Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Longevity of the Neville Women

by Susan Appleyard

It is impossible to be definitive, but it seems the life expectancy of a woman in the Middle Ages was about thirty-five to forty. While the average life expectancy of a man was truncated by battle and block, as well as work related accidents, the battlefield for women was the birthing chamber. Many died in childbirth (5%) or from complications arising afterward (as many as 15%). If a woman survived her child-bearing years, however, she stood a good chance of living into her fifties or sixties.

I was surprised to discover that the Neville women, four sisters, all lived to a ripe old age. By the Neville women, I mean the daughters of Earl Ralph of Westmoreland and his second wife, Joan Beaufort: Eleanor, Katherine, Anne and Cecily. The trouble with living so long is that collectively they outlived numerous husbands, sons and even grandsons. I decided to look into this, focussing on the male members of the families who reached manhood. Information about girls is harder to find, especially if they were younger daughters or didn’t marry well.

Eleanor was the eldest, born c. 1397 died 1472. She had three spouses, but children with only the second and third. The second was Henry Percy Earl of Northumberland, with whom she had ten, seven of them boys. Of the four I could track, all four predeceased her, although one was a bishop and might have been expected to live longer than the others who all died in battle or under the axe. One of her grandsons became Earl of Northumberland in his turn and also predeceased her, while another had five sons who all outlived her. I coul’t discover anything about her second husband and the two sons she had with him.

Katherine, Duchess of Norfolk, came next, born c.1400 and died sometime after 1483. She had 4 husbands but only 1 son and 1 grandson, who did not outlive her but were fortunate to die natural deaths.

Anne was born c.1411 and died in 1480, outliving two husbands. By her first, Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, she had four sons and outlived all but one. Of two grandsons, one survived her.

Cecily, born 1415, died 1495, the youngest and best known had only one husband, Richard Duke of York with whom she had four sons and outlived them all. The eldest was King Edward IV, who had two sons, known as the princes in the tower. A contentious issue, but it is highly likely that Cecily outlived them. Her second son was killed at the age of 17 and had no issue. The third son, George had one son who outlived his grandmother by about four years. Her fourth son, King Richard III had one son who did not outlive her.

Most of the information above came from Wikipedia and


Susan Appleyard is an author of historical fiction. She has written two books set during the War of the Roses, which are available at Amazon, and a third is due to be released in June.


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