The Pious Cecily Neville?

Lady Cecily Neville, Duchess of York was considered extremely beautiful and became known as The Rose of Raby.  lady-cecily-nevilleShe has a reputation for piety and was found buried with a Papal Indulgence which, it was believed, would secure her place in heaven.  But, was she really such a paragon of piety? A more worldly woman than Cecily would be hard to find, so how does her worldliness reconcile with her alleged piety and how did she come by the Papal Indulgence?

The basis of her piety seems to stem from a detailed description of her daily routine which was almost monastic in its religious observance.  This description can be found in ‘Orders and Rules of the House of the Princess Cecil, Mother of King Edward IV’, and appears to have been written for a third party. ‘Me semeth yt is requisyte to understand the order of her owne person, concerninge God and the worlde’.  Read in conjunction with her Will, it may be possible to discern some clues in answer to the above question.

Cecily was an enormously worldly woman.  Cecily’s mother maintained a library, and the circumstances of her birth ensured that Cecily was born into a life of education, wealth and high political power.  She was the granddaughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford, and the daughter of Ralph Neville, Ist Earl of Westmorland and his wife Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland.  Cecily was the mother of both Edward IV and Richard III, and aunt to one of the most powerful magnates of the realm, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known as Warwick the King Maker.  Cecily was notoriously extravagant, fond of luxury and wealthy in her own right.  At one point she spent over £608 on a single set of crimson velvet robes lined with ermine and embroidered with over 300 pearls.

Cecily was to be found at the centre of political life.  Having been captured by Lancastrian troops in 1459 after the battle of Ludford Bridge, she threw herself on the mercy of Henry VI, and pleading successfully for herself and her people, she was released into the custody of her sister in London.  In September 1460 she left London to meet her husband, Richard Duke of York, on his return from Ireland.  The pomp and ceremony attending this re-union perhaps reflects Richard’s aspirations to the throne.  When widowed, Cecily sent her youngest son to the court of the Duke of Burgundy for safety, thus galvanising the Duke’s support.  It is interesting that Cecily herself remained in London even though Margaret of Anjou had just won the battle of St. Albans in February 1461.  The fact that she did not flee leads one to surmise that she may have been aware that the situation was about to change, as indeed it did when her son Edwardhenry-iv and her Nephew Warwick were welcomed back to London, and Edward was crowned King in June 1461.

As Queen mother Cecily had prodigious influence and power, and as Rowena Archer notes, women of her class were ‘workmanlike, and active, increasingly literate, and familiar with the workings of the law’.  In 1469 Cecily tried to persuade her son George and her nephew Warwick not rise against Edward IV, and in 1470 she tried to reconcile Edward and George at her home at Baynards Castle.  When Edward died in 1483 he named his brotherrichard-iii-facialreconstruction Richard as Protector, and his sons, also Edward and Richard, were lodged int he Tower of London ostensibly for their protection.  Simultaneously rumours began regarding the legitimacy of Edward IV’s birth.  Although Cecily complained loudly of the injury done her in the matter, her son Richard’s campaign to take the crown was launched from her house.  One could therefore speculate  as to the extent of her involvement in that campaign, and as to her knowledge of the fate of the Princes in the Tower.  the-princes-in-the-tower

In the eyes of the Church, Cecily could have been considered guilty of the sins of pride, gluttony, wrath and possibly adultery.  Perhaps she felt the need of a little help in securing her place in heaven.

It seems that the aforementioned description of her daily schedule may have been the testimonial which secured the Papal Indulgence.  It was written in English which suggests it may have been written by a lay person who did not have Latin, and it is not unreasonable to surmise that it may have been written by her steward Richard Lassey.  But, why would he write such a testimonial?  The answer could perhaps lie in the fact that Lassey was involved in the Perkin Warbeck Conspiracy, a rising against Cecily’s grandson-in-law, Henry VII.  The fine required to pay for his pardon in relation to the Conspiracy amounted to the enormous sum of £200.  As Cecily’s Will provides specifically for the funding of Lassey’s fine, it seems that he was indebted to her.

Given her worldliness, it seems improbable that Cecily was as pious as her daily schedule suggests.  It seems quite probable however, that being indebted to Cecily, Lassey wrote the description of her daily schedule specifically in order to provide a testimonial required to procure a Papal Indulgence thus ensuring Cecily’s place in heaven.

Thus it is possible that Cecily’s life may not have been quite as pious as history has led us to believe and that her reputation for piety has been gained by thoroughly worldly means.baynards

References Images:

Lady Cecily:

Edward IV:,-or-after

Richard III:

Princes in Tower:

Baynards Castle:

Literary References:

Amt, Emily, Women’s Lives in Medieval Europe: A Source Book, ed. by Emily Amt (New York: Routledge, 1993) pp. 1-9 (p. 7)

Archer, Rowena E, ‘Piety in Question: Noblewomen and Religion in the Later Middle Ages’, in Women and Religion in Medieval England, ed. by Diana Wood (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2003) pp. 118-140 (p. 119, 125)

Church of England. Province of Canterbury Prerogative Court, Wills from Doctors’ Commons: A Selection from the Wills of Eminent Persons, ed. by John Gough Nichols and John Bruce (London: John Bowyer Nichols and Sons, 1863) pp. 1-9 (p. 1, 2, 4, 5)

H. C. G. Matthew and Biran Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 60 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2004), vol 10, pp. 798-799 (p. 798, 799).

‘Orders and Rules of the House of the Princess Cecil, Mother of King Edward IV’, in A Collection of Ordinances and Regulations for the Government of the Royal Household Made in Divers Reigns. From King Edward II to King William and Queen Mary.  Also receipts in Ancient Cookery (London: John Nichols, 1790) pp.  36-39 (p. 37)  [accessed 18.10.12]






William Marshal and The Templars

Many people question why William Marshal waited until the eleventh hour of his life before pledging himself to the Knights Templar rather than taking full vows when he was serving with the Templars on crusade between 1184 and 1186.

First, it was not uncommon for men and women, especially those of high status, to take religious vows towards the end of their lives, to enter monasteries or nunneries, or, in the case of women to become Vowesses.  Such commitment to God eased the path to heaven.  Second, the mysteriously undocumented years that he spent on crusade may provide  possible and intriguing answers to the question of William Marshal’s late taking of Templar vows.

Henry II’s son, the Young King Henry, henry the young kinghad sworn to go on crusade in order to atone for his sacking of Rocamadour.  Almost immediately following this infamous act, he became ill with dysentery.  While dying, and before he could fulfill his vow, he charged William Marshal with completing the task by bequeathing him his cloak emblazoned with the Crusader Cross.  Marshal consented to the dying King’s wish and traveled, as a secular knight, to Syria early in 1184.

While on crusade, it was common for secular knights to join the Templars on a temporary basis, submitting to the disciplined rule of the Order, without taking the austere, permanent vows of the Templar monks.  William Marshal pledged that he would take his full Templar vows before he died and in the meantime he served with the Templars for two years, fighting for the ailing King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem.Templar riding into battle from a Map_of_Jerusalem-c1200_th

In 1185, King Baldwin IV died of Leprosy, but not before decreeing that if his heir and nephew died without issue, the Pope, Henry II, and Philip II of France, were to collaborate in choosing a successor.  Baldwin’s nephew did indeed succeed to the throne as King Baldwin V, but was unfortunately sickly and died soon after his succession. His mother, Sybilla, usurped the throne, crowning herself Queen and her husband, Guy de Lusignan, King.Marriage of Sybilla and Guy de Lusignan

Guy de Lusignan was one of, if not the, de Lusignan, who had killed William Marshal’s uncle, Patrick Earl of Salisbury, in March 1168 in a shamefully un-chivalrous act of murder. Guy de Lusignan While not wearing armour or bearing arms, Patrick of Salisbury was speared in the back by the de Lusignans. William Marshal was wounded in the fracas, and ill-treated by the de Lusignans while being held hostage until he was ransomed by Eleanor of Aquitaine.

There was therefore no love lost between William Marshal and Guy de Lusignan, and the usurpation of the throne of Jerusalem must have greatly offended his sense of honour.  Further, the Grand Marshal of the Templars had died in 1184 and had been replaced by a follower of Guy de Lusignan.

Shortly after de Lusignan’s coronation in 1186, William Marshal returned to France having fulfilled his promise to his late King.

Thus, although it is possible that Marshal  simply did not wish to commit to the austere vows of chastity and poverty of the Templar monks, his probable disillusionment by the replacement of the Grand Marshal with a de Lusignan man cannot be overlooked.  Most importantly, an honourable man such as William Marshal, could hardly be expected, as he would have been as a Templar Knight, to defend to the death, Guy de Lusignan, the dishonourable usurper of the throne of Jerusalem, the man who had murdered his uncle, Patrick Earl of Salisbury.  

It is possibly for the above reasons that it was not until he lay dying at Cavershammarshall in 1219, that his friend Aimery de St. Maur, Master of the Temple in England, received into the Order of the Knights Templar, William Marshal, The Greatest Knight Who Ever Lived.





References: Images – The Young King Henry

Templar Riding Into Battle –

The Marriage of Ssybilla and Guy de Lusignan –

Guy de Lusignan – htps://


Addison, Charles Greenstreet, The Temple Church (London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1843) p. 111

Asbridge, Thomas, The Greatest Knight (London: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd., 2015)

Crouch, David, ‘Marshal, William (I) Oxford dictionary of National Biography. Ed H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) p. 822

Phelan, Margaret, M., ‘William Earl Marshal (1144 – 1219)’, Old Kilkenny Review. N.S. Vol 2 No. 5 (1983)


William Marshal and Meilyr FitzHenry

William Marshal’s achievements in developing the Lordship of Leinster, establishing Kilkenny as its seat, and securing the future of his dynasty were not won without being fraught with difficulties.  The most gruelling of these was Meilyr FitzHenry.

FitzHenry had arrived in Ireland with the first Norman conquerors, and as his name suggests, was a grandson of Henry I through one of the King’s illegitimate sons. He was, therefore, a cousin of King John  John,_King_of_Englandwho appointed him Justiciar of Ireland in 1199.   FitzHenry was grasping, avaricious and deeply unpopular with most of the Norman lords, primarily De Lacy.

It is clear that Meilyr FitzHenry regarded William Marshal as a threat to his power base. William Marshal equestrian_2 He was determined to get rid of him, and with King John, ‘plotted his downfall’, (Asbridge).  John recalled Marshal in 1207, ostensibly to resolve matters between him and Meilyr FitzHenry.

With Marshal safely out of the country, FitzHenry ordered the burning of New Ross and the attack on Kilkenny and other of the Marshal estates.  Using his diplomatic skills learned from long years at court, William managed to survive FitzHenry’s assault, and Marshal’s wife, Isabel de Clare, successfully defended Kilkenny, captured FitzHenry, took his hostages, and began the rebuilding of New Ross. Building St. Mary's New Ross e0a70f72bdae9885bfc32d7cd19a26a1_L

Meilyr FitzHenry was relieved of the Justiciary, forced to give up Dunamase Castle and live the rest of his life in relative obscurity.  Dunamase P1320624

William Marshal was more than a warrior and champion of the tourney circuit.  He was an experienced diplomat, a statesman, The Greatest Knight Who Ever Lived.




Images: King John,,-King-of-England-1051661-W

William Marshal,

The Building of St. Mary’s, New Ross,

Dunamase Castle,

Secondary Sources:

Asbridge, Thomas, The Greatest Knight (London: Simon & Schuster Uk Ltd., 2015) p. 301.

Crouch, David ‘Marshal, William (I)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) p. 822.


Kilkenny’s Greatest Knight

William Marshal was largely responsible for the shape of Kilkenny as we know it today. From his arrival in 1207 to his leaving in 1213, William Marshal set about transforming Kilkenny into the seat of the Lordship of Leinster. william_marshall_flower_chivalry_500_pink

His foundation of the port of New Ross was key to the success of Kilkenny as being situated at the meeting point of the Barrow and the Nore, the port facilitated the access of imported commodities directly to Kilkenny via the navigable Nore. thriving_port_of_ros_500_pink

In 1207 he issued a charter confirming the burgesses of Kilkenny in their freedoms and valuable privileges which protected and empowered them, by fixing their rent, confirming tax exemptions, and allowing them to institute and control their own weekly court, the Hundred Court, thus facilitating the economic growth of Kilkenny.

William Marshal replaced the wooden castle with a stone quadrangle castle, and to extend the size of the town he acquired the land between James’ Street and the Breaghagh River from the Bishop, Hugh de Rous, thereby making High Street his thoroughfare from the Castle to St. Canice’s Cathedral.  He endowed St. John’s Abbey, St Johns Abbey 04a445_d64d17ae0ce640fe83ccb0fefbc7dac0  known as ‘The Lantern of Ireland’ due to the numerous tall Gothic windows glowing with candlelight, and his sons, William and Richard, endowed the Black Abbey and St. Francis’ Abbey respectively.  Outside in the hinterland, William Marshal endowed the Abbey at Graiguenamanagh and the Priory at Kells.

William Marshal’s patronage facilitated the development of Kilkenny into a thriving and prosperous town of wealthy merchants, with tenants, artisans, and servants making up a population in the mid-13th century of 2,500 to 4,000 people.  The foundations of the city we know today were laid by William Marshal, The Greatest Knight Who ever Lived.




Images show: William Marshal The Flower of Chivalry from the Ross Tapestry.

The Thriving Port of New Ross

St. John’s Abbey!st.-john%275-abbey/zoom/c1pwt/dataltem-ihscqn0x2

William Marshal’s Effigy

Asbridge, Thomas, The Greatest Knight (London: Simon & SSchuster UK Ltd., 2015)

Bradley, John, ‘Kilkenny’, in Irish Historic Towns Atlas vol II. (Bray: Royal Irish Academy, 2005)

Crouch, David ‘Marshal, William (I)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Ed H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) p. 822

Phelan, Margaret, M. ‘William Earl Marshal (1144 – 1219)’, in Old Kilkenny Review, N.S. Vol II No. 5 (1983)


Isabel de Clare and the Marshal

As part of the brokered deal between Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster and Richard de Clare Earl of Pembroke, known as Strongbow, de Clare was given marriage of strongbow and aoifeMacMurrough’s daughter Aoife in marriage, and the succession of Leinster on MacMurrough’s death.  When they married, Richard was 45 and Aoife 25.

Medieval women,especially those of high rank,  were commonly used to forge and maintain political alliances.  Brought up to ‘know her place and do her duty’, Aoife bore two children, Gilbert who died in 1185, and Isabel who became 4th countess of Pembroke, heiress to large tracts of Wales and Ireland, and thus an extremely valuable commodity.  Isabel’s father died when she was just 4 years old and her mother eight years later.

No less than her mother, the orphaned Isabel was an extremely valuable pawn in a patriarchal world and as such she was made a ward of King Richard I who rewarded his loyal servant, William Marshal, with her hand in marriage and along with her came all her wealth and estates.  marriage of isabel de clare and william marshal ross tapestry

It seems that Isabel and William’s relationship may have been a good and respectful one.  When recalled from Leinster by King John, William gathered his nobles at Kilkenny Castle and hand in hand with his pregnant wife, called upon them to stand firmly by her, and protect her and their lands of Leinster, declaring that Isabel was ‘their lady by birth’ thus deserving of their protection, and that he had ‘nothing but through her’.

The cynic, or the realist , might see this as a shrewd political move.  Nonetheless during their marriage they had ten children and while William was away Isabel successfully defended Kilkenny from attack in 1208 by kilkenny castleMeiler FitzHenry, who she managed to capture, and with whom she negotiated a truce which involved him giving up hostages as a pledge for his good behavior.

Isabel proves the old adage that behind every powerful man there is a great woman and in William’s case, one without whom the Marshal could never have become Kilkenny’s ‘Greatest Knight Who Ever lived’.


Images show: The Marriage of Aoife and Strongbow:

The Marriage of Isabel and William Marshal:

Kilkenny Castle:

Asbridge, Thomas, The Greatest Knight. London: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd., 2015

Crouch, David “Marshal, William (I)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. p. 822.

Phelan, Margaret, M. “William Earl Marxhal (1144 – 1219)”, Old Kilkenny Review. N.S. Vol 2 No. 5 (1983)

Young William

King_Stephen_from_NPGWilliam Marshal was the fourth son of John FitzGilbert, Marshal at the Court of King Stephen. Ludgershall Castle John FitzGilbert was a ruthless warrior who held castles in Wiltshire at Marlborough and Ludgershall at a time while England was embroiled in civil war and anarchy.  Side changing was common and John FitzGilbert forsook Stephen and sided with Matilda.  Queen MatildaDuring the fluctuating fortunes of both sides of the conflict, FitzGilbert gave his five year old fourth son, William, as a hostage to Stephen in pledge of his good behavior during a brokered truce. FitzGilbert broke the truce, using the peaceable time to resupply and strengthen his castle at Newbury.  King Stephen's CatapultThis resulted in him being besieged in 1152 by Stephen who threatened to catapult his hostage, FitzGilbert’s son, over the castle walls.  The ruthless FitzGilbert famously declared that he had ‘the anvils and the hammer to forge still better sons’.  Stephen forbore to catapult young William or to fulfil his subsequent threat to hang the child, and so William survived to become ‘The Greatest Knight who ever lived’!

Images show: King Stephen, Ludgershall Castle, Queen Matilda and a catapult similar to that used by King Stephen’s army.
References: Matilda:
Ludgershall Castle:
Crouch, David, ‘Marshal, William (I)’ Oxford Dictionary of Natioal Biography. Ed H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004
Asbridge, Thomas, The Greatest Knight. London: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd., 2015
Phelan, Margaret, M. ‘William Earl Marshal (1144-1219)’, Old Kilkenny Review. N.S. Vol 2 No 5 (1983)


jousting MarshalWilliam Marshal died 797 years ago in 1219.  At his funeral, Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury described him as the greatest Knight who ever lived.  ‘The Marshal’, as he is known, was indeed a formidable character.  As the fourth son of a relatively minor noble with little land to speak of he rose through the ranks, largely by his own devices, to immense power.  marriage of isabel de clare and william marshal ross tapestryHe served five Plantagenet Kings and was closely associated with the Knights Templar.  He married a 17 year old heiress and became the ‘founding father’ of Kilkenny.  Margaret M. Phelan credits him with having brought Kilkenny ‘into existence’.  kilkenny castleHe feuded with the Justiciar of Ireland, fell out with the Bishop of Ferns who attempted to excommunicate him, he vanquished the French at the battle of Lincoln and became Regent of England during the minority of the future Henry III.  temple1When he died in 1219 he was buried in the Round Temple Church in London, with a plenary indulgence giving him direct access to heaven.




References: Images: The Marshal unseats Baldwin de Guisnes from Matthew Paris/Chronica Major

The marriage of Isabel de Clare and William Marshal. Panel 8.

Kilkenny Castle

The Round Temple Church

Crouch, David, ‘Marshal, William (I)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. ED. H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. p. 822

Asbridge, Thomas, The Greatest Knight. London:Simon & Schuster UK Ltd., 2015

Phelan, Margaret M. ‘William Earl Marshal (1144 – 1219)’ Old Kilkenny Review. N.S. Vol 2 No 5 (1983)

The Roads to Kilkenny

By the 14th century, Kilkenny was fast becoming Ireland’s most important inland trade and traveltown as a result of the vibrant trade conducted between DubcanterburyIIIdI (1)lin and Kilkenny, New Ross and Kilkenny, and the wider continent beyond.  But travelling by road was
dangerous and slow.  Roads were difficult to traverse being often muddy and impassable, in addition, travellers  were easy targets for foot pads and robbers. Keeping the verges clear of trees and undergrowth was vital in maintaining the safety of the communication networks by depriving would-be robbers of cover.  On 24th June 1374, King Edward III granted John Traharn 100 shillings for his service in maintaining the ‘safe and secure custody of the roads from Carlow to Kilkenny…’, jacobs-journey-800thus securing the communication networks vital for trade and  thus the social and economic prosperity of Kilkenny and the Carlow Corridor, that region extending from Dublin to the south coast via Carlow.


Refs: tourist-destinations


Borris House

One of the most important Irish houses, Borris House, nestles in the foothills of the borris house and mountainBlackstairs Mountains, ancestral home of the Kings of Leinster.  Borris House was built on the footprint of a Medieval castle by Irish builders, using Irish craftsmen to create the fabulous plasterwork ceilings and exterior mouldings, and Irish cabinet makers crafted the woodwork, doors and furniture.  Since it was built, Borris House has been continuously occupied by the same Irish family, the MacMurrough Kavanaghs, direct descendants of the 12th century King of Leinster, Dermot MacMurrough.  This makes Borris House uniquely Irish, having no Anglo Irish Borris-House-Side1-1024x623history as do so many of Ireland’s ‘Big Houses’.  The house is jam packed with a fascinating history full of amazing characters and wonderful stories, closely intertwined with the Butlers of Kilkenny Castle.  Touch The Past highly recommends a visit and there can be no better opportunity to discover Borris House for yourself than at the annual Festival of Writing and Ideas, hosted Borris-and-Railway-19-arch-viaductSouth-Co-Carlow-9494as usual by Borris House, from June 10th to 12th 2016.  <http://festivalofwritingand>

Kilkenny Walls

750 years ago on the 9th May 1266 King Henry III ratified the murage granted for kilkenny wallsthree years to  the men of Kilkenny to fortify their city.  The walling was completed in 1275.

Tolls were levied on all goods sold at markets in Kilkenny.  They were levied wherever goods were transported over or under bridges, and through gateways into towns, between the port of entry, often New Ross or Dublin,  and the destination. These taxes were known as pontage and murage and the funds gathered allocated to specific tasks such as the building and repairing of town walls and bridges. The word ‘murage’ comes from the French word for wall ‘mur’ and likewise ‘pontage’ from the French word for bridge ‘pont’.   During the Middle Ages Kilkenny was a popular destination for luxury goods such as silk and muslin, figs almonds and rice, ginger, saffron, cloves, pepper, mace and galangal.  These goods were rated by the pound weight at 1/4d per pound. As these taxes were levied at each bridge and gate at towns along the route, the cost of transporting goods to Kilkenny was expensive.  This suggests that the market for luxury goods in Kilkenny was supported by a community with enough wealth to make the journey for merchants cost effective, and the building of walls and bridges possible.


Circle: A Calendar of Irish Chancery Letters of 1244-1509, <;, [accessed, 27.02.14]

Sweetman, H. S., ed Calendar of Documents Relating to Ireland, 5 vols (London: Longman & Co., 1875-1886), p. 128; 796