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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.

The tombs of Katherine de Roet and her daughter, Joan Beaufort - Lincoln Cathedral

The tombs of Katherine de Roet and her daughter Joan Beaufort in Lincoln Cathedral

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.

Scrope-Welles-Plantagenet

* 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.

Cicely, daughter of Edward IV

Cicely, daughter of Edward IV

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.

Richard III

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.

Henry VII

Henry VII

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.

Bletsoe Castle - much altered since John Welles's day

Bletsoe Castle, a residence known to John Welles. His mother was born there.

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.

John, Viscount Welles

John, 1st Viscount Welles

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.

Site of Friskney Hall - Kymbe residence

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).

Ruins of old Quarr Abbey, Isle of Wight

Ruins of old Quarr Abbey, Isle of Wight

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

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A PRINCESS OF DEVON

After the battle of Bosworth, Henry VII married Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth of York. What happened to Edward’s other daughters? Bridget, the youngest, went to a nunnery. Anne married the younger Thomas Howard (which was the marriage proposed for her by Richard III; Thomas Jr’s father Thomas still desired the marriage for his son and eventually permission was granted by Henry Tudor). Cecily’s current marriage was dissolved, and Tudor married her instead to John Welles, Margaret Beaufort’s half brother, tying her into his own family.

That only left Catherine of York.

Catherine was born in August 1479 at Eltham Palace, one of Edward’s later children. Soon after her birth Edward began to arrange a royal marriage for her to the son of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile; however, he died before the proposal was finalised.

Catherine, then a child of less than four years of age, went into sanctuary with her mother and many of her siblings, as the dramatic events of 1483 unfolded. Later, she emerged with her family in March 1484, when Richard III promised their safety, and proclaimed that Edward’s daughters would be treated as honourable kinswomen and eventually be married to gentlemen of birth, giving to each an estate valued at 200 marks. (He also gave Elizabeth Woodville 700 marks to live on, a little more  than her own son in law, Henry Tudor.)

Catherine remained unmarried during Richard’s short reign, although her sister Cecily was given to Ralph Scrope and  plans were being made for Elizabeth to marry Manuel, Duke of Beja. Under Henry Tudor, it was proposed Catherine would marry into Scottish royalty, taking the Duke of Ross, James Stewart, as her husband. Her mother, Elizabeth Woodville, would at the same time be given in marriage to the Scottish king, James III. However, when King James was killed in battle, his successor never bothered to pursue the prospective  English alliances.

So in 1495, aged around sixteen, Catherine instead married William Courtenay, son of Edward Courtenay. The Courtenay family had always been staunch Lancastrians but had not fared particularly well in the dynastic battles of the Wars of the Roses. Thomas Courtenay was taken in battle at Towton and beheaded at York, while his brother Henry was executed for treason in Salisbury marketplace in 1469. Another brother, John, was slain at Tewkesbury. Hugh Courtenay, from a junior branch of the family,  also was executed after Tewkesbury; it was his son Edward who then became Earl of Devon, and Hugh’s grandson, William, who married Catherine of York. We do not know if the marriage was a happy one, but together William and Catherine had three children.

However, things turned ugly  for the family in 1504. Henry VII found out that Courtenay had been supporting the claims to the throne of Edmund de la Pole, the last Yorkist heir.  William was attainted and thrown into the Tower of London, where he remained throughout the rest of Henry Tudor’s reign.

When Henry finally died, his son, Henry VIII, seemed ready to give his imprisoned uncle a rare second chance.  Henry was said to be very fond of Catherine from early childhood (it is claimed she loved children and played with him when at court) and he considered her his favourite aunt. He released William from the Tower and allowed him to resume his role in society, even carrying one of the swords of state at  Henry’s coronation. A year or so later,  he gave William back his title as Earl of Devon—although unfortunately William died only a month or two later, so never got to enjoy it.

Eager to avoid another arranged marriage, Catherine promptly swore an oath of chastity before the Bishop of London, and then retired to her Devon estates. She lived quietly in Tiverton Castle, and also at the remote Bickleigh castle, with its rare thatched Norman chapel.

Catherine died at Tiverton on November 15 1527, aged 48, and was buried in the parish church of St Peter, which stands by the castle ruins. Her arms are still visible above the door, amongst unusual carvings of sailing ships and monkeys. Unfortunately, the chantry dedicated to the Courtenays, which would probably have contained her tomb, no longer exists. She was perhaps fortunate not to lived have seen the execution of her only surviving son, Henry, in 1538–he was beheaded due to his correspondence with Cardinal Reginald Pole.

Catherine is presumed the last of  Edward IV’s children with Elizabeth Woodville to die, though of course without knowing the actual fate of the ‘princes’, this may not be the case!

Tiverton Castle can be visited on certain days throughout the summer, and Bickleigh Castle is now an attractive hotel. St James church in Tiverton is well worth a visit and open most days.

p1240459

St James, Tiverton

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Bickleigh Castle

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Tiverton Castle

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 [1485] 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 . . .

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