Richard Neville, earl of Warwick (1428-1471)

Richard Neville, earl of Warwick (1428-1471) is better known as Warwick the Kingmaker, and played a major role placing Edward IV on the throne before turning against him and briefly restoring Henry VI to power in 1470-71. During his life Warwick had an impressive military reputation, although his performance as a general suggests that this might have been rather undeserved.

Warwick was the oldest son of Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury, and the grandson of Ralph Neville, first earl of Westmorland. By the time Warwick was born his father had inherited much of the Westmorland estate, and was about to become earl of Salisbury, so was already one of the wealthier members of the aristocracy. Salisbury was also a major supporter of the Lancastrian regime for most of his life.

The key to Warwick's fortune was his marriage to Anne Beauchamp, the daughter of Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick. The young Richard Neville wasn't expected to inherit the Beauchamp estates, but the death of Richard Beauchamp's infant granddaughter Anne in 1449 meant that Richard became earl of Warwick. He was suddenly transformed from being the son of a powerful magnate into a powerful and wealthy man in his own right. He even outranked his own father. 

Anne had three surviving half-sisters, the children of Richard Beauchamp and his first wife. When her brother Henry died in 1446 the title and Beauchamp estates passed to his infant daughter Anne. When Anne died in 1449 her estates passed to Henry's heir, and the doctrine of the exclusion of the half-blood meant that Richard Neville's wife Anne, as Henry's full sister, inherited the entire estate while her half-sisters were excluded.

All three of her half-sisters were married to powerful men, and all three made a claim for part of the Beauchamp estates. The oldest sister Margaret was married to John Talbot, first of Shrewsbury, and he attempted to claim the Warwick title. The second sister Eleanor, was married to Edmund Beaufort, second duke of Somerset, who had close connections to the court. The third sister, Elizabeth, was married to George Neville, Lord Latimer. The half-sister's cases were soon dismissed, although the question of the hereditary chamberlainship of the exchequer dragged on into the 1450s.

Battles of the Wars of the Roses
Battles of the
Wars of the Roses

Warwick also inherited large estates through his wife's mother Isabel Despenser. Anne was join heir to both the Despenser estates and the Lordship of Abergavenny. This time their rival was George Neville, heir of Edward, Lord Bergavenny, the co-heir. He was a minor, and at first Warwick was granted the wardship of his estates. In March 1453 the wardship was confirmed, but in July it was granted to Somerset, a step that helped push Warwick into the Yorkist camp. Warwick's response to this snub was to seize Cardiff and Cowbridge Castles and hold them against the king's commissioners.

In 1450 Richard of York returned from Ireland in an attempt to force Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset, out of power at court. At first Salisbury and Warwick remained neutral in this power struggle. They were related to both men - Salisbury's mother was Joan Beaufort, while York was married to Salisbury's sister Cecily and was thus Warwick's uncle by marriage.

In 1452 York resorted to arms for the first time, but he had little support. Both of the Nevilles were part of the large Royal army that faced York's much smaller army in a standoff at Dartford. They were part of the delegation that attempted to negotiate between the two sides, but chose to stay loyal to Henry VI. They did manage to reduce York's punishment, but he was still forced away from the centre of political life.

In August 1453 Henry VI suffered his first mental breakdown. At first Somerset and the existing council attempted to remain in power, but Richard of York, as the senior member of the peerage, had a strong case to be made Protector. Salisbury and Warwick were amongst his supporters, and were both rewarded when York took power. Salisbury became chancellor, while Warwick had his rights to the Beauchamp estates confirmed.

At the end of 1454 Henry recovered and in January 1455 York's first protectorate came to an end. Somerset was released from the Tower and Salisbury removed as chancellor. Warwick and Salisbury were now fully committed to the Yorkist cause, and went north to help the Duke raise an army. They moved quicker than the Lancastrians, and greatly outnumbered them at the first battle of St. Albans (22 May 1455). The Lancastrians held the town and for some time managed to keep the Yorkists out, but Warwick's men eventually broke through their defences. Very few Lancastrian nobles were killed at St. Albans, but Warwick was probably responsible for the death of Lord Clifford and his men may have been involved in the death of Somerset. After the battle Warwick took custody of Someret's son Henry, soon to be third duke of Somerset.

The first battle of St. Albans was the foundation of Warwick's military reputation. In later years he would play a major part in Edward IV's victories, fighting at Towton, and conducting most of the campaign in the north of England in 1461-64. He also gained a great reputation as a naval commander, but his record as a battlefield commander wasn't so impressive. Edward IV was said not to have respected Warwick's military abilities, and his two main battlefield commands, the second battle of St. Albans and the battle of Barnet both ended in defeat.

In 1455 Warwick was appointed captain of Calais. At the time Calais contained most important standing army in English pay, and control of Calais would play a major role in the Wars of the Roses. At first he struggled to gain entry to the town, where both the garrison and the Company of the Staple were owed a great deal of money. In February 1456 Warwick came to an agreement to pay the debts, and in July 1456 he was finally able to take command. At first he placed his uncle William Neville, Lord Fauconberg, in command but Calais would soon become Warwick's own base.

Early in 1456 Henry recovered from a second mental breakdown and ended York's Second Protectorate. The Duke of York retained much of his influence for the moment, but Henry's wife Margaret of Anjou now emerged as an important Lancastrian leader, dedicated to her son Prince Edward. Warwick was seen as one of her main enemies, and at the Coventry council late in 1456 he and York were forced to swear an oath of loyalty. After that Warwick spent most of his time at Calais.

Warwick's big problem at Calais was money. Queen Margaret didn’t dare remove him from his post, in part because of the military reputation he had earned at St. Albans, but she withheld funding, making it difficult for him to pay the garrison or pay for supplies. Warwick's position was strengthened in August 1457 when the French raided Sandwich, and he was given a commission to kept the sea safe.

In 1458 Henry VI made an attempt to reconcile the contending parties. Warwick might not have been summoned to the great council of February-March, but he attended, and was included in the 'Loveday' settlement of 24 March. He agreed to help found a chantry in St. Alban's Abbey dedicated to the dead of the battle and to pay reparations to Clifford's heir. In return he was granted extra pay and a commission against piracy.

Instead of tackling piracy, Warwick now became a pirate himself, in part to pay the garrison. In May he attacked a Castilian fleet and later in the summer he attacked the Bay fleet of the Hanseatic League, ignoring a two-year old truce between England and the League. This made him popular with his men and in Kent, but angered the government. Warwick was summoned to London in October 1458 to account for his actions, but the meeting ended disastrously. A fight broke out between Warwick's men and the King's servants, and Warwick only just managed to escape to his ships. Both sides blamed the other for the affair, and Warwick retired to Calais where he continued to operate in defiance of the court.

In 1459 the Lancastrians, led by Queen Margaret, decided to strike against the Yorkist lords. They didn't attend a council held at Coventry in June, and instead prepared for war. York raised an army in the Welsh marches, Salisbury in the north and Warwick crossed over with 600 men from the Calais garrison under Andrew Trollope. Warwick managed to elude an army under Henry Beaufort, third duke of Somerset and his father defeated another Lancastrian army at Blore Heath (23 September 1459), but even after the three Yorkist forces united they were still outnumbered.

Eventually the two armies came face to face at Ludford Bridge, south of Ludlow (12-13 October 1459). It would appear that Warwick had convinced the Calais men that they wouldn't have to find Henry VI in person. It was now clear that the king was with his army, and on the night of 12-13 October Trollope and his men switched sides. The Yorkist leaders decided that their cause was lost and abandoned their troops. York escaped to Ireland, while Warwick, his father Salisbury and York's young son Edward, earl of March, managed to reach Calais.

They arrived on 2 November, just after Henry Beaufort, duke of Somerset, had managed to establish himself in the outlying castle of Guines. Over the winter Somerset made a series of attacks on the Yorkist garrison of Calais, but without success. Warwick disrupted his efforts by raiding Sandwich in January 1460, capturing Lord Rivers and preventing reinforcements from reaching Somerset.

In March 1460 Warwick sailed to Dublin to meet with York. Exactly what they agreed isn’t at all clear - if they planned a coordinated invasion of England then York didn't play his part. Warwick eluded a Lancastrian fleet and safely returned to Calais. In June 1460 the Yorkists captured Sandwich, then marched to London. They were let into the city, where they publicly claimed to be true subjects of Henry VI only come to reform his government. After that they marched north, and on 10 July defeated the Lancastrians at Northampton. Salisbury had been left behind to besiege the Tower, so Warwick was probably the Yorkist commander at this battle, which was decided by treachery in the Lancastrian camp. Henry VI was captured, and for the moment Warwick was in charge.

One of his first actions was to return to Calais, where he came to terms with Somerset. York didn't return quickly, and it wasn't until mid-September that he met with Warwick at Shrewsbury. Warwick then returned to London, while York made a slow progress through the country, arriving in London in October.

What happened next has been the subject of much controversy. York entered Parliament and went to the chair of state, clearly hoping to be acclaimed as king. Instead he was met with an embarrassed silence and was then asked if he wanted to meet the king. Salisbury and Warwick are said to have been furious, although it is possible that this was all part of a pre-arranged plot, and their reaction had more to do with York's failure. 

Warwick and Salisbury played a major part in the negotiations that led to the Act of Accord of 31 October 1460. This was a compromise solution that left Henry on the throne but disinherited his son Prince Edward and made Richard of York heir to the throne. This agreement revitalised the Lancastrian cause, and revolts broke out around the county. York and Salisbury went north to deal with the most dangerous of them, leaving Warwick in command in London.

The next few weeks went very badly for the Nevilles. For once York had moved too quickly and on 30 December 1460 he was killed at the Battle of Wakefield. Salisbury was captured and executed on the following day. Warwick inherited his father's titles and estates, while Edward, earl of March, who had been sent to the borders, now became Duke of York. After Wakefield the Lancastrians advanced south. Warwick gathered an army, and taking Henry with him moved to St. Albans, but on 17 February 1461 his army was routed (second battle of St. Albans).

Warwick fled west, where he joined up with Edward. The two men led their combined army back to London, where the Lancastrians were struggling to gain entry. Edward was able to beat them into the city, and Queen Margaret was forced to lead her army back into the north.

Edward handled his seizure of the throne with more skill than his father had demonstrated a few months earlier. On 1 March George Neville, bishop of Exeter, addressed a large crowd which called for Edward to take the throne. On 2 March he was officially proclaimed as Edward IV and on 3 March a 'great council' of trusted Yorkists acknowledged him as king. On 4 March Edward IV took the coronation oath.

He now had to face the main Lancastrian army, which had pulled back into the north. On 5 March Warwick was sent north to raise troops. Edward followed on 12-13 March, and the two men met up at Doncaster. By 27 March they were at Pontefract, and on 28 March they fought their way across the Aire at Ferrybridge. Warwick may have been wounded in the leg in this battle, which might explain why he had a low-key role in the decisive battle at Towton on the following day. He probably fought alongside Edward in the centre of the line. Edward emerged as the victor at the end of a hard-fought battle, and his position as king was now secure. The only blemish was that Henry and the Lancastrian royal party escaped into Scotland.

Over the next few years the only real Lancastrian threat came in the north of England, where the castles of Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh and Alnwick were held for Henry VI. While Edward IV returned to London, Warwick was given the command in the north. Dunstanburgh and Alnwick soon surrendered, and by November Warwick felt free to return to London. In fact it would take three years to pacify the far north. In October 1462 Queen Margaret returned from a visit to France and retook Alnwick and Bamburgh. Warwick took command of the campaign to regain them, and all three castles were besieged and take over the winter of 1462-63 (sieges of Alnwick, Bamburgh & Dunstanburgh). By February 1463 Warwick was able to return south again, but Edward's conciliatory policy was a failure and during 1463 many of the Lancastrians he had pardoned broke their word. The Scot joined in and laid siege to Norham. Warwick raised a sizable army and in June lifted the siege. Together with his brother John Neville, Lord Montagu, Warwick captured the northern castles yet again. Montagu was made earl of Northumberland for his efforts, and became a major power in the north of England. It was actually Montagu who ended the fighting in the north, defeating the Lancastrians at the battles of Hedgeley Moor and Hexham and forcing Henry VI into hiding.

Warwick was richly rewarded for his efforts. He was made great chamberlain of England, master of the king's mews, warden of the Cinque Ports, constable of Dover Castle, warden of the east march of the Scottish border, steward of the duchy of Lancaster and was granted many estates that had been forfeited by Lancastrians, including many of the lands of Lord Egremont in Cumberland and the Clifford lordship of Skipton. He was also confirmed in his posts as captain of Calais and warden of the west march. During the 1460s he had an annual income of over £10,000, far above any other member of the aristocracy. He was widely seen to be the real power behind the throne, especially as Edward was only eighteen in 1460.

As the decade passed Edward and Warwick began to drift apart. There were a number of reasons for the growing rift. Edward's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville reduced the amount of patronage that could go to Warwick. They disagreed over foreign policy, with Warwick supporting a French alliance and Edward preferring Burgundy. Perhaps most importantly Edward demonstrated that he was willing and able to rule as king in his own right - Warwick wasn't the power behind the throne, but was instead only the most important of a number of Royal councillors.

On 1 May 1464 Edward secretly married the widowed Elizabeth Woodville. The marriage wasn't made public until September 1464 when Warwick was about to open negotiations for a marriage between Edward and a French princess. At least in public Warwick accepted the new Queen and in the following year he was rewarded with grants of the former Percy lands of Cockermouth and Egremont, while his brother George was made Archbishop of York. In private he may already have begun to turn against Edward. As well as the diplomatic embarrassment, the Woodville marriage also caused Warwick a personal problem. He had no sons, and two daughters, but during the 1460s most eligible sons were marrying into the sizable Woodville family. Warwick struggled to find suitable husbands for his daughters, and his attempts to arrange marriages with Edward's brothers George, duke of Clarence and Richard, duke of Gloucester, were rebuffed by the king.

The first open breach came as a result of diplomatic activity in 1466-67. In October 1466 Edward agreed a secret pact with Charles of Charolais, the heir to the duchy of Burgundy. At the same time Warwick was sent to France to conduct negotiations. These were almost certainly never meant to success, and when Warwick returned to England in June 1467 it became clear that Edward had decided against a French alliance. Later in the summer the alliance with Charolais was announced publically, and soon after this Warwick withdrew to his estates. Edward was aware that he had handled Warwick badly, and there was soon a public reconciliation, but the relationship was never really repaired. Rumours began to spread that Warwick was in contact with Margaret of Anjou, although that was almost certainly not true at this stage. 

By the end of 1468 Warwick was probably already planning to take advantage of discontent with Edward's rule to regain what he saw as his rightful position as the main power in the land. He formed an alliance with Edward's able but unreliable brother George, duke of Clarence, who was to marry Warwick's oldest daughter Isabel. Rebellions were to be triggered, which would pull Edward out of position. Warwick could then invade from Calais and trap the king between his own army and the rebels.

Two revolts broke out in the north in the spring of 1469, one led by 'Robin of Holderness' and one by 'Robin of Redesdale'. Both were quickly put down by Warwick's brother Montagu, but in June Redesdale emerged for a second time. This third revolt was probably led by a member of the Conyers family and involved many of Warwick's northern supporters. Edward responded by moving north, while at the same time ordered two of his supports, William Herbert earl of Pembroke and Humphrey Stafford earl of Devon to raise armies. As Edward moved north, Warwick sailed to Calais, where on 11 July Isabel and Clarence were married. He then issued a manifesto that was very similar to that of the northern rebels, and crossed to Kent. As Warwick moved north, Redesdale slipped past Edward's army and heading for London. On 26 July the rebels with help from Warwick's advance guard, defeated Edward's allies at Edgcote (24 July 1469). A few days later Edward was taken prisoner by Warwick's brother Archbishop Neville.

For a brief period Warwick was in command. Edward was held at Warwick then in August moved to Middleham. Parliament was summoned, to meet at York on 22 September, but we don’t know what Warwick had in mind. Rumours suggested that he was planning to depose Edward and put Clarence on the throne, but events got away from him. With the king in captivity a number of local feuds broke out into violence. Sir Humphrey Neville became a Lancastrian uprising in the north, and Warwick discovered that he couldn’t raise an army to oppose it. He was forced to release Edward, who was quickly able to defeat the rebels. Sir Humphrey was executed in front of the king at York, and Edward was able to gather his supporters around him.

Remarkably Edward decided not to punish Warwick or Clarence for their rebellion, and instead attempted to come to terms with them, but Warwick wasn't ready to give up his attempts to seize power. Edward did make one change over the winter of 1469-70 - Henry Percy, heir to the Percy earls of Northumberland, was released from prison and was slowly restored to his lands and titles. Warwick's brother was made Marquess Montagu and given alternative lands, and at first appeared to be satisfied, but later in the year he would dramatically side with his brother.

In the spring of 1470 Warwick and Clarence attempted to repeat their plot of 1469. This time the revolt was in Lincolnshire and emerged out of a dispute between Sir Thomas Burgh, a member of the King's household and Richard, Lord Welles. Welles had attacked and destroyed Burgh's manor house, and in response Edward called him to court and announced that he was planning to take an army to Lincolnshire to restore order. Welles's son Sir Robert allied himself with Warwick, and raised an army in Lincolnshire. Edward ordered Warwick and Clarence to raise troops, and by early March there were three armies in the field. Edward was heading north towards Newark. Warwick and Clarence were also heading north, moving parallel to Edward but further to the west. At first Sir Robert's Lincolnshire rebels headed south-west, with the intention of joining Warwick, but Edward forced Lord Welles to write to his son ordering him to abandon the revolt otherwise he would be executed. Sir Robert was unwilling to leave his father to his fate and turned back in an attempt to rescue him. Edward was thus able to defeat the rebels at Erpingham, in what became known as the battle of Losecote Field (12 March 1470), after the fleeing rebels abandoned their padded coats to increase their speed. Firm evidence was found linking Warwick and Clarence with the rebels.

For a few days the two remaining armies continued to move north in parallel, with messages passing between them. Warwick demanded a safe conduct and a pardon before he would visit Edward, but the king refused. Warwick then turned west and escaped across the Peak District. He hoped to gain support from Lord Stanley in Manchester, but when Stanley refused to help Warwick was forced to flee south. He reached Dartmouth in April and seized a fleet. He then sailed east towards Calais. An attempt to take his flagship from Southampton failed, and much to his surprise he was also denied access to Calais. While he was there his daughter Isabel gave birth on ship - she survived but her infant son died, denying Warwick the male heir he needed.

Warwick's only choice now was to seek refuge with Louis XI in France. On 1 May Warwick's fleet anchored at Honfleur. Louis decided to try and arrange an alliance between Warwick and the exiled Lancastrian court, led by Margaret of Anjou. Warwick didn't take much convincing, but Queen Margaret was harder work and Warwick was forced to beg for her forgiveness in public. On 22 July Warwick and the Queen were publically reconciled. Warwick agreed to restore Henry VI to the throne and in return his daughter Anne would marry Prince Edward. Queen Margaret refused to allow her son to accompany Warwick's expedition, and even after Warwick had successfully deposed Edward she delayed her return for too long.

Once again Warwick used a revolt in the north to draw Edward out of position, before invading from the south. This time his brother Montagu, who had been loyal to Edward during Warwick's earlier revolts, decided to change sides, but he kept his plans secret. The northern revolt was led by Warwick's brother in law Lord FitzHugh. As Edward advanced north the rebels fled, but Edward then lingered in the north. On 13 September Warwick landed in England and advanced north. Edward prepared to move south and confront him, but discovered just in time that Montagu was about to attack. Edward was forced to flee into exile, and at the start of October 1470 set sail for the Netherlands.

Once again Warwick found himself in command in England. This time his power lasted for longer than in 1469, but he had several major problems. The alliance with the Lancastrians was difficult. Several exiled Lancastrians returned to England and expected to be found places in the new government. Henry VI, who had been a prisoner in the Tower, was an unimpressive figurehead and Prince Edward, who might have been able to unite Warwick's allies and the Lancastrians, remained in France. Clarence was in a difficult position. In Warwick's earlier revolts he was a possible alternative king, but now he was an awkward reminder of the Yorkist regime and the best he could hope for was to be allowed to remain as Duke of York. Edward IV was in exile, but he hadn't given up, and eventually gained the support of Charles, Duke of Burgundy. Warwick inadvertently helped Edward by continuing with his pro-French policy, which convinced Duke Charles that he needed to support his brother in law Edward.

On 14 March 1471 Edward landed at Ravenspur, at the south-eastern tip of the Yorkshire coast. At first he claimed that he had returned to reclaim the Duchy of York. This got him past the immediate threat of an army that had been raised in Holderness, and also gained him access to York for a night. Edward might have had the private support of Henry Percy, the restored earl of Northumberland, but his tiny army should have been overwhelmed by Montagu. Instead Edward was able to slip past Montagu, who may have struggled to get his men to attack without the open support of Percy. As Edward moved south he gained reinforcements, but he was still outnumbered by Warwick, who raised a large army and advanced to Coventry. Warwick posted his army within the strong walls of Coventry and refused to fight. He was waiting for reinforcements, most importantly Montagu from the north and Clarence who was coming up from the south. It isn’t clear if Warwick was simply waiting for reinforcements, or if he was unwilling to face Edward in battle, but his decision to wait for Clarence would prove to be a fatal mistake. On 3 April Clarence appeared on the scene, but instead of joining Warwick he made a public submission to Edward IV. The brothers were officially reconciled between their two armies, which then merged.

Edward took his combined army to Coventry and offered battle. Unsurprisingly Warwick refused to come out and fight. Even if Clarence had changed sides, he was still expected Queen Margaret to land in England at any moment. London was held for him and Edward couldn’t afford to besiege Coventry. Edward came to the same conclusion and decided to make a daring dash for London. Warwick followed him south, but was slowed down by his artillery train. This allowed Edward to reach London, where the main Lancastrian leaders had just left to join with Queen Margaret. The city authorities decided not to resist, and on 11 April Edward entered the city. Large numbers of Yorkists came out of hiding, and he was also able to gain access to the artillery stored in the city.

Warwick wasn't far behind. He must have hoped to find Edward trapped between his army and the city walls, but when he found that Edward had gained entry into the city he is said to have decided to attack during the Easter festivities in the hope of catching Edward by surprise. Warwick camped by the side of the road from St. Albans to Barnet, and prepared for the attack. He had underestimated Edward. Learning that Warwick was close by, Edward led his army out of London. On the night of 13-14 April he camped on the opposite side of the same road, rather closer to Warwick's lines than he had originally planned. Warwick attempted to use his superiority in artillery to bombard Edward's camp, but his men overestimated the range and most of their shots sailed over Edward's men. Early on the morning of 14 April Edward attacked. The resulting battle of Barnet would be Warwick's final battlefield defeat. Although his men were victorious on part of the field, the thick fog meant that the rest of Edward's men didn't realise that their left wing had been driven off the battlefield. Slowly Warwick's left was pushed back, and eventually his line broke. Warwick was killed while attempting to escape. After the battle his body was taken to London to be displayed so that there would be no danger of anyone claiming that the earl was still alive. He was then handed over to his brother Archbishop Neville and buried at Bisham.

On the same day that Warwick was fighting and dying at Barnet Queen Margaret and Prince Edward finally landed on the south coast. If they had arrived soon after Warwick had expelled Edward IV then their cause might have prospered, but now they were forced to fight alone. Edward headed west and intercepted the Lancastrians at Tewkesbury, defeating them and killing Prince Edward. Edward IV was now secure on his throne, and the second half of his reign would be untroubled by over-powerful subjects. 

Ironically after his death Warwick got at least part of his own way. His daughter Anne was widowed when Prince Edward was killed at Tewkesbury. Edward then married her to his brother Richard, and he inherited the Neville affinity in the north. The title of earl of Warwick passed to Isabel and Clarence's son Edward, who officially became earl of Warwick after his baptism. In 1478 Clarence was executed for treason, and his son never really came into his estates. He was eventually executed by Henry VII, and the Warwick estates officially came to the crown.

Books on the Middle Ages - Subject Index: Wars of the Roses

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (3 February 2014), Richard Neville, earl of Warwick (1428-1471) ,

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