Known for: her dynastic role in the Wars of the Roses, and the fates of her children, grandchildren and other descendants. As with many medieval women, she’s known mainly for her heritage, her marriage and her descendants. She was heiress to a fortune and title, and for her father’s arrangement of her marriage to a possible heir to the English crown. Her father later arranged the marriage of Isabel’s younger sister, Anne Neville, first to the Lancastrian heir presumptive to the throne, then to another likely heir, a Yorkist.
Title: Duchess of Clarence (by marriage)
Dates: September 5, 1451 – December 22, 1476
Also known as: Isabella Neville
Family of Isabel Neville
- Mother: Anne Beauchamp (1426-1492?). Countess of Warwick in her own right as the surviving daughter of Richard de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, and his second wife, Isabel le Despenser, and inheritor of his estate after the death of Anne de Beauchamp’s brother Henry Neville and his daughter, also named Anne Beauchamp.
- Father: Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (1428-1471). He was known as the Kingmaker for his successful support first of Richard, Duke of York, in his unsuccessful conflict for the crown against Henry VI, then of Richard’s son Edward IV’s successful campaign, then turning to the imprisoned and dethroned Henry VI and his son, Edward, the Prince of Wales, briefly supporting the kingship of his son-in-law George, Duke of Clarence, along the way. Richard Neville was killed in battle at Barnet by Edward IV’s forces
- Sibling: Anne Neville (June 11, 1456 – March 16, 1485), married first to Edward, Prince of Wales, son of Henry VI, and then to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, son of Richard, Duke of York. Richard later became king as Richard III.
- Husband: George (Plantagenet), Duke of Clarence. Betrothed 1459, married July 11, 1469 secretly. He was her first cousin once removed, the third son of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, and of Cecily Neville, her father’s paternal aunt. At the time of the marriage, George’s brother Edward IV was king of England.
- Children (two died in infancy):
- Anne of York (April 16, 1470 – April 17, 1470)
- Margaret Plantagenet (August 14, 1473 – May 27, 1541), Countess of Salisbury. Married Richard Pole, a half-cousin of Henry VII. She was known as Margaret Pole or Margaret de la Pole. Her family supported the Roman Catholic Church when Henry VIII split from its authority and formed the Church of England. The eldest son of Margaret Plantagenet, Henry, was executed by Henry VIII in 1539. Another son was the noted Archbishop of Canterbury under Mary I, Reginald Pole, who lived in exile most of the reign of Henry VIII. Margaret’s son Geoffrey Pole was accused of treason by Henry VIII, held briefly in the Tower of London, pardoned, then fled to Europe when Margaret herself was executed by Henry VIII in 1541; Geoffrey returned during the reign of Mary I. Margaret was beatified in 1886 by the Roman Catholic Church.
- Edward Plantagenet (February 25, 1475 – November 28, 1499), never married, imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was impersonated by Lambert Simnel, then Henry VII had Edward executed.
- Richard of York (October 6, 1476 – January 1, 1477)
Isabel Neville Biography
Born in 1451, we know little of her childhood or education. In 1469 Isabel Neville was betrothed to George, Duke of Clarence, part of her father’s “kingmaking” in the Wars of the Roses. Clarence was the next-eldest brother of Edward IV, who had taken the crown from Henry VI in 1461 with the help of Isabel’s father, Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick. Clarence thus had been Edward’s presumptive heir until the birth of Edward’s daughter in 1466 and then of Edward’s son in 1470. In 1469, at the time of Isabel’s marriage, Isabel’s younger sister, Anne, was unmarried, although their father had apparently tried to betroth her to a younger brother of king Edward and of Clarence, Richard of Gloucester, the future Richard III.
Although Isabel’s father had been a key supporter of Edward IV in winning the crown from Henry VI, the relationship of Edward and Warwick had cooled when Edward married Elizabeth Woodville rather than the candidates Warwick wanted him to marry.
Warwick and his family were by 1469 and Isabel’s betrothal in France. Warwick had switched sides and allied himself with the Lancastrians organized by Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI whom she intended to restore to the throne by defeating Edward IV. Henry VI was imprisoned by Edward IV in England, and was suffering from some kind of mental disorder or dementia. Margaret and Henry VI had a son, Edward of Westminster, but that son was not yet married.
Isabel’s Marriage to the Duke of Clarence
Isabel Neville and George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence, married in a ceremony in Calais, just across the English Channel in France. The marriage was presided over by one of her father’s brothers, George Neville, who was the Archbishop of York. Isabel’s new husband joined his father-in-law and the Lancastrians to restore Henry VI as king and Edward of Westminster as Prince of Wales.
After a July 1869 battle in which the Lancastrians headed by Warwick briefly prevailed over the Yorkists, Warwick decided that he would replace Edward IV with George, Duke of Clarence, rather than with the mentally ill Henry VI. That positioned Isabel Neville as a likely future Queen of England. But Warwick and Clarence had to flee back to France after defeat by forces of Edward IV in March of 1470. Just 10 months after her marriage, on April 16, 1470, Isabel gave birth to her first child, a daughter, Anne, on board a ship off Calais. The child died a day or so later.
Displaced as Heir
Warwick was now back in France, with Margaret of Anjou suspicious of his motives. France’s Louis XI threw his support to the Lancastrian effort to restore Henry VI, and wanted Warwick allied with Margaret. Warwick, probably to earn Margaret’s trust, formally betrothed his other daughter, Anne Neville, to Edward of Westminster, son of Henry VI. Clarence opposed this marriage, realizing it signaled the end of Warwick’s support for putting Clarence on the throne, and also because it meant that Isabel’s future inheritance from her father of lands and titles would be split with her sister’s husband.
Margaret’s army, with Warwick and with Margaret and Henry’s son Edward of Westminster, returned to England and restored Henry VI to the throne on October 30. Edward IV fled with his family to Burgundy, where his sister‘s husband, Charles the Bold, ruled. Anne Neville and Edward of Westminster were married in December 1470.
Clarence Switches Sides Again
Early in 1471, Clarence rejoined the forces of his brothers. Edward IV had brought his army back to England on March 14, 1471, and all three brothers — Edward IV, George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester — were part of the Yorkist victory at the Battle of Barnet on April 14. Isabel’s father, Warwick, and his brother, John Neville, Marquess of Montagu, (who had also changed sides from the Yorkists to the Lancastrians) were both killed. On May 4, 1471, the Lancastrians were even more decisively defeated by the Yorkists, and many of the Lancastrian leaders, including the Prince of Wales Edward of Westminster (and husband of Anne Neville), were killed in battle or murdered shortly after.
After the Yorkist Victory
Isabel’s sister Anne was taken prisoner after her husband Prince Edward was killed. Clarence kept Anne as his ward, with an interest in seeing her remain unmarried so that he would inherit her full share, as well as that of his wife, of their father’s rich estates. Exactly what happened is not clear, but she escaped custody and married Richard of Gloucester, brother of both Edward IV and the Duke of Clarence in July of 1472.
Isabel and George had three more children: Margaret, born in 1473; Edward, born in 1475; and Richard, born in 1476. About 10 weeks after the birth of Richard in 1476, Isabel died, perhaps of childbed fever. Her husband accused one of her ladies-in-waiting of murdering Isabel, and had that woman, Ankarette Twynho, murdered. (Edward IV later pardoned the woman posthumously.) The baby Richard died about ten days after his mother’s death.
The Fate of Isabel’s Family
Clarence led another rebellion against his brother Edward IV and was held in the Tower of London and tried for treason. Edward had a Bill of Attainder passed against his brother Clarence, who was killed in the Tower on February 18, 1478. Rumors were that he was drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine.
The Bill of Attainder also disinherited Clarence’s children and meant they were not included in the line of succession thereafter. Even with this exclusion, Henry VII later imprisoned Edward, son of Clarence and Isabel Neville, as a potential threat, and eventually had him executed.
Shakespeare’s play, Richard III, assumes that Richard of Gloucester was behind the final break between Clarence and Edward IV, plotting to put himself closer in the succession to the throne.
On Edward’s death in 1483, his youngest brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, became first the Protector (regent) for Edward’s son, Edward V, and then, when Edward V and his younger brother were imprisoned in the Tower and removed from the succession on claims of illegitimacy (that their father’s marriage was not valid), Richard became king as Richard III.
Isabel’s daughter Margaret and her descendants were involved in the Counter Reformation in England, supporting the Roman Catholic Church against the separation of the Church of England and accompanying Protestant reforms.