A Cinderella Story
Historians always warn us not to romanticise the relationship between a young Anne Neville and Richard of Gloucester. It is very easy to turn the mysterious circumstances of their courtship into the stuff of romantic legend. George, Duke of Clarence, is the wicked step-mother, his wife Isabel, the ugly step-sister. Anne is the beautiful princess turned into a pauper, her inheritance stolen, trapped within the walls of a castle, hidden in the scullery in the garb of a kitchen maid, until her childhood sweetheart, Prince Richard comes along and sweeps her off her feet. Together they plan her flight and steal away in the night, the Prince snatches his beautiful Princess from the clutches of her evil guardian, fulfills his lifelong dream and marries her, and they live happily ever after.
There is a hint of truth in the fiction. Anne Neville was being held, a prisoner in all but name, by her sister and brother-in-law who were quite determined to not let her remarry. Richard did want to marry her and they did, together, conceive a plan to smuggle her out of the “care” of George Duke of Clarence.
Anne Neville was a 15 year-old widow. She was also a dowager princess, having been married in 1471, mere months before the final battles between Lancaster and York. Anne’s first marriage, to Edward of Lancaster, heir to the Lancastrian throne, was part of an alliance between her father, the formidable Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and the Lancastrian Queen, now deposed, Margaret of Anjou. Lancaster had managed to depose Edward IV for a brief period, but Edward returned to take his throne by force. Between the Battle of Barnet and the Battle of Tewkesbury Anne lost her father and her husband, and her mother fled to sanctuary. The York King then murdered her father-in-law, Lancastrian King Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou was taken prisoner.
Anne was all alone. Under normal circumstances, as a dowager princess she should have been entitled to a dower from her husband’s possessions. Her husband, however, had of course died as a traitor. Her title as Princess of Wales was now useless, Edward IV had his own heir to bestow the Wales title upon. As a widow Anne should have been a femme sole, entitled to manage her own property and wealth, for while any jointure from her husband was now not available to her, as the heir of the Earl of Warwick and Anne Beauchamp she was entitled to her half of a vast inheritance, to be split equally with her sister. While her mother Anne Beauchamp was still alive, she was under guard, her own jointure forfeit for being the widow of a traitor. But the Neville sister’s inheritance was now in the hands of the king’s own brother, George Duke of Clarence, who had married Isabel Neville.
Sounds messy? It certainly was. Anne had been made George’s ward, while the entire Warwick estate had been given over to George to manage. Anne could not claim her rightful inheritance as a widow. Isabel and George had no intention of allowing Anne to remarry, for they would have to give her half of the inheritance. When George learned that his younger brother, Richard of Gloucester, had shown an interest in marrying Anne he tried everything in his power to stop the marriage.
Richard somehow contrived to smuggle Anne out of Coldharbour House and escort her to sanctuary at St. Martins in London. Anne and Richard had reached an agreement and would apply for dispensation to cover the affinity between them (not an uncommon occurrence in those times) so they could become legally married. But why would Anne Neville marry into the family that was responsible for the death of her father, her father-in-law and her first husband?
There is no evidence that Anne did not welcome a match with Richard, the stories of “abduction” are incorrect. Marriages had to be made by mutual consent, or they were illegal. Her father had in fact attempted to negotiate the marriage between her and Richard, along with George and Isabel, before Anne was married to Edward of Lancaster. Warwick had wanted his daughters to be royal duchesses. Anne’s situation was far from desirable. She was essentially trapped and needed someone to help her fight George for her rightful inheritance. George was powerful, but Richard equally so. In fact he was the only man powerful enough to challenge his older brother. One need not be cynical in assuming Richard was as amorous of her fortune as he was of her. Anne would have been aware of the fact herself. As Amy Licence points out “Anne was no fool, she knew her value and what she had to offer”1. But the marriage was mutually beneficial, and marriages among the nobility were made for alliance and wealth.
In her Own Right
For Richard the advantages of marrying Anne Neville were many. He would secure a vast fortune and marry a woman he had known since his childhood, rather than a foreign princess he had never met. No accounts of their relationship when they were children exist but we can speculate that at least they had things in common, they had both survived the turbulent years of the wars, and could now share a low-key existence in the north, Lord and Lady of their own small piece of the kingdom. What Richard afforded Anne was peace and security, to become a royal duchess in her own right having married the man of her own choosing. The marriage was a lasting one. Eventually he gave her a crown. But Richard lost both his only son and wife to illness before his own death in 1485. Her husband became notorious, but Anne Neville remains one of the most elusive Queens of England.
Read our interview with historian Amy Licence on Richard III’s Elusive Queen, Anne Neville.
- Licence, Amy: Anne Neville Richard III Tragic Queen, Amberley Publishing 2013 p.275 ↩