Of all the women who appear in The Protector, Anne Neville is the one we know least about. Superficially, at least, this may seem strange. She was the younger daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the mightiest nobleman of his time, and of his wife Anne Beauchamp, one of the great heiresses of the day. She was twice married, first to Edward of Lancaster, Prince of Wales, and then to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who became King Richard III and made Anne a queen. With such a public life, why does she remain so obscure?
Many of the basic facts of her existence are well known. She was born on June 11, 1456 at Warwick Castle in the western Midlands of England. She was only fourteen when she was married off to Prince Edward in December 1470 to further her father’s political ambitions, but she was widowed five months later after her husband was slain at the battle of Tewkesbury. She was probably not yet sixteen when she married Richard of Gloucester sometime in the spring of 1472. She gave birth to a son, Edward of Middleham, in the 1470s (exact date unknown), but no other children came from her. Upon her husband’s ascension to the throne in June, 1483, she was crowned beside him at Westminster Abbey, but she did not live long in her new role. She died during a solar eclipse (signs and portents!) on March 16, 1485 at the age of 28, apparently of some infectious disease.
What is usually missing from the narrative is how Anne felt about any of this. Her silence is sometimes taken to suggest that something sinister was going on, no doubt perpetrated by her husband Richard who became a popular scapegoat for all sorts of malfeasance. I must disclose here that this is not how I see Anne or her relationship with Richard, nor is it how I have written her character. While she plays a relatively minor role in The Protector, she is a major character in my new novel, The Neville Inheritance, which begins fourteen years before The Protector when Anne is not quite thirteen.
The lack of evidence of her personality and character makes her a tabula rasa, a blank slate, on which authors may write just about anything about her to fill in the gaps. One treatment I saw on TV even held Anne responsible for the murders of the Princes in the Tower! I envision her as a young woman of striking independence who knows what she wants and goes after it. It is she who pursues the sixteen-year-old Richard, her friend since childhood, and declares her love for him. Their plans to marry are blocked by her father’s rebellion against Richard’s brother Edward IV. Warwick uses her as a pawn to cement his new alliance with their former enemies, the House of Lancaster, a blatantly cynical move even by the standards of the day. Anne has no choice but to obey her father, but in my interpretation, she does not do so altogether willingly.
Of course, she and Richard are ultimately able to marry, and for one perspective on how that comes about, I hope you will read The Neville Inheritance when it is published. Anne returns with her new husband to her beloved childhood home, Middleham Castle in North Yorkshire, far from the petty intrigues and back-stabbings of the court. Part of the reason she seems so obscure to us today may be that she was also far from the contemporary chroniclers who recorded events in the fifteenth century. She and Richard, who was Lord of the North, seem to have been quite content with country life, raising their son in a provincial backwater. The reason they have only one child is a mystery, but I can only assume it has something to do with Anne’s health, which seems to have been fragile, and is not a comment on the happiness or unhappiness of their marriage. The unexpected death of Edward IV in April 1483, ends this period of stability for both Richard and Anne and draws them back into the maelstrom of court life where Richard makes a life-altering decision that affects them both. In my treatment, Anne never wishes to be queen and tries, unsuccessfully, to dissuade her husband from taking the crown.
She seems to have been an unhappy queen. After Richard’s northern progress, she spends some time in Middleham with her young son, who is apparently not strong enough to be moved to London, but of course she has to return there herself to be with Richard. This separation from her son is undeniably difficult, and when the boy dies in April 1484, a few months after she leaves him at Middleham, she is devastated. Her health and life seem to have spiraled downhill after that. She dies within a year, several months before her husband is killed in battle at Bosworth Field.
Anne Neville’s story is sad, but it is a fascinating one. I like to think that the eleven years she and Richard enjoyed at Middleham Castle brought her some peace and happiness despite the way her life ended. Surely, she deserved that!