The Kings’ Mother

Joanna Laynesmith examines claims that Edward IV was a bastard and tells the dramatic story of his mother, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York.

On August 8th, 1469, the Milanese ambassador in France reported a startling rumour – that Edward IV of England was a bastard. He explained that this would mean that Edward had no right to the crown and that the true king was consequently Edward’s younger brother, George Duke of Clarence. The source of the rumour was Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who was both the King’s cousin and the Duke of Clarence’s father-in-law. That summer Warwick had provoked rebellion against the King and by the end of July was holding Edward captive at Warwick Castle. Such allegations of bastardy among political rivals were nothing new, but what is enigmatic about the 1469 rebellion is the role played by the woman whose virtue had been besmirched: the King’s mother, who was the famously pious Cecily Neville, Duchess of York.


Back in June 1469, while Warwick’s men were mobilizing in the north, the Earl himself was planning his departure to Calais from where he would launch his rebellion. He had already obtained a papal dispensation for the marriage between his daughter Isabel and the King’s brother, the Duke of Clarence, despite the King’s opposition to such a match. Shortly before their departure the principal rebels were at Sandwich and were joined there by Cecily for five days. Why was she there? Michael K. Jones has argued that ‘Cecily’s part in [the rebellion] was central’. He claims that Edward really was a bastard and that, having fallen out with him, she most likely planned to acknowledge Edward’s illegitimacy publicly in order to make Clarence king.


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