Monday, 30 October 2017

Diana talks about Anne Nevill, daughter of a Kingmaker, wife of a King.

During the short reign of Richard III and his queen Anne Nevill*, John Rous compiled a sensational genealogy for the couple, weaving fact and fiction to create an enviable family history, involving King Guthelyn, his son Locryn, the division of land under their rule and even telling how Anne's Warwick family badge of the ragged staff and bear came into being.

Whilst this was an obvious ploy to counter Dowager Queen Elizabeth's alleged ancestry which stated that she was descended from Melusine - a female spirit of fresh water in a sacred spring or river - the truth of Anne's ancestry, as expected, was far more normal. With Richard Nevill, 16th Earl of Warwick (known to history as "Kingmaker") as her father and with Anne de Beauchamp as her mother, she certainly did not need the embellishments of Rous to enhance her pedigree.

Anne was born at Warwick castle on 11 June 1456. She was the youngest of the couple's two children, her sister Isabel, born on 5th September 1451, being almost five years older. Anne was born into the wealthiest and most politically powerful family in the kingdom. Like all girls of wealthy or titled families in that era, Anne, together with her sister, were considered pawns in the political game of matrimonial diplomacy. A marriage for love was never an option. A marriage for political gain would be usually brokered at a very early age for a girl. One reason for this early 'pairing off' was to head off any opposition from the girl, her marriage being a fait accompli almost for as long as she could remember.

Anne's father married Isabel off to George, Duke of Clarence, Edward IV's younger brother, and later, when politically expedient, selected a husband for Anne. He had been at odds with the king he had 'made', Edward IV, for some time, resenting the political rise of the new queen's fairly obscure family, the Wydevilles.

In 1469, the Earl tried to put his son-in-law George on the throne, but met resistance from Parliament. After a second rebellion against King Edward failed in early 1470, he was forced to flee to France, where he allied himself with the banished House of Lancaster in 1470. With King Henry VI imprisoned in the Tower of London, in effect the Lancastrian leader was his consort, Margaret of Anjou, who was suspicious of Warwick's motives. To quell these suspicions, Anne Nevill was formally betrothed to the son of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou, Edward of Westminster, at the Ch√Ęteau d'Amboise in France.

They were married in Angers Cathedral, probably on 13 December 1470, making Anne Nevill the Princess of Wales. It is not known whether the marriage was ever consummated. In 1471 the young couple arrived at the South coast of England to claim Edward of Westminster's inheritance but catastrophic news greeted Anne. Just that day Edward IV's army had killed the Duke of Warwick at Barnett, effectively losing the couple their cause. Anne's mother fled to sanctuary at a nearby abbey, leaving young Anne to depend on her 17 year old husband and her Mother in Law, Margaret of Anjou, whose husband, the deposed king Henry VI was imprisoned in the tower.

Margaret headed North, raising troops in a desperate attempt to gain support and to see her husband back on the throne. Edward dashed to intercept them at Tewkesbury and there followed one of the bloodiest and least chivalric wars of the period. When Margaret's Lancastrian army broke and fled back to the abbey, Edward broke sanctuary and beheaded the refugees.. The Prince of Wales was among the dead that day and was buried beneath the Choir of the Abbey.

Anne and Margaret of Anjou were taken into custody the following day. Transported to London, Margaret was confined to the Tower and Anne given in to the custody of the Duke of Clarence and her sister, the Duchess.

What happened next is rather unclear, but Croyland Chronicle states that, "Clarence caused the damsel (Anne) to be concealed in order that it might not be known by his Brother where she was; as he was afraid of a division of the Earl's property, which he wished to come to himself alone in right of his wife, and not be obliged to share it with any other person." In 
Paul Murray Kendall's, Richard III, 1955, Richard, "discovered the Young lady in the city of London disguised in the habit of a cookmaid; upon which he had her removed to the sanctuary of St. Martin's".  It is probable that she escaped and ran away to sanctuary at St Martin's

As stated before, Anne has traditionally been painted as a pawn in the political game, one of the victims of history, and certainly it seems that her first marriage to Edward of Westminster was a politically motivated move on behalf of her father, but her second marriage to Richard of Gloucester, youngest brother to Edward IV and brother to her sister's husband George of Clarence, may have been a calculated move on her part. The marriage was certainly advantageous to them both, Richard being rewarded with enormous land holdings in the North including her late father's castle and land at Middleham. 

Whilst some of Anne's childhood was spent at, Middleham Castle, despite Richard of Gloucester attending his knighthood training at the castle, there is no record of them having met and fallen in love as some romance writers would like us to believe. Anne's life as a privileged daughter and Richard's as a knight in training would tread very different paths within the same vicinity. Far from being in love, or being a pawn, Anne made a hard headed and pragmatic decision to marry Richard. 

Anne provided Richard with an heir, Edward of Middleham being born sometime between 1473 and 1476. He was described in the The Croyland Chronicle as ‘this only son, on whom, through so many solemn oaths, the hopes of the royal succession rested.’

After the death of Edward IV, having not achieved the status of queen through her marriage to her first husband, it not be a huge leap of imagination to consider her persuading Richard to grasp the throne. Pressure from Anne would help explain the great mystery of Richard of Gloucester's seeming U-turn, from being his brother Edward's most loyal supporter to someone who moved against his brother's allies with almost indecent speed, executing any that got in his way.

Anne's actions at this point are telling. She did not prepare to travel south for the coronation of Edward IV's son and did not commission sumptuous clothes for the occasion, suggesting that she knew the coronation would not take place. History often has Anne being passive or disapproving of Richard's crown heist, but there is no evidence of this and it is far more likely that having already brokered a favourable marriage for herself, she would not only be in favour, but would be the driving force behind the take over and put her in a position to avenge her father.

On July 6th 1483 at Westminster Abbey Richard was crowned as King and Anne as Queen.

It is not known whether their son, Edward of Middleham was present.  We know that he spent his life at Middleham castle and his governess was Anne Idley but little else can be said for sure about him except the tragic news that in April 1484, whilst Anne and Richard were at Nottingham, Edward of Middleham died. The parents went almost mad with grief.

Before too long, with Anne's health declining, Richard's thoughts turned to the future. His Queen would be unlikely to provide another heir and the following winter he was advised not to sleep with her.

On March 6th 1485, coincidentally following an eclipse of the sun, Anne died aged just 28, slipping from history as if she was not visible and being buried in an unmarked grave in Westminster Abbey; a quiet end to a dramatic life.

Anne was married to one prince, widowed and then married to a Duke who became a king; she changed sides in the cousins war not just once, but twice; she escaped from house arrest; forged her own future and claimed her inheritance, fulfilling the dreams of her father the Kingmaker, by becoming Queen of England. Her downfall was something she could not control - having poor health and only one child.


Croyland Chronical
P M Kendall
K L Clark
Professor A Pollard
A Licence
L Hilton
D Grummit
M Hicks

Further reading: 

The Nevills Of Middleham, K L Clark

Anne Neville: Richard III's Tragic Queen, A Licence

* Throughout the blog I have adopted the spelling of Nevill used by leading Nevill historian and author, K L Clark

© Diana Milne October 2017


  1. I also see Anne as more calculating than most. She wasn't a passive innocent, but actively pushed for Richard to seize the throne from his nephew.

  2. It is makes more sense than 'passive victim' Anne!