Posted By Claire on July 25, 2014
Cecily Neville is one of those women I’ve always wanted to know more about. All I knew was that Cecily was the mother of two kings of England (Edward IV and Richard III), she was married (happily too!) to a powerful man who was briefly Lord Protector of England (making her queen consort in all but name), she was the matriarch of the Yorkist line and claimed to be “queen by right”, it was claimed that her son Edward IV was fathered by an archer named Blaybourne and not the Duke of York, and she lived a long life, dying in Henry VII’s reign in her 80th year. She seemed like a woman I ought to know more about, yet there was no biography out there to read. Thankfully, historian Amy Licence took on the challenge of writing about her and has brought this usually shadowy figure to life.
Amy opens her book with the sentence “Writing a biography of Cecily Neville has been rather like striking a series of matches in the dark” and goes on to explain that “a large proportion of her life lies amid the darkness of lost records and burned letters […]”. She confesses that writing a biography of such a person “must impose a degree of conjecture over the bare scaffold of facts”, and there are “would have”s and “probably”s, but this conjecture always makes sense because it is based on what we know of Cecily and the times she lived in. It did not get on my nerves, as it has done in some biographies, because it is clear that Amy has done a huge amount of research in the primary sources, leaving no stone unturned, and has only resorted to conjecture when she really had to. Cecily is expertly fleshed out, as are the people who surrounded her.
Amy closes her introduction with the words “[…] perhaps Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, was the best queen England never had […]” and the Cecily the reader comes to know is definitely that woman. The Cecily of this biography is an incredibly strong woman who would have been the perfect consort to her husband if Henry VI had stayed mad. Proud and pious, and a woman who may have been prepared to allow a false rumour concerning the paternity of her eldest son to be used to help her younger son claim the throne – definitely a fascinating woman!
Anyone interested in the Wars of the Roses, strong historical women or the real story behind fiction like the White Queen series will enjoy this book. It is detailed but highly readable and I enjoyed dedicating a weekend to losing myself in Cecily’s story. I now can’t wait to get stuck in Amy’s Anne Neville biography.
Cecily Neville: Mother of Kings also includes genealogical tables (so useful for seeing how/where everyone fits in), chapter notes and bibliography.
Known to be proud, regal and beautiful, Cecily Neville was born in the year of the great English victory at Agincourt and survived long enough to witness the arrival of the future Henry VIII, her great-grandson. Her life spanned most of the fifteenth century. Cecily s marriage to Richard, Duke of York, was successful, even happy, and she travelled with him wherever his career dictated, bearing his children in England, Ireland and France, including the future Edward IV and Richard III. What was the substance behind her claim to be queen by right ? Would she indeed have made a good queen during these turbulent times? One of a huge family herself, Cecily would see two of her sons become kings of England but the struggles that tore apart the Houses of Lancaster and York also turned brother against brother. Cecily s life cannot have been easy. Images of her dripping in jewels and holding her own alternative court might belie the terrible heartache of seeing her descendants destroy each other. In attempting to be the family peacemaker, she frequently had to make heart-wrenching choices, yet these did not destroy her. She battled on, outliving her husband, friends, rivals and most of her children, to become one of the era s great survivors.