Biographies & Memoirs

CHAPTER 2

Daughter of York

‘SHE SELDOM SMILED AND WAS RATHER RESERVED.’

The new Duchess of Burgundy had been born the third daughter and the sixth of the twelve children born to Cecily Neville, Duchess of York. Hers was a dynamic inheritance, three parts Plantagenet and one part Neville and her birth on the third of May in 1446 came at a critical watershed in her father’s career.

If high lineage merited high office then Richard, Duke of York, could claim a very high place indeed. In the absence of a royal heir, York, with his descent from both the second and fourth sons of King Edward III, was widely regarded as the heir-apparent.1 He had inherited all his titles and lands from his two uncles, Edward, Duke of York, who was his father’s brother, and Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, his mother’s brother. His own father Richard, Earl of Cambridge, had been executed at Southampton on the eve of King Henry V’s expedition to France in 1415. He had been accused of conspiring to place his brother-in-law, Edmund Mortimer, on the throne, a plot betrayed to the King by Mortimer himself. After his father’s execution, Richard was made a ward of the crown and, before the year was out, the death of Edward, Duke of York, at Agincourt, made the four-year-old boy the heir to the Duchy of York.

Since Edmund Mortimer had no issue, all the Mortimer and Clare lands together with the Mortimer claim to the throne came to Richard through his mother, Anne Mortimer. The Mortimers were directly descended from Edward III’s second surviving son Lionel, Duke of Clarence who had married Philippa, the heiress of the Mortimer Earl of March. Their son, Roger Mortimer, had been named by King Richard II as his heir. After Roger Mortimer’s death in Ireland in 1398, the rights of his infant son, Edmund, were set aside by the Lancastrian King Henry IV, when he seized the throne a year later. Although Richard of York’s Mortimer claim to the throne passed through two female lines, there was nothing in English law to prevent female inheritance. Richard himself emphasised his Mortimer inheritance. He named his eldest daughter Anne after her Mortimer grandmother and his second son Edmund after his Mortimer uncle and succeeded in obtaining the title of the Earl of March for his eldest son Edward, the future King Edward IV.

Aristocratic children were well schooled on the subject of their genealogy and Margaret and her brothers and sisters would have been made fully aware of their family history and their royal rights. They learned their lessons well. Among the first acts of Edward IV’s reign was the revival of the Duchy of Clarence for his brother George and the annulment of the sentence of treason passed upon his grandfather the Earl of Cambridge. Margaret’s mother Cecily would, after the death of her husband call herself ‘the widow of the late Richard Duke of York, rightful King of England’. Throughout her life Margaret displayed the arms of a Princess of England and she did not fail to remind Queen Isabella of Spain of their close relationship when she wrote to her for help against Henry VII.2In this case, Margaret was referring to her third line of Plantagenet descent, through John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, which came from her mother, Cecily Neville.3

The union of Richard Duke of York and Cecily Neville, which was ultimately to destroy the house of Lancaster, had been intended to submerge all the dangerous Mortimer pretensions within a loyal Lancastrian framework. After the death of King Henry V, the wardship of the twelve-year-old Richard had been granted to Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmoreland and the brother-in-law of the chancellor, Cardinal Beaufort. Within a year the boy was betrothed to the Earl’s youngest daughter, the nine-year-old Cecily. The dowerless Cecily came from a stock that married and bred well. Her mother was the youngest daughter of John of Gaunt, by his third wife and former mistress, Katherine Swynford. Her father, Earl Ralph, was always on the lookout for suitable husbands and wives for his brood of twenty-two children, who had been born to him by his two wives, Margaret Stafford and Joan Beaufort.

Whereas the York and Mortimer lines were notable for their lack of offspring, through her mother, Margaret was connected to a vast affinity. The family network included the King of Scotland, the Dukes of Exeter and Norfolk, the Earls of Northumberland, Westmorland, Salisbury, Warwick, Kent, Worcester and Buckingham, and the Lords Latimer, Despenser and Howard. There was a wider European connection, through John of Gaunt’s daughter Philippa, who had married into the Portuguese royal family. Margaret herself was thus related to the royal houses of Aragon, Castille and Portugal, to the house of Habsburg and to the ducal house of Burgundy.

This network of relationships was not necessarily an advantage either to Richard or to his children. The very extent of these connections made him seem dangerous to the crown. Newer and less well-connected men like the Earl of Suffolk were more dependent on court favour and therefore more trusted. Any extension of this affinity through the marriages of the York children would be closely scrutinised and blocked if it enhanced their claims to the throne. Nor were these large numbers of relatives necessarily a reserve of powerful friends. There were many disagreements over property and interests. The Neville connection brought with it its own internal feud between the children of Earl Ralph’s two marriages. The widowed Countess Joan had succeeded in depriving the second Earl of Westmorland (who was Earl Ralph’s grandson) of some of his inheritance, which she held for her own eldest son Richard, Earl of Salisbury. Lengthy litigation ensued between the two parties and since it was never settled to the full satisfaction of the Earls of Westmorland, they allied with the Percys against their half-brothers. This family feud led to ever-increasing violence in the north and would ultimately erupt into widespread civil war.

However, in 1446 the battles were a decade away. Richard of York was still expecting to receive honourable treatment from the King and he looked forward to an appointment that would reflect his noble lineage. He had no reason to fear the ill will of Henry VI. Both the previous Dukes of York had proved themselves loyal servants of the crown, and Richard had a good relationship with the young King, who had always shown him favour and friendship. Up to 1445, fortune smiled upon Richard, Duke of York.4 When Henry VI had been crowned King of France at Notre Dame in 1431, Richard, ten years older than his royal cousin, was one of the most resplendent knights in his retinue. Four years later, after the death of the Regent John, Duke of Bedford, Richard was appointed Lieutenant in France with ‘like and semblance power as my Lord of Bedford had by commission’. The stage was set for him to follow in the footsteps of the great Regent as a pre-eminent and loyal servant of the Lancastrian crown. But this was not to be, and the consequences were grave both for England and the House of York.

When he had been the royal representative at Rouen, Duke Richard held great honour. He was regarded as the near equal of England’s two most powerful neighbours, the King of France and the Duke of Burgundy. Through the good relations he established with the nobility and the church in both Normandy and Burgundy, he won support and popularity among his Norman subjects. Although English armies were attacked with increasing success by a revitalised France, inspired by Joan of Arc, his period of office could not be viewed as a complete failure. He showed considerable administrative skill and a sensible, cautious approach to military matters. Indeed he could claim with some justification that he was more successful than the Dukes of Somerset who succeeded him. After his experience in France, he might reasonably have expected to be consulted over the Anglo-French negotiations that sought an end to the long conflict between the two nations. Yet on his return to England, he found himself disregarded by the men who had gathered around King Henry VI’s new Queen, Margaret of Anjou. Chief among these was William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk. It was he who had negotiated Margaret of Anjou’s marriage to King Henry in 1445 and he was the most ardent proponent of a policy of reconciliation with France.

Richard’s appointment in France came to an end in the year before his daughter Margaret was born. His promising career came to a peremptory stop. During the next decade, throughout the whole of Margaret’s childhood, his frustration grew. Less and less royal patronage came his way and Richard, his family and his clients, found themselves in an increasingly dangerous situation. They were confronting a series of crises which culminated in their open rebellion against the crown and, ultimately, in the deaths of Richard and his second son Edmund, Earl of Rutland. The birth of a third daughter was of little significance compared with the serious loss of political power resulting from the termination of the Duke’s appointment. Since his return from France, Richard had tried to re-establish himself at court, but in common with many young men before and since, he found that his overseas posting held mixed blessings. Although it had given him heavy responsibilities and prestige, in his absence he had lost touch with the more powerful members of the court and had few allies among the most trusted courtiers.

The new Queen having found herself married to the gentle and inactive King Henry VI could not fail to regard Richard, with all his Plantagenet inheritance and his family of five living children, as a threat to the smooth succession of her own future offspring. Her fears were not allayed when the Duke and Duchess of York paid the young Queen the compliment of naming their first child born after her accession in her honour. It was not the first time that they had sought royal favour in this manner. Five years earlier, they had called their first-born son Henry, and the King had been well pleased, but this child had died in infancy. Now they hoped to charm the Queen, but naming their new daughter Margaret appears to have made little impression on her.

The doubts surrounding the family’s future are reflected by the uncertainty over the location of Margaret’s birthplace. Fotheringhay Castle and Waltham Abbey are both named by contemporary chroniclers and either of them could offer an appropriate birthplace for the future powerful and pious Duchess.5 Of the two, Fotheringhay Castle is the most immediately appealing, as it was the chief seat of the House of York.6 The family badge of the falcon and fetterlock had stood guard over the castle’s grey keep since the days of Edmund Langley, the first Duke of York (1341-1402). Lying close to the great north road, about eighty miles from London, the castle was particularly well situated, looking south across the River Nene over the gentle Northamptonshire countryside and surrounded by the large hunting forest of Rockingham. It was conveniently central to all Richard’s lands, which lay scattered across England and Wales from Yorkshire to Sussex and from East Anglia to the Welsh Marches.

At the time of Margaret’s birth, Fotheringhay was still a strong, defendable castle protected by a double moat. The main entrance lay through an impressive gatehouse on the north-west side. Once inside the final drawbridge, there was a whole range of buildings including the ancient keep, a newer and more comfortable manor house, two chapels and all the usual workshops, stables, kitchens, brewhouses, bakeries, butteries and barns. At least two York children were born at Fotheringhay, Anne, the eldest and Richard, the youngest. It was certainly a pleasant and well favoured place, and it would have had considerable appeal to the Duchess Cecily, brought up in the bleaker and colder environs of Raby Castle.

Today only a few ruined walls mark the site of what was, for two hundred years, one of the finest castles in England. There is, however, one substantial survivor from the time of Margaret’s birth, and that is the unusually large and magnificent parish church, which dwarfed the small village of Fotheringhay. Yet the modern church is a fragment of the great collegiate church that stood there early in the fifteenth century. The older, smaller church that stood on the site since pre-Norman times was completely rebuilt with a new lantern tower over 100 feet high. This new church was established and endowed by the first and second Dukes of York, Edmund Langley and his son Edward, who made it the religious centre and mausoleum of the house of York. It was a chantry for the deceased members of the royal and ducal family, where five masses were sung on every weekday and six on Saturdays and Sundays. Margaret’s father, the third Duke, continued the building and by 1446 the college establishment had twelve chaplains or fellows, eight clerks and thirteen choristers under a master. It was a centre of learning and religion for the whole area, its buildings covering a site of more than two and a half acres. They were on a truly lavish scale, with rows of stained glass windows in the cloisters and the library.

As the mausoleum for the house of York, the church at Fotheringhay still contains two major tombs. The first duke to be buried there was Edward who had met his death at the battle of Agincourt. He was struck from his horse and, as it was a hot day and he was a very fat man, he had been suffocated by the weight of his armour. Margaret’s parents and her brother Edmund would also be buried there. The Duchess Cecily’s will showed her deep attachment to Fotheringhay.7 She left the college a whole series of bequests including graduals, processionals, mass books, a quantity of ecclesiastical vestments, three blue velvet copes and a great canopy of state made of crimson cloth of gold.

Today, although the falcon and fetterlock badge has vanished from the castle, it survives on the York tombs near the main altar of the church. The original gothic monuments were destroyed during the Reformation, but new Renaissance tombs were built at the command of Queen Elizabeth I who was very mindful of her York inheritance. The coffins of the ducal family were transferred from the ruined choir into the chancel. The bodies were inspected and a papal pardon was found hanging on a silver ribbon, ‘fair and fresh’, around the neck of the pious Duchess Cecily.8 Margaret’s own remains, although buried with similar devotion, would not find so peaceful a resting place.

Whether she was actually born at Fotheringhay or not, Margaret certainly passed some part of her childhood there. It may have been in the collegiate library that she acquired her first knowledge of the beautiful manuscripts that she was later to collect with such enthusiasm and discrimination. With its fine new buildings and high standard of comfort, Fotheringhay prepared Margaret for the luxury and elegance with which she was to be surrounded for the rest of her life.

Considering Margaret’s reputation for piety, the Abbey of the Holy Cross at Waltham would perhaps make the most appropriate birthplace.9 It lay on the Essex side of the River Lea, close to Epping Forest and only about twenty-five miles from London, on the direct route to Fotheringhay. Cecily must surely have broken her journey there on many occasions since it had a comfortable hostel well used by noble visitors as well as a famous history. It was claimed that Waltham Abbey had been founded by a Danish thane called Tovi, who endowed it with the Holy Cross discovered on his manor of Montacute. The church had been rebuilt by Earl Harold and reconsecrated on Holy Cross Day in the presence of King Edward the Confessor. Tradition has it that Harold stayed at the Abbey on his way south to Hastings, that his war-cry had been ‘the Holy Cross’, and that after his defeat and death his body had been brought back and secretly buried there. Due to its associations with Harold, it was ignored during the Norman period but recovered much of its prestige by the thirteenth century, when it became a popular centre for pilgrimage and one of the richest Augustinian foundations. When Margaret had the opportunity to found and reform religious orders in the Low Countries, she would show a partiality for the Augustinian order.10

In 1446, the Abbot of Waltham was William of Hertford. He was a courtly abbot who had entertained many important visitors including Queen Catherine de Valois and John, Duke of Bedford. The latter was so devoted to the Abbey that he asked to be buried there if he should die in England.11 Since she had only recently returned from Rouen, with all its associations with the Duke of Bedford, Duchess Cecily would have known all about the attractions of the Abbey, and she would have been interested in its well-known hospital, which had flourished since the early thirteenth century.

The so-called Annals of Waltham Abbey, which are extant for the years 1445-7, have references to the winter storms and to the Parliament of January 1447, but there is no mention of a visit by the Duchess or of the birth of her child. The third of May was the feast of the Holy Cross, and it is possible that the chronicler who states that Margaret was born there may simply have confused the feast day with the Abbey of the same name.

However in the year of Margaret’s birth, the Duke of York was particularly busy in the area around Waltham. In March he obtained a licence to retain twelve masons and bricklayers on his manors in Essex, Hertfordshire and Middlesex, and in the following October he was granted the royal income from Waltham to cover his expenses when on royal business to London.12 During July Richard visited Hunsdon, a manor lying only nine miles north of Waltham Abbey. By 1448 Hunsdon belonged to Sir William Oldhall, one of the Duke’s most loyal supporters, who seems to have acquired a group of York’s manors in Hertfordshire when Richard was in need of cash. Money had been lavished on Hunsdon, which was described as a ‘fine house after the mode of a castle’.13 It was reputed to have cost £4,667, a huge sum for a knight to spend, but understandable if it was the Duke’s property. In the year after Margaret’s birth, Richard was granted a licence allowing him to build and crenellate the tower which, at more than 100 feet high, was known as one of the finest constructions of its age. It was built in the ‘new’ Flemish style, with an elegant overstorey, called an oriel, and decorated with gilded vanes.

Hunsdon was not merely a very opulent house, it was also a convenient residence close to London. Between 1445 and 1447, Richard’s affairs involved him in close attendance on the court and the council. It would have been very convenient for him and his family to use Hunsdon as a base, near to London but free from the pestilence which so often affected the city during the summer months. There is, moreover, some evidence that Margaret had a special interest in the manor of Hunsdon. Nearly half a century later, as the Dowager Duchess of Burgundy, she signed a series of contracts with Richard of York, better known as Perkin Warbeck.14 In these contracts she was promised two pieces of property in England, Hunsdon and Scarborough, which she would receive when Richardbecame King of England. Is it possible that Hunsdon rather than Waltham Abbey or Fotheringhay Castle was in fact Margaret’s birthplace?

Fotheringhay, Waltham or Hunsdon? Fortunately the puzzle of Margaret’s birthplace is not typical of the task facing her biographer. All the major events of her later life are documented with much greater accuracy and, in certain matters such as her marriage and the administration of her dower lands; the chief problem lies in selecting from the great mass of evidence which has survived. It is however, difficult to discover anything about her early life. This is to be expected. Margaret’s significance was only appreciated when seen within her family context. There was little place in the world of the late fifteenth century for individuals and little interest in their youth, especially that of a younger daughter.

Money was one of the many causes of friction that existed between Richard and the Crown. The Duke claimed that he was owed more than £30,000 in arrears for his salary and expenses in France. Although he was the richest noble landowner in England, Wales and Ireland, he had a regular shortfall of income.15 Due to his lengthy absences abroad, his estates were probably not well managed. Unlike his daughter Margaret, Richard did not attend closely to his estates and neither did the Duchess Cecily. His officials had a relatively free hand and there appears to have been a considerable leakage of funds.

In the year of Margaret’s birth, he was in particularly urgent need of large sums of money. Not only was he committed to paying out a costly dowry for his eldest daughter, Anne, but he was also in the process of establishing an independent household for his two eldest sons, Edward, Earl of March and Edmund, Earl of Rutland. He met his needs by selling off or mortgaging some of his manors, by raising loans on his plate and jewels, and by pressing the King for payment of the debt he was owed. This caused considerable irritation in the Royal Council, desperately trying to find the money required for the defence of Normandy, Maine and Anjou. There were stormy scenes between the Duke’s supporters and Adam Moleyns, Bishop of Chichester, Keeper of the Privy Seal and a supporter of the Duke of Suffolk. Moleyns retaliated by accusing York and his supporters of misappropriating funds intended for the army in France. Although Richard successfully sued Moleyns for slander, the confrontation increased his alienation from the court, and especially from Suffolk and the Queen.

This lack of royal favour had serious implications for Margaret and her sisters. Richard needed court influence to achieve suitable marriages for his two sons and three daughters.16 Procuring worthy and honourable marriages for their children was one of the major duties and preoccupations of all noble families. Indeed the success of Cecily’s own parents contrasts sharply with the failure of Richard of York. Earl Ralph had pursued his dynastic ambitions and fulfilled his responsibilities as a father with a great deal of determination. Richard did not enjoy the same success. By 1446 only the eldest child, Anne, had secured a suitable marriage, to Henry Holland, one of Richard’s wards and the heir to the duchy of Exeter. This was exactly the sort of marriage alliance that Cecily Neville must have wanted for all her children. Henry Holland was a direct descendant of Edward III and so the marriage would enhance Anne’s own royal inheritance.

Richard had even more ambitious marriage plans for his eldest son. During the diplomatic exchanges concerning the marriage of Henry VI to Margaret of Anjou, he entered into negotiations for the marriage of Edward to Madeleine, the younger daughter of King Charles VII. Suffolk apparently gave York’s proposals his full support, but as soon as the Anglo-French treaties were completed and Margaret of Anjou had become Queen of England, Edward’s French marriage receded from view. No doubt Richard had suspicions that he had merely been encouraged to expect a royal marriage for his own son in order to buy his support for the King’s marriage and for the peace treaty. After this, Richard was unable to find suitable betrothals for his children. It is significant that Anne’s marriage took place before the new Queen Margaret was fully established and the betrothal of Elizabeth, the second daughter, was only secured when the Queen’s influence was curtailed and Richard of York was acting as Protector of England for the second time.

The correct lineage was very important to the Duke and Duchess of York when it came to the selection of marriage partners for their children. It was not to be a paramount issue for their eldest son Edward, but it was a matter which would concern their youngest son Richard when he set aside his ‘less royal’ nephews in 1483. Margaret too was well aware of the dangers of disparagement by marriage. In 1477, Anthony Woodville was rejected for her step-daughter Mary on the grounds that he was a mere Earl,17 and although Margaret herself was widowed at a relatively early age, she was not one of those dowagers, so common in the fifteenth century, who remarried a man of lower rank.

At the time of Margaret’s birth, Richard found his political ambitions, his personal fortunes and his marriage plans for his children all blocked by the lack of royal patronage. In addition to these personal problems there was a major political storm brewing between the court supporting a policy of peace with France, and their opponents who resented any surrender of English territory. The hawks had gathered around Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, the King’s only surviving paternal uncle.18 The popular old Duke Humphrey emerged from the semi-retirement into which he had been forced by the disgrace of his wife, Eleanor Cobham, to lead the opposition to the surrender of Maine and Anjou. It was common knowledge by December 1446 that the King had agreed to the surrender of these territories and that Suffolk was ready and willing to confront Gloucester over this policy.

Suffolk prepared for this clash of wills by summoning Parliament to meet at Bury St Edmunds, a city well within his own area of influence. When Humphrey arrived he was met with a long indictment against him and placed under arrest. Within the week he was dead, officially and probably truly as the result of a stroke. Richard of York’s immediate role in the conflict between Gloucester and Suffolk is not at all clear. He was certainly not an open supporter of Duke Humphrey. Perhaps he was still hoping for a royal appointment and did not wish to antagonise the court. Moreover he had not opposed the King’s marriage to Margaret of Anjou and he may well have supported the general drift of Suffolk’s policies. In the months that followed, York was rewarded for his silence over Gloucester’s death. He was given Gloucester’s old office as Steward and Justice-in-Eyre of all the royal forests and he acquired some of Gloucester’s property, including Baynard’s Castle in London. Finally, late in 1447, the Duke of York had his reward. He was given a new royal appointment as the Lieutenant of Ireland.

At first sight this would appear to have been a poor alternative to the Lieutenancy of France already granted to Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. Contemporaries saw the Irish appointment as a sign of ill favour, ‘ande in that same yere the Duke of York Richard Plantagenet was exsyled to Ireland’.19 York showed himself in no hurry to take up the appointment. He did not leave from Beaumaris until July 1449, and he would remain in Ireland for little more than a year. There were uncomfortable precedents with the last two Mortimer Earls of March, both of whom had died in Ireland. Perhaps Suffolk and the Queen were hoping that the latest Mortimer heir might perish in the same way. Nevertheless Richard may not have been entirely dissatisfied. He was fortunate to be out of France at a time when so much of the English territories were being surrendered. Even Rouen was lost. Financially, too, the crown tried to satisfy the Duke, settling a large part of its debt to him and offering generous terms for his service in Ireland. Moreover, he had private interests in Ireland with his estates of Meath, Connaught and Ulster, lands that were part of his Mortimer and Clare inheritance.

There is no evidence that Margaret accompanied her parents to Ireland. The two eldest sons remained at Ludlow and both Anne and Elizabeth were boarded out in suitable noble households, as was the English custom. Two more male infants, William and John, had been born to the Duchess Cecily in the two years after Margaret’s birth, but both had died. Margaret remained the only child in the York nursery, probably under the care of Anne of Caux, who had joined the family at Rouen as a nurse to Edward, and stayed with them for the rest of her life. Her pension was paid by both Edward IV and Richard III.20

In Ireland the Duke and Duchess of York again enjoyed the autonomy of their own court, and the Duke rapidly became known as a popular and competent Governor. His success must have given little satisfaction to Margaret of Anjou and the news that Cecily had given birth to yet another healthy son would have added to her anxieties, especially as there was still no royal heir.21 The choice of a name for their fourth son was also likely to alarm the court, since they called him George, after the patron saint of England. This cult was very fashionable among the aristocracy of England, France and Burgundy. The two leading families of Ireland, the Butlers and the Fitzgeralds, provided godparents for the infant at his well-nigh regal baptism in the Church of St Saviour, Dublin. This Irish connection would be exploited by Margaret when she promoted the claims of George’s son against the Tudor Henry VII.

Enjoying his success in Ireland and with the losses in France in mind, Duke Richard wrote confidently to the King vowing that ‘it shall never be chronicled … by the grace of God that Ireland was lost by my negligence’.22 From Ireland he watched as the growing crisis in England paralysed the government. The widespread anger over the losses in France led inexorably to the overthrow of Suffolk, who was blamed for the English surrenders. Adam Moleyns, York’s old adversary, was assassinated, and Suffolk himself was brought to trial, exiled and murdered. Throughout these troubles a stream of messengers was kept on the road between England and Ireland. Sir William Oldhall was one of the Duke’s most important contacts. He left for England in January 1450, returning in the summer to report personally.

Duke Richard’s part in the rebellion of 1450 is difficult to assess.23 Contemporaries were also confused. The court was suspicious of his involvement, especially since Jack Cade, the rebel leader who marched on London from Kent in June, claimed he was a Mortimer and a cousin of York. The falcon and fetterlock badge was displayed and paraded around London during the disturbances. However, York’s London property was attacked by the rebels. He later claimed that jewels had been looted from his houses.

During this serious emergency, York expected to be recalled, to lend assistance to the crown and fill the place left vacant by the fall of Suffolk. He was therefore alarmed and angered to hear that his rival the Duke of Somerset had been created Constable of England and was taking over Suffolk’s powers and offices. This not only excluded York from political power, but also threatened his claims to the throne. Edmund, Duke of Somerset, was the nearest male relation to the King on the Beaufort side and, like the Duchess Cecily, a descendant of the marriage of John of Gaunt to Katherine Swynford.24 Although the Beauforts had been specifically excluded from the royal inheritance, the presence of Somerset at court and the favour with which he was regarded by the childless Queen was a clear threat to the prospects of York and his children.

Early in September 1450, Richard left Ireland and returned to England at the head of about 4,000 armed men. In advance of his arrival, he prepared a series of petitions to put his case to the King and to justify his return.25 He claimed that ‘many promises had been to me made not performed’ and that he was still owed large sums of money. He declared that he had three main reasons for his return: he was coming to defend his reputation against rumours of his involvement in the rebellion, to take his rightful place as a royal adviser and, above all, to uphold his lineage, ‘the issue that it pleased God to send me of the royal blood’ from all who intended ‘to have undo me myn issue and corrupt my blode’.

The Duke’s petition drew attention to his six living children, a clear sign of God’s blessing and was a slur on the Queen, who was still childless after five years of marriage. His sudden return without royal invitation, at the head of a body of troops and at a time when violence was prevalent and unrest still widespread, was seen as an open challenge. From his arrival back in England until early 1452, an uneasy impasse existed between the supporters of York and Somerset both at court and in the country at large. But in 1452, Duke Richard was tricked, isolated from his troops at Greenwich, and forced to accept the pre-eminence of Somerset. He was also made to submit to arbitration by a royal committee on the issue of his financial demands, and obliged to renew his act of allegiance to the King in a public ceremony at St Paul’s.26

Cecily followed her husband back to England and during the next five years three more children were born to her, Thomas who died young, Richard, the future King Richard III, born at Fotheringhay in October 1452, and another daughter Ursula, who also died young. With the birth of Ursula in 1455, Cecily’s childbearing years seem to have come to an end. She was then forty years old. Her lengthy and regular childbearing since the age of twenty-four had left no apparent toll on her health. She was to outlive her husband, all her brothers and sisters and all but two of her own children, living on until she was nearly eighty. None of her children would live as long, and only two matched her fecundity, Edward IV and Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk.

These years were a difficult time for York, his family and followers. Sir William Oldhall was forced to take sanctuary at St Martin-le-Grand, and York’s tenants were harassed by Somerset and his allies. Open warfare broke out in the north, triggered off by feuds between the Percys and the Nevilles.27 The Earl of Warwick’s arguments with the Duke of Somerset over the Beauchamp inheritance and his clashes with the King’s Tudor half-brothers over lands in Wales, drove both Warwick and his father, the Earl of Salisbury who was Cecily’s eldest brother, into a closer alliance with Duke Richard.28

In October 1453 any hopes that Richard still harboured of being declared heir to the throne finally collapsed when the Queen at last gave birth to a son, Edward, Prince of Wales, ‘of whoos birth the peple speke strangley’. ‘The Quene was defamed and descaundered that he that was called Prince was nat hir son but a bastard goten in avoutry.’29

This royal birth came at a momentous time in the struggle between England and France. In the autumn of 1452 John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, had recovered control over Bordeaux and Gascony, but early in the spring, the French King, Charles VII, began a major campaign. This reached a peak in July with the defeat of the English at Castillon, and the death of the great Talbot himself. English Gascony collapsed, leaving England with barely a vestige of her former possessions in France. In the midst of this crisis the health of King Henry VI suddenly gave way and by the late summer he apparently became insane. The Queen and her friends tried to conceal the King’s incapacity and to exclude the Duke of York from the Great Council summoned to meet on 24 October. Pressure from other nobles and a well-timed letter from the Duchess Cecily congratulating the Queen on the birth of her son finally secured a summons for the Duke.30

By March 1454, York had enough backing among the Lords and the Commons to ensure that he was made Head of the Council for the duration of the King’s illness. The Duke of Somerset and young Henry Holland, Richard’s hostile son-in-law, were both imprisoned.31 The Earl of Salisbury became Chancellor and, for a few months, the Duke of York was firmly in the saddle. But King Henry regained his sanity, Somerset and Exeter were released, and York then found himself in a very perilous position. With Salisbury and Warwick, York began to muster a large army explaining in a series of manifestos that they were coming in force because otherwise they dared not attend the Council that had been summoned to meet at Leicester. York found his attempts to communicate with the King blocked by the Queen and Somerset. The result of this political stalemate was the first major military engagement in the Wars of the Roses, the battle of St Albans fought on the 22 May 1455. King Henry was wounded and Somerset and the Percy Earl of Northumberland were among the dead.32

The Duke of York and his Neville allies were once more in control and they were able to consolidate their power and reward their followers. Warwick obtained the Captaincy of Calais and Viscount Bourchier, York’s brother-in-law, became Lord Treasurer. Although the Duke of York was only in power for a short time, he secured some substantial financial advantages for his family. He obtained the wardship of Suffolk’s heir, John de la Pole, and so provided his second daughter Elizabeth with a suitable marriage. He also ensured the settlement of all the outstanding crown debts to himself, and was granted the licence to exploit the gold and silver mines of the south-west. By the late 1450s, the family fortunes were so much improved that the Duchess Cecily was interested in purchasing the fine castle at Caistor that had belonged to Sir John Fastolf.

In reality, however, the position of Duke Richard and his family was more perilous than ever. There was now no room for a reconciliation between York and the Queen, who feared his intentions towards Edward, Prince of Wales. Nor could all the deaths from the battle of St Albans be easily forgotten, even though the Duke paid for a chantry chapel on the site of the battle. King Henry tried to promote peace between the protagonists by encouraging a great public act of reconciliation, the so-called ‘love day’ at St Paul’s, when Richard of York led in Queen Margaret, ‘with great familiarity in all men’s sight’.33 But this familiarity came to nothing and by the summer of 1459 both sides were once again preparing to fight.

The royal forces were gathering in the Midlands, Cheshire and Shropshire and the Queen made a serious effort to prevent the Earl of Salisbury’s forces from meeting up with York. Attacked at Blore Heath as they marched south on 23 September, Salisbury fought off the royal troops and reached York at Ludlow with the bulk of his men. But by 12 October the royalist forces had grown considerably, while the Yorkist army had been weakened by the desertion of Andrew Trollop and the men of the Calais garrison, who refused to fight against their King.34 The Yorkists were therefore forced to retreat. Richard and his son Edmund made their way to Ireland, and Salisbury, with Warwick and Edward Earl of March, left from the Devonshire coast to seek refuge in Calais. There followed what is known as the rout of Ludford Bridge when ‘the toune of Ludlow longyng thaan to the Duk of York was robbed to the bare walles and the noble Duches of York unmanly and cruelly was entreted and spoyled’.35

Much historical and fictional imagination has gone to work on this episode at Ludlow. Ludlow was the principal residence of York’s two eldest sons, Edward and Edmund, but the rest of the family also stayed there from time to time. Large domestic buildings had been added, full of the comforts which had so improved the quality of life for the fifteenth century aristocracy.36 There were chimneys in most of the rooms, great windows full of the new window-glass and plenty of private rooms, a far cry from the dark, communal accommodation which the old keep had offered. Contemporaries might well assume that the whole family was often in residence at this most comfortable castle. Both the writer of Hearne’s Fragment and John Wheathampsted recorded that the Duchess and her two young sons were taken prisoner at Ludlow, but we have no evidence that the Duchess was there at the time.

Both the English Chronicle and Fabyan recorded only that the Duchess submitted to the King at the Parliament called to Coventry in November. The lands of York, March, Rutland, Salisbury and Warwick were attaindered, but the King made provision for ‘the relief and sustentation of her [Cecily] and her young children what have not offended against us’. These would include Margaret. The Duchess was allowed an income of 1,000 marks per annum to be drawn from the York estates, and she was put into the care of her older sister Anne, Duchess of Buckingham, where according to, Fabyan, ‘she was kept full straight and with many a rebuke.’37

Yet by January 1460 Cecily was travelling freely in Kent and by July she was with Margaret, George and Richard in London ‘staying till Michaelmas at Fastolf’s place in Southwark.’38 Fastolf had owned Crosby House, one of the most modern properties in London with Purbeck marble floors and fine airy windows. Cecily was there for only two days, for as soon as she heard that the Duke of York had returned from Ireland, she rushed off to meet him ‘in a chair covered in blue velvet and four pair coursers therein’.39

Margaret, then aged fourteen, and her two brothers remained in London. John Paston, who reported their residence at Crosby House, was anxious to show that he was discharging his responsibilities as Fastolf’s executor with true care. He wrote that ‘my Lord of March cometh every day to see them’.40 Edward, Earl of March, was then aged eighteen, and at over six feet tall he was a powerful and attractive young man as well as a proven soldier. This is the first documentary reference to Margaret herself. It implies that, unlike her older sisters, she had remained within the family household, a situation reflecting the political problems of the 1450s. The seven surviving children of the House of York may be divided into two groups, the older four, all placed in suitable establishments and the younger three who remained at home. Of these three younger children, all of whom were reared in the stormy years of Duke Richard’s rebellion, only Margaret would survive to live out a full and successful life.

Events moved quickly and dramatically after the rout of Ludford. The ferocity and extent of the attainders decreed at the Coventry Parliament resulted in a reaction in favour of York and his fellow rebels. They had already established their power bases. York was so strong in Ireland that the new Governor’s emissary, the Earl of Wiltshire, was hanged as a traitor when he tried to proclaim his master’s appointment, and no royal force could dislodge Warwick and Salisbury from Calais. Efforts to do so resulted in Warwick’s daring retaliatory raid on Sandwich, when he seized both the royal ships and their royal commanders including Lord Rivers and his son Sir Anthony Woodville, Edward Earl of March’s future father-in-law and brother-in-law. They were abducted to Calais and rebuked for their interference in the affairs of their betters by Warwick and Edward himself.41

In the meantime the efforts of the Crown to crush Yorkist support within England had only stirred up more agitation, and Yorkist propaganda was being widely circulated. Warwick sought and obtained support from abroad, both from the Papal Legate Coppini and from the Dauphin Louis, who was then in exile at the Burgundian court. By June, the Calais Earls considered themselves sufficiently strong to invade England and on 2 July they were in control of London, albeit with a strong Lancastrian garrison still holding out in the Tower. Warwick and March advanced to meet the royalist forces at the Battle of Northampton. This was Edward’s first personal military success, the royal army was totally defeated and there were many casualties including Cecily’s brother-in-law, the Duke of Buckingham. The King was taken prisoner but the Queen and the Prince of Wales remained at liberty. With the King back in London, the Tower was assaulted and seized, and by the end of July the Yorkists were in full control.

Their triumph determined Richard to make an outright bid for the throne. Reviving all the old Mortimer claims, he arrived from Ireland, was met by the Duchess, glorious in her blue litter, and marched south through Ludlow and Hereford to Abingdon. On his banners he displayed the arms of England, and his claim to the throne was justified in yet another series of manifestos. His arrival in London in September 1460 was both triumphal and royal. Falcons and fetterlocks were embroidered on his livery beside the white roses of the Mortimers, but above everything floated the royal arms. As he entered Westminster Hall for the session of Parliament, the sword of state was borne unsheathed before him. Everything was designed to emphasise his right to the throne which, ‘though right for a time rest and be put to silence yet it rotteth not nor shall it perish’.42

His entrance was met with an embarrassed silence from the nobility, while the Archbishop of Canterbury asked the Duke if he wished to see the King. It was at once apparent that his royal pretensions had very little support. Contemporaries reported that the Calais Earls, including his eldest son, the Earl of March, opposed the Duke’s attempted usurpation. Although he persisted in his claim for several days, issuing lengthy genealogical proofs to support his right, he was reminded of his repeated oaths of allegiance to King Henry, and was eventually forced to accept a compromise in the form of the Act of Accord. In this the Duke was acknowledged as the heir-apparent and the Prince of Wales was set aside. The income from the principality of Wales was to be paid to the Duke. The Coventry attainders were annulled and large annuities were to be paid to the Earls of March and Rutland. Finally the Duke of York was declared Protector of England and granted all the powers of a Regent.

This disinheritance of the Prince of Wales, while leaving King Henry on the throne, was clearly not going to last. Throughout the last months of 1460 both sides gathered troops. The Queen, accompanied by her son, recruited in the north with the full support of Westmorland and the Percys. Edward, Earl of March, went west to recruit along the Marches and York rode north with Salisbury to bring in their own forces from Yorkshire. Warwick remained in control of London and the King. The Duchess Cecily together with Margaret, Richard and George also remained in London, probably at Baynard’s Castle.

York’s arrival at his castle of Sandal was intended to support his loyal tenantry in the West Riding from the raids of the Percys and their royal allies. But the Lancastrian force at the nearby castle of Pontefract seems to have been larger and by the end of the year the Duke found that he was virtually besieged at Sandal. On 30 December a brief skirmish between a Yorkist foraging party and a Lancastrian ambush resulted in a catastrophic clash of arms and the deaths of Richard himself, his son Edmund, the Earl of Salisbury, his son Thomas and the Duke’s nephew, Sir Edward Bourchier.43

The news of this ‘evil day of Wakefield’ reached London in the first days of January, striking horror into the party that had been keeping the Christmas feast at Baynard’s Castle. The reports must have seemed incredible. The Duke was forty-nine years old and not given to rash military ventures. Only a breach of the Christmas truce by the Lancastrian forces could make any sense of what had occurred. Rumours that Edmund had been killed while fleeing from the field, and that Salisbury had been executed without trial at Pontefract, added to the sense of terror. News too that Richard’s head wearing a paper crown had been mounted on the walls of York added a final macabre note. Cecily acted swiftly, exhibiting calmness in the face of a serious crisis which Margaret would later emulate. She sent her two youngest sons off to safety in Burgundy, ‘unto a towne in Flaundyrs namyd uteryk.’44

Duke Philip of Burgundy greeted the news of their arrival in his dominions with some embarrassment. The boys were sent to Utrecht to be cared for by Bishop David, one of the ducal bastards who could be relied upon to carry out his father’s orders. The two boys settled down to their studies under the Bishop’s enlightened eye. The Yorkist disaster of Wakefield had attracted much attention in Burgundy, where there were virtually three courts at that time, the Duke’s own court, which was centred on Brabant and Flanders, the court of his heir Charles, the Count of Charolais, who was either at The Hague or with the ducal armies in the field, and the court of the Dauphin Louis of France, who was living in exile at Jemappes.

Louis was enthusiastic in his support for the Yorkist cause, chiefly because he opposed all the policies of his father, Charles VII, from whom he had fled. Louis’ response to the news of Wakefield was to send his own personal messenger with a small force to support the Yorkists. They eventually fought beside Edward at the battle of Towton under the Dauphin’s standard.45 Due to the Dauphin’s Yorkist leanings, Charles, who was hostile to Louis’ influence on Burgundian policy, inclined towards Lancaster. The old Duke Philip steered a middle course, preserving an austere neutrality to the anarchical wranglings of the English nobility. George and Richard were left at Utrecht and it was not until after the Yorkist victory at Towton that they were invited to the court at Bruges, where they were shown ‘great reverence’ and entertained to a ducal banquet.46 When they returned to London in June, they were able to provide Margaret with first-hand descriptions of the splendour of the Burgundian court, which was then at its apogee under the third ‘Great Duke of the West’, Philip the Good.

In the five months between the disaster at Wakefield and the coronation of her brother Edward in June, Margaret remained with her mother in London which was still in Yorkist hands. While the rest of the country offered unknown dangers, Baynard’s Castle became the safe house for the family. It was a large house, capable of accommodating the 400 armed men which Richard of York had brought with him in 1458.47 The great hall was over forty feet long and twenty-four feet wide; there were large undercrofts and several courtyards. It lay between Thames Street and the river, and its pleasant gardens ran beside the Thames. The elegant gardens of the London houses were a well-known feature of the medieval city, and they were planted with a wide variety of trees and flowers. The views from the terraces were spectacular and exciting. The Thames was full of ships, both foreign galleys and the local craft. These were manned by formidable boatmen, who had to be strong and tough in order to get their small boats through the narrow arches of London Bridge in the face of the rushing currents and tides. Further downstream towards the Tower was the quay, where the Venetian galleys loaded and unloaded under the watchful eye of the garrison.

It is likely that Cecily and Margaret stayed at Baynard’s Castle until after the coronation of Edward IV. From January to March, they faced some very uneasy times, especially after Warwick was defeated at the second battle of St Albans, leaving the way to London open to the Queen’s northern army. The city was only spared by her hesitation and reluctance to launch an attack. A delegation of ladies who were known for their loyalty to the royal cause, including Anne, Dowager Duchess of Buckingham and Jacquetta, Lady Rivers, went to plead with the Queen not to bring her northern rabble into the city. Fortunately for London she listened to their appeals.48

The Queen’s hesitation gave time for Edward, Earl of March, to act. As soon as he heard of his father’s death, he attacked the royal forces in the west, defeating them at Mortimer’s Cross. With the new ruthlessness which followed Wakefield, Owen Tudor, the King’s stepfather, was executed at the market cross in Hereford. The battle of Mortimer’s Cross became a very important part of the Yorkist iconography. According to tradition, there appeared just before the battle ‘three suns in the firmament shining full clear’.49With true piety, these were interpreted as signs of the Trinity and therefore of God’s blessing for their cause. Edward adopted the three suns as his emblem and together with the Mortimer roses they gradually replaced the falcon and fetterlock as the main badges of the House of York. When he became King they were adopted as royal symbols.

Fresh from his triumph, Edward marched directly to London and conferred with Warwick as to their next move. With the deaths of both their fathers at Wakefield, a new generation was in the saddle and the young men did not hesitate. Edward was proclaimed King on 4 March, basing his right to the throne on his father’s claim of 1460 and on the fact that royal forces had broken the Act of Accord at Wakefield. It was less than a year since Richard of York had made his abortive bid for the throne but the whole political situation had been transformed. Warwick had lost his possession of King Henry at the second battle of St Albans and the rebels needed a king of their own. Coppini, the Papal Delegate, who like many foreigners, was misled by Warwick’s authority in Calais declared that ‘in the end my Lord of Warwick has come off best and made a new King of the son of the Duke of York’.50 But in England it was more a question of the old Mortimer magic at work, perhaps also something to do with the fact that Edward was a handsome young giant and a proven general, in marked contrast both to his father and to the old King Henry. As one of the chroniclers wrote, ‘let us walk in a new vineyard and let us make a gay garden in the month of March with this fair white rose and herb the Earl of March’.51

Following the declaration of his royal title and the celebration of a Te Deum at St Paul’s, the new King Edward IV left London to put his claim to the decisive ordeal of battle. The hard fought battle of Saxton Field at Towton in the West Riding was the largest and bloodiest conflict of these civil wars.52 Edward claimed, in a letter to his mother, that 28,000 men had died, while modern estimates of the numbers involved in the fighting vary from 50,000 to 75,000. At least three-quarters of the aristocratic families had members on the field, and after the battle 113 attainders were issued. The hapless King Henry, who was not at the battle, escaped with the resolute Queen and her son. Sheltered by loyalists, Queen Margaret, a woman of great courage, fled first to Scotland and later to Burgundy and France where she sought help in vain.

In London, the House of York celebrated the coronation of King Edward. Prominent at the new court was the widowed Duchess Cecily. The most important ladies of the new court were Edward’s three sisters: Anne, Duchess of Exeter (whose husband was an irreconcilable Lancastrian, now also in exile) Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk (whose husband proved to be as reliable as a Yorkist courtier as he would later be as a Tudor courtier) and Margaret (who was now wholly dependent upon her brother the King for her maintenance and a marriage settlement).

On their return from Burgundy, George, newly made Duke of Clarence, was given particular honours as the heir-apparent and the younger brother Richard was made Duke of Gloucester. Both boys became Knights of the Garter and were heaped with lands and offices. Margaret and her two younger brothers were, for a short time at least, all established under one roof at the pleasant country palace of Greenwich.53

It was now Edward’s duty to arrange marriages both for himself and for his siblings. Unfortunately, like his father before him, he would fail lamentably and fatally to provide suitable brides for his brothers and Margaret had to wait long and patiently until an appropriate bridegroom was found for her. The new Yorkist princess was fifteen years old when her brother was proclaimed king. By fifteenth century standards, she was already a young woman whose education and training was complete. By her age, her mother, sisters and most of her other female relations had been betrothed and left the family household, but Margaret was to remain at court and unmarried for another seven years.

The Duchess Cecily was no cypher. In spite of her long years of childbearing she had remained constantly at her husband’s side and, after his death, she continued to play an active role in the family and to take part in political and administrative affairs. After the battle of Towton, the Papal Legate Coppini was advised to ‘write to the Duchess of York who has a good regard for you and can rule the King as she pleases’.54 In the first decade of Edward’s reign, we find her energetically supporting the promotion of one of her chaplains, Thomas Bann, to a preferment at Folkestone, despite the combined opposition of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Clinton. In the later years of her life, when most of her day was devoted to religious matters, she still set time aside to deal with her petitioners and business affairs. This diligent pursuit of the long-term interests of the family, both in heaven and on earth, was very typical of the great ladies of the fifteenth century. Margaret’s own success in securing for herself a respected and honoured position at the Burgundian court was due to her constant vigilance and care in matters of administration and politics. She learned much of this from her mother’s example.

However, the Duchess Cecily’s greatest legacy to her youngest daughter was in the field of religion. The central place of religion in the history of the fifteenth century was especially important in the lives of the aristocratic women who had both the time and opportunity to lead a full religious life. Like the Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of the future Henry VII, Margaret and Cecily found no conflict between their piety and a ruthless determination to promote the fortunes of their families. These women were typical of their age. Their religious practice was full of indulgences and relics. Schatzel, who travelled to England with Count Leo of Rozmittal early in Edward’s reign, wrote that he had never seen so many relics as in England.55 Without a strong faith and a belief that this world was merely a temporary vale of tears, it is difficult to see how either the Duchess Cecily or her daughter Margaret could have survived the many disasters and disappointments which they had to endure.

The Duchess of York was certainly no patient Griselda, and her survival through all the crises shows a strong and remarkably positive character. Her capacity to endure and her religious zeal were passed on to Margaret.56 Cecily taught Margaret to set aside regular hours for prayer, contemplation and reading. Essential reading included the lives of the saints, Cecily being particularly interested in the lives of St Catherine of Siena and St Brigid of Sweden.57 St Catherine’s life recorded a very emotional religious experience, in which the practitioner tried to imagine the sufferings of Christ and the martyrs. The saint had even signed her letters ‘yours in the blood of Christ’. Both Cecily and her daughter Margaret shunned this level of spiritual excess, but they were both personally and publicly devout. The proper duty of a Christian noblewoman was to provide lavish vestments, books, plate and reliquaries for the Church, to support good clergymen and to observe all the feasts and liturgies of the Christian year. Both Cecily and Margaret fulfilled their duties in this respect with conscientious attention, munificence and splendour.

While Margaret owed her training to her mother, her inheritance from her father was not insubstantial. Richard of York showed considerable skill in maintaining the loyalty of his servants and followers, including those he had inherited from his uncle Edward, Duke of York, and from his predecessor in Rouen, the Regent Bedford. These included John Russel, Sir John Popham and Sir William Oldhall.58 Margaret too was able to keep the allegiance of her staff, such as Olivier de La Marche, who served as chamberlain to both herself and her husband, and later to Philip the Fair. Duke Richard was significantly less successful in attracting support from among his peers, in spite of the large affinity he had acquired through his marriage. Did the emphasis which he placed on his royal blood alienate him from the less royal nobility, or was he personally a cold and reserved man unlike his amiable and charismatic son King Edward? If so, then perhaps Margaret was more like her father, for she was described as reserved and seldom smiling.59 She also inherited a deep sense of dynasty, which showed throughout her life in her steadfast loyalty to the Houses of Burgundy and of York.

Margaret was born at a time when written communication had become an important part of estate management and social life. Great nobles normally used secretaries for their correspondence and business affairs. It was still considered clerkish to write a good hand. But Margaret was sufficiently learned to be able to supervise her officials and subject their work to a close personal scrutiny. She was probably schooled with her younger brothers. Her autograph was very confident and untidy, showing a reasonable degree of literacy and a strong character.60 Classical learning and humanism had not yet affected the education of the English aristocracy, and neither Margaret nor her brothers were given the sort of grounding in Latin which would become commonplace in the next generation. Her extensive use of French translations of Latin authors shows that, like the rest of her family, she was no classicist.

Her knowledge of spoken French began in the nursery with Anne of Caux, but although fluent in speech, even after years of living in Burgundy, her written French was still far from accurate. Nevertheless, her ability to read French was such that she was later able to correct Caxton’s translation.61 She also appears to have had no difficulty in learning some Dutch. In Edward IV’s instructions for the education of his son, the Prince of Wales, ‘grammar, music and other exercises of humanity’ were recommended. No doubt Margaret was also taught music, dancing and embroidery, the standard skills for a woman of her class. She would have become a competent rider, though it was the custom for ladies to ride pillion behind a man, or to travel long distances in a ‘chair’ or litter. Travel was never seen as a problem and Margaret, like her mother Cecily, would set off on long and laborious journeys at all seasons of the year.

Very little is known about the personal tastes and interests of Richard of York and his wife. Both he and the Duchess kept a great retinue, and made full use of finery and splendour in their costume, jewels and plate, a great contrast in style to the modesty and simplicity of Henry VI. On the miniatures and paintings that have survived, Margaret is always portrayed dressed with elegance and opulence in the fashion of her day but she was not, like her brother Edward, noted for finery or sense of display.

Her most lavish personal spending was apparently on her purchases of fine manuscripts. She may have acquired her original interest in such matters from her parents but neither of them displayed the discrimination which was to distinguish Margaret’s collection. Duchess Cecily’s books appear to have been confined to religious subjects. Richard of York’s only known instance of literary patronage was an English translation of the book by Consul Stilicho. Since Stilicho was a much-wronged Roman noble who was finally made consul due to the great favour of the populace, the selection of this subject by the Duke was probably a political matter rather than a question of literary taste.62 Her father’s uncle, Edward, Duke of York, had shown some interest in books. He translated and amended a French treatise on hunting and the training of hunting dogs, a work based on much practical experience.63 Margaret’s own interest was to go far beyond that of her parents or her great-uncle, for she was to have the benefit of access to the famous Burgundian library.

This educated young woman with decided religious and bookish interests found herself in 1461 the only unmarried sister of the King of England. For the next seven years she divided her time between the various royal lodgings that were provided for her and the court itself. Three main routes ran across the city and Baynard’s Castle was on the most southerly route in Thames Street. The Royal Wardrobe, where rooms were prepared for Margaret when she stayed in the city, lay on the central route to the east of the Blackfriars monastery where Puddle Dock met the end of Carter Lane. This old royal property had been refurbished to provide lodgings for royal guests and members of the family. It was conveniently close to Baynard’s Castle and a short ride from the Palace of Westminster.64

London, in spite of the hazards of the plague, was a very attractive city. It was relatively small with a population of about 40,000, four times smaller than Paris, but about the same size as Florence or Rome, and larger than any city in Burgundy. It covered an area of about one square mile, from the Tower to Blackfriars and from the river to the north wall. With its many gardens, kites wheeling overhead and salmon and pike in the Thames, London was a very rural place by our standards, but it enjoyed all the advantages of a great medieval city. The most skilful craftsmen worked there and it was famous for its goldsmiths, silversmiths and jewellers. It was the only place in England where foreign luxuries were readily available. Only in London could one purchase fine cloth, tapestries, wall hangings, furs, spices, sugars and exotic fruit like lemons, oranges and pomegranates. Great sums of money were spent on these luxuries, especially on such fabrics as silks and damasks, which were used for clothing and wall hangings.

Although there had been many contemporary improvements in the collection of sewage and the provision of fresh water, London was still an unhealthy place. In 1464, two hundred people died of the plague in one month alone and 1467 was also a bad year. The prevalence of plague led to the gradual closing down of the public baths though two or three which were well-known for their respectable clientele had survived. Noble ladies were in the habit of dining out at some of the city’s inns, a fact noted with amazement by Schatzel.65

It was perhaps to escape the worst of the plague that the King also accommodated his sister and younger brothers out of the city at the ‘playsaunce’ of Greenwich.66 Like Baynard’s Castle, the Greenwich manor had belonged to Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, who had rebuilt it to a very high standard of luxury. After Gloucester’s death, Queen Margaret of Anjou made Greenwich her favourite country residence. She had the pillars decorated with marguerites, which would have pleased Margaret of York as well, and a new pier was built. Greenwich would also be used by Edward’s Queen and their first child, Elizabeth of York, was born there. The King had numerous chambers added for the convenience of his family, so that it was possible for George, Duke of Clarence, to stay there with his large household of almost three hundred servants and officials. The households for Margaret and Richard were much more modest, and sometime in 1465 Richard left Greenwich to join the Earl of Warwick’s household.

In the seven years that Margaret was maintained by her brother, she was provided with an income paid out of the Exchequer.67 In 1462 she was to receive 40 livres a year and from 1465, when she was over eighteen, this was raised to 400 marks, a generous but still modest allowance. Like most royal annuities, these payments were frequently in arrears. In addition to her annuity, the officials at the Treasury were expected to meet her expenses, both for the household at Greenwich and for her clothing and personal furnishings. When she stayed at court her expenses would be met directly through the royal household. From 1461 to 1464 her life was conducted within the compass of Greenwich, the Royal Wardrobe and the court, but this modest existence changed dramatically with the marriage of King Edward to Elizabeth Woodville. From 1464 onwards there are more frequent references to Lady Margaret, the King’s sister.

Bearing in mind both Richard of York’s efforts to secure a French princess as a bride for his eldest son, and all the diplomatic activity aimed at procuring a suitable bride for King Edward from the courts of Scotland, France, Italy, Spain or Burgundy, it came as a great surprise to everyone when the King did not marry, ‘some noble progeny out of his realm,’ but ‘a mere widow of England’.68 Cecily seems to have been appalled that her son had been ‘led by blind affection and not by the rule of reason’.

Yet in spite of the lack of international benefit, Edward’s marriage was not the sheer folly that some contemporaries considered it. Through his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, he had greatly increased his own personal following, attracting a numerous family who had previously been loyal to the House of Lancaster. Nor was Elizabeth Woodville the lowly creature that some commentators suggest. Her mother, Jacquetta de St Pol, was the daughter of one of the most noble and powerful families in Luxembourg and northern France, and could claim a descent from Charlemagne.69 Jacquetta’s first marriage, to the Duke of Bedford, had been a great affair of state, but her second marriage shortly after Bedford’s death to Sir Richard Woodville was a love match. It was regarded as a shocking disparagement by her own family and by the English crown, though she was eventually able to obtain a pardon from King Henry.

Sir Richard Woodville was indeed a mere knight, but he had been knighted at the same ceremony as Richard, Duke of York, and he had served under Bedford in France. In 1448 he was elevated to the peerage as Lord Rivers and he, with his whole family were loyal supporters of Henry VI. His son-in-law, Lord Grey of Groby, was killed fighting for the royal cause at the second battle of St Albans leaving an attractive widow, Elizabeth. With her marriage to Edward the whole family transferred its loyalty to the Yorkist King.

By the time of Elizabeth’s coronation in May 1465 most of the court had come to terms with the new Queen apart, perhaps, from Cecily, who is distinguished by her absence from the lists of those attending the ceremonies.70 The Duke of Clarence, as High Steward of the realm, led the Queen’s procession and her train bearer was Anne, the Dowager Duchess of Buckingham and an old friend of Jacquetta’s. Following the new Queen came Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk, and Margaret. It was the first time that her presence was recorded at a great occasion of this sort. At the coronation banquet Margaret sat on the Queen’s left hand, and from this time on she was one of the circle of ladies who attended upon the Queen.

Tetzel, who visited England a year later, described Margaret’s attendance at the elaborate ceremonial which followed the Queen’s churching after the birth of Elizabeth of York.71 There were, he claimed, eight duchesses and thirty countesses present, and they stood in silence as the Queen was seated in her ‘costly golden chair’. The Queen was attended by her mother and by the ‘King’s sister’, presumably Margaret, since both Anne and Elizabeth would have been accorded their titles. Margaret and the Lady Jacquetta stood some distance away from the Queen. When she addressed them they knelt before her, and were only seated when the Queen had been served with her first dish. Then all three ladies dined in state attended by other noble ladies, who knelt in silence as long as the Queen was eating. The meal lasted for three hours. Silence was an important part of the strict court etiquette and protocol.

After the banquet came the entertainment with music from the King’s choristers followed by dancing. Margaret danced a stately measure with two Dukes, probably her brothers, during which she made constant ‘courtly reverences’ towards the Queen. Deep curtsies were a part of the fashionable promenading dances, and they were usually directed towards the highest-ranking person present. From this description it is clear that Margaret was very visibly under the direct patronage of the Queen, and was completing her courtly education. She was also for the first time open to foreign influences. Edward laid considerable emphasis on his wife’s continental connections. Her uncle Jacques de St Pol, Count of Richebourg, had attended the Queen’s coronation with a retinue of one-hundred knights. Jacquetta had maintained her French and Burgundian contacts and among her books were several manuscripts of continental provenance including Christine de Pisan’s spirited defence of women, Book of the City of Ladies.72

After the modest lodgings in the Royal Wardrobe and the quiet Palace of Greenwich, Margaret, now a young woman of twenty-one, must have found life at court interesting and exciting. She surely learned much from the new Queen who set the highest standards both in courtly etiquette and in the management of her household. Queen Elizabeth’s household was administered with much greater efficiency and economy than that of her predecessor, Margaret of Anjou.73 Later, when she became the Duchess of Burgundy, Margaret was also to show a keen interest in household management and retained as her own chamberlain Europe’s foremost expert on noble households and etiquette, Olivier de La Marche.

It was, however, above all in the question of her marriage, that Elizabeth played a crucial role in her sister-in-law’s life. The new Queen was a much more able and energetic exponent of the marriage game than her husband. She was extremely successful in promoting marriages within her own family and seems to have taken a similar interest in the marriage of the King’s sister. There had indeed been a few proposals for Margaret’s hand before 1465.74 In 1462 the French reported that a marriage alliance was being negotiated between Margaret and King James III of Scotland, but nothing more was heard of this. Two years later, when King Edward was considering his own marriage to Isabella of Spain, the sister and heiress of the King of Castile, there was a suggestion that Margaret might marry a Spanish or Burgundian prince, but once again nothing came of it. After 1465, however, some more substantial proposals appeared.

The first real candidate for Margaret’s hand was Don Pedro of Aragon, and the match was urged forward by the Duchess Isabelle of Burgundy, who was Don Pedro’s aunt.75 Isabelle encouraged her nephew, a contender for the throne of Aragon and a claimant of Catalonia, to propose marriage to Margaret, and so obtain the support of England against his enemies, the Kings of Aragon and of France. Negotiations between Don Pedro and Edward IV were underway by late 1465, and there was a very positive response from the English court to this proposal. In the following January, Edward despatched his own envoys to Don Pedro’s court at Barcelona and two months later Don Pedro sent his secretary a detailed description of the betrothal ring which was to be presented to Margaret on his behalf. It was to be a very fine diamond set in gold costing £200, a high price indeed.76 It seemed that at last Margaret’s marriage was to become a reality, although Don Pedro’s prospects were not very promising. But the betrothal came to an abrupt end with his sudden death in June 1466. Don Pedro’s demise was, for Margaret at least, well timed, since late in 1465 another and much more interesting candidate had appeared on the scene. And thus it was that instead of becoming the wife of a pretender in Spain, Margaret was to become the greatest Duchess in western Europe, the Duchess of Burgundy.

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