The History of The White Queen: Anne Neville

Anne Neville, strong female character, historically known for doing what she was told.

Anne Neville, strong female character, historically known for doing what she was told.

If you had told me some months ago that Anne Neville, one of the most unassuming women in history; a woman who, despite being queen, left no hint of a legacy, would become one of the most popular heroines in modern historical fiction, I would have looked at you stupidly and asked, ‘how?’. Now some months later, Anne Neville is one of the most popular heroines in modern historical fiction and at the risk of making myself hilariously unpopular, I am still asking ‘how?’.
Information on Anne is surprisingly sparse, especially considering she became queen, and there is very little available regarding her time as Queen of England. It is probably because of this that The White Queen can fill in the rather large gaps between our knowledge of her movements with such dramatic fiction.

Early Life and First Marriage

Anne was the youngest of two daughters of the Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick ‘The Kingmaker’. She grew up at Middleham Castle with her elder sister Isabella, and George and Richard, the brothers of the future Edward IV; her father’s wards. Anne and her sister were the Earl’s only children and thus could look forward to a considerable dowry and a shared inheritance that would make them the wealthiest women in England. We can assume, then, that their father, a man of considerable ambition, would have had his eye on extremely advantageous matches and they would have received an education befitting their position. Their positions were further enhanced when the Earl assisted Edward IV to depose the Lancastrian king; Henry VI and assume the throne for himself. As the king’s advisor, the future would have looked bright indeed for his daughters, though they did not join the new Queen, Elizabeth Woodville’s household, despite an invitation.

Despite traveling together, Margaret probably did not raise Anne to be a Queen militant in the three months they knew each other.

Despite traveling together, Margaret probably did not raise Anne to be a Queen militant in the three months they knew each other.

Despite their firm friendship, Anne’s father’s relationship with the king became more and more strained over time, until eventually, in 1461 Warwick began the first of many attempted coups against Edward. Initially he married his daughter Isabella to Edward’s brother, George, Duke of Clarence, in an attempt to place George on the throne. When this failed, Warwick fled, with his family, to France to pledge allegiance to the exiled Lancastrian Queen; Margaret of Anjou.

In order to cement this alliance, Anne was betrothed to the son of Margaret and Henry VI; Edward of Westminster, the Prince of Wales. While Edward was, by most accounts, considered a harsh and ruthless boy, the marriage was brief, lasting just five months, before Edward was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury. Prior to the battle, the Lancastrian fortunes looked promising. The Earl of Warwick, in a demonstration of loyalty to his new Queen, led a successful invasion, forcing Edward IV into exile and restoring Henry VI to the throne. Henry, however, died two months later before Margaret had landed in England. Margaret followed with her son, Anne and Anne’s mother, though Anne’s mother would flee into sanctuary when it became apparent the York army was en route to intercept them, having overthrown Warwick, after Henry’s death. After the battle, Anne and Margaret were taken prisoner, though Anne was released into her sister’s household. Her sister’s husband, George, had previously rejoined Edward IV and ingratiated himself at court.

Widowhood and Second Marriage

A year long argument over a dowry the size of the North of England, allowances to keep said dowry in the event of a divorce and insufficient papal dispensation. What husband could do more?

A year long argument over a dowry the size of the North of England, allowances to keep said dowry in the event of a divorce and insufficient papal dispensation. What husband could do more?

At fifteen, Anne Neville was not only a widow, but had inherited her deceased father’s considerable estates and wealth jointly with Isabella. However, under the care of her brother in law, her activities seem to have been restricted so that George and Isabella could control the whole inheritance, certainly there was an argument brewing at court between George and Richard of Gloucester, who wanted to marry Anne, to acquire her half of the inheritance. Richard resented the control George maintained over Anne’s wealth, but the king refused to intervene. In 1472, Anne eluded her captors, though there are few details recorded as to how, and married Richard.

The Paston Letters record that the Duke of Clarence was resistant to the match, and resented sharing the inheritance with Richard. Before Richard and Anne could marry, Richard negotiated an arrangement with George which allowed Richard, among other estates, the castle of Middleham where he and Anne had grown up. A later Act of Parliament allowed Richard to maintain Anne’s wealth in the event of a divorce. Although the marriage was far from spontaneous, the necessary papal dispensation was not secured until some months after the fact and the match sparked rumours of incest, as they were related, if nothing else through the marriage of their brother and sister.

Despite this, the marriage was not dissolved, and the couple returned to Middlham where Anne gave birth to a son; Edward later in 1472. Richard and Anne remained at their Northern estates where Richard controlled the north and defended the Scottish border for his brother, the king. Acts of Parliament continued to favour Richard and alienate George, who was executed for treason in 1478.

Queen Anne

Anne's piety has been described as 'conventional' yet even that has very little supporting evidence.

Anne’s piety has been described as ‘conventional’ yet even that has very little supporting evidence.

Edward IV died in 1483, leaving his son Edward V the crown, though because Edward was only twelve years old, Richard was named Lord Protector. In a bid to limit the Woodville family’s power, Richard moved against them, executing and imprisoning those he could and placing Edward and his brother in the Tower of London. Two months later, a clergyman came forward declaring that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth had been invalid and so Edward’s children by her, including the new king were illegitimate. Richard was petitioned to take the throne instead of Edward V and he and Anne were crowned at Westminster Abbey in July 1483.

We know little about Anne’s time as Queen of England, aside from the conventional works of piety and patronage to educational institutions, as she was queen for such a brief time. In 1484, Richard and Anne’s son died suddenly, leaving Richard with no heir. Anne adopted the children of her deceased sister, Isabella and probably convinced Richard to make Isabella’s son; Edward, his heir. Something which he would change after Anne’s death.
At the time, Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth of York had joined Anne’s household. The two were friendly and Anne frequently dressed Elizabeth in the same gowns as her. In light of Anne’s failing health there were rumours that Richard had poisoned Anne in order to marry Elizabeth, though even at the time the rumours were thought to have been unsubstantiated and Richard issued a stern denial. Elizabeth was removed from court, and Richard would have doubtfully married an illegitimate lady let alone his own niece.

Anne’s health continued to deteriorate and she died, probably of tuberculosis, in March 1485. Despite his previous infidelities Richard was supposedly distraught at her death, though she was buried in an unmarked grave at Westminster Abbey.

Want more?
The History of the White Queen: Elizabeth Woodville
The History of the White Queen: Margaret Beaufort
The History of the White Queen: Princes in the Tower

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12 comments

  1. christopherjamespatton

    Excellent piece! You are a brilliant writer!

  2. According to Marie Barnfield — “Anne consented to marry Richard and they sent to Rome for a final dispensation to cover the affinity that had arisen between them as the result of Anne’s marriage to Edward of Lancaster, who had been Richard’s second cousin once removed. In February 1472, under pressure from the King, Clarence also agreed to the marriage but only on the understanding that they would ‘part no livelihood’. By 18 March, however, he had agreed to surrender certain estates to Richard (CPR 1467-77, p. 330). The dispensation, issued in Rome on 22 April, is likely to have reached England in June. Apparently in the teeth of renewed opposition from Clarence, the couple were married sometime between the arrival of the dispensation and January 1473, when Anne was sixteen and Richard nineteen or twenty; and in the early summer of 1473 Gloucester succeeded in gaining the King’s permission for Anne’s mother to be brought from Beaulieu Sanctuary to join their own household at Middleham.” — a very difficult situation.

    What infidelities are you talking about? The illegitimate children? I was under the impression that they were born before their marriage.

    Anne eventually got a plaque in Westminster via 1960! Sad ending. Thank you for the wonderful article! I’m still working on my short summary on her.

    • It must have been fun for Anne de Beauchamp to have to live, like a prisoner, at the hands of her daughter and son in law, while they enjoyed her inheritance. But then, at least while her daughter was alive she could have been assured of the basic necessities. I wonder how much of those she received after Anne’s death, for certainly Richard had other things to deal with at the time and Henry VII would not have cared to deal with her.

      His daughter Katharine was born before the marriage, though there is some question as to when John was born, though I would bet, given the titles he enjoyed in 1485 he was at least old enough to appreciate them, and so was born before the marriage. Lisa Hilton’s research suggests that Richard granted a local woman an annuity from Middleham castle, a castle he did not acquire until after his marriage, suggesting that the affair occurred during this time.
      He also announced, quite publicly and to Anne’s humiliation that they would not be sleeping together after the death of their son, Anne was quite obviously not going to bear another child by this point, and was probably quite ill, so it would not be unusual to think of him looking elsewhere, though this is of course speculation. The rumours that he was having an affair with Elizabeth of York, while I think are entirely unfounded, at least show that it was not far fetched that the king might be being unfaithful.

      It is quite sad, especially as her resting place is unknown so the plaque can at best read ‘here lies Anne Neville…we think…around here anyway…ish’

  3. sonetka

    That public announcement is really odd. Was there any precedent for it?

    As for Anne, I imagine that it’s the usual case where someone who’s left no discernible traces of personality behind is either assumed to have been very meek and mild (because assertive people’s documents can’t be lost :)) or is used as a screen for projecting whatever the author’s ideal happens to be. Mary Boleyn and, oddly, William Shakespeare would probably understand.

    • Off the top of my head, I know Henry II did it, well announce it to his friends at least. Except when Henry did it he also threw his wife under house arrest and also introduced the court to his mistress ‘fair Rosalind’, but then, Henry II didn’t do things by halves and Eleanor of Aquitaine was more than capable of holding her own.
      From what I’ve read Richard had made it known to the court that he wasn’t visiting his wife’s bed anymore, which may have been his way of lashing out at her for the lack of children, as it’s just a means of humiliation, it doesn’t really serve any other purpose.

      She does seem to have become the blank slate that people can paint whatever personality they want onto her. What I find more intriguing is that there are no records of her activities as Queen. She doesn’t seem to have made any impact there, either. We know she endowed *a* college at Oxford, but for three years as Queen you’d think there’d be more? O.o

      • sonetka

        It does make me wonder if she had a long-term illness (the lack of activity plus, at the end, the lack of sleeping together). I know that Frail Tubercular Anne is no more backed by documentary evidence than, well, any other kind of Anne, but whenever someone who *should* have been active manifestly isn’t I start to wonder.

        NB — I saw your tweet about Henry VII, “rapist.” I’m starting to think there should be a canonical list of historical men who didn’t actually rape anyone, as far as we know, no matter what novels may say otherwise. I wonder how many medieval and Renaissance men of note *wouldn’t* be on it? I can think of quite a few candidates just from the Anne Boleyn subgenre, and there have got to be plenty more floating around in the Plantagenet kingdom.

      • Indeed! On the off chance that she was the most vapid woman in history, she was still Queen of England. Her accounts should be full of references to things that she was doing or causes she was endowing, it’s quite suspicious that her tenure as queen should appear so uneventful. So much else was going on though, she might not have had a chance to do anything 😛

        Ah I was thinking about something similar! Have you read The White Princess? He’s not only one of these rapists who forces his wife to have sex with him, he degrades and insults her too, not something I expected in a story about a couple who supposedly genuinely found love or at least affection in their marriage. I thoroughly enjoyed your article on rapists in the Anne Boleyn genre, it does seem to be the ultimate throwaway condemnation. How can we make this character evil? RAPIST!

      • sonetka

        I’d really like to do it — it would probably need its own page, and people could post or comment contributions. We could index it by era, name — probably both. It’ll have to wait a little bit, though, I’m currently in the throes of moving; I’d like to give it a shot later in September, though.

      • I would be well up for that! Later in September works fine for me too, I’m currently getting over the shocking news that I’m pregnant, by then my head should have returned to normal and more importantly I should have stopped fainting all the bloody time which is not conducive to regular blogging 😛
        Good luck with the move! I hope it goes as stress free as these things possibly can!

      • sonetka

        Oh, congratulations! I hope things have eased up in a month — symptoms can be very wonky but generally they do improve after a while. And at least the fainting is good preparation if you ever find yourself cast as the Fragile Flower in a historical novel :). No, I haven’t read The White Princess, though I may get it from the library for some trashy fun when I want a break.

        Thanks for the kind words about my entry — it had occurred to me before that this was a topic that could be expanded on. I’m not saying there should be a blanket ban on any sort of non-verifiable rape in fiction, but it really has to be handled carefully and, at all costs, the lazy approach of “he’s a rapist so you don’t have to feel bad when he gets beheaded” must be avoided; it’s terrible storytelling and terrible history all together.

  4. Esther

    Can’t help feeling sorry for Richard and Anne …. according to Victorian historian James Gairdner, George was attacking the validity of the marriage because they didn’t have a dispensation at all; now the dispensations that have been found are thought to be insufficient. A couple of points. First, in some cases, certain third parties (such as parents or guardians) would have the right to try to get a marriage annulled, so maybe the clause giving Richard the property in case of a divorce was to make it clear to George that trying to set aside the marriage wouldn’t get him anything. Second, the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 abolished prohibitions to marriages based on the second or third degree of affinity, so no dispensation would be needed because George married Isabel. Third, according to JJ Scarisbrick’s biography of Henry VIII (which discusses the canonical law applicable to another divorce), there was not only the dispensation itself, but something called “necessary implication”, which means a dispensation not only dispensed with the mentioned impediment, but any others implied in the named impediment. So, if the impediment created by Richard and Anne being cousins was mentioned, lesser impediments (such as created by her marriage to Edward of Lancaster) were also covered. Certainly, Scarisbrick shows that canonical law was so complicated that any defects can’t be presumed to be intentional.

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