Born June 11, 1456, Anne Neville was always meant to marry well, as her parents were in possession of a vast fortune through her mother’s family. Her family was also well-titled, part of the nobility, and had royal connections. Her parents just had no idea how well she actually would marry, nor what part she would play in the Wars of the Roses when she was born.
The second of two surviving children born to Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick and Anne de Beauchamp, Anne played second fiddle to her older sister, Isabel, during her early life. With no sons to pass his fortune or name onto, Richard Neville expected Isabel to be the one to marry the family into greatness. He made sure both daughters would have every chance of catching someone of the highest ranks of society by educating them extremely well for women of their time.
Anne’s father was a nephew of Cecily Neville, whose eldest son Edward eventually overthrew King Henry VI and became King Edward IV, so Anne and her sister were both cousins of the new Yorkist king. Richard Neville played an instrumental role in the battle that got his cousin Edward on the throne, and became known as “the Kingmaker” because of it. He was given a high position in Edward IV’s court, because Edward felt he owed his throne to his cousin’s interventions.
It was only when Edward IV secretly married the widowed commoner, Elizabeth Woodville, that his relationship with Richard Neville went bad. Richard was working diligently on arranging a marriage for Edward to a French princess, and was humiliated both at home and internationally when Edward announced his Woodville marriage. Richard consulted with his Aunt Cecily, Edward’s mother, and the two of them decided Edward’s younger brother, George, should be on the throne instead.
Richard had previously asked Edward if his elder daughter Isabel could marry George, and was denied, as Edward wanted both of his surviving brothers to marry princesses. In defiance of the king, Richard secretly married George to Isabel, then sailed for France with the newlyweds, his wife, and Anne. Isabel gave birth to a stillborn daughter on the rough sea voyage.
Once they arrived in France, it became clear they would not get enough support there to mount an army in George’s name. Angry that his promise of being made king was broken, George headed back to England to reconcile with Edward, taking Isabel with him. Looking for a different way to get Edward off the throne, Richard began negotiations with the exiled queen, Margaret of Anjou, wife of the deposed and currently imprisoned Henry VI. She was staying in France at the time, as her relatives were there.
Formerly her enemy, Richard now allied himself to Margaret by promising Anne’s hand in marriage to Margaret’s only child, Edward of Westminster. To those who considered Henry VI the legitimate king, Edward of Westminster was Prince of Wales and heir to the English throne. By marrying Anne to him, Richard was assuring his family would be part of the royal one as more than just cousins, should Margaret succeed in putting her husband back on the throne.
By marrying Anne to Edward of Westminster, Richard made his daughter Princess of Wales in exile, and also put her on the opposite side of the Wars of the Roses from her beloved sister, Isabel.
Anne wasn’t Princess of Wales in exile very long. Married in December 1470, Margaret’s army was ready to invade England the following spring, and Edward IV’s forces quickly defeated them. Edward of Westminster was killed in battle in April of 1471, and Margaret was taken prisoner in the Tower, where she stayed for years until her French relatives ransomed her.
Anne Neville was now a widow at only fourteen years old. Worse, her father was killed in the same battle as her husband, and her mother fled into sanctuary at Beaulieu Abbey, abandoning her. Anne was taken prisoner and brought before Edward IV, being treated as an enemy of the king because her husband fought against him. However, Edward IV was inclined to be forgiving toward Anne, as he knew the marriage was not her idea, and because his youngest brother, Richard, always liked her. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and the youngest brother of the king, spent much of his childhood in the household of Anne’s father, being taught to be a knight and soldier, as was common among noble families of the time. He and Anne had known each other for most of their lives.
Edward IV released Anne into the custody of his brother George and Anne’s sister Isabel, until he could decide what to do with her. Richard wanted to marry her, but George wanted to send her to an abbey and make her a nun. This is because both Isabel and Anne were now wealthy heiresses; the king declared their mother dead, even though she was alive and in sanctuary, and with their father gone, they were set to inherit the vast Beauchamp fortune their mother brought to her marriage. If George could keep Anne unmarried, he would control all of it through his marriage to Isabel.
George was unwilling to let Anne go anywhere unsupervised, and there are conflicting stories of what happened next. One says that George hid Anne dressed as a servant in a cookshop in town in London so Richard couldn’t find her, but that Richard discovered her, anyway. The other story says Richard arranged for Anne to escape George and Isabel’s household disguised as a servant, and hid her in a cookshop in town until he could secret her away to an abbey for safekeeping. Either way, with Anne in sanctuary, Richard asked Edward IV if he could marry her, and was granted permission.
George was furious, and demanded the entire Beauchamp fortune be given to him. Edward IV told his two younger brothers to work it out between themselves, and they did, with George and Isabel getting slightly more than half the fortune. Richard and Anne still got plenty, however, They also got custody of Anne and Isabel’s mother, who was released from sanctuary with a letter of safe passage, but still legally “dead.” She lived with Richard and Anne at their castle.
Richard and Anne together were the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. They had one son, Edward of Middleham. When Isabel died in 1476 at only twenty-five years old after giving birth to her fourth child, Anne and Richard took custody of her two surviving children and raised them alongside their son. This was possible because Isabel’s widower George had fallen afoul of his brother the king by this point, and was executed for treason shortly after Isabel’s demise. This left Richard and Anne with all of the Beauchamp fortune, in addition to the two extra children.
In April of 1483, Edward IV died at the age of forty, after getting ill after fishing in the rain with his friends. Richard was appointed Lord Protector of England during the minority reign of Edward’s eldest son, who was twelve at the time, and should have been Edward V. However, Richard received some information between the king’s death and the planned coronation of his nephew that made him decide Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was invalid. No one knows what this information was, but it seems to have been given to him in an unexpected manner, as until then he was legitimately planning his nephew’s coronation.
Instead, he declared all of his brother’s children bastards who were ineligible for the throne, and made himself King Richard III. This made Anne Neville Queen of England. She and Richard were crowned together, and their son was made Prince of Wales.
Unfortunately, the terrific heights to which Anne ascended were short-lived. Her son died after only being prince for about a year at around ten or eleven years old. History does not record the cause. Anne herself became ill shortly thereafter, and died just a few months after her son, in April of 1485, of what historical records indicate was probably tuberculosis.
Her mother outlived both her daughters and sons-in-law, but no date records when she died, as she had been officially dead for years. She is known to be buried beside her husband, however.
Richard was overcome with grief at Anne’s death, as he genuinely loved her, and gave her a lavish funeral with a burial in Westminster Abbey (one of the few players in the Wars of the Roses to get such an honor). Her tomb is still visible there today.
Richard wasn’t king much longer after losing Anne; he met Henry Tudor on the battlefield in August of 1485, in a showdown between the two sides in the Wars of the Roses, and was killed in battle. Henry Tudor became Henry VII, and took custody of Anne’s niece and nephew, placing the 10-year-old boy in the Tower, and marrying off his teenaged sister to a nobleman loyal to the Tudor house.
Though Anne only lived to age twenty-eight, she had an extraordinary life of intrigue and adventure during the Wars of the Roses. She is remembered today as the Kingmaker’s daughter and Richard III’s queen. But, she was a strong, willful woman in her own right, who looked out for her own interests and made sure, in spite of everything, she gained enough control over her own destiny in a time when women of the nobility had very little of it, to marry the man she truly loved.