Warwick, Clarence and their women flee England. April 1470

As stated on my home page, from time to time I will write about other areas of medieval history.  Today I have chosen to write about Richard Nevill, earl of Warwick and his son in law George Plantagenet, duke of Clarence. Clarence was the brother of kings Edward IV and Richard III.  He was also the x3 great grandson of Lionel duke of Clarence through the latters only child, Philippa who married Edmund Mortimer 3rd earl of March in 1368. Their eldest son Roger was the 4th earl of March, when his son and heir Edmund 5th earl of March died childless in 1425 the Mortimer heir was Richard Plantagenet, duke of York whose Mother Anne Mortimer (d.1411) was the eldest daughter of the aforementioned Roger 4th earl of March.  Anne died shortly after the birth of her only son Richard, George’s Father.
The Mortimer’s never inherited the dukedom of Clarence after Lionel’s 1368 death the dukedom was re-created by Henry IV for his second eldest son Thomas who died childless and thus the dukedom became extinct again. The dukedom was finally back in the hands of one of Lionel’s descendants nearly a hundred years after his death when on Sunday 28th June 1461 George Plantagenet was created duke of Clarence by his older brother Edward IV who had seized the throne just months earlier.  I have written extensively about the Richard Nevill, 16th earl of Warwick and his son in law Clarence in the past and as the latter was the grandson of a Mortimer, I have decided to include some of that work on my blog. 


On April 9th 1470 Richard Nevill, 16th earl of Warwick and his son in law George Plantagenet, duke of Clarence took ship from Dartmouth meaning to sail to France. With them was Warwick’s wife, Anne Beauchamp, the countess of Warwick, his daughter Isabel married to Clarence’s and heavily pregnant and lastly Anne Nevill, the youngest of the Warwick daughters. Warwick, Clarence, the countess and Anne had all arrived at Exeter on or around the 3rd of April after fleeing Edward IV and his army after their failed rebellion.

The very same day, King Edward sent out a warrant for the arrest of Warwick’s brother, George Nevill, the archbishop of York. Isabel was already in Exeter and seems to have been there since around March 18th and had been escorted to stay at the Bishops Palace by Lord Dynham. (The palace had a reputation for opulence.) Unfortunately for her in circumstances that could not have been foreseen by her husband, Sir Hugh Courtenay of Powderham decided to raise a siege on Exeter shortly after her arrival. Indeed, Isabel had probably been sent to Exeter by Clarence so she would be well out of the way of any fighting and close to the sea in the event of needing to flee England. When Isabel’s husband and Father arrived at Exeter, they raised the siege also.

After arriving at York on Thursday the 22nd, the following day, Friday 23rd King Edward IV appointed the earl of Worcester as lieutenant of Ireland in place of Clarence and sent a message to the deputy Sir Edmund Dudley instructing him not to receive Warwick or Clarence if they turned up in Ireland as his Father the duke of York had done in 1459. The following day, Saturday 24th March Edward sent out a proclamation from York against Clarence and Warwick. If they appeared before him before March 28th then he would have them in his grace and favour, if not; they were to be treated as rebels and traitors and a reward of £1000 in cash or £100 yearly in land was offered to whoever captured them. This was a vast sum and probably swayed a lot of people.

The following day, Sunday 25th March, Edward restored Henry Percy to the earldom of Northumberland. Percy had been released from his long captivity in the Tower the previous October, it should be seen that Edward had had this scheme in mind as restoring the Percy family was a sure way of breaking the monopolised power of the Nevill’s in the north. John Nevill became the Marquis of Montagu. There were no lands to support such a title and none were forthcoming. The Marquessate was a hollow gift as John was left worse off after years of loyal service even against his own brothers. Just like Warwick before him; John had been rewarded for risking everything for Edward with Edward humiliating him.

Warwick has been much criticised – unfairly- for taking his wife and daughters, particularly Isabel with him to France. I have no doubt that had he left them behind then he would have been criticised for that also. Isabel herself was not only the daughter of Warwick, she was a royal duchess, carrying Clarence’s heir. There can be no doubt that if she had remained in England she would have most certainly fallen into the hands of Edward IV and she and her baby used as of hostages for the good behaviour of her husband and Father. It is likely that Isabel wanted to go with her family. Why would she not? With the impending birth of her first child she would have wanted to be with her loved ones, particularly her Mother and husband. The crossing was one she had made before, and the destination was Calais, where she had spent a good deal of her childhood and was therefore familiar to her.

In 1459 the duke of York, the earl of Salisbury, Warwick and Edward IV, then as the earl of March, and Edmund, the late earl of Rutland had fled Ludlow Castle following the abortive battle of Ludford Bridge. The duke of York left his duchess Cicely and her youngest children- Margaret, George- Clarence, and Richard (Richard III) behind. They’d been taken into custody and given over to Anne, the duchess of Buckingham, Cicely’s sister who apparently gave Cicely a lot of what can only be described as ‘verbal abuse.’ It is not unlikely that Clarence, having very vivid memories of this time, wanted to spare his wife the treatment that his Mother had suffered. Also, the Nevill’s seem to have been a much more close knit family. After the Ludford fiasco, Warwick’s own Mother the countess of Salisbury, Alice, had ended up in Ireland with the duke of York, when Warwick sailed to Ireland from Calais the following year he picked her up and took her back to Calais with him to be reunited with her husband.

In April 1470, Warwick and his family expected to sail to Calais and take up residence in their former home. We have the benefit of hindsight. Warwick could never have foreseen what was to befall them. This does not make him a bad Father, uncaring of his daughters, particularly Isabel. The very fact that Warwick- fleeing for his life- stopped at Warwick to collect his countess and youngest daughter is evidence of quite the opposite. The general idea is that Isabel too had to flee from Warwick Castle and make the long journey to the south coast on horseback with no thoughts to her condition by her Father and husband. This is a myth, unfortunately so often repeated within historical fiction it is now taken as fact.

Warwick sent his man Sir Geoffrey Gate to recover his ships in particular the Trinity from Southampton. However Lord Scales had been pre-warned by Edward and the attack was repulsed with a loss of men and ships. Meanwhile Edward had arrived at Exeter on the 14th of April, too late to capture Warwick and Clarence. He stayed just one night at Exeter and left behind his sword at the guildhall to remind everybody who was King. The sword remains there to this day. Attention then turned to men captured at sea. Twenty men were tried as traitors and condemned to death by the John Tiptoft earl of Worcester. They were then executed and in perverse fashion; Worcester had them impaled.

Meanwhile Warwick and his family were at sea heading for Calais. Unfortunately Edward had also sent word ahead to Lord Wenlock that Warwick or any of his kin were not to be admitted to Calais under any circumstances and were to be repulsed if they tried to enter the harbour. This order was explicit and duly carried out, on the 16th of April Warwick and his fleet were fired upon by the garrison at Calais.

During this, Isabel was in labour. Her baby, a son, was either stillborn or died shortly after birth and was buried at sea. Lord Wenlock; at Warwick’s request, sent wine out for Isabel probably to dull Isabel’s pain which is an indicator that sympathy was felt for the desperate plight but orders had to be followed. The order had come from King Edward who must have known that the pregnant Isabel and Anne were on board. It’s very unlikely that the Countess and Anne Nevill tended to Isabel alone. The duchess had had her ladies with her at Exeter and as she is later recorded as having her ladies with her in France, they must have been on board too. As touching as the often repeated tale of Anne Nevill and the countess of Warwick delivering Isabel’s child alone is; it is not true. As a measure of the very different personalities of Edward and Warwick when in power, the events of the following November must be noted.

Following Warwick’s invasion of England, the fact that John Nevill turned against Edward and joined his brother, forcing Edward into exile, the Queen was in a very difficult position. Like Isabel before her, she was heavily pregnant, carrying Edward’s heir. She fled into sanctuary with her children and Mother. However, this could not always guarantee safety, children were deemed innocents and had no need of sanctuary and had not claimed it themselves. Warwick, the ruler of England at this point with the weak and ineffectual Henry VI restored to the throne, could have removed her children from sanctuary. He could have even taken her newborn son, born on November 2nd 1470, away from her. He did none of these things. What he did do was send her usual midwife to her, a gift of wine, and a friend, Lady Scrope to keep her company.

It would have been ridiculously easy for Warwick to have removed the baby, Edward’s first legitimate male heir, and quietly ‘disposed’ of him. Babies died all of the time after all. He did nothing but ensure that Queen Elizabeth and her children were well. His dislike for Elizabeth could not have run that deeply if he was unwilling to force her from sanctuary- which he could have done as well as deprive her of her children. I believe that Warwicks dislike for the Wydvill’s was probably the male members of the family and perhaps the countess Jacquetta who does not appear to have been popular with anybody. He’d always behaved courteously towards Elizabeth herself, even though he did disapprove of her as Edward’s choice, which he most certainly was not alone in doing. Warwick’s behaviour, when scrutinised against that of Edward IV, shows him to have been the bigger man in the instance of women, pregnant women and children at least. Yet it is Warwick who is called the ‘bad Father.’

After the death of Isabel’s baby the situation for Warwick and his family was desperate. However they Warwick joined by Thomas, the bastard of Fauconberg (Warwick’s cousin) who’d broke away from Edward’s fleet under Lord Howard bringing with him ships and men. In a throwback to the 1450’s Warwick then began to commit acts of piracy. On 20th April they captured forty Burgundian and Breton ships. Some of these were subsequently lost to John, Lord Howard who fired upon Warwick’s ships and fourteen more lost to the new earl Rivers. But nonetheless, Warwick, Clarence, their wives and Anne, alongside their battered fleet took refuge in France, dropping anchor in the Seine estuary at Honfleur and Harfleur.

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Stained glass at Cardiff Castle depicting Isabel Nevill, 19th century. Detail of photograph by Wolfgang Sauber [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.
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