Cecily of York
Viscountess Welles
Cecily in stained glass, probably 1482–83, formerly Canterbury Cathedral, now Burrell Collection
Born20 March 1469
Westminster Palace, London, England
Died24 August 1507(1507-08-24) (aged 38)
  • Ralph Scrope, 9th Baron Scrope of Masham
    (union annulled)
  • John Welles, 1st Viscount Welles
    (m. 1487/8; died 1499)
  • Sir Thomas Kymbe
    (m. btwn. 1502 & 1504; died 1507)
possibly among others
  • Elizabeth Welles
  • Anne Welles
FatherEdward IV
MotherElizabeth Woodville
The five daughters of King Edward IV (1461–1483) and Elizabeth Woodville, (left to right): Elizabeth, Cecily, Anne, Catherine, and Bridget. Royal Window, Northwest Transept, Canterbury Cathedral
The five daughters of King Edward IV (1461–1483) and Elizabeth Woodville, (left to right): Elizabeth, Cecily, Anne, Catherine, and Bridget. Royal Window, Northwest Transept, Canterbury Cathedral

Cecily of York, Viscountess Welles (20 March 1469 – 24 August 1507) was an English princess, the third daughter of Edward IV, King of England, and his queen consort Elizabeth Woodville, daughter of Richard Woodville, 1st Earl Rivers, and Jacquetta of Luxembourg. She was First Lady of the Bedchamber to her sister, Queen Elizabeth of York, in the years 1485–1487.[1]

Birth and family

Cecily was born in Westminster Palace, Ossulstone Hundred, Middlesex (at a time when Westminster was considered geographically quite distinct from London). She was named after her paternal grandmother, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York.

As a member of a large royal family, Cecily was closely related to a number of persons of great historical significance. She was older than all of her brothers, none of whom lived to reach adulthood. The eldest two were the tragic boy king Edward V of England and his younger brother Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, who disappeared in 1483 after being imprisoned in the Tower of London by their uncle, King Richard III of England. The youngest brother, George Plantagenet, Duke of Bedford, died in early childhood. Cecily's eldest sister, Elizabeth of York, married King Henry VII of England at the beginning of his reign in 1485 as a means to help settle the political conflicts associated with the War of the Roses. Her only other older sister, Mary of York, survived childhood, but died young before marrying. Two of her younger sisters, Anne of York and Catherine of York, married advantageously into the upper nobility of England. One other younger sister, Margaret of York, died in infancy, whereas the youngest one of all, Bridget of York, became a nun. Besides being the sister-in-law of Henry VII, she was the aunt of King Henry VIII of England.

Reign of Edward IV

In 1474, Edward IV contracted a marriage alliance with King James III of Scotland, whereby Cecily was betrothed to James, Duke of Rothesay, the future King James IV of Scotland. Because of this, she was styled Princess of Scots for a time. This agreement was unpopular in the Kingdom of Scotland, however, and later military conflicts between Edward IV and James III negated the marriage arrangement.

With her older sisters Elizabeth and Mary, Cecily was present at the wedding of their brother the Duke of York in 1478. In 1480, Cecily was named a Lady of the Garter, along with her sister Mary.

Edward IV continued to pay a dowry to the Scottish Crown until the signing of the Treaty of Fotheringhay on 11 June 1482, which arranged for Cecily's betrothal to Alexander Stewart, Duke of Albany, the exiled younger brother of James III, who had personal ambitions for the Scottish throne. Edward IV sent Albany and his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later King Richard III), with an army into Scotland. Richard returned with a bond from the merchants of Edinburgh to repay the dowry and re-captured the town of Berwick upon Tweed. Edward IV decided to take the money and formally cancel the marriage with Prince James.[2] Albany was killed on 7 August 1485, without a marriage to Cecily having taken place, since the death of Edward IV in 1483 had changed the marriage prospects for his daughters. Indeed, they had all been declared illegitimate by the Parliament of England in 1484 (see below).

Reign of Richard III

After the death of Edward IV on 9 April 1483, his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, asserted his right to the crown despite the fact that Edward had two male heirs, Cecily's brothers Edward and Richard: the Princes in the Tower. The fate of the two boys has never been definitively resolved, although they are presumed to have died sometime in the latter part of the year 1483. It is known that Richard, acting on information provided by Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells, declared that his brother Edward's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had not been valid and that their children were therefore illegitimate and could not inherit the crown.[3] Richard assumed the throne, and in January 1484, Parliament passed the Titulus Regius, declaring Gloucester to be King Richard III and barring the children of Edward IV from the throne.

According to Philippe de Commines, a diplomat at the court of the Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, who was married to Margaret of York, an aunt of Cecily of York, only two of the elder daughters of Edward IV were declared illegitimate at the time that their younger brothers were excluded from the throne by the Act of Titulus Regius that confirmed Richard III's right to the throne.[4] However, this was an error. The relevant line in the Titulus Regius says that "all th’issue and children of the said king [Edward IV] been bastards, and unable to inherite or to clayme anything by inheritance, by the lawe and custome of England."[5]

First marriage

Cecily was married to Ralph Scrope of Upsall, a younger brother of Thomas Scrope, 6th Baron Scrope of Masham, and a supporter of Richard III, but the marriage was annulled on the accession of her future brother-in-law, Henry Tudor, as King Henry VII of England. Many published works fail to note this earlier nullified marriage. Years later, Cecily's discarded first husband succeeded another elder brother to the family barony, becoming Ralph Scrope, 9th Baron Scrope of Masham. He died ca. 1515.

Reign of Henry VII of England

The Lancastrian claimant to the English throne, Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, had announced at Rennes Cathedral in France on Christmas Day of 1483 that he intended to unite the rival royal houses of Lancaster and York by marrying a daughter of Edward IV and thus bring to an end the conflicts of generations of descendants of Edward III now known as the Wars of the Roses. His first choice was Elizabeth of York, the eldest of the late king's daughters, but had she died, Henry's marital intentions would have turned to Cecily, as he stated explicitly in his declaration.[6]

Second marriage

In 1487, after the accession of Henry VII and his marriage to her older sister Elizabeth, Cecily was married to a staunch Lancastrian nobleman, John Welles, 1st Viscount Welles, the son of Lionel Welles, 6th Lord Welles, and Margaret Beauchamp of Bletso. Her new husband was a maternal half-brother of Lady Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII's mother, and thus an uncle of the half-blood of Henry VII and a royal favourite both by virtue of politics and blood.

Cecily had two children with Viscount Welles: Elizabeth and Anne Welles, both of whom died young and unmarried. Upon the death of Viscount Welles on 9 February 1499, Cecily's grief is said to have been considerable. A portion of the Viscount's will shows the relationship between the two:

Also I geve and bequethe to my dere beloved lady and wife Cecille, for terme of her lif, all my castelles, manors, landes and tenements, aswell suche as I have purchased as all odre during only her life, whome I trust above all oder, that if my goodes and catallis wilnot suffice for the performance of this my laste will, that she will thenne of the revenues of the profittes of my inheritance perform this my laste will. Also I will that a preste be founde for ever after my said wifes decease to sey masse daily for my sowle and all Cristen sowles at the said aulter of the yerely revenues of my purchased landes, and oder which my saide lady hath promised me faithfully to purchase to the same entent if my saide purchased landes suffice not therto. And I will yt suche residue as shall fortune to be of my goodes that my saide dere beloved lady and wife have theym to her owne use. And I make executors the saide Cecill, my dere beloved wife, and Sr Raynold Bray, knyght. . .[7]


Cecily played a role in various major royal ceremonies during the earlier years of Henry VII's reign that befitted her position in the Royal Family as a sister of a queen consort and sister-in-law of a king regnant. She carried her nephew Arthur, Prince of Wales, at his christening; attended her sister Elizabeth of York at her coronation as queen consort; and bore the train of Catherine of Aragon at her wedding to Prince Arthur. There is also a record of her lending money to her sister, the Queen, in 1502.[8] Though the King banned Cecily from court after her third marriage (to Thomas Kyme, a man of unimpressive birth), she found comfort in the assistance of Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond (Henry's mother).[9]

Third marriage

Despite her apparent mourning, some three years into her first widowhood, and having lost her children by her late husband, she contracted a marriage that has been described as being "rather for comfort than credit" (see Fuller's Worthies, vol. 2, p. 165). Cecily's third and final marriage, to Thomas Kyme (or Kymbe, or Keme), an obscure Lincolnshire squire, otherwise called Sir John Keme or Kene of the Isle of Wight, took place sometime between May 1502 and January 1504. It is thought to have been a love match, entered into entirely from the princess' own liking.

Green states that she chose a partner to suit herself who was also someone so unthreatening as to be beneath the notice of the King or likely to arouse his jealousy. This wedding took place without the King's approval or permission. The princess appears to have miscalculated her brother-in-law's attitude. The King banished Cecily from court and all her estates were confiscated.

After the intervention of the King's mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, who is known to have aided Cecily when she fell out of favour with the King and allowed the couple to reside at her own property, Collyweston Palace,[10] some of Cecily's lands were restored.[11] She was to enjoy only a lifetime interest in those remaining to her and to have nothing to pass on to her husband or to any children of their union.

Later life

Cecily lived out the balance of her life quietly, far from court. In the royal account books, there is a gap in the record of her final years. Existing details about her final years during her last marriage are scanty and conflicting. Two children, Richard and Margaret (or Margery) are mentioned in the enhanced copy, dated 1602, of the heraldic Visitation of Hampshire (1576) made by Smythe, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant at the College of Arms, indicating that they lived, married, and had offspring. The children of the princess and her last husband were granted no royal titles or styles, nor did they enjoy any royal favours, lands, or positions at court, nor, indeed, any public recognition whatsoever. Over the centuries any memory of them has been obscured, and thus the veracity of their historical existence is now difficult to substantiate.

Princess Cecily died in 1507, at the age of 38, only a few years after contracting her last marriage. She lived at East Standen in the Isle of Wight, not in great wealth.

Ruins of the old Quarr abbey
Ruins of the old Quarr abbey

According to Edward Hall's Chronicle, she was buried in relative obscurity in Quarr Abbey, Isle of Wight. Horrox disputes this, pointing to evidence from the Beaufort account books that states she died at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, after a three-week sojourn there, and was buried at a place that must have been local, known as "The Friars" (perhaps the friary at Kings Langley, associated with the House of York and where Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York, was buried). The writ of diem clausit extremum, which supplies her death date, styles her as "late wife of John, late Viscount Wells", omitting any reference to her last husband or their children. If she was indeed buried in the precincts of Quarr Abbey, near her last home, then Cecily's tomb and any record of its precise location was lost when Quarr Abbey was destroyed during Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. Quarr's building materials were reused.

A stained glass portrait of Cecily, originally from a larger "royal window" depicting Edward IV's family, is now in Glasgow's Burrell Collection. A modern copy has been placed in the much restored original group in the north transept of Canterbury Cathedral.[12] These are, along with another window in the parish church of Little Malvern, Worcestershire, her only surviving memorials.



  1. ^ Alison Weir: Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World
  2. ^ Macdougall, Norman, James III, John Donald (1982), pp. 116–7.
  3. ^ Kendall, Paul Murray (1955). Richard the Third. London: George Allen and Unwin. pp. 215–220. ISBN 978-0393007855.
  4. ^ Commines, Philippe de; Scoble, Andrew R., ed. (1877). The Memoirs of Philippe de Commines. London. p. 396. Retrieved 21 Aug 2016.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  5. ^ "Titulus Regius". The Richard III Society. Archived from the original on 18 February 2019. Retrieved 21 Aug 2016.
  6. ^ Fisher, George (1832). A Companion and Key to English History. London. p. 181. Retrieved 21 Aug 2016.
  7. ^ Champion, Sharon. "Appendix I: Will of John, Lord Welles. In 'Not So Fortunate As Fair': The Life of Princess Cecily Plantagenet". Isle of Wight History. Archived from the original on 15 January 2016. Retrieved 21 Aug 2016.
  8. ^ Nicolas, Nicholas Harris (1830). Privy Purse Expenses of Elizabeth of York. London. p. xxi. Retrieved 21 Aug 2016.
  9. ^ Weir, Alison (2013). Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World. New York: Ballantine. p. 410. ISBN 9780345521361.
  10. ^ Michael K. Jones; Malcolm G. Underwood (1992). The King's Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby. Cambridge University Press. p. 85. ISBN 978-0-521-44794-2.
  11. ^ Weir. Elizabeth of York. p. 410.
  12. ^ Marks, Richard and Williamson, Paul, eds. Gothic: Art for England 1400–1547, no. 38, 2003, V&A Publications, London, ISBN 1851774017


  • Alison Weir - Britain's Royal Families (which discusses the issue of her Kyme, Kymbe, or Keme children's possible survival)
  • Complete Peerage, volume 14 (1998), pg. 626 (sub Welles, for the first marriage of The Princess Cecily to Ralph Scrope)
  • J. L. Laynesmith, The Last Medieval Queens: English Queenship 1445-1503, 2004, pp. 199–200 (regarding the anger of King Henry VII at her final marriage and his confiscation of her estates, and the negotiations for a resolution and partial restoration of Princess Cecily's property by the King's mother, Margaret, Countess of Richmond and Derby)
  • Mary Anne Everett Green, Lives of the Princesses of England, vol. 3, chapter 13 (Cecilia Third Daughter of Edward IV), pp. 404–436
  • Macdougall, Norman, James III, A Political Study, John Donald (1982), for the Scottish marriage plans.
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  • Rosemary Horrox, Richard III, A Study in Service, 1989, p. 295 (the basis of the claim in the Complete Peerage regarding Princess Cecily's first marriage to Scrope)
  • Stanley Frederick Hockey, Quarr Abbey and Its Lands, 1132-1631, 1977, University of Leicester Press, p. 61