The Beautifully Tragic Tale of Anne Neville

02 Dec

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Queen Anne Neville, wife of Richard III, was born on 11 June 1456, the second daughter of the powerful Earl of Warwick.  Warwick, commonly known as The Kingmaker, played a major part in the Wars of the Roses when he crowned Edward IV of York as King of England over the deposed Henry VI of Lancaster.  However, before the exiled Edward gained his crown, Warwick, still loyal to the Lancastian king, married his youngest daughter to Henry VI’s only son, the Prince of Wales.  Anne was just fourteen years old when she became Princess of Wales through this marriage, but the entire time, she was to be a pawn in her father’s quest for power, as was her older sister Isabel.

Her husband was killed in the Battle of Tewkesbury a few months later.  Warwick proclaimed the heir of the Duke of York as King of England and married his older daughter to the king’s brother, George, Duke of Clarence.  Meanwhile, Anne’s future was put into question.  The youngest of Edward IV’s brothers, Richard Duke of Gloucester, had expressed interest in marrying Anne, but Clarence stood in his way.  When the Duke of Warwick died, he left a great deal of landholdings to his daughters.  When he married Isabel Neville, Clarence became holder of the lands with Anne holding the other half; if Richard were to marry Anne, there was a possibility that Clarence’s lands would be forfeit if Isabel were to die before her sister.  Perhaps this means that the Duke wanted Anne to remain single so he could marry her himself if his wife died.  Legends say that Clarence had Anne hidden away and disguised as a serving girl, but Richard found her and whisked her way to sanctuary in the Church of St. Martin le Grand.  He renounced all claim to Warwick and Neville lands, and it was only after this that the Duke reluctantly agreed to his brother’s betrothal terms.  While the story itself may be nothing more than a cleverly told romantic tale, Richard and Anne did indeed marry in a quiet ceremony in Westminster Palace in the spring of 1472.

All evidence indicates that the marriage was a happy and affectionate one.  Despite his longstanding reputation for cruelty and tyranny (no thanks to Shakespeare’s infamously inaccurate play) Richard was a good man, a young knight who commanded troops despite suffering from scoliosis that caused a sideways curve in his spine.  He and Anne lived in Yorkshire, where Richard was appointed Governor of the North by his royal brother.  They had their only child around this time, a son named Edward.  Life was good for the couple and for England until 1476.

On December 22nd, at the age of twenty-five, Isabel Neville died.  We now know the cause of death to have been childbirth complications (she had given birth just two months before) but her husband was convinced that she had been poisoned.  Clarence in an act of vengeance had one of Isabel’s ladies-in-waiting wrongfully hanged for poisoning her and plotted to overthrow his brother the king.  The Duke spread word that Edward was an illegitimate son with no claim to the Yorkist bloodline, and that he himself  was really next in line for the throne.  Clarence was arrested for treason and Edward reluctantly had him executed away from the public eye in 1478.  Tradition says that the Duke died by drowning in his favorite Malmsey wine.

Life returned to normal until the fateful day of 9 April 1483, when a sickly Edward IV died, leaving two young sons behind to succeed him, the oldest being no more than twelve years old.  This boy was not officially crowned, but Edward V was the catalyst that ignited the Wars of the Roses yet again.

As the last surviving male of his family, Richard became regent for his young nephew, as per his brother’s will.  A council meeting then had one question; legitimacy.  Edward IV had married his wife Elizabeth Woodville in secret, while at the same time betrothed to another woman.  There was no way to prove that the late ruler’s marriage was legal.  Thus in a document called Titulus Regius, all children born to Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville were declared to be bastards, meaning that there was only one living man with royal blood to take the throne – Richard Duke of Gloucester.

Richard’s role in this act is not concretely known, nor were his feelings on the matter recorded, but either way, Richard III and Anne were crowned King and Queen of England on July 6th of that year, and Edward V and his brother were sent to the royal residence in the Tower of London only to disappear.

Then in 1484, Anne and Richard’s son Edward died and, in her grief, Anne grew sick.  Her health deteriorated rapidly, possibly the result of tuberculosis, and less then a year later, on 16 March 1485, during an eclipse, Anne died at the age of twenty-eight.  Richard was said to have dropped to his knees and wept during her funeral in Westminster Abbey, but even so, rumors circulated through England that he had poisoned his sickly bride so he could instead marry his niece, Elizabeth of York.  Five months later, Richard too was dead, slain savagely at the Battle of Bosworth, allowing the exhiled Duke of Richmond, Henry Tudor, to claim the crown as Henry VII.

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Posted by on December 2, 2015 in British Royalty, Wars of the Roses


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