Who was Anne Neville? The Facts.
By Anne O’Brien
Born: 11th June 1456 at Warwick Castle.
Father: Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick
Mother: Anne Beauchamp, the wealthy Beauchamp–Despenser heiress. On her death, her inheritance would be shared jointly between her two daughters, Isabel and Anne.
Childhood: spent mostly at Middleham Castle in North Yorkshire with her elder sister Isabel. The young Richard of Gloucester, youngest brother of King Edward IV, came to Middleham to learn all the social and political skills required by a royal prince, as one of the Earl of Warwick’s henchmen. This is where Anne and Richard met, but there is no record of their reaction to each other.
Early Plans: To create two powerful dynastic marriages, Anne was betrothed to Richard in these early years at the same time as her sister Isabel was betrothed to Richard’s brother George, Duke of Clarence. The betrothals were broken after Warwick’s rebellion against Edward IV and Anne and her family were forced to flee to France. The marriage between Isabel and Clarence still took place in Calais, without the King’s permission.
Appearance: there is no true description of Anne. Did she really look like this? This drawing of Anne is taken from the Salisbury Roll – a charming portrait but unlikely to be as accurate as we might wish for.
Princess of Wales: In France Anne was used as a pawn in the vicious political climate of the day to cement a difficult alliance between her father and the Lancastrians. In Angers Cathedral in December 1470, at 14 years old, she was married to Edward of Lancaster, exiled heir to the English throne, son of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. Warwick and Margaret of Anjou were, and remained bitter enemies, united purely through necessity. In an attempt to keep control of the situation and create an opportunity to annul the marriage at some future date, Margaret insisted that Anne’s marriage was never consummated.
Isolated in Margaret’s hostile court, Anne returned to England in the wake of the invading Lancastrian army led by Warwick. In the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury and their aftermath both her father and her husband were killed and her mother imprisoned in Beaulieu Abbey. Prince Edward’s fate is one of those fascinating subjects for historical debate. Either he died on the battlefield at Tewkesbury or was murdered at the hands of Richard of Gloucester in Tewkesbury Abbey itself. Certainly, so much blood was spilt in the Abbey that it had to be re-consecrated.
A modern plaque marks the burial place of Edward in the chancel of Tewkesbury Abbey.
Aftermath: As a prisoner by Edward IV, Anne was taken to London and placed in the safe keeping of Isabel and Clarence in their house at Cold Harbour (which no longer exists) with the intention of finding her a suitable husband. But Anne was betrayed by Isabel and Clarence who planned to secure the whole of Anne Beauchamp’s inheritance for themselves, thus robbing Anne of her half. The plan was to enclose Anne in a nunnery. Anne was dressed as a servant and made to work in Isabel’s kitchens to hide her from view and prevent Richard from rescuing her.
Duchess of Gloucester: Richard rescued Anne and took her to sanctuary in the
Church of St Martin le Grand. With an eye to the main chance, he saved Anne’s portion of
her inheritance, bargained for the release of her mother from the convent where the King
was keeping her in confinement and finally wed Anne – although the date is uncertain
or even the legality of the marriage for there was no papal dispensation, a legal
necessity because of their close family relationship. Anne was fifteen, Richard eighteen at
the time of their marriage. They made their home at Middleham Castle. The date of birth
of their son, Edward of Middleham, their only child, is unclear but perhaps as early as
Queen of England: When Edward IV died in 1483, Richard was named Lord Protector for his young nephew Edward, later inheriting the throne as Richard III after the critical situation surrounding the legitimacy of the two young princes. So Anne was crowned Queen of England on 6th July 1483. She did not live long to enjoy her new status, nor was it a happy time for her. Her son Edward of Middleham died suddenly in April 1484 and was buried in the church at Sheriff Hutton in North Yorkshire. It was a personal and a dynastic grief for Anne and Richard.
Death: Anne died on 16th March 1485 at the age of twenty eight years after a period of ill-health. The suggestion of poisoning is not supported: tuberculosis or cancer have been suggested. She was buried in Westminster Abbey but the site is disputed and no memorial was erected for her. A more recent memorial was set up in 1960 by the Richard III Society on the wall of the Abbey near to where her grave might have been with the following inscription:
ANNE NEVILL 1456-1485 QUEEN OF ENGLAND YOUNGER DAUGHTER OF RICHARD EARL OF WARWICK CALLED THE KINGMAKER WIFE TO THE LAST PLANTAGENET KING RICHARD III.
“In person she was seemly, amiable and beauteous…And according to the interpretation of her name Anne full gracious” REQUIESCAT IN PACE.
A fitting tribute to Anne Neville, but one that I am sure does not do her complex life justice. Out of these ‘bare bones’ of Anne’s life, I created The Virgin Widow.
Anne O’Brien: January 2011