11 January 2015

Today's Princess: Anne Beauchamp Countess of Warwick

The Neville Warwick arms
By Ipankonin via Wikimedia Commons
Royal and aristocratic women were often subject to the will of the men in their lives. They were frequently unable to inherit titles or property. The life of Anne Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick shows us that even a woman with a vast fortune of her own had little control over her own life.

Like many 15th century ladies, Anne was married young. Her husband, Richard Neville, younger son of the Earl of Salisbury came from a well-connected family, like she did. At their marriage, she was nine and he was seven. Both of Anne's parents had daughters from previous marriages and Anne had an older half brother, so, while her dowry was generous, no on expected her to become a great heiress. But, fate is a funny thing.

While the Nevilles were supporting the Lancastrian kings Henry V and Henry VI, Anne's fate was changing. First her father died. Then her brother. Then her brother's only child. Anne inherited the
vast fortune of her late mother's Despencer family AND the money, properties and titles of her father's extensive estate, including the Earldom of Warwick. She was 21. Her husband became Earl of Warwick, as her husband, at age 19. Her older half-sisters sued for their portions, but the King sided with the Nevilles. Because Anne was inheriting from her niece, rather than directly from her parents, it was decided that she alone would get the entire fortune.

This family battle had far-reaching consequences: the rift it caused ultimately caused the Nevilles to begin supporting the Yorks in their opposition to the Lancastrian kings and Warwick set about his career as the "Kingmaker." With his help, the Yorkist heir captured the crown as Edward IV, and sent his second brother Richard Duke of Gloucester to live with Anne and her family to finish his training as a knight. Things didn't run smoothly for long. Warwick decided to overthrow the upstart king, who was no longer willing to be his puppet. He conspired to marry his and Anne's oldest daughter Isabel to the king's first brother George Duke of Clarence and launched a military attack to try to put him on the throne. When this failed, he convinced his royal son-in-law to side with the Lancastrians, and married Anne's youngest daughter Anne to the Lancastrian heir Edward Prince of Wales. However, once the Lancastrians launched their invasion, George switched back to his brother's side. Within short order Anne's husband Warwick and her new son-in-law the Prince of Wales both died in battle.

Throughout all of this, Anne was usually at her husband's side--a sign perhaps of affection and perhaps of political agreement between them. His death left her at risk, and she went immediately into sanctuary. In the meantime, her widowed daughter Anne married Richard Duke of Gloucester, making both of her daughters sisters-in-law of the king. This was not very beneficial to her though as Clarence and Gloucester began to fight over their mother-in-laws estate, which the king ultimately split between them, as if she were already dead.

When Gloucester seized power as King Richard III, their is no indication that his mother-in-law participated in her daughter's crowning as the new Queen. Nevertheless, Anne survived and was restored, at last, to a portion of her inheritance when Henry Tudor became king.

Anne outlived everyone who fought over her money. Her husband. Sisters. Brothers-in-law. Daughters. Sons-in-law. Only two grandchildren survived her, but what money remained had already been given back to King Henry, as part of his original agreement with her.

For more information:
The King's Mother-in-Law on Susan Higginbotham's blog
Anne Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick on The Richard III Foundation web site
Anne Beauchamp 16th Countess of Warwick in About.com's Women's History section
and, for a very interesting analysis of Anne's letter to Parliament regarding the restoration of her rights and properties, see Anne Beauchamp Countess of Warwick - Wife and Widow on the Nevill Feast web site.

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