Rethinking (and refashioning) Maud Stanhope

Posted: November 20, 2011 in Gervase Clifton, Marriage & the Nevills, Maud Stanhope, Lady Willoughby

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!

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I am very happy for you that you found something on Maud Stanhope – and I admire the fact you’re letting the facts lead where they will. I think that is one of the best things about writing creatively instead of within the confines of an academic paper. As you pointed it out, it often becomes a case of trying to “smush” (technical term) things into place to fit a hypothesis.

    • anevillfeast says:

      Thanks, Elizabeth! There’s little that annoys me more in HF than an author who makes a decision about ‘why’ something happened and refuses to let the sources sway them from that. And I fully admire your fluency when it comes to technical, academic terms!

  2. Very interesting! Is it possible Gervase Clifton was attached in some way or other to the Neville or Cromwell household or affinity? As an illegitimate son he would have had to make his way somehow, and service in a noble affinity was one respectable option.

    It occurs to me that Maud might have had a pragmatic attitude and saw her marriage to Thomas as a workable solution to her difficulties, since presumably she had no income. It would have been realistic to expect the Neville interest to extract her cash/rights from the WIlloughbys.

  3. anevillfeast says:

    Brian, all I’ve got on Gervase is that he worked at court as the duke of Gloucester’s (Humphrey’s) treasurer. I doubt he had any connections to the Nevills, as he was a staunch Lancastrian and died for it. I had thought he was the one who was something in Calais, but that’s the other one (there were several Gervase Cliftons, it gets very confusing!)

    Maud had no choice but to marry Thomas, given her financial situation. She does seem to have been very pragmatic, however, consenting readily to both this marriage and her first. Friedrich says that Maud ‘seems to have agreed with her uncle that marriage to a peer [Willoughby] was a very advantageous settlement, as his executors were to remind her during a dispute over her inheritance some years later”. This is referenced to a document that I haven’t even tried to access because I’m sure I can’t!. (Oxford Magd, MS Misc, 362)

    As to whether the Nevills got her dower back, I have no information on that. It would seem likely that they at least tried, given their enthusiasm for securing their wives’ inheritances. I’ve managed to avoid any real involvement with the Warwick inheritance so far, and dread the idea of trying to do the research required to sort out Maud’s from this distance!

  4. One of the things I find it quite hard to grasp (with my modern head on) is how people in this era could quite easily get away with defying the law and even inheritance and dower rights. The only real way to combat this was to be powerful in your own right, marry someone who was, or get yourself attached to some powerful faction who would support you in your battles. So Maud’s situation re her dower was not that unusual (in this era) and attaching herself to the Nevilles would be a very practical and sensible course of action. (The Countess of Northumberland was not able to get her Despenser dower rights paid until two Richard Beauchamps and one Henry Beauchamp had died – offhand I think this was 1413-1441 or something like that. Anyway a big delay.)

    As to Gervase, the more obscure he was the more freedom you have in many ways. Political allegiance was not always straightforward, sometimes it was more a matter of following whatever patron one had as opposed to conviction. The Pastons are a good example of this, Sir John was well in at Edward IV’s court yet fought with Oxford at Barnet because he thought Oxford would sort out his problems with the Duke of Norfolk. Thomas Malory was ‘Yorkist’ or at least anti-court for much of his career, yet ended up excluded from pardon by Edward IV for taking part in Lancastrian plots in 1468-9. York himself arguably started out as one of Humphrey of Gloucester’s faction.

    • anevillfeast says:

      Clifton’s (and possibly Maud’s?) dedication to the cause of Henry VI and his son is something that I can be quite confident about. In order to keep him from being charged with treason, Maud ‘voluntarily’ gave over a chunk of her Cromwell inheritance to Anthony Wydeville. This is why I want Friedrich’s other Maud article – it goes into some detail about this. Not that I’m following Maud into her second marriage, but someone might just mention it in passing…

      The more I find out about Maud, the more I feel for her. She and Thomas are often the most throwaway of throwaway characters, and there’s far far more to them than most WoR writers (at least the ones I’ve come across) give them credit for. Thomas is turned into some kind of doomed and jolly uncle and Maud just fades into the background, if she’s there at all. Hey! Maybe I can do a PG and claim to be ‘rescuing’ her from oblivion! 😀

      Part one (Thomas and Maud’s bit) was supposed to be easy – I had so little to go on that I had almost complete licence. I don’t anymore and that’s a very mixed blessing. i really to feel that I’ve got to get them right or not bother.

  5. Philippa says:

    There are a number of editions of the Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem preserved in the Public Record Office available to view on Google Books. If you enter ‘inquisition post mortem maud cromwell’ in the search box it will take you to what appears to me to be the IPM of Elizabeth Fitzhugh. I hope this will be of help .

    • anevillfeast says:

      Thanks, Philippa. I saw some of it was available google books. I have the code or number or whatever it might be called for Maud Stanhope Sr’s IPM and will try that when I’ve had some sleep and feel I can tackle google books once again! Never having seen one before, I can’t guess what information it might contain. Some indication as to whether Maud Jr was there might be nice!

    • anevillfeast says:

      I’ve just searched google books for ‘maud stanhope’ – got a lot of hits, but no IPM; ‘c/139/157/26’ and ‘maud stanhope wife of richard’ which is a phrase I know occurs in the record. The last two got nothing. I keep being stymied at just about every turn and it’s getting very frustrating.

    • anevillfeast says:

      Thanks, Suan. It’s interesting that she only mentions one of her husbands, and that almost in passing, to explain her “Lady Willoughby'” title. I’ve found an image of her sister, Joan’s, brass at Holy Trinity, but no images of any of the effigies. I so need to make that trip to the UK. Like, tomorrow…

  6. Debbie Crookes says:


    I don’t know if it’s of any use to you, but I work at Nottingham University’s Manuscripts and Special Collections Department. We have the Clifton Collection in our archives. Try our online catalogue:

    We can often supply copies of documents.

    My personal interest is the Stanhope family, so I too would be interested in anything you manage to find.


    • anevillfeast says:

      Hi, Debbie. I shall be checking out that link, for certain – thanks! I’m focusing my Stanhope attention on Maud and her sister, so I don’t have extensive knowledge. I know a little about her mother and father, but that’s where I’ve left things, I’m afraid.

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