There seems to be a fairly widespread consensus of opinion that John Nevill and his wife were fond of each other. I think this is based on two lone facts: in the thirteen or so years of their marriage they produced seven children; and despite Isobel’s second marriage, she was buried with her first husband. While I’m prepared to accept this interpretation, I will state quite categorically that their marriage was based on practical, financial and political concerns (like any other noble marriage of the time) and not on romantic love. If they came to have a happy, companionable and loving marriage, there’s no need to imagine that it began with forbidden love and defiance of authority.
The number of children born to a couple on its own isn’t enough to base an argument on. Nor, conversely, is a lack or paucity of children. There can be little doubt, for instance, that William duke of Suffolk and his wife Alice Chaucer had a deeply committed marriage despite having only one child; and the Warwicks (as I have suggested) probably had a happier marriage than otherwise, and had only two. But if you factor in John’s work and life in the north of England, a sensible conclusion which can be drawn is that, for a lot of that time, Isobel was with him, living as close as it was safe for her and the children to be. One such place is Seaton Delaval, just north of Newcastle, about a day’s ride from Alnwick castle.
Isobel wasn’t only buried at Bisham but (according to several genealogical sources) she died there. Her second husband, William Norreys, held Yattendon castle, just 40km from Bisham. She may have asked to be taken there in the end stages of an illness. I doubt if the decision to bury her with John was anyone but hers. Taken together – the geographical proximity of the couple during John’s years in the north of England; and her choice of burial place, I think that the image of a loving and happy marriage is a safe one.
At 26 or 27, John Nevill was quite old for a first marriage. I’ve mentioned before the difficulties the Salisburys seemed to have finding suitable partners for some of their children. After the three oldest (Joan, Cecily and Richard) married well, the pool seems to have dried up somewhat. Isobel was the niece of John Tiptoft (the second husband of Cecily), earl of Worcester. At the time of the marriage she was a royal ward, her father was recently deceased but her mother lived until at least 1485. She was born in Borough Green, Cambridgeshire and was 15 at the time of the marriage.
John Nevill was required to pay queen Margaret 1,000 pounds in ten installments for the marriage, subject to any subsequent ruling that deemed payment unnecessary, as Isobel had reached the age of majority. Far from disapproving of the match, Margaret would have welcomed it as a way of ensuring the Nevills’ loyalty. Richard Duke of York’s marriage to Cecily Nevill was an example of this practice. At the time it was the Nevills whose loyalty was unquestioned and young York’s that needed to be secured. It was a good match financially as well, Isobel was an heiress of some note and a very suitable bride. Eight manors were settled on them in jointure.
The marriage took place on 25 April 1457 at Canterbury Cathedral. The Archbishop, Thomas Bourchier, officiated. The earl of Warwick was due to depart for Calais and the venue was possibly chosen with that in mind. He and his wife attended the wedding, with their two young daughters. Who else might have been in attendance I’m not sure, but this would have been the last chance the family had to be together for some time. Though Arundel was a good three days’ ride away, Joan countess of Arundel may have made the journey to her brother’s wedding. Margaret and Katheryn were still living at home with their parents, so they too probably attended. Alianor, married to Thomas Stanley and living at Tatton Hall in Cheshire, may not have.
Far from the epitome of the hardbitten, career northerner and full-time soldier as he is often portrayed, John was involved in matters of high politics and state from time to time, including a role in an embassy appointed by the king to investigate breaches of the truce with Burgundy. He had numerous court positions both under Henry VI and Edward IV.
After Blore Heath, John was taken prisoner, along wth his brother Thomas, and held in Chester Castle. As later in the Wars, those taken captive after battles were routinely executed, the Nevill brothers in this instance were very lucky. The fact that the duke of Somerset was holed up at Guisnes Castle, and therefore potentially at the mercy of the earl of Warwick, also helped ensure their survival. They were released after the battle of Northampton.
I can’t find a reliable list of birthdates for John and Isobel’s children: Anne, Isabelle, Elizabeth, John (died in infancy); Margaret; George and Lucy. I also can’t find a reference to where Isobel was living at the time of John’s captivity.
In early 1461, John was elevated to the peerage, taking the title lord Montagu in honour of his mother’s family. During the campaign of 1460-61, John was with his brother Warwick, and fought alongside him at the second battle of St Albans on 17 February 1461. This battle didn’t go well for the Yorkists, with Warwick forced to flee and John once again a prisoner. It could have ended badly for him, as it did for others that day, but luck was still on his side. He was found alive and well in York after Towton.
John was immediately despatched to the north of England, where he was to spend the next few years alternatively defending and besieging the northern castles of Alnwick, Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh. During this period, Isobel was probably at Seaton Delaval. John no doubt got home to visit his wife and growing family when he had the chance.
The countess of Salisbury died in 1462 and an elaborate though moving and hastily arranged funeral for her, her husband the earl and their son Thomas was held at Bisham Priory. John and Isobel travelled from the north to attend, but were soon back in their old stamping ground.
In 1463, after the death of his uncle Fauconberg, John was appointed as warden of the East and Middle Marches. On 3 June he held off a threat to Newastle and captured four French ships. On 26 July the two brothers, with a contingent of northern clergy scattered a Lancastrian force attempting an invasion from Berwick. Warwick then returned to London, leaving his brother John to, as Hicks puts it “win the northern war.”
After the battle of Hexham in May 1464, John was elevated to the earldom of Northumberland by Edward IV and given lucrative forfeited Percy lands. The Nevill brothers then proceeded to the northern castles, once more in Lancastrian hands and finally, in July, they were liberated.
After the successful birth of three daughters, Isobel gave birth to a son, John, who didn’t survive. The couple’s grief must have been profound, compounded as it was by the increasingly undeniable evidence that, in this generation at least, Nevill sons were hard to come by.
John Nevill kept himself aloof from his brother Warwick’s first attempt at rebellion in 1469. Only when, in October 1470, Edward stripped John of his earldom, did he begin to question his position. For Edward it was a matter of political necessity. Henry Percy had recently sworn fealty and been released from the Tower, and handing out forfeited titles was never a popular move amongst the nobility; he had little choice under the circumstances, but this didn’t help to ease John’s sense of hurt and betrayal. Giving him the large empty title of marquis did nothing to soothe his feelings.
By all accounts, John was on the road when he made the decision not to support the king against his brother, thus forcing Edward and his companions to beat a hasty retreat to Burgundy, caught as he was between the two Nevill forces. Whether John had the chance, or the inclination, to discuss this with his wife is unknown, but Isobel would have been no happier with the loss of their title than was John.
In the final showdown between Edward and his Nevill cousins at Barnet in April 1471, John Nevill lost his life. He and his brother, the earl of Warwick, were buried with their parents and brother at Bisham. In the confusion and no doubt widespread family grief, Isobel and her children were unlikely to have been in a position to travel to Bisham for the funeral.
Twelve months after the death of John, and on the anniversary of their marriage, Isobel married William Norreys, himself a widower with several children. Norreys had been a staunch Lancastrian, knighted by Henry VI after the battle of Northampton. He fought at Towton and later made his peace with Edward IV. In 1469 he was made Esquire of the Body to Edward IV. He is known to have fought at Barnet and as he lost none of his court positions it was likely that he fought for the king. How Isobel and Norreys met is not known, but it is entirely possible, given his closeness to Edward, that the suggestion that they marry came from the king himself. Despite their rebellion, and his later treatment of John’s son George, the king does seem to have retained a warm place for at least some memories of the Nevill brothers. That Isobel was allowed to retain her son’s wardship strengthens the view that Edward’s affection and respect for her had not diminished.
Isobel and William Norreys had one child, a son who died in infancy. They were married only four years before she died. Nothing is known of her funeral.
Throughout her marriage to John Nevill, Isobel Ingoldisthorpe gave no indication that she was at all interested in politics. She seems to have been quite happy, as most women of her time and class were, in her domestic role. The turbulence of the early years of their marriage, with John twice in captivity and their future very uncertain, the years of his dominance in the north, his rewards for service and the loss of the most symbolically important of those rewards, his rebellion and eventual death could not have made for a stress free life for Isobel. Perhaps her four years with Norreys represented a calmer time in her life. However, her decision to be buried with John suggests that it was her first marriage that meant the most to her.