Anne Neville is one of the most inconspicuous queens in English history. There is little documentation with reference to her and few comments made by ambassadors, chroniclers or other contemporaries. There are no reliable portraits of Anne or personal letters that may express her opinions or beliefs. She also seems to have died under rather mysterious circumstances with no definitive cause of death being given. This article will encompass the last months of Anne's shadowy life, starting from the end of 1484.
Anne and her husband, King Richard III, were together for the Christmas celebrations of 1484. Her attendants now included the former King Edward IV's daughter Elizabeth and perhaps a few of her younger sisters, such as Cecily, who had been freed from sanctuary by her mother the previous March. We are not sure of Anne's feelings about having the Woodville girls with her at Christmas, perhaps she found it pleasant having their company, or maybe she was wary of their motives. Alison Weir remarks in her book The Princes in the Tower that the Princess Elizabeth ‘was ranked familiarly in the queens favour, who treated her as a sister." Anne was ten years Elizabeth's senior and had experienced the trials of queenship, which Elizabeth had grown up being prepared for. The Crowland Chronicler states that at the Christmas feast 'far too much attention was given to dancing and gaiety' and to frequent changes of matching clothes by Queen Anne and the Lady Elizabeth. Rumors had already started to circulate that Richard wished to marry his niece, Elizabeth. After the favour shown to the vivacious York princess at Christmas, The Crowland Chronicler continues, a tale spread that the king was determined to marry her either after Anne's death 'or by means of a divorce for which he believed he had sufficient grounds.' However, the chronicler offers no suggestion as to what these grounds may have been, and this was probably no more than popular gossip throughout court. These rumors undoubtedly found their way back to Anne and must have made her question their reliability. The queen was well aware of her inability to produce any more children, and Princess Elizabeth was the daughter of a woman who had produced at least twelve children with many surviving infancy. A marriage to his niece would more than likely produce an heir for Richard if Elizabeth had inherited her mother's fertility.
By the late winter of 1484 Anne was suffering from a ‘mortal illness.’ There are few clues as to the identification of Anne's illness. All we know is that its duration was two months and that Richard was advised by his physicians to avoid her bed. From this piece of information, a number of illnesses can be considered. Anne may have been suffering from tuberculosis, a common airborne illness which in the medieval period had a high mortality rate. Another possibility could be an attack of influenza, which combined with a weak immune system and other ailments could be fatal. There was even vicious gossip that Richard wished to poison Anne so he could finally marry his niece. However, there is no evidence to prove this rumour's authenticity.
During this time, a marriage deal involving Elizabeth was being considered for Richard's widowhood. It was to be a double marriage between Richard and the Portuguese Princess Joanna, and Elizabeth and the Portuguese Prince Manuel. Joanna was a highly pious woman and had already vehemently refused several marriage propositions, but these plans came to nothing anyway because Richard died in 1485. It would have been virtually impossible for Richard to marry Elizabeth due to opposition in the North, where much of his property lay and where Anne was much admired by the people, being the last surviving daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker.
Queen Anne died on the 16 March 1485. It is rumoured that on the day she died there was an eclipse of the sun, which some took as an omen of her husband's fall from heavenly grace. Anne was buried in Westminster Abbey in an unmarked grave, which seems quite unfitting for a Queen of England.1 Soon after her death, further rumours circulated that Richard intentionally had Anne murdered in order to marry Elizabeth. Richard sent Elizabeth away from court to Sheriff Hutton Castle, probably so that the rumors would gradually lose popularity, and perhaps also to grieve. On 30 March, Richard called the Mayor and citizens of London and the available lords to the great hall of the Hospital of St. John to address the rumour that he had any intention of marrying his niece. Addressing them 'in a loud and distinct voice', he showed his grief and displeasure and stated ‘it never came into his thought or mind to marry in such manner wise, nor willing nor glad, of the death of his queen but as sorry and in heart as heavy as man might be.’ This clearly shows that Richard was truly distressed by the death of his queen. The two had been married for over ten years and through their marriage had experienced considerable challenges, from their elevation to the throne to the death of their only child. According to John Rous (Rows), writer of The Warwick Roll, an early family chronicle of the Beauchamp family, Anne was 'seemly, amiable and beauteous, and in conditions full commendable and right virtuous and, according to the interpretation of her name, Anne, full gracious.'
This ends of the life of Anne Neville, a queen lost in the depths of history. She had played her part to the best of her ability, but sadly failed in her first most important duty, providing a surviving male heir. I do not see Anne as an insignificant consort, she was the last Plantagenet queen of England and led a life of uncertainty and almost constant change, which she shared with her more famous contemporaries, Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville. She had a tragic end, with her last months being plagued by the court gossip that her husband would attempt to marry his niece. A question that arises is what would have happened to Anne had she lived? It is unlikely that her survival would have affected the result of Richard's loss at Bosworth in any way and it is highly doubtful that she would have produced anymore children. Perhaps she would have become Elizabeth of York's lady-in-waiting, or sought sanctuary until she was financially able to support herself or re-marry. Anne has remained an enigma, with her thoughts and opinions never heard.
- The Westminster Abbey website states:
"She had a magnificent funeral and was buried on the southern side of the Abbey's High Altar, in front of the Sedilia (seats for the priests). No gravestone or monument marked her grave, possibly because Richard was killed that year at the battle of Bosworth. A brass plate and coat of arms, designed by J. Sebastian Comper, was erected in 1960 on the wall of the south ambulatory (the nearest area that was possible to the grave site), with the inscription:ANNE NEVILL 1456-1485 QUEEN OF ENGLAND YOUNGER DAUGHTER OF RICHARD EARL OF WARWICK CALLED THE KINGMAKER WIFE TO THE LAST PLANTAGENET KING RICHARD III. "In person she was seemly, amiable and beauteous...And according to the interpretation of her name Anne full gracious" REQUIESCAT IN PACE.The quotation is taken from the Rous Roll in the British Library. The heraldic shield is enamelled and surmounted by a coronet."
So it is thought that the grave was unmarked because Richard did not have chance to mark it before his death in August 1485.
In his book The Last Days of Richard III, John Ashdown-Hill writes "Richard III must have been well aware of the shortage of space at Westminster, since his brother, Edward IV, had been interred at Windsor, while Queen Anne Neville’s tomb at Westminster had been squeezed into a site in front of the sedilia, to the right of the high altar, where no funeral monument was possible other than a brass set into the pavement." He goes on to say "Queen Anne Neville’s grave was originally marked by a brass memorial in the Abbey Church at Westminster. This lost monument – the only brass memorial to a queen in England – may once have carried a figure similar to
that shown in one version of the contemporary Rous Roll."
Alexander Taylor is an undergraduate history student from the south west of England. He initially found his interest in Tudor history around three years ago when he stumbled across one of his mother's historical biographies of Queen Katherine Howard, and since then he's been utterly fascinated by this unique and exciting period.
Tudor Life Magazine - March 2015 is a Richard III special
Talking of Richard III, did you know that the March issue of Tudor Life, the Tudor Society magazine, is going to be a special Richard III themed edition? It will feature articles from:
- John Ashdown-Hill
- Kristie Dean
- David Baldwin
- Susan Fern
- Josephine Wilkinson
- Toni Mount
- Olga Hughes
Plus an article from historian Derek Wilson and articles from our 7 regular contributors. Another jam-packed edition!
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