Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick "Kingmaker"

Born: November 22, 1428

Died: April 14, 1471

Barnet, Hertfordshire, England (Age 42)

Warwick in History

Little is known of the early life of Richard Neville (eldest son to Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury) outside of his betrothal to Anne Beauchamp, daughter to Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. This match was to ultimately provide Neville with the title that he is most known for styling. Although the Nevilles remained loyal supporters to the House of Lancaster (led by King Henry VI) throughout the 1440s, things slowly began to change when Neville inherited the earldom of Warwick in 1449. With no male Beauchamp heirs, the earldom was to awarded Neville's wife Anne. However, Anne had three half-sisters to compete with, two of whom were married to highly powerful men within the court of Henry VI: John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury and Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. Talbot was killed defending the last English possessions in France in 1453 but Somerset proved to be a much more difficult problem. Somerset was a close relation to the king and it is most likely his presence at court that prevented Warwick from attaining any real influence. For this reason it is no surprise that the Nevilles threw their support behind Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, and his faction, the Yorkists. York and the Nevilles were united behind their hatred for Somerset, both of whom believed he was a bad influence on the king and was responsible for the English losses in France. Tensions between the houses of Lancaster and York spilled on to the battlefield in 1455 at St. Albans. By the day's end Somerset was dead and Henry VI had been captured. In addition, Warwick was able to increase his own local power in the north seeing that the leading members of the Percy and Clifford families (the rivals for power with the Nevilles in England's north) were also killed during the battle. Soon after the battle, Warwick was appointed to the highly important position of captain of Calais, the lone remaining English possession in France, where he would gradually build up a power base during the following years.

By 1459, however, conflicts between the house of Lancaster and York were, once again, boiling over, and Queen Margaret wanted nothing more than for the Yorkists to be done away with. With their backs against the wall, the Yorkists attempted to rebel against the crown, but found very little support and were forced to scatter themselves between Ireland and Calais (which had be taken out from Warwick's control by this point). The Yorkists returned to England the following year with a stronger following and were able to, once again, capture Henry VI after a Yorkist victory at Northampton. At the Parliament that year, York forced the king to name him his heir (the duke did have a valid claim to the throne through his mother). The move did not sit well with Queen Margaret, who sent an army to accost the Yorkists by the year's end. At Wakefield, York was killed along with his son, the Earl of Rutland, and Warwick's father Salisbury, was captured and lynched. The battle was a huge setback for the Yorkists and Warwick was forced to throw his support behind York's eldest son Edward, Earl of March. As Margaret's forces approached London, they were denied entry into the city. This move allowed the Yorkist army to chase away their enemies and have young March crowned as King Edward IV. Warwick then proceeded to cut off the Lancastrian army, which he was able to accomplish at Towton. In a particularly gruesome battle, the Yorkists won a decisive victory and the Lancastrians were forced to flee to various scattered locations. With Edward now on the throne, Warwick was now at the zenith of his power and most certainly earned the nickname of "Kingmaker."

During the first several years of Edward IV's reign, Warwick was, by far, the most powerful and influential man in England. Not only had he become extremely wealthy from all of the Beauchamp lands he had inherited, but, as a man who had been crucial to putting the king on his throne, he was rewarded with a countless number of important positions (including Warden of the Cinque Ports, chamberlain of England and, for a second time, captain of Calais) that assured he would be a force to be reckoned with. Additionally, Warwick had built up a large power base in Calais and a number of his northern lands and was able to muster armies and stir up the commons at a moment's notice. This extreme power that Warwick possessed would only sit well with Edward IV, a man who was no one's subject, for so long. The first riff in the relationship between king and kingmaker came in 1464 after Edward had secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, a mere common woman, after Warwick had already arrange a marriage between the king and Bona of Savoy, sister-in-law of the French King Louis XI. Tensions would continue to mount when the two differed greatly on policies on who to support in the rivalry of King Louis XI and the Duke of Burgundy. The final straw seems to have come with when Warwick realized his power was gradually being dissembled and the king's in-laws, the Woodvilles, were becoming increasingly influential, being given a slew of important positions and being married off to wealthy heirs and heiresses. It is for all these reasons that Warwick decided to rebel against King Edward in 1469.

Warwick joined forces with the king's brother George, Duke of Clarence (who were united by their hatred of the Woodvilles and the fact that the king would not allow Clarence to wed Warwick's daughter) and did battle with the royal forces at Edgcote. The battle was a success: Earl Rivers, the head of the Woodville family, was killed, and the king himself, who was caught completely off guard, was captured and imprisoned. Unfortunately, Warwick soon realized that he could not govern the kingdom without the king, and was forced to release him. In turn, Warwick and Clarence were chased out of England and fleed to France under the care of Louis XI. As Warwick's power was slowly being taken away in England, he found it to his advantage to form an alliance with Queen Margaret and the Lancastrians, agreeing to wed his other daughter Anne, to Margaret's son, Prince Edward, to seal the deal. Warwick then returned to England with a large army of French and Lancastrian soldiers and, with the help of his brother, the Marquis of Montague, caught Edward IV off guard, once again, and forced him to flee to the Netherlands, where he would remain for the next six months. With Edward gone, Warwick was free to release Henry VI from the tower (where he had been since his capture in 1465) and place him back on England's throne. Warwick had once again shown that he was the maker, and breaker, of kings.

For the next several months, Warwick was King of England in all but name over the seemingly useless and uninterested Henry VI. When he felt his power was secure enough, Warwick sent for Queen Margaret and Prince Edward to return from France. Unfortunately, Edward IV was also on his way back and would land before the queen and prince. Warwick acted as swiftly as possible but Henry VI was captured and the earl's forces were forced to do battle with those of King Edward on a foggy day at Barnet. To make matters worse, Clarence had deserted Warwick to return to his brother. The fog created much confusion and added more chaos to an already brutal battle, which saw the armies of Montague, Warwick's brother, and the Earl of Oxford, a fellow Lancastrian, accidentally attack each other. Montague was killed, Oxford captured and Warwick himself was killed at some point during the Lancastrian retreat. Although Warwick had achieved an enormous amount of success during his political career, he was ultimately brought down by his own ambition and the realization that one could only make and break kings for so long, before he himself is broken. Warwick's accomplishments, however, were not without merit and he continues to sport the nickname "kingmaker" to this very day.

Warwick in Shakespeare

Appears in: Henry VI, Part 1?; Henry VI, Part 2; Henry VI, Part 3

The appearance of the Earl of Warwick in 1 Henry VI creates a fair amount of confusion. Warwick the "Kingmaker" did not succeed to the earldom until 1449 and his father-in-law, Richard Beauchamp, did not die until 1439. An example of historical inconsistency can be seen in the event of the burning of Joan of Arc, which happens late in the play and in 1431 historically. The younger Warwick was a youth of two at the time and the Beauchamp earl still had another eight years to live. Additionally, Warwick is seen in the courtyard scene picking a white rose to symbolize his allegiance to the house of York. The Beauchamp earl, a loyal Lancastrian would have done no such thing. Even into 2 Henry VI the two are confused when Warwick is upset for the losses of Maine and Anjou in France, which he credits himself with conquering. The younger Warwick did not participate at all in these battles. It is safe to say that Shakespeare simply creates a composite figure between the two men, as he also did with the Dukes of Somerset and the two Edmund Mortimers. Nonetheless, it is clear by the end of 2 Henry VI that Warwick the "kingmaker" is subject at hand as he fights with the Yorkists at the Battle of St. Albans. In 3 Henry VI, Warwick aids in putting Edward IV on the throne but joins with the Lancastrians when he is informed the king has married a common woman over his choice of the French king's sister-in-law. In reality, Warwick did not rebel against Edward IV until five years after the marriage. It was not a direct result of rebellion. Warwick captures King Edward and places him in the custody of his brother, from whom he ultimately escapes, and places Henry VI back on the throne. When Edward IV returns, however, Warwick does battle against him at Barnet where both he and his brother Montague are killed. All in all, Warwick is portrayed as an ambitious lord who is ultimately taken down by his own greedy actions. The parting speech he gives before his death, however, almost certainly will force one to treat him with a grain of sympathy.


Pollard, A. J. ‘Neville, Richard, sixteenth earl of Warwick and sixth earl of Salisbury [called the Kingmaker] (1428–1471)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 16 March 2010]

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