A Kingmaker Dies

The Battle of Barnet was fought on 14 April 1471, and it was during this engagement that Richard Neville, known as the Warwick the Kingmaker, was slain while retreating before the victorious Yorkists commanded by Edward IV.

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Neville was the 16th Earl of Warwick and the most powerful nobleman in the country at the time. The Neville family began to rise under King Richard II, and the sucessive generations married very well. By the time Richard Neville married the last Countess of Warwick and was given her title by right of marriage, he was magnificently rich and incredibly popular with the common man. He had allied himself early to the House of York, and when his cousin Richard, Duke of York went to war to overthrow King Henry VI the loyal Warwick aided him.

With Warwick’s help, the Yorkists won the throne, and although the Duke of York had been killed at the Battle of Wakefield, his eldest son was crowned Edward IV in 1465. The former king, who was mad as a hatter and sweet as a song, was imprisoned comfortably in the Tower of London, while the deposed queen, Margaret of Anjou, continued to fight for her son’s right to the throne.

Warwick was rewarded for his part in securing the throne for York, but not as much as he thought he should be. Edward IV, acting more like he had the divine right of kings’ than he probably ought to have, was dismissive of Warwick and married a local widow named Elizabeth Woodville in a spectacularly unpopular match. The king and his new wife naturally supported the ascendancy of the Woodville family, sometimes at Warwick’s expense and always to his vexation.

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Matters came to a head when Edward IV got into a snit and forbid the matches between Warwick’s daughters and the king’s younger brothers. Warwick was irked and definantly arranged to have the eldest of his two daughters, Isabella, married to the new king’s 19 year old brother George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence in 1469. Then, depending on which historical interpretation you favor, Warwick either allied himself to Margaret of Anjou again or wanted to place George on the throne in Edward IV’s place or was somehow doing both at the same time. The plan with George failed in spite of the capture of Edward VI by Warwick’s allies. George reconciled with his brother and was forgiven. (A bad choice on George’s part, because he was executed by his brother in 1478 and the rumor was started that the poor guy had drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine to keep people from accusing the king of fratricide.)

By 1470, Warwick was full-tilt into winning the crown back for Henry VI and had allied himself fully with Margaret of Anjou. In December of that year Warwick’s daughter Anne was married to the Henry VI’s son, the Prince of Wales. The following spring, Warwick was killed at Barnet and Anne’s husband was killed at Tewkesbury. The newly widowed Anne was married to her former betrothed, the king’s youngest brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who would become Richard III after his brother’s death in 1485. 

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In the end Warwick the Kingmaker would actually make no kings. His grandchildren via Isabella would be murdered by Henry VIII, and his great-grandchildren would be imprisoned under Tudor threat until they died without issue. His grandson via Anne would died at a young age. Warwick’s line never claimed the throne. Meanwhile, Edward VI’s sons died mysteriously, probably killed by their Uncle Richard who had means, motive, and opportunity to get rid of them, but a descendant of Edward’s granddaughter Margaret sits on the English throne today. That means that Warwick’s most hated enemies, the Woodville family, won in the end.

Warwick is proof that the Game of Thrones is a hard one to win, and the board is littered with the bodies of those who tried and failed.

  

  

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