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…