Sir Richard Neville Earl of Salisbury's Effigy at Burghfield, Berkshire

Driving back from a bit of shopping at Reading, we took a detour on the way home to visit an effigy I'd been wanting to see for ages. 

Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury's Arms (Wikimedia, from a 1901 depiction)

Richard Neville was the father of 'The Kingmaker', the Earl of Warwick, who played such a crucial role during the Wars of the Roses. Married to Alice Montacute, he held the Salisbury title in her name, Alice being the heir of the Earl of Salisbury, who died in 1428.

Salisbury with his wife, Alice Montacute (Wikimedia)

Richard was an active soldier on the side of the Yorkists during the Wars although he had been loyal to the Lancastrians. He played prominent roles at Katharine de Valois' and later, Henry VI's coronations, serving with the army in Scotland and France. In the mid-1450s he took the side of the Duke of York in the Wars of the Roses, fighting at Blore Heath in 1459. He was attainted, with the Duke of York, Earl of Warwick and his wife Alice, among others, in the famous 'Devil's Parliament' held at Coventry, for rising against the king. Later, while the Yorkists were fighting at Northampton in 1460 Salisbury stayed behind in London to hold the city against the Lancastrians. He was captured after the Battle of Wakefield in Yorkshire in 1460 and executed 31 December of that year.

After his death, Salisbury's body was taken to the Neville mausoleum at Bisham Abbey in Berkshire, near Marlow. Now a private wedding and events venue, it's not open daily to the public. After the abbey's Dissolution under Henry VIII, Neville's effigy was moved to St Mary's Church, Burghfield, for reasons I haven't been able to discover. Along with him came the effigy of a woman, but it seems of an earlier time to Neville's, as she wears a headdress fashionable in the fourteenth century. Only his effigy came to Burghfield, his body still lies in Bisham with others of the Neville family including his wife Alice. 

Richard Neville's effigy at Burghfield

As you enter the porch of Burghfield church, Richard Neville's effigy is in front of you on the right hand side of the wall there. It's obviously worn, perhaps even intentionally damaged over time - but there are hints that it would once have been very detailed and life-like. Crouching down, you can see patiently-carved fibres in his short, cropped bob-like hair. His ear is also realistically carved. A small portion of his Yorkist livery collar - alternating suns and roses - can also be seen over his shoulder. This would once have laid over his chest. 

Salisbury from his son the Earl of Warwick's effigy -
the Burghfield effigy would once have looked similar  Wikimedia

Detail of Neville's effigy, showing the collar of suns and roses

There's also a tiny hint of a hand, most likely an angel which would have once held a tasselled cushion propping up Salisbury's head. I have no doubt that when freshly carved, this effigy would have been beautifully detailed and probably portrayed a real likeness of the earl. 

Details of the buckles/fixings on Salisbury's armour

No part of his face remains, and although his upper body has been badly worn, you can see where he would once have had his hands clasped in prayer at his chest. His legs have also been broken off, but you can see carved remains of the clasps and buckles in his armour on the waist. 

I've been doing a lot of research into the Wars of the Roses lately for the new book I'll have coming out, and to come and visit the effigy of the husband of one of the women I've been researching was really special. Salisbury lived a full life at the centre of the Wars, and by all accounts was a brave and loyal soldier. He would never live to see Edward IV come to the throne the following year and his son achieve a major part in government. I was really glad to have finally been able to see it. 

You might also like Medieval Treason in Reading 1444, How Dangerous Was a Medieval Joust in England? , The Castle in the Wars of the Roses, and the Mysterious Disappearance of Sir Francis Lovell. 

I explore the stories of some of the women in Richard Neville's life in my book Forgotten Women of the Wars of the Roses, published by Pen and Sword. They include Cecily Neville, Anne Countess of Warwick and Anne Neville.  Order your copy here. 

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Cokayne, The Complete Peerage, vol 7. p36-37.