CICELY PLANTAGENET – NOT SO FORTUNATE AS FAIR.

Reblogged from A Medieval Potpourri sparkypus.com

Stained glass portrait of Cicely.  Formerly in Canterbury Cathedral now in the Burrell Collection, Glasgow.

Cicely Plantagenet (b.1469 d.1507) daughter and niece to kings, and a prime example of a medieval noblewoman who endured and in this case survived the turmoil of the Wars of the Roses.    Oh how that fickle wheel of fortune spun for Cicely – like a human yoyo – up, down, up again and then a levelling off as she married for the third time .  It’s no wonder Sir Thomas More would describe her as Not so fortunate as fair although this may be over egging the pudding a bit as she seems to have fared much better than some other aristocratic ladies from those times as two of her marriages appear to have been happy plus she didn’t die in penury.   After her third marriage she left England to live on the Isle of Wight, dying on the 24 August 1507.    This last marriage is said to have made Henry Tudor, her brother-in-law,  very, very annoyed.  But more on  that later.

Cicely’s early life was one of  privilege most of her contemporaries would only ever have dreamed of.  She lived the majority of her younger years with her siblings in Greenwich Palace,  a favourite home for her mother, Elizabeth Wydeville,  and which seems to have been used as a royal nursery for the brood of children she had borne Edward IV.  Indeed it was while living at Greenwich on the 23 May 1482, Cicely’s 14 year old sister Mary died.  This was the second death of a royal child in a matter of months at  Greenwich for just six months earlier her even younger sister-in-law.  the 8 year old Anne Mowbray, had died on 9th November 1481.   Other times were spent at Westminster Palace when both parents were staying there.  

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A print by an unknown artist now in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich depicting the Palace c 1487.

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The Old Palace of Westminster.  Westminster Abbey and Cheyneygates can be seen at the top of the picture.  

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Cicely’s father Edward IV  motto, ‘confort et lyesse’, 1442-1483 Society of Antiquaries of London

Tragedy, and disaster,  struck in April 1483 when her father died rather unexpectedly at Westminster.   This led to a flurry of feverish activity from her mother and her Wydeville relations in a mad and unseemly scramble to get hold of the person of her brother Edward, now Edward V and living in Ludlow on the Welsh Marches.  This was to  enable them to get control of the kingdom before her uncle, Richard Duke of Gloucester took his rightful place as Lord Protector.   When these plans went swiftly awry,  the 14 year old Cicely and  her siblings led by their mother rushed off to sanctuary in Cheyneygates, the Abbots House, Westminster Abbey where they would spend the next ten months.  The Abbey and Cheyneygates was literally just across the road from the palace and, according to Sir Thomas More in an attempt by the soon to be ex-queen to take as much treasure and goods as possible with her, a hole was made in the wall of the Abbey.

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A  view of the ancient passage way leading to Abbot’s Court and Cheyneygates.  The family would have reached Cheyneygates via this passageway and trod these very flagstones..

What went through the minds of Cicely we can only speculate.  But it must have been disconcerting at the very least,  this immediate and drastic change in lifestyle,  and no doubt she would have picked up on her mother’s mood, who was said by Sir Thomas More to have been found by Bishop Rotherham sitting  alone, low down on the rushes, all desolate and dismayed’  – hardly  a reassuring sight for her children.

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6 comments

  1. Henry VII’s marriage to Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV, was a necessity, not a consolation prize. The Yorkist claim was still considered the stronger, and without Elizabeth Henry would have had inadequate help to even take the throne.
    One reason I doubt that Richard III would have had his nephews murdered is that he wouldn’t want the rival claims to his, namely the Edwardian and Lancastrian, united. As long as the boys lived, that would not happen.

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    1. I like your thinking here, of the MANY reasons Richard had, as Protector and then King, not to procure the death of his nephews, his own direct blood nephews, this is an excellent political observation. As surety they were worth more to him alive than dead, and far more dangerous to others. Once you are deemed legally illegitimate, and by Parliament, it nullified their use, politically, by hostile agents.
      For myself, I think Richard, even before he left on his Royal Progress, had moved both of the nephews out of the Tower, and it would not have been difficult. If nothing else, the swirling plots around Lord Hastings, Morton,(likely Dorset on the outside) was enough to impress on him as Protector that both London and the Tower were the last place to keep anyone safe. He would have recalled the Siege of the Tower 1460, I think, and the fullness of that lesson.

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      1. As a certain famous historian said at a small meeting I attended: In C15, no male claimant could marry Edward V or his brother to exploit them. However, were both either physically or officially dead, a male claimant could marry one of their sisters. Henry VII ruled under an assumption that both had died so this is exactly what happened.

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  2. I am sure that most of the English people, incuding lords and prosperous middle-class people, doubted, if not rejected, the precontract story.
    The Parliamentary declaration of the illegitimacy of Edward & Elizabeth’s children suited Richard III’s purpose as far as giving his claim some legal basis; but not really convincing people.

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    1. Au contraire, the Three Estates (the nobility, clergy and gentry) supported the pore-contract by declaring the throne vacant and offering it to the Duke of Gloucester. They knew Edward IV and recalled him admitting one secret marriage to an older Lancastrian widow, thereby giving much credence to a second.

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  3. we have at least three issues at hand in your replies (Super Blue and Mr McArthur), 1) would the worthies and common people of London in June of 1483 know or believe that Edward IV had a secret betrothal with a woman when he was 20 or 21? and 2) Are the daughters of Edward only politically viable IF they are married, and once married then they are proof that their brothers must be dead? and 3) that “we” know Richard’s purpose, as a static goal from April through August 1483 ?.

    Through no fault of our own “we” come at such issues and questions from a post-Tudor worldview, since we do live in a post-Tudor world. But that is inadequate and unnecessary. Richard and his colleagues, family, those worthies and common people in London, even Henry of Richmond himself, did not live in a Post-Tudor world, they all lived in a post-Chaucer world, if I can call it that.

    For the last year I shifted my research back a century, for a massive deep dive and it has been eye-opening, for those who are already intimately involved in all things current in the Welsh Marches, or in Ireland, or with the endless feuds between the barons across England and the nearly monthly insurrections Henry IV faced – and then there was that War … well it was all new to me – and when I applied it to Richard and Edward, a whole new perspective presented itself – this was their recent world, painful and as sharp as a knife edge. It also strikes me, as I read, that they were closer to their relative, Sir Edmund Mortimer (killed in the Siege of Harlech c 1409?), alongside his father-in-law, the last Welsh Prince of Wales, Owain Glyndwr ap Gruffydd, than Henry Tudor was to any Welsh kin; Mortimer’s wife and young daughters (along with Owain’s wife and another of his daughter’s) were all captured and sent to the Tower of London were they died (possibly Margaret, Owain’s wife, survived but I have not been able to find confirmation of this). For Richard and Edward that was yesterday to them, the Tower held personal connections that in the pre-Tudor world we never make, nor would our historians and scholars think to make. Richard spent considerable time on the Marches, holding it for the Herbert heir beginning in 1469, in the wake of what was a dagger blow to Edward’s entire geo-political strategy in that region, I could go on for an hour as to what the loss of the Herbert brothers meant for Edward’s reign, and once you know the intricacies of the families involved surrounding the Herberts, Vaughans, Thomases, Devereux, et al, you would soon recognize some of Edward’s glaring weaknesses. And you don’t even need Scofield for it.

    So, would the worthies and common merchants and fishwives of London believe their 20 year old Edward IV had dallied with a noble lady, (and one he would have known, they were from the same class, her father, Old Talbot, had been his father’s commander in France) promising her anything to bed her? Did they know their Chaucer?

    Did he marry Elizabeth Wydeville in secret, and keep it secret for months? Allowing cousin Warwick to openly, stupidly, negotiate with King Louis for a marriage with Bona of Savoy (LXI’s sister-in-law) – just to embarrass him before the whole Council, Edward might as well have castrated him in public. The choice of his bride in itself was not what damaged him with Warwick, it was HOW he did it, and if Edward was gunning to destroy the perceived power of his cousin that was both petty and misguided, and if not, then another glaring cue as to his ineptitude.

    IF no one would believe such a story of a secret betrothal why did the dowager queen herself not refute it, she had both the means and the personality to challenge such an outrage, an injustice! And if it was a nothing, why did Lord Lisle, her brother-in-law, married to Eleanor Talbot’s niece, of whom she would have known well, (Eleanor was very close to her sister Elizabeth, duchess of Norfolk), visit Gloucester while he was Protector, about the time Stillington was also whispering in his ear? Just discussing the best furriers in London perhaps?

    And if no one would believe such tripe about a secret betrothal, dumped into a Parliamentary document no less, why did Henry VII literally make it illegal to have a copy of the Titulus Regius? Every known copy was to be destroyed, for it contained that bit about this secret marriage and the children being illegitimate. Nonsense! Marry the girl, no one believes that crap, right? The fact that Henry had every LAST COPY destroyed should tell you something – well, the one in the Crowland survived, otherwise we would have to believe a lot of things, along with Richard being in the womb for two years.

    As to the daughters being politically viable, married or not, or proof of their brothers’ existence; marrying Elizabeth of York certainly did not stop Henry from spending a fortune on spies, informers and agents to hunt down every lead and rumor that one or the other was still alive, ready to burst out of seclusion and reclaim “his” throne. H7 may have kept his wife on short wages but he spent like a drunken sailor on his spies, strange since marrying the girl, and marrying off her sisters surely meant those brothers were dead. Unless of course the worthies and common folk were so idle and stupid that they would believe anyone spinning the tale that they were the missing sons of Edward?

    H7 certainly did feel people, like the Irish lords, whom he insulted to their faces, were stupid enough to believe any fraud put up as an alternative to HIM, but he was also keenly aware that in Calais his own garrison was discussing the preference for Edmund de la Pole or Edward 3rd duke of Buckingham (post Arthur) basically anyone but himself or his son Henry, he got this from spies who overheard it from a too chatty Lucy Neville, married to the Captain of Calais, needless to say being married to one of the daughters was not enough.

    Now, what do we know about Gloucester’s intentions? THAT could take me hours to discuss! Suffice it to say he did not plan it, did not arrive in London intending anything of the sort, had he intended it, his one time fellow (Burgundian sympathizer) and friend, Hastings, who went off the reservation on more than a few occasions knowing Gloucester would have his back (think the erstwhile Siege of Boulogne 1477 for just one example), would have been the first one he’d enlist for such an objective, not that twit cousin Buckingham. Something did indeed happen that spring, but this isn’t the place to go into it, as I told a friend of mine, reverse the direction of your research, leave the post-Tudor world to the BBC, and walk up from 1400, or earlier, as if every detail you find was new and shiny and incredible, because, it is. Everything and everyone’s motivations and rationale makes sense, because it fits into the world from which it came, not the world where an Anne Askew is racked till she is torn apart, and then burned at the stake because she annoyed the great and wonderful Henry VIII.

    There is ugliness and betrayal and poverty and bestial horrors everywhere in that walk you take from 1400 up through to Richard but they belong within the context he and Edward and even Henry of Richmond would recognize.

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