Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury (1400-1460)

Richard Neville, fifth earl of Salisbury (1400-1460), was an important northern landowner who became a key support of Richard, duke of York, early in the Wars in the Roses, but who was killing after the battle of Wakefield and was overshadowed by his more famous son, Warwick the Kingmaker.

Salisbury was the eldest son of Ralph Neville, first earl of Westmorland (c.1364-1425) and his second wife Joan Beaufort, the daughter of John of Gaunt. This gave him a close family tie to the Lancastrian dynasty - Joan Beaufort was the half sister of Henry IV, and for much of his life he was a loyal support of the dynasty. Neville's estates were dominated by two controversial inheritances. In normal circumstances his older half brother Ralph Neville, second earl of Westmorland, would have inherited most of the family estates, but the first earl decided to pass most of his estates on to Richard instead. Before he turned 21 he had been granted the reversion of Penrith, Middleham, Sheriff Hutton and Raby, so would gain possession of them after both of his parents died. After his father's death in 1425 these estates went to his widow, who then passed Penrith, Middleham and Sheriff Hutton to Richard. In 1440 his mother died, and Richard entered into his full inheritance. He then had to deal with a legal challenge from his half-brother, the earl of Westmorland. Richard used his connections to the court to help, giving technical control of many of his northern estates to Cardinal Beaufort, then a key figure in Henry VI's government. In 1443 Westmorland finally gave up the fight. He was given the lordship of Raby, but surrendered his claim to Penrith, Middleham and Sheriff Hutton. At the same time Richard was given two-thirds of the lordship of Richmond, at first for his life, but from 1449 for him and his male heirs.

His second inheritance came through his wife, Alice, daughter and heir of Thomas Montagu, earl of Salisbury (1388-1428). The earldom of Salisbury had been created in 1338 in tail male, so was only meant to pass to male heirs. When Salisbury died in 1428 his nearest male heir was his uncle Sir Richard Montagu. In May 1429 the royal council decided to award the earldom to Neville, who thus became the fifth earl of Salisbury. Henry VI confirmed this title in 1443 after he came of age. However Sir Richard Montagu was awarded the endowment that went with the earldom, so Salisbury didn't benefit financially to any great extent. Despite this setback he had an annual income of around £2,000-£3,000, making him one of the wealthier members of the aristocracy.

Salisbury's eldest son Richard was born in 1428. In 1436 Salisbury arranged to marry him to Anne Beauchamp, the daughter of Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick. At the same time Salisbury's daughter married Beauchamp's son Henry. It was only after the death of Henry in 1446 and his infant daughter in 1449 that the Salisbury's son became earl of Warwick. This meant that the Nevilles, father and son, were now individually amongst the most powerful of the great magnates, and together was a truly significant power.

For most of his life Salisbury was a loyal supporter of the Lancastrian dynasty. In 1420 he replaced his half brother John, Lord Neville as warden of the west march, guarding the border against the Scots. He was involved in the negotiations that led to the release of James I of Scotland, and the signing of a seven year long truce with Scotland in 1424. He accompanied Henry VI to France in 1431, was present at the trial of Jeanne d'Arc and Henry's coronation as king of France. In July 1434 his prominence in the north was confirmed when he replaced Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland, as warden of the east march. However these posts were often a financial drain. Salisbury had laid down strict financial terms, but in 1435 he resigned as warden of both the west and east marches. His successors in both posts resigned in the following year, presumably after similar financial problems.

Salisbury's sister Cecily was married to Richard, duke of York. In 1436 York was the king's lieutenant in France, and at the start of 1436 Salisbury joined him in Normandy. In 1437 he served as York's lieutenant-general, but early in the same year York's appointment ended, and by the autumn both men were back in England. In 1439 Salisbury was granted the reversion of the wardenship of the west march, which at the time was held by Bishop Lumley of Carlisle. In 1443 the bishop's term of office expired, and Salisbury was granted the post for ten years (later extended to twenty years from 1454).

Salisbury received a number of rewards for his services. In 1425 he was made steward of the lordship of Pontefract. He acted as constable of England at Henry VI's coronation. In 1432-33 he was made steward of Tickhill, south Yorkshire.  In 1437 he joined the royal council, probably as a supporter of Cardinal Beaufort. He later became a supporter of William de la Pole, duke of Suffolk, and he became a major figure in the Lancastrian government. In 1445 the stewardship of Pontefract was made hereditary for Salisbury and his sons and he was granted the reversion of the stewardships of Knaresborough and Pickering. He was also steward of Kendal and chief justice of the royal forests north of the Trent. Each of these posts came with some financial reward.

Battles of the Wars of the Roses
Battles of the
Wars of the Roses

For much of his life Salisbury had an acceptable working relationship with the other great northern magnate, Henry Percy, second earl of Northumberland (1394-1455), but this began to chance after the Anglo-Scottish war of 1448-49. Percy's oldest son Henry Percy, Lord Poynings, had suffered a defeat on the River Sark in 1448, and may have blamed Salisbury. His younger brother Sir Thomas Percy also fought in the war, and was to become a major troublemaker. In 1449 he was made Lord Egremont, and his main area of interest became Westmorland, Neville country. The relationship between the families collapsed in 1453. The first earl of Northumberland had forfeited the family estates after rebelling against Henry IV. The family had later been restored to its titles and many of its lands, but some were still lost. Wressle, in the east riding of Yorkshire, was one such property, and was now held by Ralph Cromwell, third Lord Cromwell. In 1453 his daughter and heir Maud married Salisbury's son Sir Thomas Neville. The younger Percies responded with a wave of violent attacks on Neville estates, and Egremont even went as far as attacking the wedding part as it left York (battle of Heworth, 24 August 1453). By now power at court had passed to Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset, and he was either unable or unwilling to intervene on Neville's behalf. At about the same time Somerset was involved in a dispute with Warwick over part of the Beauchamp inheritance, and the two cases may have helped drive the Nevilles into the Yorkist camp.

The Neville-Percy feud now became part of national politics. In 1452, when York had resorted to arms in an attempt to have Somerset removed from power, Salisbury had supported Henry VI and the court party and York had been forced to back down after a confrontation at Dartford. In August 1453 Henry VI suffered a mental breakdown. Somerset and the council attempted to hang on to power, but early in 1453 were forced to accept York as Protector of the Realm. Salisbury was one of York's key supporters at this point, having apparently decided that he couldn't expect any help from Somerset. As a reward Salisbury was made chancellor, an unusual post for a layman. Soon afterwards the Nevilles appeared to have triumphed in their dispute with the Percies, when Egremont was captured after a minor battle at Stamford Bridge (31 October or 1 November 1454).

York's period in charge was short-lived. At Christmas 1454 Henry recovered from his illness and in January 1455 York's first protectorate came to an end. Somerset was released from the Tower of London, and Northumberland abandoned his normal political neutrality and moved close to the court. In March 1455 Salisbury was replaced as chancellor, and the Yorkists were forced off the royal council. When Somerset announced that a council meeting was to be held at Leicester the Yorkists believed that it would be used to attack them. They left court, raised an army and then turned south. The first battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought at St. Albans on 22 May 1455. Warwick played a key part in the Yorkist victory, and both Somerset and Northumberland were killed in the fighting. After this victory York attempted to rule though the Royal council, before beginning a second protectorate in the autumn. This policy failed, and in February 1456 Henry officially ended York's protectorate and resumed power.

For the next few years Salisbury spent most of his time in the north, while his son Warwick played a more prominent political role. Salisbury returned to London for the 'loveday' of 24 March 1458, Henry VI's most determined attempt to reconcile his competing nobles. By the autumn this settlement had collapsed. Queen Margaret took an increasingly active role in her husband's government and she was determined to protect the interests of their young son Prince Edward. In the autumn of 1458 she summoned Warwick to London to answer for his actions as captain of Calais. The visit descended into violence and Warwick was lucky to escape to his ships and then to Calais.

In 1459 open warfare broke out again. York summoned Salisbury and Warwick to join him on the Welsh borders. Warwick made his way from Calais without a fight, but Salisbury had to get past several Lancastrian armies that attempted to intercept him in the Cheshire area. He defeated one at Blore Heath on 23 September, and managed to join up with York and Warwick at Worcester. From there they were forced to retreat to Ludlow, where they prepared to defend Ludford Bridge (12-13 October 1459). They were already outnumbered by the Lancastrian army, but that night Warwick's Calais contingent decided to change sides, apparently because they hadn't expected to have to fight Henry VI in person. The Yorkist leaders realised that their cause was now doomed and abandoned their army. York reached Ireland, while Salisbury, Warwick and York's son Edward, earl of March, managed to get to Calais.

In June 1460 Salisbury was part of the Yorkist army that landed at Sandwich and advanced on London. While Warwick and March moved north to find Henry VI, Salisbury was left behind to besiege the Tower of London. On 10 July 1460 Warwick's army defeated and captured Henry VI at Northampton, and on 16 July they returned to London. The Tower surrendered on 19 July.

In October York finally returned to London, and on 10 October he entered Parliament and attempted to claim the throne. The peers refused to accept his claim, and even Salisbury was said to have been furious. Eventually a compromise was agreed - the Act of Accord. Henry was to remain king, but Prince Edward was cut out and York became Henry's heir. This agreement helped trigger Lancastrian revolts in several areas. Late in the year York and Salisbury departed for the north to deal with the most serious of these revolts, but they had underestimated the strength of their opponents. They were almost blockaded in Sandal Castle, and on 30 December emerged from the castle to attack a Lancastrian army. The result was a disaster - York was killed in the resulting battle of Wakefield, as was Salisbury's son Sir Thomas Neville. Salisbury himself was captured, but was then murdered by a mob in Pontefract on the following day. His head was later displayed on the Micklegate at York. Warwick now inherited his father's titles and estates, although his own earldom outranked Salisbury, so he remained earl of Warwick. 

Books on the Middle Ages - Subject Index: War of the Roses

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (26 March 2014), Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury (1400-1460) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_salisbury_richard_5th_earl.html

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