire of Christmas 1497, which had destroyed most of the old palace of Shene. She was likely to have been present also on January 25th 1502 when her niece the Princess Margaret was betrothed by proxy to King James IV of Scotland in the queen’s chapel at Richmond.59 This was the same James to whom Cecily had herself been betrothed at a young age and the ceremony must have brought back memories of the earlier alliance for Cecily. When news reached London that Prince Arthur had died at Ludlow on April 2nd 1502, the entire court was plunged into deep mourning and Cecily’s support was again called upon, although accounts report that the King and Queen were a great source of comfort to each other.
Some time after May 13th, 1502, 60 Cecily was married for the third and final time, in a union which at once upset and angered the King. There is again no recorded date of the ceremony, but for whatever reason, it was conducted in secret, and no royal permission was sought. It seems strange that Cecily would not have consulted her sister or the Lady Margaret but we do not know where the marriage took place, or even whether she was in the capital at the time. Her new husband was one Thomas Kyme, of Lincolnshire, a mere esquire, and as Cicely had lands in that county held with others, including one William Kyme, as part of her Welles inheritance, it is possible that they were married there .She held these lands with others who included one William Kyme. Cecily was immediately banished from court and her lands were placed in jeopardy as the furious King sought to strip them from her, despite the wishes of her previous husband who had clearly left them to her for life.It was then that the King’s mother interceded for her friend.61 Unable to return to court, the newly married pair was given refuge at Margaret Beaufort’s manor at Collyweston, in Northamptonshire, while the King was persuaded by his mother to allow Cecily to retain some of her estates. The account records of the Lady Margaret show much activity between 1502-3, as the estates were assessed and the matter negotiated between the two women.62In early 1503, Cecily had agreed to surrender some of the Lincolnshire manors 63 to the King but in return she was to retain the remainder of her estates for life with reversion to the crown for ten years. They would then be shared among other Welles co-heirs, effectively barring Kyme and any issue of the marriage from the Welles inheritance. Further to this Kyme would not be held responsible for action or fines incurred from his wife’s estates.64However, the closure of this extended argument about her third marriage must have been concluded before February 1503, as Cecily was in attendance on her sister the Queen during her last lying-in at the Tower of London. A new princess, named Katherine, was born on February 2nd, but did not last the day. Nine days later, on her thirty-seventh birthday, February 11th, Cecily’s beloved sister died from a probable post-partum infection. She was buried with great state in the new Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey, on Thursday, 23rd. Cecily, with her sisters, accompanied her sister on her last journey and during the Abbey ceremony placed thirty-seven palls on the coffin, one for each year of her life.65
It cannot have been long after the loss of her beloved sister that Cecily sought permission to retire from the court. Thus, some time after February 1503 she arrived with her husband on the Isle of Wight.66 and there is no further mention of her in the royal accounts. There is no evidence of any previous connection with the Island but there are a number of possibilities which may explain the choice of residence. She may well have consulted her great friend Lady Margaret Beaufort before she left the court. Sir Reynold Bray was at that time Lord of the Isle of Wight. He had previously been Receiver-General and master of the household to Margaret’s second husband Sir Henry Stafford and he was reputed to have found the ‘crown in the thorn bush’ on Bosworth Field which was placed on Henry Tudor’s head by Lord Stanley after the battle was won. He was instrumental in uniting the roses of Lancaster and York and was greatly rewarded by the King. He had a close relationship with the royal family and besides his skills as architect and statesman, has been described by some as the King’s Physician, but in this he seems to have been confused with his father, a Privy Councillor and Physician to Henry VI. Furthermore, he married Katherine Hussey, companion and attendant to the Queen, so was probably very well known to Cecily. There is no definite record of a visit to the Isle of Wight but he certainly would have had communications with it as an area under his jurisdiction. He also had administrative links with Lincolnshire and could well have known Thomas Kyme before his marriage.
Whether or not she consulted Bray before his death in August 1503, Cecily arrived on the Isle of Wight with her husband and appears to have leased rather than purchased East Standen Manor, which at this time belonged to a family named Cooke. 67 The Victoria County History describes her as a “notable tenant”. Far away from court and living a relatively secluded life, details regarding the last four years of Cecily’s life are therefore difficult to obtain. On c. April 1st 1504, she appears to have confirmed her previous husband’s will, leaving her estate to the King for ten years with reversion to Lord Welles’s family, and is referred to as “Cecily, Viscountess Welles”68There were two children of the marriage, Richard, born c.1505, and Margaret, born in 1507,but they seem to have had no connection with their mother’s former life. Both lived, married and had issue. 69 Four years after settling on the Island, Cecily died at East Standen on August 24th, 1507, at the age of thirty-eight, 70 leaving two children in their infancy. It should be noted that her last child was born in 1507 and it may be that Cecily died during or as a result of childbirth. The writ of diem clausit extremum issued after her death names her as late wife of John, late Viscount Welles, ignoring the existence of her last husband and their children. Hall’s chronicle records that she died in obscurity but the local historian John Oglander reports otherwise; “Cicelye, ye second dawghtor of Edward ye fourth, whoe maryed for her second howsband one Kyme, an Isle of Wyght gentleman, a very proper man. She lived and dyed at East Stannum, under St. George’s Down, and ye Lord Abbott desired that they might haue ye honnor to haue her interred in theyre church, which was p’formed with all honnor and state by ye convent and gentery of ye whole Island, who attended ye corps from Stannum to Quarr, where ye Lord Abbott preached at her funeroll”.71 He is at great pains to stress the care of Thomas Kyme towards the memory of his late wife “he wase a verie p’sonable man and lived there in ye Island with his wife at East Stannum; where he buryed her, and had her entered in ye greate church in ye Abbye of Quarre, according to her dignitye” 72 Three of Cecily’s sisters, Anne, Katherine and Bridget survived her, and although it is to be presumed that they were told of her death, it seems that none of them attended her funeral.
Thus Cecily was laid to rest in the stately peace of Quarr Abbey, far removed from political intrigue and the court where she had spent most of her life. As the Abbott of Quarr, Thomas London’s words have not survived. There is nothing left of her final resting place, and no existing description of her tomb. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries by her nephew Henry VIII, the Abbey was sold and the new owner sowld the stones of the church, and all monuments to anye that woold bwye itt” 73 There are three existing depictions of Cecily, all in stained glass windows; with her family in the north transept of Canterbury Cathedral, in the Burrell Collection, Glasgow, and in the church at Little Malvern, in Worcestershire, where Sir Reginald Bray as the architect is also shown.
Cecily like so many royal women had led a full but often sad life, manipulated by the politics of the time and employed as a royal pawn. She was by many accounts the most beautiful of the golden-haired daughters of Edward IV and deserved a more fitting memorial than a broken tomb. If she was able to rise with her family on a country morning without ceremony, without intrigue, having lost two husbands, two children and been in very danger of her life at times, we can only earnestly hope that this led to a time of peace and contentment, however brief.
Strickland, Agnes. Lives of the Queens of England. Vol. IV. Imperial ed. (Philadelphia 1902.). p.24.
Laynesmith, J.L. The Last Medieval Queens. Oxford, 2004. p.147.
Warkworth, J. A Chronicle of the First Thirteen Years of the Reign of King Edward the Fourth. Ed by J.O.Halliwell. (London; Camden Society, 1839). p.11.
Jokinen, A.’ The Sanctuary at Westminster’ Luminarium.
Widmore, Richard. History of Westminster Abbey. pp.14, 15.
Strickland, A. Vol. III. p 351, n.1
Historie of the Arrivall of Edward IV in England and the Finall Recouerye of his Kingdomes from Henry V1.A.D. M.CCCC. LXXI. Ed by John Bruce. London; Camden Society. 1838. Printed in Dockray, Keith. Three Chronicles of the Reign of Edward IV. (Gloucester, 1988). p.17.
Harvey, Nancy Lenz. Elizabeth of York. Tudor Queen. (London, 1973). p.21.
Kendall, Paul Murray. Richard the Third. Book Club ed. (London, 1973). pp.93-9.
Calendar of the Patent Rolls. 1446-1452. p.44. His parents were married in 1447.
The Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies. Retrieved 12/03.09.
Rotuli Parliamentorum. 7. Hen.VII., 1491-2. Vol. VI. p. 450. Printed in Leland, J. Vol.IV. p.235.
ibid. VI. p.450.
Stow, John. Survey of London. Ed. By C.L. Kingsford. (Oxford; 1908). Vol.I. p. 178.
Laynesmith, J. p.127-9.
Nicolas, Nicholas Harris. Privy Purse Expenses of Elizabeth of York. Facs. ed. (London, 1972.
North Country Wills. Surtees Society. York; 1908. Vol. CXVI. pp.68-9, no.XLIX
College of Arms. Vol. ii, p110.
Harvey, Nancy Lenz. p.175.
Claremont, F. Catherine of Aragon. (London, 1939). p.87.
Buchanan, P. Margaret Tudor; Queen of Scots. (Edinburgh, 1985). p.12.
Nicolas, Nicholas Harris. Privy Purse Expenses of Elizabeth of York. Facs. ed. (London. 1972).
Jones, M.K. and Underwood, M.G. The King’s Mother. Cambridge; 1992. p.341.
For the Scottney fee, see ibid. p.134.
National Archives, SC6/Hen VII/1772, c47/9/52/7.
Antiquarian Repository. Ed.by Grose and Astle.(1807) Vol. IV, 654-63.
Nicolas, N.H. This is the last entry for Cecily in the Privy Purse Expenses.
Victoria County History. Part 46; Hampshire. Ed. By William Page. 1946. p.147. Richard Kyme married Agnes/Alice. Margaret married John Wetherby.
Calendar of State Papers. SP46/183. Ormond Papers. (19 Hen.VII, c. 33).
Visitation of Hampshire. College of Arms., 1576. Enhanced copy 1602.
Calendar Inquisitions Post Mortem; Henry VII. Vol 3, no. 447.
Oglander, Sir John, Kt. The Oglander Memoirs. Ed. W.H Long. (London, 1888). p.201.
Appendix I. The Will of John, Lord Welles. In the name of oure Lorde Jeshu, Amen. I, John, Viscounte lorde Wellis, uncle to the Kynge, oure soveraigne lorde, and brodre to the right noble prynces, Margaret, countes of Richemond, naturall and dere modre to oure said soveregne lord, beyng of goode and hole memory, ye viij daie of February, the yere of oure Lorde God 1498, and in the xiiij yere of the regne of oure saide soverayne lorde, make this my testament. My bodie to be buried in suche place as [to] the kynge, the quene, my lady, his moder, and my lady, my wife, shalbe thought, most convenyent, and the costis and charge of the same burying, the obsequyes, masses, funeralles and all oder thynges therto convenyent and necessarie. And also I remyt the makyng of my tumbe to the ordre and discrecionn of my saide soverayne lady the quene, my lady his modre, and my wife. And after these charges and costis aforesaid had and done, I will that all the dettis nowe by me dewe or to be dewe be treuly contented and paied. and I will that to the honour of Almighty God in the aulter afore which my bodie shall next lie my executors shall delyver a pair of candelstickes of silver, a masse booke covered with clothe of goolde, a chales of silver and gilte, a vestament of blewe velvet enbrodered with my armes, a pair of little cruettes of silver and parcellis gilte, and a crosse of silver p[arcell] gilte, which I will do remayne there to serve Almyghty God with for ever and in noo oder place. Also I geve and bequethe to my dere beloved lady and wife Cecille, for terme of her lif, all my castelles, manors, landes and tenements, aswell suche as I have purchased as all odre during only her life, whome I trust above all oder, that if my goodes and catallis wilnot suffice for the performance of this my laste will, that she will thenne of the revenues of the profittes of my inheritance perform this my laste will. Also I will that a preste be founde for ever after my said wifes decease to sey masse daily for my sowle and all Cristen sowles at the said aulter of the yerely revenues of my purchased landes, and oder which my saide lady hath promised me faithfully to purchase to the same entent if my saide purchased landes suffice not therto. And I will yt suche residue as shall fortune to be of my goodes that my saide dere beloved lady and wife have theym to her owne use. And I make executors the saide Cecill, my dere beloved wife, and Sr Raynold Bray, knyght, and in my mooste humble wise beseche my said soverayne lorde the kyng and the quenes grace, my lady the kynges modre, to be supervisours. Will proved June 22nd, 1499.
THE PRINCESS CECILY (1503)
grey walls amid green downs enfolded,
Hearth smoke rising to blue of sky,
Rose-twined gables, mullion-moulded,
Swallows skimming the roof-tree by,
Grass walks ending in creepered bowers,
Sunlight dappling the linden's shade,
Summer calling in blush of flowers,
June winds breathing through wood and glade.
Droning of bees in the pleasaunce shady
—Here from the World is glad release-
Whispers a knight to a gentle lady,
' Heart o' mine, this is the home of Peace.'
Nigh on the greensward children playing,
Weaving garlands of blossoms sweet.
Father! Mother ! we go a-Maying—
Laughter of voices and dancing feet.
She of the sweet eyes, chin a-dimple,
Wedded for love with low degree.
—He but a squire of lineage simple,
Daughter of England's monarch she—
Leaving behind Court pomp and splendour
Meet for a maid of Royal name,
Knights to await and ladies tend her,
Lives she the life of a country dame.
Azrael strikes and the dream is ended «
Husband's anguish and children's fear;
Bleeding of heart by sorrow rended
—Ever bitter the partings here—
Lies she there like a maiden sleeping,
Fair in the glow of the taper's light.
Lonely vigil the watchers keeping,
Labour of love, through the livelong night.
Slowly a sad procession wending
Over the hills to distant Quarr,
Gentle and simple due attending,
Gathered from homestead near and far.
Crozier in hand—the censers swinging—
Mitred Abbot the bier awaits.
Solemn on high the great bell ringing ;
Chanting of monks at the convent gates.
Hand of the spoiler, daring greatly,
Hurling those sheltering walls to ground
Pitiless fate ! Of that Abbey stately
Hardly a stone can now be found..
Never a trace of the carven glory
Marking Royal Cecily’s earthly rest;
But she lives in our Island story
Shrined in the hearts she loved the best.
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I am grateful to my husband, Alan, for re-awakening my interest in historical research, and letting me take over a project that was originally his. Thanks too, to my son, Ben, for his help in the design of my title-page. For this I have used the flowers most representative of Cecily’s family, the Yellow Broom, or planta genista, and her mother’s device of the gillyflower, the deep crimson dianthus carophyllus. All other illustrations are from my own collections of prints. Cecily lived for a short time on the Island. I hope that she found some respite here and lies at peace somewhere in the peaceful precincts of Quarr Abbey.