By Tyler Parsons
Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, is a seminal figure in the Wars of the Roses. Taking a central role in English politics for the better part of two decades, his influence earned him the epithet by which he is known to posterity- Warwick the Kingmaker.
This article isn’t about him. Not directly, at least.
Richard Neville only came to the title because of the premature deaths of his brother-in-law Henry Beauchamp, Duke of Warwick, and niece Anne Beauchamp. Henry was the son of King Henry VI’s guardian Richard Beauchamp, and was a childhood friend of the King. Warwick was one of many to profit from the King’s open-handed generosity, with grants of lands and an elevation to premier earl, then Duke. This promising career was brought to an end with his death, aged 21, in June 1446. Three years later his only child, Anne, died, and her heir was a matter of some dispute.
Richard Beauchamp had been married twice, and Henry was the product of his second marriage to Isabel Despenser. Upon the death of young Anne in 1449, the Earldom passed to Richard Neville, who was married to Henry’s only full sister. This was a matter of some disgruntlement for the husbands of Henry’s elder half-sisters, the products of his father’s first marriage.
Significantly, one such husband was Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, who from 1450 was embedded at the centre of Henry VI’s government. Whilst Somerset and the other husbands acquiesced to Neville’s assumption of the Beauchamp inheritance and Warwick title in 1449, tensions rose in South Wales in 1453 when the wardship of George Neville was reassigned from Warwick to Somerset. In July of that year, Warwick refused a royal command to hand over George’s share of the Lordship of Glamorgan and began readying for a siege in Cardiff Castle. In addition to this being a challenge to his influence in the region, Warwick likely viewed this as a prelude to Somerset challenging his own title as heir to the Beauchamp inheritance.
The Nevilles had longstanding Lancastrian sympathies and ancestry- Warwick’s a grandson of Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt and aunt of his current rival Somerset. His grandfather Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmoreland, had supported his brother-in-law Henry IV in the deposition of Richard II in 1399. Subsequently he profited greatly, expanding his influence in the north after the Percies disgraced themselves with rebellion in 1403. This longstanding relationship was severely strained by the new hostility with Somerset.
When the King slipped into his first period of mental incapacity shortly after Warwick had refused the royal ultimatum, Warwick and his namesake father Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, gravitated towards Richard, Duke of York. Their support was crucial, because York’s agitations in the early 1450s had been dogged by an inability to win noble support. Youthful Warwick, charismatic and popular, was particularly important to the rather dour York.
During his first protectorate in 1454 Salisbury was appointed Chancellor. He and his son would hold to York thereafter, with their shared victory at St Albans in May 1455 resulting in the death of Somerset and Warwick being made Captain of Calais. He would turn it into a key overseas base for the Yorkists in the later 1450s. In subsequent years they shared York’s exile and attainder, and triumphant return. Salisbury and his second son, Thomas, would die alongside York at Wakefield at the end of 1460, whilst Warwick became the key supporter of York’s son, who assumed the throne as Edward IV in 1461. That relationship would ultimately sour into rebellion, with Warwick dying fighting against Edward in 1471.
The allegiance of the two Richard Nevilles to York in the 1450s had other major consequences, due to an interlocking series of aristocratic rivalries that had emerged in the absence of strong royal leadership. In addition to their enmity with York’s rival Somerset, the Nevilles had existing feuds with their kinsmen the Nevilles of Westmoreland and the Percies of Northumberland.
After the death of the first Earl of Westmoreland in 1425, he had left the bulk of his estate to Salisbury, the eldest son of his second marriage. His grandson by his first marriage, Ralph Neville 2nd Earl of Westmoreland, would spend much of his life trying to claw back these properties with little success, being slapped down with an unfavourable settlement in 1443. The Percies, meanwhile, had watched the growth of Neville influence with dismay, but the immediate cause of the feud was the marriage of Salisbury’s second son Thomas to Maud Stanhope, who brought two ex-Percy manors into the Neville patrimony. An assault on the wedding party by Thomas Percy, Lord Egremont, resulted in a skirmish on Heworth Moore in August 1453. The Stanhope marriage also resulted in the volatile Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter, coming to support the Percies, because Maud was the niece and heir of his rival Ralph, Lord Cromwell. He and Egremont would launch an abortive rebellion against York’s Protectorate in 1454. Meanwhile, the Nevilles and Percies traded attacks on each other’s properties, culminating in another skirmish at Stamford Bridge in late 1454.
As the country spun irretrievably towards war, both of these rivals of the Salisbury Nevilles naturally sided with the Lancastrians. Henry Percy, 2nd Earl of Northumberland, would be killed alongside Somerset at St Albans in 1455. Four of his sons would also die in Lancastrian service- Egremont at Northampton in 1460, Henry the 3rd Earl and Richard at Towton in 1461, and Ralph at Hedgeley Moore in 1464. Westmoreland would likewise lose his brother and heir, John, at Towton.
All these alignments turned, at least a little, on the death of Henry Beauchamp, Duke of Warwick. Major changes could result, then, if this other Warwick avoided his untimely death.
Just by being a warm body he has a major influence- our Kingmaker remains plain old Richard Neville, heir to the Earl of Salisbury. Without the imbroglio of the Beauchamp inheritance and the dispute with Somerset, he and his father have no reason to abandon their longstanding Lancastrian allegiance.
It has been suggested that the promotion of Henry VI’s Tudor half-brothers, especially the grant of the occasionally Neville-held Honour of Richmond to Edmund, also contributed to their estrangement from the King. But, on its own, I don’t think that is sufficient to motivate them to join York.
Perhaps the Nevilles spend the bulk of their time shoring up influence in the north, contesting with the Percies and using Warwick as a favourable conduit at court. In any case, the talents, and sizeable affinities, of the two Richard Nevilles would be denied to the Duke of York.
He might not get anywhere without them.
Admittedly, he wasn’t completely devoid of other allies amongst the nobility. John Mowbray, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, had supported his calls for reform in the parliament of 1450 and criticised Somerset during the King’s illness in 1453. In his first attempt to raise troops against the King, which ultimately fizzled out at Dartford in 1452, he was joined by Thomas Courtenay, Earl of Devon, and Edward Brooke, Baron Cobham.
The value of such supporters is questionable, however. Norfolk vacillated for much of the 1450s, only decisively joining the Yorkists in 1460. Devon spent most of his time invested in an increasingly bitter feud with William Bonville in the West Country, and ultimately drifted back to the Lancastrian camp. His eldest son was married to Queen Margaret’s bastard niece Marie of Maine before dying at Towton, and his two younger sons would also die for their adherence to the House of Lancaster.
His turn back to the Lancastrians may have been prompted by Bonville’s Neville ties- his grandson wed Salisbury’s daughter Katherine Neville in 1458. If this is the case he may stick with York here, but neither his influence nor abilities appear comparable to the Nevilles- the Nevilles brought one of the wealthiest earldoms in England and a massive power bloc in the north, Devon struggled for pre-eminence over Bonville in his own backyard.
The question then becomes whether the Percies and Westmoreland Nevilles are inclined to support York, given their rivals are tied to Henry’s regime. There would definitely being something poetic about the Percies supporting York- they had rebelled against Henry IV in the name of York’s uncle Edmund Mortimer in 1403, whose claim had passed to York in 1425. But, it doesn’t seem very likely.
Neither the Percies nor the Westmoreland Nevilles showed any interesting in supporting York in the early 1450s, before the two Richard Nevilles joined his side. Perhaps, if the Nevilles can leverage Warwick’s favour at court to the Percies extreme disadvantage they might throw in with York, but would that happen? There might, in any case, be different strategies for the Percies to shore up their position, making treasonable intrigues with York unnecessary.
For that, we need to consider what other influence the survival of the Duke of Warwick will have. Having died at 21, he is something of a cypher. The main political action that he took part in was a feud with Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, over precedence at court and influence in the midlands.
If you take this to mean he was just another self-aggrandising nobleman looking out for his own advancement he might use his closeness to the King to present himself as an alternative to Somerset as the central figure in the government. Rival factions might emerge at court, with the Salisbury Nevilles in support of Warwick whilst their Percy and Westmoreland Neville opponents seek support from Somerset. Potentially he could even agitate against Somerset for his failures in France, and seek to be the main figure in government from 1450 (assuming popular discontent has still resulted in the death or removal of Suffolk). Maybe this even involves some form of alliance of convenience with York, but as a beneficiary of the King’s largesse Warwick will be opposed to any form of resumption as an attempt to salvage the monarchy’s finances. The Queen’s favour would be a major factor in any rivalry between Warwick and Somerset at court.
The more mundane alternative is that Warwick accepts playing second fiddle to Somerset and focuses his energies on reconsolidating Beauchamp influence that had been lost during his minority. With Somerset and Warwick united behind the King, and the Nevilles aligned with Warwick, York will struggle to exert himself in the political arena. Perhaps Somerset and the Queen are able to bring about York’s destruction, or he is compelled to withdraw to Ireland. England continues to slip inexorably towards bankruptcy and lawlessness. Maybe it would only be with the majority of Prince Edward of Westminster in the early 1470s that royal authority begins to be reasserted. Maybe he isn’t up to the task, and an impoverished and attenuated English monarchy remains in thrall to overmighty subjects and suffers spasmodic periods of popular discontent.