Neville, Cecily, Duchess of York

(1415–1495)
   Cecily Neville, duchess of York, was the matriarch of the house of YORK and its link with its most important wartime allies, the NEVILLE FAMILY.
   Cecily was the last of twenty-three children born to Ralph Neville, earl of Westmorland. Through her mother, the earl’s second wife, Cecily was related to the BEAUFORT FAMILY, a junior branch of the house of LANCASTER. In 1429, Cecily married Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York. Between 1439 and 1455, she bore eleven children, six of whom survived infancy. In the early 1440s, Cecily accompanied her husband to FRANCE, where he served as lord lieutenant for HENRY VI. Her eldest surviving son, Edward (see Edward IV, King of England), was born in Normandy in 1442, with his brother, Edmund PLANTAGENET, earl of Rutland, following in 1443. When York was appointed lord lieutenant of IRELAND in 1449, Cecily accompanied him to Dublin, where her next son, George PLANTAGENET, duke of Clarence, was born in October. Her last surviving son, Richard (see Richard III, King of England),was born in England in October 1452.
   In the 1450s, York, feeling excluded from the position of leadership that was his due by birth, forged a political alliance with Cecily’s eldest full brother, Richard NEVILLE, earl of Salisbury, and with Salisbury’s eldest son, Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick. Neville support allowed York to challenge the COURT party for power and to eventually vie for the throne. In November 1459, a month after the Battle of LUDFORD BRIDGE forced them to flee the country, York and the Nevilles were attainted by the COVENTRY PARLIAMENT and their estates were confiscated. Left behind, Cecily was placed in the custody of her sister, whose husband, 172 NEVILLE, CECILY, DUCHESS OF YORK Humphrey STAFFORD, duke of Buckingham, was charged with supporting the duchess and her children with revenues from the forfeited lands. After York’s death at the Battle of WAKEFIELD in December 1460, Cecily sent her youngest sons, George and Richard, to BURGUNDY, from where they were recalled in 1461 by their brother,who was now king as Edward IV.
   During her son’s reign, Cecily lived mainly at Berkhamstead in Hertfordshire and at Baynard’s Castle, her LONDON residence. She took little part in politics, but she was an important figure at family events and, according to Dominic Mancini’s USURPATION OF RICHARD III, unsuccessfully opposed her son’s marriage to Elizabeth WOODVILLE in 1464. During Edward IV’s brief exile in 1470–1471, Cecily helped convince her son Clarence to abandon his alliance with Warwick, who had restored Henry VI, and to reconcile with his brother (see Edward IV, Overthrow of; Readeption). In the 1480s, the duchess became increasingly known for her piety and her devotion to the writings of such female mystics as St. Catherine of Siena and St. Bridget of Sweden. In her later years, Cecily followed a daily routine that included attendance at nine worship services. Although her religious exercises were private and orthodox, they affected public affairs through the influence they exerted on her daughter MARGARET OF YORK, duchess of Burgundy, and her son Richard III, both of whom had the works of the mystics in their personal libraries.
   In 1483, as part of his justification for usurping the throne (see Usurpation of 1483), Richard allowed the spreading of rumors that Edward IV was not York’s son but had been fathered on Cecily by another man. This claim, which had been employed by Warwick in 1469 and perhaps raised by Clarence in the 1470s,was, according to Polydore Vergil’s ANGLICA HISTORIA, indignantly refuted by the duchess (see also Titulus Regius). After her son’s death at the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD in 1485, Cecily was honorably treated by HENRY VII. Having outlived all her sons, the duchess died in 1495 at age eighty.
   See also all other entries under Neville
   Further Reading: “Cecily Neville,” in Michael Hicks, Who’s Who in Late Medieval England (London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1991), pp. 339–341; Johnson, P. A., Duke Richard of York (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988); Ross, Charles, Edward IV (New Haven, CT:Yale University Press, 1998); Ross, Charles, Richard III (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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