Speculation about a marriage – valid exploration or Making Crap Up?

Posted: August 5, 2010 in Alice Fitzhugh, Henry Fizhugh, Marriage & the Nevills

Three things about Alice Nevill’s marriage to Henry Fitzhugh have been tickling away at the back of my brain recently.

1. It was a very local marriage between a daughter of the countess and earl of Salisbury and the young son of a loyal Nevill retainer;

2. Between the birth of their first and second child, there is a five year gap;

3. Alice’s place in the family is unclear, she was either born c 1430 or c 1434 – if the latter, the birth of a child in 1448 goes very much against Nevill policy and practice.

Perhaps it’s just my fevered imagination getting the better of me, but after a brief conversation with my husband on the way home from shopping a couple of weeks ago (in the car for the 35k trip home he’s a captive audience, poor chap, though usually at least a patient and forbearing one!) a niggle of an hypothesis began to form. I really don’t know whether to go with it (and thus be open to a charge – not least from myself – of Making Crap Up), or just plump for the earlier birth year and a much less exciting scenario.

Firstly, why are the questions I posed above even worthy of being asked?

1. Ok, Alice was the third of the Salisburys’ daughters to marry (and the fourth of their children). Joan married an earl; Cecily married the young duke of Warwick and Richard married his sister. Later, Thomas and John both managed to bag themselves heiresses. Alice married a lord. A local lord who lived up the road at Ravensworth, who she would have known all her life and whose family had firm, long standing connections with the Nevills, which would continue almost to lord Henry’s death. (After a slow start, Fitzhugh submitted to Edward IV after Towton and later helped his brother-in-law Warwick in his initially successful attempt to bring down the king, fleeing to Scotland in 1470. He didn’t, however, fight on either side at Barnet or Tewkesbury, dying in June of 1472.)

To me it seems that the Fitzhughs had at the very least a companionable marriage, if not a loving one. They had 10 children (possibly 11, but that’s a can of worms I’ll save for another day), all born at Ravensworth, and Alice remained a widow for more than 30 years after her husband’s death. They were probably buried together at Jervaulx Abbey, though no trace of them remains, nor have their wills.

I want to stress that I’m not speculating a marriage for love against the opposition of parents, but I can’t help thinking that the prospect of spending the rest of their lives together wasn’t an unknown quantity for them, nor was it particularly daunting. My initial take on this (and it might be my ultimate one yet) is that Alice is a young woman who knows her mind, who doesn’t want to be sent away from home to marry a stranger, who quite likes Henry and the idea of living at Ravensworth, and who manages to plant a seed in her father’s head that such a marriage is an incredibly sensible idea. (I’ve watched my own daughters convince their fathers that something they want desperately was Daddy’s idea, I don’t think it’s entirely implausible.)

2. There could be any number of reasons why, in a program of childbirth that spanned approximately 18 years, and included a successful birth once every 18 months to 2 years, there could have a 5 year hiatus, especially at the beginning. There could have been a stillbirth, or miscarriages. Or, for reasons I’m going to suggest below, there might have been no opportunity for a conception during this time.

3. Alice’s age is important in this. For many other young mothers at the time, it isn’t. The Nevills seem to have been careful not to expose their daughters to pregnancy and childbirth until they were about 18. Cecily was 19 when her daughter was born, Joan was around the same age, Alianor 19 or 20 and Katheryn 18. If Alice’s birth date is 1434, that makes her 14 at the time of her oldest child’s birth, which is a glaring anomaly.

What I don’t have is a date for the marriage, even a year. While I have the birth years for the Fitzhugh children, I don’t have more specific dates.

I was chuntering about all of this as we were driving up the Monaro, saying how it didn’t make sense; that I should probably just go with my first instincts, put Alice’s birth at the earlier date rather than the later, not worry about why she got a neighbouring lord and retainer while other sisters married earls and dukes – they would have been friends, I said – when my husband said something that Changed Everything…

“Maybe they were more than friends.”

And suddenly it all made sense! I could see it unfolding before my eyes…

The fourteen year old Alice and the eighteen year old Henry, suddenly realising just how grown up the other one was… Maybe they didn’t succumb to temptation more than a few times before Alice was faced with a truth she just couldn’t go on denying. Perhaps she talked to one of her brothers first, sixteen year old George say – who, if the sources have it correct, was by this time himself the father of a 2 year old illegitimate daughter. And, for the moment, Alice is not about to divulge the name of the child’s father.  George seeks advice from John, and after first laying their own plans to chastise the errant neighbour, they’re the ones who take the news to their father.

Now taciturn, hardbitten and northern doesn’t stop you flying into a blazing temper when you hear the news that your fourteen year old daughter’s gone and got herself pregnant, especially when she’s not naming names. So Salisbury, a loving father but a fifteenth century father, gives her a serious clip around the ear, probably calls her a harlot, gets her to fess up then… Sends For Henry!

I can’t imagine he’d greet him with a smile and a fatherly hug. Once he’s picked himself up off the floor and acclimated himself to the news that a) he’s going to be a father and b) as soon as they can arrange it, a husband, Henry starts to think maybe this isn’t so bad. He likes Alice, they’re clearly sexually compatible and he was going to have to marry someone someday. But… (and it’s a big but) they will see each other on their wedding day, he will be welcome at Middleham as usual and he will get to see his child – they will not be living together as husband and wife until such time as the Salisburys see fit! Take that, young man!

There might be some sweet little touches thrown in – a sympathetic and pragmatic brother who smuggles Henry in to see his bride to be one last time before the wedding; a letter full of reassurances (“I call you my wife, for such you have been since we first lay together”); the wedding is kind of bitter sweet; the parting emotional. Some months later, a daughter is born. And the years pass.

Until one day, Alice decides (as I suspect the Nevill women were prone to) that enough is enough, packs her things, and her daughter, and heads up the road to Ravensworth to be with her husband. There’s possibly some shyness – they’ve seen each other from time to time, but never alone, never with the chance to renew their intimacy. But it’s ok (thank goodness!), they’ve still got it and before you know it, their second daughter is on the way. Salisbury might grumble a bit, but he knows when to quit and resists the urge to fetch his rebellious daughter home. And, in time, as such things tend to go, all is well. Henry and Alice have a happy, fulfilled and above all fertile 24 year marriage.

All this would be lightly sketched in backstory in Nevill, but explored in more detail in Fitzhugh.

Is this all just stupid? Am I guilty of letting my imagination run away with me? Leaving myself open to charges of descending into the realms of romantic fantasy? Or do the known facts allow the hypothesis to stand? Does it really matter?

There’s always the Author’s Note to cover my sins…

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Comments
  1. It seems to me to be a sensible theory.

  2. anevillfeast says:

    Thank you, Susan! I might play with it for a bit and see how I feel.

  3. Trish Bazalgette says:

    A couple of questions about Henry:
    1) He was about 18 when this marriage with 14-year-old Alice took place? So that would have made him about 21/22/23 when she packed up and moved in with him at Ravensworth?
    2) Was his father still alive?
    The reason I ask is because a fatherless minor would come into his inheritance at age 21 (hence all the Proof-of-age documents). One suggestion would be that Henry came of age and could legally claim his bride.
    The other thing is that marriage changed the legal status of young people. A young man was under his father’s rule until he took a wife, at which point he would become independent (in theory). Similarly, a girl was under her father’s rule until she married, at which point she became subject to her husband.
    The point is that once Henry was of age AND married, legally he had some rights in the matter which neither his parents nor hers could overrule – legally. Might makes right, of course, so either set of parents could enforce anything they wanted to. But once he was of age and she was 18, and they were already married in the eyes of God, what would have been the point of keeping them apart?
    Just a thought.

    I like your theory by the way. Love matches between nobles were unusual, but not unheard of. Simon de Montfort, I believe, enjoyed a love match with Henry III’s sister. After their marriage Henry was furious because he found out that Simon had defiled his sister before the wedding. (This story could be apocryphal – I’m dragging it out of my memory).

    How much freedom and privacy would this young couple have had for a tryst? When would a young lady of a noble household go unchaperoned long enough for a relationship to develop unnoticed let alone be consummated? Just something to consider.

    My personal opinion is that if you have exhausted the historical sources and for the sake of your story must speculate to fill in the gaps, and you do so in a respectful way that doesn’t involve any impossible events, or outrageous and anachronistic elements, then go for it!

    • anevillfeast says:

      Trish, I’ve been trying to remember when Henry came into his lordship – I have it noted somewhere – but I’m pretty sure he was quite young when his father died. In 1453, when their second child was born, the title was his, so you’re idea fits well there.
      I’m not going so much for a ‘love match’ angle here as a ‘like match’ – but I suppose it might come down to the same thing in the end. My original idea was that Alice really didn’t want to be sent away to marry and Henry was kind of handy, someone she’d known all her life and (in my head he looks like Richard Armitage, who I’m planning to offer the part to one day :-D) an attractive prospect. I don’t see them as being deeply in love at this point – that comes later.
      I’ve been thinking about the opportunity/time angle as well. I need to do more research on some of the smaller details of family life, but I imagine that, if Henry didn’t actually grow up with the Nevills to a great extent, he certainly spent a good deal of time there. I’ve got a picture in my head of Thomas, John, George and Alice (all of a ‘group’ so to speak age wise) and Henry being childhood companions and friends. That would have changed as they grew older, and a physical relationship between Henry and Alice would have started slowly, but teenagers don’t need a lot of time, they just need 10 minutes alone somewhere and raging hormones! I think it can be done.
      You’re also right about maybe Henry claiming his rights – though perhaps he’s just little intimidated by Salisbury. But he could have been the one (in this scenario) who marched down to Middleham and took his wife and daughter home! I just don’t want them to be waiting meekly around for permission – one of them has to grasp the nettle.
      If Alice’s birthdate turns out to be closer to 1430 than 34, then none of this applies. It was that potential glaring anomaly, coupled with the long gap that got me thinking.
      Thanks for your comment, Trish – always appreciated!

      • Trish Bazalgette says:

        Was Alice already betrothed to someone else? Or did she just have older sisters and could see the writing on the wall? Were her older sisters reasonably content in their marriages? Or did someone fill her head full of horror stories? I still like the puppy-love idea.
        And the whole thing could still apply even if Alice was born in 1430, because Henry would still be underage. I can’t imagine his parents begin opposed to such a good match (from their perspective) but maybe there were issues with wardship? Or even terms of wardship? A guardian who forbade the marriage but Alice’s parents insisted on it anyway so it was all hush-hush until Henry came of age or some obnoxious ward died? Have I been reading too much Jane Austen?

  4. Trish Bazalgette says:

    stupid me: last line should be ‘guardian’ not ‘ward’.

  5. anevillfeast says:

    I doubt if Alice was betrothed to anyone else and it seems her sisters’ marriages were reasonably happy, so it’s leaving home rather than marrying, I think, that bothers her. As all her children, on all the lists I can find, were born at Ravensworth, she doesn’t seem to have had much of a travel bug. That doesn’t make her a put upon, forced to stay home wife. When Henry died (and I know widows often come into their own quite dramatically), she ran the Fitzhugh estates until her oldest son came of age (13 when his father died), then harboured her son-in-law Frances Lovell for a time, then sent letters to Henry VII asking for a pardon on his behalf – she was no shrinking violet.
    Henry’s father, at least, was dead at the time of the marriage and, from his angle certainly, it was a good match. (Who he might have been in wardship to I have no idea – finding out anything about Henry has been a serious case of sifting, I’d have thought Salisbury, but from this distance I don’t know how I can confirm that.)
    I don’t want to complicate things too much – either Alice was 18 in 1448 when her first daughter was born, had a second unsuccessful birth around 1450, then a series of spectacularly successful ones from then on; or she had her first child at 14 and something else was going on.
    So strong seems the policy of not allowing marriages to be consummated until their girls were deemed ready that I doubt if the Salisburys would have gone the ‘horse has bolted’ route – if Alice jumped the gun then so be it, but she might not have been given the opportunity to have another child while she was still so young.
    (It’s not just Salisbury’s daughters that this policy applied to – it seems also to have applied to his sisters.)
    And I’m not at all sure it’s physically possible to read too much Jane Austen!

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Really late on commenting on this, and to be honest, I think I missed it! I definitely like what you’ve written in your original post and the answers to the questions raised. It seems like you’ve taken what the sources have given you and made it into a lovely story that very well could have been the case! The idea that she was the daughter who wasn’t married to a greater lord seems to be a bit of ‘proof’ that she and Henry found themselves in a bit of a pinch. And in my opinion (for what it’s worth), it’s hard to believe that a woman who can go on to bear 9-10 more children in the course of her marriage would have had issues in the years between the birth of her first and second. Then again, it’s hard to really put yourself in 15th century medical frame of mind!

    I know you will make a good story out of this, so I applaud it wholeheartedly! Bravo 🙂 Oh, and the whole Richard Armitage… well, you know my thoughts on HIM!

  7. Dawn Likha says:

    Ooh, this speculation sounds interesting! 😀 I definitely don’t think you’re just making ‘crap’ up, I think this is all valid and can be taken somewhat seriously but if one were to be a cynic, one might depict their relationship as rooted in rape but I think that would be quite disturbing and it would definitely be a bad move in affixing such a violent deed to real people, though long dead, who lived, breathed, and did stuff as we did and were complex, multi-dimensional human beings whom we need to accord some respect and dignity and try to stay objective or at least sympathetic/understanding of them and their backstories but at the same time trying your best to stay somewhere in the middle and be objective. Even if it’s possible, technically by all logic any person could rape/assault another person (disregarding any specific time or location), so I would definitely try my best to leave accusations or depictions of rape out of the picture when it comes to historical novels or even non-fiction unless it is very apparent that Person X was raped/assaulted by Person Y (like Alice de Lacy and one of her husbands who apparently did assault her after abducting her and there was one misogynistic priest, I think, who accused her of allowing the rape to happen).
    But other than that, I like your interpretation and think it’s plausible enough to be taken quite seriously. 🙂

    • anevillfeast says:

      Thanks, Dawn. I have no intention, whatsoever, of suggesting Henry Fitzhugh raped Alice Nevill. As you say, there’s no evidence whatsoever to support that and I have issues with novelists who play that kind of game with real people’s lives.

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