Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick KG (22 November 1428 – 14 April 1471), known as Warwick the Kingmaker, was an English nobleman, administrator, and military commander. The son of Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury, Warwick was the wealthiest and most powerful English peer of his age, with political connections that went beyond the country’s borders. One of the Yorkist leaders in the Wars of the Roses, he was instrumental in the deposition of two kings, a fact which later earned him his epithet of “Kingmaker” to later generations.
The Nevilles were an ancient Durham family who came to prominence in the fourteenth-century wars against the Scots. In 1397, Ralph Neville had been created Earl of Westmorland. Ralph’s son Richard, the later Earl of Warwick’s father, was a younger son by a second marriage, and therefore not heir to the earldom. He received, however, a favourable marriagable settlement with Alice, daughter and heiress of Thomas Montacute, 4th Earl of Salisbury, and became jure uxoris Earl of Salisbury.
Salisbury’s son Richard was born on 22 November 1428. Little is known of his childhood but at the age of six, he was betrothed to Anne Beauchamp (pronounced Beecham), daughter of Richard de Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick, and his wife Isabel Despenser. This made him heir not only to the earldom of Salisbury, but also to a substantial part of the Montacute, Beauchamp, and Despenser inheritance. Circumstances were, however, to increase his fortune even further. Beauchamp’s son Henry, who was married to Richard’s sister Cecily, died in 1446.
Richard’s succession to the estates did not go undisputed, however. A protracted battle over parts of the inheritance ensued, particularly with Edmund Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, who was married to a daughter from Richard Beauchamp’s first marriage. The dispute was about land, not about the Warwick title, as Henry’s half-sisters were excluded from the succession.
By 1445 Richard had been knighted, probably at Margaret of Anjou’s coronation on 22 April that year. He can be found in the historical records of service of King Henry VI in 1449, when mention is made of his services in a grant. He performed military service in the north with his father, and was quite possibly involved in the war against Scotland in 1448–9.
When Richard, Duke of York, unsuccessfully rose up against the king in 1452, both Warwick and his father rallied to the side of the king but, as Henry VI’s incompetence and intermittent madness became clear, many of the responsibilities of government fell on his queen, Margaret of Anjou.
In June 1453, Somerset was granted custody of the lordship of Glamorgan and open conflict broke out between the two men. When, in the summer of that year, King Henry fell ill Somerset was elevated to favourite of the king and Queen Margaret and with the king incapacitated he was virtually in complete control of government. This put Warwick at a disadvantage and drove him into collaboration with York. But military defeat in France began to turn the tide against Somerset and on 27 March 1454, a group of royal councillors appointed the Duke of York, who could now count on the support of both Warwick and his father Salisbury, protector of the realm.
Warwick returned to his estates, as did York and Salisbury, and the three started raising troops. Marching towards London, they encountered the king at St Albans, where the two forces clashed. The battle was brief and not particularly bloody, but it was the first instance of armed hostilities between the forces of the Houses of York and Lancaster in the conflict known as the Wars of the Roses.
It was also significant because it resulted in the capture of the king, and the death of Somerset. At the parliament of February 1456 the king – now under the influence of Queen Margaret – resumed personal government of the realm. Warwick took over Salisbury’s role as York’s main ally, even appearing at parliament to protect York from retributions.
This conflict, a pivotal period in Warwick’s career, was resolved by his appointment as Constable of Calais that provided him with a vital power base. The town of Calais was of vital strategic importance, holding what was then England’s largest standing army.
After the recent events, Queen Margaret still considered Warwick a threat to the throne, and cut off his supplies. However, a French attack on the English seaport of Sandwich in 1457 set off fears of a full-scale French invasion and Warwick was again funded to protect the garrison and patrol the English coast.
In complete disregard of royal authority, he then conducted highly successful acts of piracy, against the Castilian fleet in May 1458, and against the Hanseatic fleet a few weeks later. He also used his time on the Continent to establish relations with Charles VII of France and Philip the Good of Burgundy. Developing a solid military reputation and with good international connections, he then brought a part of his garrison to England, where he met up with his father and York in the summer of 1459.
In the open turmoil of opposing the king, York was killed, but his son Edward, with Warwick’s assistance, went on to take the crown of England. However Edward’s decision to marry Elizabeth Woodville, and keep it a secret from Warwick for five months, changed their relationship forever.
Warwick turned his allegiances to Edward’s brother George Duke of Clarence, marrying his eldest daughter Isabel to him. When that particular plot failed, Warwick instead supported Henry VI back on to the throne, and married his youngest daughter Anne to his son Edward of Lancaster.
They triumphed until the Battle of Barnet when Edward IV won the laurels, killing Warwick in the process. Edward IV then went on to kill Edward of Lancaster at Tewkesbury, securing victory for the House of York.
Warwick’s historical legacy has been a matter of much dispute. Opinion has alternated between seeing him as self-centred and rash, and regarding him as a victim of the whims of an ungrateful king. It is generally agreed, however, that in his own time he enjoyed great popularity in all layers of society, and that he was skilled at appealing to popular sentiments for political support.