Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury

Born: 1400

Raby, Durham, England

Died: December 31, 1460

Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England (Age 60)

Salisbury in History

Richard Neville, by birth, was a strong supporter of the royal house of Lancaster. His father, Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, had been a strong supporter of the Lancastrians since his support of the usurpation of Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV) in 1399. Westmorland showed his dedication by taking Joan Beaufort, a half-sister of Henry IV, as his second wife. Richard was the eldest of their sons and therefore a nephew of Henry IV, cousin of Henry V and first cousin once removed to Henry VI. The Nevilles cemented their Lancastrian connection when Richard was married to Alice Montagu, daughter to the Earl of Salisbury, a strong Lancastrian supporter. With all these close ties, it is hard to believe that Neville would one day completely rebel against the royal house in favor of another. This, however, would be much further down the line. Neville was kept extremely busy throughout the 1420s-30s. After the deaths of his father (1425) and his father-in-law (1428), Neville engaged in lengthy battles over inheritances with members of his family from his father's first marriage and his father-in-law's younger brother, respectively. In the end, Neville was able to acquire both the earldom of Salisbury and a majority of the Neville lands, both of which were worth substantial amounts.

During this period, Salisbury was also busy acting as a border lord, protecting England from Scottish invasions, as most northern families did, and built up a considerable power base in England's north. He also spent a number of years participating in the wars in France and it was here that he first became acquainted with Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, a man who had married his younger sister Cecily and who had a valid claim to the throne, though this would not come out into the open until much later. As a result of his loyalty, heaps of rewards were bestowed upon Salisbury by the king, and the earl became one of Henry's most powerful advisers. Politically, Salisbury was much more closely aligned with Cardinal Henry Beaufort, his uncle, and William de la Pole, future Duke of Suffolk, over Humphrey of Gloucester, the king's uncle. He participated in the arrest of Gloucester in 1447 and was lucky enough to survive Suffolk's downfall, exile and murder in 1450. Although Salisbury had most certainly built up a name for himself by this point, it is the decade of the 1450s that he would truly make an impact.

In England's north, there were three families that shared most of the power: the Nevilles; the Cliffords and the Percies. The Percies and Cliffords got along fairly well and, at first, the two families seem to have, at the very least, acted civilly towards the Nevilles. However, as the 1450s progressed, petty arguments over lands, inheritances and jurisdiction created a rift between the Nevilles and their rivals in the north, and events almost came to the point of armed conflict. The situation was further complicated by the fact that the king had suffered a mental breakdown and was not able to step in to quench the conflict. As a result of the king's incapacitation, the Duke of York was made protector of the realm (with the help of Salisbury) and chastised the Percies and Cliffords for their actions against the Nevilles.

It is at this point that Salisbury and his son, the Earl of Warwick, switched their allegiance to the side of the Yorkists. The move was deeply surprising considering Salisbury's deep Lancastrian ties and the fact that York's primary rival at court was Salisbury's first cousin, Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. Additionally, one must consider that Salisbury owed all of his power to the generosity of the Lancastrians. The fact that Salisbury would then betray them to such a heinous extant shows that the relationship between he and York was a indeed a close one, with Salisbury being a sort of mentor to York. Whatever the case may be, Salisbury would continue to loyally serve York for the remainder of his life. When the king regained his senses, and Somerset was returned to royal favor, the tensions boiled over between the houses of Lancaster and York, and the two sides did battle at St. Albans in 1455. The battle was a complete success for the Yorkist/Neville faction and Somerset, the Earl of Northumberland (head of the Percy family) and Lord Clifford were all killed in the action, with the king himself being captured.

After their victory at St. Albans, the Yorkists continued to increase their power, much to the chagrin of Henry VI's wife, Queen Margaret, until they were finally attainted for treason in 1459. The Yorkists then gathered their forces to fight for their lives and defeated the Lancastrians at Northampton in 1460, once again capturing the king. It is at this point that York announced his superior claim to the throne and demanded to be made Henry VI's heir, which he ultimately was. Queen Margaret was, once again, less than pleased with the situation and gathered an army to fight the Yorkists at Wakefield. This time, the results were in favor of the Lancastrians as York was killed in the battle. Salisbury was captured and subsequently hanged by the commoners the following day. It is unlikely his presence was missed to any great extent considering most of the Neville power, by this point, lye with his son Warwick. In the end, one must admire the career that Salisbury built for himself but, on the other hand, be appalled by his betrayal of a family who had done so much for him. Although Salisbury's son Warwick would go on to do great things (before his own life was tragically ended), Salisbury himself would receive the punishment that many of his contemporaries, most likely, felt he greatly deserved.

Salisbury in Shakespeare

Appears in: Henry VI, Part 2

The Earl of Salisbury first appears, in 2 Henry VI, as a loyal supporter of the house of Lancaster. He is one of those who believed Suffolk and Cardinal Beaufort should be punished for their part in Gloucester's murder and is present when the cardinal died. In reality, Salisbury was actually politically aligned with Suffolk and Beaufort, the latter being his uncle, and participated in Gloucester's arrest. Both Salisbury and his son Warwick are invited to dinner by the Duke of York who, in turn, explains his supposedly superior claim to the throne and wins them over. The two then participate with the Yorkists in the battle of St. Albans. After the Yorkist victory, York's son Richard (whose portrayal in the battle is strictly Shakespeare's invention, considering he was only two at the time) claims that Salisbury fought valiantly for a man his age but that he was still forced to save him on several occasions. Salisbury is not seen or mentioned again although his historical actions are represented in the early parts of 3 Henry VI by his younger son, the Marquis of Montague - yet another example of Shakespeare's use of a composite figure.


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