Anne Neville: Richard III’s Tragic Queen by Amy Licence (Review)

Richard III, one of England’s most notorious Kings was married to Anne Neville, one of the most obscure Queens. Anne was a great heiress through both her father, Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick and her mother, Lady Anne de Beauchamp but her appearance and personality are virtually unknown. Playwrights and historical novelists from William Shakespeare to Philippa Gregory have stepped into the breach imagining a variety of responses by Anne to Richard III and his rise to power.

For Shakespeare, Anne was one more victim of Richard III’s tyranny. In Richard III, the hunchbacked King tells the audience, “I’ll marry Warwick’s youngest daughter./What, though I kill’d her husband and her father?” then makes clear that he will discard her once she has ceases to be of use to him. Jean Plaidy titled her novel about Anne Neville, The Reluctant Queen, presenting Anne as a retiring figure who preferred country life in the North of England to being Queen at Richard III’s court.

In The Sunne In Splendour: A Novel of Richard III, Sharon Kay Penman imagined Anne to be a gentle, romantic soul, devoted to Richard, her childhood sweetheart. The most recent novel about Anne Neville, The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory presents a more assertive Anne, determined to escape her previous experiences as a political pawn by marriage to the future Richard III.

In Anne Neville: Richard III’s Tragic Queen, Amy License, author of In Bed with the Tudors, Royal Babies and Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Queen reveals just how much of these interpretations consists of pure speculation. There is no evidence that Anne was a victim, a romantic, a pawn or a reluctant queen. Instead, she may well have been Richard III’s Lady Macbeth, urging her husband to usurp to throne so that she could have the crown she had expected during her first marriage and revenge against the Woodvilles who had long been enemies of the Neville family.

One of the reasons why Richard III remains a controversial figure today is because his usurpation of his nephew Edward V’s throne appears out of character when compared to his years of loyal service to his elder brother, Edward IV. There is also little evidence of direct conflict between Richard and his sister-in-law’s family, the Woodvilles, before Edward V’s ascension. In contrast, Anne’s father, the Earl of Warwick opposed the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville from the beginning and Elizabeth reputedly feared that the marriages of the Neville daughters to the King’s brothers would make Warwick too powerful and encouraged her husband to withhold his consent. Richard III’s motives may never be known with certainty but it is certainly possible that the rivalry between the Woodvilles and the Nevilles influenced his decision to seize power in 1483.

One of the most interesting sections of Licence’s book is her treatment of Anne’s short first marriage to Edward of Westminster, the only child of Henry VI and Marguerite of Anjou. Although Shakespeare imagined that Anne mourned her first husband, subsequent historians and novelists assumed that this young man who, according to one ambassador “already talks of nothing but cutting off heads or making war” must have been repugnant to her. License argues that Edward’s interest in warfare was perfectly in keeping with the times and Anne’s first marriage offered her a chance to wear a crown. Anne’s time as the daughter-in-law of the ruthless Marguerite, and her marriage to a direct heir to the throne may have influenced her subsequent ambitions for Richard.

In addition to her informed speculation about Anne’s marriages, motives and influence on Richard III, Licence also provides a rich social history of English noble life during the Wars of the Roses. The book contains images of the castles where Anne lived and detailed descriptions of the education and daily life of noblewomen of the period. License provides a particularly vivid description of Anne’s sister Isabel’s establishment as Duchess of Clarence, where Anne lived during her brief widowhood. There is not enough evidence to indicate whether Richard or Anne first raised the possibility of marriage but the setting of their courtship comes alive in License’s work.

Anne Neville: Richard III’s Tragic Queen is a fascinating reassessment of one of England’s most obscure Queens. License argues that historians, novelists and playwrights may have underestimated Anne by portraying her as a victim or pawn. At a time when royal women such as Elizabeth Woodville and Marguerite of Anjou exercised a profound influence over the course of the Wars of the Roses, Anne may have aspired to become queen and wield power through her husband. There is not enough evidence to determine the full extent of Anne’s influence over Richard III but she may well have been closely involved in his rise to power.

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