This is said to be a portrait of Cicely, Mary of York’s sister. However I believe it could actually be a portrait of Mary. Originally in the Royal Window, Northwest Transept, Canterbury Cathedral but now in the Burrell Collection, Glasgow.
Mary Plantagenet also known as Mary of York was the second daughter of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Wydville. She was born at Windsor Castle in August 1467 and died at her mother’s favourite palace of Greenwich 23 May 1482 aged just 14 years. Strangely enough another royal child, even younger than Mary, Anne Mowbray Duchess of Norfolk, her sister in law – being the child bride of her brother Richard of Shrewsbury – had also died at Greenwich just six months earlier on 9th November 1481. Even at a time when child mortality was high it must have been heart rending to have two deaths so close together for the royal household and by horrible coincidence in the same royal apartments. Elizabeth Wydeville’s whereabouts at that time are unknown so its impossible to say if she was at Greenwich at the time of Mary’s death although it is known that her father had visited Canterbury on the 17th May and was back in London on the 23rd and thus it is possible he may, perhaps accompanied by the queen, have seen his daughter as she lay dying (1 )
A print by an unknown artist now in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich depicting the Palace c 1487.
A view of Greenwich Palace from a print published by the Society of Antiquaries 1767
The Royal Window, Canterbury Cathedral. Elizabeth Wydeville and her daughters. Mary is shown as the last figure on the right hand side.
The cause of death of neither of the girls is known. While Anne’s body had been taken by barge to her burial place in Westminster Abbey Mary’s was taken by stages to St Georges Chapel, Windsor, where she was interred next to her two year old brother, George, who had died in March 1479 possibly of the plague. Several Wydeville ladies were among the mourners including Jane, Lady Grey of Ruthin, sister to the queen and Jacquetta, another sister’s daughter, Joan Lady Strange, wife of George Stanley. Another niece, Lady ‘Dame’ Katherine Grey, possibly the daughter of Jane Wydeville was also present. Dinner for the funeral group was at the palace after which Mary’s body was taken from Greenwich parish church where it had been taken and begun its last sad journey to Windsor (2).
Over time the exact location of the graves became forgotten and lost but in 1810 during the course of building work their coffins were discovered in the area known then as Wolsey’s Chapel and now as the Albert Memorial Chapel. These were easily identifiable because George’s lead coffin was inscribed with “serenissimus princeps Georgius filius tercius Christianissimi principis Edvardi iiij” and it was known that Mary had been laid to rest alongside her little brother – her funeral accounts tell us that she was “buried by my Lorde George, her brother, on whos solles God have mercy”. When Mary’s coffin was examined she was found wrapped in numerous folds of strong cerecloth (waxed cloth used for wrapping a corpse) closely packed and tied with cords ( 3)
Mary and George were then reburied in a small vault close to the vault where their parents were buried. Their mother’s remains, a skull and pile of bones found lying on top of Edward’s coffin along with the remains of her cheap wooden coffin, had disappeared between the time of Edward’s vault being discovered and resealed in 1789 (4). Edward’s remains had been thoroughly poked about and no doubt Elizabeth’s were appropriated by the dreaded Georgian souvenir collectors along with numerous locks of Edward’s hair. A slab was already in place with their names on it as mistakenly it was believed they had already been buried close to their father in the small vault adjoining his.
St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Yorkist Mauseoleum photo @Roger Simon
It’s not surprising that little is known about Mary of York, a child of 14, who was hardly here ere she was gone. She was mentioned along with her sister Elizabeth in the will her father made prior to leaving for France in 1475 – ‘Item we wil that oure doughtre Elizabeth have x ml marc towards her marriage and that oure doughtre Marie have also to her mariage x ml marc , soo that they bee gouverned and rieuled in thair mariages by oure derrest wiff the Quene and by oure said son the Prince if God fortune him to comme to age of discrecion’ but ‘if either of oure said doughtres doo marie thaim silf without such advys and assent soo as they bee therby disparaged, as God forbede, that then she soo marieing her silf have noo paiement of her said x ml marc, but that it bee emploied by oure Executours towards the hasty paiement of oure debtes and restitucions as is expressed in this oure last Will’ (5). Ah man makes plans plans while the gods laugh as they say and we now know how differently things panned out. However it’s rather gratifying to know, at a time when so many ancient and royal remains have been lost, that at least Edward has two of his children with him.
Mary of York once in the ‘Royal Window’ Canterbury Cathedral now in the Burrell Collection, Glasgow.
- The Royal Funerals of the House of York at Windsor p58 Anne E Sutton & Livia Visser-Fuchs
- Ibid p60
- D. & S. Lysons, Magna Britannia, vol. I, pt. I, Berkshire (reprint of an 1806 publication), p. 471
- Elizabeth had requested a modest funeral and that is exactly what she got. Even the herald reporting on the funeral was shocked The Royal Funerals of the House of York at Windsor p68 Anne E Sutton & Livia Visser-Fuchs
- Excerpta Historica : Illustrations of English History p369 edited Samuel Bentley
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