For those of you who have read this blog for a while, or maybe have gone back in the archives, you might notice that I have an interest in Tudor and the adjacent time periods in English history. My choice this week for Women of History reflects that. We are featuring (belatedly) Anne Neville, Queen Consort of England in the late 1500s.
Like several women of this time, there isn’t as much to go on for them themselves. Anne’s life was dominated by the actions of the men in her life, and unfortunately her story sometimes gets lost in theirs.
Anne Neville was born the youngest daughter of Richard Neville and his wife Anne Beauchamp. She was part of the English aristocracy and was related in many ways to the different factions that were arguing over the throne. Her Uncle Henry Beauchamp was the Earl of Warwick, but he died as well as his young daughter (another Anne). The title was then inherited by Anne’s mother (lets call her Lady Anne). Often when women would inherit titles, even in their own right, it would be their husbands who would act with it. Such was the case with Lady Anne. Her husband Richard (henceforth Warwick) became the Earl of Warwick.
Their primary residence for the earldom was Warwick Castle in Warwickshire, England. It was here, only 90 miles north of London, that Anne was born on June 11, 1456. She had two older sisters, Margaret (her half-sister) and Isabel. Anne and Isabel would grow up not at Warwick Castle but at another one of their father’s properties, Middleham Castle.
At the time of Anne’s birth, there was already political unrest in England. The reigning Monarch was Henry VI, who had ruled since he was 9 months old. He had been the only child of the previous king, with his only siblings being two brothers from his mother’s somewhat scandalous second marriage to Owen Tudor. Henry VI was not a beloved ruler like his father. His wife Margarite tried to make up for it, but like many women of power in that time was hated for it. In fact, Henry’s cousin Richard of York (henceforth York – there are a lot of repeat names in this story) got Parliament to sign an accord in 1560 that he would be the heir instead of Henry VI’s son Edward of Westminster.
The Plantagenet House had ruled England for almost 300 years. The breakdown into two opposite houses during their civil war started developing long before Anne was born. Edward III had four sons. His eldest son, also Edward, died before his father. His heir became his grandson Richard II. Richard’s heir, since he had no children, was Roger Mortimer, the grandson of Edward III’s second son Lionel. However, Henry IV, the son of Edward III’s third son John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster seised the throne from his cousins and started the rule of the House of Lancaster. Henry IV was the grandfather of Henry VI.
The other side of the rising civil unrest in the royal family was the House of York. They were the descendants of Roger Mortimer. Their claim was that since they descended from an older brother, they had the higher claim on the throne. York’s mother was the granddaughter of Edward III and daughter of Roger Mortimer, Richard II’s named heir.
York’s children also had the additional claim of being Lancastrian as well. His wife was Cecily Neville, the granddaughter of John of Gaunt through his third marriage. Anne herself was descended from Joan Beaufort, her grandfather being Joan’s son and Cecily’s brother.
So, Anne was born into what amounted to a family feud turned civil war. And she would end up playing a part in both sides.
Anne was 4 when York had himself proclaimed heir, bypassing Henry VI’s son. The Act of Acord was passed in October as an attempt to ease the tensions of the last decade. However, afterwards revolts broke out. York sent his youngest two sons George and Richard to live with Warwick as wards as they trained to be knights. They became childhood companions to Isabel and Anne. In December however, York and Warwick’s Father the Earl of Salisbury were killed in battle. His ‘inheritance’ was picked up by his son Edward and Warwick.
The Yorkists, in the short term, won the war. Edward IV was declared King of England by his supporters on March 4, 1961. His brothers continued to stay at Middleham and Anne’s father started to plan potential marriages of his daughters to the King’s brothers.
However. When Anne was eight years old and the Reign of Edward was only in its 2nd year, Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville. It was a bit scandalous, as she was a lesser aristocrat, an actual Englishwoman and not someone they could forge a treaty through the marriage of. Anne’s father was not happy with the event, even more so as Edward IV helped his wife’s family advance among the court.
Warwick grew tired of fighting against the Woodvilles and threw his support behind George, Edward’s younger brother. He got a wedding out of it, marrying his daughter Isabel to George with the plan of making her the Queen of England. At first it seemed they would be successful, even capturing Edward at one point. They were forced to release him, and Edward leaned towards forgiveness. However, George and Warwick rebelled yet again in 1470, and in the end, Warwick was forced to flee to France along with his new son-in-law, wife and daughters. It ended tragically for George and his new wife, as Isabel miscarried their first child while traveling.
Waiting in France was Queen Margaret and her son Edward of Westminster (now called Westminster). Anne, now 14, proved to be a bargaining chip. Warwick aligned himself with the Queen, but she did not trust him that much due to his Yorkist stands over the last two decades. However, he was able to win her agreement by marrying his daughter to her son.
December 1470 found Anne now married, and according to the Lancastrians, the Princess of Wales and future Queen of England. She had grown up a Yorkist, and now would be the future of the Lancastrian royal line. When her father returned to England to expel Edward and reinstate Henry, she remained behind with her new husband.
However, it was not long before Margaret and Anne were given the good news that Edward was no longer on the throne. He had been forced into Burgundy with Anne’s childhood companion Richard. The King of France, on Margaret’s side, focused his ire on the Duke of Burgundy while Margaret planned her return to her husband.
They arrived in England in early 1471. However, before they could reach London they were met by Yorkist armies at the Battle of Tewkesbury. Edward had not stayed long in Burgundy and had staged a return. Unfortunately for Anne’s new husband, Edward was successful. It was not however a happy moment for Anne. Edward had met her father in the Battle of Barnet, and Warwick was killed. Her mother, who had traveled with Anne, set off to seek asylum in a nearby monastery. Westminster had been killed in battle at Tewkesbury, leaving her a widow. Margaret herself would be forced to outlive her only child and her husband a few months later.
Anne would find more troubles coming her way. She was only 15, and a widow. More then that, she was the widow of the former Prince of Wales, placing her firmly on the opposite side of the victors. She was looked upon with suspicion, both for her own stance on who should reign as well as the potential that she carried a heir to the House of Lancaster, which could ignite more rebellions in Edward IV’s second reign.
Anne was put under the guardianship of her brother-in-law, George. It was not a comfortable time for her. Isabel and Anne both received inheritances that George wanted to control. Much of her father’s lands had been divided up and given away, including some to George and his brother Richard. Others remained on hold due to Lady Anne still living, trapped at her monastery. With one sister being his wife, and the other under his guardianship, he could control their interests for them.
However, he had one obstacle. His brother Richard had decided he wanted to marry Anne. Historians differ on whether this was out of love or just good strategy on his part, but most agree that he and Anne were fond of each other. Anne had grown believing that perhaps one day Richard would be her husband, up till the falling out between his brother and her father. Marrying Richard would also be advantageous for her. It would rise her status – she would be a royal duchess instead of the widow of the disposed Prince of Wales.
They had several obstacles to their marriage. Their close kinship was one, and George stated later he wasn’t sure their marriage was legal because of that. They had to get Papal approval for their marriage due to the fact they were second cousins. George also wasn’t quite willing to give up the power that having Anne’s inheritance would give him. In the end, Richard signed a prenuptial agreement that gave most of the titles to George, and their marriage was allowed.
The two married on July 12, 1472 in Westminster Abby. One of the properties that Richard had received after Warwick’s death was Anne’s childhood home of Middleham. It was there that they set up their home, and sometime between 1473 and 1476 Anne gave birth to the couple’s only child, a son named Edward after his paternal Uncle and King.
For a few years, Anne’s life was peaceful. The riots of the War of the Roses had died down, Edward was successfully ruling England and she was happy in her marriage and her home. However, the peace did not last. In December of 1476, Anne’s beloved sister Isabel died. Its widely believed that she died of Tuberculosis and complications of childbirth. George was convinced it was murder however. He brought a servant before a jury he controlled, named her guilty and carried out the execution. He began to once again cast doubt on his brother’s reign and marriage. Edward IV was forced to arrest his brother on charges of high-treason. He was reluctant to carry out sentencing, but in the end, it was done. George was executed on February 18, 1478. He was twenty-eight and left two small children orphans.
Anne became the guardian to the two children – Edward (age 3) and Margaret (age 5). None of her sister’s other children- including the one she gave birth to shortly before her death, outlived their parents. Edward and Margaret would eventually follow in the footsteps of their father when it came to their deaths, abet less driven by their own actions. Both would be executed by the Tudor Kings (Edward by Henry VII, Margaret by Henry VIII). For now, however, they lived with their duel Aunt and Uncle at Middleham.
George’s death would not be the end of the troubles facing the young Gloucester family. Tensions were still high in the Royal Family. George’s implication of his brother’s illegitimacy and possible non-legal marriage had left doubters in the York crown. Rumors the had support turning up for another claimant to the crown: Henry Tudor.
Things got worse in 1483. Edward became ill and died, leaving his young son Edward as King Edward V. He had named his brother Richard as Lord Protector till the boy reached adulthood. The history then becomes murky. Its tough to find out the truth from the propaganda. Shortly after Edward’s death, the lawfulness of his marriage (and therefore his heir, Edward V) was called into question. In the end, Parliament decided that there was enough evidence of Edward being married before his marriage to Elizabeth to declare their children illegitimate. This meant Edward and Richard and their sisters were no longer heirs to the crown. Richard was instead.
Edward and Richard were placed in the Tower of London – and were never seen again. They became known as the Princes in the Tower, and legend grew that Richard had them killed to make sure they didn’t become a threat to his reign. Others claim it was Lord Buckingham, under orders from Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor. The truth may never be known in its entirety.
On July 6, 1483, 3 months after Edward’s death, Anne and Richard had a joint coronation. It was a rarity on its own accord. Most Kings were coronated either before their marriage or separately from their wives. The first king to do so was Edward I and his wife Eleanor. Their son repeated the action. That was in 1307. Richard and Anne were the first in 176 years. To the north in Scotland, it was much more the norm. In England however, there were only two before Richard and it became only moderately more common afterwards.
Richard was immediately hit with accusations of killing his nephews. Rumors started to swirl that Richard’s ambitions had started much earlier with the death of his brother George. The Woodville family was also very displeased that Elizabeth and her children were declared illegitimate.
He also had to face the possibility of a rival claim to the throne. Edward IV’s rule had not eased the tensions of the royal family. Henry VI was no longer a threat as Edward had him executed in the 1470s after Warwick’s last betrayal. Even that was thrown on Richard’s doorstep. It was claimed that Richard was the one to kill an anointed king.
Henry Tudor was a Lancastrian. He was born the son of Edmund Tudor, Henry VI’s half-brother from his mother’s second marriage. His mother was a decedent of Joan Beaufort, like Anne. The claim was tenuous, and Henry would spend much time strategizing how to legitimize his claim. He was raised by his paternal Uncle in Wales while his mother worked from inside the York court as a lady in waiting for both Elizabeth Woodville, and later Anne.
Within a year of their coronation, Tragedy hit Anne. It wasn’t the actions of rival claimants, or the political upheaval in their court. Their son Edward, known as Edward of Middleham as well as the Prince of Wells, had grown ill. Like his Aunt Isabel, its largely thought that Edward had caught Tuberculous. On April 9, 1484, a year to the day of his namesake’s death, Edward died. He was Anne’s only son. As a mother she was in grief. As a Queen, she had a problem.
Richard had no heirs, thus destabilizing the line to the throne. While he had named his nephew Edward as an heir, it was not as secure as if he had a child. Some started to suggest that Richard divorce her, and find another, younger, wife who could bear him an heir. Rumors began to swirl that perhaps Richard had taken interest in Elizabeth ‘Rivers’, the now illegitimate daughter of his eldest brother. Doubt was cast on the closeness of the Queen and King.
Anne became sicker over the year following her son’s death. On March 16, 1485 at the age of 28, she died at Westminster. Once again, its largely believed that she died of tuberculosis, although others say her grief over the loss of her son and the potential loss of her marriage aided her end. Once again rumors against Richard swirled, this time that he had her poisoned to save him the effort of a divorce, thus opening him up to marrying Elizabeth. An eclipse coincided with her death, which many saw as an omen that Richard’s reign was about to fall.
Richard publicly denounced the rumors that he was planning on marrying his niece. He reluctantly started search for another wife, but it was halfhearted. His main choice was Joan of Portugal who did not want to be married but rather wanted to be a nun. He openly wept at his wife’s funeral, where she was buried next to the High Alter. It was left unmarked until 1960 when the Richard III Society placed a bronze Tablet on the site.
The remaining months of his life were also spent fighting the new threat, Henry Tudor of Wales. On August 22, 1485 Richard joined his wife and son in death after dying in battle during the Battle of Bosworth Field. The Plantagenet Dynasty came to an end with Richard’s death. To support his claim, Henry immediately revoked the act that made Elizabeth and her siblings illegitimate. He also acknowledged Edward V in the succession of Kings, and married Elizabeth, bringing the Yorkist support behind him.
Tudor England was not kind to Richard and to a lesser extent Anne. Perhaps the most famous depictions of Richard III and Anne Neville is William Shakespeare’s Richard III. Shakespeare was a writer during Elizabeth I, a Tudor, and often reflected their take on Richard’s reign and behavior. Richard is seen as cold and calculating, and Anne as his victim and pawn in his schemes. It makes studying Anne’s life sometimes difficult. As the Queen of a notorious King, she has been depicted in many plays, books and films. The depictions created during the Tudor era persist, even among evidence that they weren’t accurate. It is also possible that in the years following Richard’s defeat that Henry VI and his supporters actively destroyed anything that would go against their narrative that Richard was a horrible man ill fit to be King. It no doubt aided the mystery that surrounds Anne herself.
Rickard, J (19 February 2014), Act of Accord, 25 October 1460 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/treaty_act_accord.html