The longevity of the Neville women

The longevity of the Neville women.

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 3 spouses, but children with only the second and third.  The second was Henry Percy Earl of Northumberland, with whom she had 10, 7 of them boys.  Of the four 4 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 5 sons who all outlived her.  I couldn’t discover anything about her second husband and the 2 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 2 husbands.  By her first, Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, she had 4 sons and outlived all but 1.  Of 2 grandsons, 1 survived her.

Cecily, born 1415, died 1495, the youngest and best known had only 1 husband, Richard Duke of York with whom she had 4 sons and outlived them all.  The eldest was King Edward IV, who had 2 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 1 son who outlived his grandmother by about 4 years. Her fourth son, King Richard III had one son who did not outlive her.

Most of the information above came from Wikipedia and


Author: susanappleyardwriter

I am a writer and reader of historical fiction. In the eighties I had 2 books published traditionally and recently 2 books self-published. I live in Canada for half the year - the warm half - and Mexico for the other half.

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