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Royalty and Daughters: The Lives of Isobel and Anne Neville

by Wendy Zollo

Anne Neville, the wife of Richard III, was Queen of England for such a brief period not much beyond the principal facts have been recorded. Her sister Isobel is but a footnote to history, overlooked and forgotten.

Women of this period (14th /15th century) were not well documented. Customarily they were chronicled by the accomplishments of their families and spouses. Nevertheless, they were expected to manage substantial households, provide heirs and act as submissive political pawns. Isobel and Anne Neville would prove to be the most valuable of pawns in their father's game of political conniving.

In order to discover the women they were and how they related to one another and the events that encompassed them, we must turn our eyes to the men who overshadowed and beleaguered their short lives.

Isobel and Anne were the daughters of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and his Countess, Anne Beauchamp (Despencer). Both girls were born at Warwick Castle, Warwickshire, England: Isobel in September of 1451 and Anne in June 1456. They seem to have had a traditional upbringing, receiving instruction in the skills thought essential for young noble women.

It was at their father's stronghold of Middleham Castle in Yorkshire where they became acquainted with their cousins, George and Richard of York, sons of Cecily Neville and Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York. As it was the convention of the time that the male offspring of the nobility be farmed out to other aristocratic families, who better to consign the young George and Richard to than the greatest landowner in England, the Earl of Warwick? Here they would be taught the requisite military and social skills, while at the same time forming substantial future alliances.

Though it is easy to imagine that a mutual affection was already blossoming between the Neville sisters and the York brothers, this more probably is a romantic notion, than an actual reality, even allowing for a natural fondness between cousins. The Earl may have already had his sights set on a marriage between the two pairs, making him eager to nurture their feelings for each other. Not that the absence of emotions on his daughters' part would have mired his campaign; his daughters would have been expected to make advantageous marriages.

One of the most dominant lords of England, a charismatic, self-centered, arrogant man of moderate military skill, Warwick was by far the most significant figure in Isobel and Anne's life. They could have loathed him, feared him or worshiped him, but there is little doubt that they respected him. However how much respect did he have for them? Warwick, akin to other males of his time, had no need to hold them in esteem: they were females. Lacking a son of his own "house," he considered it necessary to use Isobel and Anne to his best advantage.


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