Sunday, 16 March 2014
The Death of Anne Neville, Queen of England
On this day in history, 16 March 1485, Queen Anne Neville of England died aged twenty-eight at Westminster Palace. According to legend, the day she died saw an eclipse which was viewed by the superstitious as an evil omen of her husband Richard III's imminent fall from grace. Although rumours credited the king with poisoning his consort as part of his schemes to marry his niece Elizabeth of York, reports indicated that he had wept at her funeral. She was buried at Westminster Abbey, having reigned as queen for only two years.
Anne was the second daughter of Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, and Anne Beauchamp, the daughter of the thirteenth earl of Warwick. She was born at Warwick Castle and most likely spent her formative years growing up in Warwick. Her family fortunes were splendid: the Nevilles exercised considerable influence in the northern parts of England and later became loyal adherents to the House of York. At Middleham Castle in Yorkshire, Anne and her sister Isabel became acquainted with the two younger brothers of Edward IV: George (later duke of Clarence) and Richard (later duke of Gloucester).
Above: Middleham Castle.
In 1469, Isabel Neville married George, thus integrating the Nevilles into the royal family, for George was the younger brother of the Yorkist king Edward IV. The following year, aged fourteen, Anne herself was married but to the Lancastrian heir, Edward of Westminster, rather than to a Yorkist prince. This occurred as a result of her father's schemes, for the disaffected Warwick, resentful of the Woodville family (a Woodville was married to the king) had decided to switch sides and support the defeated Lancastrians in an attempt to attain financial and political power. Anne perhaps resided in the household of the vanquished English queen Margaret of Anjou in the immediate aftermath of her marriage, but at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 the Lancastrian prince was defeated and killed and Anne left a widow aged fifteen.
Because Clarence was married to Anne's sister, he took it upon himself to take custody of both Anne and her mother and attained possession of the dead Warwick's possessions in the north. Anne was deprived of her inheritance as part of these greedy endeavours, and it is possible that he even sought to prevent her remarrying. Sometime between 1472 and 1474, however, Anne took it upon herself to seek marriage with Clarence's younger brother, Richard duke of Gloucester, who has traditionally been regarded as both more loyal and closer to King Edward than the ambitious Clarence. Whether Anne directed these plans as an ambitious attempt to regain her inheritance, or whether the alliance with Richard was based on love, is impossible to say.
The newly married couple resided chiefly in the north, where loyalty to the Nevilles was strong. Perhaps in 1473, and by 1476, Anne delivered a son, Edward, who became heir to the dukedom of Gloucester and a potential claimant to the throne; although the birth of two sons to King Edward meant that it looked virtually uncertain that either Edward or his father or uncle would acquire the throne.
Having been a Princess of Wales and later a Duchess of Gloucester, in 1483 Anne became a queen. Gloucester usurped the throne in the summer of 1483 and Anne was crowned alongside her husband at Westminster Abbey. Whether she had any knowledge of matters pertaining to the Princes in the Tower is uncertain, although novels such as The Kingmaker's Daughter explore such issues imaginatively. Anne's queenship, however, was not to prove happy. In 1484 her only son died and it is perhaps significant that she seems to have had no other pregnancies, although she may have experienced miscarriages or stillbirths. As Michael Hicks remarks: "Anne seems to have been a particularly insignificant queen, perhaps because she suffered from ill health". Certainly, in contrast to the active and auspicious queenships of the charismatic Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville, Anne appears a shadowy and perhaps ineffectual consort.
At Christmas 1484 court rumours credited that Richard was engaging in an affair with his eighteen-year old niece Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV and later, wife of Henry VII. Rumours that the king would set aside Queen Anne in favour of the younger and more attractive Elizabeth were rampant. Following Anne's death, Richard publicly denied any intention of marrying his niece.