Who? You probably haven’t heard of her, but you most likely have heard of her famous husband – King Richard III of England.
Notwithstanding this, had you been around in England in the second half of the fifteenth century, you would almost certainly have heard of her, given that she was the daughter of Richard Neville and Anne Beauchamp, the Earl and Countess of Warwick, both of whom descended from King Edward III. Despite all these connections, written evidence relating to Anne is about scant as modern-day awareness of her existence.
She was born around 1456, possibly at Warwick Castle, and she may have spent her early years in Calais, where her father had been appointed Captain by the Lancastrian King, Henry VI. By 1459, however, the Earl of Warwick favoured the rival Yorkist family, and in 1461 his protégée was proclaimed Edward IV, with Warwick being deemed ‘the Kingmaker’ due to his role in the rise of the new king.
It is probable that the young Anne was present at the coronation of Edward IV, though where she spent the subsequent years is a mystery; it was known that the King’s youngest brother, Richard of Gloucester, was brought up and educated in the Warwick household, so that Anne and her elder sister, Isabel, were likely acquainted with him and his other brother, George, Duke of Clarence (who was second in line to the throne).
Warwick initially played a key role in the Royal Council, though his influence waned following Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville in 1464. Edward blocked plans for Isabel and Clarence to marry, though they defied this and married in 1469 in Calais, and Anne may have been present on this occasion.
Following this, Clarence and Warwick launched two unsuccessful attempts at overthrowing the King, the second of which resulted in them having to flee the country, along with the Countess of Warwick and her two daughters. The heavily-pregnant Isabel went into labour aboard the ship, and the baby was stillborn. At the age of 14, Anne had become the daughter of a declared traitor and was living in exile in France.
Warwick sought to form a new alliance with the Lancastrian King he had helped to displace, Henry VI, and his Queen, Margaret of Anjou. This would be cemented by a marriage between Anne and seventeen-year-old Prince Edward of Lancaster. Bolstered by this and support from the French king Warwick launched an invasion of England that resulted in Edward IV fleeing abroad and the reinstatement of the Lancastrians. Anne Neville and Prince Edward were married in France on 13 December 1470. Anne was now Princess of Wales.
By the time she and her husband crossed the Channel and arrived in England in 1471, Edward IV had invaded, Clarence had switched back to the Yorkists, and Warwick had been killed in battle. Moreover, Edward IV defeated the Lancastrian forces at Tewkesbury, and Prince Edward was killed in this, his first battle (and buried at Tewkesbury Abbey). Henry VI died in the Tower of London days later. The new Prince of Wales was Edward IV’s first son (the future Edward V) who had been born in sanctuary at Westminster Abbey.
Anne was placed in the custody of the Duke of Clarence, and she appears to have been concealed in some way by him. The nineteen-year-old Richard, Duke of Gloucester, sought her out and rescued her from his brother’s clutches, and took her to sanctuary at St-Martin-le-Grand in London. As a widow, she had the right to choose her husband. She chose Richard. This was not romance, it made sound political sense for both of them. He gained possession of Warwick’s lands in the North, whilst Clarence gained only those in the Midlands and the South (their mother, the Countess of Warwick was declared dead – even though she was still alive and would survive them all!). Anne and Richard were married, though the date was not recorded (it was possibly in 1472). Anne was now Duchess of Gloucester.
Little is known about their married life, though they would go on to have one son, another Edward, who was born at Middleham Castle, possibly in 1477. There is some issue as to whether Richard and Anne were ever legally married, given their close relations to one another both through common ancestry but also as brother- and sister-in-law, but this was something that did not cause too much concern at the time.
Her sister Isabel died (probably in childbirth) in 1476, and Clarence was executed at the Tower of London in 1478. More significantly, Edward IV died in 1483 and was succeeded by his young son, Edward V. Richard seized his nephew and escorted him to London. Anne was in the North at this time, but proceeded south to join her husband, who had been appointed as Lord Protector. Following the declaration that the children of Edward IV were illegitimate, Richard was offered the crown on 25 June. Anne was now Queen of England.
This was confirmed in a double coronation at Westminster Abbey, where Elizabeth Woodville was in sanctuary with her daughters. Her sons, the Princes in the Tower, disappeared, presumably murdered. Following his coronation, Richard went on a royal progress (tour) around his new kingdom, later to be joined by Anne, and the two were met by their son at York, where he was invested as Prince of Wales in a ceremony at York Minster. The following year, however, he died.
There is some debate about whether Richard was, during this time, seeking to annul his marriage to Anne in order to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York, but the former became unnecessary as Anne died aged twenty-eight in 1485 (not poisoned by her husband, as was rumoured), and the latter was flatly denied by Richard himself. He would be defeated at the Battle of Bosworth later that year by his Lancastrian rival, Henry Tudor, who then went on to marry Elizabeth himself.
Anne was buried in Westminster Abbey. First Princess of Wales, then Duchess of Gloucester, finally Queen of England. A most important lady, I think you’ll agree?
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The main source of information for this article is Michael Hicks ‘Anne Neville: Queen to Richard III’, available in libraries, bookshops and online (such as at Amazon)
All the photographs are from Wikipedia and are in the public domain
- Margaret Beaufort (historicalbritain.org)