Richard Neville, known as Warwick the Kingmaker, played a significant role in shaping the course of the Wars of the Roses. The most powerful magnate in the land, his support and actions led to the deposition of two monarchs. It was this that led to him being known as Warwick the Kingmaker. Neville, though from a wealthy background, gained much of his land and his titles through marriage. Securing inheritances that came from his marriage brought him into direct conflict with the Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. The alliance he formed with the Duke of York to combat Somerset was a critical factor in taking factionalism into war. Warwick’s continued desire for power led to a change of allegiance in the late 1460s. In turn, he fought against his one-time ally, King Edward IV, in a campaign that ultimately led to his death on the battlefield at Barnet in 1471.
The early life of Warwick the Kingmaker
Richard Neville was born on 22nd November 1428. He was the eldest son of Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury and Alice Montague. The Neville family was a powerful one. It had a seat of power in the North and the Earl of Salisbury was at some points the warden of the marches. This meant that the younger Richard Neville was brought up in an environment in which politics and clashes with the neighbouring Scots were commonplace.
Aged six Richard Neville was betrothed to Anne Beauchamp. Anne was the daughter and heir of Richard de Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick and Isabel Despenser. This political arrangement was intended to increase the status of the Neville family by acquiring additional titles and land. At the same time, a marriage contract was arranged for Richard’s sister to also marry into the Beauchamp family.
Marriage and Inheritance
The inheritance that Richard Neville stood to inherit increased in size and importance whilst he was quite young. In 1446 Henry Beauchamp, to whom his sister had married, passed away. This passed Henry’s wealth to his daughter, Richard’s niece. In 1449 she too passed away. These deaths left Neville’s wife as the heiress, Richard Neville himself inheriting the title 16th Earl of Warwick by default. The estates that Richard, 16th Earl of Warwick inherited were concentrated in the Midlands from the Warwick estates and with other significant holdings in the South of Wales through the Despenser estates.
These holdings were large. Through marriage, Richard Neville had, by the age of 21, become one of the largest landowners in the country. The inheritances had not gone unchallenged. The Despenser estates had been set to be split equally between Anne Beauchamp and her nephew. Warwick took both parts of the inheritance, securing Glamorgan and Abergavenny. The Beauchamp estates were more hotly disputed as they held much more value. Anne Beauchamp had elder half brothers and sisters. They were excluded from the inheritance but pursued their claims, sometimes using force. These claimants were well respected, powerful, courtiers. One of Anne’s half-sisters was married to John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury. Another had married Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.
The Political life of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, prior to 1455
Richard Neville was knighted in or before 1445 and is known to have attended the King in person prior to 1449. In that year he was bestowed with his title, Earl of Warwick. This granted him the right to attend council meetings. However, Richard was absent from council meetings recorded between June 1450 and March of 1453. Instead, it seems that he was focussed largely on securing the inheritance and managing the vast estates that were now under his control.
It is also known that Richard had campaigned against the Scots prior to having his Earldom conferred upon him. As his father was warden of the marches it is most probable that he rode at his side in campaigns of 1448/9. This military grounding stood him in good stead. Unlike so many other young nobles he had experience of war and experience of winning: which the English, in France at least, were hard-pressed to achieve at this time.
In an era when so many were attempting to gain favour in the court and factions were emerging, Richard, 16th Earl of Warwick, chose to remain distanced. Perhaps through necessity, perhaps because the Duke of Somerset, with whom he was engaged in disputes, held sway over proceedings.
Political tensions: Warwick’s support for the king at Dartford
Political tension in the early 1450s reached a tipping point in 1452. With the war in France going badly and the government struggling to maintain basic law and order among the nobility, there were calls for change. Richard, Duke of York, led these calls and had shown a willingness to be backed by force of arms. This had succeeded in obtaining changes but they were short-lived. In 1452, Richard, Duke of York once again raised a force to try and force change. Richard, Earl of Warwick remained loyal to King Henry VI and Queen Margaret at this time. He provided men to stand with the King and they were part of the force that humiliated Richard, Duke of York at Dartford in 1452.
Clashes between the Earl of Warwick and the Duke of Somerset
Though Warwick had remained loyal to the King at Dartford, a rift was emerging between himself and the Duke of Somerset. Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, lay claim to part of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick’s inheritance. Somerset claimed part of the Despenser inheritance and in 1453 used force to seize Glamorgan and Morgannwg. The rights to these lands had been confirmed just months before. Richard, 16th Earl of Warwick, chose to immediately retaliate. His private army marched on and seized Cardiff and Cowbridge Castles. The conflict between Somerset and the young Earl of Warwick was open and bloody.
Richard Neville’s alliance with Richard, 3rd Duke of York
The conflict that the Earl of Warwick had with the Duke of Somerset led to him supporting Richard, Duke of York. Richard of York too had reason to distrust the Duke of Somerset. There had been clashes over the lieutenancy of France and the Duke of York had challenged the way that the council, dominated by Somerset, was managing the affairs of the country. Warwick too was aggrieved by the actions of Somerset. He was a threat to the Despenser inheritance and, given that that inheritance had been confirmed by the council, seemed to be a law unto himself. So as the government faced further problems at home and abroad, Warwick aligned himself with Richard of York. At the time it was the politically sound thing for him to do and a hugely pragmatic move.
This is shown in the first protectorate held by Richard, Duke of York whilst Henry VI was unwell. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, was on the council. He attended but took a far less prominent role than that of his father, Richard, Earl of Salisbury. The protectorate served a pragmatic purpose for him: it secured once and for all, his inheritance. It ensured his status as one of the leading magnates.
The First Battle of St. Albans
Following King Henry VI’s recovery, the balance of power in court once again swung in favour of the Duke of Somerset. Factions were now quite clearly defined as the Queen and favourites formed up to face the perceived threat from the ‘loyal opposition’ posed by the likes of Richard, 3rd Duke of York, the Earl of Salisbury and the Earl of Warwick. It didn’t take long for these tensions to turn into conflict. On 22nd May 1455 the Kings Army, led by the Duke of Somerset, faced the loyal opposition at St. Albans.
The First Battle of St. Albans was the first battle of the Wars of the Roses. Richard, 16th Earl of Warwick, played a pivotal role in it. Warwick led his men through the back streets and alleyways of St. Albans. In doing so he breached the defences of the Kings army. This led to a chaotic scene. During the fighting that followed it is believed that Warwick himself was responsible for the death of Thomas Clifford, 8th Baron de Clifford. He also took the Duke of Somerset’s son into his own personal custody and may even have been responsible for the death of Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.
The battle was an overwhelming victory for the loyalist opposition of the Yorkists. King Henry VI was captured and controlled by York. Somerset was dead. The council could be managed as seen fit by the victorious party. The Earl of Warwick’s hold on his lands was total. After the First Battle of St. Albans, he grew in importance, taking a more active role than his father and being appointed to the very important position of Captain of Calais.
Warwick as Captain of Calais
The position of Captain of Calais was far more than a ceremonial position. Following the French victories that marked the end of the Hundred Years War the only possessions that the English held on mainland Europe were based around the port of Calais. The port managed the importing and exporting of trade to and from the South of England. Militarily Calais was home to much of the English Fleet. Control of the English Channel was centred around the ability of Calais to put ships to sea. In 1455 there was a very real threat that the French may attempt to seize the port. The results of such a siege or French victory would be extremely damaging to the mercantile classes of London and the repercussions would be felt nationally.
As the English foothold on the continent was so important, it warranted a large garrison and fleet. These were at the disposal of the Earl of Warwick whilst he was Captain of Calais. As political tension once again grew in England, the role in Calais offered Warwick an opportunity to maintain a position of strength, influence and authority. Warwick was aided by his uncle, William, Lord Fauconberg in Calais. He appointed his uncle as commander of the garrison, allowing himself to attend to matters of diplomacy and state.
The Earl of Warwick was now looked upon as the real head of the Yorkist party, and he furnished the occasion of the first outward breach of the late reconciliation. He had repaired to his government at Calais, where his power and popularity were unlimited, and which he had now made his headquarters. In the month of May, he considered himself justified in attacking a large fleet of ships which was proceeding from the Hanse Towns to Spain, which he defeated, sinking some and capturing others. The Hanseatic League complained, and Warwick was called upon for explanations. The earl did not hesitate in presenting himself at court to answer the charges brought against him; but his reception seems to have been such as to give him suspicion of personal danger. On the 9th of November 1455, when Warwick was attending the court at Westminster, he was attacked by some of the queen’s household, and escaped with difficulty to his barge on the Thames, in which he immediately dropped down the river and made the best of his way to Calais.
Chambers Book of Days, 1869. Cited here.
1455-59: Was Warwick in self-imposed isolation?
Warwick’s time in Calais was not without incident. Slowly the balance of power in the council swung in favour of Queen Margaret. Those who had been involved in the actions at St. Albans found themselves excluded from the inner circle. They became fringe figures no matter what their wealth or status. Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, found himself forced to swear an oath of loyalty to the King. Only one other man, Richard of York, was asked to do this.
In 1457 the French raided the English port of Sandwich. Whilst on the other side of the channel this had implications for Calais. Sandwich was one of the ports from which supplies and trade sailed to Calais. If the French were able to raid with impunity, Calais itself was threatened. It also illustrated that the French navy, rather than the English, had control of the English Channel. The reason for this was that the fleet at Calais had not been paid and so would not put to sea. It triggered something of a crisis at Council and funds were hastily promised and sent.
Calais also offered the Earl of Warwick opportunities to open talks on the continent. Some of these, such as a 1458 Commission to negotiate with Burgundy were official. Others, it seems, were not. Sources in Burgundy show that he not only acted for the crown but also negotiated on behalf of the Duke of York. Similar lines of communication were open with Charles VII of France and the Low Countries.
The threat of an imminent attack on Calais, or disruption to its supply lines, contributed to a degree of rapprochement on the part of the Council. Alongside the Loveday Parade that was instigated at Henry VI’s behest were a series of agreements and truces. For the Earl of Warwick, this saw him paying reparations to the son of Thomas Clifford, in return for which the Council promised additional funds for the garrison and fleet at Calais and a commission to tackle piracy in the English Channel.
Warwick’s execution of the commission to tackle piracy caused ruptions. The Calais Fleet attacked ships from Castile and seized ships of the Hanseatic League. Both were diplomatic incidents of a grave nature. Further problems arose as men of the Calais garrison fought with those loyal to the king. Warwick was summoned to defend these actions. His response was that there had been an attempt on his life.
Though there had been public shows of reconciliation between the two factions, behind the scenes things remained strained. Warwick, along with his father and the Duke of York, retained large private armies. The Queen moved the court to Coventry in the heart of lands loyal to Henry VI and herself. Following Warwick’s summons and response both the Kings faction and the Yorkists had stepped up their preparations for war.
In June 1459 there was a Council meeting in Coventry. Warwick, his father and the Duke of York had been kept away from the meeting. In turn, their non-attendance was then used against them. The Yorkists now planned to confront the king. Warwick brought 600 men from the Calais garrison to join his retainers from his estates and those of his father and Richard, Duke of York.
At Ludford Bridge, near Ludlow, the two sides faced off over the river. The Battle of Ludford Bridge was something of a non-entity. Warwick’s men saw that the King himself was in attendance. Upon seeing his banners, they refused to fight. They were loyal to Warwick but also to the King. With 600 of their best soldiers now unavailable, the Yorkists beat a hasty retreat and the battle was more of a rout than a fight.
Warwick, Salisbury and Edward, Earl of March fled to Calais. Richard, Duke of York, made his way to Ireland where he remained Lieutenant.
Parliament of Devils and exile in Calais
A Parliament had been called to meet at Coventry before the rout at Ludford Bridge. It met on 20th November 1459. The Parliament issued attainders for the Yorkist lords, stripping them of land and titles and finding each of them guilty of treason. Prior to this Warwick had been stripped of the Captaincy of Calais and the new Duke of Somerset, Henry, appointed in his stead. The Yorkists had arrived at Calais first though and the garrison remained under Warwick’s command. Over the winter it survived an embargo on supplies and was attacked repeatedly by the forces of Henry, Duke of Somerset.
The embargo was not entirely successful. Warwick had much support from people on the south coast, particularly so Kent. His men counter attacked the forces of Somerset. In January 1460 they launched a daring raid over the Channel and assailed Somerset’s fleet at anchor at Sandwich. The raid was hugely successful, including the capture of Lord Rivers.
Warwick now had almost total control of the English Channel. He used this to his advantage. Propaganda was disseminated along the coast. He even sailed unopposed to Ireland to meet Richard of York to discuss their strategy.
In June 1460 Warwick, Salisbury and the Earl of March set sail with an invasion fleet from Calais. They landed at the supportive port of Sandwich. From here they made their way to London, arriving on July 2nd. The Earls swore oaths of allegiance to the King then, leaving Salisbury to blockade the Tower of London and keep the city secure, Warwick and the Earl of March headed north.
On July 10th the Yorkist army met with that of Henry VI at Northampton. The Battle of Northampton was brief but significant. Desertion in the king’s army led to a relatively easy Yorkist victory. Warwick ordered that common soldiers’ should be spared. So, his men made straight for the Kings tent. Here they killed the Duke of Buckingham, Earl of Shrewsbury and Lord Egremont. The King was taken into captivity and taken to London.
Richard’s bid for the throne
In October 1460 Richard, Duke of York and Warwick entered Parliament. York had made a ceremonial, regal, progress through the country. Upon entering Parliament he made for the seat of state but instead of receiving enthusiastic cheers was met with silence. The extent to which Warwick was aware of Richard’s intention to claim the throne at this point is unclear. It seems implausible that he would not have been aware though, the progress, after all, had been regal in nature and quite circuitous.
Parliament negotiated a settlement. Richard was made heir through the Act of Accord. In his haste to destroy opposition to the Act, Richard and the Earl of Salisbury had marched north to tackle Queen Margaret and her army. Richard was killed at the Battle of Wakefield, as was his eldest son. Edward, Earl of March now became the focal point of the Yorkist claim. Warwick’s father, the Earl of Salisbury was also killed at the Battle of Wakefield. Now, the only possible outcome was to win an outright, decisive victory.
The Queen made for London after the success at Wakefield. Warwick led his men to meet them. At the Second Battle of St. Albans Warwick was once again routed. Outwitted on the battlefield he fled west to meet with Edward, now the Duke of York. Edward and Warwick marched to London to secure it. The Queen retreated to the North.
The Towton Campaign
Edward claimed the throne in early March. Theoretically elected, in practice a coup as Henry VI remained their prisoner and all opposing Lords were absent. Soon afterwards Warwick made his way to the Midlands to raise more troops for the Yorkist army. He rejoined Edward at Leicester and they and Lord Faucenberg marched north towards York.
On 28th March 1461 Warwick’s men were involved in securing a crossing over the River Aire at the Battle of Ferrybridge (date disputed, some historians now think it was the day after). Warwick himself was wounded securing the crossing points. The next day he, Edward IV and Lord Faucenberg commanded a large Yorkist army that was met at Towton to the South West of York. After the largest and bloodiest battle in English history, Edward IV’s throne was secured. The Battle of Towton was a huge victory for the Yorkists. It was not an end to Lancastrian opposition.
Following the victory at Towton, Warwick remained in the North with a commission to suppress opposition. This led to attacking areas, such as Durham, that were loyal to Henry VI, leading campaigns into the western marches and forcing the submission of castles: only Bamburgh failed to submit by the time Warwick returned south for a Parliament that began in early November 1460.
For the Earl of La Marche getting to London before her, was there Proclaim’d King, under the Name of Edward IV. Henry and Margarete had no sooner Notice of this unexpected News, but they assembled all their Troops, and Edward fully reÂsolv’d not to suffer them to approach London, march’d with all possible Expedition, in ConjunÂction with the Earl of Warwick,towards Tanton; There he gave Battle to Henry, which lasted two days, and cost the Lives of 36000 Men: Victory at last declar’d for Edward, who having now no more Enemies to encounter in the Field, began to relish the Sweets of an agreeable Tranquility, and took effectual Care to reward the Fidelity of his Friends.
The history of the Earl of Warwick, sirnam’d the King-maker: containing his amours, and other memorable transactions. By the author of the Memoirs of the English court.
Author: Aulnoy, Madame d’ (Marie-Catherine), 1650 Cited here.
Warwick the Kingmaker: Neville in the ascendancy 1460-64
Edward’s crown was now very secure. The Neville family had been his major backers. For this, the Earl of Warwick was rewarded richly. The King granted Warwick much of the lands confiscated from the defeated and often dead Lancastrian lords. In the North he received the Clifford estates and parts of the Percy lands. He was confirmed in the role of warden of the western marches and also appointed to the same position for the eastern marches: a role his brother took over in 1463. He was made steward of the Duchy of Lancaster and granted all stewardships in Yorkshire.
In the south, Warwick was made warden of the Cinque Ports, constable of Dover Castle and his Captaincy of Calais was once again renewed. Additionally, he was made Chamberlain of England.
His father’s estates and title also passed to Warwick upon the death of his mother in 1462. This meant that Warwick was by far the wealthiest person in the country other than the King. His lands were vast and his income from these estates significant.
For some contemporaries, it was Warwick who was the power in the land. His influence affected everything. It was Warwick who masterminded the defence of the North when Queen Margaret landed in 1462. He oversaw the diplomatic negotiations with Burgundy and France that isolated Scotland. Warwick also brought about the truce with the Scots. He led from the front relieving occupied castles in the North East whilst Edward was unwell.
By Autumn 1463 Warwick was engaged in discussions about a diplomatic marriage for Edward IV to the sister-in-law of Louis XI of France. They were talks that were hastily broken off.
The Woodville Problem
In September 1464 Edward IV shocked his council. Warwick pressed for instructions on marriage negotiations with the French. Edward revealed that he had in fact married, in secret, Elizabeth Woodville on May 1st of that year. For Warwick, this must have been something of a shock. He had continued negotiating, in the king’s knowledge, throughout the time since the secret wedding. Nonetheless, he escorted the Queen in person on her first official engagement as Queen.
Warwick’s roles began, gradually, to diminish. Some of his roles in the north were granted to his own brother, George. He still held much power though, overseeing the return to captivity of Henry VI in the summer of 1465. Warwick also oversaw embassies to France and Burgundy, retaining a significant role.
It was these embassies that saw the real opening of a division between Warwick and the king. Marriage negotiations for the Kings sister, Margaret, illustrated the rise in influence of the Woodville family. Warwick favoured an alliance with the French. Elizabeth Woodville’s father, who had been appointed as treasurer in March 1465, favoured an alliance with Burgundy.
Edward seemed happy to play the French and Burgundians off against one another. Warwick was sent with generous terms to France, to secure an alliance against Burgundy. In Warwick’s absence, his brother George was replaced as Chancellor. Edward had also reopened negotiations with Burgundy. Upon his return, he found not only these changes but the French envoys were given short shrift by Edward who announced a pact with Burgundy on the day that they returned to France.
Warwick was frustrated by events. Even though he was skilled enough at diplomacy to know that Edward was simply ensuring as good a deal as possible, the manner in which things had been done and his personal assurances to the French would have been personally wounding. Smarting, he withdrew to his northern estates. Here he observed a series of events that saw the Woodville family being promoted or favoured, including changes to marriage arrangements that affected his own family.
Slowly Warwick began to arouse unrest in certain areas. He remained absent from the affairs of the court and soon became implicated in accusations of colluding with Queen Margaret. When summoned to court to answer charges brought as a result of an intercepted messenger, he simply refused to attend. Reports also arrived at court from the English ‘go-between’ to the French that suggested Warwick was plotting. True or not, it gave the King reason to be concerned about Warwick’s loyalty.
Though he eventually returned to court in 1468 there was further evidence that Warwick was plotting. A Lancastrian agent who was captured revealed that Warwick’s commander in Calais, Lord Wenlock, was behind a plot: so Warwick by association was likely to know. Another plot was uncovered in early 1469. Alongside these conspiracies was a rise in unrest around the country. The Woodville influence was unpopular and damaging to the king. Ever the opportunist, it presented a perfect opportunity for Warwick to regain his status and prestige.
In the summer of 1469 Warwick’s plotting came out into the open. He had attended the council, set about affairs of state, appeared totally content. The King went on a pilgrimage. Warwick’s men in the north rose in an uprising. Warwick, in defiance of the kings, stated wishes sailed to Calais with his daughter where she married the Duke of Clarence. The men of Kent rose in rebellion, killing some of the ‘kings evil men’ in the shape of the Earls of Pembroke and Devon. Earl Rivers and his son were murdered.
The king’s army was in disarray and the king himself was taken captive. Initially held captive, he was soon released on an agreement that the system of government would be reformed. Not for the first time in the Wars of the Roses the agreement was short-lived. Warwick and the Duke of Clarence soon realised that the changes would not be as far-reaching or long-lasting as they wished. Warwick’s men attempted to lure Edward into a trap.
The plot involved Lord Welles assaulting the master of the Kings Horse. Edward marched to tackle Welles, who was routed at the Battle of Losecote Field. Warwick and Clarence were tracking Edward’s movements. Warwick discovered that he did not have the support of the powerful Stanley family and decided to retreat. Chased by Edward and his army he managed to board a boat at Dartford. He set sail for Calais, where he was refused entry to the port. Southampton also refused. He made his way across the channel and docked at Honfleur.
The Earl of Warwick’s invasion of England in 1470
With Warwick in hiding in France King Edward set about changing the command structure in the North of England. Richard Duke of Gloucester was installed as Warden of the Western Marches. Henry Percy, Duke of Northumberland was installed on the Eastern Marches. Barnard Castle was entrusted to the Bishop of Durham. To secure Calais, Edward sent a new Captain, Lord Howard. The Neville powerbase was being undermined.
In France, Warwick enjoyed the hospitality of King Louis XI. Louis saw this as an opportunity. He brokered an agreement between erstwhile foes Margaret of Anjou and the Earl of Warwick. The agreement was that Warwick and Clarence would secure England from Edward. Then she and the young Prince Edward would cross the channel. Warwick’s reward for his endeavours would be the marriage of his daughter, Anne, to the Prince of Wales. On 22nd July 1470, Warwick agreed to aid in the restoration of Henry VI on those terms.
Warwick once again deployed a decoy to lure the king from London. An uprising broke out in Cumberland. The King duly set off to deal with it. Warwick and the Duke of Clarence set sail. Despite poor weather, they landed on the English coast on September 13th. The Lancastrian cause was warmly received. Edward, knowing that he was caught in a trap, fled to the Netherlands.
In 1469 Warwick, in co-operation with the king’s own brother, George, duke of Clarence, launched a coup against Edward, forcing him to flee the country. Warwick then brought Henry VI out of imprisonment in the Tower and placed him back on the throne. It was Warwick’s role in overthrowing and crowning both Henry and Edward that earned the nickname ‘the Kingmaker’.
Henry the Sixth: A Reprint of John Blacman’s Memoir, ed. and trans. M.R. James (Cambridge, 1919)
The redeption of King Henry VI
Though free from captivity King Henry VI was unfit to rule. Warwick the Kingmaker was now made Lieutenant of England. He summoned parliament and French ambassadors returned home to inform Queen Margaret that it was safe for herself and the Prince of Wales to travel.
Events on the continent then intervened in English affairs. King Louis XI of France had schemed for unrest in England and supported the invasion plan. Now, he himself invaded Burgundy. Duke Charles of Burgundy immediately offered assistance to Edward IV and set about equipping a fleet. Now both Queen Margaret and King Edward were waiting on the continent for suitable weather conditions for sailing.
Edward landed at Ravenspur on 14th March 1471. He marched through lands loyal to his cause, raising an army as he went south to face the Earl of Warwick. On route, he was joined by his brother, the Duke of Clarence. Warwick’s preparations were now undermined, Clarence had been integral to the Lancastrian plan and this betrayal altered the advantage.
The Battle of Barnet
Both armies were bolstered by additional, loyal, forces by the time they met at the battle of Barnet on 14th April 1471. The battle was fought in thick fog. This turned out to be disastrous for the Lancastrians. The Earl of Oxford routed the Yorkists facing him. On their return to the main battle, they mistakenly attacked the flank of the Lancastrian line. With the forces of two Lancastrian forces, those of Oxford and Montagu, fighting each other, the Yorkists were able to seize the initiative. When Montagu fell his men dispersed. Warwick fled the field but was chased down by Yorkists and summarily.