Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (the ‘Kingmaker’)

Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, was one of the wealthiest landowners outside the Royal Families in the 1450’s and 60’s. His father was the Earl of Salisbury and one of his aunts, Cecily Neville, married Richard, Duke of York. This meant that Richard Neville, Edward IV and Richard III were first cousins.

The Nevilles were initially loyal to Henry VI  but the weakness of royal authority led to supporting the Duke of York’s claim to the throne. Richard Neville fought with the Duke of York at the  first Battle of St Albans.

Both the Duke of York and Warwick’s father, Salisbury, were killed at Wakefield (1460) and this created a strong bond between their sons. They avenged their respective father’s deaths  at Towton (1461), which secured Edward on the throne for the first time.

All went well until Edward’s secret marriage with Elizabeth Woodville  wrecked Warwick’s plans for a marriage with a French princess. The Woodville family was numerous and keen for advantageous marriages and positions of authority. From Warwick’s viewpoint the Woodvilles were  stealing suitable marriages from his Neville relations. The dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s marriage, in her sixties, to a nineteen year old Woodville was shocking: all her Neville property was now controlled by this upstart family.

Warwick’s response was to  persuade Edward’s younger brother George, Duke of Clarence,  to marry Isabel Neville, his elder daughter. A rebellion from the North against Edward was  supported by Warwick, and Edward was captured. But Warwick had to release him again because he was the only person the army would support against an invasion from Scotland.

Warwick and Clarence started another, failed rebellion and the two of them escaped to France and formed an alliance with the exiled Margaret of Anjou. The plan was to invade England, restore Henry VI to the throne and marry Margaret’s son, Edward, of Lancaster to Warwick’s younger daughter, Anne.

Whatever the outcome at this point, Warwick had a daughter in both the Yorkist and the Lancastrian camp.

Warwick’s invasion was initially successful, forcing Edward and Richard of Gloucester into temporary exile with their sister, the Duchess of Burgundy.

Warwick’s restoration of Henry VI is called the ‘readeption’ and lasted just a few months (October 1470 to April 1471: Shakespeare’s ‘Winter of our discontent’.)

With the support of the Duke of Burgundy, Edward’s invasion in March 1471 led to the unplanned death of Warwick at Barnet (April) and that of Edward of Lancaster (May) followed shortly by the death of Henry VI. So in a matter of weeks, Edward, with the support of his two younger brothers (George had changed sides again) wiped out the direct Lancastrian line and began his second reign.

Warwick was without doubt an important actor in mid-fifteenth century English politics. He is called “Kingmaker” because he was responsible for helping Edward IV onto the throne in 1461, off in 1470, placing Henry VI back on the throne, and attempting to replace Edward with his brother George, before his luck ran out.


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