The Middleham Jewel is a late 15th century gold pendant that was found near Middleham Castle in 1985.
It is delicately engraved, and it is thought it could have kept a religious relic inside, a popular practice at the time.
The beautiful large sapphire on the front adds to it’s beauty and meaning.
The engravings include references to childbirth, and therefore it is thought that it belonged to a woman.
Due to the richness and expensiveness of this wonderful pendant, it is thought that only a few people of the time would have been able to afford to commission it, and we know of 3 noble women close to the Crown who spent time at Middleham castle.
First to be investigated as the possible owner is Cecily Neville, Duchess of York.
Cecily Neville, Duchess of York
Cecily Neville was born in 1415 at Raby Castle in County Durham to Ralph Neville, and Joan Beaufort.
She was the youngest of 14 children, and she was known as the Rose of Raby due to her beauty.
She was descended from Kings, her maternal grandfather was John of Gaunt, the 3rd son of King Edward III, and she was the niece of King Henry IV. She was also the aunt of Anne Beauchamp.
Due to the fact she was of a Royal line and she carried the famous name of Neville, she was a great marriage prospect and at the age of 9 was betrothed to Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York.
He was a ward of her father, and they were married in 1429 when she was just 14 years old.
They had a successful marriage, and spend some of their married life at Fotheringhay Castle. She bore him 13 children of which 7 survived including King Edward IV, King Richard III, George, Duke of Clarence and Margaret who became the Duchess of Burgundy.
She made a concentrated effort to be by her husbands side, often travelling long distances to be with him, including to Ludlow Castle, where he was forced to flee, leaving Cecily to face the Lancastrian army with her two youngest sons.
There is a legend that states that Cecily met the Lancastrian army at the Market Cross, with her two young sons by her side.
In 1459 Richard, Duke of York was killed in the Battle of Wakefield against
the Lancastrian army along with her second eldest son Edmund. It wasn’t much of a battle, the Yorkist army were greatly outnumbered, and Edmund was executed fleeing the battle.
This must have been a shocking blow, and it would only be the start of the losses she would know.
Her second living son George, Duke of Clarence was executed for treason against his brother in 1479, and 1483 saw the death of Edward IV at the young age of 41.
Her youngest son Richard became Richard III, and he was killed in battle in 1485 at the age of 32.
After the marriage of her granddaughter Elizabeth of York who became Queen of England in 1486, Cecily became famous for her piety and lived at Berkhamsted Castle for much of her later life.
Cecily Neville died in 1495 at the age of 80.
This was a remarkable age in the 15th century. She lies buried with her husband at the church of All Saints at Fotheringhay, the village she would have known so well.
I admire Cecily for being a survivor and the strength of character she must have had. She left a long legacy, all later monarchs beginning with Henry VIII are descendants of Cecily Neville.
Did Cecily own the Middleham Jewel?
I think Cecily is a rank outsider for the Jewel’s ownership. I believe she may have visited Middleham Castle due to its close ties to her family, and son. Perhaps she lost on one of those visits…