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Anne Neville: Queen to Richard III

Anne Neville: Queen to Richard III

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by Michael Hicks

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Anne Neville was queen to England’s most notorious king, Richard III. She was immortalized by Shakespeare for the remarkable nature of her marriage, a union which brought together a sorrowing widow with her husband’s murderer. Anne’s misfortune did not end there. In addition to killing her first husband, this fascinating new biography also reveals


Anne Neville was queen to England’s most notorious king, Richard III. She was immortalized by Shakespeare for the remarkable nature of her marriage, a union which brought together a sorrowing widow with her husband’s murderer. Anne’s misfortune did not end there. In addition to killing her first husband, this fascinating new biography also reveals how Richard also helped kill her father, father-in-law, and brother-in-law, imprisoned her mother, and was suspected of poisoning Anne herself. Dying before the age of 30, Anne Neville packed into her short life incident enough for many adventurous careers, but was always the passive instrument of others’ evil intentions. In this book, Anne's story is told in her own right, uncovering the real wife of Richard III.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A masterful and poignant story . . . Most compelling of all is Professor Hicks’ depiction of Anne’s marriage to the controversial and enigmatic Richard and reveals startling new evidence that touches the very essence of their marriage."  —Alison Weir, author, Innocent Traitor   

Product Details

Tempus Publishing, Limited
Publication date:
England's Forgotten Queens Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.76(d)

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Anne Neville

Queen to Richard III

By Michael Hicks

The History Press

Copyright © 2011 Michael Hicks
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7524-6887-7


Why Study Anne Neville?


Was ever woman in this humour wooed?

Was ever woman in this humour won?

The woman was Anne Neville, the wooer Richard Duke of Gloucester, and the occasion the funeral in 1471 of Anne's father-in-law King Henry VI, whom Richard had slain. The immediate sequels were Anne's second marriage to Richard, later to become Richard III. Hence in due course Anne was to accede as Richard's queen. Through Richard's speech and throughout this whole celebrated scene, Shakespeare made his Lady Anne into one of the best known figures in history, albeit – like the Princes in the Tower – seldom remembered by name. Sir Laurence Olivier and Claire Bloom brought them to millions through play and film and are still doing so today.

Richard's speech encapsulates the paradox at the centre of Anne's life that Shakespeare exploited to the full. It immediately follows after the opening soliloquy, in which Duke Richard reveals what a malicious and dissembling villain he was and that the throne of England was his object. Richard boasts despicably that he had already slain both of the key Lancastrians, King Henry VI (1422–61, Anne's father-in-law) and his son Prince Edward of Lancaster (d.1471, Anne's husband), and also Richard, Earl of Warwick, the Kingmaker (d.1471, Anne's father). Richard states his intention to eliminate his own elder brother George, Duke of Clarence (d.1478). He looks forward hopefully to the natural death of his own eldest brother, King Edward IV (1461–83). Since Anne Neville was the daughter of Warwick, the wife (now widow) of Edward of Lancaster, and the daughter-in-law of Henry VI, Richard admitted that she had every reason to hate him, quite apart from the twisted body that in a politically incorrect age disadvantaged him in courtship. Shakespeare did not bring into his play any of the material issues that we know about today, issues which counted for more at the time, and may well have explained Richard's actions. Instead he dealt solely – and perhaps anachronistically – in terms of the romantic love that we take for granted today, a presumption that makes it hard for us (and harder for his intended audience) to imagine a more improbable matchmaking. Moreover, it was a courtship conducted over the corpse of Henry VI, the strongest possible reminder of Richard's crimes, whose funeral cortège, led by Lady Anne, Duke Richard had intercepted and arbitrarily interrupted.

Lady Anne preceded the corpse, lamenting eloquently the deaths of her loved ones and bursting out into curses against he – Richard – who was responsible.

O, cursed be the hand that made these holes!
Cursed the heart that had the heart to do it!
Cursed the blood that let this blood from hence!

Let the curses fall from the father onto his son and onto his wife! Let any son born to the murderer be premature, physically crippled and affright his mother, and be a source of unhappiness to him! May the murderer's wife suffer more sorrow than did Lady Anne herself at the death of Edward of Lancaster! If ever uttered, such curses, of course, should have fallen on Lady Anne herself. They did not, for Lady Anne was no prophet – Richard's son was not to be crippled and Richard's wife did not outlive him – but certainly Shakespeare's Lady Anne at this point perceived Richard to be every bit as villainous as he actually proved to be. Her mood, obviously, was unpromising for any suitor, least of all her husband's murderer. There follows one of Shakespeare's most brilliant and witty exchanges of repartee between the duke and the widow. Lady Anne's reaction to Richard's murder of King Henry was a mixture of shock, loathing and contempt, in which she upbraided him for his 'heinous deeds', 'homicide', 'butcheries', and 'foul deformity', stated that he knew 'no law of God' and was thus inferior to the irrational beasts, and denounced him as 'a hedgehog', 'fiend', a 'fouler toad' and 'even foul devil'. In a keen exchange of wits, Richard deflected her insults or excused them, landed a succession of skilful compliments and put his case, to which, eventually, the lady succumbed. (Shakespeare portrays Lady Anne throughout as a mature woman: doubtless he was quite unaware that she was only a susceptible fourteen).

Lady Anne was the trophy of what was a truly virtuoso display, as Richard admitted to himself.

Was ever woman in such a humour wooed?
Was ever woman in such a humour won?
I'll have her; but I will not keep her long.

Shakespeare of course knew what was to follow twelve years later: a time span made to appear much shorter by his play.

What? I, that kill'd her husband and her father,
To take her in her heart's extremest hate,
With curses in her mouth, tears in her eyes,
The bleeding witness of her hatred by,
Having God, her conscience, and these bars against me,
And I no friends to back my suit at all,
But the plain devil and dissembling looks?
And yet to win her, – all the world to nothing!

It is the medieval equivalent of the modern goal-scorer's punch to the sky. It was 'not so much for love, as for another secret close intent', undisclosed, that Shakespeare's Richard married Shakespeare's Lady Anne.

For Lady Anne had sex appeal. Richard lauds 'your beauty' and 'sweet bosom' and eagerly anticipates joint occupancy of her bedchamber and her bed: Lady Anne was no virgin. Addressing her as his 'sweet saint', 'heavenly face', and 'divine perfection of a woman', Richard certainly presents her in the most attractive light, which her passion, intelligence and wit, and articulacy strongly reinforces. Yet she was too easily persuaded – for the harsh facts were, after all, facts. She was out-argued and lost out to the stronger personality and reveals, surely, a frailty both of purpose and of morality: provided, of course, that the events and their contexts were as Shakespeare portrayed them.

So, too, Lady Anne accepted Richard's accession. As devoted a subject to the young Edward V as his own mother and grandmother, she (now Duchess of Gloucester) is on her way to visit the young boy in the Tower when her way is barred by order of the king – a king who proved to be not Edward V, but her husband Richard III. Evidently Anne had not been consulted. She was not complicit at all in Richard's crime, the illegal usurpation of the crown. Nor indeed did she carry much weight in her husband's illicit regime. She was not able even as the king's wife to secure access to the princes. Receiving a summons to be crowned, she exclaimed:

Despiteful tidings. O unpleasing news!

She was remorseful and regretful that she had ever married him. Though disapproving of the usurpation, she feebly succumbed despite her sharp misgivings.

Anointed let me be with deadly venom
And die ere men can say 'God save the queen'.

That was indeed prophetic! For Queen Anne quickly fell mortally sick, which Richard eagerly anticipated, so that he could marry his niece Elizabeth of York, sister of the by-now murdered Princes in the Tower.

I must be married to my brother's daughter,
Or else my kingdom stands on brittle glass; Murder
her brothers and then marry her!
Uncertain way of gain! But I am in
So far in blood that sin will pluck on sin;
Tear falling pity dwells not in this way.

In a repeat exchange of crisp repartee, Richard persuaded the initially hostile Elizabeth, queen to Edward IV and mother to the princes and Princess Elizabeth, to put to her his case. To Shakespeare's thinking, therefore, Anne died irrelevant, a passive instrument who had served her purpose and had passed her sell-by date, just as much Richard's victim as were his brother of Clarence, his nephews the princes, or his cousin of Buckingham. The victory over Richard in 1485 at Bosworth of Henry VII was Anne's posthumous victory too.

The wooing scene is wholly Shakespeare's invention. There is nothing about the courtship in the History of Richard III of Sir Thomas More or the English History of Polydore Vergil, which are Shakespeare's ultimate sources of information. The playwright seized on the remarkable paradox that Richard III, whom Hall's Chronicle presented as Edward of Lancaster's murderer, was to marry his widow. Richard certainly fought in the army that slew Warwick and today appears quite probably to have participated in the deaths of Henry VI, Edward of Lancaster, and indeed Clarence. Yet there was nothing discreditable or blameworthy about such actions. Always he was a secondary player, a follower rather than an initiator, authorised and justified by the command of King Edward IV, who alone was answerable before God for such actions. If Richard killed Warwick and Edward of Lancaster in battle or afterwards, his conduct was acceptable at the time and indeed legitimate in terms of the laws of war and military honour. All four were traitors against his king, therefore deserving of death, to which both Henry VI and Clarence had been sentenced by parliament. Henry VI was actually buried at Chertsey Abbey in Surrey, not at Westminster Abbey where Shakespeare locates his funeral, perhaps summarily and certainly without the publicity and pomp normal for the burials of kings. Nor did the battles and funeral in 1471, and the wooing and marriage around 1472, coincide with the deaths of Clarence in 1478 and King Edward IV in 1483, historically seven and a dozen years later. Shakespeare had, for dramatic reasons, compressed these events. Such telescoping rendered the sequence of events dramatically manageable and heightened the intensity of the drama. Also, incidentally and unintentionally, it juxtaposed the beginning and ending of Anne's second marriage, and thus highlighted the paradox at the heart of her life.

Like any other writer of his age, Shakespeare was convinced of the wrongfulness of Richard III's seizure of the crown and of his destruction of the princes. King Richard was a usurper, a tyrant, and a murderer. How then could Anne possibly have believed his claims and gone along with them? Since she did, she had to be presented as a passive victim, albeit adding to the prophecies of destruction that lie ahead. Here imagination, not evidence, reigns. The descent of the play to destruction proceeds too rapidly helter-skelter to allow Anne's death, Richard's incestuous plans for his niece, or even the murder of the princes, for all of which he possessed good sources, to be presented on stage. The build-up to the crown presented other villainies in such detail that explicit treatment of those that followed was not required. Shakespeare may also have been understandably reluctant to make too much of a mercifully unfulfilled matrimonial project for the ancestress of the ruling royal house, Elizabeth of York, and the arch-villain himself.

Though incorrect in detail and sometimes indeed depicting what can never have happened, Shakespeare certainly did capture the family character of the Wars of the Roses. Then, as now, most murders occur within the family: besides fratricide, most homicides, regicides, and infanticides were perpetrated by relations of the victim. In such a context, Shakespeare was right to perceive the necessity for coexistence, co-operation and even intermarriage amongst former foes, between those wronged and their wrongdoers, all of which Anne Neville's career so poignantly and repeatedly illustrates.

Shakespeare forged Richard III into one of the theatre's greatest villains and into one of the worst of history's kings. Essentially that was what he had extracted from his sources. Sir Thomas More was not at all unusual in perceiving Richard as unnatural, his unnatural life and violent death foreshadowed by an unnatural birth, his inner vice betokened by his twisted body. Most of these elements appeared twenty years before in the History of John Rows, who had known Richard at first hand. For More, Shakespeare and their age, physical disability was not mere misfortune to the sufferer, but an indication of the distorted character that lay within. Richard was a usurper, a tyrant, a murderer of innocents comparable to the biblical King Herod, and a monster. Anne, therefore, was the wife of this usurper, tyrant, murderer and monster, shared her bed with this cripple and her private life with this villain, tyrant and monster. What this meant in practice even Shakespeare could not conceive. He depicted a Lady Anne who had entered into her marriage with Richard with her eyes open, but was seduced by his charm and way with words, and who came bitterly to regret their liaison. Thus he presents Anne Neville as just another of Richard's victims. This was the 'tradition [that] declares she abhorred' Richard's crimes that was still current in the 1840s.

Actually, Shakespeare knew only the half of it. He offers us no access to the rest of Anne's life, much of which is as impenetrable to us as it was to him. Anne Neville (1456–85) was the consort of one of the most short-lived of English medieval kings. She had reigned for only twenty-one months: less than any English queen since the Norman Conquest. Her only son, whilst still a child, predeceased her. Her kingly husband was to lose his throne. Defeated and disgraced, notorious in his own lifetime as a usurper, tyrant, and slayer of the princes, for half a millennium Richard has been numbered amongst the most wicked of medieval kings, into whose character and motivation no further exploration or perception was required. If Queen Anne was his victim or his instrument, we cannot perceive it in the evidence we have. If she was his partner or accomplice, it can only be by inference, for actually she is quite obscure. We know as little about her as any of our medieval queens and much less than most of them. If Perkin Warbeck and Edward V are dubious candidates for biography, why should historians bother with a consort who appears to have done nothing independently or of note and is frankly unknown?

Yet Anne was engaged in great events – the Wars of the Roses of 1455–85 – and lived out her whole life amongst them. Both a victim and a victor, she was an important participant, who had her own decisions to make and whose status gave her behaviour a special significance. That we can seldom divine her conduct does not reduce its significance. Her interactions with such key actors as her father and husbands really mattered. Even a 'pawn in politics' deserves attention.' Tacit acceptance' of Richard's crimes was a decision. Even passivity, acquiescence, or deference to the men in her life is revealing. For Anne should not be perceived just as an individual. She also represents a type of person and progressed through a series of roles or stereotypes during the twenty-eight short years of her life. There are models to which she conformed and from which she diverged, and these offer us access both to Anne herself and to her time. Moreover, her life illustrates not just well-worn topics such as the critical importance of lineage, inheritance, marriage and gender stereotypes within her era, but also others, less often examined, which underpinned, conditioned and perhaps determined public opinion and hence on occasion had an impact on political events.

As far as we know, Anne did not have her portrait painted. Certainly none survives, unlike those of her husband, Edward IV's queen Elizabeth Wydeville, and all subsequent queens. There are several stylised images of Anne Neville, in the Beauchamp Pageant, Rows Rolls, and Salisbury Roll as a queen, or in a lost stained glass window at Skipton-in-Craven (Yorks.), but these are not realistic or representative of reality and probably tell us little if anything of her actual physical appearance. Was she tall, short, fat or thin? All we do know is that she was like her niece Elizabeth of York in build and complexion and that they probably fitted the same clothes: that Queen Anne, at twenty-eight, after at least one pregnancy, was of similar height, build, and measurements as a girl of eighteen. Later in life, after several pregnancies, Elizabeth of York appears somewhat stolid in her portrait, which depicts her aged thirtyseven – the date of her death – or less. Elizabeth is portrayed at Canterbury Cathedral in glass with flowing golden tresses. That was a contemporary ideal that was applied to both ladies and to Elizabeth's own mother in illuminations, but which may nevertheless be telling us the truth. It is best therefore to imagine Anne Neville as an English rose – a slim blonde, so Laynesmith suggests, – and probably unremarkable.

Anne has no monument. Her tomb at Westminster Abbey is marked only by a modern brass and archaeology would be required to detect it. We do not know how King Richard intended to mark her resting place; nor indeed can we know whether Westminster was actually destined to remain her resting place, rather than – for instance – York Minster, where, it has been speculated, Richard hoped to be interred himself. After her death – or, at least, by five months after her death, when her husband was destroyed – there was nobody who cared enough about her memory to commission even a modest tomb. They may have been afraid of associating themselves too closely with the disgraced usurper. Henry VII himself, who did provide honourable interment after an interval for King Richard, failed to do the same for Queen Anne. Because Richard III left no heir to continue his memory, no cause to be continued, and attracted no historian in a position to speak out for him, so Anne, too, has been forgotten. Glimpses of her are provided by the Crowland Continuator and by the cantarist John Rows, but neither can be said to have known her in person – as opposed to her rank and pedigree – and what they have recorded for us can be counted in a few sentences. Yet there was much more than this to Anne and more, fortunately, can be recaptured and reconstituted.


Excerpted from Anne Neville by Michael Hicks. Copyright © 2011 Michael Hicks. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Michael Hicks is Professor of History at the University of Winchester. He has written extensively on medieval England and is regarded by many as the leading expert on the Yorkist dynasty. His books include the widely praised Richard III, and Edward V. He is also the author of Warwick the Kingmaker, and Edward IV. He lives in Winchester

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