If you have an opinion on the marriage of Richard III and Anne Neville, then it’s very likely that it fall into one of two extremes: a love match or a ruthless money-grab by Richard. This is mostly due, as we have discussed before, on the controversy that still surrounds Richard, from those who believe he usurped the crown and murdered his nephews to those who believe he has been falsely maligned by history. Richard was a powerful man with royal blood, not to mention one who wielded considerable political power even before he became king – as such, it’s fairly straightforward to track his movements. Less so his motivation.
As for Anne, she disappears with regularity from the historical record despite her high birth and lofty marriages. We know even less of her character, from the level of her ambition to her feelings towards her family, including her husbands. As I noted back in December, she is essentially a blank canvas on to which much has been projected. Her real personality is sadly lost to us.
What’s tricky about these two is that because Richard is such a lightning rod it’s incredibly difficult to find unbiased, moderate scholarship on them. Even that which doesn’t take a side is often laced with rhetoric and theories driven by strong feeling. Every argument has a rebuttal and every fact an explanation. One good thing is that if you are attempting to stay impartial the discourse around this couple is often so unsubtle that it’s easy to spot.
Back in December we covered Anne’s brief tenure as the Princess of Wales via her marriage to Henry VI and Marguerite of Anjou’s son, Prince Edward. The marriage ended in his death at the Battle of Tewkesbury in May 1471, which brought about the complete destruction of the House of Lancaster. Henry VI was put to death shortly thereafter, Marguerite of Anjou was imprisoned and many were either executed, attainted or fled abroad. One such man who fell into the last category, of course, was Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond who would later defeat Richard in the Battle of Bosworth and become Henry VII.
In May 1471, Anne was a 14-year-old, childless widow of a traitor. Her father was dead, her mother was being detained in a convent (we’ll get to that) and her sister was married to George, Duke of Clarence, who had betrayed their father at the last-minute to go back to his brother and ensure a Yorkist victory. On the one hand, Anne was in a rough spot, but on the other, she was still a Neville with strong ties to the House of York. Because Anne was a widow who had reached legal majority, she had the power to hold land and money in her own right – her sister, on the other hand, was beholden to her husband.
As for Anne’s mother, Anne Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick, she could no longer reasonably expect to inherit her husband’s estate, but she could still inherit the property settled on her and her husband at the time of their wedding. Indeed, the Countess was an heiress in her own right and claimed her vast Beauchamp and Despenser inheritance independently of her marriage.
In the immediate aftermath of Warwick’s death and Tewkesbury, the whole of these estates was claimed by George via Isabel. This would – or should – have been rectified once normal order resumed, but all signs point to George and Isabel ignoring the Countess’s pleas from the convent to settle her estate. Instead, she wasn’t allowed to leave Beaulieu Abbey on the order of Edward IV and eventually began petitioning her female in-laws, including Cecily, the Dowager Duchess of York, Anne, Duchess of Exeter and Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk. Less understandably, she also reached out to Jacquetta Woodville, Dowager Duchess of Bedford, which was a bold move considering Warwick illegally executed Jacquetta’s husband two years prior. If any of them responded or took up her cause, it’s lost to us and wasn’t effective.
As for why such pleas were ignored, all signs point to that being very much what George and Isabel wanted, and what George was petitioning his brother, Edward, to uphold. So long as the Countess remained in a convent, George was a very wealthy man.
As for Anne, she was taken under George’s protection and placed in Isabel’s household once she submitted to Edward and was pardoned, which he apparently did without issue. Indeed, given her age and gender it’s likely she was ever viewed as a real threat and Edward never seemed to resent her brief tenure as a Lancastrian. Over the next several months, Anne lived in a strange limbo as a legal widow, but one whose marriage was best forgotten.
It also stands to reason that by December 1471 she was in London and it was then that she met her cousin, Richard, Duke of Gloucester for the first time since the aftermath of Tewkesbury. By this time, Richard was 19, a duke and being handed increasing levels of political power and martial responsibility. The two cousins had known each from youth when Richard spent a few years in Warwick’s household, though it’s less clear how much interaction Anne would have had with the young men living under her father’s protection. We do know, however, that Warwick petitioned Edward in the late 1460s for George and Richard to marry his two daughters, a proposal of which all four young people were aware.
We have only shaky evidence for what happened next, but the following can be safely assumed true. At some point that winter Richard and Anne decided to marry. George, wanting Anne to remain unmarried so that he could continue to access the entirety of her and Isabel’s inheritance, grew frantic over the idea of her marrying Richard, who was better-liked by Edward. George in some fashion “detained” Anne in his London household, with the more hyperbolic theories being that he disguised her as a servant in his kitchens. Richard found out Anne’s location and on February 16, 1472 spirited her away from George’s home to a convent.
We can safely assume that by the time Richard moved Anne the two had already decided to marry because Richard’s actions amount to abduction, or legal rape by the standards of the time. This, of course, assumes that Anne consented to the arrangement, which might not fit Shakespeare’s plot, but is almost certain. It’s easy to see why Richard’s defenders are easy to write a romance out of this – or why his detractors are quick to note the aggression – it’s a startling turn of events.
As noted, we simply don’t know what motivated Richard and Anne – or rather, we have no idea what role personal desire played in their actions. We do know that the marriage was mutually beneficial and so it stands to reason that at least played a sizable role in why they banded together. For Anne, Richard was an appropriate match that made her a royal duchess and ensured her continued protection. Perhaps most importantly, Richard was the only man in England who had the ability to take on George and win.
For Richard, tapping into Anne’s family’s estate would give him the land and resources to put him on par with his brother, George, and the other powerful ducal magnate in England, the Duke of Buckingham. Edward’s favor of Richard was well-documented. While a number of the lands bestowed on him in the 1460s had since reverted to the crown in the aftermath of the civil war, Edward granted him a number of Warwick’s estates to which his daughters had no claim, including Middleham and Sheriff Hutton. He was also the recipient of lands in the east that had belonged to the Lancastrian Earl of Oxford, now living as an exile. Richard already had power and political standing, and while he certainly had some money, it would be multiplied considerably if he wed an English heiress. Anne Neville was a perfect match in that regard.
Once it was discovered Richard had moved Anne to the convent, George consented to the marriage in and of itself, but not a split of the inheritance. Naturally, Richard wasn’t interested in only marrying Anne – he wanted her money, too. To be fair, we don’t know how Isabel and Anne felt about all of this – while their husbands are on the record as going to bat for their inheritance, they may well have equally as invested in the outcome. This was, after all, not only their estate but the inheritance of their future children.
As George and Richard hashed out their fight in council, Edward acted as mediator, though George had good reason to find this unfair. In the end – as expected – Richard walked away with more than his brother. He was awarded everything in the North, while George was given everything in the Midlands and South. George was given the earldoms of Warwick and Salisbury, which would later be used by his son and (much later) by his daughter, who was bequeathed the Salisbury title by Henry VIII. This division made sense since Richard already held a number of Neville castles in the North, while George and Isabel held those in the West Midlands. But while the titles sound nice, it was in fact Richard’s portion which carried more value.
The next phase of the negotiation took place in October 1472 when Parliament met once more. By now, the Countess had objected to this split and petitioned Council, but the negotiation had already been agreed upon and both her daughters and her sons-in-law had an active interest in ignoring her legal rights. However, when George refused to give up his portion of the lands Richard had his agent, Sir James Tyrell, move the Countess from the Abbey to his home at Middleham. Once installed in Richard’s house, she was nominally restored her inheritance and then signed it over to Richard and Anne.
Between these lines it’s safe to assume that Richard and Edward colluded to release the Countess only as a conduit for funneling Richard more money. The Countess was effectively kept under house arrest and it’s unlikely she had much choice in the matter. Now, a sympathetic reading of this would posit that the Countess fled sanctuary and turned to Richard as her savior, signing over her money of her own free will. And sure, this is possible, but it’s at odds with a woman who filed a petition and was writing frantically to every powerful woman at Edward’s court for help. You could argue, however, that she was more upset at the idea of George holding her husband’s estate than Richard since it was George’s betrayal which cost Warwick his life. Whatever the motivation, the Countess remained under Richard’s protection until his death.
The tenor of the fight between the brothers was captured by Crowland’s Chronicle, which read:
“So much disputation arose between the brothers and so many keen arguments were put forward on either side the greatest acuteness in the presence of the king, sitting in judgment in the council-chamber, that all who stood around, even those learned in the law, marvelled at the profusion in the of the arguments which the princes produced for their own cases.”
The Salisbury, Beauchamp and Despener estate agreement was finalized in July 1474, while that of the Neville estate was finalized in 1475.
But the matter wasn’t fully put to bed because circumstances continued to shift. As of when this fight broke out in early 1472, both couples were childless, however by 1475, George and Isabel had produced two children. Three years later, after Isabel’s death, George would be accused of treason and and executed in the Tower of London. The Clarences’ deaths allowed Richard to consolidate Anne’s claims in Wales, take the earldom of Salisbury and further tap into the Neville inheritance. Richard’s role in George’s downfall is hotly debated by historians and Ricardians, with some arguing it was in fact a bone of contention between Richard and his sister-in-law, Elizabeth Woodville, and others that it ruined the relationship between him and Edward. Still more argue that since Richard benefited from it financially, he may well have been in favor.
Yet another layer to this is the role of Warwick’s younger brother, John Neville, Marquess of Montagu. Like Warwick, Montagu was an avid supporter of Edward and the House of York in the first half of the Wars of the Roses, however when Warwick split to join Lancaster in 1470, Montagu eventually turned on Edward and sided with his brother. The move cost him his life and he expired in the Battle of Barnet. Key to this betrayal was the fact that Edward had bestowed on him the earldom of Northumberland and then taken it back a few years later due to instability in the North. He was made the Marquess of Montagu as a way to make up for it, but it apparently still stung. Montagu died a traitor, but he left behind a son, George, who had once been betrothed to Edward’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, and named Duke of Bedford (also as a way to placate his father).
And despite Warwick and Montagu dying as traitors, neither were ever formally attainted. This worked in George’s and Richard’s favors when it came to divvying up the land and gold on their wives’ behalf, but less so when it came to the presence of a male descendant. Parliament debarred George from inheriting in the final agreement, but they didn’t bar any of George’s future male offspring from laying claim. As such, Richard was in the bizarre position of wanting to keep George alive, but the father of children without any powerful maternal relatives. George eventually died without a son on May 4, 1483, reducing Richard and Anne’s rights to their northern lands to a life estate. That not only jeopardized the couple, but severely curtailed the inheritance of their own son, Edward of Middleham.
Now, take note of that date: May 4, 1483. Edward IV died in April 1483 and by June, Richard has pushed his nephew, Edward V, aside and had himself pronounced king. So, what happened in-between? Or, put another way, what changed to prompt a man who had only shown loyalty to the crown to become the most infamous usurper in English history? A sizable portion of his estate was suddenly at risk. Of the many factors to consider when weighing Richard’s accession, this is one of the most important.
But let’s turn back to 1472 and Richard and Anne themselves. The fight over money was just one of the massive hurdles that stood between them and marriage. The other was their degree of affinity, or the degree to which they were related. Anne’s paternal grandfather was the brother of Richard’s mother, so in that way they were certainly closely-related cousins. Then there was the fact that Richard’s brother was married to Anne’s sister, which in contemporary parlance meant they were at least spiritually brother and sister.
At some point in early 1472, Richard petitioned Rome for a dispensation to marry Anne based on their affinity in the third and fourth degrees. This was approved on April 22, 1472, however based on the relationships listed above, they actually needed a dispensation for the first (siblings) and second (first cousins) degrees. There is no evidence of this being requested and therefore none of it being granted. Marrying without the proper dispensation was a risky move, since it not only jeopardized the financial agreements of a marriage, but risked having any children branded bastards. Indeed, by some readings of the final inheritance agreement, George could have signed on to receiving a more paltry sum on the belief that Richard’s marriage to Anne would never be permitted by Rome and/or that their children would be bastards, clearing the way for his own.
Significantly, the 1474 act that sorted out the first lot of Anne’s inheritance included a provision for divorce. Divorce, however, would not have meant the dramatic casting aside of Anne – more likely it meant that if Richard and Anne’s marriage was declared null and void, the financial division of their assets was accounted for. In other words, while Richard may not have been aware his original dispensation was invalid in 1472, he certainly was by 1474. As such, the wording of the agreement allowed for Richard to retain Anne’s inheritance if they were divorced. As for why the couple didn’t petition for a dispensation that would have made their marriage valid – this was possible even after a wedding occurred – doing so ran the risk of having such a petition rejected at which point the couple would have had to physically separate.
Now, if Richard was truly a monster who felt nothing for Anne, then he could very well have followed this path – petitioned in good faith and then cast Anne aside while keeping her money. He didn’t, though in fairness that would be a risky path to follow and one which would de-legitimize their son, though at one point he entered the equation (i.e. his year of birth) is uncertain. Regardless, by 1474, both would have known that their marriage was technically illegal, a situation that was precarious enough given their social standing during the reign of Edward IV, but was almost unfathomable once Richard ascended the throne. It’s almost laughable, too, since the primary argument for pushing Edward’s sons aside was that their parents’ 1464 marriage was illegal. Notably, however, Richard positioned himself as the lawfully begotten son of his own parents, but never said the same about his own son.
As noted, we don’t have an exact wedding date for Richard and Anne, but the likeliest scenario is that it took place in early summer 1472, right around Anne’s 16th birthday. As for the birth of their son, Edward, it is dated as early as 1473 by some and as late as 1477 by others, with the likeliest years being 1474 or 1476. Personally, I am inclined to lean towards 1476 due to descriptions of Edward’s age as of when his parents became king and queen and because it’s the year that Professor Charles Ross, a historian I trust, favors. There is no record of other children, including those who died as infants, however it’s entirely possible that Anne suffered miscarriages and stillbirths that went unrecorded. As for Edward, he lived until 1484, predeceasing both his parents.
This would all become significant in yet another way once Richard became king, for rumors began to swirl in late 1484 and early 1485 that Richard meant to divorce Anne to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York. We’ve discussed the issue here before, but certainly the possibility that Richard and Anne’s marriage was invalid would have made divorce easy and by then their son was dead, negating a need to ensure his legitimacy.
Throughout all of this, it still remains difficult to assess Anne’s character or how much of a gamble she believed she was making in marrying Richard. Certainly she had to have been aware that she was placing an incredible amount of trust in her new husband by signing over what leverage she had. It’s notable, too, that she chose to enter into a legally hazy marriage, all of which began by allowing herself to be taken into his custody before she went through a wedding ceremony. This was a ballsy move for a 15-year-old and gives a rare glimpse into Anne’s personality – at the very least, she was brave. And if she didn’t trust Richard or have personal regard for him, then we may safely assume she was ambitious – she was either taking a risk based on their personal relationship or because she knew Richard could provide the life she wanted. Regardless, the girl had some mettle.
Anne’s coronation alongside Richard in July 1483 was the pinnacle of her career. Her death in March 1485 was tragic, but perhaps better-timed for her in the end. She didn’t live to see Richard’s demise at Bosworth five months later, nor did she have to navigate the terrain of a Tudor reign, once again the widow of a traitor.
Further reading: Hicks, Michael. Anne Neville: Queen to Richard III. Gloucestershire: The History Press, 2007