The Wars of the Roses/[NevillFeast]/More nonsense about Isobel and Anne Nevill




I stumbled on this while I was on the hunt for information for an upcoming post.

I feel that it needs a response, something to balance the books a little. I know, it’s an uphill battle – the view that poor Isobel and Anne were mere pawns (oh, and Doomed) is so entrenched that it’s going to take a miracle to shift it by so much as a millimetre.





Just to set the tone, here are some of the words used to described Warwick and/or his actions:

”political conniving”; “charismatic”; “self-centered”; “arrogant”; “man of moderate military skill”; “merciless”; “exploit”; “had no need to hold [his daughters] in esteem”; “hankering for supremacy and clout”; the only loyalty he held was to himself”; “enmesh in his pursuit for power”; “ego”; “narcissism”; “heedless”; “used his youngest daughter”; “spider web of intrigue”; “hopeless machinations”; “fanaticism for prestige and importance”.


Now for the girls:

“submissive political pawns”; “overshadowed and beleaguered their short lives”; “use Isobel and Anne to his best advantage”; “dutiful daughter”; “not having a voice in the matter”; “uneasy”; “anxiety and adversity”; “used his youngest daughter”; “tossed likes sheaves of parchment in the wind”; “no longer of urgent necessity”; “surely ailing from childbirth”; “her future unclear”; “displace[d] in her father’s strategy”; “did [George] transfer this resentment to Isobel?”; “rook” – well, a promotion of sorts, I guess; “emotions must have spun like a tornado on a top”; “instruments”; “puppets”; “card to be gambled”; “a roll of the dice”; “practically imprisoned”; “[abandoned] to an unknown providence”; “intimidated by his unbalanced personality”; “defying her husband’s ambitions”.

And Clarence? Acoholic Wifebeater Clarence is At Home and receiving visitors.

Ok, this is an opinion piece and we’re all entitled to our opinions. That’s why I’m giving mine.

The negative stuff about Warwick is delivered as if it’s Fact. Undisputed Fact. The writer knows, for instance, that Warwick was ‘heedless of Isobel’s advanced pregnancy’. There’s no room to speculate about his emotions “spinning like a tornado”. He could have left his wife and daughters in England while he and Clarence hightailed it to Calais. He didn’t. Why? Because he was ‘heedless’? Probably not. He was probably very mindful of the dangers of leaving them behind to be Edward’s hostages. And pregnancy, despite the dangers then and, to a lesser extent, now, is not an illness. It can’t have been fun for any of them, particularly Isobel, and the journey could possibly have hastened labour. But, given the time and the horrific infant mortality rate, had she been abandoned in Exeter (because that’s what her father and husband would have been accused of doing, had they taken to sea without her), she might still have delivered a dead or weak child. Which was a son, by the way, not a daughter called “Anne Plantagenet” or anything else. To imagine Warwick shrugging off the death of his first grandchild is to paint him as truly inhuman. To interpret his request of wine from John Wenlock as anything other than a desperate attempt to do the only thing he could to help his daughter (as some have done), shows a lack of understanding. To not even mention it…

Warwick must have hoped for a son, right up till the last possible moment. It was what men did then, and a lot of men still do now. Let’s speculate for a moment and say that he did have one. Let’s say the 1453 pregnancy hinted at resulted in the birth of a healthy boy. And, for the sake of argument, let’s assume his name was Richard. (Father, both grandfathers… the boy would have been on a hiding to nothing.) I don’t doubt for a second that, the moment Edward IV’s oldest daughter was born, Warwick would have had an eye on her as a suitable bride. And, had that come to pass, Richard junior would have had exactly the same amount of say in it as his sisters had in their marriages. He’d have had to give his consent. Now that might well have been lip service, but it was needed nonetheless. Even the six year old Richard senior would have had to consent to his marriage to Anne Beauchamp way back when.

As for Warwick not holding his daughters in esteem (“they were females”), there’s way too much of this kind of thinking, in my view. He may well have been bitterly disappointed that he had no son, but even his illegitimate daughter, Margaret, was acknowledged, found a husband and eventually went to court to work for her half-sister, Anne, when she became queen. (Ok, Warwick had nothing directly to do with that, but it suggests to me that she was as much a part of the family as, say, the Bastard of Fauconberg.) What it doesn’t suggest is that Warwick dismissed his daughters as unimportant ‘pawns’. (Margaret’s marriage was advantageous to Warwick, but *all* noble parents strove for this. All. Of. Them.)

I don’t for a moment doubt that both Isobel and Anne were loved by their father. Whatever ‘say’ they might have had in their respective marriages, they were bloody good ones! Their father didn’t ‘marry them off’ to swineherds and beggars. One got a Duke, the other a Prince. Anne may well have been the more trepidatious of the two – after all, her new husband’s future was hugely in doubt. There’s much made of the loophole supposedly left open at Margaret of Anjou’s insistence – that the marriage not be consummated until Warwick was in control in England. But, keeping in mind the flipside of his preferred future (father-in-law to the king of England) – his daughter tied to a failed regime and an impoverished court in exile – it may well have been a mutually beneficial loophole.

Isobel and Anne Nevill were the daughters of a powerful, ambitious and very able man. Their mother was a strong woman who went where he did, shared his triumphs and his difficulties. The countess is reported to have not much enjoyed living in Calais, yet she was there pretty much whenever her husband was. One reading of this is that she was weak willed and dominated – just as her daughters are often painted. Another, better in my opinion, is that she viewed her marriage as many noblewomen did. Apart from any feelings of affection she might have had – and on balance of evidence, it would appear that the marriage was at least affectionate – it was a partnership, a kind of corporation. And, given that particular combination of parents, marriages of their own that were designed to make them queens (that’sQueens, in case anyone missed it), would hardly have been looked on as hardships by the Warwick girls. (“I’m going to make you a queen, daughter.” “Well, daddy, that’s really no less than I would have expected!”) There was no time to do this for Anne, but the care Warwick took to cultivate Clarence suggests that he did, in fact, care that Isobel was happy in her marriage. He wanted them to be fond of each other. And there is nothing in the sources that I can find – nothing – that even hints that they were otherwise. When push came to shove, and the Clarence Plan was abandoned, Isobel stuck with him. In fact, as we shall see, she conspired with him and on his behalf against her father’s best interests.

There is much speculation in this article about the reactions, responses and emotions of the sisters during the uncertain time the family faced outside Calais harbour and in France. And this is just as it should be – speculative. We don’t know how they felt, all we can do is extrapolate from what we know of their lives, the influences on those lives, the kinds of women they were (noble, rich, accomplished). Yet Warwick is Bad and the writer knows exactly how he felt and thought – which was Bad.

If Commines is to be believed, a member of Isobel’s household, an unnamed woman, was operating between England and France, through Calais, under the nose of Wenlock (who Commines  believed at the time to be loyal to Edward IV). She was acting, it seems, as a go-between for the Clarences and Edward IV (or Clarence’s mother and sisters). This is not the behaviour of a women stranded and abandoned. Isobel was, on her husband’s behalf, using the resources she had available to her to effect a change in both his fortunes and hers. Her father’s daughter?

From here on, the article is mainly about Isobel’s marriage to George duke of Clarence and Anne’s to Richard duke of Gloucester. Needless to say, Gloucester is ‘good’ and Clarence is ‘bad’. Gloucester was gently guided by Anne, Isobel didn’t have ‘the commanding nature necessary to sway the mercurial Clarence”. She died, mercifully, before she witnessed his downfall and execution. There’s an alternate reading to this – Isobel had a stabilising effect on Clarence and her death grieved him so greatly that he spun out of control. Just an idea…

Both men had their eye on the main chance. Neither of them (so far as we know) made any attempt to go to their mother-in-law’s aid. Only when he’d secured his share of her fortune did Gloucester, perhaps at Anne’s request, make a move to get the countess out of sanctuary. Well, obviously! –  the writer of this article seems to know all about it. She states that while there is no evidence that either of them did, if the sisters tried to help their mother, Anne was the more supportive. Yes, I’m a little lost there, as well…

Oh, and the countess was kept in sanctuary to keep her from remarrying. (“She would surely have remarried”.) This is the post I’m working on, so I don’t want to go into it here, but I will say this: We don’t know if she would have remarried. As it turns out, she didn’t. Warwick had been her husband since she was 9 years old, she’d been to hell and back with him. She was now 45, and, had she kept her wealth and her husband’s, no doubt would have been seen as a good match. But there were going to be no more children. And Alice Fitzhugh didn’t remarry. Neither did Katheryn Hastings. Or Cecily Nevill… This is a hell of a leap. I think it more likely that part of the reason the countess removed herself was to prevent a hurried remarriage to the nearest available Wydeville. But Edward was thinking about his brothers at this time…

In summary… To anyone who has any interest in these two women: Please stop writing about  Isobel and Anne Nevill as if they were weak women who had no control over their lives. Please stop using their early deaths as a sign that they were Doomed From the Start. Please read something about their father. (Both Hicks and Pollard have done a bang up job here.) Oh, and can we consign the overused, tired and meaningless word pawn to the dustbin of history? Let’s stop the nonsense. It’s starting to get depressing.

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