Anne Neville: More than just a Footnote in History￼
How we see The Wars of the Roses is overwhelmingly masculine. From militant Kings and backstabbing nobles to she-wolf Queens demonised for presenting attributes equal to men, its male influence is almost inescapable.
Anne Neville played a pivotal role during this period. As the daughter of the Earl of Warwick known as ‘the Kingmaker,’ she had a front seat to the conflict and family drama of the age. She had the opportunity of marrying both a Lancastrian heir and the final Yorkist King. However, despite her colourful life, her unique experiences have often been neglected in favour of her male peers. In-depth information about her is often scarce. In essence, she has been wrongly treated as merely a footnote in history. This article will try to rectify, exploring the tumultuous life of Anne Neville: Princess of Wales, Duchess of Gloucester, and Queen of England.
On 11 June 1456, Anne Neville was born into one of the most powerful families in England. Through her father, Richard Neville, the Great Grandson of John of Gaunt, Anne was cousins with King Henry VI and future Edward IV. Despite her noble lifestyle, it must have been a stressful childhood. Anne and her older sister Isabel grew up at the Neville power base in Middleham Castle, North Yorkshire. Her father was a key supporter of the Yorkist cause to overthrow the Lancastrian Henry VI. Anne’s father’s involvement in this conflict and the location of her childhood home meant that it is very likely that Anne was not sheltered from the realities of the violence.
She would have learned about the dangers of being vulnerable and the fragility of life. With her father being a central supporter of the Yorkists claim to the throne, it would not have been surprising if she feared that he would have a similar fate to the Duke of York. After many bloody battles, one of which involving the death of their leader Richard of York in 1460, the Yorkists were finally successful at the Battle of Towton in 1461 and York’s son Edward then became the King.
The crowning of Edward IV in 1461 must have come as a relief for Anne, as the absence of the former King Henry’s family meant that there was relative peace throughout the realm. As a result, the Neville’s were thoroughly rewarded for their support to the Yorkist cause, with consequent fortune and power to reach an all-time high. Warwick was extremely close to Edward and had important diplomatic roles. Therefore, Anne would have a positive change to her living situation, safety, and status and was now one of the wealthiest heiresses in England.
Although they did not have any brothers, Anne and Isabel were not alone at Middleham. In the 15th century, it was traditional for wealthy nobles to place their sons into the household of nobles of similar rank to provide them with military and political education. Warwick’s loyalty to King Edward IV led him to entrust his younger brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, to his care. Historians debate the extent to which Anne and Richard connected at Middleham but as they were near each other, they would have eventually met, since their future interactions certainly suggest that they were at least on friendly terms. These connections would mould the politics of England significantly in years to come.
With such ambitious and power-hungry characters in the realm, the peace brought about by the coronation of Edward IV was fragile and bound to be temporary. This was a dramatic and temperamental age. It was inevitable that Anne’s life would once more plunge into chaos.
Tensions between the King and Warwick began to form when Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville, a commoner and widow, favouring her family over Warwick. This was exasperated when Edward refused to allow his younger brothers to marry Isabel or Anne. Perhaps he feared that Warwick would become a threat if he became even more powerful. Nonetheless, this refusal had dangerous consequences for the Yorkist party. Warwick allied with Edward’s brother, the Duke of Clarence, and groomed him into the idea of seizing the throne. The Duke defied the King in 1469 by secretly marrying Isabel. As a result, Warwick and Edward’s relationship strained even more. Declared rebels, Anne fled to Calais with her family, carrying her heavily pregnant sister with them the following year, but Edward IV anticipated this move and blocked their entry. The stressful journey that the sisters had to undertake added complications to Isabel’s pregnancy. Unfortunately, she gave birth to a stillborn on the ship, which would have been traumatic for Anne.
With Calais blocked, Warwick sought refuge in the court of Louis XI, where Henry VI’s wife Margaret of Anjou was staying. In a monumental twist, Warwick switched sides, as Anne’s father grovelled for reconciliation with the Lancastrians, offering to help reinstate Henry VI to the throne and marriage between Anne and Henry’s son Edward, Prince of Wales. Hence, Anne was effectively used as a political pawn to ensure her family’s safety.
Her opinion of the marriage is not recorded, although after the journey to Louis’s court, she must have understood the desperation of her family’s situation, since she had spent her childhood surrounded by deadly plots to remove the Lancastrians and was conditioned to believe that they were the enemy. She in fact must have been terrified. Still, regardless of her thoughts on the matter, she married Edward and became the Princess of Wales. When Henry VI was successfully reinstated with the help of her father in 1470, she was married to the heir of the throne.
The marriage was certainly not a close one. It is dubious whether the couple consummated, perhaps to open the door for an annulment if Warwick went back on his word. This would not be the case, though. Following these events, Anne’s marriage resulted in Clarence being pushed away from becoming king, so he deserted Warwick and re-joined Edward IV. Dire outcomes for Warwick and the Lancastrians would soon ensue. In 1471, support for the former King Edward was gaining momentum, while Warwick perished at the Battle of Barnet and Anne’s husband died not long afterward at the Battle of Tewkesbury. She had lost both her husband and father at an age when women relied on their male relatives to survive. On top of that, she married the enemies of the King. With nowhere to go, she was captured by the Yorkists and sent to live in the household of the bitter Clarence.
Lancastrian Princess, Yorkist Queen
On the surface, Clarence’s motive for becoming her guardian appears positive. In his household, Anne was reunited with her sister, avoiding imprisonment for her involvement with the Lancastrians. However, the main reason he took in Anne was to control her economically. With Anne in his custody, he gained access to her inheritance from the death of Warwick. This motive is evident through his anger over Richard’s desire to marry Anne which would decrease his access to Warwick’s wealth.
Writers have romanticised Richard’s decision by perpetuating the idea that Anne was a damsel in distress. Some writers say that Richard saved her from Clarence, who disguised Anne as a servant to separate them. Although they knew each other from childhood, their marriage mutually benefited them politically and economically. Richard would gain significant territory in the North and Anne’s future spending habits suggest that she was not wholly passive in the negotiations for the marriage.
Anne married her second husband in 1472. The rift between the brothers never recovered and worsened after Edward declared them both heirs of Warwick in Parliament in 1474. They only had one child called Edward and after the deaths of Isabel and Clarence, their children were cared for by Anne. The couple’s lack of children during their 12 years of marriage does not necessarily mean they were unhappy. Indeed, when Richard III controversially seized the throne after the death of Edward IV by declaring his sons illegitimate, Anne and Richard shared a bed despite it being customary for kings and queens to sleep separately. Her marriage also appeared to give Anne a degree of financial agency. An example is that she co-owned and gifted books to Richard III. Additionally, in 1483 she gifted him an elaborate embroidered purple cloth made to her order for their co-coronation, where she also wore purple. Perhaps this demonstrates her support for him as she had some influence over their displays to the public, suggesting that she was ambitious like her predecessors.
Richard’s kingship was very problematic due to the dubious welfare of Edward IV’s sons who were being kept in the Tower of London. However, Anne gave him support from the North and an heir who was vital for the validity of his throne. She was also present during important diplomatic talks with Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain to arrange a marriage between her son and the Spanish Infanta.
Anne may have had a positive effect on his image, but she also indirectly fuelled a hate campaign that would ultimately cost Richard III his life and the end of the York dynasty. Their son died in April 1484 which caused great distress for Anne and Richard III both personally and politically, as now he no longer had a direct heir. The grief greatly affected Anne’s health which steadily declined. She died 11 months later during a solar eclipse.
Her death led to gossip that Richard III had poisoned her to get a new heir by marrying his niece Elizabeth of York. This was catastrophic for his image due to the popularity of both the Neville family and Anne herself. Her death accelerated rebellion and desertion to Henry Tudor, who ended the Yorkist rule by defeating Richard III at Bosworth in 1485. After Richard’s death, the York Roll, an illustrated history of the Neville family that originally showed Richard as a loyal husband to Anne, was modified by crossing out images of Richard to depict that he was insufferable in their marriage. Although the creator undoubtedly wanted to appease the Tudors, its focus on the Neville family means that Richard’s portrayal in the document was probably influenced by the gossip surrounding the death of Anne. Once again, she was seen as merely a damsel in distress in the story of men.
Anne experienced a great wheel of fortune during her life. Despite only being around 28 years old when died, she had found herself in the middle of three major conflicts and married to a Lancastrian Prince and a York King. She experienced massive gains and significant losses. Her life and legacy greatly impacted the politics and governance of England. To truly understand the Wars of the Roses, her story deserves to be told but like many women during this period, her life is a neglected thread in the tapestry of the age.
Written by Katie Wilkinson
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Middleham Castle: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/siteassets/home/visit/places-to-visit/middleham-castle/history/middleham-castle-aerial-view.jpg?w=1440&mode=none&scale=downscale&quality=60&anchor=&WebsiteVersion=20210728064624