To be married, or not to be married, that is the question . . . .
Before Bosworth, Richard III sent his heirs north to the safety of Sheriff Hutton, including his two eldest nieces, (daughters of his elder brother, Edward IV) Elizabeth of York and her sister Cicely/Cecily/Cecille/Cecilia/Cecylle. (For the sake of clarity and preference, I will call her Cicely.) With them were their male cousins, Lincoln and Warwick, and most probably, their brothers, Edward and Richard, the so-called ‘Princes in the Tower’.
This list is conjecture, of course, because no one knows exactly who was at Sheriff Hutton, although the only real uncertainties are the two boys from the Tower (or wherever Richard had kept them safety until this date, August 1485). The certainty appears to be that they were all under the protection of Richard III’s nephew, their first cousin, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln.
Now, I realize there is a school of thought that believes Cicely was not among this group, because she was a married woman by then and presumably with her husband, but I think she was there, and with this post I am not concerned with that particular aspect of the question anyway. Even if she was with her husband, Ralph Scrope, I doubt it would have made one whit of difference to what transpired. I am more exercised by the implications of Sheriff Hutton (if Richard did send her there) and of subsequent actions by Henry VII, for the security of her marriage, and such marriages in general.
According to fairly recent knowledge, Cicely was by this time the wife of “Ralph Scrope, younger brother to Thomas 6th Lord Scrope of Masham and Upsall, who served in the King’s household”. (Horrox, Rosemary. Richard III. A Study in Service, Cambridge, 1992, p.295) Not much is known about this Scrope marriage, which must have taken place with Richard’s knowledge. Perhaps he even arranged it, for he had promised to find ‘gentlemen’ husbands for his nieces. Or maybe he merely approved a young love match. There is certainly no evidence that Scrope forced her into it, or indeed that Richard forced her, nor does it sound like Richard to have done so. The thing is, we don’t actually know anything about the circumstances of this marriage.
What we do know, however, is that when Richard was killed at Bosworth and Henry VII came to the throne, he saw to it that the Scrope match was annulled, and pdq at that: “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.” (Consistory Act Book, 1484-1489, CONS.AB. 4.ff. 88v. 891,90r) As far as I’m aware, the reason given for this annulment was non-consummation.
After this, Cicely was promptly married to Henry’s half-uncle, John Welles, who became Viscount Welles. This is said to have been “a political marriage”, although there is always the outside chance that she wanted to marry Welles. Again, we don’t know. Did Henry thus believe she had been ‘taken care of’, was off the marriage mart, and could no longer be snapped up by some troublesome nobleman with a large private army and aspirations to cause strife in the name of York? Did he think that what he had done to the Scrope marriage could not possibly be done to the Welles marriage too? No, I doubt it. Henry was nothing if not thoughtful and clever.
The story so far gives me pause for thought about the whole thing. Richard appears to have sent Cicely to Sheriff Hutton. If he did, the fact that she was a married woman did not stand in his way. Maybe he—and possibly Ralph too—was aware that young marriages, especially where there was no sign of a child, were easy enough to set aside by those with enough clout, and she was therefore as likely as Elizabeth of York to be marriage fodder for any Tudor regime. So, if things went against Richard, off to Burgundy she and Elizabeth would go, to his sister Margaret, the duchess, well out of Henry Tudor’s reach. Perhaps it would have been Ralph’s intention to follow her there? Maybe, too, she had indeed been forced into the marriage and appealed to Henry to free her from it. Anything is possible, but the fact remains that for whatever reason, the marriage was annulled, and in this case it suited Henry to see to it by placing her in his own family, not that of a Yorkist sympathiser.
So . . . could it almost be regarded as pointless to ever marry off such an important woman in order to secure her from the dynastic intentions of an enemy? Once that enemy was ensconced on the throne, he could legally dispose of any tiresome husband (no need for blood and gore) and see the lady ‘safely’ married to someone more agreeable to himself. Which is exactly what Henry did.
But just how safe would the Welles match itself have been if Henry had been deposed in turn? What if, say, Lambert Simnel/Edward VI had come to the throne in 1487? A new Yorkist king, especially under the tutelage of Cicely’s first cousin, John de la Pole, would hardly want such an important lady (the new king’s second senior sister) married to Henry Tudor’s half-uncle. It was a number of years after 1487 that Cicely had her first child by John Welles (although there could have been miscarriages or stillborn babies of which we do not know), so who was to say the marriage was consummated right away? Unless, of course, the wedding night was enacted in front of a royal audience! And if a new Yorkist king wanted to say it hadn’t been consummated, regardless, who was really going to risk arguing? So, might Cicely have then been returned to Ralph? Or perhaps intended for some important foreign match instead? (The fate of Elizabeth of York, by then Henry’s queen and the mother of his heir, is another matter, of course.) And let’s be honest, the Scrope marriage may well have been consummated, and it was simply pretended that it had not. Ditto the Welles marriage.
My thought about all of this was that marriage did not firmly secure a woman to her husband. At least, a royal woman. Cicely was a pawn, and may not have actually married from personal choice until her third husband, Thomas Kymbe/Kymbe, a commoner whose low rank ensured her eventual expulsion from upper circles and court. She definitely chose to do it without Henry’s knowledge or consent. He was beside himself with rage about it, but did not have the marriage annulled. Perhaps even he thought it would be once too often to impose annulment upon her again. He did other things to make her life difficult, and when she was buried, he saw to it that she was named as Viscountess Welles, as if her third husband did not exist. But when it came to Thomas Kymbe, Cicely the pawn seems to have rebelled, and if so, I do hope she was happy with her Thomas.
My conclusion? The marriages of royal women, and probably others, were not final, and if an excuse was needed to have them set aside, such an excuse was probably quite easy to produce. Henry doesn’t seem to have had much trouble with the Scrope match.
Acknowledgement: I have taken some of the above quotes and references from a http://www.iwhistory.com article entitled ‘Not So Fortunate As Fair’: The Life of Princess Cecily Plantagenet. The author, who is identified only as “Isle of Wight Enthusiast”, I now understand to be Sharon Champion. All thanks and credit to her.
Incidentally, the same article states that Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, was taken ill while in sanctuary with his mother and sisters in 1483. Quote: “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.”
We all know that this boy’s elder brother, Edward V, might have had poor health, but could the little Duke of York been sickly as well? This is clearly worthy of another post . . .