Friday, August 17, 2007

Richard the Guardian

When Richard III's defenders sing the king's praises, lauding him as a brave knight, a devoted brother, and an all-around great guy, they never fail to point to his kindly treatment of young George Neville, the dispossessed Duke of Bedford. As Paul Murray Kendall puts it, "When [Neville] was stripped of his dukedom . . ., Richard secured his wardship and brought the boy into his household" (130). Following Kendall's lead, Ricardian novelists have happily painted a picture of Richard III as sort of a medieval John Jarndyce, taking this boy and other poor relations under his benevolent wing.

But is this the whole story? Is this blog named "The Romantic Richard III"?

George Neville's rather sad story begins with that of his father, John Neville, younger brother to Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick known as "Warwick the Kingmaker." As a reward for his loyalty, Edward IV had made John Neville Earl of Northumberland, a heady prize for a younger son. The Northumberland earldom, however, was a Percy holding, and in 1470, Edward IV, evidently seeing a need for a continued Percy presence in the North to counterbalance that of the Earl of Warwick, restored the Percy heir to the family earldom, thus taking the Northumberland title and lands from John Neville. John Neville in recompense was granted some lands formerly held by the late Earl of Devon and was created the Marquis of Montagu. His son, George, was made the Duke of Bedford and betrothed to Edward IV's eldest daughter, Elizabeth.

One Ricardian novel paints a pitiful scene of John Neville being reduced to penury by the loss of his earldom. This was hardly the case; he had some lands of his own and the Devon lands he had been granted, and he was married to a heiress, Isobel Ingoldsthorpe. But the lands associated with the Northumberland earldom had been far more desirable. As Charles Ross suggests, Edward IV may have planned to augment John's landholdings later, but if he did, he failed to communicate his intentions to John, who eventually showed his resentment over being fobbed off with what he termed a "pie's nest" by joining forces with his brother to push Edward IV off his throne.

Richard Neville and John Neville were to meet their deaths fighting at the Battle of Barnet. A staple of numerous Ricardian novels is the episode where John, having been slain, is found to have been wearing Yorkist colors under his armor--a proof of his painfully conflicting loyalties and of his undying devotion to the brothers of York (especially Richard). In fact, the episode, as described by Warkworth, puts John in a less flattering light: "The Lorde Markes Montagu was agreyde and apoyntede [agreed and appointed] with Kynge Edwarde, and put uppone hym Kynge Edwardes lyvery; and a manne of the Erles of Warwyke sawe that, and felle uppone hyme, and kyllede hym."

Other reports, however, simply have John dying in battle, with no mention of betrayal. The latter seem more likely, for certainly Edward IV was not inclined to treat John's surviving son indulgently, as he might have if John had died trying to fight for the Yorkist cause.

George Neville, born in 1465, was a small boy at the death of his father in 1471. He had been sent for safe keeping to Calais, from which he was fetched after the Battle of Barnet. In 1472, he was put into the custody of his mother. (Needless to say, his engagement to little Elizabeth of York was broken along the way.)

The estates of George's dead uncle, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, had been entailed in the male line, meaning that in the normal course of affairs, the Warwick lands, including Middleham and Sheriff Hutton, would have gone to George rather than to Richard Neville's daughters. Just as the Earl of Warwick's widow, Anne Beauchamp, would be deprived of her own estates, however, George would be deprived of his Warwick lands. These were given by Edward IV to his brother Richard and would be the basis for the great influence that Richard was to enjoy in the North.

There was the small problem that neither Neville brother had ever been actually attainted, so the lands should have passed to George. This was solved in 1475 by having Parliament bypass the laws of inheritance. It declared that the Warwick lands would be vested in Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as long as there was any male heir of John Neville alive:

The king our sovereign lord, considering the great and heinous treasons and other offences committed against his highness by John Neville, late Marquis Montagu, intended by authority of this present parliament to have attainted and disabled the said late marquis and his heirs forever, as he deserved, but our sovereign lord, at the humble request and prayer of his most dear brother Richard, duke of Gloucester, and other lords of his blood, as well as of his other lords, now refrains from so doing and intends to proceed no further in that matter: nevertheless our same sovereign lord, recalling the great and laudable service that his said most dear brother Richard, duke of Gloucester, has done on various occasions to his highness, by the advice and assent of the lords spiritual and temporal and the commons assembled in this present parliament, and by authority of the same, ordains, decrees and enacts on this present 23 February that his said brother shall have, hold, possess and enjoy to him and his heirs lawfully begotten of his body, as long as there is any male heir begotten of the body of the said marquis, the honours, castles, lordships and manors of Middleham and Sheriff Hutton, with all their members and appurtenances, the lordships and manors of East Lilling, Elvington, Skirpenbeck, Easthorpe, Raskelf, Hook, Scoreby, Wilberfoss, Stamford Bridge, Humburton, Knapton, Rise in Holderness, Sutton upon Derwent, Sherburn in Hertfordlythe, Appleton in Ryedale, Sutton on the Forest and Tholthorpe, Carleton with Coverdale in Coverdale, West Witton, Woodhall, Kettlewell in Craven, Newbegin, Thoralby with Bishopdale, [West] Burton, Bainbridge with the vale of Wensleydale, Braithwaite, Aysgarth, Crakehall, Busby, Faceby, Carleton in Cleveland, Little Crakehall, Bowes, New Forest, Arkengarthdale, Hope otherwise called Easthope, Westhope, Moulton, Forcett, Gilling, Salkeld, Sowerby, Langwathby, Scotby and Carleton, with all the appurtenances; the barony of Worton, free chase in Wensleydale, £10 of rent issuing each year from the castle and manor of Wilton, the toll of Bowes, Leeming, Dishforth and Smeaton; the wapentakes or bailiwicks of Langbargh, Hang, Halikeld and Gilling; the advowsons of the churches of Moor Monkton, Walkington and Elvington, and of a chantry in Appleton church, a mill in Richmond, and the issues and profits of a farm called Litfarm, half of the land and wood of Snape, called the West Wood, all homages, rents called castleward, knights' fees, the rents and services of the free tenants belonging, pertaining or which ought to pertain to the castle, honour and lordship of Richmond, or to any part of it; which honours, castles, lordships, manors, lands, tenements and all the other things stated were formerly of Richard Neville, late earl of Warwick, or of any other persons or person to the use of the same earl. [Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, ed. by C. Given-Wilson, P. Brand, A. Curry, R. E. Horrox, G. Martin, W. M. Omrod, and J. R. S. Phillips]

But Edward IV (and his brother Richard, the chief beneficiary of George's fleecing) were not finished. In 1478, George was stripped of his ducal title as well:

Where previously the king our sovereign lord, for the great zeal and love he bore to John Neville, the late Marquis Montague, and for other considerations influencing him, elevated and made George Neville, the eldest son of the said marquis, duke of Bedford; and at that time, for the great love his said highness bore to the said John Neville, planned and intended to have given the said George adequate livelihood to support the same dignity: but for the great offences, wickedness and misbehaviour that the said John Neville did and committed against his said highness, as is commonly known, he had no reason to grant any livelihood to the said George. And because it is public knowledge that the same George does not have and may not have by inheritance any livelihood to support the said name, estate and dignity, or any name of estate; and it is frequently seen that when a lord is called to high estate and does not have adequate livelihood to support the same dignity it leads to great poverty and indigence, and often causes resort to great extortion, corruption and maintenance, to the great trouble of all the areas where such a figure happens to live. Wherefore the king, by the advice and assent of his lords spiritual and temporal and the commons assembled in this present parliament, and by authority of the same, ordains, decrees and enacts that the same elevation and making of duke, and all the dignities given to the said George or to the said John Neville, his father, shall henceforth be void and of no effect: and that henceforth the same George and his heirs shall not be dukes or marquesses, earls or barons, or be held or taken for dukes or marquesses, earls or barons because of any previous elevation or creation; but that name of duke and marquess, earl and baron shall cease in him and his heirs and be void and of no effect; notwithstanding the said elevation or creation. [Parliament Rolls]

In fact, as Michael Hicks points out in "What Might Have Been: George Neville, Duke of Bedford 1465-83--His Identity and Significance" (Ricardian, December 1986), George was not entirely without means. His mother had died in 1476, and he was entitled to both her inheritance and his parents' jointure, giving him a income estimated by Hicks as being about 400 pounds a year.

Just as Richard had been the beneficiary of the 1475 act vesting George's inheritance in him, Richard was also the beneficiary of the 1478 act degrading George. Had George remained a peer, as an adult he could have used his standing to persuade Parliament to reverse the 1475 act--especially since George was far too young to have been involved in his father's treason.

In 1480, in the act so dear to Ricardian hearts, Richard obtained George's wardship and marriage. It is important to remember, however, that wardships were hot commodities in medieval times: a person who obtained one could profit handsomely from the revenues of the ward's estate. George, even without his Warwick lands, still had a handsome income, enough to make him a desirable ward.

Even more important, obtaining George's marriage gave Richard the right to choose a bride for George. Here Richard was in a delicate situation. For Richard and his heirs to keep George's Warwick land, George needed to have a male heir of his body, which meant that George needed a fertile wife of good son-producing stock. She couldn't be too well connected, however, as her family might therefore be able to press for George's restoration to his Warwick lands.

This was a problem Richard never solved, for George died in May 1483, unmarried and childless, and was buried at what should have been his own castle at Sheriff Hutton. Richard's interest in the Warwick lands was thus reduced to a life estate. Why Richard never married George off is unknown. Perhaps George was sickly and could not attract a likely wife, or perhaps the teenage George may have balked at marrying and breeding male heirs for the benefit of Richard. Perhaps--probably the most likely scenario--Richard had been hoping to have Parliament pass an act more advantageous to Richard himself and had his plans frustrated by Edward IV's sudden death in April 1483.

What several historians have pointed out is that with the death of George Neville, Richard's hold on his northern estates was loosened. With Edward IV no longer alive to shower land upon his youngest brother, Richard needed to find a solution, and he did. As A. J. Pollard puts it in Richard III and the Princes in the Tower, "By going all the way and making himself king, even if he did not initially set out with this goal in mind, Richard resolved the question of his title to his northern estates once and for all."


Alianore said...

Great post! It's weird how some historians/novelists have portrayed Richard as a kindly father figure because he took George into his household. Apparently they don't know much about the system of wardship in the Middle Ages!

Warenne1304 said...

have recently come across this blog, wonderful to find other people with 'unromantic' views about Richard III.

Richard's acts with regards to George Neville and Ann Beauchamp were understandable but little more than naked self-interest. This doesnt set him apart from his contemporaries but Ricardians have twisted it into portraying Richard as a jolly nice chap who was tiotally unconcerned with such trivial things as income.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Thanks, Alianore! Warenne, great to see a new "face" here! Your screen name makes me wonder if you have an interest in the Warenne who was Earl of Surrey?

Warenne1304 said...

hi Susan,

thanks for the welcome. Yes, I wrote my Masters dissertation of John de Warenne, earl of Surrey (d. 1304) and my PhD is on Warenne and several other earls in Edward I's reign.

Not a very nice man it has to be said but having studied him for several years I have rather a soft spot for him and his eccentricities.