I’m working on a biography of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick – the man best introduced as The Kingmaker. I have written on the Wars of the Roses, on Richard, Duke of York, and Richard III. Warwick has been a constant presence throughout. I spent some time in an earlier dispute over the throne of England with The Anarchy, and also looking at rebellions throughout the middle ages. Warwick is someone who seems to sit across all of these subjects, yet he has evaded my focus until now.
Warwick’s course through the Wars of the Roses has always fascinated me. The Neville family had steadily built their position in the north of England for generations, but the early fifteenth century had seen them propelled to new heights. After Henry IV came to the throne, Ralph Neville was created Earl of Westmoreland and married, as his second wife, Joan Beaufort. As Henry IV’s half-sister, Joan gave Ralph a direct connection to the throne that saw them secure prestigious matches for most of their brood of fourteen children. Their daughters married the dukes of Norfolk, Buckingham, and York, as well as the Earl of Northumberland. Their oldest son, Richard Neville, married Alice Montacute, heiress to the Earl of Salisbury. This couple would be the parents to another Richard Neville, who would eclipse the rest of his family as The Kingmaker. Others of Ralph and Joan’s sons would become an Earl of Kent, a Bishop of Durham, a two barons.
Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury and Alice Montacute would have a dozen children, ten of whom survived to adulthood. The matches they made demonstrate the ascendancy of the Neville family by the second quarter of the fifteenth century. Their daughters became a Duchess of Warwick, Countesses of Arundel, and Oxford. Alice Neville married Henry FitzHugh and they were great-grandparents to Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth wife. Eleanor married Thomas Lord Stanley, one of the most significant figures of the second half of the fifteenth century, and Katherine Neville’s second husband was William, Lord Hastings, close confidant of Edward IV. Of their four sons to survive infancy, the youngest, George, became Archbishop of York. John would become Marquis of Montagu, having held the earldom of Northumberland for a time when it was taken from the rival Percy family. The second son, Thomas, lacked a title and was killed at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460. The oldest son, who was the couple’s third child, would reach the pinnacle of the family’s powers, and also destroy all of the hard work of previous generations.
Within two generations of receiving a northern earldom, the Neville family had become entwined with most of the greatest families in England, connections that would serve them well, but also lay the ground for their fall from the greatest height. Not only were many of these families considered the most powerful, but also some of the oldest, most established families in the realm. Ralph’s children married a Mowbray, a Percy, a Stafford descendant of Edward III, and, in York, a more senior descendant of Edward III who would be considered heir to the throne even before the Wars of the Roses (indeed, the Wars of the Roses may well have been in part a consequence of York’s position as heir presumptive). Alice Montacute was suo jure 5th Countess of Salisbury, and the Montacute name had been a significant one for generations. Just taking Salisbury’s children, Ralph’s grandchildren married into the FitzAlan family, by now the 16th generation of Earls of Arundel, the de Vere family at the 13th generation of Earl of Oxford, as well as the Stanley family and others. All of this is to pass over the wider connections these matches brought via mothers-in-law too, but that is beyond the scope of this piece. Head over to Wikipedia and open a new tab for every interesting father-in-law and mother-in-law a Neville had, and I guarantee your browser will be mess in no time at all.
The point of laying this out is to demonstrate the wide network the Neville family operated by the middle of the fifteenth century. You might have noticed that I missed Warwick out of the list, but I haven’t forgotten why we’re here. Aside from the connections that brought tangible power in the now, the matches the Neville family made seem to have been concerned with extending roots. They were new nobility but married into some of the most ancient and established families in England. Richard Neville Jnr is a perfect example of this, not least because he was clearly neither intended, nor likely, to become Earl of Warwick. His marriage to Anne Beauchamp was part of a double union, with Richard’s older sister Cecily marrying Henry Beauchamp. Henry would go on to briefly hold the title of Duke of Warwick before his death aged 21, but on his father’s death he became 14thEarl of Warwick. That father was Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick and stalwart of the Lancastrian regime. He had been tutor to the young Henry VI, and Lieutenant-General in France between the Duke of York’s stints. He was one of the most significant men in the kingdom from one of the most ancient families.
Cecily’s marriage to Henry was clearly intended to create the link between Neville and Beauchamp. Uniquely, there was something of an insurance policy. Richard Snr and Alice passed up the chance to locate a significant match for their oldest son with another family to marry him instead to Henry Beauchamp’s younger sister, Anne. The unions both took place in 1436, probably in Abergavenny, where Richard Beauchamp was trying to resolve a dispute over the lordship that would persist into the next generation. Why it was decided to make the double match rather than find their son a prestigious connection of his own is unclear, but it turned out to be a wise move. Henry died shortly after he and Cecily had a daughter, who in turn died at just 5 years old as the 15th Countess of Warwick. At that point, Henry’s sister inherited, and Richard Jnr became Earl of Warwick in his wife’s right. Not just Earl of Warwick, but 16th Earl of Warwick. The only issue was that Henry also had three older half-sisters who made claims on the inheritance. They were married to the Earl of Shrewsbury, the Duke of Somerset, and George Neville, Baron Latimer, one of our Earl of Warwick’s uncles, so they were well positioned to fight for what they felt their wives were due.
Warwick appears to have immersed himself in Beauchamp life. The connection to one of the oldest earldoms in England brought prestige, and Warwick, a master of pr and spin, was careful to harness it. Warwick was the premiere earldom in England, officially the most senior and given precedence over all other earls. That made Warwick stand out from his peers, and he guarded the prominence jealously. A look at the methods Warwick used to project his image into the world around is worthwhile. It’s a real patchwork quilt of what he wanted everyone to know. His coat of arms had seven different quarterings, making it incredibly complex for the period. It includes reference to his Neville, Beaufort, Monthermer, and Montacute heritage, as well as his father-in-law’s Beauchamp line and his mother-in-law’s Despenser connection. De Clare makes an appearance. His seal would contain the arms of William Longspee, 3rd Earl of Salisbury, an illegitimate son of Henry II to whom Warwick was not related by blood. He wanted everyone to know (or believe) that he was not new money, not a third generation noble, but firmly rooted in some of the most ancient families and most lauded names in English history.
Warwick is one of the fifteenth century’s most famous rebels. He is one of the few who fought against the crown to earn an epithet as the Kingmaker. Precisely why Warwick fell out with the Lancastrian regime is easy to see. In 1453, Warwick was still grappling with his wife’s inheritance. In particular, the Duke of Somerset was claiming the lordship in southern Wales centred on Cardiff Castle. Henry VI took the side of his favourite, Somerset. Warwick, like York, must have felt that this was based not on the facts of the case, but of Somerset’s close relationship to Henry. Warwick dug in at Cardiff, and Henry was on the way here to resolve the matter, in Somerset’s favour, when he had his first breakdown. It was enough, I think, to push Warwick and the Neville faction over the edge and into York’s waiting arms.
Why Warwick rebelled against Edward is much harder to pin down, at least to one factor. I think there are two things that Warwick wanted, but never got, and one bit of prejudice that are significant pieces of the jigsaw. Henry Beauchamp had, however briefly, been Duke of Warwick. Although the earldom was expressly the senior one in England, it was not the same as a dukedom. For a family obsessed with rising higher, a dukedom was the ultimate goal. Warwick’s brother John was made Marquis of Montagu when he lost the earldom of Northumberland, and John’s son was created Duke of Bedford. I think that irritated Warwick. Not necessarily because he begrudged his brother success, but because he was now left behind. A marquis sits between an earl and a duke in rank, so John was now senior to any earl, even Warwick. And his son was a duke. For all his service to Edward IV, was it really too much to ask to move the Warwick title back to being a dukedom again? There was a clear and recent precedent, and Warwick had, after all, done so much. But it never came. Warwick guarded the precedence of his earldom, but I think he coveted a dukedom that remained elusive.
The way in which the Neville family had risen so high was largely thanks to large numbers of children (Ralph had 22 with his two wives, and Salisbury 10 who survived) and making incredibly marriages for them. Warwick and his wife Anne Beauchamp would have only two children, both daughters. That meant Warwick’s male line would fail, but the marriages of his aunts and sisters could demonstrate the links daughters could provide to protect and expand an inheritance for a grandson. He could continue the family’s trajectory, even if the Neville name might be lost to his line. That meant finding ‘suitable’ matches for his daughters. If he looked upward, and as a Neville, he would never look anywhere else, there was a very narrow field of options. It seems likely Warwick’s first plan was to marry one of his daughters, most likely Isabel, to Henry Stafford, the infamous Duke of Buckingham of 1483 fame. That was blocked by Edward’s decision to marry Buckingham to one of his new sisters-in-law, Catherine Woodville. More on that later. If we were looking for motives for Buckingham to be hacked off with the House of York, how about losing (at least) half the Warwick inheritance to marry a woman with nothing? (That’s not to say they might not have been happy, just that in cold, hard terms, it was a far worse match) Deprived of what he felt might have been his, 1483 provided the opportunity to make a real power grab. First for Richard III, then for himself in October.
Warwick’s next plan – perhaps the only one now left open to him – was to marry his daughters to the king’s brothers. It was even more ambitious, and may have been what he had intended for one daughter even if the other had been permitted to marry Buckingham. Two daughters and two brothers of the king made this the last roll of the die. We know Warwick wanted to marry Isabel to George, and it’s possible he wanted, and sought dispensation to, marry Anne to Richard at the same time. He was used to double weddings as a good security measure. This avenue was blocked by Edward too when he denied permission for any match between Warwick’s daughters and his brothers.
For Warwick, it was an unacceptable series of setbacks. He had, in his mind, as well as those of centuries of onlookers, provided the support that had propelled Edward IV to the throne, yet he got nothing in return, and was denied the things he pursued. He must have felt that Edward was cutting him off at all turns, and that time was running out. Without a son, his dynasty rested on the matches he made for his daughters. The small pool in which he could fish to make a match that continued the family’s upward trajectory was being closed to him. Edward was behind it all, and by 1468, at the latest, I think Warwick had had more than enough and wanted to remind Edward why he ought to be grateful. Edward, of course, had other ideas, but that’s another long story.
I promised a little more on the Woodville angle. Warwick was utterly ruthless in his pursuit of the queen’s family while he was ascendant in 1469. Her father, Richard Woodville, Earl Rivers, was summarily executed – murdered, really – alongside his second son John. John was married, scandalously, given the vast age gap, to the much older Duchess of Norfolk, who happened to be Warwick’s aunt Katherine. The then current Duke of Norfolk, John Mowbray, was Katherine’s grandson. He was 25, and as yet childless, and the only male Mowbray left in the direct line. If he had a child, a son, it was a possible path for Warwick to a new marriage, albeit with a large age gap. If John died without issue, there may have been a concern the Woodville family might try to take control of the dukedom of Norfolk.
Warwick’s aversion to the Woodville family may well have roots different to the queen’s marriage to Edward and the embarrassment many felt that caused Warwick. They had cornered a marriage market he was utterly reliant on, but the problem may have been exacerbated by Warwick’s immersion in the Beauchamp heritage of his earldom, and of his father-in-law in particular. The problem could have dates all the way back to 1428. In this year, a series of letters were penned concerning the Earl of Warwick blaming three men for costing him the lucrative and prestigious post of Captain of Calais. They were Richard Bokeland, the Treasurer of Calais, Lowis John, Warden of the Mint of Calais, and the third was the Chamberlain to the Duke of Bedford: Richard Woodville, the father of Earl Rivers.
One letter states that ‘our lord of Warwick shows himself always a heavy lord to Wydevile, Lowis John, and Richard Bokeland’. Keen to get out from under the weight of Warwick’s displeasure, the men sought the advice of the Duke of Bedford. Bokeland clearly fears for his position as he writes ‘my lord of Warwick is so sore moved against me in this matter, as I am informed that, unless my lord shows me the better and more singular lordship, men say it would be much better for me to have ceased my service long before this’. Richard Woodville’s role in the affair becomes murkier when Bokeland complains ‘when it was presented unto my said lord of Warwick, he said, as I am informed, that you had been busy to excuse yourself unto his lordship, and submitted the fault wholly upon Lowys John and me’. Woodville had tried to drop his two companions into the fire in an effort to reduce the heat on himself. Perhaps this was at the advice of Bedford, but it is hardly honourable behaviour.
If Richard Beauchamp blamed these men for costing him the post of Captain, he may have maintained a very specific view of Richard Woodville. When Richard Neville became part of his family, it is not impossible that his father-in-law grumbled about the affair still, and that from a young age, the future Kingmaker associated the Woodville name with treachery and dishonour. Initially, Warwick seemed unperturbed by Edward’s Woodville marriage. The loss of the potential Buckingham match for one of his daughters was certainly an irritation, and John Woodville’s marriage to Katherine Neville, who was almost 50 years his senior, brought scandal (and perhaps derision) to the Neville name.
In understanding why Warwick was so ruthless with Richard Neville and his son in 1469, we perhaps need to consider the possibility that Warwick nursed and old grudge, that had festered into a prejudice. It meant nothing while the Woodville family were nothing, but their rise may have reminded him of an old alarm bell left to be covered in dust by his father-in-law. Their actions in the years that followed rang that bell louder and louder until Warwick felt the urge to silence it. An itch he had to scratch. Or, if nothing else, a good way to rationalise his vicious behaviour. Warwick would seek and then fiercely protect the position of Captain of Calais his father-in-law had been deprived of. This correction of an old wrong done to the Beauchamp family by a man who positioned himself every bit as much as a Beauchamp as a Neville may have extended to settling a personal score the ran from the old wound.