By Marisa Levy
Thou shalt, where thou livest, year by year
The most part of thy time spend
In making of a glorious legend
Of good women, maidens and wives
That were true in loving and all their lives.
— Chaucer, The Legend of Good Women —
Used in Amy Licence’s biography: Cecily Neville
Now that Richard III has been laid to rest, I thought this would be the perfect time to review the only biography about the mother of Edward IV and Richard III, Amy Licence’s biography Cecily Neville, Mother of Kings. I recently started to study the War of Roses, which I found to be a fascinating, yet complicated era in English History. So many Nevilles, Buckinghams, Percys, and Yorks. Amy Licence’s genealogical tables helped make sense of these dynastic families. I became intrigued by Cecily Neville during my studies. Cecily, a woman known as the Rose of Raby and Proud Cis, her claim to be “queen by right'” was born in 1415 and died in 1495. She died during the reign of Henry VII, the king who killed her son and married her granddaughter. During her long life span, she witnessed victories and suffered great personal losses. It has taken Amy Licence to let this fascinating women’s story be told.
In Amy Licence’s introduction, she explains the difficulty of researching Cecily Neville:
” Writing a biography on Cecily Neville has been rather like striking a series of matches in the dark. There are moments when she steps forward and claims the historical limelight, when rumors question the paternity of her son Edward, or the moment she hears of his victory following the battle of Towton. But her voice is muted. A couple of letters survive and her household ordinances outline her routine in old age; more faintly still, she can be glimpsed inside the Great Hall at Raby Castle, or among ruins at Fortheringhay or Berkhamsted. Most often she is omitted altogether from records, even at times she must have been suffering or celebrating the most. A large proportion of her life lies amid the darkness of lost records and burned letters.”
Amy Licence’s research is excellent. Since only a few letters survive, a lot of conjectures and speculation must be made. Cecily seemed to have a successful and loving relationship with her husband Richard, Duke of York. She traveled with him as often as possible and ran his estates diligently when he was away. From the 13 children born to them, their marriage was intimate until her husband’s death. The rumors of Cecily having an affair with a common archer, who fathered Edward IV, contradicts the way she led her life. I also find it impossible for a man as proud as Richard Plantagenet to allow Edward to be his heir if their was any hint of impropriety. Richard, Duke of York, does not strike me like a man to be cuckolded.
I found this book to be very informative about the War of Roses, as well as giving us a glimpse into Cecily’s life. I believe a novice or expert alike would find this book to be an excellent read. My favorite chapters were the ones about Cecily’s relationship with her sons. How could she unite Edward and George again? The pain she must have endured with George’s execution and Edward’s death is stunning. Amy License makes us think about the humanity of this proud and noble woman. Did she feel that Richard would provide more stability for England instead of her grandsons? Did her heart go out to Edward’s children? How did she feel about her granddaughter marrying the man who killed her youngest son in battle? While we can not judge through the eyes of the twenty-first century, we can’t help but wonder how this woman dealt with and endured so much tragedy. As a mother, I can only sympathize with her anguish of the loss of her children. Cecily called herself “queen by rite”, but she was the mother of two kings, the grandmother of a queen, and the great grandmother of King Henry VIII.
Amy Licence is an English historian of medieval women, powerful and common, Queens consorts and monarchs, rich and poor — particularly women living in the late 15th and 16th centuries. Topics of special interest include gender relations, Queenship and identity, rites of passage, pilgrimage, female orthodoxy and rebellion, superstition, magic, fertility and childbirth. Amy also has an enviable expertise and interest in the Wars of the Roses. Besides Amy’s non-fiction historical books, she also is a prolific journalist, regularly contributing the New Statesman and The Huffington Post. For more information on Amy’s varied interests, check out her pinboard on Pininterest at http://www.pinterest.com/amylicence/.
To Purchase Cecily Neville, Mother of Kings
CLICK THE LINK BELOW!!