1902 Encyclopedia > Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick
English nobleman
(c. 1420 - 71)




RICHARD NEVIL, EARL OF WARWICK, (c. 1420-1471), was born between 1420 and 1430. He was descended from a family of note in the north of England, that of the Nevils, who enjoyed for many generations the title of earls of Westmorland. His grandmother on the father's side was Joan, daughter of John of Gaunt. He inherited the title of earl of Salisbury from his father, a younger son of Ralph Nevil, and by his marriage with Anne, daughter of Richard Beauchamp, he became earl of Warwick. His descent from John of Gaunt made him naturally a member of the Lancastrian party, but the marriage of his aunt, Cicely Nevil, to Richard, duke of York, connected him also with the Yorkist house. As first cousin of Edward IV. and second cousin of Henry VI. he was well fitted for the double part which he was destined to play in English history.
When the struggle between the Roses began, he and his father threw in their lot with the Yorkists. The first attempt of the duke of York (in 1450) to assert his claims proved unsuccessful, but three years later the final loss of Guienne, coupled with the king's imbecility, enabled him to renew his efforts. The duke became pro-tector, but the king's recovery drove him from power and forced him to take up arms a second time. He was now joined actively by Warwick and his father, the former of whom raised a body of troops and contributed largely to the Yorkist victory at St Albans (1455). Warwick was rewarded for his services with the governorship of Calais. This important post gave him the control of the narrow seas, and supplied him with a harbour of refuge whither he could safely retire in case of a change of affairs in England. In the latter capacity Calais soon proved useful.
In 1457, when Henry had recovered his senses, Warwick attended a council at Coventry, at which he took an oath of fealty to the king. Next year he attended a great meeting in London, summoned for the purpose of recon-ciling the two parties. He was followed on this occasion by six hundred men clad in his livery, and wearing red coats embroidered with ragged staves, the badge of the house of Warwick. An apparent reconciliation was effected, but Warwick, accused of misconduct in attacking a fleet of North Sea merchant-ships near Calais, took advantage of an affray between his followers and some of the king's men to assert that a plot was laid against his life, and retired to his fortress across the Channel. When in 1459 the duke of York took up arms for the third time, Warwick and his father, the earl of Salisbury, joined him at Ludlow. The confederates were strongly posted, but, being deserted by Sir Andrew Trollop, they lost heart and dispersed, Salisbury and Warwick again taking refuge at Calais. A parliament which met at Coventry now attainted Warwick and his father, with other leaders, of high treason, and Somerset was sent to supersede Warwick in his command. The latter, however, made a strong resistance, repelled Somerset, and took his ships, after which he sailed to Dublin to concert further measures with the duke of York. The results of this negotiation were seen early in 1460, when the duke of York issued a manifesto to rouse the people against the Government, and Warwick, landing in Kent, marched on London. The king retired northward and intrenched himself at Northampton, where he was defeated with much loss by Warwick, and taken prisoner. Warwick returned with his captive to London, and the duke of York at once claimed the crown. After much debate the king was induced to consent to a compromise, by which he was to retain the crown during life, and the duke of York and his heirs were to succeed him. The queen, however, refused to sanction this arrangement, and assembled an army in the north. The

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duke of York, marching against her, was defeated and killed at Wakefield (December 1460), and the earl of Salisbury was taken and beheaded shortly after. The Yorkist victory of Mortimer's Cross (1461) did not stop the queen's march on London, and Warwick, attempting to bar her progress, was entirely defeated at the second battle of St Albans. The king fell into the hands of his own party, but Warwick escaped. The Lancastrian triumph was, however, short-lived. The citizens of London, already devoted to the house of York, were exasperated by the excesses of the Lancastrian troops, and when Warwick, with Edward, earl of March, raised another army and marched towards the capital, the queen was forced to retire to the north. Warwick and Edward entered the city, and the latter was proclaimed king under the title of Edward IV. The sanguinary battle of Towton (March 1461), in which the victory was greatly due to the skill and energy of Warwick, secured the crown for Edward, and gave the nation peace for several years.
Honours and emoluments were showered on Warwick. The governorship of Guisnes and Dammes, with the lieutenancy of the marches there, was added to his com-mand at Calais; he became warden of the western marches towards Scotland, constable of Dover, and lord high chamberlain. The revenue derived from these employments was calculated at 80,000 crowns a year. His brother, John, Lord Montague, was made earl of Northumberland and warden of the eastern marches, and his brother George became archbishop of York and lord chancellor. For some time Warwick did his best to main-tain Edward on his throne. An attempt on the part of the Lancastrians in 1463 to recover their power was put down by the united efforts of the Nevils. Montague defeated Percy at Hedgley Moor and Somerset at Hexham, while Warwick besieged and took Bamborough Castle, which was held by Sir Balph Grey. Soon afterwards Henry VI. was taken prisoner and was lodged by Warwick in the Tower.
But the power and ambition of Warwick were too great to allow the good understanding between the king-maker and the king to be of long duration. The first difference between them arose on the question of the king's marriage. In 1464 Warwick was employed to treat for peace with France, and was anxious to establish it on the firm basis of a matrimonial alliance. His plans were frustrated by Edward's marriage with Elizabeth Woodville. At this time Warwick is said to have been negotiating for a marriage between the king and Bona of Savoy, niece of Louis XL According to another authority, the princess proposed was Isabella of Castile. Whatever may be the truth of these reports, it is clear that Edward's marriage was not approved by Warwick, and that on the question of foreign policy they followed divergent aims. The rapid advancement of the queen's family contributed to widen the breach. When in 1467 a marriage was proposed between the king's sister Margaret and Charles of Burgundy, Warwick, true to his policy of reconciling England and France, vigorously opposed the match, and suggested in its stead a marriage with a French prince. For a time Edward seemed willing to yield, and Warwick was sent over to treat with the French king. He met him at Bouen, and was received with unusual marks of respect. The result of the conference was that ambassadors were sent by Louis to offer Edward a treaty on favourable terms. But the latter, who had already shown his dis-pleasure by depriving the archbishop of his chancellor-ship, rejected the offer, and Warwick retired in disgust to one of his castles in the north. Shortly afterwards the marriage between Charles and Margaret took place. An , apparent reconciliation between Edward and Warwick was now effected, but its hollowness was shown by the marriage of Isabella, eldest daughter of Warwick, with George, duke of Clarence, a match which Edward strenuously but vainly opposed (1468). A period of intrigue and insurrection followed. A rising in the north, under Robin of Redes-dale, was at first defeated by Montague, but the rebels were allowed to make head again. They were soon joined by Warwick and his party, who, if they did not originate, at all events encouraged the rebellion. Edward, whose troops were defeated at Edgecote, fell into Warwick's hands, and was removed to his castle at Middleham. When, however, the Lancastrians took advantage of this state of affairs and rose in arms, they were speedily put down by Warwick. Edward was released and a formal reconciliation followed (1469).
The situation had, however, by this time become in-tolerable. A fresh insurrection broke out in Lincolnshire, and the confessions of the leaders, who were taken by the royal troops, showed that it had been instigated by Clarence and Warwick. The king at once marched against the conspirators, who in vain attempted to collect sufficient forces, and with some difficulty escaped from the country. Warwick made for his old stronghold at Calais, but his lieutenant proved faithless, and turned his guns against him. Thereupon he took refuge at the court of France and resolved to side openly with the Lancastrians. A treaty was made between Warwick and Queen Margaret, which was cemented by the marriage of Prince Edward with Warwick's daughter Anne. This change of front naturally caused a coolness between Warwick and Clarence; but, before the latter could trim his course anew, Warwick, having obtained assistance from Louis XL, landed in the south of England. Edward was taken by surprise, and, unable to make any resistance, fled to Flanders. Warwick at once marched to London, released Henry VI. from captivity, and replaced him on the throne. A general restoration of property and position to the Lancastrians took place. Warwick and his brothers resumed their offices, and Clarence was recognized as successor to the throne in default of heirs-male to Henry VI. (1470).
But this turn of fortune was as brief as it was sudden. The house of Lancaster was finally overthrown by another revolution as capricious and inexplicable as any of those which had already marked this extraordinary conflict. Henry VI. had only been a few months on the throne when Edward, with the assistance of the duke of Burgundy, landed in Yorkshire, and, gathering troops as he went, marched upon London. He was joined by " false, fleeting, perjured" Clarence, and admitted into the capital by Warwick's brother the archbishop. On Easter-Day 1471 the forces of the king and the earl met at Barnet, and the former won a complete victory. The earl and his brother Montague were slain. Soon afterwards the battle of Tewkesbury and the death of Prince Edward extinguished the last hopes of the Lancastrian party.
The career of the king-maker is chiefly remarkable as illustrating the grandeurs and the evils of feudalism. Warwick's landed property was enormous, comprising, according to the deed by which his widow made it over to Henry VII., upwards of 110 manors in 21 counties, besides the city of Worcester, the islands of Guern-sey, Jersey, Alderney, and Sark, and various places in Wales. Commynes tells us that at Calais he was so popular that every one wore his badge, " no man esteeming himself gallant whose head was not adorned with his ragged staff." Stow (Annals) says that "at his house in London six oxen were usually eaten at a break-fast, and every tavern was full of his meat, for who that had any acquaintance in his family should have as much sodden and roast as he could carry on a long dagger." In a time of civil war and a disputed title to the throne, such a man was naturally too strong for a subject. The restoration of order and the maintenance of the sovereignty of the state rendered inevitable the disappearance of the class so vigorously represented by the "Last of the Barons."
See Dugdnle, Baronage of England; P. de Commynes, Memoirs; Lingard, History of England ; Pauli, Geschichte Englands. (G. W. P.)






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