9th February 2017
The Wars of the Roses is probably the historical period which is most tainted by a popular view of history, none so much as the story of Richard III and his young wife, Anne Neville. From Shakespeare to Philippa Gregory, we often prefer and believe the story-teller rather than the facts. The big problem is that there are so few facts. Richard was the last Plantagenet king, the last English king to die in battle, and he has a whole society supporting his cause. Anne Neville was daughter to the Kingmaker, a Lancastrian Princess of Wales, and finally, a York Queen of England. And yet they are two of the most enigmatic characters in English history.
This article, as with so many articles on the subject, will therefore be an opinion rather than fact, but hopefully an opinion based upon fact.
For me, the first important fact of this couple’s story happens in 1471. Anne Neville, on hearing the news of her father’s death, chooses not to flee into sanctuary with her mother, but instead chooses to follow her young husband, Edward, and his mother, Margaret of Anjou, to meet Edward of York at the Battle of Tewkesbury. It seems to me that this is the moment that Anne Neville realises that, released by death from the control of her father, she now has some control over her own life.
After the death of her husband and the capture of Margaret of Anjou at Tewkesbury, Anne further exercises such control when, having been placed effectively under house arrest by her sister Isobel and her husband George, Duke of Clarence, she places herself under the protection of Richard, Duke of Gloucester.
Tudor chroniclers would have us believe that Richard added to his crimes by kidnapping Anne, in order to gain control over a portion of the Warwick lands and influence. But it seems to me that Anne must have realised the precariousness of her position and, I think, she must have also realised the need to do her own deal with a son of York. To escape from her sister and marry Richard was a mutually beneficial arrangement; for Richard, it offered a half share of the Warwick estate and its inherent support of the north; for Anne, it gave the support and protection of York, her inheritance and some control over her own life.
The marriage of Richard and Anne is viewed with great cynicism by both the Tudors and modern commentators. But I believe that, had history not had a few more tricks up its sleeve, then we could be looking at a much happier ending for these two people who had known each other from birth. Perhaps even a love story.
After the death of Anne’s sister, Isobel, and then of George, Duke of Clarence, I don’t believe that we see a couple scheming to seize power. Did they need such power? The death of Isobel left Anne as the sole heiress to the vast Warwick estate. It seems to me that they were content. They took the orphan son and daughter of Isobel and George into their keeping and took them far from the intrigues of court to the northern castle of Middleham where Anne and Richard made their home. However, history had other ideas. The sudden and shocking death of Edward IV forced Richard and Anne back into the thick of things.
I don’t want to comment on or study the events that followed Edward’s death in this article, but I do want to say that I believe that whatever caused Richard to follow the course of action that he took would have been in consultation with his wife.
We have few examples of their married life, but those that we do have, show them to have worked together on administrative and religious matters. They would have shared a mistrust of Elizabeth the Queen and would have needed to consolidate their position. Moving the two Princes from Ludlow to the Tower of London, for example, was a decisive move. Anne’s knowledge of power and political machination gained from her father would have been invaluable to Richard at this time. In such a unique situation I think that they would have relied heavily on each other for support and guidance.
Once again history had something to say. The death of their only son, Edward, must have been devastating. And, to Richard, the loss of his only heir would surely have threatened his security as king. There were rumours that he was considering a divorce and, had Anne’s health not declined so rapidly, then I certainly think that discarding her in favour of another was a possibility. However, he would have had to balance such a move with the possible repercussions a divorce might have in the north, whose loyalty had come through his marriage to Anne. For the same reason, I do not believe the Tudor rumours that Richard poisoned Anne to marry Elizabeth of York.
What really happened behind closed doors, we will never know. What I think is certain, however, is that the death of Anne and the subsequent rumours, scandal and loss of support left Richard in a much weakened position; a situation which Henry Tudor was only too happy to exploit.