Part Six: Richard III’s Marriage & the Neville Inheritance

Anne Neville

If you missed Part Five, you can catch up here.

Shortly after Edward IV’s restoration in 1471, Richard, Duke of Gloucester expressed his desire to marry Lady Anne Neville, daughter of the deceased Earl of Warwick and sister-in-law to his brother, George, Duke of Clarence. Anne, recently widowed by the death of the Lancastrian Prince Edward, was barely 15 and, following her pardon by Edward IV, living with George and her sister, Isabel.

Anne also signified a portion of the Earl of Warwick’s hefty estate, however the entirety of her inheritance was in fact four separate estates that spanned Warwick, his brother (John Neville), and his widow, Anne Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick. But that inheritance was complicated by the fact that Warwick had no sons; that his widow sought sanctuary at Beaulieu Abbey when she learned of his death; and he was guilty of treason. As such, there was every expectation that Parliament would pass an Act of Attainder against the Neville men and George, as Isabel’s husband, would inherit the bulk of the riches.

That didn’t quite work for Edward IV, who had no desire to see his untrustworthy brother so rewarded. In Richard marrying Anne, the estates could be partitioned between the brothers. And if Richard amassed land holdings, then all the better for Edward, since Richard had proven himself time and again to be loyal.

The other factor was the location of the lands themselves – Warwick and John Neville had held the north, a responsibility that Edward clearly didn’t feel he could invest in George, nor the only recently loyal Percy family, restored to the earldom of Northumberland. Preparing Richard to take that place was thus strategic.

Already Richard was being rewarded for his service during the events of 1470-1471. After his restoration, Edward made him Great Chamberlain of England, Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster beyond Trent, and Commissioner of Wales, Cornwall, and Chester while the infant Prince of Wales was a minor. This last honor is the most telling – already, Edward saw Richard as the natural guardian figure for his son…but also not the only one. He shared the commission with Queen Elizabeth (Woodville), George, Robert Stillington (Bishop of Bath and Wells), Anthony Woodville (Earl Rivers), and William, Lord Hastings.

Richard was also granted two estates that belonged to Warwick – Middleham and Sheriff Hutton. It’s possible Richard personally desired them – Middleham, in particular, was likely his home in the 1460s when he lived in Warwick’s household. Either way, in order for Edward to properly grant them, he had to pass Acts of Attainder, which hadn’t yet happened. George was likely none too pleased.

It’s unclear exactly when Richard approached Edward about marrying Anne, but he approached the Clarences (and perhaps Anne) in June when all were in London. What we know about Richard’s relationship with Anne is annoyingly opaque and, as with much about Richard’s life, the facts we do know can be viewed multiple ways. Ricardians point to Anne’s uncertain position after her first marriage and the fact that the two likely knew one another as children, while his detractors argue Richard married her for money.

We do know that Richard and Anne knew one another by 1471. At the very least they met in 1465 when Richard attended the celebration of George Neville becoming the Archbishop of York. It’s also entirely likely that the 2-3 years Richard spent in Warwick’s household facilitated further interaction, but that’s conjecture.

As far as motivation, it’s possible personal feelings were at play if they had spent time together. But even if not, it’s worth underscoring that both had a pretty good motive for finding marriage to the other attractive. For Richard, Anne obviously represented a significant financial windfall, and for Anne, Richard was arguably the only man in England with the clout to take George on and preserve her portion of the Neville inheritance. A man of lesser status would have been bulldozed by the King’s brother, while Anne’s position was tenuous as a Lancastrian widow.

Whatever the case, Richard left London shortly after making his intentions clear, and when he returned, George, who had already protested the match, told his brothers he had no idea where Anne was. A bizarre incident followed in which Anne was reportedly discovered living in the home of one of George’s retainers disguised as a kitchen maid; she was later moved to sanctuary in St Martin le Grand. The general consensus, backed up by the Crownland Chronicle, is that Anne was placed in hiding against her will, but Richard’s action to remove her from that household and place her in a convent is open for debate. It depends on an unknowable – whether Anne wanted to marry Richard or not. Given that it’s a safer bet to assume she didn’t want George to keep her in financial limbo (or force her into a convent full-time), Richard may have represented the lesser of two evils.

As Matthew Lewis points out in his biography of Richard, the location of St Martin le Grand was respectable and a far cry from her being housed somewhere under Richard’s direct authority. Even so, it’s a bit of a guessing game.

As for Edward, he was eager for his brothers to reach a compromise. The issue was debated by the brothers before Council in the winter of 1471-1472, and one anecdote from those meetings is that both argued their case well with a firm grasp of the law. The Crowland Chronicle goes so far as to say if the brothers joined forces they would have been invincible. If only. In February 1472 George and Richard joined Edward at Sheen, during which time George apparently said that he didn’t care whether or not Richard and Anne married, but that he was unwilling to compromise on the financial settlement. Richard went ahead and took his shot – he and Anne were married some time between March and June 1472 at Westminster.

So fast was the wedding that Richard didn’t secure the necessary papal dispensation (he and Anne were first cousins once removed – Richard’s mother was sister to Anne’s grandfather), however the marriage settlement was arranged so that if the marriage was dissolved on the grounds of consanguinity he kept Anne’s lands. Rather crafty, that.

Anne moved to Middleham, which essentially became the couple’s base, but Richard stayed involved in the negotiations over the Neville estates. In the midst of this, the Countess of Warwick wrote from Beaulieu Abbey asking that her portion of the inheritance be returned to her (per law). She eventually left Beaulieu in 1473 and moved to Middleham under the escort of James Tyrell, one of Richard’s men (to whom we’ll return), however it’s highly debatable whether she went of her own volition. And if she did, there is some indication (mainly from later Tudor sources) that it may have been under false pretenses and Richard kept her under glorified house arrest. In other words, it’s unclear what the personal dynamics of this arrangement were, but custody of the Countess certainly worked to Richard’s financial benefit.

In February 1473, an Act of Parliament was passed granting Richard his portion – the Neville, Montagu, and Salisbury estates. In the end, George was left with the Beauchamp and Despenser estates, as well as Warwick’s London residence (that he was already using) and Richard’s office as Great Chamberlain. In May 1474, an Act of Parliament stripped the Countess of her claim, declaring her legally dead. Negotiations continued on for another nine months until February 1475, at which point everything was pretty much wrapped.

But there was yet another layer of complexity to all of this. The Warwick portion of the estate awarded to Richard had in fact been entailed to the next Neville male kin, which was John Neville’s son, George Neville. Neither John Neville nor Warwick were attainted, thus George Neville should have been able to take possession of his inheritance. However, the reason why John Neville and Warwick weren’t attainted is because George and Richard preferred to take possession of the estates through their wives, not as a gift from Edward.

The 1473 Act includes the following language:

“Also it is ordained by the said auctorite, that if the said issue male of the body of the said John Neville, knight, begotten or coming, die without issue male of their bodies coming, living the said duke; that then the same duke to have and enjoy all the premisses for the term of his life.”

I’ll let Matthew Lewis explain:

“This final statement was ostensbly designed to protect the Neville male heirs from any violent act of precaution on the part of Richard or George. It also gave lip service to the legal fact that the patrimony belonged, by right and in equity, to George Neville, the son of John Neville, because of the failure to attaint his father. The effect of this measure was that Richard only retained the ability to pass on his lands while there were heirs male of the body of John Neville, Marquis of Montagu. In 1483, this rested entirely on the shoulders of twelve-year-old George Neville, Duke of Bedford. If George died without producing a male heir, Richard’s interest in the Neville inheritance reverted to a life interest only. That would leave him with nothing to bequeath to any of his children and give the reversion of the estate to the crown.”

George’s inheritance included the same clause, however he was dead by 1483, so we’ll get to those implications later on.

Yet another provision worth discussing is one that grappled with the hypothetical of Richard and Anne’s divorce and allowed Richard to keep the estates he held through their marriage even if he discarded her. Some historians, such as Michael Hicks, have argued this was directly tied to the fact that Richard hadn’t secured the necessary papal dispensation required to marry, but that’s open for debate. As a divorce never happened, it’s difficult to suss out Richard’s motivation save that he clearly meant to account for every possible eventuality.

So. What can we glean from all of this? Edward, George, and Richard worked out a deal that was wildly unfair to the Neville family, but of that they’re all guilty. It’s worth noting the “unfairness” of it stems from the fact that Warwick and John Neville weren’t attainted, and there were obviously grounds to do so. Arguably, this was just legal wrangling to reach the same end. The treatment of the Countess is particularly harsh, but that judgment also depends on how complicit you think she was in her husband’s treason. Either way, she was powerless to advocate herself, and had to make do with Richard’s protection until his death. And again, how she was dealt with rests with all three brothers, but particularly Edward as king.

The wrinkle in all of this that I’ve never been able to make sense of is why the brothers’ inheritance was made dependent on George Neville living. I’ve yet to stumble upon an explanation that clears that up for me, save the idea that Edward never expected to die so soon and whatever the second (or third) act of this plan was never came to pass.

There are a couple other related points to bring up:

  1. Toward the end of 1472, Richard had another run-in with a widow. Among his many gifts from Edward around this time were the lands of the attainted Earl of Oxford (a Lancastrian). Richard took it a step further and visited Oxford’s mother, then living in a convent, and demanded she sign over all of her property to him. He then moved her along his various properties, threatening not to release her until she did so. She eventually gave way, though her son would be avenged during Henry VII’s reign. The tale certainly lends credence to Richard’s ruthlessness, and the idea that he and his mother-in-law weren’t warm and fuzzy.
  2. Richard and Anne produced only one child – Edward of Middleham. His date of birth is unknown, with some placing it as early as 1473 and others much later. I personally believe the evidence placing his birth in 1476 is the most compelling. He spent almost his entire life at Middleham. If there were other children who died in infancy, or Anne suffered miscarriages, it went unrecorded.
  3. Richard had two illegitimate children – John and Katherine – when he married Anne, both of whom would join the couple’s household. Their mother(s) is/are unknown, as are their exact dates of birth, but both are believed to have been born prior to Richard’s marriage. They were given the surname “Plantagenet.”

The third point raises another interesting fact about Richard – for all that his financial wrangling paints a picture of ruthlessness, there’s little indication that he was unfaithful during his marriage. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything – as the 1470s wore on he spent most of his time up north, so indiscretions would have been easy enough to hide, but there’s no evidence of further illegitimate children post-1472. And of all the issues that came up during Richard’s reign, a plethora of women wasn’t one of them.

There’s many conclusions to draw, but given that Richard was 19 when he married Anne and 22 when the final negotiations were settled, we can at least glean he was neither naive nor a fool. We’ll pick up next time with the rest of the 1470s and early 1480s.

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