Warwick's Coat of arms
Warwick's Coat of arms

Character Information
Warwick is a powerful northern Duke who sides with York in the argument with Somerset. He is a noble and honorable man. While his part in this play is rather unimportant, in the second and third parts of Henry VI he is a very important character. He back’s York’s claim to the crown, and when Richard Duke of York is killed, he backs his son Edward’s claim. Warwick is known as the Kingmaker for his support of the York faction.

Historical information
The following information is quoted from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, written by A. J. Pollard.

Neville, Richard, sixteenth earl of Warwick and sixth earl of Salisbury [called the Kingmaker] (1428–1471), magnate, was born on 22 November 1428, the eldest son of Richard Neville, fifth earl of Salisbury (1400–1460), and Alice (c.1406–1462), daughter of Thomas Montagu, fourth earl of Salisbury.

Early life and the Warwick inheritance

As a child aged six Neville was betrothed to Anne Beauchamp (1426–1492), daughter of Richard Beauchamp, thirteenth earl of Warwick, and his second countess, Isabel Despenser, as part of a double contract in which his sister Cicely married Anne's brother, Henry, the heir to the earldom. Through this marriage, which cost his father over £3000, he was to succeed to the title and much of the inheritance of the Beauchamps and Despensers. Little is known of Neville's youth. He was knighted by Henry VI in or before 1445. As the son of a courtier high in favour he appears to have joined, with his brother-in-law Henry Beauchamp (d. 1446), the group of young noblemen in personal attendance on the king, for in the letters patent first conferring the title of earl of Warwick on him in 1449, specific reference is made to his service about the king's person. The same letters refer to his service in Scotland. It is possible that from 1446, when his father renegotiated an extended contract as warden of the west march in order to include Sir Richard as joint warden for twenty years from 1453, he was already acting as his father's lieutenant. He may have seen military service in the war of 1448–9.

Neville's life was transformed by his succession to the earldom of Warwick, when he had not yet reached his twenty-first birthday, in the summer of 1449. Two lives had stood between him and this dignity: those of his brother-in-law Henry, who died in 1446, and the latter's infant daughter and sole heir Anne, who herself died in 1449. Henry's next heir was his full sister Anne, Neville's wife. In her right he became earl. He stood to enter a vast inheritance, with three constituent elements: the Beauchamp estates which Anne inherited from her father; the Despenser estates, in which she was the joint heir of her mother; and the lordship of Abergavenny in which she was also joint heir. With so much at stake, it is not surprising that his succession was challenged by Anne Beauchamp's elder half-sisters and their husbands, two of whom exercised significant influence at court. Richard Beauchamp had three daughters with his first countess, Elizabeth Berkeley—Margaret, married to John Talbot, first earl of Shrewsbury; Eleanor, married to Edmund Beaufort, first duke of Somerset; and Elizabeth, married to George Neville, Lord Latimer. The earl of Shrewsbury, as husband of the eldest daughter, claimed the title himself; all three claimed a share of the inheritance.

The doctrine of the exclusion of the half blood should have given Richard Neville an untroubled succession to the Beauchamp inheritance. This it largely did, in spite of claims by the half-sisters based on settlements made in 1423 and 1425. The Despenser inheritance was nominally divided between Anne and her young nephew George Neville, the heir to Edward, Lord Bergavenny, though in the event Richard and Anne were able at first to secure George's share, the lordship of Glamorgan in south Wales, as well. They also contrived to take possession of the lordship of Abergavenny itself. Moreover, in spite of plausible claims by the half-sisters, Warwick in 1450 forcibly occupied the chamberlainship of the exchequer which had been hereditary to the Beauchamps, but was deprived of it in 1451. The case was referred to the exchequer court, but not determined before the king fell ill in 1453.

In the early 1450s the young Warwick was probably too preoccupied with other commitments, and above all with taking possession (not always peaceably) of his complete inheritance, to have played much part in politics. He became a councillor on his promotion to the earldom, but is not recorded as having attended at all between the end of July 1450 and March 1453. He rallied to the king's side at Dartford in February 1452. But it would appear that while Edmund, duke of Somerset, was dominant at court, he kept his distance. And when Somerset took the custody of the young George Neville's lordships of Glamorgan and Morgannwg from Warwick in June 1453, even though their committal to him had been renewed three months earlier, he responded immediately with violence, occupying Cardiff and Cowbridge castles, which in July he refused to surrender to the king's commissioners. It is not surprising that in the prolonged crisis following the king's collapse in August 1453 Warwick was anxious to see Somerset removed from power. He thus became an early ally of Richard, duke of York, although there is no evidence to identify their sharing a common cause before.

During the first protectorate Warwick was happy to play second fiddle to his father, now the chancellor. While he attended council regularly, and accompanied York on his progress into Yorkshire in May 1454, he received little reward other than the reinforcements of his rights in the earldom of Warwick, a judgment in his favour over the chamberlainship of the exchequer, and a similarly favourable settlement of disputes over the remaining Beauchamp estates. For Warwick, support of York and the first protectorate was largely a means of finally securing his inheritance.

The lord of Calais, 1455–1458

It is not surprising that Warwick followed York and his father into outright opposition to the restored duke of Somerset in 1455. He had retired from council by 5 February. With York and his father he withdrew in March to the north, where they immediately began to raise troops. With an army behind them they marched up to London, intercepting the king and a hastily strengthened entourage at St Albans on 22 May. Warwick played a decisive role in the victory that followed: it was he who made the first breach of the town's defences; and judging by the amends he later undertook to make, he was responsible for the death of Lord Clifford, if not of Somerset himself, whose heir, Henry, earl of Dorset, he took into his own custody.

In the aftermath of St Albans, Warwick displaced his father as York's right-hand man. His prominence was noted in the first session of the parliament that met on 9 July. And something of a stir was caused by his accusation that the ageing Lord Cromwell, his father's close ally, had caused the recent battle. Towards the end of the second protectorate, on 9 February 1456, it was he who came into parliament backed by armed men to shield York. At this stage York and Warwick were particularly anxious to secure the latter's appointment to the captaincy of Calais.

The captain of Calais controlled the only significant standing army in the kingdom. Warwick was nominated to its command in August 1455. But the garrison's wages were deeply in arrears and the government heavily in debt to the Company of the Staple which organized the trade and dominated the government of the town. Neither the garrison nor the company would accept a new captain until their debts had been settled. But a deal was struck in January 1456 which guaranteed wages and repayments of debts. The settlement survived York's dismissal as protector, and Warwick's appointment was confirmed by the king in April. It was not, however, until Somerset's principal lieutenants, lords Rivers and Welles, had been persuaded to step down that Warwick was able to take up the post in July and put in his own commander, his uncle William Neville, Lord Fauconberg.

For the next four years Calais became Warwick's base. During the summer of 1456 he was still a frequent attender at council, but it is clear that he was already marked out by Queen Margaret as one of the chief threats to the dynasty. At the Coventry council in the autumn, after the queen had made a bid to take over the government, he alone besides York was apparently made to swear an oath of loyalty. Thereafter he was excluded from the council and withdrew to Calais. Starved of funds with which to pay the garrison, he took matters into his own hands: in the spring of 1457 he was reported to have thanked the inhabitants of Canterbury and Sandwich for supplying Calais and begged them to continue. Already there were rumours that the French would lay siege to the town. The attack, when it came, was a raid on Sandwich in August 1457, in effect an attack on Warwick's supply lines. It was soon put about, perhaps by Warwick's agents, that Queen Margaret herself had encouraged the raid. In the event the government had little choice but to commission him to keep the sea and ensure that he was paid to do so.

The threat to Calais and the fear of invasion in 1457 may have helped inspire the attempt at general appeasement that was made early in 1458. While not apparently summoned to the great council held at Westminster in February and March, Warwick nevertheless arrived in strength from Calais and accepted the award of 24 March which involved his paying reparations to the young Lord Clifford and making a contribution to the foundation of a chantry for the victims of St Albans in the abbey there. As befitted the new spirit of reconciliation, he was rewarded with further payment for his fleet and an additional commission to tackle piracy. In fact appeasement only encouraged Warwick to display his contempt for royal authority more openly. In May he attacked a Castilian fleet, and his men, though not unscathed, came away with valuable booty. A few weeks later he seized the Bay fleet of the Hanseatic league as it passed through the straits of Dover, in flagrant violation of a truce concluded two years earlier.

Warwick also used his position in Calais to open up independent lines of communication with both Charles VII of France and Philip the Good of Burgundy. He was commissioned by the crown to negotiate on its behalf in 1458, and it is apparent from Burgundian sources that he also negotiated secretly on behalf of the duke of York. By the autumn of 1458 Warwick's enemies had enough evidence of his insubordination to persuade the king's council that action should be taken against him. He was summoned to a council meeting at Westminster in November to account for his behaviour. He later claimed that a brawl between his servants and others of the king had been an attempt on his life. Thereafter both sides began to prepare for war.

The beginnings of civil war, 1459–1460

Painting of Warwick
Painting of Warwick

By his illegal but spectacular exploits in the channel Warwick managed to keep the Calais garrison paid and loyal, and also to win popular approval in Kent and the home counties, a consideration that enabled him to move with a degree of impunity between London and Calais, flaunting his insubordination. He carried out another spectacular act of piracy against a combined Spanish and Genoese fleet in the summer of 1459. But by this time he, Salisbury, and York had finalized their plan to strike at their enemies at court. They had kept away from a council meeting summoned at Coventry in June, and had been indicted for their failure to attend. They now planned to move in strength on the king's reinforced entourage in the midlands.

Salisbury raised his northern retainers, York called up men from the Welsh marches, and Warwick brought some 600 men of the Calais garrison. They finally made their rendezvous at Worcester at the end of June, and solemnly swore their loyalty to the crown in the cathedral before sending demands to the king for the removal of his evil ministers. Pressed by the Lancastrian army, however, they retreated to Ludford Bridge, before Ludlow, where they endeavoured to make a stand. But the desertion of some of the Calais garrison under Andrew Trollope decided the issue. On the night of 12 October the duke, his sons, Salisbury, and Warwick, broke camp and fled, York and his younger son, the duke of Rutland, going to Dublin, Warwick, Salisbury, and the duke's heir, Edward, earl of March, making their way to Calais.

The rebellion had been a fiasco. The greater part of the nobility had rallied to the crown and rejected the Yorkist claim to speak for the realm. Even before the rout of Ludford a parliament had been summoned to Coventry to meet on 20 November. There the Yorkists were condemned, attainted for treason, and stripped of their property. At the same time immediate action was taken to dislodge Warwick from Calais. On 9 October he had been replaced as captain by the young Henry, duke of Somerset. By the end of the month Somerset had raised troops and crossed the channel, but though he seized Guînes Castle, the Yorkist earls entered Calais itself on 2 November, and maintained themselves there throughout the winter, in spite of constant attack. A government embargo on trading through Calais probably proved counter-productive, because it drove the staplers into Warwick's arms. The attempt to take Calais was further hindered by support Warwick received from the people of Kent, and the garrison's own vigorous counter-attacks, including a raid on Sandwich in January 1460, which destroyed a fleet being gathered to reinforce Somerset, and captured Lord Rivers and other Lancastrian captains.

Warwick himself sailed to Dublin in March 1460 to confer with York. What they there decided has ever since remained controversial. Later Edward IV remembered that voyage as being of great significance to his future, for Warwick brought back with him ‘the gretest joye and consolacion erthly’ (TNA: PRO, DL 37/32/79). There is reason to suppose that Warwick and York not only agreed an invasion plan, but also determined that York would usurp the throne, though Warwick would maintain the dissemblance that the collective aim still remained the removal of evil ministers. Having flooded Kent with reformist propaganda, the Calais lords landed at Sandwich at the end of June, and entered London on 2 July. And, having sworn with his fellow earls a solemn oath in St Paul's that he was the true subject of the king, and leaving Salisbury to blockade the Tower, Warwick marched on with the earl of March to face Henry VI at Northampton on 10 July. The battle, fought in pouring rain, was brief, its outcome aided by desertion in the king's camp. Warwick gave orders to spare the commons. His men made straight for the king's tent, where the duke of Buckingham, the earl of Shrewsbury, Viscount Beaumont, and Lord Egremont were killed defending him. The king, once more, became a guest of the Yorkists.

The making of King Edward, 1460–1461

The victors returned to London, from where Warwick made a brief visit to Calais, to consolidate his position there, before riding to Shrewsbury. There he met York, who was now bearing the arms of England as if he were king, in mid-September. Parliament had been summoned for October, and Warwick returned to London. York, after a circuitous and stately progress to rally support, arrived at Westminster when parliament was already in session. He strode into the Lords' house and walked straight to the chair of state. But, instead of acclamation, he faced a stony silence. It is not at all clear what happened. But although the dominant account, carried most fully by Waurin, reports that the earls and their supporters were to a man taken by surprise and reluctant to acknowledge York as king, it beggars belief that Warwick and March, at least, had not been privy to York's plans, probably since the spring. Perhaps they hoped to orchestrate a ‘popular’ election, overriding the likely opposition of men like Warwick's own uncles, the earl of Salisbury and Lord Fauconberg. It seems probable that Warwick had for some months been party to an elaborate charade, concealing his and the duke's true intentions even from their kinsmen, until York finally made his public claim to the throne.

The Act of Accord of 31 October 1460, which left Henry VI on the throne, but recognized York as his heir and protector of the realm, was an expedient that could only be imposed by the sword. On 30 December York was overwhelmed and killed at Wakefield. Salisbury and Warwick's brother, Sir Thomas Neville, also lost their lives. The victorious Lancastrian army marched south. Warwick, who had remained in London with the king and to conduct the second session of parliament which convened in January 1461, frantically raised troops in the south-east, painting an alarming picture of the rapacious intent of the northerners who were then descending on the southern counties. With these levies, and with the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk at his side, on 12 February he marched out of London to face his enemies. But he was outmanoeuvred and routed at the second battle of St Albans on 17 February. Fleeing westward, he and the remnants of his army were rallied by Edward, the new duke of York, fresh from victory at Mortimer's Cross earlier in the month. They marched immediately on London, arriving in time to prevent the city falling to the hesitant Queen Margaret, who, on hearing of their approach, withdrew. Warwick and Edward, already styling himself true heir to the throne, entered the city on 27 February. Five days later, having been ‘elected’ by a hastily gathered assembly, Edward took possession of the throne.

Edward IV immediately set about the task of pursuing the retreating Lancastrians northwards, Warwick raising reinforcements in the midlands, before rejoining the king's host at Leicester on 16 March. The armies met on the field of Towton, south-west of York, on 29 March, the victory being carried after a titanic struggle by the divisions under the command of the new king and Lord Fauconberg—Warwick himself may have been less to the fore in the battle as a result of his having been wounded in the leg while forcing the River Aire on the previous day. There was no immediate rest. When the victorious king went back to Westminster and his coronation, Warwick was left in overall command of the north, commissioned to suppress continuing disorder in Yorkshire, to co-ordinate resistance to Lancastrian counter-attacks in Durham and the west march in June, and to oversee the submission of the castles of Dunstanburgh and Alnwick, thereby leaving only Bamburgh untaken in Northumberland. The north seemed to be sufficiently secure by the autumn for Warwick to return to Westminster to attend the parliament summoned to meet on 4 November.

The governor of the realm, 1461–1464

Edward IV owed his throne to Warwick and his kinsmen. It was a debt fully acknowledged in the rewards heaped upon the earl. He was made great chamberlain of England, master of the king's mews, warden of the Cinque Ports, and constable of Dover Castle, all for life. His captaincy of Calais was renewed, and he became admiral of England by the end of 1461. In the north his wardenship of the west march was confirmed, to which was added the wardenship of the east march until 1463, when his brother, John Neville, later Marquess Montagu, succeeded him. He was made steward of the duchy of Lancaster in both the north and south parts, and granted all the stewardships of the duchy in Yorkshire. He received liberal grants of the confiscated estates of his defeated enemies including parts of the Percy estates in Yorkshire, and later, the honour of Cockermouth in Cumberland, as well as the Clifford lordship of Skipton. Commines later repeated the greatly exaggerated rumour that these rewards were worth 80,000 crowns (£16,000) a year; they were certainly worth several thousand pounds.

Warwick had also inherited his father's estates, and after the death of his mother in 1462, her inheritance and dower too. The earldom of Warwick produced an income for him of over £5000 p.a., the Neville and Montagu estates a further £2000. With an annual income from all sources of over £10,000 in the early 1460s, he was spectacularly wealthy, far outstripping any other subject of the king. It is not at all surprising that contemporaries viewed him in the opening years of Edward's reign as the real ruler of England. ‘My lord of Warwick … has made a new king of the son of the duke of York’. So wrote the papal legate, Francesco Coppini, to the duke of Milan in April 1461 (CSP Milan, 1385–1618, 69). Bishop Kennedy of St Andrews, who had negotiated with him, wrote a year or two later that he was the ‘governor of the realm of England under King Edward’ (Waurin, 3.173–4). ‘They have but two rulers’, joked the governor of Abbeville in a letter to Louis XI, ‘M de warwick and another whose name I have forgotten’ (ibid., 3.184). He was, Commines considered, like a father to Edward IV. But it was largely to foreign observers that Warwick appeared all powerful. In reality the relationship between the two was more of a partnership between mighty subject and insecure king, and it would be entirely wrong to suppose that Warwick was the sole author of royal policy during these early years.

He was certainly indispensable. In the first two years of the reign Warwick's main preoccupation was defending northern England against the combined assaults of Lancastrians and Scots. The far north had apparently been pacified by the end of 1461, and in the summer of 1462 Warwick concluded a truce with the regent of Scotland, Mary of Gueldres. In October of that year Margaret of Anjou, backed by the French, landed in Northumberland and took the castles of Alnwick and Bamburgh, whereupon the Scots renounced the truce. Warwick immediately raised the north to recover the castles, while the king also called out his household. Edward was struck down with measles at Durham, and it was left to Warwick to co-ordinate the recovery of the castles by early January 1463. The earl was presumably party to the king's insistence that clemency should be shown to rebels, including Sir Ralph Percy and Sir Humphrey Neville of Brancepeth (the respective heads of their families), who were even entrusted with the custody of the recovered castles. He certainly felt sufficient confidence in the settlement to travel south in February to undertake the solemn interment of the remains of his father and brother at Bisham Priory, and then on to the opening of the second parliament of the reign at Westminster in April.

The confidence was misplaced, however, for in the spring Percy and others went over once more to Queen Margaret. Once more, too, the Scots took advantage by laying siege to Norham. While the king in parliament sought and received a grant of taxation to raise an army against the Scots, Warwick raised the north again, relieved Norham in June, and raided into Scotland. The royal expedition never materialized, however, and the Lancastrians were left, for the time being, undisturbed in their possession of the Northumbrian castles and their control of the county of Northumberland. It had been determined to isolate the rebels and Scots diplomatically before taking to the field again.

Warwick had maintained his diplomatic contacts with Burgundy and France while engaged in the defence of the north. Although the opening of negotiations for a tripartite settlement with Burgundy and France was left in the hands of his brother, the chancellor George Neville, and his lieutenant of Calais, John, Lord Wenlock, at a conference at St Omer, in October 1463 Warwick himself was commissioned to treat with Scottish ambassadors at York for a renewal of the truce in December. But by late March he was back in London to open negotiations with French ambassadors, led by Jean de Lannoy. The truce was confirmed, a proposal for Edward IV to marry Louis XI's sister-in-law, Bona, daughter of the duke of Savoy, was discussed, and agreement was reached for further talks at St Omer in the summer. Warwick himself wrote to Louis XI encouraging the king to believe that Edward IV was sympathetic. But the talks never materialized. Lord Wenlock was sent to sue for a postponement to October, while Warwick himself returned north, first to complete the truce with the Scots, and then to join his brother John in the final reduction of the Northumbrian castles in July. Now revenge was exacted on the enemies of Neville, as some two and a half dozen of the Lancastrian leaders were summarily executed in relay at Newcastle, Middleham, and York. Montagu for his services was raised to the earldom of Northumberland.

The king's marriage and foreign affairs, 1464–1467

Negotiations for a French marriage were postponed in the summer for a good reason: on 1 May Edward IV had secretly married Elizabeth Woodville. The secrecy of Edward's marriage, and the fact that it was not revealed until Warwick pressed at a council meeting in late September for instructions for his forthcoming embassy concerning the king's projected French alliance, make it clear that Edward feared the reaction of Warwick and others. He knew that his choice of bride would not meet with approval, because of both her background and the political implications of the match. By choosing to marry in secret he risked adding insult to injury, for he clearly continued to allow Warwick to believe that he was eligible. The manner, as much as the fact, of the marriage, while it reveals the extent to which the king was in awe of Warwick, was also a declaration of independence, marking a turning point in the relationship between the two.

Warwick himself put on a brave face. He gallantly escorted the new queen on her first ceremonial public appearance at Michaelmas; and he swallowed his pride over the deceit. He was no doubt to some extent mollified in the following spring by the grants of Cockermouth, Egremont, and the shrievalty of Westmorland, as well as by the promotion of his brother George to be archbishop of York. There was no visible rift. In July 1465 he was at hand to escort the recently captured Henry VI through London to his imprisonment in the Tower. But it is notable that he had not been present at the queen's coronation on 26 May 1465 and distanced himself, or was distanced from, the new courtly society with which the king surrounded himself. Indeed, the sumptuous installation of George Neville at York on 22 September, while it celebrated the Neville triumph in the north, might also be seen as a riposte to the other coronation in the south.

Yet Warwick was still prominent in foreign affairs. In May 1465 he headed a powerful embassy empowered to treat at will with Burgundy and France. But the outbreak of civil war in France prevented any progress being made. It was not until the spring of 1466 that the commission was reissued. This time the ambassadors were to discuss with Burgundy possible ways of ending the trade war then raging, and also a proposed marriage between Charles, count of Charolais, the heir to Burgundy, and Edward's sister Margaret. It is likely that it was at this meeting in April that a personal antipathy between Warwick and Charolais was born. A similar marriage alliance and truce with France were discussed. Throughout 1466 and into 1467 a stream of envoys passed between England, France, and Burgundy. It soon became apparent that Warwick was advocating a French alliance, while the king, encouraged by the queen's father, Richard Woodville, Earl Rivers, who was created treasurer in March, moved towards a Burgundian alliance.

In October 1466 the king concluded a secret non-aggression pact with Charolais, and followed up with negotiations for a marriage and the end to the commercial war. All this was opposed by Warwick. Nevertheless, Edward, to increase the pressure on Burgundy, was keen to encourage rival French negotiations. Warwick was sent on a further embassy to France in May 1467, being lavishly, almost regally, entertained by Louis XI in Rouen. On offer were a marriage, a pension, generous commercial concessions to offset lost markets in Flanders, and, in exchange for an alliance against Burgundy, a promise to discuss English claims in France. With these terms carried by French envoys, Warwick returned to England in June, only to discover that his brother George had been dismissed as chancellor. In his absence, too, further negotiations between England and Burgundy had been conducted behind the scenes of the great sporting event of a tournament. These had been cut short by the death of Philip the Good. The French envoys were largely ignored by the king, and the day they left the king announced the renewal of his pact with Charolais, now Duke Charles of Burgundy.

Estrangement, 1467–1469

By midsummer 1467 Warwick knew that he had lost the argument over the direction of foreign policy. He cannot have been deceived by the king. He knew that the French and Burgundians were being played against each other. But he had become personally committed to a French alliance, perhaps flattered by the attention given him by Louis XI, perhaps himself boasting that he could deliver. It now dawned on him how little influence he still had with the king. In pique he withdrew to his estates in the north of England.

The disagreement over foreign policy was the occasion of the breach between Edward and Warwick. But it was not the cause. The cause lay at home. For three years the earl had been progressively marginalized. As the star of Earl Rivers waxed, so his waned. He had been powerless to stop the string of favourable marriages arranged for the benefit of Rivers's family since 1466, which included that of Anne Holland, the heir of Exeter, promised to Montagu's son, George, but now given to Rivers's grandson, the queen's son Thomas Grey. He found too that the king would not contemplate the marriage of his elder daughter, Isabel, to George, duke of Clarence.

Warwick and Edward became estranged because in the last resort the king could not rule indefinitely under the shadow of his mighty subject while the earl could not accept any dimunition of his special status and power. It is not simply that Warwick was arrogant, haughty, acquisitive, and ambitious (all of which he was). The king also handled him unwisely and insensitively. It was injudicious of Edward IV to reward him so lavishly at the beginning of the reign, and to have delegated so much power and authority to him then; it was weak of him later to allow so much scope to Earl Rivers to exploit his position as the queen's father for factional ends; and it was foolish, not in itself to be deceitful in his relationship with Warwick, but to let it become so apparent that he was duplicitous. Warwick had good cause to be aggrieved in 1467.

John Warkworth later wrote that after the announcement of the king's marriage ‘there rose great dissension ever more’ between the king and Warwick; and that after the dismissal of George Neville: the earl of warwick took to him in fee many knights, squires and gentlemen as he might, to be strong; and King Edward did that he might to feeble the Earl's power. And yet they were accorded many diverse times: but they never loved together afterward. (Warkworth, 3) The earl could indeed command formidable strength. The twin pillars of his power lay in the north and in Calais. While many families traditionally allied to the Percys remained unreconciled, he and his brothers made Yorkshire a virtual family fiefdom. His dominance extended into Cumberland and Westmorland, and into co. Durham, and he established an iron grip on Calais and its English approaches. In 1467 he withdrew to Yorkshire, and it is possible that he retained more men there, although he already had a powerful affinity in the county at his command. Calais was held loyal to him by his deputy Lord Wenlock.

In other parts of England, where Warwick might have been expected to wield a similar power, he was more vulnerable. In Cumberland, although he was warden of the west march, captain of Carlisle, and the lord of Cockermouth, his control, as events were to demonstrate, was less complete. In Warwickshire and Worcestershire, where Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, had once ruled all, he had never been able to establish his own hegemony. He had been hindered by being an outsider by birth, held back by the early dispute over the inheritance, and, in the late 1450s cut out by the rival power of the court while he had based himself in Calais. Consequently, although he had men and retainers there at his disposal, the west midlands were never a major source of strength. He exercised even less authority in south Wales, where after 1461 Edward IV had already promoted William, Lord Herbert, later earl of Pembroke, as his principal agent. The military might at Warwick's disposal thus lay largely in the north and Calais, but above all in north-eastern England. First and foremost he was a Neville.

But Warwick could also draw on his popular appeal. The fame won by the earl as a naval hero before 1460 lingered on, a fame that he deliberately tapped after 1468 by promoting a popular, though unwinnable, war at sea against the Hanse. His hospitality was legendary. Everywhere he travelled he kept open house; it was said that anyone who came in could take away as much meat as he could load onto a dagger. In the last years of his life, as in 1459–61, he never hesitated to stir up risings, whether in Yorkshire or Kent, to advance his own political cause. There was enough latent popular discontent, whether begotten of residual Lancastrian sympathies or of disappointment with the perceived inadequacies of Yorkist rule, to give Warwick ample opportunity for mischief-making. The earl's skill as a rabble-rouser was a further reason for Edward IV to fear him as an opponent.

It took time for Warwick and Edward to fall out irrevocably. As Warkworth said, they were accorded divers times. Over the winter of 1467–8 Warwick stayed away from court. Incriminating evidence about his doubtful loyalty came to light. He was embarrassed by the revelation that he had secretly sought a papal dispensation for the marriage of Isabel to the duke of Clarence. A captured messenger from Margaret of Anjou reported that it was widely said in France that his sympathies now lay with the house of Lancaster. He was summoned to court to answer the charge, but refused to come. Edward conceded that he would accept his denial from Yorkshire. Yet it was true that there was talk of that kind in France, whether well founded or not. Moreover Warwick kept constantly in touch with Louis XI through their intermediary William Moneypenny; and Moneypenny's reports to the king encouraged him to think that Warwick was already plotting rebellion.

Rebellion, however, was at this time unlikely. Edward IV kept the truculent Warwick sweet by granting him the profitable wardship of Francis, Lord Lovell. Besides, the earl had in his charge Edward's youngest brother, Richard, duke of Gloucester. In January 1468, through the mediation of his more flexible brother George, Warwick relented and attended a council meeting, called in his own country at Coventry, where he was reconciled with lords Herbert and Stafford, but not with Rivers and the latter's son Lord Scales. Back at court and council in July he participated in the ceremonial departure of Margaret of York for her wedding to the duke of Burgundy, escorting her from London to Dover. His influence probably helped determine the declaration of war against the Hanse in the same month.

Plans by now were well under way for a renewal of war with France. But Louis XI was assiduous in stirring up trouble in England, and in July 1468 a Lancastrian agent named Cornelius revealed under torture that Lord Wenlock was involved in a Lancastrian plot; and the involvement of Wenlock implicated Warwick. On this occasion they both escaped. Any hopes that Edward had that war with France might unite his fragmenting kingdom were dashed. The reconciliation at court was paper thin; popular disturbances recurred in Kent, Yorkshire, and elsewhere. By the beginning of 1469, after the revelation of yet another Lancastrian conspiracy—involving this time John de Vere, earl of Oxford—there was widespread dissatisfaction with Edward's regime, especially the rule of the faction under Earl Rivers. The time was ripe for Warwick to put himself at the head of this discontent.

Rebellion, 1469–1470

Warwick's plans were well laid. They involved the suborning of Clarence and the organizing of a further ‘popular’ rising in the north while he was away from the region. His path was cleared early in 1469 by the recall of Richard of Gloucester, now sixteen, to court. Dissembling until the eleventh hour, Warwick maintained the pretence of his reconciliation. For the safe keeping of the sea he was given command of a fleet which he ostentatiously sent to harass the west coast of France. In April he represented his king at a meeting at St Omer with Charles of Burgundy and the emperor Friedrich III. In May he attended the installation of Charles as a knight of the Garter at Windsor. Edward was so totally taken in that he set off on pilgrimage to Walsingham in June, convinced that all differences were a thing of the past.

It was then that Warwick struck. There had already been two risings in Yorkshire in the spring of 1469, both stirred by Percy supporters and suppressed with ease by John Neville, now Marquess Montagu. Now a third, at first stirred by Percy supporters and now under the leadership of a Robin of Redesdale, revealed itself in June to be a rebellion of Warwick's northern affinity led by a member of the Conyers family, whose head, Sir John, was Warwick's steward and constable of Middleham. Warwick himself, taking his daughter Isabel, Clarence, and Archbishop Neville with him, sailed over to Calais, and there on 11 July Isabel and Clarence were married. On 12 July he and his new son-in-law published a manifesto condemning the covetous rule of the king's evil ministers, headed by Earl Rivers, and calling upon the commons of Kent to join him for the reform of the commonwealth at Canterbury. This the Kentishmen did, and in a repetition of the campaign of 1459 the lords set off for Coventry to join the northern rebels. But before they did so the king's forces, under William Herbert and Humphrey Stafford (now earls of Pembroke and Devon), had been overthrown at the bloody battle of Edgcote on 26 July. Herbert and his brother Richard were captured and executed in cold blood a few days later; Stafford fled, but was seized by a mob in Bridgwater in Somerset and lynched; Earl Rivers and his son John were caught in the Forest of Dean and murdered; all no doubt on Neville orders. The king, until the last moment unaware of the defeat of his army, was taken by Archbishop Neville at Olney.

Warwick's victory was complete. Edward IV was first imprisoned at Warwick, and then later in August, presumably for safer keeping, was moved north to Middleham. Already a parliament had been summoned in his name to York on 22 September. The rumour spread in France that Warwick was planning to depose him and place Clarence on the throne. Perhaps he was, but before parliament met the escalating general disorder—and especially a rising by Sir Humphrey Neville in upper Tynedale which Warwick could not suppress without royal authority—forced his hand. An agreement was reached with the king, who was released. The rebellion was suppressed, but Edward returned to Westminster in state, and a free man.

It would seem that over the winter of 1469–70, in a series of great councils, an attempt was made to structure a new regime agreeable both to the king and to Warwick. It was reported by Sir John Paston that the king ‘hathe good langage’ of the earl, but, ominously, that ‘hys howsholde men have other langage’ (Paston Letters and Papers, 1.410). It was a precarious entente. The promotion of the young duke of Gloucester to office in south Wales may have been acceptable to Warwick. The restoration of Henry Percy as earl of Northumberland, by successive stages between 27 October and 1 March as a means of belatedly clipping Neville wings in Cumberland, Northumberland, and Yorkshire, was not. By then Warwick and Clarence were plotting further rebellion, this time, it soon became apparent, without doubt to depose Edward. Disturbances in Lincolnshire provided the opportunity. Richard, Lord Welles, and his son Sir Robert attacked Sir Thomas Burgh, the master of the king's horse. The king could not allow such an assault on one of his senior servants to pass unpunished (perhaps as intended). But the recklessness of Sir Robert Welles, who it was later revealed had been instructed to lure the king north where he would be confronted by Warwick's men in strength, lost the day. Welles was routed near Erpingham on what became known as Losecote Field and, before his execution, implicated Warwick and Clarence. Knowing what was afoot, Edward IV marched north to York to confront the Richmondshire rebels, as Warwick and Clarence shadowed him and Montagu raised the marches. In this game of cat and mouse, Warwick's nerve broke first. Finding that Lord Stanley would not come out for him, he turned and fled. And although Edward gave chase, the earl managed to take boat at Dartmouth early in April. Denied support in Southampton, and access to Calais, despite the sympathy of Lord Wenlock, the earl's party, which included his countess and daughters, finally put ashore at Honfleur on 1 May, and became the guests of Louis XI.

The remaking of King Henry, 1470–1471

In England Edward IV began the process of dismantling Warwick's power. He dismissed the earl's lieutenant of the west march, Lord Fitzhugh, and put in his own man, Sir William Parr. In August the duke of Gloucester was made full warden. Lord Howard was sent to take command of Calais. Henry Percy was made warden of the east march. Warwick's estates were untouched, perhaps pending formal attainder, with the exception of Barnard Castle, which was granted to Bishop Booth of Durham. Beyond this the king did not go, perhaps expecting to decide the issue once and for all on the field of battle.

Louis XI lost no time in taking advantage of the situation. He immediately sought to effect a reconciliation between Warwick and Margaret of Anjou. This might have been a long-term objective—rumours to that effect, some possibly started by Louis himself, had circulated since 1466. On the other hand, Louis might have been only a recent convert to a plan to which some in Margaret of Anjou's circle had been working for some time. Warwick appears to have readily agreed, but only after much persuading did Margaret put her name to a deal which involved the marriage of her son, Edward, prince of Wales, to Warwick's daughter Anne, on condition that Warwick and Clarence secured control of England before she and her son came over. On 22 July Warwick was formally reconciled to the house of Lancaster, and agreed to restore Henry VI.

The earl wasted no time. Warwick's plan, yet again, was to mount a decoy to draw Edward IV north, while he himself slipped the blockade on his ships in the Seine to land on the south coast. As planned, Lord Fitzhugh led a rising of men in Richmondshire and Cumberland. They melted away before Edward's advance and soon sued for pardon, which was granted to them on 10 September. But the plan nearly came unstuck because Warwick's flotilla could not get out of port until a storm scattered his enemies' ships. Fortunately Edward had lingered in the north. When Warwick and Clarence landed on 13 September with the earls of Oxford and Pembroke, they raised the country in the name of Henry VI. Whereas Warwick's rebellions in 1469 and earlier in 1470 had received only lukewarm support, now thousands flocked to the Lancastrian colours. Edward IV, returning to confront his enemies, learnt that Montagu to his rear was planning not to join him, but rather to attack him. Now caught in the very trap he had avoided six months earlier, he and a small party of faithful followers hurriedly abandoned their troops, took to the sea at Bishop's Lynn on 2 October, and fled to the Netherlands. England lay at Warwick's feet.

Warwick entered London in triumph on 6 October. Henry VI had already been released from the Tower and was in the care of Bishop Waynflete of Winchester. He was a pitiful figure, incapable of ruling. Warwick assumed the position of the lieutenant of the realm, leading an interim government pending the return of Margaret of Anjou and the prince of Wales. A parliament was summoned to Westminster on 26 November, the principal purpose of which was to attaint the rebel duke of York, calling himself Edward IV, and grant the duchy to Clarence. Ambassadors from France were received to finalize a treaty of alliance. On their return to France in December they were able to assure Margaret of Anjou that Warwick was in full command; she then set out on her journey for England.

But events moved faster than Queen Margaret. Louis XI now declared war on Burgundy. Duke Charles, who had initially kept his distance from his uninvited guest, fitted out an expedition as speedily as he could to help Edward IV recover his kingdom. By the end of February both Edward IV and Margaret of Anjou were held up in port by contrary winds waiting to sail to England. Edward put to sea first and with his small band landed at Ravenspur on the Humber on 14 March. Warwick's preparations had been thorough, but Edward was able to establish himself in Yorkshire because of the tacit support of the earl of Northumberland. Reinforced by his household men as he moved south, and unchallenged by his enemies, he marched on to confront Warwick at Coventry. Warwick was confident that, when joined by Clarence from the west country and the troops under Montagu and the earl of Oxford who had been shadowing Edward, he would have the overwhelming strength to crush him. But his strategy was undermined by the betrayal of Clarence, who on 3 April went over to his brother. Nevertheless Warwick met up with his more reliable Lancastrian allies, and then pursued Edward towards London. On 14 April, Easter Sunday, the two armies finally faced each other in thick morning fog just north of Barnet. In the bad visibility the battle lines became confused. The earl of Oxford routed Hastings's men opposite him, but on regrouping and returning to the field attacked not the rear of Edward IV as he believed, but Montagu's flank, which fought back. Montagu fell and the Lancastrian line broke. Warwick took to his horse and fled, but was caught and killed. After all was over the bodies of the Neville brothers, stripped of their armour, were brought back to London and there displayed for three days in St Paul's, so that all could see that the mighty earl of Warwick was dead. The bodies were then handed over to Archbishop Neville for burial in the family vault at Bisham.

Warwick's last will and testament has not survived. Of his religion nothing is known. His widow lived until 1492. Having landed at Weymouth on the day of his death, she hastened into sanctuary at Beaulieu Abbey. There she was kept for two years under guard, until in 1473 she was taken into the care of Richard of Gloucester, who had married her daughter Anne, and was taken to Middleham Castle. She was disinherited by Edward IV so that his brothers could share the spoils of the Warwick inheritance. Only after the succession of Henry VII did she receive any kind of justice, and that on the condition that she ‘voluntarily’ made over her inheritance to the crown.

Assessment and reputation

Warwick died at the age of forty-two. During his meteoric career he had dazzled the courts of northern Europe with his power and flamboyance. He was already reputed to be the ‘proud setter-up and puller-down of kings’, as Shakespeare later called him (W. Shakespeare, 3 Henry VI, III.iii). But he overreached himself. It could be said that he lacked that quality for which his father was noted: prudence. He was a consummate intriguer, dissembler, and manipulator, but his political career led nowhere. He had but two daughters: Isabel, born in 1451, who married Clarence, and Anne, born in 1456, who married Edward, prince of Wales. It is perhaps because after 1465 he despaired of producing a male heir that he became obsessed with making first one and then the other of his daughters queen of England, an ambition he was to achieve posthumously when the younger became queen as the consort of the third Yorkist, Richard III.

It is likely that in his preoccupation with his national and international ambitions Warwick neglected the roots of his power in England. One reason why he fell to Edward IV in 1471 was his inability to raise enough men to fight for him. His great north-eastern affinity had done all it could: it rose four times in four years at his command; but on the fourth occasion in April 1471 it was isolated by the course of events. So little had he attended to his interests in Cumberland, on the other hand, that the men of Carlisle and the west march went over to Edward IV under Sir William Parr, and he never established himself in the midlands. It is ironic that it was at Coventry in 1471 that he endeavoured to rally military support that was not forthcoming in sufficient strength. An air of desperation is revealed in his personal postscript to a summons (written at Warwick) to Sir Henry Vernon of Haddon: ‘never fail me now’ (Rutland MSS, 1.4). And it is symptomatic that fail him is just what Vernon did. For all his wooing of the commons, when it came to the final trial of strength, Warwick's neglect of the political nation in the localities away from his own roots left him vulnerable.

Warwick's military reputation was founded on his feats at sea. His control of the channel in 1459–61 was a significant factor in the Yorkist victory. On land he was an incompetent general, notwithstanding his enthusiasm for artillery in the field as well as in siege warfare; and this, strategically and tactically, was his undoing. It was said that he preferred not to fight on foot in the press, as did his contemporaries, most notably Edward IV, but to command from the rear on horseback: an approach hardly calculated to inspire confidence in his men. At Barnet, for once, he was persuaded to fight on foot; and from that final defeat there was no escape. Wary on the field of battle, he had no qualms about killing prisoners afterwards. It is arguable that it was he who, from the first battle of St Albans onwards, was responsible for making the summary execution and murder of defeated opponents common practice in the Wars of the Roses.

Warwick the Kingmaker was unique. Holding what had earlier been four separate earldoms, he enjoyed wealth and exercised influence on a scale arguably never matched before or since by a nobleman who was not directly of the royal blood, and that at a time when the crown itself was weak. It was this fortuitous conjunction of circumstances that made him in effect the arbiter of English politics for fifteen years. On the whole he has not enjoyed a good historical reputation. Building on Burgundian hostility and Edward IV's embittered propaganda in 1471, a view was quickly established that he was motivated only by insatiable ambition and overweening self-regard. Shakespeare portrayed a man driven by injured pride to revenge himself on Edward IV. J. R. Lander has placed a similar emphasis on ‘a career which resentment progressively and finally completely dominated’ (Lander, 120). But the leitmotif for most modern historians has been his ‘contumacious ambition’ (Ross, 137): he ‘devoted himself with single aim to the acquisition of power for himself and his family’ (DNB).

Yet there is an alternative tradition. Beginning with Yorkist propaganda in 1460 which described him as the ‘flower of manhood’, he has been admired as the exemplar of true nobility and promoter of the common weal. So he appeared in the mid-sixteenth-century A Myrroure for Magistrates. To Lord Lytton in his romantic novel of 1843, The Last of the Barons, Warwick was a hero, ‘a man who stood colossal amidst the iron images of the Age—the greatest and the last of the old Norman chivalry—kinglier in pride, in state, in possessions, and in renown, than the king himself’ (Bulwer-Lytton, 3), who was driven to rebellion by outrage at Edward IV's attempted seduction of his daughter Anne (a fiction based on a comment in Hall's Union of the Houses of Lancaster and York that Edward had attempted the virtue of one of the earl's female relations). Oman at the end of the nineteenth century praised his exceptional powers of leadership and his ability to use his position to articulate popular sentiment. P. M. Kendall in his over-imaginative biography of 1957 followed Lytton's lead. Hicks, too, in his 1998 biography restated the case for Warwick as the very model of medieval nobility who died representing public opinion.

The truth probably lies between the two extremes. He was undoubtedly ambitious and unwilling to accept any role other than first subject in the realm. But perhaps it should also be recognized that his birth, wealth, and status placed him unavoidably at the centre of affairs, and that his erratic course was determined as much by self-preservation as by self-aggrandizement. His vast inheritance stood on shaky foundations, each element open to counter-claim. It was thus essential for him to retain influence at court so as to ensure untroubled possession. Furthermore, his grievances against an immature and inexperienced Edward IV were real. In the later 1460s he and his brother George were pushed aside by a faction led by the queen's father, Earl Rivers. He may genuinely have believed that England's future lay in close diplomatic and commercial ties with France. This was an eccentric and unrealistic policy, but it might not have been adopted solely as a mask to cover an insatiable ambition. His exploitation of popular grievances for political ends, however, even if deriving from a genuine concern for the common good, threatened the very fabric of the social order. When all is said and done, Warwick became too colossal and too wayward for the long-term stability of the late fifteenth-century kingdom of England; it is entirely appropriate that his career inspired the cult board game Kingmaker, which has been aptly described as a feudal version of Monopoly.

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