John Neville, 1st Marquis of Montague

Born: c. 1431

Died: April 14, 1471

Barnet, London, England (Age c. 40)

Montague in History

John Neville was a younger son of Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, and a younger brother of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the man who would ultimately gain the name of "kingmaker" for successively placing Edward IV and Henry VI on the English throne. The Neville family was one of three prominent families (along with the Percy and Clifford families) in the north of England. Tensions between the Neville clan and their two rivals in the north came to a boiling point just as Neville himself was approaching manhood. Since the Percy and Clifford families were both loyal to the reigning house of Lancaster (of which King Henry VI was a part of) it is no surprise that the Nevilles ultimately allied themselves with the rival house of York (led by Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York and a man who had a superior claim to the throne). In 1455, outright civil war broke out, and the forces of the Lancastrians and Yorkists battled each other at St Albans. Neville participated in the battle (which became the first conflict of the Wars of the Roses) which saw the deaths of the Earl of Northumberland and Lord Clifford (the leading members of the Percy and Clifford families, respectively), the capture of Henry VI and a decisive victory for the Yorkists.

The next five years saw intermittent quarrels between the two factions until the Yorkists, under orders from Queen Margaret, were attainted and forced to flee the country in 1459. They returned not long after to defeat their rivals at Northampton, once again capturing the king and forcing Parliament to name York heir to the throne. This did not cool tensions, however, and a further battle broke out at Wakefield that saw the deaths of Neville's father Salisbury, his brother Thomas and the Duke of York himself, along with his son Rutland. Luckily, Neville himself was not involved in the conflict. He did, however, take part in the Yorkist defeat at the second battle of St Albans, where he was taken captive. Fortunately, York's eldest son, the Earl of March, was able to claim London, chase away the Lancastrians and have himself crowned as King Edward IV. Neville was released from prison and given a number of lands and positions in the north. His brother was given even greater rewards and was the top adviser to the new king. The brothers' triumph would last for several years before their downfall became inevitable.

Neville served as an important commander in the north against pockets of Lancastrian resistance. His greatest victory of the period came in 1464 with the defeat of  an army of Lancastrians under the Duke of Somerset at Hexham. Somerset was executed after the battle, and Neville, as a reward for his services, was created Earl of Northumberland, a title that had long been held by the Percy family (the current Percy heir was in prison), as well as, a number of valuable Percy lands. Five years later, both Neville's brother Warwick and Edward IV's brother George, Duke of Clarence, rebelled against the king, temporarily taking him captive. Neville himself did not participate in the rebellion, and when Warwick and Clarence fled to France to receive help from the Lancastrians and King Louis XI, he was not in their company and remained loyal to Edward IV. Although he still looked on Neville with favor, the king felt he needed to limit Neville influence and create new allies. Therefore, he released the Percy heir from prison and restored him to both the Earldom of Northumberland and his lands that had previous been awarded to Neville. Neville, in turn, was created Marquess of Montague. Although Marquess was indeed a higher title than earl, it did come with the rich rewards that the Earldom of Northumberland did, and Neville was certainly not happy that his hard earned rewards had been simply handed back to one of his enemies. It appears this is the catalyst Montague needed to switch his allegiance to his brother and the Lancastrians.

Warwick and Clarence returned to England, forcing Edward IV to flee to Burgundy, and placed Henry VI back on the throne. Although Montague was a leading figure in the government led by his brother, he did not receive any of the Percy lands back (being that the Percies were loyal Lancastrians), and when Edward IV returned the following year to reclaim his throne, Montague could not take back his betrayal of him. Before the forces of Queen Margaret could make it to England, the armies of Edward IV and Warwick and Montague engaged in battle at Barnet. The battle was a dominant Yorkist victory, and both Warwick and Montague were killed. One would think Montague would have done well to keep his Yorkist allegiance intact, and it indeed may have saved his life. Perhaps, in the end, he felt that family ties were stronger.

Montague in Shakespeare

Appears in: Henry VI, Part 3

John Neville, Marquess of Montague, is a minor character in 3 Henry VI. He is a faithful follower of the house of York and agrees to stay loyal to Edward IV even after both Warwick and Clarence desert him. Nevertheless, Montague decides to join the forces of the Lancastrians and is killed, along with his brother, at the Battle of Barnet. The character of Montague is considered to be a sort of composite figure between Montague himself and his father, the Earl of Salisbury. In the earlier parts of the play, Salisbury is still alive historically and did not die until after the Battle of Wakefield. However, the character of Salisbury disappears after his participation in the Battle of St Albans in the end of 2 Henry VI. The latter acts of the play are undoubtedly the figure of Montague himself. Also, it is not mentioned as to why Montague decided to turn against Edward IV within the play; he simply appears on the side of the Lancastrians, despite earlier stating that he would remain loyal to Edward IV.  Historically, it was because he was stripped of the Earldom of Northumberland. Finally, Montague appears under his title of Marquess of Montague throughout the play. In reality, he was not awarded the title until just before his defection to the Lancastrians.


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