Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Amazing Cecily Neville, Richard III’s Mother

In a time when women had few rights and were ruled by their husbands, Cecily Neville stood out as an exception to the rule. Being of noble birth, hers was an arranged marriage to Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York. In 1424, she was betrothed to Richard of York when she was nine and he, thirteen. Since Richard was Cecily’s father’s ward, she did have the advantage of getting to know him before the marriage was consummated. And it seemed their marriage was a happy, loving one, despite that it was arranged to bring two powerful houses together. In 1438 at age 23, Cecily gave birth to her first child, Joan, who died in infancy. She was to have twelve more children after that. Of the 13 children, only seven reached majority, and only two (Elizabeth and Margaret) survived Cecily’s death in 1495 at 80 years of age.

She lived to see her husband and second oldest son killed in the Battle of Wakefield, two sons become England’s king (Edward IV and Richard III), and one son (George) found guilty of treason and executed in the Tower of London.

From all accounts, it appears that Richard III was close to his mother. When he first arrived in London, he resided at Baynard Castle, Cecily’s residence before his wife joined him. Throughout his reign, he continued to maintain contact with her. Reproduced below is the only extant letter* that Richard wrote to his mother in June of 1484, about two months after his son had died.

“Madam, I recommend me to you as heartily as is to me possible, beseeching you in my most humble and effectuous wise of your daily blessing to my singular comfort and defence in my need. And madam, I heartily beseech you that I may often hear from you to my comfort. And such news as be here, my servant Thomas Brian, this bearer, shall show to you, to whom please it you to give credence unto. And madam, I beseech you to be good and gracious lady to my lord, my Chamberlain, to be your officer in Wiltshire in such as Colyngbourne had. And that it please you that by this bearer I may understand your pleasure in this behalf. Written at Pontefract the 3rd day of June, with the hand of your most humble son.

“Ricardus Rex”

* Secretary's copy: British Library Harleian MSS 433 f2b

Though formal, this letter was written in the customary style of the 15th-century. Aside: the Colyngbourne mentioned was later executed for high treason. He also was the author of the infamous rhyme—“The Cat, the Rat, and Lovell our Dog / Doe rule all England under a Hog.”

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