Anne Neville experienced life during the Wars of the Roses on both sides. The youngest daughter of Richard Neville – the 16th Earl of Warwick and the ‘kingmaker’ whose influence was without parallel within the House of York – she was married to both the Lancastrian heir to the throne and the last Yorkist king during her short life.
Anne and her sister Isabel spent much of their childhood at Middleham Castle in North Yorkshire, the seat of the Neville family. There they would meet George of Clarence and Richard of Gloucester, the Duke of York’s sons who also lived at Middleham during their youth – and who would both play significant roles in the girls’ lives. That these lives would be eventful was almost inevitable bearing in mind their father was the ever-scheming kingmaker.
In 1461, Warwick had helped to remove the Lancastrian Henry VI and install the Yorkist Edward IV as king instead. But his relationship with Edward would sour over time and, after unsuccessfully trying to replace the king with his younger brother, George of Clarence, by 1470 Warwick had fled to France, switching allegiance to the Lancastrian side. To allay concerns within the House of Lancaster about his possible duplicity, Warwick betrothed the teenage Anne to Edward, son of Margaret of Anjou and the imprisoned Henry VI. After the marriage, and following Henry’s restoration to the throne, Anne became Princess of Wales.
Anne Neville: key dates and facts
Born: 11 June 1456
Died: 16 March 1485
Queen from: 26 June 1483 to 16 March 1485
Parents: Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, and Anne Beauchamp, countess of Warwick
Children: Edward of Middleham, Prince of Wales
The marriage was short-lived. In 1471, Edward IV took back the crown for York and, at the battle of Barnet, Warwick was killed. Three weeks later, the Prince of Wales would meet the same fate at the battle of Tewkesbury. Anne had lost both her father and her husband in a very short space of time, but it was clear which death hurt her deepest. She had barely known her young husband – they were married for less than five, reportedly unconsummated, months – but the loss of her father left her vulnerable in such turbulent times.
Anne was taken into custody by the Yorkists, and became the subject of a struggle between her childhood friends George of Clarence (by now the husband of Anne’s sister Isabel) and Richard of Gloucester. The latter wanted to marry her, a move opposed by George who wished to keep Anne as his ward so that he could claim the Neville sisters’ sizeable inheritance for himself . The marriage was eventually agreed upon – but on the understanding that Richard sign away most of his rights to the family’s land and wealth. One story suggests that, in trying to keep Anne out of Richard’s clutches, George had her hide as a servant in a London cookshop.
Anne Neville, the White Queen
The wedding was held in the spring of 1472. Anne, the former Lancastrian Princess of Wales and still in her mid-teens, had returned to the Yorkist side as Richard’s wife, the Duchess of Gloucester. The couple moved to Middleham Castle, the childhood home of both of them for varying lengths, and settled into ten years of relative peace and order. They would soon welcome the arrival of a son, Edward of Middleham.
Anne and Richard’s relationship with their respective siblings – Isabel and George – was a fractious one, played out before the backdrop of the Neville’s substantial inheritance, not to mention Richard’s political ambitions. Nonetheless, after Isabel died in 1476 at the age of 25, and George little more than a year later, the late couple’s children were taken in by Anne.
George’s death made Richard’s ambitions more attainable, ambitions that would turn Anne, Duchess of Gloucester, into Anne, queen consort. In April 1483, Edward IV died and Richard was installed as Lord Protector of the new king, his 12-year-old nephew Edward V. However, the young king – along with his younger brother – was soon declared illegitimate and Richard ascended the throne in his place as Richard III. The boys, placed in the Tower of London, were never seen again.
Richard and Anne were crowned in July 1483, the first joint coronation for 175 years. Edward, the couple’s only child, was named Prince of Wales two months later, but would die suddenly the following April, after which Anne fell into a deep grief from which she never recovered.
Anne Neville’s death and burial
In March 1485, at the age of just 28, Anne too died. The suspected cause was tuberculosis, but rumours swiftly circulated that Richard had poisoned his queen in order to take a new bride, quite possibly his niece, Elizabeth of York. That he was believed to have commissioned the deaths of his nephews in the Tower gave credence to the gossip, which he was quick to dismiss.
On the day that Anne died, England experienced a solar eclipse; symbolically, her own light had been shut out. She was buried in an unmarked grave in Westminster Abbey and it wasn’t until 1960, more than half a millennium later, that her final resting place was acknowledged and a bronze tablet mounted on a nearby wall. Since then, interest in Anne has grown and she’s been the subject of numerous historical novels, most notably Philippa Gregory’s The Kingmaker’s Daughter.
It is these imagined appearances – along with the recent accelerated interest in her husband Richard III, after his remains were found under a Leicester car park in 2013 – that have helped to illuminate the mystery of Anne’s tragically short time on Earth. But after a life defined by multiple reinventions, she nonetheless remains something of an enigma.
Nige Tassell is a freelance journalist specialising in history
This content was written for BBC History Revealed and first published by HistoryExtra in 2021