Guest post by Anne Easter Smith

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis   in Bookworm

We are thrilled to welcome a guest post by well-known Ricardian novelist Anne Easter Smith, author of A Rose for the Crown, Daughter of York and The King’s Grace.  I loved all her previous novels and am now impatiently awaiting delivery of her recently published Queen by Right about Cecily Neville, duchess of York.  In her guest post Anne examines the rumour that Edward IV was not the son of Richard, duke of York.  Thank you so much, Anne, for sharing this with us.

Cecily’s so-called affair

I was drawn to writing about Cecily Neville as soon as I began researching my first – and what I thought would be my only – book A Rose for the Crown.  I could not write Richard III’s story without knowing a lot about his parents and his siblings.  Oddly, Cecily did not appear at all in that book, but in a few scenes her absence hung over the brothers Edward and Richard and you feel she is an indomitable presence in their lives.  Indeed, I think one of the reasons Edward chose not to reveal his secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville for so long was because he feared a slap upside the head from Proud Cis.  And boy, did she give him one when the marriage was finally outed, and, according to the Italian visitor Dominic Mancini who was in London in 1484 – twenty years after the fact – and was the first to write about the rumor, Cecily “fell into a frenzy.”  It was partly because of the scorn she had for this upstart nobody Woodville woman who must now be called queen that she began to style herself, “Cecily, the king’s mother, and late wife unto Richard, by right king of England and of France and lord of Ireland.”  Or as my title infers, “Queen by Right.”

One of the stories about Cecily that I was determined to get to the bottom of was the one about her having an affair with an archer in the garrison at Rouen named John Blaybourne that allegedly produced a son, our Edward IV, on April 22, 1442.  Here’s what we know:

Although no proof exists of her statement, according to Mancini she is supposed to have retorted in anger at the Woodville-marriage time that Edward shouldn’t even be on the throne because he was a bastard.  But the rumor must have reached other ears before Mancini wrote it down because in 1477, when her son, George of Clarence, finally aroused his brother Edward’s anger enough to be imprisoned for treasonous activity, he blurted out that Edward was a bastard.  That was a final straw for Edward, and George was clapped in the Tower.  Even then, the devoted mother Cecily found Edward on a pilgrimage to Thomas Becket’s shrine in Canterbury and went down on her knees to beg her oldest son to spare George.  Her pleas went unheeded and George was eventually executed.

It was said that Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy and husband of Cecily’s daughter Margaret, would often refer to Edward as “Blaybourne” in fits of rage, and he died in 1477 long before Mancini’s visit.

And then there is the time in 1483 when all hell broke loose following Edward’s unexpected death and Richard of Gloucester was made Protector (and some would say – but not me – that he was actively seeking the crown).  The preacher Dr Shaw is supposed to have proclaimed from Paul’s Cross to a crowd of Londoners that Richard should wear the crown because he was the legitimate son of his father, Richard, duke of York, and that the sons of Edward were illegitimate on two counts:  one is that Edward had been previously secretly contracted to a woman before he secretly wed Elizabeth, and the second is that Edward himself was a bastard.  “He didn’t look a bit like his father, whereas Richard of Gloucester does,” Dr Show posited.  But if he did slight Cecily in public, it is very doubtful that Richard would have sanctioned such a slander of his mother.  And if he had, you would think Cecily would have denounced her son and not supported his accession, but the fact is they remained on good terms until Richard’s death.

There has been a recent calculation done as to the whereabouts of Duke Richard at the alleged time of Edward’s conception, and it is true that he was in Pontoise at the exact time modern calculations for gestation would have him, and Cecily was in Rouen.  Look it up, everyone, it’s 52 miles from Pontoise to Rouen, and Richard was known to be a fast rider.  But why did conception have to have taken place in Rouen.  May I suggest that during a break in the fighting (and there was one), could Richard not have met Cecily somewhere between the two cities?  A horse and rider can cover 20-30 miles a day easily – and 100 if you want to kill the animal!  But there is no record of Richard being in Rouen on that fateful day of conception, so I came up with the meeting in the middle solution.  I have them meet at a shrine to St Clothilde in Les Andelys – a popular pilgrimage site, 33 miles from Pontoise, and voila! a romantic tryst in secret.  Certainly plausible and certainly doable.

So I say phooey to the affair!  Cecily knew and liked her place far too well on the social scale to stoop so low as to have given herself to an archer and soil her reputation.  As for six-feet-three-inch Edward not looking like his father, he could just as easily have inherited his stature and golden hair from his Neville blood.  His sister Margaret is known to have been very tall for her time and golden haired and no one thought she wasn’t York’s.

Those are the facts, and I think Cecily is just another of us who has been hurt by rumors and gossip.

It has been nice visiting with RIII Society members Down Under, and please go to www.AnneEasterSmith.com to read an excerpt from Queen By Right, and let me know how you like the book if you buy it!

Anne Easter Smith, Queen by Right.  Touchstone Books, US, 10 May 2011.  ISBN 13: 9781416550471

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One comment


Edward IV had brown hair. The hair found in his tomb was brown, and not even particularly light brown, and every portrait painted or drawn within a hundred years from his death shows him with brown hair. The drawings in books that were done during his lifetime even show him with dark hair – darker than most other courtiers in the picture. Golden-haired Edward is simply one of the myths invented by writers hundreds of years later.

As for his height, his sister Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy was 6′.

Personally, I’d say Edward looked like his father just as much as George did. Edward got his father’s prominent chin (just as Richard did) but his mother’s nose and mouth, while George, according to his portraits, seems to have had the small Neville chin and his mother’s mouth, maybe her eyes as well, but nose more similar to his father. Richard was the one who was the spitting image of his father.

May 17th, 2015 at 4:11

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