Richard Nevill and Anne Beauchamp were betrothed in 1434 when he was 6 and she was 9. Two years later, in a double ceremony shared with her brother Henry and his sister Cecily, they were married. As brother- and sister-in-law had the same relationship in the eyes of the church as a brother and sister, a double wedding was the only way to get around the need for a dispensation, which was probably the main reason it took place when the pair were so young.
They didn’t live in the same household, however, and as the marriage may well have been carried out by proxies, they might not even have met each other at this point.
On the death of their father, Henry Beauchamp became duke of Warwick. (The original rank was an earldom, and it was to this it reverted when Henry died, leaving his young daughter briefly his heir.) Cecily and Henry had one child, Anne, who died in 1449.
The elder Anne, as Henry’s full sister, succeeded him, though her older half sisters disputed her claim for some years. Warwick, as much in an attempt to keep the earldom and the wealth of both the Beauchamps and the Despensers (Anne’s mother’s family) for himself as for the benefit of his wife, defended her claim with vigour and determination.
One of Anne’s half sisters, Eleanor, was married to Edmund Beaufort duke of Somerset; another was married to the earl of Shrewsbury. This property dispute was the genesis of Warwick’s long term quarrel with Somerset, which was something he shared with his uncle, Richard duke of York, and helped to bring them into alliance.
Young Warwick served, alongside his father the earl of Salisbury, in the west March towards Scotland and it was here, some time before 1450, that his illegitimate daughter Margaret was born, probably in or near Carlisle. Her mother is unknown. (I’ve worked out the latest likely year of Margaret’s birth based on her marriage year of 1464, but she may have been born some time before this.)
On succeeding to the Warwick title, Richard and Anne took up residence in Warwick Castle. They owned a great deal of other property almost the length of England.
In September 1451, their daughter Isobel was born.
In 1455, after the first battle of St Albans, Warwick was named Captain of Calais. Unlike previous incumbents, he made the decision to take up residence there, his wife and infant daughter with him. This could be an indication that the couple were close, though a more cynical mind might suggest that Warwick was loathe to waste the countess’s childbearing years. If that was the case, his confidence was misplaced, as he and Anne had only one more child, another daughter, named for her mother, in June 1456. An entry in the Warwick household accounts mentions a dispensation for the countess to have eggs during lent due to ‘childbirth’. As the entry is dated neither 1451 nor 1456, she may well have had an unsuccessful pregnancy or a still birth at this time.
Isobel and Anne spent a good part of their childhoods in Calais, where they would have witnessed first hand the affect and benefit of their father’s power and privilege. Popular fiction often portrays the sisters as quiet and timorous, foregrounding both their early deaths and the seemingly entrenched view that they were pawns in their father’s game. The countess of Warwick is often similarly portrayed. I can’t quite see this, myself. As daughters of the premier earl of England, who – through his wife – was also the richest man in England, they would have been very aware of their high status. Add to this the popularity their father enjoyed, his closeness to the duke of York and his own family’s status, particularly in Yorkshire, and you get a very different picture of Isobel and Anne.
The sisters would have been brought up to know that they were destined to marry well. Perhaps their parents shared their choices with them, though Warwick was known to be a quick thinker on his feet and Anne’s first marriage, to Edward Prince of Wales, was negotiated and concluded so quickly that there doesn’t seem to have been much time for discussion.
At the end of 1460, the Nevills suffered great loss with the deaths of Salisbury, York, Thomas Nevill, Edmund earl of Rutland and Katheryn’s young husband William Bonville at the battle of Wakefield. Shortly after that, Warwick suffered defeat at the second battle of St Albans, though Margaret of Anjou didn’t take advantage of her victory and Warwick was able to secure London. When news came of Edward’s (duke of York since his father’s death) victory at Mortimer’s Cross, Warwick and his brother George, archbishop of York and chancellor of England, began to consider promoting Edward as the next king. George delivered a sermon at Paul’s Cross, the subject of which was Edward’s right to the crown. (I haven’t accessed a copy of this sermon to date, but I am working on it.)
In the early years of the reign of Edward IV, Warwick spent a great deal of his time, along with his younger brother, John, in defending and liberating the northern castles of Alnwick, Dunstanburgh and Bamburgh. Based in Warkworth, Warwick made the long round trip each day to resupply the castles, which changed hands several times over the next few years. During this time, the countess and their children based themselves at Middleham castle.
Alice Montacute, countess of Salisbury, died in 1462. She was buried at Bisham, the Montacute family mausoleum, along with her husband and son, Thomas, whose bodies were moved from their burial place at Pontefract. The funeral was quite lavish, though somewhat hurriedly organised. Thomas’s widow, Maud Stanhope (now remarried), didn’t attend, nor did the countess of Warwick or her daughters. There may not have been sufficient time for them to get there.
From 1464, relations between Warwick and the king began to deteriorate, Warwick withdrew to his estates and the girls would have seen far more of their father than they were used to. The countess was nearing forty, and any hope of more children, and for Warwick more specifically a son, were fading. In a family where bastards were not just acknowledged but drawn fairly close (both Salisbury’s and Fauconberg’s Thomases lived and died for the family cause), even an illegitimate son would have been welcome, but Warwick’s one slip had resulted in a daughter, Margaret.
Though there’s no evidence of more direct political activity, during the years of Warwick’s rebellion the countess remained very much by his side. She was there when her daughter, Isobel, married George duke of Clarence against his brother’s wishes. (Though Edward does seem to have forgiven that fairly quickly. His mother was sent to Canterbury probably in an attempt to talk George out of it, but may well have actually attended the wedding.)
Warwick’s attempted coup in 1469/70, with Clarence as his alternate king, failed and the family were forced to flee to Calais. Warwick collected his wife and daughters, Isobel now eighteen and heavily pregnant, from Warwick castle and they made for Sandwich. John Wenlock, long loyal to Warwick, refused him entry to Calais harbour and later sent him a secret message warning him away. Isobel, no doubt under extreme stress, gave birth on the ship. The child (who doesn’t seem to have been given a name) didn’t survive and was buried at sea. Some writers, misreading the sources, say that the child was a girl named Anne, but most agree that it was a little boy. Isobel and George’s distress can only be imagined. The countess, known for her skills in childbirth, would have taken charge, thirteen year old Anne assisting as and when she could. This must have been a very bleak time for the family.
For Warwick however, ‘bleak’ was always a temporary state of affairs. Ditching the Clarence plan without a backward glance, he made his way to France and, through Louis XI, brokered a deal with Margaret of Anjou. He would back Henry VI’s return to the English throne. In order to seal the deal, a marriage was arranged between his younger daughter, Anne, and Henry’s son, Edward Prince of Wales. The countess and her daughters were guests of the queen of France while final preparations and plans were being laid.
Anne and Edward were married in December 1470. Margaret had stipulated that consummation of the marriage be delayed, but both Anne’s parents would have stressed to her how much her future, as Edward’s wife and potentially queen of England, rested on that event. Should Margaret’s no doubt very real doubts as to Warwick’s trustworthiness prove founded, the marriage would have been in real danger of annulment. I’d back the determination of a young woman against the resolve of a seventeen year old boy any day of the week, however closely watched they were.
Meanwhile, Warwick and Clarence had returned to England, freed Henry VI from his imprisonment and had him hastily crowned. Edward, caught between Warwick and his brother John, was forced to flee to Flanders with his brother, Richard duke of Gloucester, William Hastings and others.
Edward returned and made several attempts to bring an end to the situation, including offering one last chance of pardon to both Warwick and Clarence. Warwick refused, but in the end Clarence was worn down and returned to his brother’s side. Warwick and Edward met in battle at Barnet in April 1471. Both Warwick and his brother John were killed. They were buried at Bisham.
On the day of the battle, the countess of Warwick landed at Sandwich. Upon hearing the news of her husband’s death, and fearing for her own safety, she took to sanctuary.
Margaret and her forces, long delayed, were met at Tewkesbury by Edward, Gloucester and Hastings, fresh from their victory at Barnet. Here her son was killed, and all of Margaret’s hopes were dashed. Anne, now a young widow, was sent to the custody of her sister, the duchess of Clarence. With the countess in parliament declared as good as dead, the Beauchamp, Nevill and Despenser fortunes were in the hands of the Clarences. Anne brokered a deal with the young duke of Gloucester, which resulted in their marriage and a good part of the disputed property in his hands.
Despite several attempts, the countess was not allowed to leave sanctuary. This had very little to do with any threat she might have posed to Edward’s regime, and everything to do with his desire to see his brothers enriched.
The Gloucesters lived for some years at Middleham, the Clarences having control of Warwick castle. The countess was eventually allowed to leave sanctuary and live in the custody of her daughter Anne and her husband. Some writers have portrayed these years as difficult for her, others say she had her own household. Either way, she was forced to live on the generosity of a daughter and son-in-law who had conspired to impoverish her.
Isobel died in 1476, leaving behind two surviving children and a husband unhinged by grief.
When Gloucester took the throne in 1483, one of Warwick’s greatest ambitions was achieved though, of course, he was not alive to enjoy it. Anne and Richard had one son, Edward, who died when he was around eleven. Anne herself died in 1485, Richard III dying in August that year at the battle of Bosworth.
Henry Tudor, now king, gave countess Anne an annuity and she lived more independently and comfortably for her remaining years. In 1487, the family’s property was restored to her, though she immediately handed most of it back to the crown. She died in 1492 and was buried at Bisham.
If measured by the countess’s movements, the Warwick marriage would seem to have been close. I am unsure whether her burial site was her choice or if the decision was made after her death. As she outlived both of her daughters, close family was not involved in the choice. Warwick, a man who promoted fidelity within marriage and chastity without, seems to have come to a decision at some point early in the couple’s life together that he would follow his own dictum. Though with no son, and a bastard would surely have been acknowledged, he as always made the best of what he had and threw his energy behind promoting his daughters’ fortunes and providing himself with the most promising and politically beneficial sons-in-law. Perhaps Anne believed the Warwick myth as much as her husband did. In which case, the news of his death at Barnet would have left her directionless and shell shocked. That she turned to neither of her daughters (or sons-in-law) for support and shelter may indicate that her dependence on Warwick was absolute.
Anne was born the youngest child of a rich and powerful man and, as such, could not have imagined the life that was ahead of her. Her marriage to young Richard Nevill in 1436 was a side show to the one that really mattered at the time – that of her brother to Richard’s sister. No-one involved could have foreseen that the deaths of Henry Beauchamp and his daughter would throw this young couple into the spotlight.