Anne Neville is a curious figure in history because she is essentially a blank canvas who happened to be at the epicenter of intrigue during the Wars of the Roses. She was a queen consort of England, but one who wore the crown for less than two years and is understandably overshadowed by her more famous peers: Marguerite of Anjou, Elizabeth Woodville and Elizabeth of York. She is dynastically insignificant – her only son died during childhood. She was not born into royalty, but rather married into a conquering family. And she did not hold power long enough to have any lasting impact on England.
And yet, she is an intriguing figure. For nearly 12 years she was married to one of England’s most famous (and infamous) monarchs: Richard III. She was in the eye of the mysterious storm that surrounded the disappearance of Edward V and Richard, Duke of York (aka the Princes in the Tower). And she was the only figure to have married into both royal houses at war: Lancaster and York. Anne was born a Yorkist and died a Yorkist, but from December 1470 until May 1471 she was the Lancastrian Princess of Wales.
We know almost nothing about Anne, but historians and writers throughout history have fallen prey to projecting any number of thoughts and feelings on to her memory – usually those which align with whatever their stance on Richard III is. Unfortunately, we don’t know how she felt about Richard or how she felt about her first husband, Edward, Prince of Wales, only son of Henry VI and Marguerite of Anjou.
Anne was born in June 1456 at Warwick Castle to her father, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and Anne Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick. She had one older sister, Isabel, born five years previously, but the Neville nursery was otherwise empty. We don’t know much about the fertility of the Countess, but it’s a safe bet that before and after her daughters were born there were a series of miscarriages and stillbirths that could rival the tales of Katherine of Aragon a century later.
Warwick was a nephew of Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, and grew close to her husband, Richard, Duke of York, in the 1450s. When civil war broke out, Warwick and his father, the Earl of Salisbury, were fiercely loyal to their kinsman and supported his public platform of insisting on reform within the government of Henry VI. He grew particularly close to York’s eldest son, the Earl of March, a bond which only tightened after bouts of exile, near-fatal experiences and York’s death in December 1460. By the spring of 1461, Henry VI was deposed and, with York dead, March ascended the throne as Edward IV. (I’m skipping over oh so very much in that paragraph, but this period has been covered in more detail in other posts).
His younger cousin on the throne, Warwick was widely heralded as “the Kingmaker” for his part in the Yorkist victory. He was Edward’s most trusted adviser and thanks to the new King’s youth (19), he played a very active role in governing the country. Edward was unmarried, but he had two younger brothers, George and Richard, who Warwick took into his household so that they could complete their education. After being named the dukes of Clarence and Gloucester, they were moved up north to the Countess and grew up alongside Isabel and Anne.
While Henry VI remained at large, Marguerite of Anjou and her young son, Prince Edward, eventually made their way to France. A first cousin to King Louis XI and daughter of the titular King of Naples, Marguerite had grown up in western France and had close familial ties to the House of Valois. Worried that Louis would back Lancaster and help fund an invasion of England, Warwick became set on arranging a marriage alliance between Edward and Louis’s sister-in-law, Bona of Savoy. He made multiple diplomatic trips abroad in the early 1460s, the latest of which was in the summer of 1464. Unfortunately for him, that September Edward announced to his court that he was already married – unbeknownst to his government and family, he chose to marry a penniless Lancastrian widow by the name of Elizabeth Grey (née Woodville).
Warwick was livid and never forgave his cousin. He was further infuriated as he watched Edward marry off her plethora of unmarried sisters to England’s eligible aristocratic bachelors and her brothers, in some cases, to his own female relations. As a father of two unmarried daughters, this was a cause for actual financial concern. At some point later in the 1460s, Warwick decided that his daughters should marry the King’s brothers, George and Richard. However, when he posed the question to Edward he was thoroughly rebuffed.
It’s unclear what exactly Edward’s issue was with the idea. Quite likely he realized that since his own marriage hadn’t helped England’s diplomatic ties, he wanted to save his brothers’ marriages to be used as pawns abroad. There is also the possibility that by the mid-1460s, Edward had grown wary of Warwick’s ambition and didn’t like the idea of giving him such personal stake in his heirs.
Whatever the reason, Warwick and Edward’s relationship curdled, though Edward might not have realized the extent of it. By 1469, Warwick had allied himself with George and the two hatched a plot to depose Edward in favor of the young duke. George would then marry Warwick’s daughter, Isabel, giving Warwick the gift of seeing his daughter crowned queen and his grandson succeed as king. Things started out well enough – Edward was captured and George married Isabel, but England fell into chaos without a king on the throne and Warwick was forced to let Edward go. In the midst of all of this, Warwick had Elizabeth Woodville’s father and brother executed.
By December 1469, Edward made a great show of pardoning Warwick and George and blessing his marriage to Isabel. The Countess and Anne made the trek down to London to celebrate Christmas at court that year, taking part in the formal asking of forgiveness from Edward. This is one of our first tangible glimpses of Anne; she would have been 13 at the time and was almost certainly a witness to Edward as a prisoner in her family’s castle the summer before. We’ve no idea what she thought of all of this, but it seems a fairly safe bet that she was relieved peace had been restored with her family.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. Warwick’s brother, John, had been named Earl of Northumberland, but warring up north prompted Edward to revoke the title and give it back to the Percy family (its historic holder). Though John was named Marquess of Montagu, the move was still seen as insulting, and Warwick still found himself boxed out of major decisions. In short, he wasn’t done with the idea of replacing Edward with a more malleable king: George. In 1470, he helped instigate another rebellion, eventually causing him to flee England with the rest of his family when they were implicated.
As they sailed for France, the heavily-pregnant Isabel went into labor, with only the Countess and Anne to attend to her. The child was stillborn and buried at sea, but the scene once again gives us a glimpse of the 14-year-old Anne. When they landed in France, on May 1, word was immediately sent to Louis XI. Warwick’s desperation combined with Louis’s ties to Lancaster prompted an elegant solution: an alliance between Warwick and Marguerite of Anjou. The old queen was still languishing in exile, but the existence of her 16-year-old son, Prince Edward, ensured she was a potent threat to the Yorkist regime. Her husband, Henry VI, meanwhile, was also still alive, though he had been living in the Tower of London since his capture (by Warwick) in 1465.
Louis issued an invitation to both Warwick and Marguerite to join him at Angers (in Anjou), but while Marguerite accepted, Warwick refused. On June 3, Louis’s wife, Charlotte of Savoy, finally gave birth to a son and Edward IV was asked to be godfather – the move likely helped persuade Warwick to play ball and he finally agreed to meet Louis at court. On June 8, Louis and Warwick met for the first time. By all accounts, Warwick indicated he was willing to work with Lancaster, but in exchange Louis had to promise that he would force Marguerite to issue him a blanket pardon for his role in deposing her and her husband nine years before and give him a prominent role in the government.
With hindsight all of this sounds insane – and it’s hard to believe that Warwick truly thought this would work. Unfortunately we don’t know what was going through his head – did he already regret letting his pride get the best of him with the House of York? There was certainly little chance of him getting a better deal with Lancaster. Not only did Marguerite personally despise him, but her followers – the powerful Lancastrian lords who had followed her in exile instead of making peace with York – were unlikely to let bygones be bygones.
After Louis and Warwick met, Louis wrote to Marguerite and asked her to sign a 30-year peace treaty between France and the House of Lancaster. Marguerite agreed. Word of this reached England and, intriguingly, Edward responded by offering Prince Edward the hand of his eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth, then only four years old. That match is an interesting one to contemplate – it could have essentially served the same purpose of Elizabeth’s eventual marriage to Henry Tudor 16 years later by joining Lancaster and York by marriage and ending the civil war. Logistically, it would have worked similarly to the agreement reached between Stephen of Blois and Henry Plantagenet back in the 12th century, in which Stephen was allowed to live out the rest of his life, but Henry was named his heir.
The roadblock to these plans were twofold: 1) Edward’s wife, Elizabeth Woodville, was pregnant again and if her child was male, then there was a Yorkist prince who would undermine these plans (and the child was male); and 2) the personal animosity between Lancaster and York was such that neither side was ready to sincerely compromise.
Louis received Marguerite at Amboise after the peace treaty was signed, but when he broached the idea of working with Warwick to restore her and her husband, she responded furiously. She launched into a tirade, listing out all of the reasons why such a partnership was impossible (likely all legitimate, quite frankly), but Louis responded simply by telling her this was her last shot of giving her son back his birthright. After a time, she was persuaded to meet with Warwick, but she wouldn’t go so far as to promise that Prince Edward would join him for his invasion of England.
On July 15, the court moved to Angers and the Countess and Anne were formally presented to Marguerite. While the Countess had certainly met the Queen before, this would have been Anne’s first time coming face-to-face with a woman she had likely been taught from birth to fear and loathe. Likely, she was terrified and unsure of what was happening. By all accounts the meeting was uncomfortable and Marguerite was less than welcoming. Soon after this, Marguerite was told by Louis that Warwick had proposed a marriage between Prince Edward and Anne. One can easily see Warwick’s rationale – with his daughter as queen and his grandchildren Lancaster’s heirs, his security was better-ensured. It was, however, hardly the match that Marguerite wanted for her son and one she likely deemed highly inappropriate – not only was Anne still a traitor’s daughter, but she was also a mere earl’s daughter.
A week later, Warwick and Marguerite finally met. Playing diplomat, he flattered, begged and bartered to find a way back into her good graces. For her part, Marguerite kept him on his knees for half an hour (that’s my girl!). When she finally spoke, it was to insult him and order him to retract his remarks that her son was a bastard, rumors which had originated shortly after his birth in October 1453. Warwick promised he would do so and, after a lengthy meeting, Marguerite finally pardoned him.
Over the next three days, Louis, Marguerite and Warwick hammered out the terms of their peace treaty, a significant tenet of which was the marriage of Anne and Prince Edward. Anne, of course, was not privy to these machinations, though she may have been aware that it was on the table. The marriage agreed upon, Marguerite stated that it wouldn’t take place until Warwick had successfully deposed Edward IV, an act that would take place without the aid of Prince Edward.
Another interesting tenet of this agreement was acknowledgement that Henry VI was mentally unfit to rule. Marguerite assured Warwick that once Henry was nominally named king, Warwick would be deputized as Regent and Governor until Prince Edward succeeded his father. Should Henry die before Prince Edward turned 18, then Warwick would be named his guardian. And if Prince Edward died without any male heirs, then George and Isabel (a bizarre sideshow at this point) would inherit the throne.
There are several issues with this, of course. Prince Edward was due to turn 17 that October, meaning that even if Henry VI dropped dead the next day, Warwick’s tenure as “guardian” would have been brief. Secondly, even if Warwick was named Regent and Governor, the likelihood of him not butting heads with an able-bodied Prince of Wales waiting in the wings are slim to none. And thirdly, George and Isabel were huge liabilities – George had essentially given up his entire family to take on the exact same position with his sworn enemies (unlikely heir).
Nevertheless, Prince Edward and Anne were formally betrothed in Angers Cathedral on July 25 in front of Warwick, the Countess, Marguerite, Isabel, Louis and Marguerite’s father, Rene of Anjou. George was notably absent. After the ceremony, Anne was entrusted to Marguerite for safekeeping, thus largely making her a sacrificial lamb – her entire future hung in the balance while she waited for her father to depose England’s popular king.
Five days later, Warwick swore an oath of loyalty to the House of Lancaster. In turn, Marguerite swore to treat Warwick like a trusted subject and publicly pardoned his past deeds. Instead of Prince Edward, Warwick was given Henry VI’s younger half-brother, Jasper Tudor, as a partner in carrying out the invasion. The next day, Marguerite, Prince Edward and Anne left Angers for Amboise, and the day after that, Warwick set sail for England.
Warwick and his party landed in the West Country, around Dartmouth and Plymouth, on September 13. He swiftly issued a proclamation calling on all loyal subjects of King Henry to join him in the invasion, sounding the alarm that Marguerite and Prince Edward supported him. By October, Warwick reached London, Edward IV fled for Burgundy thanks to the treachery of the Marquess of Montagu (really should have left him that earldom…) and Elizabeth Woodville and her children sought sanctuary within Westminster. On October 13, Prince Edward turned 17 in France and Henry VI was taken from the Tower and paraded through London as king dressed up in some of Edward IV’s robes, which were woefully too big for him.
Marguerite, naturally, was delighted by the news. We have no idea what Anne thought, of course, but by now she was called the Princess of Wales and knew that in due course she could become queen of England. Knowing her father’s military prowess, she may very well have accepted his victory as a foregone conclusion. She also may have been devastated that his victory meant the possible deaths of Edward IV and Richard, with whom she had grown up. Unfortunately, we just don’t know how ambitious Anne was. Did she want this? Was she her father’s daughter in character?
News reached France that while in sanctuary Elizabeth Woodville gave birth to a healthy son, thus safeguarding the Yorkist succession. Marguerite, hesitant to return to England, acknowledged that the birth might galvanize the Yorkists and that it was important her son step foot on English soil and let himself be seen and known by the English people. In the meantime, on December 3, Louis formally repudiated his friendship with Burgundy after Duke Charles offered friendship to the deposed Edward IV. This was hardly surprising – for the last two-and-a-half years Charles had been married to Edward’s younger sister, Margaret, and he knew very well that two of his brothers-in-law were living in his dominions. In response, Burgundy declared war on France, all of which aligned with Louis’s goals. Once England was Lancastrian again and in his debt, he meant to use them to conquer Burgundy and Brittany for France. Prince Edward, now very close to finally grasping what was his, agreed that England would help France in its war against Burgundy until Louis had conquered whatever he chose.
On December 13, Prince Edward and Anne married in Amboise in front of French royalty, George and Isabel. It’s unclear whether the marriage was consummated. By some reports Marguerite refused to let her son sleep with Anne because she wanted to keep their options open and an unconsummated marriage was easier to annul. By others they did, because producing another Lancastrian generation was considered paramount.
The next day, the small party left Amboise and made a ceremonial entrance into Paris. They were greeted by parlemant and the Chatelet as the rightful heads of England, and remained in the capitol through Christmas. In January, after news that Charles of Burgundy had pledged to help Edward IV restore his throne, Marguerite and her party left Paris for Rouen to prepare for their departure to England. The original plan was to wait for Warwick to arrive and safely escort them to London, however Warwick had run out of money and couldn’t make the journey. Finally, Marguerite traveled to Dieppe to make the trip herself, but bad winter weather forced the ship back to port three times.
For over two months, Marguerite, Prince Edward, Anne and the Nevilles waited in Dieppe for a safe time to travel. Nerves were frayed and tension was high, undoubtedly, but we don’t know how Anne got on with her new husband and mother-in-law. It is from this time, when they weren’t traveling, that the relationships were probably solidified, but we don’t know in what form. While they waited, Edward IV successfully landed in England with Burgundian backing and, unbeknownst to Warwick, secretly met with George, who was chafing under the Lancastrian regime. The two made peace, aided by their mother, Cecily, and their sister, the Duchess of Exeter.
By now things were falling apart for Lancaster, but Marguerite would have had no way of knowing. Warwick learned of George’s betrayal and, while appalled by it, was effectively powerless to undo the damage. Louis was demanding English support in its war against Burgundy, but Warwick was facing Edward IV’s invasion, which was gaining ground and supporters. York appeared like a united front, while Warwick was seen by most Lancastrians as a glorified traitor, Henry was literally insane and the powerful images of Marguerite and Prince Edward were isolated by bad weather on the Norman coast. On April 11, Warwick learned that Louis had signed a peace treaty with Burgundy, which ended the possibility of further help from France.
On the same day, Edward IV was welcomed back into London as king and Henry VI was taken back to the Tower of London. Warwick’s last shot was to kill or capture Edward IV on the field, so both sides prepared for the battle to end all battles. The two armies met at Barnet on April 14 in a bloody fight that ended in Warwick’s death. You can read about it in more detail here.
Marguerite, however, had no way of knowing this. She finally landed in England with Prince Edward and Anne, only to be told of the horrible turn of events shortly after stepping foot on English land for the first time in a decade. A debate broke out over whether she should have immediately returned to France, thus ensuring her son’s safety, or whether they should remain in England and keeping fighting (the post linked in the graf above details this thought process). In the end, the Lancastrians decided to stay.
For Anne, however, this was a game changer. Not yet 15, her father was dead and her mother responded to the news by abandoning her and seeking sanctuary. With George having made peace with Edward IV, Isabel also left her, forced to return to her husband and the other side. Anne had no political or familial leverage and, as such, was useless to Marguerite and Prince Edward, save that she was their legal Princess of Wales. Her only move would have been if there was a chance she was pregnant, but that was only possible if the marriage had been consummated in the last four months. Without that, she must have known that her marriage would be swiftly annulled and she would likely have been forced into a religious house.
That is, of course, assuming that there was no personal relationship between Anne and Marguerite and Prince Edward. If she had cultivated a friendship with either, then there is a possibility that she might have met a more merciful fate. But perhaps there is something to be said for how the next few months played out. The Lancastrians prepared for one last Hail Mary pass – yet another battle with York, this time with Prince Edward on the field, which would determine whether Edward IV was finally victorious or whether the war would continue. Interestingly, Anne wasn’t cut loose. Certainly if Marguerite did plan to annul her son’s marriage, she wouldn’t have had the time that spring – it would have been punted until after they won and established themselves in London. But they didn’t stash her in a convent or send her off to follow her mother, a decision that may have had to do with wanting to keep tabs on her. But Anne had no one to protect her and didn’t amount to much of a threat. Her continued travels with her husband indicate they may very well have been sleeping together or that her in-laws didn’t wholly hate her.
On the evening of May 3, Anne spent the night at Glupshill Manor with Marguerite and her most trusted ladies, Katherine Vaux and the Countess of Devon. In the morning, Marguerite and Prince Edward rode out in front of their army, promising them fame and glory if they won the coming battle. After that, Marguerite left the field and her place was taken by Edmund Beaufort (the nominal Duke of Somerset).
The Battle of Tewkesbury was the last battle in the first part of the Wars of the Roses and it was devastating for the House of Lancaster. Prince Edward was slain, and it was a total victory for Edward IV and the Yorkists. There is little evidence, however, that Richard, who fought alongside his brother, actually killed Prince Edward himself, though I will acknowledge the poetry of the legend.
During the battle, Marguerite and Anne waited together in the Manor. When they learned of the loss, they didn’t yet know Prince Edward’s fate. Marguerite’s first instinct was to flee, but not knowing where her son was, she hesitated. She grew so hysterical that she fainted and had to be carried by her ladies to a waiting litter. They, including Anne, escorted her to a house called Payne’s Place in the village of Bushley.
On May 6, two days later, Edward IV dragged Edmund Beaufort out of sanctuary (which was illegal) and executed him alongside a few other Lancastrian lords who had managed to escape the battlefield. Marguerite and Anne moved to Little Malvern Priory in Worcestshire to hide out, still unsure whether Prince Edward was alive. The next day they were discovered by the Yorkist Sir William Stanley and taken into custody. It was Stanley who told the women of Prince Edward’s death and when Marguerite learned the news, she collapsed and had to be dragged from the Priory by soldiers.
Four days later, both women were brought before Edward IV at Coventry. Marguerite screamed and cursed at the King, who, though he looked angry, waited until she was finished to assure her she would be dealt with honorably. There is no indication of whether Edward acknowledged Anne or whether there was any interaction between Anne and Richard.
On May 14, Edward IV left Coventry for London with Marguerite in his train as a prisoner. She was jeered by the crowds and pelted with mud and stones, which is horrifying to contemplate given that she was not only a crowned queen, but a recently bereaved mother. Anne was not exposed to this abuse, so it stands to reason she was understood to have been an unwitting pawn from the get-go and was quickly brought back within the Yorkist fold. Her sister, after all, was still married Edward IV’s brother.
That night Henry VI was quietly put to death in the Tower. When Marguerite arrived the next day as a prisoner and asked to see him, she was told of his death. She begged for his body, but was denied. Instead, it was shown to the people of London so there could no misunderstanding or false rumors of his survival for rebels. She remained in the Tower through the rest of May and June, but on July 8 she was moved to Wallingford Castle under the care of Alice Chaucer, Dowager Duchess of Suffolk. Alice had been Marguerite’s head lady-in-waiting when she first married Henry in 1445 and had been a second mother to her, however her loyalty was assured because her only son was married to Edward IV’s sister, Elizabeth. She remained in Alice’s care for the next five years until Louis XI paid the ransom to bring her back to France, where she remained until her death in 1482.
As for Anne, she spent the next several months living with George and Isabel until she married Richard in the spring of 1472. We’ll save this period for another day, as well as the bizarre tales that stem from it, but after it was all over, Anne spent the vast majority of her time in the north, in her childhood homes of Warwick Castle and Middleham. We have no idea what she took away from her five-month tenure as Princess of Wales, but perhaps there is something to glean from her apparent choice to live quietly for the next decade. Maybe.