All it takes, sometimes, is one well written and well referenced article and you find yourself staring at a pile of paper, realising that it’s a mountain of nonsense, or at least, not-quite-rightness. I did the best I could with the tiny snatches of information that I’d managed to glean, but then I came across an article that made a rethink, and no doubt to some extent a refashioning, necessary.
I’m not one to cling, white knuckled, onto a preconceived notion. In Nevill (and in anything that may follow), I’m striving to let the facts lead the story. I don’t have a thesis that I want to prove, thus hammering the facts into peculiar shapes so that they fit the story I want to tell. And now I know one or two things about Maud Stanhope that I didn’t an hour ago. That changes things. If I want to claim that my work is anything close to well researched and accurate, then it has to be well researched and accurate. If my readers are being asked to believe something is true when not only is it not true, but I know it’s not… That’s not the kind of writer I want to be, and it’s not the kind of book I want to write.
I’ve been googling “Maud Stanhope” for years now. I’ve learned some stuff, but not a great deal. Much of it is genealogies of doubtful soundness. Hicks calls her a ‘youthful widow’, but apart from that, she’s essentially invisible in most secondary sources. I knew of one article that features her, and I knew what journal it was in, but try as I might I couldn’t find a way to access it.
Then, preparing to write a short scene with Maud and a couple of her attending women, I thought “I wonder if anyone’s written down the names of any members of her household?” So I googled “Maud Stanhope household” and found this:
The Remarriage of Elite Widows in the Later Middle Ages by Rhoda Friedrichs. The same woman who’d written the “Rich Ladies Made Poor” article that I can’t find! (I’ve sent her an email asking if she can point me to where I can purchase it. I have my fingers crossed that she has the time to respond.)
I’m actually annoyed that something as useful as this is buried so deep under the mountains of genealogies that it took an accident to find it. On the other hand, I am very happy that I found it! The last three pages consist of a case study of an Elite Widow who Remarried in the Later Middle Ages: Maud Stanhope, Lady Willoughby.
Some of the things I learned that prompt me to rethink and refashion:
• December 1454, inquisition post mortem of Maud’s mother, the sister of Ralph lord Cromwell. Maud’s age is given as 30.
(C/139/157/26 I tried to access this record. I can buy it for something like $15.00 or I can to go the National Archives and see it for free. But that will cost me a couple of thousand in airfares and accommodation…)
Two things come from this, one I’m not sure about and will need to dig deeper (if possible) to find: Was Maud in Notts attending this inquisition? If so, then she wasn’t getting ready to celebrate, celebrating or recovering from the celebration of Alianor Nevill’s marriage to Thomas Stanley.
The other thing is Maud’s age. I’d done at bit of extrapolating, working from the premise that Maud was in her mid to late teens when she first married, placed that alongside Hicks’s ‘youthful widow’ and drawn the conclusion that Maud and her second husband, Thomas Nevill, were around the same age – 23 or 24. If Maud was 30 in 1454, she was 28 or 29 when she married Thomas and some five or so years older than him. Friedrich states that Maud was in her early 20s when she married Robert lord Willougby in 1448/9 – a little older than one might expect for a woman of her class and time.
• Maud was in dire financial straits when she married Thomas.
This is something the secondary sources I’ve read don’t think to mention. She’d been turned out of her home on the death of her husband by her stepdaughter, who took possession of everything, even Maud’s dower lands. Maud sent a desperate sos to her uncle, Cromwell, and took shelter with him at Tattershall. Cromwell brought the Nevill marriage about for his own sake – he needed their support against the duke of Exeter – and hers – she needed the financial security a marriage would bring. Any hopes the Nevills had of benefiting financially from this must be postponed until Cromwell’s death. Maud might have lost what she was entitled to of Willoughby wealth, but she would surely secure her share of the Cromwell estate.
Just because Maud had no practical choice in the matter, doesn’t mean she was unhappy with the idea of marrying Thomas. She’d contracted her first marriage because it benefitted her uncle – Willoughby owed Cromwell money and agreed to forego all or part of a dowry in exchange for the forgiving of this debt. For Maud, at this stage, love and personal preference had nothing to do with marriage. How fond or not Maud and Thomas were of each other is now impossible to glean. Back when I didn’t know all this, there was a decided chance that Maud, being a widow and therefore free to make her own decisions when it came to husbands, had chosen to marry Thomas because she at least liked him.
At the moment, my Thomas and my Maud are happy with each other. They like one another, enjoy a healthy sex life and are all excited about their new home. (I wrote down all the properties that Maud and her sister, Joan, eventually inherited from Cromwell and chose one – at Bleasby, Notts – close by Nottingham and Maud’s mother’s house, Tuxford. This is just an educated guess and I’m quite happy to change it if I find out where they actually lived.) I’ve always been planning for this marriage to go through a rocky patch, based on their childlessness, which can put strains on any marriage, and what I perceive to be their political differences. From about 1457 on, Maud and Thomas may not have seen much of each other and, of course, after December 30 1460, they saw nothing of each other at all. Given the new information, the marriage may not ever have been happy. This is something I shall have to consider.
And that’s partly because:
• Maud married Gervase Clifton ‘within months of Thomas Neville’s death’.
It is suggested that this was a love match and ‘flew in the face of all prudence and common sense’. This Gervase was the illegitimate one from Kent, after all, not the heir of Clifton Hall. I don’t mind that, either. Maud’s third marriage hardly features, except in the prologue, and I can fix that without any problems. In fact, I now have a little more to work with. But it leads me to one question: When did they meet? (Friedrichs suggests they may have known each other when Maud was a young girl, but doesn’t give any idea about how they ‘re-met’, both recently widowed.) If they married so quickly after Wakefield (and ‘within months’ doesn’t tell me how many months, sadly), is there a chance that they were already close? Closer than they should have been? Were Maud and Thomas estranged in the last few years of their marriage? And is this why she didn’t attend his funeral? Had she disgraced herself and the Nevills by her relationship with and marriage to Clifton? (Update: I’ve answered some of those questions here.)
So much to think about and so much to rewrite! I am delighted that I found Friedrich’s article. I wish I’d done so earlier. She also has an article on Cromwell, which I’m planning to have in my collection very soon… I just wish journal articles (and me no longer with academic privileges) weren’t the same price as books!