I stumbled on this while I was on the hunt for information for an upcoming post.

I feel that it needs a response, something to balance the books a little. I know, it’s an uphill battle – the view that poor Isobel and Anne were mere pawns (oh, and Doomed) is so entrenched that it’s going to take a miracle to shift it by so much as a millimetre.

Just to set the tone, here are some of the words used to described Warwick and/or his actions:

”political conniving”; “charismatic”; “self-centered”; “arrogant”; “man of moderate military skill”; “merciless”; “exploit”; “had no need to hold [his daughters] in esteem”; “hankering for supremacy and clout”; the only loyalty he held was to himself”; “enmesh in his pursuit for power”; “ego”; “narcissism”; “heedless”; “used his youngest daughter”; “spider web of intrigue”; “hopeless machinations”; “fanaticism for prestige and importance”.

Phew!

Now for the girls:

“submissive political pawns”; “overshadowed and beleaguered their short lives”; “use Isobel and Anne to his best advantage”; “dutiful daughter”; “not having a voice in the matter”; “uneasy”; “anxiety and adversity”; “used his youngest daughter”; “tossed likes sheaves of parchment in the wind”; “no longer of urgent necessity”; “surely ailing from childbirth”; “her future unclear”; “displace[d] in her father’s strategy”; “did [George] transfer this resentment to Isobel?”; “rook” – well, a promotion of sorts, I guess; “emotions must have spun like a tornado on a top”; “instruments”; “puppets”; “card to be gambled”; “a roll of the dice”; “practically imprisoned”; “[abandoned] to an unknown providence”; “intimidated by his unbalanced personality”; “defying her husband’s ambitions”.

And Clarence? Acoholic Wifebeater Clarence is At Home and receiving visitors.

Ok, this is an opinion piece and we’re all entitled to our opinions. That’s why I’m giving mine.

The negative stuff about Warwick is delivered as if it’s Fact. Undisputed Fact. The writer knows, for instance, that Warwick was ‘heedless of Isobel’s advanced pregnancy’. There’s no room to speculate about his emotions “spinning like a tornado”. He could have left his wife and daughters in England while he and Clarence hightailed it to Calais. He didn’t. Why? Because he was ‘heedless’? Probably not. He was probably very mindful of the dangers of leaving them behind to be Edward’s hostages. And pregnancy, despite the dangers then and, to a lesser extent, now, is not an illness. It can’t have been fun for any of them, particularly Isobel, and the journey could possibly have hastened labour. But, given the time and the horrific infant mortality rate, had she been abandoned in Exeter (because that’s what her father and husband would have been accused of doing, had they taken to sea without her), she might still have delivered a dead or weak child. Which was a son, by the way, not a daughter called “Anne Plantagenet” or anything else. To imagine Warwick shrugging off the death of his first grandchild is to paint him as truly inhuman. To interpret his request of wine from John Wenlock as anything other than a desperate attempt to do the only thing he could to help his daughter (as some have done), shows a lack of understanding. To not even mention it…

Warwick must have hoped for a son, right up till the last possible moment. It was what men did then, and a lot of men still do now. Let’s speculate for a moment and say that he did have one. Let’s say the 1453 pregnancy hinted at resulted in the birth of a healthy boy. And, for the sake of argument, let’s assume his name was Richard. (Father, both grandfathers… the boy would have been on a hiding to nothing.) I don’t doubt for a second that, the moment Edward IV’s oldest daughter was born, Warwick would have had an eye on her as a suitable bride. And, had that come to pass, Richard junior would have had exactly the same amount of say in it as his sisters had in their marriages. He’d have had to give his consent. Now that might well have been lip service, but it was needed nonetheless. Even the six year old Richard senior would have had to consent to his marriage to Anne Beauchamp way back when.

As for Warwick not holding his daughters in esteem (“they were females”), there’s way too much of this kind of thinking, in my view. He may well have been bitterly disappointed that he had no son, but even his illegitimate daughter, Margaret, was acknowledged, found a husband and eventually went to court to work for her half-sister, Anne, when she became queen. (Ok, Warwick had nothing directly to do with that, but it suggests to me that she was as much a part of the family as, say, the Bastard of Fauconberg.) What it doesn’t suggest is that Warwick dismissed his daughters as unimportant ‘pawns’. (Margaret’s marriage was advantageous to Warwick, but *all* noble parents strove for this. All. Of. Them.)

I don’t for a moment doubt that both Isobel and Anne were loved by their father. Whatever ‘say’ they might have had in their respective marriages, they were bloody good ones! Their father didn’t ‘marry them off’ to swineherds and beggars. One got a Duke, the other a Prince. Anne may well have been the more trepidatious of the two – after all, her new husband’s future was hugely in doubt. There’s much made of the loophole supposedly left open at Margaret of Anjou’s insistence – that the marriage not be consummated until Warwick was in control in England. But, keeping in mind the flipside of his preferred future (father-in-law to the king of England) – his daughter tied to a failed regime and an impoverished court in exile – it may well have been a mutually beneficial loophole.

Isobel and Anne Nevill were the daughters of a powerful, ambitious and very able man. Their mother was a strong woman who went where he did, shared his triumphs and his difficulties. The countess is reported to have not much enjoyed living in Calais, yet she was there pretty much whenever her husband was. One reading of this is that she was weak willed and dominated – just as her daughters are often painted. Another, better in my opinion, is that she viewed her marriage as many noblewomen did. Apart from any feelings of affection she might have had – and on balance of evidence, it would appear that the marriage was at least affectionate – it was a partnership, a kind of corporation. And, given that particular combination of parents, marriages of their own that were designed to make them queens (that’s Queens, in case anyone missed it), would hardly have been looked on as hardships by the Warwick girls. (“I’m going to make you a queen, daughter.” “Well, daddy, that’s really no less than I would have expected!”) There was no time to do this for Anne, but the care Warwick took to cultivate Clarence suggests that he did, in fact, care that Isobel was happy in her marriage. He wanted them to be fond of each other. And there is nothing in the sources that I can find – nothing – that even hints that they were otherwise. When push came to shove, and the Clarence Plan was abandoned, Isobel stuck with him. In fact, as we shall see, she conspired with him and on his behalf against her father’s best interests.

There is much speculation in this article about the reactions, responses and emotions of the sisters during the uncertain time the family faced outside Calais harbour and in France. And this is just as it should be – speculative. We don’t know how they felt, all we can do is extrapolate from what we know of their lives, the influences on those lives, the kinds of women they were (noble, rich, accomplished). Yet Warwick is Bad and the writer knows exactly how he felt and thought – which was Bad.

If Commines is to be believed, a member of Isobel’s household, an unnamed woman, was operating between England and France, through Calais, under the nose of Wenlock (who Commines  believed at the time to be loyal to Edward IV). She was acting, it seems, as a go-between for the Clarences and Edward IV (or Clarence’s mother and sisters). This is not the behaviour of a women stranded and abandoned. Isobel was, on her husband’s behalf, using the resources she had available to her to effect a change in both his fortunes and hers. Her father’s daughter?

From here on, the article is mainly about Isobel’s marriage to George duke of Clarence and Anne’s to Richard duke of Gloucester. Needless to say, Gloucester is ‘good’ and Clarence is ‘bad’. Gloucester was gently guided by Anne, Isobel didn’t have ‘the commanding nature necessary to sway the mercurial Clarence”. She died, mercifully, before she witnessed his downfall and execution. There’s an alternate reading to this – Isobel had a stabilising effect on Clarence and her death grieved him so greatly that he spun out of control. Just an idea…

Both men had their eye on the main chance. Neither of them (so far as we know) made any attempt to go to their mother-in-law’s aid. Only when he’d secured his share of her fortune did Gloucester, perhaps at Anne’s request, make a move to get the countess out of sanctuary. Well, obviously! –  the writer of this article seems to know all about it. She states that while there is no evidence that either of them did, if the sisters tried to help their mother, Anne was the more supportive. Yes, I’m a little lost there, as well…

Oh, and the countess was kept in sanctuary to keep her from remarrying. (“She would surely have remarried”.) This is the post I’m working on, so I don’t want to go into it here, but I will say this: We don’t know if she would have remarried. As it turns out, she didn’t. Warwick had been her husband since she was 9 years old, she’d been to hell and back with him. She was now 45, and, had she kept her wealth and her husband’s, no doubt would have been seen as a good match. But there were going to be no more children. And Alice Fitzhugh didn’t remarry. Neither did Katheryn Hastings. Or Cecily Nevill… This is a hell of a leap. I think it more likely that part of the reason the countess removed herself was to prevent a hurried remarriage to the nearest available Wydeville. But Edward was thinking about his brothers at this time…

In summary… To anyone who has any interest in these two women: Please stop writing about  Isobel and Anne Nevill as if they were weak women who had no control over their lives. Please stop using their early deaths as a sign that they were Doomed From the Start. Please read something about their father. (Both Hicks and Pollard have done a bang up job here.) Oh, and can we consign the overused, tired and meaningless word pawn to the dustbin of history? Let’s stop the nonsense. It’s starting to get depressing.

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Comments
  1. Susan Higginbotham says:

    Don’t forget “sold into marriage”!

    Great post. Sounds as if the author of that piece has been hitting the Kendall pretty hard.

  2. Jill says:

    This is great stuff. Every villain has a softer side

  3. Kathryn says:

    Great post! I’m getting so very sick of the ‘woman as helpless victim and pawn [AGH!!] f nasty unscrupulous men’ theme so beloved of many people who write about medieval history.

    • anevillfeast says:

      Thanks, Kathryn! For some, there are only two types of women – frail victims who only want to be loved (and who die tragically young) or the ones who dress up in their brother’s clothes.

  4. Susan Higginbotham says:

    It’s disheartening how many people insist on seeing medieval women as either Tragic Victims or She-Wolves, with nothing in between.

    • anevillfeast says:

      Like the Heroes and Villains. The Vegetarians and Hunt-o-maniacs. The Bad Mothers and the Madonnas. The Impalers and the I-Hate-Klllingers. Ok, I’ll stop now.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    We all know history, unlike the rest of current humanity, is only black and white with no shades of grey allowed.

  6. Brian Wainwright says:

    I think we see modern attitudes crawling in here. Warwick *did* value his daughters. He played his cards so that at least one of them would be Queen of England. As it was Isabelle was Duchess of Clarence and Anne was successively Princess of Wales, Duchess of Gloucester and Queen of England. Rarely did either have to concede precedence to another woman.

    In other words, he did his duty to them as a medieval father. Of course neither had the opportunity to find twue luurve with the local woodcutter. But would they actually have wanted that? Probably not.

  7. anevillfeast says:

    Absolutely agree, Brian! I think the girls were both dealt extremely good hands and first their parents, then their husbands (and, in Anne’s case I’m sure, herself) played them very well. Why people feel the need to feel sorry for them (beyond the understandable empathy regarding dead children), I have no idea. As for true love – I still contend that it was one of the things many people hoped for and worked for in their very much arranged marriages. They may well have found it in theirs, but not the starry eyed romantic kind we seem to so value today, and which so rarely lasts and leaves in its wake pain, anger and, often, hurt and confused children. We accept that now as a byproduct and a risk, as Isobel and Anne would have accepted the possibility of marital unhappiness as a byproduct and risk of prestigious husbands. (I just thought of that! You’ve all just witnessed A Rare Moment of Insight.)

  8. Brian Wainwright says:

    Even today, rich people tend to marry rich people, and is this is probably more true of rich women than of blokes. It’s the circles they move in.

    I think some people find it really hard to grasp that medieval (and historical in general) culture was not like our own, and they also forget that practical considerations HAD to be a factor. There was no social security and someone of the status of Warwick’s daughters could not become an architect or whatever. They could either marry (to someone of similar rank) or become a nun, and that was about it.

    As for Anne Beauchamp, we have no real data about what her personal feelings were. Warwick might have been her whole world, or she might have hated his Neville guts from Day 1. We cannot know, and outside of a novel, we shouldn’t really say. Or not without adding that really we don’t have a scooby about the workings of her heart.

    • anevillfeast says:

      With regard to Anne Beauchamp, it’s usually easier to spot a bad marriage (such as the young Exeters) than a good one, so I tend to believe hers was more good than bad. I’m working on the premise that, assuming her father was a wise man and not entirely stupid, he’d have at least attempted over the 10 or so years between their marriage and any likely consummation to get them used to the idea and possibly even to develop some kind of affinity. Waurin (and I’d like to be able to refer the original – in translation, preferably) twice says that on Warwick’s return to Calais (from Ireland and from one of his pirating expeditions) the countess greeted him with joy, and she was rarely out of his company for any length of time. While it’s not conclusive by any stretch of the imagination, for me it tends to point more towards mutual affection than antipathy. The evidence (again, such as it is – sketchy and circumstantial) also suggests that, after his daughter Margaret’s birth, Warwick was faithful to her. I’m not positing a Great Love, but I am edging towards a more happy than otherwise marriage. Such a pity no-one’s found any letters between them.

  9. Philippa says:

    Warwick’s aim was to make one of his daughters queen and in 1470 the daughter best placed to do that was Isabel. Had Isabel become queen, the baby born on that ship would have become the heir to the throne. It makes no sense to claim that Warwick was ‘heedless’ of the child, a child he must have longed for and iintended to have such an important part in his plans.

    • anevillfeast says:

      You’re dead right, Philippa! And Hicks suggests that, when the countess and her daughters were collected from Warwick and Exeter, the need to take to the sea might not have been fully established. The family needed to be safeguarded and kept together, wherever they ended up.

  10. Anerje says:

    I do enjoy your posts – especially when Clarence is mentioned. Just sorry I don’t comment as often as I should. Really enjpyed this one!

  11. I had SUCH a crush on George as a little girl after reading The Sunne in Splendour. I’ve never been convinced by the traditional reading of Anne and Isobel either – I just can’t imagine someone like Warwick, and especially once he’d realised that there wouldn’t be any sons from his marriage, raising his daughters to be timid little milquetoast mice.

    My reading of events is that George and Richard were lucky to have them – they certainly didn’t do all that well without them! 😉

  12. anevillfeast says:

    Thanks Madam Guillotine! George (without a shred of evidence) seems to be nearly always portrayed as an Alcoholic Wifebeater – and not just in fiction. Came across some teaching notes for the Wars of the Roses and there it was, bold as you please – “Clarence was an alcoholic wifebeater” end of ‘scussion!

    ‘milquetoast mice’ – I like that! 😀

  13. Marianne55 says:

    Just as the other person could not know that the Neville sisters were pawns or victims, you have no evidence on which to base your statement that you have no doubt that Warwick loved his daughters. It’s just wishful thinking. Some people hate their children or are indifferent to them. We can discern very little about the personalities of Isabel and Anne as they left few if any traces in the record. The same goes for their mother. We can only make an educated guess about what Warwick was like from his actions They are not inconsistent with narcissism. I

    • anevillfeast says:

      Marianne, thank you for your comments, always appreciated!

      I was partly working from the premise that ‘every parent loves their children unless otherwise stated’, and there is no evidence whatsoever that Warwick did *not* love his daughters. The burden is not on me to prove he did (which is, after all a societal norm – then and now) but on his detractors to prove he didn’t. And beyond a storm of negatives, the post I responded to above doesn’t do that. It is fairly typical of the current view of Warwick, and my blog is an attempt to balance that. It may well be full of ‘wishful thinking’, but suggesting that a father – any father – loved his children, isn’t one.

  14. tudorqueen6 says:

    Reblogged this on tudorqueen6 and commented:
    “To anyone who has any interest in these two women: Please stop writing about Isobel and Anne Nevill as if they were weak women who had no control over their lives. Please stop using their early deaths as a sign that they were Doomed From the Start. Please read something about their father. (Both Hicks and Pollard have done a bang up job here.) Oh, and can we consign the overused, tired and meaningless word pawn to the dustbin of history? Let’s stop the nonsense. It’s starting to get depressing.”
    To those of you watching “The White Queen”, please take some time to read this blog about THE REAL Ladies Isabel and Anne. You would be surprised that they are NOTHING like the show has portrayed them. They also didn’t constantly get b’ed out by the queen.

  15. Very interesting !!!!

  16. Dawn Likha says:

    Reblogged this on A Passion for History and commented:
    I agree with this SFM! I’m really getting tired of the continuing portrayals of medieval women as either almost extreme tragic, pity-party victims or the other extreme cold, heartless, scheming bitches. I do think Isabel and Anne had more agency than some people (esp. historical novelists) think and they were in general, as morally ambiguous/grey as all other people in their time and even now. They were probably proud as especially they were raised by their father the Earl of Warwick, who was an ambitious, clever man and so it’s not hard to imagine that some of his more distinguished traits and mindsets could have passed on to his daughters. While I do think they were pawns in one way or another, a whole bunch of people were ‘pawns’ in their own ways especially in their youths but they would have had far more agency, power, and influence in their adulthood so I don’t think it’s correct to think of them as extremely weak, retiring pawns.

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