Cicely Duchess of York

In 1469 Edward IV granted Berkhamsted to his mother Cicely, Duchess of York, a colourful figure who lived here for the last 26 years of her life.

Cicely, Duchess of York On the National Archives website: Cecily Neville - 'queen by right'

Cicely, Duchess of York
On the National Archives website:
Cecily Neville – ‘queen by right’

In her later years she suffered great tragedy with the death of her son Edward IV in 1483 and then two of her grandsons in the Tower of London. Two years later in 1485 Richard III, her fourth son, was killed at the battle of Bosworth.

Cicely’s Orders and Rules show that on rising at seven o’clock she “hath readye her chapelyne to saye with her mattins of the daye, and mattins of our lady; and when she is fully readye she hath a low masse in her chamber, and after masse she taketh somethinge to recreate nature; and so goeth to the chappell hearinge the devine service, and two low masses; from thence to dynner, during the time whereof she hath a lecture of holy matter.”

Dinner was served at 11 a.m. on “eatynge dayes” and at noon on “fastynge dayes.” Supper was at 5 p.m. Menus followed a weekly routine:

Sondaye, Tuesdaye and Thursdaye : dynner, boyled beefe and mutton, and one roste; supper, leyched beefe and mutton roste.
Mondaye and Wensdaye : dynner, one boyled beefe and mutton ; supper, as above.
Satterdaye : dynner, saltfysche, one freshfishe, and butter ; supper, saltfishe and egges.
Fastinge dayes : salte fysche, and two dishes of fresh fische.

When her highness had been served with the second course, the household was rewarded with “breade and ale, after the discretyon of the usher.” Wine was given daily to “head offycers when they be presente, to the ladyes and gentlewomen, to the Deane of the Chappell, to the Almoner, to the gentlemen-ushers, to the Cofferer, to the Clerke of the Kytchin, and to the Marshall.”

After dinner, Cicely gave audience for an hour “to all such as hath any matter to shewe unto her”; then, after sleeping for a quarter of an hour, she continued in prayer until the first peal of evensong. After drinking “wyne or ale at her pleasure”, she said “both evensonges” with her chaplain and after the last peal went to the chapel to hear “evensonge by note.” The to supper, during which she recited to all present “the lecture that was had at dynner.”

Now we come to a lighter note. After supper she “disposeth herself to be famyliare with her gentlewomen”; “honest myrthe” is mentioned. Then, “one howre before her goeing to bed, she taketh a cuppe of wyne, and after that goeth to her pryvie closette, and taketh her leave of God for all nighte, makinge ende of her prayers for that daye; and by eighte of the clocke is in bedde. I truste to our lordes mercy that this noble Princess thus devideth the lowers to his highe pleasure.”

Information about the wages that were paid to her servants, and show some sort of welfare state existed within the castle walls. Sick men were to have “all such thinges as may be to their ease,” and “if any man fall impotente, he hath styll the same wages that he had when hae might doe his best service, during my ladyes lyfe.”

References to the dean of the chapel, the almoner, the gentlemen ushers, the carvers, cupbearers, cofferer, clerk of the kitchen, marshal and “all the gentlemen within the house” show that right to the end there was a large household staff.

Cicely held the advowson of St. Peter’s church from 1469 until her death. The arms of her husband, Duke Richard, are in the Lady Chapel while her own coat of arms can be seen in the west window of the north aisle. She was a deeply religious woman especially in her later years.

She requested in her will “that all my plate thereof be putte to the use of my burying, that is to say in discharging of suche costes and expensis as shall be for carrying of my body from the castell of Barkehampstede unto the coleg of Fodringhey.”

Although she was buried alongside her husband in Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire, she did not forget St. Peter’s Church. “I geve to the parishe church of Much Barkhampstede a coope of blewe bawdekyn the orffreys embrawdered.”

(Notes on the Orders and Rules of “Proud Cis” from P.C. Birtchnell, writing as Beorcham in Berkhamsted Review, Apr 1970).

The Richard III Society provides more information about Cecily and her relationship with her son: “One of Richard III’s most unnatural crimes, according to Tudor propaganda, was his false accusation that his own mother, Cecily Neville, was an adulteress”…

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