Archive for March, 2010

Ladybird books – Warwick the Kingmaker.

It’s got to be the definitive biography.

The lord only knows how long it’ll take to get here, but I’m salivating already.

I’m going to put it on my shelf, right next to Hicks.

The K Word

Posted: March 28, 2010 in Richard Nevill, Earl of Warwick

Kingmaker – it’s such a cool title,  just the kind of thing you might have on your business card, especially if you’re the original and the best.

Richard Nevill
Erle of Warrewyk
since 1461

And for a man who collected titles – after his father’s death, he styled himself Earl of Warwick and Salisbury – it might have been irresistible.

Except the word doesn’t enter the language until 1599  (see OED).  There’s an earlier recorded use (1520) of something similar and, of course, Shakespeare’s “setter up and plucker down of kings”, but even these are hardly contemporary.

There’s a list of literary shortcuts that readers of WOR fiction regularly come across:  Elizabeth Wydeville’s greed and hauteur; Clarence’s reckless drunkenness; Margaret of Anjou’s (alleged) adultery, spite and vindictiveness; Edward IV’s womanising; Cecily Nevill’s pride and piety; Richard III’s (v1) hunchbacked evil and (v2) steadfast love and loyalty; the torn loyalties of John Nevill; the saintly incompetence of Henry VI; the earl of Rutland’s murdered innocence; Anne and Isobel Nevill, the political pawns; Thomas Stanley’s double dealing and opportunism…

Each of them is someone’s pet peeve – the straw that breaks the camel’s back and makes the reader hurl the book at a wall.  For others, they’re not even noticed and for yet others, they’re exactly what they expected to find.  And it’s true what they say:  you can’t please everyone.

In the end, every writer has decisions to make.  If Nevill ever gets finished, let alone published, it’ll no doubt be hurled at several walls by people who feel that I’ve violated one of their most deeply held beliefs.   But you won’t find kingmaker in the text.

(I recently read one novel in which Warwick bellows: “I am the Kingmaker!”  This was the catalyst for Nevill.  Even in the darkest depths of pet-peevery a light can still shine.)

The sons in law of the countess and earl of Salisbury are an interesting bunch of guys.  In some small way, they represent a cross-section of the nobility of the time – of loyalties and partisanship.  My interest in the Wars of the Roses, and the Nevills in particular, has been pretty much lifelong and there’s no sign that that’s going to change.  Until I started my current project, my focus had always been on the major players.  Now that I’m starting to take a good hard look at some of the other people involved, I’m finding it even more fascinating.  One of the things that’s surprised me is that, given the available evidence, the Nevills seem to have had pretty successful marriages, though with some the information is very scant.
Alice was one of the middle children.  Her position in the family isn’t all that clear – some sources suggest she was born in the 1440s, others that she born in 1429 or 30.  As she had her first child in 1448, I’ve slotted her into the family between Thomas and John*.  Lord Henry Fitzhugh was about the same age.
He lived just up the road from Middleham at Ravensworth Castle – about 27 km (16 miles).  There were close connections between the two families – Henry was one of Salisbury’s retainers (later Warwick’s) and it’s more than probable that Alice and Henry knew each other all their lives.
After Joan Nevll’s marriage to William Fitzalan, earl of Arundel, the supply of titled spouses seems to have dried up and the Salisburys had to set their sights lower for their younger children.  Margaret, the youngest child, did end up with an earl, but neither Thomas nor John had the good fortune of their father and brother, Katheryn’s first husband was a lord and Alianor** married a mere knight.
Between 1448 and 1465, Alice and Henry had ten children – five boys and five girls.  Anne married her father’s ward, Francis Lovell, and Richard fought at Bosworth but soon made his peace with the new regime and became Henry Tudor’s lieutenant in the north.  Henry Fitzhugh died in 1472.  Alice never remarried.  It’s not known for certain where he was buried or whether Alice was buried with him when she died in 1503.  She probably was, and they possibly lay together at Jervaulx Abbey, the burial choice for those Fitzhughs who didn’t manage to get their bodies transported to the Holy Land!
Henry had a tough time of it during the Wars.  He wasn’t with the Yorkist lords at first St Albans.  Though there’s no clear cut evidence he took the field, he was with Henry VI’s army at Wakefield.  Whatever his political views, it can’t have been easy for him witnessing the deaths of his father in law and two brothers in law (Thomas Nevill and Katheryn’s young husband, William lord Harrington).  While again at second St Albans and Towton there’s no record of him taking the field, he was still in Henry VI’s army.  He may have kept himself out of things or been kept out to prevent him changing sides.   After the Yorkist victory at Towton, he made his way to Edward IV and pledged his loyalty.  I suspect he stopped by his brother in law first and made a more personal, binding pledge to him – when Warwick rebelled, Fitzhugh was with him almost all the way.
During these difficult times, Henry managed to spend some time at home with his wife, as there was a son born in both 1459 and 1461.  It’s quite possible that Henry was the one who broke the news to her of the disaster at Wakefield.
Henry fought at Empingham on his brother in law’s side, fled to Scotland after the defeat, was pardoned (along with Alice, their children and their wards, the Lovells) and came home.  He seems to have fled to Burgundy at some point, but I need to find out a bit more about that.  Anyway, there was a second pardon and Henry came home again.
In 1471, he fought at neither Barnet nor Tewkesbury.  As he died the following year, he may have already been too sick to travel.
Alice and Henry were married for twenty seven years.  Alice was a widow for thirty.  As there’s no record of his will, we don’t know whether it was simply her choice not to remarry or if Henry left conditions that made the prospect difficult.  All of her children were born at Ravensworth and she lived there throughout her marriage, though in widowhood she lived, probably with her daughter Anne, at West Tanfield.  I like to think of Alice and Henry building a strong marriage on the basis of a shared childhood, a deep love of Ravensworth, Wensleydale and Yorkshire; weathering the storms that buffeted them and destroyed a good many of their family; taking comfort in each other in the bad times and joy in the good.
* Since writing this blog, I’ve had a rethink about ages. If Alice was around 18 when her first chid was born in 1443, she’d have had to be a twin of either John or Thomas. Otherwise, she was probably born between George and Alianor, which would make her 14 when her daughter was born. This would make Henry some four years older than her. This doesn’t conform to what would seem to have been Nevill family policy (not exposing their daughters to pregnancy and childbirth until their late teens), for which I have no explanation but an ocean of speculation!
**Spelling choice based on signatures.

Welcome to my very first Nevill blog.  I’m currently working on a novel (a Nevill novel) called Nevill (which makes me a Nevillist novellist, hopefuly), and as and when things come up in my research that I find interesting, I’ll share them.

The Great Nevill Feast was held at Cawood Castle near York to celebrate the enthronement of George Nevill as Archbishop of York in September 1465.

It lasted for days and they ate a whole lot of food – I won’t reproduce the list here, but someone took the time and trouble many years ago to jot down a comprehensive inventory of walking, flying, swimming and scuttling creatures all sacrificed to the glory of God (or Nevill, which I’m pretty sure came to the same thing at the time).

And that is more or less all that anyone out there in the interscape knows or cares about.  It is my mission to set this straight.

A couple of vegetarian websites* even use it to suggest that mediaeval households were bereft of vegetables.  This isn’t true.  Even if there were no veggies or fruit on the list, doesn’t mean there were none on the tables.  Most would have come from Nevill farms – and there were plenty of them.  Rather than writing out a shopping list, the chefs and stewards would simply have ordered up everything that was available at the time of year and used whatever arrived in the kitchens.

(*quick disclaimer – I have no beef with vegetarians, we are each entitled to eat what we will (only no-one’s allowed to eat swans anymore except the queen (even sick swans in the Orkneys.)))

A Boke of Gode Cookery certainly contains plenty of fruit and vegetable recipes.

The feast is used again and again in historical fiction to illustrate the excesses of the Nevills.  Ok, so there was some oneupmanship going on here – a point seems to have been made to hold a feast bigger and grander than Edward IV’s coronation feast.  George’s brother, Richard earl of Warwick, was definitely trying to make a point – he had more money than the king.  Actually, he had more money than God, but I’ve found nothing in my research to suggest there was any kind of tension between Warwick and the Almighty.

But it was also very much a family thing.  There were more than two thousand people in attendance and not all of them were related, but a significant number were.  All the important roles were played by either Nevills or their close adherents.

It wasn’t so much of a slap in the face for Edward IV that he prevented his brothers, sisters, brother in law and closest friend from attending.  The king and his siblings were Nevills through their mother, after all, so a family event of this nature and magnitude was always going to include them.  All of Warwick’s surviving sisters were there with their husbands as was their mother’s erstwhile stepmother, the dowager duchess of Suffolk.

Getting back to the list of proteins… (an out of context list can be found here.)

Divide all that by 2000 people, then divide by a further 6 days – possibly 7 (some days there would have been 2 meals, others probably only one) and you get a far more manageable amount of food.  Ok, so everyone got 2 rabbits, half a sheep and a goose, but only one third of a fish, a quarter of a partridge and 1 hot custard.  Begins to sound a little less excessive and a bit more like generous hospitality.

All leftovers would have been put into alms vessels and distributed.

And, as I said, the man had more money than anyone in the known universe – all he was doing was funneling it back into the economy…

What would you do if your brother was enthroned as Archbishop of York?  A congratulatory twitter would probably be a bit mean spirited – the least you could do is shout him dinner at the local Chinese.