Marriage and the Nevills – Anne Nevill and Richard Duke of Gloucester (updated)

Posted: April 12, 2010 in Anne Nevill, Duchess of Gloucester, Edward, Prince of Wales, Marriage & the Nevills, Richard, Duke of Gloucester/Richard III

This is a marriage about which a great deal has been said, written and speculated.  For the True Believer, there are some basic ‘facts’ that no-one wants to question.  It would be so easy just to go with the flow – the shared childhood, the cookshop, the bitter tears at the funeral – but quite apart from whether any of it’s even vaguely true, it’s not nearly so much fun as trying to work the angles, weasel out the probable from the improbable and coming up with something that’s real, believable and matches my own perceptions and perspective.

First, here are the things we don’t know:

•  how Anne felt about her first husband; how his death affected her;
•  when and where her marriage to Gloucester took place;
•  how and when the couple communicated before Anne’s complicit abduction (rescue?) to sanctuary;
•  which of them was the instigator of the plan;
•  just who might have been aware that not all the correct dispensations were acquired;
•  how they felt about each other;
•  whether Richard would have divorced her (he actually had fairly strong grounds for an annulment) and what (if any) relationship they might have had subsequently;
•  how much Anne was aware of any thoughts he might have had about divorce.

The things we do know:

•  at the time they married, it was a mutually beneficial plan and they both went into it with their eyes open;
•  at least until the death of their son, the marriage seems to have been successful;
•  their grief at their son’s death was profound, though how much of it was shared I’m not sure.

Looking at their respective ranks, Anne and Richard were a natural pairing. He was the king’s brother and she was the widow of the Prince of Wales, and Warwick’s daughter, with everything that came with that.  Richard might have eventually married a minor foreign noblewoman, but the Nevill wealth was far too tempting a prize to let slip.  The Nevill brothers weren’t attainted after Barnet, which was a lucky break for John’s widow and a bonanza for whoever got their hands on Warwick’s daughters.  George already had Isobel and I’m sure this was a factor in not only Richard’s decision making processes but also Anne’s.

The countess of Warwick was treated apallingly while she was in sanctuary after her husband’s death at Barnet. I don’t see her as an unwilling pawn of Warwick’s, dragged from pillar to post.  She was with her husband every step of the way, from good to bad to horrendous. She fought hard to retain her property, neither she nor her husband were attainted, there were no real legal grounds for her being dispossessed and, later, declared dead by Parliament. Her daughters’ complicity in her dispossession is clear.  To me that points to a couple of things:  the girls had shifted their loyalties entirely from their parents to their husbands; and they were a couple of opportunistic, status and wealth driven women – very much their father’s daughters!

Richard probably didn’t give much thought to Anne until she made first contact.  No doubt he was irritated that brother George had both the Nevill girls in his control, but I’m not sure that  I know, I’ll marry her! was his first thought.  Remarriage would very much have been on her mind and in her interests.  She needed a champion who could match George and Isobel; she needed someone of status and rank; she saw both of these things in Richard. Edward IV’s part in all this is intriguing.  Whatever might be said about the brothers’ relationship, Edward’s affection for George and Richard (at this point at least) can’t be denied.  He did some pretty shonky things in order to enrich them.  Despite his stated disapproval of George’s marriage to Isobel, he didn’t try too strenuously to stop it, and seems to have accepted it with fairly good grace in the end (but that’s a different post).

Despite claims from some that the difference in their ages would have meant they had very little to do with each other as children at Middleham, there can be no doubt that Anne and Richard were at least aware of each other’s existence. They were at the same table at Cawood for George Nevill’s enthronement feast, for instance. They might even have got on well, given the half-grown boy, little girl dynamic.  That doesn’t mean that they had any stronger feelings beyond a vague lopsided fondness.  He might have been the object of fluttery hero worship (I’ve been a young girl and I know how peculiarly their minds can work) but their future marriage doesn’t need to be foregrounded in any way.  They knew each other, they probably didn’t have any strong feelings of either affection or dislike. End of story.

Despite the strictures placed on the consummation of her first marriage, I think it’s possible that the hormones of the teenagers were hard to subdue. It makes it more interesting if Anne didn’t go to her second marriage a virgin.  It strengthens, for me, the likelihood that she had reasons other than I’ve already stated for wanting to be a wife once more.  I’m not sure how I see Edward PoW at this point. He’s as one dimensional in most fiction as a lot of the minor characters.  The whole “he likes to chop heads off” thing is usually quoted out of context and not in full.  There’s more to this boy than meets the eye.  I think her first marriage meant a lot to Anne, not least it being one in the eye for big sister. The relationship between the sisters isn’t known. They could well have loved each other dearly through thick and thin, or not been particularly good friends at all. It was probably somewhere in between these two, affected in some way by the conflict between their husbands.

Some pretty heavy negotiations between the brothers Clarence and Gloucester over control of their wives’ fortunes, led to an Act of Parliament in 1472  entrenching them as Isobel and Anne’s heirs. There was clearly some doubt as to the legality of the Gloucester’s marriage and the ‘divorce’ clause in Act is often interpreted as either giving Richard some wriggle room or as a compromise between him and Clarence.

And over that, it  is ordeyned by the seid auctorite that yf the seid duc of Gloucestr’ and Anne, hereafter be devorced, and after that he doo his effectuell diligence and contynuell devoir, by all convenient and laufull meanes, to be laufully maried to the seid Anne the doughter, and duryng the lyf of the same Anne be not wedded ne maried to any other woman: that yet the seid duke of Gloucestr’ shall have and enjoy asmoche of the premisses, as shall apperteigne to the seid Anne, duryng the lyf of the seid duke of Gloucestr’ (British History Online)

Reading this recently, I was left with the question: Who benefits? Clarence certainly doesn’t and neither, in isolation, does Gloucester. It strikes me that the person whose interests this best serves is Anne Nevill. If Clarence had succeeded in forcing an anulment, he couldn’t count on getting control of her share of the Warwick/Nevill estates, either by pressuring her to marry someone he could control or by seizing them himself. Richard couldn’t just sit on his hands and keep them, either. Nor could he remarry and keep them. I can’t see it being any kind of compromise between the brothers as it effectively renders pointless any attempt by Clarence to bring the Gloucesters’ marriage to an end. During the period between any potential divorce and remarriage, Anne’s property would be safely in the keeping of her ex-husband/husband-to-be. I’m left wondering just who came up with this.

Richard and Anne had one child, a son, Edward. His birth year isn’t known. He died suddenly shortly after Richard took the throne. Whatever their feelings for each other might have been, the death of their son was a watershed.  It blew the marriage out of the water (if I can be allowed the occasional mixed metaphor) however much they drew together at first.  This wasn’t just a much loved child who died, it was the sole hope that Richard had of a dynasty.  The countess and earl of Salisbury had ten surviving children; the duke and duchess of York had seven.  The granddaughter of one and the son of the other managed one between them. The sole male hope of the Nevills was John’s son George.  (That Alice, Alianor, Katheryn and Joan had sons meant nothing in this context; the existence of the young earl of Warwick hardly mattered; the duchess of Suffolk’s abundance of sons meant a little more, but had John de la Pole succeeded his uncle that would have been a whole nother kettle of fish.)

The marriage of the duke and duchess of Gloucester would seem, for the most part, to have been a successful one.  Whether they loved each other deeply or not, they suited each other in many ways.  Anne got the status and security she needed, Richard got the wealth and the reflected glory in the north of his late father-in-law.  Any thoughts he might have had about divorce (he was a childless king; he’d disinherited his brother’s children on the grounds of bastardy; his own marriage wasn’t quite as unchallengeable as he might have liked) need not imply that he didn’t care about her.  Business, as they say, is business.  Anne would have thought very differently about it, but her death overtook events and, in the end, that was one humiliation she didn’t have to face.

I think Richard did quietly grieve for his queen when she died – for lost opportunities; for the support she surely was to him in the turbulence of his reign; for their son, both her hope and his of immortality; and for the strength of mind and personality she must have had in order to instigate their marriage and pave the way for him to rule so successfully, as duke of Gloucester, in the Nevill heartland.

A marriage that evolves, changes from pragmatic considerations, to a strong sense of shared purpose, if not love, to grief and breakdown and almost to divorce is a far more interesting proposition than dewy eyed youngsters, adoring each other since childhood.  I’ll leave that for the Suffolks, they deserve it far more than anyone else.

I am much indebted to Michael Hicks and would recommend his biography of Anne Nevill, though with some caution. He occasionally sensationalises when he needn’t and the book is, of necessity, rather threadbare in places. We know so little about Anne’s life that much of the book is conjecture, extrapolated from the lives of women of similar rank. It does shine a little light into some dark corners, if it is read, as I say, with caution.

  1. paulalofting says:

    Brilliant piece of work Karen. Your highly intellectual study of the Nevilles and this period of history is second to none. Your work is thoroughly absorbing and image evoking and I’m definitley following this regularly now.

  2. Wow – that’s an impressive post – thank you for sharing it.

  3. Kathleen Hestand says:

    I’ve read the Michael Hicks book, and I must say it was an eye opener as far as the legal matters behind their marriage went. Doesn’t sound like the stuff of current pro-Yorkist fiction fairy tales, does it? As you say, it doesn’t mean that they didn’t have some affection for one another, just that this had nothing to do with their decision to marry. It would only have been seen as a convenient bonus in those days. I am very interested in whether or not they became estranged in some way after their son’s death. Many modern day marriages can end in divorce after something like this, and in their situation it was devastating on many levels as you described. So glad I saw this post!

    • anevillfeast says:

      Thanks, Kathleen. The time between their son’s death and Anne’s was relatively short. Croyland reports they were still sleeping together after their son’s death. This stopped, of course, when it was clear Anne was really ill. They probably didn’t give up hope of another child until the very end.

  4. Out of interest why wouldn’t Anne and Richard’s marriage be legal. Her first husband was dead. Was it because they were cousins and needed a dispensation from the Pope?> Did they not have one and did George and Isabel as they were surely in the same situation ?

    • anevillfeast says:

      Two possible reasons, Jayne. There was the question of the possible ‘abduction’, which would render their marriage invalid. This was designed to stop heiresses being genuinely abducted and forced into marriage. Even with Anne’s consent or collusion, if Richard carried her away from the Clarence’s house to St Martin’s sanctuary (which is a distinct possibility, we know she was there) the marriage could be challenged on those grounds.
      The second possible reason is a bit more hazy. Until recently, it was assumed that they never got the right Papal dispensations, but the more important one has since shown up. Hicks says they needed another one for their brother/sister relationship, since Anne’s sister was married to Richard’s brother. Other people have disputed the need for this at all. And recently someone suggested to me (on another forum) that Warwick had already got the relevant dispensations when he was hoping for a marriage between them. He might well have, though there’s no mention of them at the time he was arranging dispensations for Isobel and George. If he did, they were no longer needed after Anne’s marriage to the Prince of Wales, so I doubt he hung onto them. Warwick’s will hasn’t been found and there are precious few papers and letters. If there was some kind of wholesale clear out at any point, a putative dispensation for Anne and Richard would have been ditched as well.

  5. 1karla says:

    In these days people often forget that people didn’t marry just for love until recently(with the exception of Edward IV & Henry VIII and we all know what trouble that caused). My grandparents married in 1917, and my grandfaher told me that he met her while iceskating, liked her, but first asked around about her family’s wealth before starting to date her. Which was normal procedure among rich farmers in Friesland. Money married money, land married land.

    • anevillfeast says:

      Hi 1karla. Widows sometimes married for love, but Anne wasn’t in that position. When I read letters of married couples, or their wills, there’s often evidence of some level of fondness that’s developed over the years. I think people hoped, or even expected, that they’d come to some kind of love in marriage, but that’s not how it usually started out, no.
      My grandparents met towards the end of WW! as well. She was in the WRAF and he was in the RAF, both at the same base for a time. I think he was in the process of being demobbed. She was a typist. As he was to carry her off to the wilds of Scotland, I’d say her parents asked him some pretty sharp questions about his livelihood. Not rich, by any means, but he had inherited his uncle’s jewellers shop and had a solid trade behind him. And there’s a woman in our village, married nearly 50 years now, whose father refused to give his blessing for her marriage until her husband-to-be built her a house! Very sensible.

  6. People didn’t marry for love until very recently, since approx. 1900. People in the Middle Ages didn’t think love was necessary to marry, they thought more in terms of compatibility in terms of assets and this sort of thing. It doesn’t make sense to judge Richard and Anne’s marriage by 20th century standards-

  7. Dawn Likha says:

    Reblogged this on A Passion for History and commented:
    For all people who wish to learn more about Richard III and Anne Neville’s marriage but wouldn’t mind if it’s not from a legit, proper historian, I would definitely recommend that you read this article by anevillfeast 🙂

  8. If I’m understanding this correctly (I have no practice in reading Middle English without the translation being in front of me, and my last history lesson was 25 years ago), then in the event of a divorce, Richard retained a life interest in Anne’s property so long as they both remained unmarried.
    I have read elsewhere that his interest in some of his property reverted to life interest on the death of George Neville.
    Presumably therefore these were two different sets of lands? I know the Neville daughters had claim to the Neville lands through their father and the Warwick lands through their mother, but my understanding was most of their father’s lands went to Clarence?
    I’m more than happy to be corrected in false understandings, or pointed at sources (never managed to get hold of Hicks and had to give Ross back to the library almost unread).

    • anevillfeast says:

      Hi, whiteroseofyork. The ‘divorce’ clause seems to cause some confusion. From my reading, it was included in order to deal with any difficulties there might have been in Anne and Richard’s marriage. It wasn’t there to allow Richard to walk away from Anne with control over her property in his pockets. If the marriage was challenged and annulled, Richard would have custody of Anne’s lands until either of them married, or until they remarried properly. It seems to me this was a way of protecting Anne’s interests and, possibly, preventing Clarence swooping in in the event he successfully challenged the legality of the marriage.
      I’m not as sound on mediaeval property law as I’d like to be – I’m still waiting for someone to write a book called “Mediaeval Words about Owning Stuff’, but it hasn’t happened yet.
      John Nevill’s son, George, would have inherited those parts of the Nevill property that could only be inherited by a male. All other property, including their mother’s, was evenly split between Anne and Isobel – as was custom. Oldest sons (or in this case, nephews) inherited entailed property, and that inherited by daughters (or nieces) was evenly divided between them. As their mother wasn’t actually dead – only declared ‘as if dead’ in parliament – it seems they were working on the presumption she inherited her husband’s property on his death. (Perhaps his will was swiftly proved, but we know nothing about that.) Clarence and Isobel were based at Warwick, Gloucester and Anne at Middleham, which is suggestive of the way things were split. I’m sure there’s a list of who got what somewhere.

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