Warwick used his power to raise and remove kings in a medieval game of thrones, writes Sarah Peverley, professor of medieval literature at the University of Liverpool…
Richard Neville, the 16th Earl of Warwick (1428–71) was a decisive player in the late 15th-century conflict known as the Wars of the Roses. Fuelled by unparalleled personal wealth and the influence it generated at home and abroad, Warwick used his power to raise and remove kings in a medieval game of thrones that had far-reaching effects on the social and economic stability of England.
An adept politician, Warwick knew how to manipulate popular discontent to his advantage and that of the kings he served. But when he found himself marginalised and at odds with Edward IV, his volte-face in championing Henry VI’s hopeless cause set him and his Lancastrian conspirators on a collision course with disaster.
Warwick’s ambitious plan to make his daughter queen by virtue of a hasty marriage to Henry’s son, Prince Edward, forced him into battle with a superior opponent and few allies. The devastation wreaked on Warwick at the battle of Barnet on 14 April 1471 allowed Edward IV to secure another victory 20 days later at the battle of Tewkesbury, where Prince Edward was killed and Henry VI’s consort, Margaret of Anjou, was captured.
Warwick’s bloody demise on the battlefield also sealed the fate of Henry VI, who was murdered in the Tower of London shortly after Tewkesbury to ensure that no further uprisings could be held in his name.
Warwick was an overmighty subject but also a victim of circumstance, writes historian and battlefields expert Julian Humphrys…
Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, has gone down in history as ‘the Kingmaker’, a classic example of one of those overmighty subjects whose ambitions were a major cause of the Wars of the Roses.
In fact, he had no say whatsoever in the event that propelled him to the centre of the national stage, for he was only six when he was betrothed to the nine-year old Warwick heiress, Anne Beauchamp. It was a union that would eventually see him inherit both the Earldom of Warwick and vast estates that, added to his own Neville lands, would make him one of the most powerful men in the country.
It seems that many of his subsequent actions were motivated by a desire to protect his inheritance. He supported Richard of York (and then his son, Edward IV) against Henry VI and in doing so, was able to strike at two pro-Lancastrian families: the Beauforts, who challenged his inheritance, and the Percys, the Nevilles’ traditional enemies. Warwick played a major role in Edward IV’s victory at the battle of Towton, and was for a while the King’s chief advisor. But after Edward married Elizabeth Woodville, he became increasingly disenchanted.
In 1469, feeling he was being denied the influence that was his by right and resenting the King’s failure to find suitable matches for his daughters, he took the first steps on the road that would lead to his defeat and death.