The Sisters Neville – Isobel, Duchess of Clarence and Queen Anne Neville, Daughters to the Kingmaker.

Reblogged from A Medieval Potpourri sparkypus.com

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Warwick Castle birthplace of both the Neville sisters.  Photo with thanks to Scotty Rae @Flkr.

Richard Neville and Anne Beauchamp, Earl and Countess  of Warwick had in their long marriage just two daughters.  If there were any initial disappointment about that there was always Plan B,  that illustrious marriages could eventually be made for them and strong links forged  with other noble families.  This is indeed what happened with both sisters marrying Edward IV’s brothers,  George and Richard Plantagenet.   Isobel the oldest sister, was born  5 September 1451 at  Warwick Castle, her sister Anne on the II June 1456 also at Warwick. The two sisters are often described as ‘tragic’ perhaps because they both died in their 20s.  But unquestionably their younger years, as members of one of the most powerful noble family of the times, would have been ones of a sumptuous lifestyle which could only have been dreamt about by the majority of the population of the time.

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The Neville sisters parents, Richard Neville ‘The Kingmaker’ and Anne Beauchamp.  Rous Roll Latin edition.  Donated to the College of Arms by Melvyn Jeremiah.

As promised by her father, Isobel, aged 18 was married to the 19 year old George,  Duke of Clarence thus making her a young and very probably highly attractive Duchess of Clarence.   Isobel is often depicted in popular fiction in a never ending tedious trope as being rather brow beaten by an oafish and alcoholic husband.  And yet there is absolute nothing in primary sources that implies anything like this at all.  In fact primary sources tell us that George was handsome, ‘right witty’, a very loyal friend who protested passionately about the execution of one of his followers,  extremely eloquent, pious, possessed a sense of humour,  according to Rous a great almsgiver as well as being a ‘grete bylder’ and nothing at all to suggest he was an alcoholic.  The late historian John Ashdown-Hill wrote in his biography of George that the myth  he was an alcoholic was spawned from the belief that he was executed by drowning in a butt of malmsey (1).  That George did not, as far as is known, have any illegitimate children, something rather unusual for a 15th century nobleman,  would indicate that George was true to Isobel.  There are indications that he may have gone to pieces on her death and rightly or wrongly believed that she and their baby son had been poisoned.  This led to the Ankarette Twynyho affair but that is another story for another day.

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George Duke Clarence.  Rous Roll. Motto ex Honore de Clare.

Details of Isobel are rather scant.  But we know that on Tuesday 11 July 1469 life begun to change for her in a dramatic way when she and George were married in Calais her father being Captain of that place,  an act that had been furiously vetoed by Edward IV, his relationship with her father having grown hostile.  The papal dispensation that was required –  they were blood relations in the second and third degree –  had been granted on 14 March 1469.  The ceremony had been performed by the bride’s uncle George Neville Archbishop of York and was followed by five days of festivities.    However soon after the celebrations were over her father and husband sailed to Sandwich while the new duchess, her mother and sister remained in Calais no doubt in states of high anxiety (2).    Warwick and his new son-in-law’s  plan was to oust the voracious and annoying Widvilles – denouncing them in public for their  ‘disceyvabille covetous rule‘ –   once and for all.   At the battle of Edgcote the results went their way.  Earl Rivers and his son John Wydeville were captured and both executed at Kenilworth on the 12 August. Edward, although not disposed,  was in their custody.  Rumours were circulating at the time that Edward was a bastard.  If this were the case then George would be the rightful king and Isobel queen.  What’s not to like? They appeared to be on a roll.   Although the precise date is not known it was around this time that the  Countess, Isobel and Anne returned to England.   However man makes plans and the gods laugh as they say and Warwick and George’s plan soon went pear-shaped.  Warwick had no choice other than to release an uncooperative Edward.  It seemed an uneasy peace was made between the trio for the time being at least, forced upon them somewhat by the Council.  It’s highly unlikely given the personalities involved that any of the men were happy bunnies and things may therefore have been a bit sticky for the ladies who no doubt had to put up with some melodramatics in what must have been a period of more intense worry in their lives.  They didn’t have to wait too long for things to implode.   In March 1470 a rebellion in Lincolnshire led by Sir Robert Welles,  but highly likely fermented by Warwick,  led to Edward marching northwards to suppress it.   Warwick and George struck while the iron was hot. Leaving their family at Warwick, they travelled eastwards to attack Edward.

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