The following extract is from Not So Fortunate As Fair’: The Life of Princess Cecily Plantagenet by Sharon Champion:-
“….At the age of five, she [Cecily] 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.
12 Complete Peerage. Clarence ed. vol.ii, (London). p.544….”
What followed might have made Princess Cecily of York, second surviving daughter of Edward IV of England and Elizabeth Woodville, the Queen of Scotland. But it wasn’t to be. Politics and international relations being as tricky then as now, the betrothal ceremony was the last heard of it.
It was the 5th Lord Scrope of Bolton who stood proxy for Cecily at the betrothal ceremony on 26th October 1482. He was the something-cousin of Ralph Scrope of Masham, who was to be Cecily’s first husband. I don’t know the degree or “removeds” of the Scrope cousins, just that when the respective baronies of Masham and Bolton were created by Edward III, the then two barons were first cousins. Ralph was the second of the three younger brothers of Thomas, 6th Lord Scrope of Masham and Upsall. Against all the odds, Ralph would one day become the 9th Lord Scrope of Masham and Upsall. There were a lot of Scropes, and various branches. It is possible that he was close to and/or got on well with the 5th Lord Scrope of Bolton.
Ralph may have been present at 1482 negotiations for the Scottish marriage in the reign of Edward IV, and may have observed when his cousin stood proxy for Cecily at the betrothal ceremony. Ralph was to be a member of Richard III’s household, and as Masham and Upsall are both in Yorkshire, maybe he was in Richard’s household when he, Richard, was Duke of Gloucester and in charge of that northern part of Edward IV’s realm. In The Register of Bishop Fox of Durham Ralph is described as providum et discretum virum – a prudent and discreet man. He must have been to eventually survive a man as vengeful and suspicious as the Tudor usurper Henry VII!
It’s hard to say when Cecily and Ralph met. Maybe he was at Sheriff Hutton when she, Elizabeth of York and other York heirs were sent there not long before Bosworth. As to when a Scrope marriage took place, I really don’t know. I do know that an annulment was sought almost immediately Henry Tudor came to the throne, and that it was apparently Cecily herself who prompted it. The grounds were that she and Ralph were related within the fourth and third degree, both being descended from Joan Beaufort, the legitimated daughter of John of Gaunt. See here and here . Had the necessary dispensation not been sought? Certainly there was no sign of it at the time of the court proceedings. Ralph did not attend the court, and it is hard to know what he or Cecily thought of the situation. Did they want to go their separate ways? Or was the whole matter being forced upon them by the wishes of Henry VII? We’ll never know. You can read much more about the court proceedings here.
Ralph lived on after Richard III was slaughtered by treachery at Bosworth, and he was pardoned twice for his ill-advised marriage to Cecily, which the court had annulled. The first pardon refers (infamously) to Richard as “late, in deed and not of right, King of England”. See Materials for a History of the Reign of Henry VII, Rolls Ser., volume i, page 200, which can be seen here.
Maybe Cecily and Ralph liked each other…or more. They were both young – she was 16 and Ralph about 20. And maybe they weren’t averse to marriage – which seems to have taken place in 1485 and could have been prompted by Richard III’s desire to make Cecily “unavailable” to Henry Tudor. Or maybe he knew they were in love and allowed the match? Or, of course, he could have forced them to marry, although I don’t think this can be so because surely there would be some mention somewhere if there was coercion involved. I don’t believe that was Richard’s way.
Whatever, Cecily and Ralph were married and when Henry Tudor usurped the throne he found the Edward IV’s second senior daughter was wed to a northern “nobody”. Well, not quite a nobody, but Ralph was hardly of the same standing as his bride. Henry certainly wouldn’t regard him as a suitable brother-in-law, that’s for sure. Henry was touchy about such things, as he proved when much later in life she contracted a third marriage to Thomas Kymbe, a mere gentleman esquire of Lincolnshire. Henry blew his top, as the saying goes, and it took his own mother’s intervention to calm him down. He didn’t forgive Cecily though.
But although Ralph (who married again, possibly twice more) had been pardoned once for his audacity in wedding her, he felt the need (prudently and discreetly, no doubt!) to seek another when Henry VII died and Henry VIII succeeded the throne. Ralph didn’t want to be eyed with suspicion by the new Tudor king because of a brief marriage to Cecily! The pardon was granted to “Ralph Scrope or Scrop, of Ryvers and Harlesey, Yorks, and Walton and Newnham, Northumberland, son of Thomas Scrope, Lord le Scrope of Masham or of Upsale”. See Letters and Papers. Hen. VIII, volume I, 2nd edition, part I, number 438 (1 m. 9). These papers can be found at British History Online.
Cecily was soon married again, this time to someone Henry clearly thought was suitable. There are no surviving portraits or likenesses of John Welles, but the illustration above is the tomb effigy of his father Lionel, 6th Baron Welles, at St Oswald’s Church, Methley, near Leeds. Lionel died fighting for the Lancastrians at Towton. His marriage to Margaret Beauchamp, Dowager Duchess of Somerset, meant that John Welles, his son by the duchess, was half-brother to Margaret’s namesake daughter by her first marriage, to John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset. The child, Margaret Beaufort of course, became mother of Henry VII. Thus her half-brother John Welles was the Tudor king’s half-uncle.
John Welles was in his thirties, but posterity has described him as Henry’s “old” uncle. There were around two decades between his royal bride and him, and it is always assumed that this second marriage to a Lancastrian stranger was indeed forced upon her. But what if it wasn’t? What if Cecily and John knew each other previously?
In 1483, not long after Richard III came to the throne, there was a plot of some sort to free Richard’s nephews, the “Princes in the Tower”. It failed, and soon afterward the boys “disappeared”…which is an entirely different tale. The thing is that one of those involved in the plot to free the boys was John Welles. I have now learned that he was captured and handed into the custody of none other than John, 5th Baron Scrope of Bolton. Which (for the rampant fiction author within me) raises some interesting possibilities. I don’t know when John Welles was handed over to the baron, or where….but perhaps he came into contact with Ralph Scrope? Maybe even with Cecily? Far-fetched? Maybe, but the world of the medieval aristocracy was quite a small one really. They all knew each other or were related in some way. As it happens, John Welles and Ralph Scrope were related, as you can read here.
Still musing on might-have-beens, I have to wonder next if the ending of Cecily’s marriage to Ralph was not the agony it might have been. She was very young, and maybe Ralph was her first love, but not her only one. Teenaged girls are ruled by their passions. Just go to a girls’ senior school to find that out! So, she may have viewed Ralph through rose-tinted glasses. This is just my suspicion, of course.
Perhaps John Welles was taken with the Yorkist princess, who was termed “not so fortunate as fair” by the not very saintly Thomas More, whose word is always taken as gospel for some mystifying reason. Not that I see any reason to disbelieve him on this particular point. I think Cecily Plantagenet was beautiful, and that fortune was not always on her side.
However, Lancastrian John Welles wasn’t keen on remaining in Lord Scrope’s Yorkist clutches and soon escaped to flee abroad to join his nephew Henry Tudor, who aspired to—and finally stole—Richard’s throne. In August 1483 John had good reason to dislike the name Scrope, because Richard gave his Essex manor and lordship of Gaynesparc to none other than the loyal Yorkist John Scrope, 5th Lord of Bolton. The manor is now known as Gaynes Park and is a wedding venue. I doubt if Richard, Ralph Lord Scrope or John Welles would recognise it in its present guise!
A record of this grant to Lord Bolton is in Harleian 433, Volume Two, page 7, as follows:-
“….Richard etc. To alle maner officers Fermors & Tenants of the manor & lordship of Gaynesparc with thappurtenaunces in oure Countie of Essex / and of alle othre landes & lyvelodes ellswhere within this oure Royaulme that late belonged to oure rebelle John Welles squiere greting / Forsomoche as we have commytted to our righte trusty & wellbeloved Counsellor the lord Scrope of Bolton the Rule guyding & oversighte of the said lordshippe & and the premises abovesaid during our pleasure We wolle & charge you all & and every of you that unto him or to suche persones as by him shalbe assigned and deputed and to noone othre ye do pay & content alle such fermes & rentes as by reasone of youre tenures be now due or hereaftre shall grewe & come of the same fro terme to terme ye shalle have from us othrewise in commaundement/ he to answere unto us of his receipt in that behalve Over this that unto oure said Counsellor or his said assignes ye be obeieng helping favouryng & assisting in alle thinges as to ours duetees shalle apperteyne As ye wolle advoid our high displeasure at your perilles Yevene undere oure signet at the Castel of Warrwik the iiijth day of August the first yere of oure Reigne….”
If I’m guilty of any heinous typos in the above extract, I apologise.
To move on. Might there have been a smidgen of revenge in the ending of Ralph and Cecily’s marriage and her subsequent union with John Welles (by then Sir John, having been knighted by his nephew)?
But to give John the benefit of the doubt, perhaps, when Richard III died at Bosworth and Cecily came to the court in London, she was that little bit older on meeting the former prisoner of the Scropes again. And was she a little wiser too? Perhaps there were no rose-tinted glasses this time and she saw John more clearly. He was mature and experienced, and his character was….well, we don’t know. We do know that she married him and they appear to have been happy together. Certainly he referred to her with great affection in his will (see John Welles ). She was reportedly devastated by his death in 1498. I once read a detailed article in the Gentleman’s Magazine about John’s lavish funeral procession in London, but am unable to locate it now. If anyone knows how I may find it again, I’d be very grateful.
She died on 24th August 1507 at the age of only 38. One version has her death taking place at the East Standen home on the Isle of Wight that she shared with her rather lowly third husband Thomas Kymbe. Another has it that she passed away at Hatfield in the care of her good friend, the King’s Lady Mother, Margaret Beaufort. Thomas and his children by Cecily were never recognised. Henry VII remained vengeful to the end, and his son Henry VIII was no kinder.
Ralph Scrope outlived them all, except Henry VIII, and we know how the latter turned out! 😟 To my mind, Ralph was indeed providum et discretum virum – a prudent and discreet man. And a wise one.
Finally, there is another way of viewing Cecily and her first two marriages. As might have been with Joan of Kent and Sir Thomas Holand in the reign of Edward III, it’s always possible that Cecily was more than submissive but complicit in getting rid of Ralph in order to marry John Welles.
Maybe the House of York had become anathema to her. Did she resent not becoming Queen of Scotland? Her parents’ clandestine marriage and her father’s previous contract had reduced his children to illegitimacy, and maybe she hated her uncle Richard III for acting on this and taking her brother’s place on the throne? Perhaps Richard did force her into marrying his faithful servant Ralph, who was very lowly compared with the future King of Scotland. Did this humiliate her even more? Perhaps, too, she was under the spell of Margaret Beaufort, to whom she was close for the rest of her life. And maybe she really did want Margaret’s half-brother, John Welles. Was it Cecily’s love for him that brought the two women together?
There are often two sides to what started out as one story.