Our journey of influential queen mothers continues with Cecily Neville, the mother of two King’s of England. Cecily was born in 1415 with royal lineage that linked her to John of Gaunt, King Henry IV and Edward III of England. By the age of nine she was betrothed to Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, whom she married five years later.
Cecily’s journey to motherhood began in 1439 when she gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Anne. Another child was born soon after, but did not live long. After moving to France in 1441, Cecily successfully gave birth to a son who would live into adulthood, and become the future King Edward IV. By 1454 the royal couple were living back in England, where the Duke of York named himself Lord Protector. Soon after war broke out, which would later be known as the War of the Roses. For a short time the Duke of York had to flee England, but Cecily remained and consistently fought for her husband.
Things soon changed after the Yorkist victory at the battle of Northampton in 1460, which eventually led to Duke of York being named the successor to the King. Just when things became to look up for the Duke and Duchess of York, the Lancastrians took Richard, their son Edmund, and Cecily’s brother, as casualties during the battle of Wakefield. Fearing for the safety of her other children, Cecily sent two of her sons, Richard and George, to the court of Burgundy. This left Cecily with her eldest son, Edward, to fight against the Lancastrians. He successfully defeated the opposition, making him the next King of England.
From the beginning of Edward’s reign, Cecily exerted much influence over her son, and was even given the Queen’s quarters. Three years after becoming King, Edward married Elizabeth Woodville, but their marriage was not supported by most of the court or public. In 1469 things soon changed when the Earl of Warwick rebelled against Edward IV with the help of Edward’s brother, George, Duke of Clarence. It was during this time that stories that the King was illegitimate began to circulate among the court. Cecily Neville never commented on whether Edward was in fact illegitimate, but the fact that the late Duke of York acknowledged him as his son was evidence enough to counteract any rumours.
Soon after the failed rebellion, Cecily tried to reconcile her two sons, but the happy reunion between Edward and George didn’t last long. For a short time in 1470, Henry VI was restored to the throne by the Earl of Warwick and his co-conspirators. George’s involvement with these plots against his brother later led to his downfall. After Edward’s restoration in 1471, the King was suspicious of his brother’s actions and alliances at court. After some time, on 18th February 1478, George was executed due to his involvement in the overthrow of his brother Edward. There were rumours that Cecily supported the claim of her son George to the throne, and a few years after he was executed she retired from court. Before Cecily left court, her relationship with Edward was beyond repair. Although she never commented on his legitimacy, evidence would show she sided with the Earl of Warwick and George. Due to this evidence, it would seem that Cecily favoured her younger sons, George and Richard. Perhaps Cecily felt that the Earl of Warwick was more powerful, causing her to side with him, or maybe she knew Edward was not legitimate and therefore the true King.
When Edward IV died unexpectedly in 1483, his will suggested that his two young sons by Elizabeth Woodville were to be the heirs to the throne, with Edward V expected to someday rule. After the death of Edward IV, Cecily gave her support to her youngest son, the future Richard III, which therefore ignored the wishes of her deceased son. The young princes of Edward IV were locked up in the Tower, and were never seen or heard from again. Historians speculate that Richard III’s supporters killed the ‘Princes in the Tower’, although some might argue it was the work of Henry Tudor’s men. Either way, Richard III’s reign was cut short when he was killed at Bosworth Field, which left the throne open to Henry VII.
The War of the Roses essentially began with Cecily Neville, because her three sons fought to be King of England. The divisions in this large family began when Cecily sent young Richard and George to the Low Countries, while Edward fought for the right to be King. Once arriving back in England, Richard went to live with the Earl of Warwick, giving the Earl a large influence over him. When the Earl of Warwick switched his allegiances, both Richard and Edward fled to the Low Countries. Growing up in different circumstances, with their mother favouring George, created an environment for a power struggle. The Earl of Warwick knew this and played his cards beautifully, giving him the name “The Kingmaker.”
This desire for kingship created many factions that led to the downfall of Cecily’s sons. Once Henry VII was King, Cecily retired to due to her old age, but some feel she wanted to restore the Yorkist lineage. Throughout her life Cecily enjoyed much influence over English politics; she essentially had a say in what her sons said and did. Cecily certainly relished in the many luxuries that came with the title as Queen Mother. Her motherly influence affected the future of England, and led to the near extinction of the Yorkist line. Still she remains a powerful force that intrigues historians, but little remains of her personal accounts leading us to speculate as to how she lived her life.