The Scrope and Welles marriages of Edward IV’s daughter….
Ralph, 9th Baron Scrope of Masham, was—through his Greystoke mother—the great-grandson of Joan Beaufort and therefore great-great-grandson of John of Gaunt and Katherine de Roët.
This made him the great-great-great-grandson of Edward III. (For the path, follow the purple line in the following chart.) What this blood did not do was give him expectations.
* I apologise for the poor resolution in the above chart. The problem just seems to be with this published version. It can be seen more clearly on my Facebook page, one of the entries for 6th August 2017. Click on the chart in the collage, and it will pop up in a crisper version. See https://www.facebook.com/sandra.heathwilson.9
As the third of four brothers, Ralph could not have expected to inherit the family title, nevertheless, as plain Ralph Scrope, he married a princess. Cicely of York was the daughter of the late Yorkist king, Edward IV, and therefore the niece of Richard III. She was also very beautiful, if Sir Thomas More’s description is anything to go by: Not so fortunate as fair. Some say she was the loveliest of Edward’s daughters.
However, this early Scrope marriage has only recently come to light. Until its unexpected discovery, it was thought that Cicely only married twice, first John Welles and secondly one Thomas Kymbe or Kyme. Now, it seems, she had three husbands.
It was Richard III who arranged this astonishingly advantageous marriage for Ralph. True, Cicely and her siblings had been declared illegitimate at the time, but they were still the acknowledged offspring of one king, and the nieces and nephews of another, and therefore considerable catches.
Ralph was not exactly in the forefront of royal blood, but he did have some. His maternal great-grandmother, Elizabeth Ferrers, was the granddaughter of John of Gaunt, and half-sister of Cicely Neville, Duchess of York, who was the mother of Edward IV and Richard III. So Ralph had some very important royal connections indeed, but didn’t have the clout to go with it. He had no title at the time, and wasn’t expected to ever have one. The family seat at Masham was never likely to be his. So he would never be a great landowning noble who might develop designs on the throne. But he was safely Yorkist. Maybe all these were good reasons for Richard to select him for an illegitimate niece.
Whether desired or not, the marriage probably took place in 1484, when Ralph was about 23, and Cicely a mere 15, possibly 16. The only certain thing, apart from the marriage’s existence, is that when Richard was killed at Bosworth and Henry VII usurped the throne, the Scrope match was swiftly set aside, as if Cicely had never been a bride at all. But presumably it had been consummated? We can’t even say that, but by medieval standards she was certainly of age.
The reason for the jettisoning of the Scrope union is another thing that is not known, but the outcome was that Cecily was swiftly married off to Sir John Welles instead. He was not Viscount Welles at the time, that came later. Why did Henry choose John? Well, he was Henry’s half-uncle to start with, and a Lancastrian who had shared exile with him.
Another reason is probably that Henry, by now married to Cicely’s elder sister, Elizabeth of York, had no desire at all to have his new sister-in-law married to a mere Scrope of no rank or expectation of a title. A Yorkist, to boot. All these things probably had a lot to do with it. Henry’s claim to the throne was by conquest, because his line of descent wasn’t exactly direct. His Yorkist queen—once made legitimate again—had a better title. He had no real blood claim at all, because his mother was a Beaufort, and the Beauforts had been forbidden the throne at the beginning of the century by John of Gaunt’s trueborn son, the first Lancastrian king, Henry IV. Who, as it happens, was another usurper. So the usurper at the end of the century, Henry VII, did all he could to bolster his personal prestige. Therefore, exit poor Ralph Scrope, stage left.
John Welles was about twenty years older than Cicely and had not been married previously, but Henry’s half-uncle or not, he wasn’t royal himself. He was related to royalty, because his mother’s first marriage had been to John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, who was of course—like Ralph Scrope—descended from John of Gaunt. On the death of the duke, John’s mother married Lionel, 6th Baron Welles, and John was the result. Another piece of bad luck for John was that his father, Lionel, had also been married before, so the family title of Baron Welles and the lands went to the son of his first marriage. John got nothing from either parent.
It was John’s Beaufort half-sister, Margaret, who received the all-important royal blood and a huge fortune in money and lands, albeit through an illegitimate line that had been legitimised. She was perhaps the greatest heiress in the realm, and was snapped up at a very early age by Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond (another half-brother of a king, this time Henry VI). Their only child was to become Henry VII. Something useful for John at last? Yes, as it turns out.
Ignoring Henry’s probable haste to be rid of an inconveniently lowly Yorkist brother-in-law-by-marriage, might it have been that John Welles actually loved the beautiful Cicely? Did he ask his half-sister to mediate with her son Henry? Or maybe Henry had some fondness for his half-uncle, and simply wanted to increase John’s importance with a royal wife, and then a title? Henry wasn’t exactly overloaded with blood relatives, so was obliged to keep and placate the few he had. Plus, of course, a royal wife for Uncle John would make Henry himself look better.
Certainly John Welles appears to have looked after and appreciated his highborn bride. His will was very affectionate, and according to one report (Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 163, p.33. Funeral of John Viscount Welles, 9th February 1498) she was quite distracted on losing him. The word used for her distress is actually “incontinent”, in its meaning of “distraught”. So I have reason to think that whatever her feelings for him at the outset of the marriage, there was warmth at the end. They had two daughters together, both of whom died tragically young.
One thing can be said of Cicely first two husbands: they were cousins. But not royally so, of course. Ralph’s great-grandfather, Stephen Scrope, 2nd Baron Scrope of Masham married Margery de Welles, the sister of John’s great-grandfather, the 5th Baron Welles. John Welles also had the same Greystoke blood as Ralph, but alas, not from the member who married the granddaughter of John of Gaunt! Poor old John, missed out again. First because he wasn’t from his mother’s Beaufort marriage or his father’s first marriage, and also because he wasn’t from the right Greystoke marriage either. Dag nam it thrice times over!
However, that other Greystoke marriage was of great benefit to Ralph, upon whom it bestowed that royal Beaufort blood. What it did not do was bring him the family title, until he was nearing the end of his life and in a second childless marriage. He was the third of four brothers, who all failed to leave heirs—except for one, who produced a daughter, but she left no children either. So Ralph had to wait to eventually become the 9th Baron Scrope of Masham. His successor, the fourth brother and 10th baron, Geoffrey, also died childless, and on his death in 1517, the title fell into abeyance.
But Cicely did not stop at two husbands. She chose to marry again, and this time she certainly followed her heart. Not royal instructions! A few years after the death of John Welles, she married Thomas Kymbe or Kyme, a Lincolnshire gentleman of Friskney in Lincolnshire. His family home was probably Friskney Hall, the remains of which are shown in the map below.
As may be imagined, Henry VII went blue in the face. He erupted into a fury, took away all her possessions (presumably to deny her upstart husband her wealth) and banished her. He was beside himself over what she’d done behind his back. His sister-in-law, married to a mere gentleman? It wasn’t to be tolerated!
The scandalous situation was smoothed by none other than Henry’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, who had formed a close friendship with Cicely. Margaret mediated with Henry, and managed to smooth his ruffled feathers. To a certain extent, anyway. He allowed Cicely some of her possessions, but he never again referred to her third husband. To Henry, and therefore the rest of the court, she was Viscountess Welles until the day she died. She did eventually appear at court again, but not often, and I imagine she kept out of Henry’s way.
She and Thomas went to reside in the Isle of Wight, where she eventually died as was laid to rest in old Quarr Abbey (although there is a school of thought that she died at Margaret Beaufort’s residence in Hatfield Old Palace).
It is thought that she and Thomas had children, a boy and a girl. There seems evidence of this, but all trace of any further descendants has been lost. So it is possible that there are folk around now who can trace their descent from this remarkable royal lady’s third marriage. But not, alas to her first two.https://www.facebook.com/sandra.heathwilson.9