In 1420, Richard Nevill, oldest son of the earl of Westmorland and Joan Beaufort, married Alice Montacute, only child of the earl and countess of Salisbury. He was either 20 or 21 and she was 14. This was only one of a string of fortuitous marriages contracted for their children by Ralph Nevill and his second wife. (He had a number of children with his first wife, but as they are the Wrong Nevills, they’re probably not going to loom very large in my consciousness.) Anne married Humphrey Stafford, duke of Buckingham, Eleanor married Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland, William married Joan Fauconberg and Cecily married Richard duke of York.
Between c 1423 and c 1444 Richard and Alice had 10 surviving children, four sons and six daughters. There is some speculation that their daughter Cecily and oldest son Richard may have been twins. There also might have been twins in the bottleneck between 1428 and 1431 when Thomas, Alice (later Fitzhugh) and John were born, but none of this is recorded.
Alice’s father, Thomas Montacute, died in 1428 and she inherited his title, which her husband held in her right. She inherited estates in Berkshire, Wiltshire and Hampshire, and at Bisham, site of the Montacute, and later Nevill, family mausoleum.
The earl of Salisbury had one acknowledged illegitimate son, Thomas, who may have been born prior to or in the early years of their marriage. There is no basis for this suggestion except that he was the only bastard Salisbury acknowledged and that he was at least as old as their oldest legitimate son, Richard earl of Warwick. He seems to have been under Warwick’s command, certainly after their father’s death, and was killed at the battle of Ferrybridge in 1461. Just one more in the long list of Nevills killed in or in the immediate aftermath of battle.
The Salisbury’s first child (probably Joan, though some sources say Cecily) was born c 1423 when Richard was 23 and Alice was 17. They would have been 44 and 37 respectively when their last child, Margaret, was born in 1444.
If there were any twins in the family, it wasn’t of sufficient importance to be recorded anywhere, especially as both sets would have consisted of a boy and a girl, and therefore not significant in matters of potential disputed inheritance.
The Salisburys owned property in both the south and north of England but seemed to have spent most of their married life in Yorkshire. For large stretches of his adult life, Salisbury held the wardenship of the west March, as his older sons did later, and Alice seems to have lived mainly at Middleham and Sheriff Hutton.
In the 1459 Parliament of Devils, Alice was the only woman included in the attainders of her husband, sons, brother-in-law York and others and was forced to leave the country. There is no clue in the Parliamentary Rolls (or anywhere else) as to Alice’s specific treasonous acts:
And forasmoch as Aleyse the wyf of the seid Richard erle of Salesbury, the first day of August, the yere of youre moost noble reigne xxxvij at Middleham in youre shire of York… falsely and traiterously ymagyned and compassed the deth and fynall destruccion of you, soverayne lord; and in accomplisshment and executyng therof, the seid Aleise, at Middleham aforeseid the seid first day of August… traterously labored, abetted, procured, stered and provoked the seid duc of York, and the seid erles of Warrewyk and Salesbury, to doo the seid tresons, rebellions, gaderynges, ridynges and reryng of werre ayenst youre moost roiall persone, at the seid toune of Blore and Ludeford: to ordeyne and establissh, by the seid auctorite, that the same Aliese… for the same be reputed, taken, demed, adjugged and atteinted of high treson.
Included with the charge against Alice were William Oldhall and Thomas Vaughan, though their labouring, stirring and provoking was done in London, not in Yorkshire.
Alice may have been with the Yorkist party at Ludford and gone with York to Ireland, or she may have made her own way there later. All the other wives were excluded from the attainder and allowance was made for them to keep their jointures, except the duchess of York, who had none, but was granted an annuity.
When Warwick went to Ireland to confer with the duke, he brought his mother back with him to Calais where she was reunited with her husband.
Alice spent Christmas 1460 in London, perhaps with her daughters-in-law, Maud Stanhope and Isobel Ingoldisthorpe. We can only imagine her distress when news of the deaths of her husband, son, nephew, son-in-law and brother-in-law reached her.
Alice died in 1462 and was buried, along with her husband and son, Thomas, with great ceremony at Bisham. She may have been the only woman attainted during the Wars of the Roses, but she was by no means the only women involved in the political lives of their husbands. While some of them seemed to have kept well in the background, fulfilling their more traditional roles as wives and mothers, others – Cecily Nevill, Alice Fitzhugh and Alice Montacute – were in it up to their necks. The countess of Salisbury was the only one who suffered the same penalty as her husband.
Update: In May 1461, the widowed countess of Salisbury sought legal redress against sir William Plumpton in the matter of her husband’s death. He had been found to be responsible (with others, chiefly connected with the earl of Northumberland). He was “bound over in another £1,000 to await the award of her and her three surviving sons’. He was some time after this rehabilitated by Warwick. [Pollard, Warwick the Kingmaker, p117)