Anne Neville: The Queen Who Shaped England’s History

Anne Neville, an influential figure in English history, held the title of Queen of England as the wife of King Richard III. Born on 11 June 1456, she was the daughter of Richard Neville, the 16th Earl of Warwick, also known as the “Kingmaker.”

Prior to her marriage to Richard III, she had been the Princess of Wales, wedded to Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales and the heir apparent to King Henry VI. This article delves into the life of Anne Neville, her role in the Wars of the Roses, and her significant contributions to the House of York.

Early Life and the Wars of the Roses

As a member of the influential House of Neville, Anne Neville played a critical part in the Wars of the Roses, a series of conflicts between the Houses of York and Lancaster for control over the English crown. Her father, Richard Neville, had arranged her betrothal to Prince Edward, the son of King Henry VI, as a means to secure an alliance with the House of Lancaster and bring an end to the civil war between the two rival houses.

Tragically, Prince Edward passed away, and Anne found herself widowed. Subsequently, she married Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who was her cousin once removed. Richard was the younger brother of King Edward IV and George, Duke of Clarence, who happened to be the husband of Anne’s elder sister Isabel. Their union further solidified the ties between the Neville and York families. In June 1483, Richard ascended to the throne, declaring Edward IV’s children with Elizabeth Woodville as illegitimate, thus making Anne the Queen of England.

Queen Anne Neville’s Legacy

Anne Neville’s reign as Queen of England was short-lived. She tragically passed away in March 1485, predeceasing her husband by five months. Their only child, Edward of Middleham, had already died before her. Despite her untimely demise, Anne left an indelible mark on English history.

Early Life: Nurtured in Warwick Castle

Anne Neville was born in Warwick Castle, the ancestral seat of the Neville family. Her father, Richard Neville, was a prominent nobleman and a staunch supporter of the House of York. Her grandmother, Cecily Neville, was the wife of Richard, Duke of York, who laid claim to the English crown on behalf of the Yorkists.

During her childhood, Anne spent much of her time at Middleham Castle, one of her father’s properties. There, she had the opportunity to interact with Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and George, Duke of Clarence, who were younger sons of the Duke of York. Richard, in particular, received his knighthood training at Middleham, strengthening the bond between the two families. At this early stage, it is believed that a possible match between Anne Neville and one of the Yorkist dukes was being considered.

Princess of Wales: An Alliance and a Union

Due to her father’s strained relationship with Edward IV, the earl attempted to place his son-in-law, George, on the throne. However, their efforts were met with resistance from Parliament. Following a failed rebellion, Richard and Anne’s father sought refuge in France, aligning himself with the exiled House of Lancaster and its de facto leader, Margaret of Anjou. To alleviate suspicion, Anne was officially betrothed to Edward of Westminster, the Lancastrian heir to the English throne. They married in Angers Cathedral in December 1470, granting Anne the title of Princess of Wales.

Warwick’s Fall and Anne’s Marital Trials

The fortunes of war were unpredictable, and in 1471, Edward IV emerged victorious, re-establishing the dominance of the House of York. Warwick, Anne’s father, was killed in battle, while Margaret of Anjou was captured. Prince Edward, Anne’s husband, met his demise during or shortly after the Battle of Tewkesbury. Anne herself was taken captive but was eventually released and placed under the protection of her brother-in-law, the Duke of Clarence.

Anne Neville’s marital future became a source of contention between George of Clarence and his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who still harboured feelings for her. As heiresses to their parents’ vast estates, Anne and her sister Isabel held significant sway. George, eager to secure the entire inheritance, opposed Anne’s remarriage, as it would strengthen her claim.

Several accounts describe the events that followed, including a tale of Clarence hiding Anne in a London cookshop, disguised as a servant, to prevent Richard from finding her. Allegedly, Richard managed to locate her and took her to seek sanctuary at the Church of St Martin’s le Grand. In order to gain George’s final consent to their marriage, Richard relinquished his claim to much of Warwick’s land and property, including the earldoms of Warwick and Salisbury, making way for their union.

Duchess of Gloucester: A Union Sealed

The exact date of Anne Neville’s wedding to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, remains unknown. However, historical records suggest that the ceremony took place in late spring or early summer of 1472, in St Stephen’s Chapel at the Palace of Westminster. Prior to their marriage, the couple received a dispensation from Rome, nullifying the affinity that had arisen from Anne’s previous marriage to Edward of Lancaster, Richard’s blood relative. Settling in Middleham Castle, the couple embraced their new life as the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. They were blessed with one child, Edward, whose birth took place in either 1473 or 1476.

In 1478, Anne inherited the Lordship of Glamorgan, which had previously belonged to her father and, subsequently, her sister Isabel. However, as women could not exercise the Lordship in their own right, it passed to Isabel’s husband, George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence. Following his death in 1478, the title fell to Anne and was held by Richard of Gloucester until his own demise. Ultimately, the Lordship of Glamorgan came under the control of King Henry VII after Richard’s death.

Queen of England: Anne’s Ascension

Upon the death of Edward IV on 9 April 1483, Richard, Anne’s husband, was named Lord Protector for his young nephew Edward V. However, the events that unfolded in June of that year would forever change Anne’s life. Edward V and his siblings were declared illegitimate, allowing Richard to ascend the throne as King Richard III.

Alongside her husband, Anne was crowned queen on 6 July 1483, marking the first joint coronation in England in over a century. The prestigious ceremony saw the attendance of the entire English peerage, with Margaret, Countess of Richmond, playing a significant role as Anne’s train bearer.

During her time as queen, Anne Neville maintained a close relationship with her mother-in-law, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York. Together, they shared a deep interest in religious works, frequently discussing the writings of Mechtilde of Hackeborn. However, tragedy struck the couple when their son Edward of Middleham passed away suddenly in April 1484. The loss of their beloved child took a toll on both Anne and Richard, plunging them into profound grief.

The Tragic Demise and Legacy of Queen Anne Neville

Anne Neville: The Queen Who Shaped England's History
Image: Drawing of Anne from the Rous Roll, c. 1483 | John Rous, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Anne Neville’s life came to an untimely end on 16 March 1485, likely due to tuberculosis. On the day of her passing, an eclipse occurred, leading some to interpret it as a foreboding sign of her husband’s impending downfall. She was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey, in an unmarked grave situated to the right of the High Altar, near the door to the Confessor’s Chapel. Richard III, deeply mourning her loss, reportedly wept during her funeral.

Speculations and rumours emerged, suggesting that Richard III had poisoned Anne to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York. However, Richard publicly denounced these allegations, asserting his genuine grief and disapproval of such actions. Following Anne’s death, Richard’s ambassadors were dispatched to negotiate potential marriages with Portuguese royalty, further dispelling the notion of any ulterior motives behind Anne’s passing.

It was not until 1960, centuries later, that a bronze tablet was placed near Anne Neville’s grave by the Richard III Society, commemorating her memory. Queen Anne Neville, a woman of influence and resilience, played a vital role in shaping the events of the Wars of the Roses and the destiny of England itself. Her legacy lives on as a testament to the enduring strength and determination of women throughout history.

*Feature Image: Wikimedia