Cecily Neville was born on 3 May 1415 at Raby Castle as the daughter of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, and Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland. With her marriage to Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York in 1429, she would soon find herself mixed up in the Wars of the Roses. She and Richard went on to have 12 children together, though not all would survive to adulthood. Most notably, she became the mother of Kings Edward IV and Richard III but also of Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy.
But by 1486, 10 of her 12 children were dead, and the Tudor dynasty occupied the throne with her granddaughter Elizabeth as Queen consort. She was by then living at Berkhamsted in a strict religious regime. She awoke at 7 in the morning, her chaplain said matins while she dressed and then he administered Mass. Cecily then visited the castle chapel to hear divine service, followed by two more low Masses. During dinner, she listed to religious readings. After dinner, she attended to business for an hour. She then slept a little bit before evensong. During supper, she recited the text of the sermon she heard at dinner. She was in bed by 8 o’clock.
Cecily began dictating her will on 4 April 1495. She asked that her body would be buried beside her husband at Fotheringhay Church. She also left several religious items to the church. The will was signed and sealed on 31 May 1495, and she most likely died that very same day.
Cecily was indeed buried at Fotheringhay with her husband with a papal indulgence – to “reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins” – around her neck. She had arranged for items to be sold to pay to have her body taken for burial to Fotheringhay. Her husband’s tomb had only just been arranged a decade earlier by her son King Edward IV, but when Queen Elizabeth I visited the church in 1566, she found it disastrously damaged. She ordered the memorials – Cecily’s husband’s uncle Edward, Duke of York and Cecily and Richard’s son Edmund were also interred there – to be fixed. Commissioners were probably unaware that Cecily’s husband was buried there and only found out when they began to dig up their tomb. Richard and Cecily were reburied together in a limestone and chalk tomb, but Edmund was not mentioned by the commissioners. It is likely that several of Cecily’s children who died as infants were also buried there, but no mention is made of them either. The papal indulgence was found during the exhumation in 1573 tied with a silk ribbon around her neck. Though Elizabeth is often credited with paying for the new tombs, it is also likely that it was one Sir Edmund Brudenell – one of the commissioners – who organised and paid for the tombs. One for Cecily and her husband, the one on the opposite side for his uncle Edward, Duke of York.
The plague only mentions Cecily as wife to Richard, Duke of York and daughter of Ralph, Earl of Westmorland. However, she was also the mother of two Kings, and the grandmother of a Queen, along with being the ancestor of all subsequent British monarchs.
The Church of St Mary and All Saints in Fotheringhay is a bit out of the way and difficult to reach without a car. However, it is open daily and there is no entrance fee (though donations are appreciated!). It is quite the hidden treasure with its beautiful York window and the two amazing tombs. Do not miss it if you are ever in the area.1