Here, writing for History Extra, Dean explores eight places associated with one of history’s most fascinating families…
Richard, Duke of York, and Old St Paul’s Cathedral
Construction on Old St Paul’s Cathedral was begun in 1087. Following a disastrous fire, it had to be largely rebuilt in the 12th century. The structure was immense, dominating the skyline of London for many years. A large wall completely surrounded the cathedral, complete with six precinct gates that were opened every morning.
It was through one of these gates that Richard, Duke of York would pass in order to swear an oath to Henry VI following his failed move against the king at Dartford. As York entered the cathedral, he would have walked beneath the nave’s intricately groined ceiling as he moved through the crowded room towards the high altar. Light streaming in through the exquisite Rose Window would have flooded the room as he made his way up the steps. Standing at the high altar, in front of the tablet encrusted with sparkling jewels, he made his oath to Henry on the sacrament.
A few years later, on 25 March 1458, York would revisit the cathedral as part of the ‘loveday’ procession. This parade of nobles to St Paul’s Cathedral was part of Henry VI’s plan to demonstrate that peace had been restored between competing Lancastrian and Yorkists factions in the kingdom. During the procession, York and Queen Margaret walked hand in hand towards St Paul’s Cathedral. Once inside the nave, with its 12 bays and vaulted ceilings, the group heard Mass. Following the service, the group once again left in procession. While peace seemed to have been restored, the underlying problems had not been addressed, ultimately leading to war.
Cecily Neville and Baynard’s Castle, London
Resting on the banks of the Thames, Baynard’s Castle was an impressive home. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester had rebuilt the residence just west of Paul’s Wharf following a terrible fire in the 15th century. The home eventually passed into the hands of Richard, Duke of York.
Baynard’s Castle was a favourite residence of Richard III’s mother, Cecily Neville, for many years. She was most likely here when she learned of her husband’s death at the 1460 battle of Wakefield, a major battle in the Wars of the Roses, and fearing for her younger sons’ safety, arranged for them to be sent abroad. She, along with her daughter Margaret, stayed and awaited news of Edward’s progress. Following her eldest son’s entrance into the city, a large council met at Baynard’s Castle to ask him to be king. After Edward left the city to defend his new crown, Cecily and Margaret stayed in London.
The Bishop of Elphin (a bishop from Ireland) was at Baynard’s with Cecily when she received news of the 1461 battle of Towton. He wrote to the Bishop of Terni (a bishop from the Roman Catholic Diocese in Belgium, also known as Tournai) saying that he “was present in the house of the Duchess of York” when news of the battle was delivered. After Cecily heard the news, she, along with the bishop, climbed the broad staircase and returned to the chapel to say Te Deum. Her son, the future Edward IV, had won a significant victory.
South front of Baynard’s Castle, London, in about 1640 (1904). By artist Andrew Birrell. (Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images)
Anne Neville and Cerne Abbey
As the daughter of the Earl of Warwick, a leading noble who was a staunch supporter of the Yorkist faction, Anne Neville grew up in a Yorkist family. Eventually, following a break with Edward IV, Warwick switched loyalties to the Lancastrian faction, who supported Henry VI as king. Part of the agreement between Warwick and Queen Margaret, Henry VI’s wife, included the marriage of Anne to Prince Edward, the Lancastrian heir. Warwick was sent back to England to prepare the way for Anne and her new husband’s arrival.
After leaving France in 1471, Anne Neville, as part of the Lancastrian party, landed at Weymouth. Following their arrival, they learned of the disastrous defeat at Barnet [in April 1471] and of the death of Anne’s father. While we have no record of Anne’s feelings, Queen Margaret, according to Vergil, “swownyd for feare; she was distrawght, dismayd, and tormentyd with sorow…” She soon recovered, and, gathering her supporters, moved inland.
Making their way to Cerne Abbey, the group was welcomed and offered the abbey’s guesthouse, which had been built by Abbot John Vanne. The abbey, which had been founded in the 10th century, had several wealthy benefactors throughout its history, including Edward IV. Nestled in the Dorset hills, the abbey grew both in wealth and in property. The guesthouse that Margaret, Prince Edward and Anne would have seen was opulently decorated.
Safely ensconced within the abbey walls, Margaret met with advisors to determine her best course of action. Should they retreat back to France or continue onwards without Warwick? While she probably did not have a voice in the decision, Anne would have been present for the discussions that would determine her future. As the room was comfortably warmed by the fire in the large fireplace ornamented with Vanne’s crest, Anne would have listened to her husband and mother-in-law consult with their supporters. It was here that a decision was made to move forward towards battle, which ultimately would end in her husband’s death on a field at Tewkesbury in May 1471.
Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville and Reading Abbey
Elizabeth Woodville, the Lancastrian widow of Sir John Grey [whose family had supported the Lancastrian cause], married Edward IV in the May of 1464, but she had to wait for several months before a public pronouncement was made because the Earl of Warwick was at the time promoting a marriage with France. In September 1464, Edward met with his council at Reading. During the meeting, Edward dropped the bombshell that he had married Woodville some months earlier.
The announcement sent ripples of dismay through the court. John Wenlock reported in a letter that the king’s announcement had caused “great displeasure to many great lords, and especially to the larger part of all his council”. Most of the nobles realised that they would have to reconcile themselves to the marriage, however, since it had already occurred.
On Michaelmas Day, the Duke of Clarence (Edward IV’s brother), and the Earl of Warwick escorted Elizabeth into the large church at Reading Abbey. The church, built with Caen stone, was impressive. The nave was more than 200 feet long and 40 feet wide, and the choir was about 100 feet long. Highly decorated, with beautiful stained glass, elaborate wall paintings, soaring columns and paved floors, the church was a fitting place for Elizabeth to be presented as Edward’s queen to those assembled.
George, Duke of Clarence, and Warwick Castle
Perched on a rocky cliff above the river Avon, Warwick Castle was a residence of several members of the York family. Edward, George, Richard and Anne Neville all spent time in the impressive fortress, which was originally built as a motte-and-bailey castle by William the Conqueror. The castle passed from the Beauchamps and then to the Nevilles, before coming to George, Duke of Clarence.
George and his wife, Isabel Neville, often stayed at Warwick. Entering through the projecting barbican, flanked by a pair of octagonal turrets, the couple would have walked across the drawbridge over the dry moat. Once inside, they would have made their way to their chambers. It was in her chambers at Warwick that Isabel gave birth on 25 February 1475 to Edward. Soon, George’s heir would join his older sister, Margaret, in the nursery.
While often the scene of joyous events, such as the birth of Edward, the castle was also host to tragedy. Isabel gave birth to another son, Richard, in 1476 and both she and the child were brought to Warwick where Isabel died, perhaps of childbed fever. The baby also died. After the death of his wife and child, George arrested Ankarette Twynho, one of his wife’s servants, and accused her of poisoning the duchess. He had her brought to Warwick, where she was tried, convicted and hanged. This was one of George’s last acts, as he was soon arrested and placed in the Tower of London.
Warwick Castle. (© David Steele/Dreamstime.com)
Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, and the Palace of Placentia (Greenwich)
Once her brother, Edward, became king in 1461 Margaret was housed at Greenwich and provided for by him. The palace, which included gardens, courtyards and a 200-acre park, extended from the Thames to the foot of the hill, where Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester had built a stone tower. In his first years as king, Edward IV enlarged the palace and stocked the park with deer.
When Margaret returned to England in 1480 as part of an embassy attempting to draw her brother into an Anglo-Burgundian alliance against France, Edward arranged for an elaborate procession for his sister. The king had provided the royal barge for Margaret, with the master and 24 bargemen attired in new jackets of murrey and blue, embellished with roses. The horses were wearing harnesses of “green velvet, garnished with aglets of silver gilt, bordered with spangels…” Arriving at Greenwich, Margaret was escorted to her opulent chambers, complete with intricately woven tapestries and a feather bed with a valence of velvet. Pieces of woven wool tapestry covered the table containing images of “roses, sunnes and crowns”.
While she was at Greenwich, a large state dinner was given in both Margaret’s and Cecily’s honour. Most of her family, including Edward, Richard and her sister, Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk were in attendance. Margaret stayed in England for about three months, alternating between Greenwich and Coldharbour.
Anne, Duchess of Exeter, and Dartington Hall
Anne was the elder sister of Edward IV, George and Richard III. In 1446 she was married to Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter, who chose to side with the Lancastrians against her father and brothers. His decision eventually led to his downfall. After her husband’s attainder (the forfeiture of his lands and civil rights) in 1461, Anne received grants of land from her brother, which included much of the Exeter inheritance, and retained custody of her daughter. One of the grants of land she received included Dartington Hall, which came to her because of “the true and deep affection which the aforesaid Anne, our sister, has and bears towards us”.
A residence has stood on the land overlooking the River Dart since the 12th century. Richard II granted the area to his half-brother, John Holland, who erected most of the buildings, including a set of buildings laid out in a large double quadrangle. The old hall, located at the north-east corner of the quadrangle, was the earliest part of the structure and dates from the early 14th century.
In the 19th century the home was described by a visitor as “one of the most picturesque and charming seats in Devon… within sound of the murmur of the rushing Dart”.
Following Anne’s death, the home passed through a series of hands, including those of her second husband, Thomas St Leger.
Dartington Hall. (© Jennifer Thompson/Dreamstime.com)
Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk, and Wingfield
Elizabeth was the fifth child and second daughter born to Cecily and Richard who survived early childhood. In 1458, she married John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk. Because his mother, Alice Chaucer, was living at Ewelme, John and Elizabeth made Wingfield their main residence. Much of the news regarding her family would have been delivered to Elizabeth while she was in residence at Wingfield.
A large manor house, Wingfield was located a few miles from Eye. As Elizabeth entered the home for the first time she would have crossed a drawbridge over the moat before making her way through the gateway emblazoned on each side with the arms of her new family. Large turreted towers flanked the gateway. Passing under the portcullis she would have reached the courtyard, where she would have seen the quadrangle plan of the buildings.
Life would have been busy in Elizabeth’s new lodgings. The Great Hall sat along the west side of the building. When visitors arrived, large feasts would be held in the hall, with Elizabeth and John seated on a dais. John and Elizabeth had a large family, and several of their children would have been born in her chambers at Wingfield.
The parish church of St Andrew was also nearby. When Elizabeth entered the church she would have seen the brightly painted panelled ceiling of the nave. The font, where several of the de la Pole children were likely christened, had been given to the church by Michael de la Pole, an ancestor of her husband. Eventually both John and Elizabeth would be buried here.
Kristie Dean is the author of On the Trail of the Yorks (Amberley Publishing, 2016).