If, like me, you are an avid reader of historical novels you may be forgiven for thinking that we know a great deal about Anne Neville, the youngest daughter of Richard Neville, The Duke of Warwick, known historically as The Kingmaker.
I’m trusting the picture on the left does not do her justice but it seems to be the best we have of her. In truth, the details we have about Anne are very few and her movements can only be traced via the records of the men who lived their lives around her. Her thoughts and feelings can only be guessed at although, what information we do have of her, suggests her life was one of tremendous upheaval and suffering.
She was little more than a pawn, married off at around the age of fourteen to the Lancastrian heir, Edward, son of Henry VI, to seal Warwick’s alliance with Margaret of Anjou when he turned against his king, Edward IV. At around the same time, and to the same end, her sister, Isabel, was married to George, the Duke of Clarence, disloyal younger brother of the king.
What Anne herself made of her first marriage we shall never know, her feelings were not important enough to warrant recording or even speculating upon but she would have been raised to loath and distrust the Lancastrian faction and, to find herself suddenly part of it, must have been greatly disturbing.
We do not know if the marriage was consummated but novelists have taken various approaches to the matter. It would have been vital to produce and heir but, as has been speculated, perhaps Margaret, still distrustful of Warwick, preferred to bide her time. There is little doubt that Margaret held a dominant role over her son so it is safe to assume that her word would have been law in that household.
Following her father’s death at the Battle of Barnet in 1471 and the Lancastrian defeat and her husband’s death at Tewkesbury shortly afterward, the widowed Anne again found herself at the mercy of the men controlling her.
She was taken into custody by the Yorkist faction and, it is at this point that her brother in law, George, anxious to secure Warwick’s inheritances for himself, and fearful that his younger brother, Richard of Gloucester, had his eye on Anne’s share of the plunder, sent Anne into hiding. Acting as her ward, the story claims that George disguised her as a servant and set her to work in a London cook shop.
We can only speculate on the truth of this but the story crops up time and time again and the fairy tale idea of Richard of Gloucester frantically tracking her down, rescuing and marrying her is irresistible to authors of fiction. If I were to be removed from my keyboard and thrust into a cook shop I’d be like a fish out of water and, believe me, I am no duchess!
However, the story persists of her enslavement and subsequent rescue and, after her liberation she sought sanctuary at the Church of St Martin the Grand. Anne and Richard were married in 1472 and the next year they returned to Middleham Castle where Anne (reputedly) had spent much of her childhood. Richard worked loyally on the king’s behalf, protecting the northern border and maintaining the peace. The people of the north favoured Richard for his fair administration while Anne, in the meantime, gave birth to a son, whom they named Edward, after the king.
Everything seemed to be going well for Anne now but, on the sudden death of Edward IV in 1483 and the revelation by Bishop Stillington of Bath and Wells that the king’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had been bigamous and all their offspring illegitimate, Richard of Gloucester (by fair means or foul) ascended to the throne and Anne found herself Queen of England.
They were crowned jointly at Westminster and their son became the Prince of Wales and heir to the throne.
As everyone knows, Richard’s reign was beset by trials and betrayal but there are no records of the success of his marriage but Richard, unlike most kings, has no recorded mistresses and no bastards born after the wedding. This suggests either extreme circumspection on his part, in a time when none was required, or fidelity and when their ten-year-old son, Edward, died suddenly in April, 1484, the Croyland Chronicle stated that:
‘On hearing the news of this, at Nottingham, where they were then residing, you might have seen his father and mother in a state almost bordering on madness, by reason of their sudden grief.’
|Battle of Bosworth|
After the death of his only heir rumours began to circulate that Richard intended to divorce his wife and marry his niece, Elizabeth of York and Anne herself, who it seems had never been particularly healthy, died of consumption in the following year during an eclipse of the sun. There is no substantiated evidence of this but, it must be said, it is perfect fodder for writers.
Richard’s defeat at Bosworth and the subsequent Tudor regime put an end to any possibility of discovering the real truth about Anne, Richard or his reign. Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne was shaky. He was an unpopular king and resorted to propaganda against the prior regime in order to improve his own stability. As a result most facts that we know about Richard were recorded by, or under the regime of, the Tudors and is therefore suspect. And, as for Anne, there was nobody sufficiently interested to record any facts about her life.
|Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field by James E McConnell|
However, since the advent of the novel and a burgeoning of interest in women’s history, Anne has become, if not more factually accessible, then at least more evident and her shady outline is beginning to appear. Whereas, for many years, she was unheard of, she has now become more than a few faded lines on the historical record and a dodgy painting.
My personal first encounter with Anne was made many years ago in Sharon Penman’s novel The Sunne in Splendour, which traces Richard’s life journey, explores his relationship with Anne and helps her to emerge from the shadows. They are depicted as childhood sweethearts, eventually reunited in marriage, their relationship solid and untainted by exterior forces. It remains one of my favourite historical novels in the period and prompted me to read more.
There are, as ever, several other novels that are less convincing and some of them are too bad for me to stomach. Too many writers have succumbed to the temptation of embellishing the much-maligned Richard with unlikely saintliness of character and, as much as I love him, I find this disbelieving and unsettling.
Richard the third was not a saint. He was devout but, in those days, that didn’t mean a man was perfect; it was more likely to mean that he was terrified of heavenly retribution and prayed as often and as fervently as he could. He was a man of his time, a powerful warrior king, who did not flinch from duty. Death before dishonour, etc. etc. He was honourable which did not mean he would have the first idea of how to sit and take tea in a lady’s boudoir. If you met Richard the third in the street today he would appear terrifying so, please, novelists everywhere, let him at least be humanly flawed!
One of my favourite depictions of Richard is Reay Tannahill’s The Seventh Sonwherein Richard is more realistically drawn and his relationship with Anne is complex. It is a grown-up take on an opaque historical figure and Anne is drawn how she must have been, as a vulnerable woman entangled in the fate of the men around her.
My first ever attempt at a novel was on the subject of Anne Neville. It has never been published and is shoved in the back of a cupboard somewhere, gathering dust. My Anne is quietly supportive of her husband and fiercely loyal, providing the self-questioning husband with just the right amount of sagacious advice he needs to do the things that must be done. Like every other depiction of Anne, she is probably as far from the real thing as I am but, perhaps, one day I will blow off the dust and have another go at it. Rewrite her again and see if I can get a bit closer.
Judith Arnopp writes historical novels from a female perspective. Currently available are:
Peaceweaver: The story of Eadgyth Ælfgarsdottir, wife and queen to both Gruffydd ap Llewellyn of Wales and Harold II of England. Eadgyth tells a tale of loss, betrayal, passion and war and highlights the plight of women, tossed in the tumultuous sea of feuding Anglo Saxon Britain. Also now on Amazon Kindle.
The Forest Dwellers:A tale of oppression, sexual manipulation and vengeance. The people of Ytene are persecuted, evicted from their homes and forced to live in exile. Life is hard. The Norman interlopers are hated. Twelve years after the Norman invasion, siblings, Ælf and Leo, encounter soldiers molesting a forest girl in the wood. They stop the attack in the only way they can ... violently and their action triggers a chain of events that will end only with the death of a king. Also now on Amazon Kindle.
The Song of Heledd: In seventh century Powys at the hall of King Cynddylan, the princesses, Heledd and Ffreur attend a celebratory feast where fifteen-year-old Heledd develops an infatuation for a travelling minstrel. The illicit liaison triggers a chain of events that will destroy two kingdoms and bring down a dynasty. Now on Amazon Kindle.
Also on Kindle: Dear Henry: Confessions of the Queens: A selection of six short stories from each of Henry VIII’s queens.
A Tapestry of Time: Short stories ranging from Tudor times, through Waterloo to the modern day.
Leave your comment, choose one of the books listed above, choose which format you prefer (e-book or paperback), add your e-mail address and ... good luck! One lucky winner will get his/her prize. This giveaway contest is open internationally and ends on March 30th when the winner is announced.
For more information and excerpts of Judith’s work see her webpage: www.juditharnopp.com