Richard Neville, a hard day’s knight?

Stall plate of Richard Neville
Stall plate of Richard Neville

Richard Neville was born in 1400 into one of England’s great noble families.  The Nevilles held sway in the far north-west of the country, whilst the Percys were the dominant force in the far north-east.  There was little love lost, and much rivalry between the two noble dynasties.  Richard was able, ambitious, very well-connected (being a nephew of Henry IV), and blessed with the financial and military resources to further his aims.  He made a good marriage too, wedding Alice Montagu, the earl of Salisbury’s daughter, in 1422.  She gave him ten children, whilst her inheritance was a useful source of cash for him to spend up north.

At first he was solidly loyal to the House of Lancaster and was suitably rewarded.  In 1428 he was created earl of Salisbury, and in 1438, was nominated a knight of the Garter.  He campaigned in France too during the later stages of the Hundred Years War.  But his family’s feud with the Percys was edging England towards civil conflict.  When war came in 1455, Richard threw in his lot with Richard, duke of York, the Yorkist pretender.  Indeed, without Richard Neville’s support, it seems unlikely York could have made a realistic bid for the crown.

By 1456, he was York’s principal lieutenant, and the fortunes of the two men were now intertwined.  If York could succeed in toppling Henry VI and be crowned as Richard III, then Richard Neville could expect lavish reward and high office.  It was not to be.  The two men spent Christmas 1460 at a castle near Wakefield, and intended to dig in for the winter as the Yorkist position in the north was now weak.  But a few days later, on 30 December, they engaged a superior Lancastrian force, a clear tactical error.  York was hacked to death in the fighting, and Neville was captured soon after.  He was taken to Pontefract, where he was lynched by a mob, and his head was later displayed on one of the gates of York.  It was a gruesome nemesis for the man who rebelled against the dynasty which nurtured him, and whose support for the pretender sparked the Wars of the Roses.  It was left to York’s son, Edward, to carry on the fight, and seize the crown as Edward IV in 1461.

Simon Harrison (Archives volunteer)

The King's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.