Three Unusual Features of Richard Neville's Succession to the Earldoms of Warwick in 1449-50

The Warwick Inheritance dispute is a well-known story. The Beauchamp earldom of Warwick lasted from 1268 until 1449, when the direct line failed. The last such Beauchamp was the infant Anne (1444 -9), sole daughter and heiress of Henry Duke of Warwick (d. 1446). Her estates consisted of two conglomerations assembled over time: the Beauchamp inheritance itself, disputed by the four daughters of Earl Richard Beauchamp (d. 1439) born to his two countesses; and the Despenser inheritance of Isabel Despenser, countess of Warwick and Worcester (d. 1439), who left two daughters, one by each earl. There had been many settlements, re-settlements, enfeoffments and conveyances that are annotated in a roll of deeds and in Duke Henry's IPM [1. TNA SC 11/947; Exeter Diocesan Record Office, Chanter MS 22; CIPM xxvi. ] and appear fiendishly complicated to sort out, but the solution achieved was commendably simple. The sole daughter by both Earl Richard and Countess Isabel was Anne Beauchamp, who, though the youngest of these five women, successfully secured everything as sole whole sister of Duke Henry. In 1449 her husband Richard Neville, known to history as Warwick the Kingmaker, was admitted as earl of Warwick. Of course the other sisters and their heirs objected, taking advantage of each twist and turn in contemporary politics down to 1484, but it was nevertheless Anne's line that scooped the pool. [2. M. Hicks, Warwick the Kingmaker (Oxford, 1998); idem, ‘Descent, Partition and Extinction: The ‘Warwick Inheritance', Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research lii (1979), 117.]

Three facets of this complex story have perhaps been overlooked or under-stressed.

First of all, Richard Neville was still under age when recognized as earl as the royal patent admitted. Marginally under age admittedly – he was born on 22 November 1428 and was therefore three months short of his majority on 23 July 1449. [3. Hicks, Warwick, 7; CPR 1446-52, 235-6.]

Secondly, the patent notes that the new earl had not yet had issue. [4. CPR 1446-52, 235-6.] Anne, born in 1426, [5. The Rows Roll, ed. W.H. Courthope (1859), no.56.] to whom he had married in 1436, [6. Hicks, Warwick, 24, 26.] was already of age. No doubt the young couple aged respectively 20 (Richard) and 23 (Anne) had been cohabiting for some years and had surely been trying for a baby, but none had materialised as yet and as the years passed perhaps offspring appeared increasingly unlikely. Eventually of course, in 1451 and in 1456, Anne did bring forth two daughters, Isabel (later duchess of Clarence) and Anne, better known to history as Queen Anne Neville, consort of Richard III. In 1449 Richard Neville was entitled to his wife's inheritance, but only for her life. Should she bear a live baby, however briefly, he would be entitled to tenure for his whole life, by courtesy of England. Children that survived, Isabel and Anne, became heirs. If there had been no issue, the heirs were the other Beauchamp sisters and their issue and the other Despenser line, namely George Lord Abergavenny (d. 1492). Apart from being disputed, Richard Neville's possession of Anne's lands should have been temporary therefore, subject to her survival and the birth of an heir of their two bodies. It was the birth of such an heir, however shortlived, that allowed a husband to take seisin in his own right and to retain possession for life and beyond the death of his heiress wife. Grants of livery were generally quite explicit whether there was or was not issue.

Richard Neville escaped this standard restriction. It was a singular act of favour of Henry VI to acknowledge him as earl – and to confirm him by letter patent: it made him earl for life regardless of who inherited the lands. John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury (d. 1453), husband of Margaret eldest of the Beauchamp sisters, continued to regard himself as rightful earl of Warwick until his death. [7. Ibid. 40.] The title descended from the Kingmaker to his senior son-in-law George Duke of Clarence, husband of Isabel, in 1472 and then to their son Edward Earl of Warwick, who was executed in 1499.

Thirdly, the earldom that Richard Neville secured in 1449 was not the new premier earldom created in 1444 for Duke Henry in tail male, [8. Ibid. 31.] but the ancient earldom of Warwick held by primogeniture since 1268. Failing male heirs, the premier earldom had escheated. It had been a distinction unique to Henry to which none of his sisters had any claim. Yet on 2 March 1450, still before the birth of his daughter Isabel in 1451, Earl Richard Neville secured a grant to him and his heirs male of the premier earldom. [9. CPR 1446-52, 324.] All that he never secured of Duke Henry's distinctions was the dukedom of Warwick – which it seems very likely he desired - and the lordship of the Channel Isles which he seems nevertheless to have occupied. The birth of Isabel assured him of the Beauchamp and Despenser inheritances for life, but that she and her sister were girls doomed his great estates to division. The premier earldom surely died with him. Unfortunately there was never an IPM for the Kingmaker.

In all the disputes around the Warwick inheritance these three additional points need stressing, each representing a quite exceptional mark of royal favour in the face of alternative heirs who were not without clout themselves: Shrewsbury, the king's cousin Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset, C-in-C in France and then royal favourite; George Lord Latimer; and George, heir to Abergavenny, who was a hostage of the French. That Richard Neville secured these three favours – under-age succession, the earldom without issue, and then the premier earldom – indicate the enduring influence of his father Richard earl of Salisbury, accustomed to regard himself as royal through the Beaufort line, at this late stage. In 1449-51, half a century after the Westmorland- Beaufort marriage, the Nevilles still enjoyed the high favour of the inner royal family. Only two years later, historians have shown, the Nevilles were opposing the king's stance both in Despenser Glamorgan and against the Percies in Yorkshire. In between these events it seems that Henry VI sharply reappraised who constituted royal family and the place within it of the Nevilles. Their disagreement with Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset was one factor. By confronting the king's favourite, who persuaded the king to accord him the precedence of a royal duke, [10. PROME, xii. 325; TNA, C 49/52/6] they forced Henry to make a choice. The admission in 1452 to the core family of the king's two half brothers was another factor: their admittance marginalised the Nevilles into ‘lesser royals'. Both Tudors earls were given precedence over Warwick, the premier earl. [11. PROME, xii, 279, 282] This signalled the transition of the junior house of Neville from the inner royal circle to merely other minor royals. It may have been a factor in their alignment with Richard Duke of York during Henry VI's madness in 1453-5 and hence in the emergence of the Yorkist party that made the Wars of the Roses possible.

Michael Hicks