Warwick: The Man Behind the Wars of the Roses

Guest article written by: Tony Riches

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick; John Rous, Rous Roll, 15th century. British Library Add. MS 48976

Sir Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick was also known as ‘the king-maker’ or just ‘Warwick’ and lived through one of the most turbulent times in British history. Born on the 22nd of November 1428, he inherited his title through his wife Anne, daughter of the heroic knight and champion jouster Sir Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, and became the premier earl in England, and both in power and position.

Although there are at least four major biographies of Warwick, they all skip over his early life. They also fail to explain why one of the richest men in England became such a key figure in what have become known as ‘the Wars of the Roses.’ In the first real battle he led the surprisingly modern ‘guerrilla attack’ through the back gardens of St Albans, while the townspeople were busy barricading the main gate. One of the few men who might have united Lancaster and York, instead he became famous for fighting in major battles on both sides!

As Captain of Calais, he turned privateer, a legitimised ‘pirate’, outrageously overstepping his authority by terrorising merchant shipping in the English Channel with his own private fleet of warships. He sparked an international incident by daring to take on the might of the Spanish fleet – and was rewarded by being made Admiral of England.

The close friend of the kings of England and France, he was the sworn enemy of Queen Margaret of Anjou. Then, in an amazing change of heart, he risked everything to fight for her cause. He lived for his two daughters, yet married Isobel to the king’s hapless and disloyal brother George, and Anne to Margaret of Anjou’s only son. Prince Edward of Lancaster (the only heir apparent to the English throne to die in battle.)

Writers from William Shakespeare to best-selling modern authors – and even a ‘Ladybird’ book (Warwick the Kingmaker: An adventure from history) have tried to show what sort of man Richard Neville must have been, with quite different results.   The only images we have of him are a stylised line-drawing in the medieval ‘Rous Roll’ and a rather stern woodcarving in the Collegiate Church of St Mary’s. Warwick. We also have several examples of his signature, which suggest a striking confidence – and he underline’s his name with a great flourish!

Church of St Mary's Warwick
Church of St Mary’s Warwick
Ladybird Book
Richard Neville’s Signature

I enjoyed immersing myself in the culture of the time, researching what it would have been like to be married at the age of six and knighted by the king as a teenager. He could have had an easy life but instead became a warrior knight, protecting the north against invasion by the Scots. Although we have many references to him in records of the time, embellished stories found their way into popular ballads and poetry, so it is hard to sort out the ‘truth’ from the many myths and legends which developed about him.

Warwick has been called ‘The Last of the Barons,’ a feudal lord, a brave warrior yet a poor leader, although he managed to win the popular support of the people. There is no question that he became a skilled diplomat and successful politician, equally at home in the parliament of Westminster and at the court of King Louis of France.

What is clear is that Richard Neville was one of the most important men in fifteenth century England. He owned extensive lands in Wales and was responsible for many years for controlling the border with Scotland. His story is one of adventure, power and influence at the heart of one of the most dangerous times in the history of England.

WARWICK: The Man Behind The Wars of the Roses

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About the Author:

tony richesTony Riches is a full-time author living in rural Pembrokeshire, West Wales, UK. To find out more about his books, visit http://tonyrichesauthor.wordpress.com/  and his writing blog at www.tonyriches.co.uk.  You can also find Tony on Goodreads, Facebook and on Twitter @tonyriches





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