Women in History: Anne Neville

Anne Neville has to be one of the women in history most maligned by Shakespeare.

While it is true that he does portrays her as one of the many victims of Richard III, and doesn’t really say anything terribly nasty about her, it is also undeniable that her reputation is maligned by the way she is portrayed as being quite fickle and very, very gullible.

As I always remind my students, there is a vast difference between actual history and Shakespeare’s play. In fact, Shakespeare entirely misrepresents both the course of events and the relationship between Anne and Richard. 

Not only were their families well known to one another, they were quite closely related. 

Anne grew up at Middleham Castle, the daughter of the 13th Earl of Warwick and his wife, Anne Beauchamp. Anne’s great aunt was Cecily Neville, the wife of Richard, Duke of York, and mother of Richard and his brothers.

When the Duke Of York died, his youngest sons George and  Richard went to live at Middleham with Warwick’s family. Anne’s sister Isabel would later marry George, Duke of Clarence.

Warwick, known as The Kingmaker, played a crucial role in helping his cousin take and hold the throne as the King Edward IV of the House of York during the troubled times of conflict commonly referred to as either The Cousins’ War or the Wars of the Roses. For the first few years of Edward’s reign, Warwick held enormous influence over the young King. 

However, when Warwick tried to negotiate a marriage arrangement for Edward to secure an alliance with France, he discovered that Edward had secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of Sir John Grey who had been loyal to the Lancastrians. Warwick was not alone in distrusting her and her family, and was profoundly annoyed by Edward’s secret marriage to a woman whom Warwick considered entirely unsuitable. 

At the same time, and quite likely in direct response to Warwick’s contempt for his queen, Edward refused to give his blessing to a proposed union between his brother George, Duke of Clarence, and Warwick’s daughter Isabel, but the pair married anyway with Warwick’s blessing. 

This pitched Warwick and Edward against Edward, and their forces met in battle at Edgecote Moor in 1469. Edward was defeated and taken captive, although released before long, Warwick had sufficient time to reconcile his differences with Margaret of Anjou, the queen of the former Lancastrian King Henry VI. The significance of this is enormous: Warwick and Margaret absolutely hated one another.  

Even so, Warwick’s daughter Anne Neville was betrothed to Margaret’s son Edward of Westminster, the Lancastrian Prince Of Wales,  as a seal of the alliance, and Henry VI was restored to the throne of England two months before Anne and Edward were married in November of 1470. Thus,  Anne became the Princess of Wales and part of the Lancaster dynasty. 

Edward of York, however, was not so easily deposed. He defeated and killed Henry VI in the Battle of Barnet in April 1471, just as Margaret, Edward and Anne were returning to England. Margaret led an army to Tewksbury in May, where her son Edward was killed either during or just after the battle. Edward IV of York then reclaimed the throne as king of England.

Anne, a young widow, took up residence with her sister Isabel and her husband. When Richard asked for and was given consent to marry Anne, the only opposition came from his own brother, who wanted to inherit the entirety of Warwick’s wealth for himself. 

Anne was very willing to marry Richard, and harbored no resentment toward Richard for any of his deeds, perceived or real. They married in 1472 and theirr only son, Edward of Middleham, was born in 1473.

Her relationship with Richard’s mother Cecily was good and her marriage to Richard was happy, although stricken by grief when their son died at the age of ten. Anne and Richard then adopted the young orphaned son of her sister and Clarence, who was also named Edward — of course he was! and of a similar age to their own son. In yet another striking contrast to Shakespeare’s play, the newly adopted boy was named Richard’s heir. 

Anne Neville died at Westminster on 16th March 1485, from an illness that was most likely tuberculosis. She was only in her late twenties, but she had witnessed a very great deal of conflict, grief and turmoil in the kingdom in the course of her life. She was buried in Westminster Abbey, near the High Altar, although the location of her grave was never marked. 

Anne’s story is very different than that told by Shakespeare. Instead, Anne appears to have been a woman who possessed both integrity and backbone, and to have dealt with her trials with considerable resilience. As much as I love the works of the Bard, I do prefer the real story of Anne Neville, and feel sorry that for so many years, she was neither admired nor respected as she deserved to be. 

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4 thoughts on “Women in History: Anne Neville

  1. I’m a long-time Ricardian, and I think Anne has been given rather a raw deal by those who don’t understand how much of Shakespeare was political propaganda. Great article. Thanks for sharing it.

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