Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Royalty and Daughters: The Lives of Isobel and Anne Neville part one

Anne Neville portrait.jpg

by Wendy Zollo
Anne Neville, the wife of Richard III, was Queen of England for such a brief period not much beyond the principal facts have been recorded. Her sister Isobel is but a footnote to history, overlooked and forgotten.
Women of this period (14th /15th century) were not well documented. Customarily they were chronicled by the accomplishments of their families and spouses. Nevertheless, they were expected to manage substantial households, provide heirs and act as submissive political pawns. Isobel and Anne Neville would prove to be the most valuable of pawns in their father's game of political conniving.
In order to discover the women they were and how they related to one another and the events that encompassed them, we must turn our eyes to the men who overshadowed and beleaguered their short lives.
Isobel and Anne were the daughters of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and his Countess, Anne Beauchamp (Despencer). Both girls were born at Warwick Castle, Warwickshire, England: Isobel in September of 1451 and Anne in June 1456. They seem to have had a traditional upbringing, receiving instruction in the skills thought essential for young noble women.
It was at their father's stronghold of Middleham Castle in Yorkshire where they became acquainted with their cousins, George and Richard of York, sons of Cecily Neville and Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York. As it was the convention of the time that the male offspring of the nobility be farmed out to other aristocratic families, who better to consign the young George and Richard to than the greatest landowner in England, the Earl of Warwick? Here they would be taught the requisite military and social skills, while at the same time forming substantial future alliances.
Though it is easy to imagine that a mutual affection was already blossoming between the Neville sisters and the York brothers, this more probably is a romantic notion, than an actual reality, even allowing for a natural fondness between cousins. The Earl may have already had his sights set on a marriage between the two pairs, making him eager to nurture their feelings for each other. Not that the absence of emotions on his daughters' part would have mired his campaign; his daughters would have been expected to make advantageous marriages.
One of the most dominant lords of England, a charismatic, self-centered, arrogant man of moderate military skill, Warwick was by far the most significant figure in Isobel and Anne's life. They could have loathed him, feared him or worshiped him, but there is little doubt that they respected him. However how much respect did he have for them? Warwick, akin to other males of his time, had no need to hold them in esteem: they were females. Lacking a son of his own "house," he considered it necessary to use Isobel and Anne to his best advantage.

I believe that he used his daughters in a more merciless manner than was commonly done, for he did not marry them off for the customary reasons: attaining wealth or acquiring lands to augment and protect those he already held. He chose to exploit them to gratify his hankering for supremacy and clout, proving in the end that the only loyalty he held was to himself. It makes one ponder what other avenues would have been opened to him had he even one more daughter to enmesh in his pursuit for power.
The Earl began to lose his influence over Edward IV (if he in actuality ever had any or was only provided a mirage of such by the young king for whom he was instrumental in assisting to depose the daft and excessively pious Henry VI and his Queen, Margaret de Anjou), during the futile marital alliance he attempted to create with France. The King announced his marriage to Elizabeth Wydville at a tremendously impolitic point in the Earl's negotiations, causing him to suffer grave political embarrassment. For a man of his ego, the blow to his narcissism must have been of immense proportions. This event combined with an earlier refusal by Edward to sanction a marriage between his brother George (now Duke of Clarence) and Isobel strained the affiliation between the two men, setting the stage for Warwick's rebellions.
In 1469, Isobel made her initial appearance of importance by marrying the Duke of Clarence in Calais where her father was Governor. A dispensation had been clandestinely obtained and the ceremony was officiated by Isobel's uncle George Neville, Archbishop of York.
This marriage proved to be the first step in Warwick's campaign to topple Edward from the throne he had helped to place him on, substituting him with the more compliant Clarence. George, with his well-documented unstable behavior, was in all probability enamored by the brilliance of a crown of his own. Isobel, as a dutiful daughter, did her father's bidding. Nonetheless, Isobel, not having a voice in the matter, may very well have found marriage to a royal duke appealing. Not only was she marrying a man she almost certainly had developed a sincere affection for; there was the promise of a coronet for her as well.
With her father and husband in open rebellion against her King and now brother-in-law, Isobel was left in Calais with her mother and sister. All three ladies would have certainly been uneasy. Being sisters, Isobel and Anne were likely to have turned to each other during times of anxiety and adversity. It could have resulted in a great bond between them. Still, one cannot be sure that this was really the case.
The first revolt of Warwick and Clarence was a measure in failure and in time they made their way back across the Channel, heedless of Isobel's advanced pregnancy. In the course of the crossing, Isobel was delivered of her first child, a stillborn daughter, Anne Plantagenet.
Upon landing in Dieppe, the Earl, now conniving under the guidance and pleasure of the King of France, joined forces with his former nemesis, Margaret de Anjou, the deposed queen of England. Warwick, without hesitation, used his youngest daughter Anne to seal this fated coalition by marrying her to the son of Margaret and Henry, Edward of Lancaster, Prince of Wales.

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