Wife to a kingmaker and mother to a queen, Anne Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick, is nonetheless one of the more shadowy figures caught up in the Wars of the Roses. Yet her life intersected with those of the most powerful men of the time, and her wealth would be much desired by some of those men.
Anne was the daughter of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, and his second wife, Isabel le Despenser, who married at Hanley Castle on November 26, 1423. Richard Beauchamp had served Henry V and later served as tutor to the young Henry VI, a role in which he carried the king to his coronation. The earl would continue to serve Henry VI as an adult.
Though Richard’s marriage was one of state—Isabel was sole heiress to the Despenser family fortune—it evidently was not without its sentimental side. Richard was inspired to write a ballad in honor of Isabel, twenty years his junior, though thework may be that of his secretary John Shirley. One stanza reads:
her flourying youthe in lustynesse
grownded in vertuous humblesse
causeth that she cleped is mystresse
I yow ensure
Isabel herself was a patroness of John Lydgate, who wrote “Fifteen Joys of Our Lady” at her commission.
Richard had married Isabel in hopes of begetting a son, and Isabel soon obliged by producing Henry, who was born on March 22, 1425 at Hanley Castle. Anne, born at Caversham, followed in September 1426. With the prospect of
Where the prepubescent Anne stayed after her marriage does not seem to be known. Richard Beauchamp having been appointed as Henry VI’s lieutenant in France, he, Isabel, and Henry sailed there in 1437 amid violent storms. Their voyage is recalled in The Beauchamp Pageant, which pictures the three of them lashed to a mast of the ship and praying mightily, along with the sailors below. Anne is neither pictured on the ship nor mentioned in the accompanying text; perhaps she had remained in England. If she did, she never saw her father again, for on April 30, 1439, Richard Beauchamp died at Rouen Castle, aged fifty-seven. His body was carried to St. Mary’s Church near Warwick Castle, where his effigy can still be seen in all of its bronze splendor. Isabel returned with the body of her husband to England in October 1439, but fell ill and went tothe Convent of the
And my Image to be made all naked, and no thing on my hede but myn here cast bakwardys . . . and at my hede Mary Mawdalen leyng my handes a-crosse, And seynt Iohn the Evangelyst on the ryght syde of my hede; and on the left syde Seynt Anton, and at my fete a Skochen of my Armes departyed with my lordys . . .
Sadly, we don’t know if Isabel’s tomb was made to her specifications, as it no longer survives.
With both Richard Beauchamp and Isabel le Despenser dead, Henry Beauchamp entered the household of Henry VI. Anne presumably went to live with her young husband’s family, if she had not been living with them already. When Anne and Richard began living together as a married couple is not known; their first child was not born until 1451. In 1449, however, their lives had changed dramatically. Henry Beauchamp had died in 1446, survived by a young daughter, Anne, who died herself in 1449. Within days of the girl’s death, Richard Neville became Earl of Warwick in the right of Anne Beauchamp.
Both of Anne’s parents had been great landowners. Anne’s right to their land was not uncontested, as she had half-sisters or their issue from both her parents’ first marriages. Michael Hicks in Warwick the Kingmaker and elsewhere has described themachinations with regard to the Beauchamp-Despenser inheritance in painstaking detail, and to even summarize it here would take pages. Suffice it to say that owing largely to the fact that Anne was her brother’s only sibling of the full blood, most of the land ended up under Warwick’s control and stayed there until his death at the Battle of Barnet. Richard Neville and Anne Beauchamp had not only become an earl and a countess, but a very wealthy couple.
What was their marriage like? Was Anne loyal and loving, or sullen and subservient? Nothing, sadly, tells us. Warwick was not always faithful to his wife, for he had at least one out-of-wedlock child, Margaret, who married Sir Richard Huddleston in 1464, Warwick having provided a marriage portion of two hundred pounds and some land. (Margaret would attend her half-sister Anne Neville when the latter became Queen of England.) Male infidelity, however, was not regarded with theopprobrium that attended female infidelity (even the censorious Richard III produced two and possibly three bastards), so it is more likely than not that Anne Beauchamp accepted her husband’s straying, on whatever scale it was, with resignation. Still, the Earl of Warwick was dutiful in honoring the memory of his wife’s parents, and Anne would be by his side throughout the events of his later career, facts that tend to suggest that their marriage was at least a companionable one.
Anne Beauchamp evidently had difficulty conceiving children, as would her daughter Anne Neville. It was not until September 1451 that the countess gave birth to her eldest daughter, Isabel, in Warwick Castle. Anne was twenty-five at thetime, a late age to start childbearing when noble girls routinely married in their early teens and began having babies soon thereafter. She may well have suffered miscarriages or stillbirths, for in 1453 she obtained a papal dispensation to eat eggs and meat in Lent because she was “weakened by former illnesses and the birth of children.” It was not until June 1456 that Anne Neville was born, also at Warwick Castle.
Child-bearing, however, was not Anne’s only preoccupation during this time. Her residence at Warwick Castle would have allowed her to supervise closely the construction of
Certainly the most significant events for Anne at this stage in her life, though, was the political strife between the houses ofLancaster and York that had engulfed the nation, a conflict in which her husband was increasingly playing a leading role.
In May 1457, Warwick’s appointment as captain of Calais took him overseas. Anne, and probably her daughters, accompanied him. She was most likely still there when Warwick, having returned to England, and other leading Yorkists staged an uprising and were routed at Ludford. Warwick, his father the Earl of Salisbury, and the Earl of March—the
Anne’s life over the next few years would be a quiet, somewhat shadowy one. Warwick’s household was famous for its open-handed, ostentatious hospitality; presumably the countess played her part in making certain each morning’s five oxen were duly prepared. By 1465, her future son-in-law Richard, the Duke of
Tensions were building between Edward IV and Warwick, however. For some time, Warwick and Edward IV’s brother George, Duke of Clarence, had been discussing a match between George and Warwick’s oldest daughter, Isabel. A papal dispensation was obtained in March 1469, despite Edward IV’s objection to the match, and in July 1469, the wedding took place in Calais. Both Anne and her husband witnessed the ceremony.
Anne’s next trip overseas, in April 1470, would be far different. This time, her husband and Clarence were on the run from Edward IV, and they took Anne and her daughters, including the heavily pregnant Isabel, with them. While the family was still aboard ship, Isabel went into labor. Anne Beauchamp, described by John Rous as “glad to be at and with women that travailed of child,” would be sorely tasked on this occasion; the boy, Anne Beauchamp’s first grandchild, was stillborn on April 16, 1470, and had to be buried at sea, the fugitives having been turned away from the harbor at Calais. It was a bad portent; not quite a year later, Anne Beauchamp would be a widow.
In the meantime, however, Warwick regrouped. Landing in France, he soon allied himself with his old enemy Margaret ofAnjou, arranging as part of their agreement that his younger daughter, Anne Neville, should marry Henry VI and Margaret’s seventeen-year-old-son, Edward, Prince of Wales. Warwick and his countess have been castigated for making such a match, particularly by historical novelists who portray Anne Neville and Richard of Gloucester as childhood sweethearts and Prince Edward as a brute, but Anne Neville, the co-heiress to a fortune and the daughter of a couple who themselves had married well before their teens, would not have been brought up to expect to marry for love. And had her father’s plans for her succeeded, she would have been married to no mean catch—a future king. In any case, though Prince Edward was described by one witness as always talking about cutting off heads—perhaps an understandable state of mind for a youth who had been deprived of his birthright as heir to the throne—there is no indication that he ever included Anne Neville in the list ofthose he intended to axe.
With Edward and Anne Neville betrothed and awaiting a dispensation, Warwick rejoined his fleet in August. He would never see his wife or daughters again. Anne Beauchamp and her daughters remained with Margaret. By September, Warwick and his son-in-law Clarence had arrived in England, forcing Edward IV to flee abroad. Henry VI was once again the king, though a nominal one controlled by his councilors.
Anne Neville married Prince Edward on December 13, 1470, at Amboise. Along with Margaret of Anjou, Anne Beauchamp was present at the ceremony. Margaret, Edward, Anne Neville, and Anne Beauchamp remained in France, though Isabel left to join Clarence in England. By March, Margaret and the rest were ready to embark for England, but the weather had other plans and kept them there until April 13, 1471, when they finally set sail.
When Anne Beauchamp, traveling separately from Margaret and the newlyweds, arrived in Portsmouth, it was to a changed world. Edward IV had returned to England; Clarence had deserted Warwick’s cause. Worse was to come with her husband’s death at the Battle of Barnet on April 14, 1471, Easter Sunday. Hearing the news, Anne Beauchamp did not join Margaret’s party, which had landed at Weymouth. Instead, she headed for Beaulieu Abbey, where she claimed sanctuary. The Earl ofWarwick’
Though the war was already over for Anne Beauchamp, the last gasp of the Lancastrian cause came several weeks later at theBattle of Tewkesbury, where Prince Edward was killed. Henry VI met his death, presumably through murder, soon thereafter, in May 1471.
With victory came spoils for Edward IV’s younger brothers. Anne’s other son-in-law, George, Duke of Clarence, promptly set about claiming Warwick’s and his widow’s lands, disregarding the rights of his sister-in-law, Anne Neville, and his mother-in-law, Anne Beauchamp. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, not one to sit by and let his brother collect all the Warwick spoils, then pressed for the widowed Anne Neville’s hand in marriage. Thus began a sordid episode out of which Anne Beauchamp would emerge without an acre of land to call her own.
Gloucester’s role in the disinheritance of Anne Beauchamp has been downplayed by his defenders, most notably Paul Murray Kendall, who paints a touching picture of Richard settling for a paltry share of the Warwick inheritance before marrying his sweetheart Anne Neville and escaping court “to breathe the free air of the moors.” Richard then gallantly rescues his mother-in-law from Beaulieu and has her taken north.
The reality was rather different. Gloucester may well have had an affection for Anne Neville, whom he had presumably known when he was staying in her father’s household, but he was hardly a lovesick boy helpless against the machinations
While others were carving up her estates, Anne Beauchamp remained in Beaulieu Abbey. She was very much aware that she was the rightful owner of the Beauchamp and Despenser lands that she had inherited from her parents, as well of her jointure and dower rights in her husband’s lands. From sanctuary, she wrote a petition to Parliament, reminding it,
in absence of clerks, she hath written letters in that behalf to the king’s highness with her own hand, and not only making such labours, suits, and means to the king’s highness, soothly also to the queen’s good grace, to my right redoubted lady theking’s mother, to my lady the king’s eldest daughter, to my lords the king’s brethren, to my ladies the king’s sisters, to my lady of Bedford, mother to the queen, and to other ladies noble of this realm; in which labours, suits, and means, she hath continued hitherto, and so will continue, as she owes to do, till it may please the king, of his most good and noble grace, to have consideration that, during the life of her said lord and husband, she was covert baron, which point she remits to your great wisdoms, and that after his decease, all the time of her being in the said sanctuary, she hath duly kept her fidelity and liegeance, and obeyed the king’s commandments. Howbeit, it hath pleased the king’s highness, by some sinister information to his said highness made, to direct his most dread letters to the abbot of the monastery
The countess went on to ask Parliament “to ponder and weigh in your consciences her right and true title of her inheritance, as the earldom of Warwick and Spencer’s lands, to which she is rightfully born by lineal succession, and also her jointure and dower of the earldom of
The petition went for naught, and the lands were partitioned between the countess’s sons-in-law, though neither Clarence nor Gloucester was happy with his shares. The squabbling was still going on in June 1473, when James Tyrell finally conveyed Anne Beauchamp out of sanctuary to Richard’s estates, giving rise to rumors that Edward IV might bestow all ofher lands upon Gloucester. Gloucester might have been motivated partly out of family feeling, and Anne Beauchamp may have found living in his household more congenial than living in sanctuary, but a change of scene was all she gained fromthe move. Indeed, in an act of Parliament in 1474, she was declared naturally dead, thereby allowing her daughters—and, more important, her sons-in-law—to hold her estates as if by inheritance. Gloucester, though he did not gain all of her estates as rumored, did gain a more satisfactory share than he had before. Anne Beauchamp was left with nothing. She would be utterly dependent on her son-in-law for her welfare for years to come.
The countess was not the only Neville who was stripped of her property. Gloucester also benefited from a 1475 act ofParliament, this time depriving George Neville, Duke of Bedford and son to the John Neville who had died at Barnet, of his share in the Neville lands. The 1475 act was the tidying up of old business: Gloucester had already received most of theNeville land in 1471, though as neither the Earl of Warwick nor John Neville had been attainted, the lands were rightfully George Neville’s. Now Parliament decreed that Richard and his heirs would hold the Neville lands as long as there was any male heir of John Neville alive. Further fleecing of George Neville took place in 1478, when George was stripped of his dukedom. Gloucester had control of George’s wardship and marriage; though Kendall viewed this as another instance ofbenevolence on Gloucester’s part, Gloucester had sound reasons for wanting to keep a close eye on the shorn sheep that was George Neville, lest the youth grow into a man unhappy about the loss of his lands. As it turned out, George Neville never did marry, and died without male heirs shortly before Gloucester took the throne as Richard III.
Little is known about Anne Beauchamp’s next few years. Rous would later accuse Richard of having locked her up, but at least one source indicates that she had some freedom of movement. This is a letter by William Smethon, a chaplain in theservice of Richard Clervaux, a landowner near Middleham. The letter, which Tony Pollard dates between February and thesummer of 1478, was found behind a grant of free warren from Edward IV on February 26, 1478, that had been framed and kept at Croft Hall. Having informed Clervaux that the lord of Gloucester has told him that the free warren matter is making “good spede,” Smethon writes that the Countess of Warwick has made a great table of gold of St. Pen, Our Lady, and theHoly Trinity, “with which it is seid my lord is not plesed withahll.” He adds, “And yit my lady shall be at rob’ ho’ this seson.”
What was this tablet? Pollard suggests that it might be none other than the Middleham Jewel, a gold tablet that does indeed depict Our Lady and the Trinity. As for “St. Pen,” Pollard notes that the Middleham Jewel frames the Nativity scene on its back with 15 saints, one of whom he suggests may be St. Penket, “an obscure whirling, or ecstatic dancing, saint.”
So what was Gloucester not pleased about? Had the Countess of Warwick been overspending her allowance in having this tablet made? Or, as Pollard suggests, had she become a devotee of the cult of St. Penket, thereby incurring the disapproval
What was this mysterious “rob’ ho'”? Sadly, its meaning is obscure, but Pollard suggests that it might refer to a building onthe Middleham High Moor known as the Rubbing House, in which St. Penket followers might have held dances.
Other than this, the countess’s life during this time is largely a blank. Alexandra Sinclair reports that a servant of hers was recorded as buying goods in York, so she evidently had some household staff, though how large or how independent is uncertain.
The countess’s older daughter, Isabel, died in 1476 and was buried in Tewkesbury Abbey, the burial place of Anne Beauchamp’s mother and her Despenser forebears. Whether Anne Beauchamp had any contact with Isabel before the latter’s death is unknown, as are her thoughts when Clarence had Isabel’s servant Ankarette Twynyho hung on charges of poisoning Isabel.
Even after her youngest daughter became queen in 1483, Anne Beauchamp remained in obscurity. She played no role in thecoronation of Richard III and his queen and is not recorded as being present. According to Michael Hicks, however, on July 1, 1484, she was allocated eighty pounds a year, an allowance that Hicks believes meant that she was released from Richard III’s custody and allowed to set up her own household. This was a paltry sum given the wealth that she had once commanded, especially since it would have been in Richard’s power as king to treat her more generously.
The Countess of Warwick, however, had not forgotten her birthright. After Richard III’s death at Bosworth, she succeeded in getting a grant of 500 marks per year from Henry VII in 1486, and in the Parliament of 1487, she was restored to her estates. This restoration was evidently only a straw arrangement, for she promptly regranted her lands to the Crown, except for themanor of Erdington, which she reserved for herself and her heirs. It has been pointed out that this resulted in thedisinheritance of her grandson, the young Edward, Earl of Warwick, but it is highly unlikely that she had any choice in thematter.
The countess had two surviving grandchildren at the time, both by her daughter Isabel. Edward had been ordered confined to the Tower in 1486, so his imprisonment would have probably warned Anne Beauchamp of the necessity of
Anne Beauchamp’s fortunes improved further in December 1489, when she was granted many of her ancestral lands for life and appointed principal keeper of the forest of
The Beauchamp Pageant
Several historians have credited Anne Beauchamp with commissioning The Beauchamp Pageant, a pictorial celebration of thelife of
Kathleen Scott suggests that the Pageant was presented to Henry VII by Anne Beauchamp as part of her attempt to be restored to her estates. As Alexandra Sinclair points out, however, the manuscript depicts a crowned (and humpless) Richard III in a page devoted to genealogy, a touch Henry VII was unlikely to appreciate. The inclusion of
Anne Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs, later echoed by Alexandra Sinclair, suggest an alternative explanation: that themanuscript was commissioned by Anne Beauchamp for the benefit of Richard III’s son Edward as an example of the“chivalric virtues of marital prowess and service to king and country” exemplified by Richard Beauchamp. Sinclair also points out that some of the roundrels and shields in the genealogy have been left blank and that this unfinished state ofaffairs can be explained by the prince’s sudden death in 1484.
Citing Anne Beauchamp’s impoverished condition after the Battle of Barnet, Pamela Tudor-Craig disputes the idea that thecountess commissioned the Pageant. She suggests that the king and queen themselves were the patrons. While this cannot be ruled out, it seems likely that Anne Beauchamp, as a living connection to Richard Beauchamp, would have played a role inthe Pageant’s creation, if not as patron, then at least as a consultant. Moreover, if thePageant was indeed intended for theprince, it is quite possible that the expenses the countess incurred for the project would have been subsidized by the king and queen. The possibility that Anne Beauchamp commissioned the Pageantfor her own eyes and that its completion was interrupted by Rous’s death in January 1492 may be worthy of consideration also, given the lack of any hard evidence as to its date.
It is a pity that the Pageant cannot be traced decisively to a specific patron or purpose, for knowing definitely that it was commissioned by Anne Beauchamp for her grandson would tend to indicate that there was at least domestic harmony, if not great affection, between Anne Beauchamp and her royal son-in-law and daughter following her dispossession from her estates. As it is, its provenance remains another medieval puzzle missing a final piece.
The Countess in Fiction
Where historians have to speculate and speak in terms of probabilities, novelists can happily fill in blanks. As Richard III remains a popular subject for fiction, the women surrounding him have come in for their fair share of attention too, most often in a manner that shows the king in the best possible light.
Though usually a bit player in such novels, the Countess of
Widowed, Anne spends a whopping six years in Beaulieu Abbey before Edward IV, trusting to her good faith and to his execution of Clarence to keep Anne silent, agrees to release her into the care of the selfless Richard. The novel ends with thecountess happily on her way north to the home of her daughter Anne and her son-in-law Richard.
Other novels in which Anne appears as a character take a similar tack, following Kendall in treating Anne’s stay with Richard as an instance of his generosity of character and ignoring or minimizing the loss of Anne’s lands. The most florid ofthe bunch, Rosemary Hawley Jarman’s We Speak No Treason, contains a moving scene in which the Countess of Warwick, aged and feeble, totters into Richard’s great hall following her stay in sanctuary, her arrival there having been arranged as a surprise for Anne Neville. (Historically, the doddering countess would have been only in her forties at the time of her arrival in Richard’s household.)
Sharon Penman’s portrait of Anne Beauchamp in The Sunne in Splendour is somewhat more developed than most, though strangely unsympathetic for an author who usually summons up some feeling for even her most problematic characters. Anne is portrayed as a blindly devoted wife and as an indifferent mother who callously promotes her husband’s ambitions by forcing Anne into marriage with Prince Edward, and she is condemned for heading to sanctuary rather than to her daughters’ side following the Battle of
Reay Tannahill’s The Seventh Son is a welcome exception to the Ricardian party line. Though Tannahill is more sympathetic to Richard than otherwise, she portrays Richard as Clarence’s match in land-grabbing. Richard lays claim not only to the estatesof the Countess
Like many women of her time, Anne Beauchamp is known to us chiefly because of the men associated with her—her knightly father, her ambitious husband, her covetous sons-in-law. Even when her younger daughter became Queen ofEngland, Anne Beauchamp remained in the shadows. Nonetheless, she left an impression on one man, who left us with an enduring description of a woman he probably knew well. Writing that the “good lady had in her days great tribulation for her lord’s sake,” John Rous concluded that the countess was
ever a full devout lady in God’s service, free of her speech, to every person familiar according to her and their degree, glad to be at and with women that travailed of child, full comfortable and plenteous then of all things that should be helping to them, and in her tribulations she was ever to the great pleasure of God full patient, to the great merit of her own soul and example of all others that were vexed with any adversity. She was also gladly ever companionable and liberal and in her own person seemly and beauteous, and to all that drew to her ladyship, as the deed showed, full good and gracious.
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