It was not always easy being a princess in the fifteenth century – Cecily of York, the second surviving daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, was born on 20 March 1469. It wasn’t a good year to be born. The week before her birth, a papal dispensation was issued for Cecily’s uncle George to marry Isabel Neville, the daughter of the Earl of Warwick – cousins of Cecily’s as it happens. By the end of spring Robin of Redesdale’s rebellion had flared up and been extinguished; George and Isabel tied the knot in Calais and then the king’s brother and cousin came back to England where they made war on Cecily’s father. By the middle of August 1469 Edward IV was a reluctant guest of the Kingmaker’s and Elizabeth Woodville together with their three daughters remained in London. The coup didn’t quite go as planned but the following year the king was forced to flee his kingdom whilst the queen and her daughters sought sanctuary in Westminster. Later Sir Thomas More in his account of the History of Richard III would describe her as ‘not so fortunate as fair’. She certainly had an eventful infancy and childhood which was anything but fortunate.
When Cecily was four she was contracted in marriage to James Duke of Rothesay to cement a pact with the kings of Scotland. The marriage was called off but for a little while Cecily was styled Princess of Scots. Although that particular marriage fell through in 1482 Edward IV continued to pursue the idea of a Scots alliance this time with the Duke of Albany who had designs on the Scottish throne.
On 15 January 1478 Cecily attended the marriage of her younger brother Richard Duke of York to the heiress Anne Mowbray.
Edward IV died on 9 April 1483. By the beginning of May Elizabeth Woodville, her daughters and younger son Richard of Shrewsbury were back in sanctuary at Westminster. In June Cecily was declared to be illegitimate with her siblings and in January 1484 Parliament issued the Titulus Regius confirmed the illegitimacy. By March Elizabeth had come to an agreement with Richard III and her daughters emerged from sanctuary. It’s possible that Cecily joined her elder sister Elizabeth in Queen Anne’s household or alternatively she may have been sent north with her younger sisters to Sandal Castle where Margaret Plantagenet and her younger brother Edward Earl of Warwick resided.
Richard had agreed to arrange suitable marriages for his nieces but he had also made them illegitimate. Cecily was married to Ralph Scrope of Upsall. The Scrope family were part of the Neville hegemony who transferred their allegiance to Richard when he was the Duke of Gloucester. The marriage was a good one for a base born daughter of the king but when Henry Tudor became king the marriage was annulled on the grounds of consanguinity. The problem remained that Cecily was a Plantagenet so Henry could not afford to make a very good marriage for his sister-in-law in case he inadvertently created opposition to his own rule. This matter was resolved by a marriage to Lord Welles – making Cecily his sister-in-law and his aunt by marriage. The marriage took place before the Christmas festivities of 1487 as by that time Cecily was married to Lady Margaret Beaufort’s half-brother. Her sister Catherine was married to Henry’s full uncle Jasper Tudor. Cecily’s two daughters died young but the marriage proved a successful one. Welles died in 1499 much to Cecily’s distress. She became a wealthy widow – Welles left her a life interest in his estates. Welles had taken the precaution of naming Lady Margaret Beaufort and Henry VII to oversee his wishes.
Henry appeared fond of Cecily. She played a prominent role at court as did her cousin Margaret the daughter of George Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville.
Some time in 1502, or thereabouts, Cecily who was an ornament of Henry VII’s court, made a third marriage – to Thomas Kyme a squire from Lincolnshire. It was a love match – she had married far beneath her in much the same way that her grandmother Jaquetta of Luxembourg married below her social level. Henry VII was not as understanding of Cecily as Henry VI had been of her grandmother. As the sister of the queen she was a valuable bride (shades of Mary Boleyn). She was banished form court and her property confiscated. Fortunately Henry’s redoubtable mother Lady Margaret Beaufort supported Cecily by allowing the couple to live at her home at Collyweston. it appears that Margaret who knew the princess from infancy was fond of her. She managed to persuade Henry to allow Cecily to keep a small portion from the estates that Welles left her and to remit the fine that Kyme faced for having married without seeking royal permission.
Because Cecily chose to marry for love she dropped into obscurity. The written record becomes unclear. It seems that she bore Kyme two children, Richard and Margaret before dying in 1507. She is either buried in Quarr Abbey on the Isle of White -near her home, or somewhere near Hatfield where she possibly lived in the final weeks of her life.
Images of Quarr Abbey
Nicolas, Nicholas Harris. Privy Purse Expenses of Elizabeth of York: Wardrobe Accounts of Edward the Fourth: With a Memoir of Elizabeth of York, and Notes. United Kingdom: W. Pickering, 1830.
Rather irritatingly I’ve just realised that I’m not sure if the middle photo bottom row is Quarr Abbey or not – if you recall all my photos were either destroyed or hopelessly jumbled.