Richard III

Anne Neville
By Professor Michael Hicks

Anne Neville was consort of Richard III as Duke and King: his duchess 1472-83 and his queen 1483-5. She was the source of his wealth, his retinue, and hence his power in the North, which was also the political foundation of his reign. She was also the mother of his only son Edward of Middleham, in turn earl of Salisbury (1477) and prince of Wales (1483). She predeceased King Richard by five months and hence escaped both the opprobrium inflicted on her husband or indeed much historical record at all. She lived for only twenty-seven years and remains one of the most obscure of England’s medieval queens. Since Anne shared so much of Richard’s life, was influenced by him and presumably influenced him, anybody interested in him has also to be inquisitive about her. Hard though she is to study, she cries out for a biography.1

Very little can be known of Anne’s first dozen years. Born on 1456 and christened at Warwick College,2 Anne was the younger of the two daughters of Richard Neville and Anne Beauchamp, Earl and Countess of Warwick, who still hoped for a son to continue the line. Isabel (b.1451), later duchess of Clarence, was the elder. Only gradually, perhaps by 1464, did the earl and countess realise that their two daughters would be their heiresses. Anne’s father Warwick was already one of the outstanding noblemen and was destined in due course to accrue also the honours and estates of his parents. In the 1450s he took command of the seas and of Calais, where he chose to reside from 1457,3 and where Anne most probably spent her first four years. In the absence of concrete evidence, we have to suppose that the earl’s two daughters resided with their mother and received the conventional upbringing of contemporary gentlewomen. Warwick himself, first as pirate and rebel against Henry VI (1457-61) and then as the principal diplomat and soldier of the fledgling Yorkist regime (1461-7), must often have been absent. His establishment was of unparalleled size and splendour. Anne first features in public at the enthronement celebrations of her uncle George Neville as archbishop of York.4 Also present was her father’s ward Richard Duke of Gloucester (b.1452), the youngest brother of King Edward IV, who lived in the earl’s household alongside Francis Lord Lovell and other noble youths. 5 Anne must have known Duke Richard as a child, but, four years in age apart, any romantic attachment is unlikely and certainly not demonstrable. A great marriage and life as a great lady was Anne’s natural destiny. By the standards of the Nevilles, a family remarkable for child marriages, the espousals of Warwick’s daughters at eighteen and fourteen respectively were decidedly overdue.

Warwick had a major role in making a king of his younger cousin Edward IV, was prominent also in keeping him there, and was perceived by some as the real power of the new regime. Certainly he conducted much of its external relations: his brothers John and George were respectively the principal soldier and administrator for Edward IV.6 Gradually however Edward and the Nevilles grew apart and in 1467 there was an acrimonious parting of the ways. Many factors have been identified. As the king grew up, he asserted himself, married against the earl’s advice, and preferred a diametrically opposed foreign policy. Advancing the king’s new favourites inevitably restricted the opportunities for the Nevilles, who could only lose. In particular, the advantageous marriages of the new queen’s sisters and in-laws thwarted matches apparently identified by Warwick for his daughters, themselves great heiresses. Warwick therefore selected for his eldest daughter Isabel the king’s brother George Duke of Clarence, a spouse of the highest possible rank and potentially perhaps a king. Yet King Edward objected, apparently because he wanted his brother’s hand for diplomatic purposes. Warwick and Clarence persisted nevertheless, the marriage took place on 12 July 1469, and was the foundation of their rebellion which destroyed the king’s favourites, consigned King Edward himself to custody and placed the Nevilles back in control.7 Their coup failed to endure, however. A brief reconciliation and a further unsuccessful rebellion completed a political roller coaster that brought the earl and countess, the duke and duchess, and Anne herself into exile in France. Her prospects had dimmed disastrously.

This was the context for Anne’s first marriage to Edward of Lancaster, the son and heir of the dethroned Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. Warwick and Margaret had each found themselves to be too weak to confront King Edward on equal terms. Hence now they allied together against him with the essential support of King Louis XI of France. This marriage between the seventeen-year-old prince and the fourteen-year-old Anne, who had probably never met before, was the essential cement to the alliance – an arranged marriage par excellence that would make Anne into a queen: an earnest both of the good faith of old enemies and the guarantee to each parent of a proper stake in the future. It was the foundation for Warwick’s invasion of England late in 1470, which attracted enormous support. Edward IV fled abroad and Henry VI resumed his throne. Anne and Edward were married at Angers on 13 December.8 They landed in England on 13 April 1471, just in time to witness the destruction of the new regime. Clarence had already reverted to his former Yorkist allegiance, Warwick had perished in defeat at Barnet on 14th, and Anne’s mother took refuge in sanctuary at Beaulieu Abbey in the New Forest, where she was to remain for three years. Now Princess of Wales, Anne Neville shared in the forced march to Tewkesbury, where King Edward destroyed the Lancastrian army and Anne’s husband was amongst the slain. Her father-in-law Henry VI died shortly after. Widowed within five months of her marriage, the titular princess was fortunate to be taken into the custody of her sister Duchess Isabel and brother-in-law Clarence.9

What was to follow was far from certain.10 Anne’s husband had died a traitor to the Yorkist king: Anne’s status as princess was titular and empty. Her father had also died a traitor. Her prospective inheritance was forfeit and had been apportioned by royal grants to the king’s two brothers Clarence and Gloucester, the latter receiving the Neville lands in the North and the former the rest. Anne’s mother, the rightful possessor of the bulk, was out of the picture and powerless at Beaulieu. Anne had no recognizable prospects. Like others in their position, Clarence and her sister obviously had no intention of allowing her to marry or inherit. Anne, however, determined not to become a nun but to remarry to her brother-in-law Richard Duke of Gloucester, for whom she and her inheritance, if it could be realised, was the most attractive match. Whenever it was agreed, it was a lightning match and the most prudential for both parties. It could have been a love match, but actually no romantic element is required to explain it. As soon as he recognized the danger, Clarence sought to conceal Anne, supposedly as a kitchen maid.11 Although only fourteen years old, Anne consented to her abduction by Duke Richard to the sanctuary of St Martin’s le Grand in London, to marry him, and to dispossess her mother of her inheritance: three decisions that were probably taken together. From a destitute anomaly Anne became a royal duchess – the best possible result for her and one indeed that her father may also have contemplated. Clarence was obliged to accept the marriage by 16 February 1472, when he still hoped to hang on to the property.12 By 18 March, however, the outlines of a partition were agreed.13 Most probably their marriage followed soon after.14 A further three years on, after obstruction by Clarence and legal difficulties had been overcome, the settlement was confirmed. The Gloucesters received the Welsh estates and those in the North, that underpinned Richard’s northern hegemony and brought him the Neville connection, formerly of the kingmaker, which helped him to secure and retain his throne.15 The birth of Edward of Middleham, probably early in 1477, sealed the marital alliance. Regrettably we can know only fragments about Anne’s married life.

The Crowland chronicler was shocked by the marriage.16 The two royal dukes wanted their shares made secure, hence by inheritance rather than by royal grants, which could be cancelled. They wanted it at once, even though most of it rightly belonged to Anne Countess of Warwick and to Warwick’s nephew George Neville. Parliament had to be induced to legalise their tenure by discounting their rights, in the countess’ case by declaring her to be legally dead. And they wanted it permanently, even if their duchesses died childless or – in Gloucester’s case – was divorced.

For the match of Anne and Richard encountered another problem: already third, second, and first cousins once removed, related in the second, third and fourth degrees, they were also brother- and sister-in-law, related in the closest degree of affinity. Unable to contract a legal marriage, Richard took the essential precaution of securing a dispensation from the pope – but one that covered only two impediments in the third and the fourth degrees of affinity. 17 He must have known how closely they were related and therefore that the dispensation was insufficient to validate the marriage and legitimate any consequent children; Anne may not have known. It was for this reason that the act settling the Neville estates provided that in case of a divorce – in the event of the marriage being declared null – Richard could hang on to her lands.18 Clarence could have been behind this. Alternatively Richard himself may have been securing his position.19 In either case, Richard was henceforth aware that his marriage and his son’s legitimacy were void. He contrived, however, to conceal it, to continue living with Anne as man and wife, to secure her coronation as queen, and their son’s elevation first as earl of Salisbury (1477) and then as prince of Wales (1483). In February 1484 members of his parliament swore allegiance to Prince Edward as heir presumptive to the crown.20

Anne’s career as duchess and queen is exceptionally obscure. Although doubtless frequently in company with Richard, she was probably frequently apart from him and residing, like other great ladies, in her own great household, surrounded by her own servants, residing in her own residences and supported from her own estates. Actually, however, we know none of this and can trace her movements on only half a dozen occasions in 1472-83. Apparently Richard ran her estates as his own. They were together in London late in 1476, when Richard charged some splendid clothes to his East Anglian estates.21 Although bearing his son and associated with him in his religious foundations, 22 Anne is visible only momentarily as sister of Durham priory and the gild of Corpus Christi at York, respected but only apparently influential in his absence abroad. 23 Similarly it defies belief that Anne did not have the great estate and household of other queens, supplanting Elizabeth the consort of Edward IV, but there are actually no grants to her, no accounts, and a mere handful of known servants. The best recorded event of her whole reign – indeed of her whole life – is her coronation. 24 She features also in Richard’s splendid progress to York and shared in his numerous religious foundations.25 She may have been the inspiration, the recipient, or even the commissioner of Rows’ Roll, the second Salisbury Roll, and the Pageant of her father Richard Beauchamp Earl of Warwick, 26 but we cannot be certain. She is as obscure as any other English queen.

Prince Edward’s death was a tragedy for Richard and Anne. Crowland reports how distraught they were. 27 His death also left Richard without an obvious heir to continue his dynasty and to reassure his supporters about the future. The king’s two nephews were stopgaps only. Much better would be to breed a further son of his own body. Unfortunately this he could not do. His queen failed to conceive again and her ill-health suggested further offspring were unlikely. Moreover his enemies’ discovery as alternative candidate of a blameless adult in Henry Tudor and the latter’s selection as prospective bride of Edward IV’s eldest daughter Elizabeth of York offered an enticing alternative to the traditional Yorkist establishment. The material advantages that Anne had offered to a penurious duke counted for little now he was king. He did not need her Warwick inheritance any more, although he was forcefully informed by Catesby and Ratcliffe that he still needed her retinue.28 Anne conferred no diplomatic connections and possessed no independent title to the crown to reinforce his own. It is no wonder therefore, as Crowland reports, that he considered a divorce and remarriage,29 obviously to a lady able to bring him an heir and some of these other attributes. His preferred candidate was apparently Elizabeth of York herself – a bride able not only to reinforce his title, but denied to Henry Tudor. Richard might indeed think it easy to obtain.30 He knew well, after all, that his marriage had never been valid. He had only to reveal the absence of a valid dispensation to bring it to an end: although the impact on his reputation for morality might well have been serious. Quite what would have befallen his ex-queen we cannot tell because the marriage was never declared null. No divorce was necessary, as Anne’s health declined and she died on 16 March 1485. So convenient was this that Richard was alleged to have poisoned her – a charge that he explicitly denied on 30 March.31 Evidently Crowland disbelieved the charge. There is no reason to doubt Richard’s declaration of his sorrow at Anne’s death.32 It was political expediency and self-preservation that motivated him, not dislike for Anne. She received a funeral worthy of a queen at Westminster Abbey.33 Anne cannot, however, have been ignorant of the rumours of divorce: her last year must have been sad indeed. So soon did her husband perish, that no monument was ever erected for her.

Professor Michael Hicks, of King Alfred’s College, Winchester, has written a book about Anne Neville and which has been published by Tempus.

Anne Neville: Richard III Society website: Notes

  1. The only biography to date is Michael Hicks, Anne Neville, Queen to Richard III (Tempus, Stroud, 2006), which unless otherwise stated is the source of what follows.
  2. The Rows Roll, ed. W.H. Courthope (London, 1859), no. 59.
  3. The Brut or the Chronicles of England, ed. F.W.D. Brie (Early English Text Society 136, 1908), 524.
  4. J. Leland, De Rebus Britannicis Collectanea, ed. T. Hearne, 6 vols. (Oxford, 1770), vi. 3-4.
  5. Issues of the Exchequer, ed. F. Devon (London, 1836), 490.
  6. The most recent account of the rule of the Nevilles is in Michael Hicks, Warwick the Kingmaker (Blackwell, Oxford, 1998), ch.8.
  7. Ibid. 271-8.
  8. Hicks, Anne Neville, 88
  9. Ibid. 89-99, 105-6.
  10. This is discussed in ibid.101-30.
  11. The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-86, ed. N. Pronay (Gloucester, 1986), 132-3.
  12. Paston Letters and Papers of the Fifteenth Century, ed. N. Davis, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1971-6), i. 447.
  13. Michael Hicks, False, Fleeting, Perjur’d Clarence: George Duke of Clarence 1449-78 (Alan Sutton, Gloucester, 1978), 115.
  14. Hicks, Anne Neville, 144
  15. Hicks, Clarence, 124-5 ; Michael Hicks, Richard III (2nd edn., Tempus, Stroud, 2000), 129.
  16. Crowland, 132-3.
  17. P.D.Clarke, ‘English Royal Marriages and the Papal Penitentiary in the Fifteenth Century’, English Historical Review 120 (2005), 1023n.
  18. Rolls of Parliament, vi.100-1.
  19. There is no evidence for a second dispensation as presumed by Marie Barnfield, ‘Richard and Anne’s Dispensation’, Ricardian Bulletin (Spring 2006), 30-2, and good reasons for doubting it ever existed.
  20. Crowland, 170-1.
  21. Hicks, Anne Neville, 161-2.
  22. Ibid. 165-6.
  23. Ibid. 162-4.
  24. The Coronation of Richard III. The Extant Documents, ed. A.F. Sutton and P.W. Hammond (Gloucester, 1983), passim.
  25. Hicks, Anne Neville, 173-80, 189-90.
  26. Ibid. 175.
  27. Crowland, 170-1.
  28. Ibid, 174-5.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Ibid
  31. Richard III: The Road to Bosworth Field, ed. P.W. Hammond and A.F. Sutton (Constable, London, 1985), 199.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ibid. 175.

back