As more information as come to light, this post has been quite seriously updated. (Though I have also updated it with the odd edit.)
My story of the Nevills begins with the attack at Heworth on the wedding party of Maud Stanhope and Thomas Nevill by the Percies in August 1453. It wasn’t the opening salvo in the Wars of the Roses as has been suggested, but that event, one of a number of examples of bad behaviour (both on the part of the younger Percies and John and Thomas Nevill), did help to establish the seeds of opposition on a wider, national stage. It also allows the reader’s first view of the family to be through the eyes of an incomer – weddings are very useful for that.
Maud was the neice and co-heir (with her sister Joan) of Ralph lord Cromwell. There is apparently an article about the Stanhope sisters in The Journal of Prosopography, rumoured to be available online, but hunt as I might, I have yet to track it down. As any other information about her is scant, I have a desperate burning need to find it! Thomas Nevill is almost as obscure as his wife. If it hadn’t been for that attack, and the subsequent fining of Thomas Percy lord Egremont, we’d know even less. (Update: I found this article!)
In 1448/9, Maud married Robert lord Willoughby, who was somewhere in his sixties. She was in her early 20s, which makes her a few years older than her second husband. The Willoughbys had no children. Maud was a member of the household of the duchess of Gloucester (Eleanor Cobham) before her arrest. During her years with the duchess, she enjoyed a friendship with Thomas Nevill’s uncle, William lord Fauconberg, and may have known her eventual second husband, Gervase Clyfton, who was the duke of Gloucester’s Treasurer.
Cromwell was the instigator of the match, needing the support of the Nevills in his ongoing dispute with the duke of Exeter over property at Ampthill in Bedfordshire. The wedding took place at Tattershall Castle and, stoutly escorted by well-armed and well-trained retainers, the newlyweds set off north to York and Sheriff Hutton. (In order to not terminally confuse my reader, I have shifted some action to Middleham Castle. I do it here principally because they’re not at SH long before heading for MC, which was the family’s main base in the north.)
This attack, though there were no reports of serious casualties, seems to have shaken the earl of Salisbury into taking action. He sent for his oldest son, who was on his way back from Wales where he was himself involved in a bitter property dispute with the duke of Somerset. Diverted north by his father’s urgent summons, Warwick was at Middleham in record time. The Nevill men, along with retainers and close family connections Fitzhugh and Scrope of Bolton, then headed out to the village of Sandhutton where there was some kind of standoff with the earl of Northumberland (nearby in Topcliffe House), which resulted in a temporary truce between the two families and Thomas returning safely home to his bride.
A hell of an introduction to her new family!
We have no idea, of course, whether Maud and her first husband had a full and satisfying sex life, but I like to think of the young and virile Thomas as somewhat of a revelation. With only a sister of her own, the at least five half and fully grown Nevills in her new home might have overwhelmed her. With a sister-in-law and her growing brood just up the road, Maud’s time at Middleham would have been full of noise and warmth, and not a little drama. Having four years of married life behind her, and the responsibilities that went with that, the redoubtable and energetic countess of Salisbury might not have overawed her as perhaps she later did young Isobel Ingoldisthorpe.
From what I can work out, Thomas and Maud lived for a time at one of Cromwell’s estates in Nottinghamshire, though during his time as Salisbury and Warwick’s lieutenant in the Marches, she might have based herself further north, at Carlisle Castle. As they were childless, we don’t have the birthdates/places of children to help us track their movements. Gervase Clyfton, Maud’s eventual third husband, lived not far away in Clifton Hall. It might have been a house Maud brought to the marriage, or part of their jointure. At some point before 1459, Maud secured her dower property at Eresby.
In the first year of their marriage, Thomas, along with his brother John, spent a great deal of his time chasing Egremont and his brother Richard around Yorkshire, eventually catching up with them near Stamford. John, who seems to have been the driving force in the troubles, was with him when the Percy brothers were captured, taken to Middleham then later to York for judgement. Egremont was given an extortionate fine for his attack on the Nevills and, because there was no way he could afford to pay it, sent to Newgate prison in London from where he later escaped. The seeds of the quarrel would seem to have been sown in the Marches, where the earl of Northumberland (Egremont’s father and Salisbury’s brother-in-law) rode into the west March without giving Salisbury notice. The younger sons quickly took up and escalated the conflict, with various Nevill supporters being harrassed, captured and assaulted by the Percies, and both Catton House and Topcliffe being attacked by John Nevill, who at one point threatened to hang every tenant he could get his hands on unless they handed Egremont over to him. Sounds to me a bit like four young men with way too much energy and far more time on their hands than was good for them.
After first St Albans, Thomas was given a number of lucrative posts, including joint Chamberlain of the Exchequor and joint Keeper of the Royal Mews (with his father).
Whether their childlessness put a strain on the marriage, I don’t know, but it must have been difficult for them. As unsuccessful pregnancies, stillbirths and even, in many cases, the birth of children who didn’t survive to be christened often went unrecorded, it’s impossible to say whether their infertility was absolute or not. Maud’s third marriage was also childless.
In 1459, after the battle of Blore Heath, Thomas and John Nevill were captured and imprisoned in Chester Castle. Some reports suggest they got carried away in the rout and stumbled into the enemy; others that one of them was wounded and they were captured while seeking help. They remained in captivity until the return to England of the Calais earls the following year. Everyone knows where Cecily duchess of York was during this time, the countess of Warwick was in Calais and the countess of Salisbury was first in Ireland then in Calais, but where Maud was (or for that matter Isobel Ingoldisthorpe) isn’t recorded. She was probably at home in Rolleston worried sick about her husband, her own future and the rest of the family. The news of Alice Montacute’s attainder must have been a shock for all the Nevill women, suddenly their gender no longer gave them immunity from the consequences of political action. Maud’s activities in this area, as in just about all others, are unknown. Her choice of third husband doesn’t seem to have been predicated on political grounds and her very absence from the story at this point would seem to suggest she kept well out of things.
Thomas and John were released after the battle of Northampton in July 1460. York and the Nevills immediately took up the reins of government once again. There would have been time and opportunity for Maud to reunite with her husband, either in London or Nottinghamshire, but their remaining time together was brief.
On 30 December 1460, Thomas was killed, along with his father, uncle, cousin and brother-in-law, near Sandal Castle. Maud was possibly in London with the rest of the family for Christmas. She would have returned to Rolleston at some point, losing not only her husband but the family that she’d been part of for seven years. In August 1461, she married for a third time. It is likely that she already knew Gervase Clyfton. He had been married twice before and had at least one child. Maud would have been not quite thirty when they married. She didn’t attend the Nevill funeral at Bisham.
Clyfton was a Lancastrian who was several times exposed to charges of treason. In an attempt to keep him safe from threats of forfeiture, and under some considerable pressure, Maud surrendered her inheritance to the crown. Clyfton fought at the battle of Tewkesbury, after which he was captured and executed. I have yet to find any record of Maud receiving an annuity. (Since writing this, I have found out quite a lot about the Stanhope/Clifton marriage.)
She died on 30 August 1497 having lived in the reigns of four kings. Maud spent the last twenty six years of her life in or around Tattershall. A widow for the third time before she was forty, she didn’t remarry after Clifton’s death. Her future must have looked so promising on that day in August 1453, riding behind her young second husband, surrounded by the might of the Nevills. She outlived just about all of them, only Katheryn Hastings, Margaret countess of Oxford and Alice Fitzhugh remained. If she had a good relationship with her stepchild, there might have been grandchildren to comfort her, but apart from that, all that would have remained were the memories of a turbulent life.