Cecily Neville (Duchess of York)
Cecily married her husband Richard, Duke of York when he was heir presumptive to King Henry VI. However the birth of Henry VI's son, Edward, meant that Richard was pushed aside. Richard fought against this, struggling against the King to reclaim his position as heir.
Richard and Cecily had their first child, Anne, in 1439. Shortly after that they moved to Rouen in France, as Richard had been appointed by King Henry VI as Lieutenant. Whilst there Cecily gave birth to a boy, Henry, but he died soon after birth. A little later, Cecily gave birth to another son, Edward who would later become Edward IV, King of England. However, there have been some doubts about the parentage of Edward. Some believe that as Richard was away from Rouen at the time of conception, that the baby cannot have been his. Others dispute this view, and argue that Cecily may have travelled with her husband or that Edward may have been born prematurely. At any rate, Edward was accepted by his father Richard.
In the late 1440s Richard and Cecily returned to England. Richard assumed the protectorate of the kingdom when Henry VI fell ill. Around this time Richard began to increasingly resent the growing influence of his rival Edmund Beaufort, the Duke of Somerset. It was not long before this rivalry turned into outright hostility and then war. This was to be the start of what would become known, at the time, as the Cousins' War.
While her husband was away during hostilities, Cecily remained in Ludlow in the care of her sister, Anne and from there she worked hard for the Yorkist cause. In 1460, after a key York victory, Cecily moved to London with her children. However, later that year the Lancastrians won a decisive victory at the Battle of Wakefield. Richard was killed as was Edmund, one of Cecily's sons.
The death of Richard did not end the war between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians. Edward, Richard and Cecily's son, continued the fight as head of the Yorkist cause after the death of his father. Both Edward and his younger brother Richard became Kings of England. However Cecily outlived them both, and turned to a life of piety before her own death in 1495.
From The White Queen
'More shame to you then,’ my mother says roundly. ‘The rumours about his fathering reached England. Indeed. I was among the few who swore that a lady of your house would never stoop so low. But I heard, we all heard, gossip of an archer named – what was it –’ She pretends to forget and taps her forehead. ‘Ah, I have it: Blaybourne. An archer named Blaybourne, who was supposed to be your amour. But I said, and even Queen Margaret d’Anjou said, that a great lady like you would not so demean herself as to lie with a common archer and slip his bastard into a nobleman’s cradle.’
The name Blaybourne drops into the room with a thud like a cannonball. You can almost hear it roll to a standstill. My mother is afraid of nothing. ‘And anyway, if you can make the lords throw down King Edward, who is going to support your new King George? Could you trust his brother Richard not to have his own try at the throne in his turn? Would your kinsman Lord Warwick, your great friend, not want the throne on his own account?
Image: Cecily (nee Neville), Duchess of York, published by Edward Harding line engraving, National Portrait Gallery (NPG D23787)