Warwick Castle During the Wars of the Roses

The castle of Warwick has a history dating back to the Saxon era, when Aethelflaed, Alfred the Great's daughter, ordered the building of its foundations in 914. The site has witnessed many historical events and decisive moments of the past, and also entertained a number of well-known visitors over the thousand years it has been standing. However it is probably more well-known for its ties to the fifteenth-century fight for the throne known today as the Wars of the Roses.

Probably the most obvious connection of the period is that of Richard Neville Earl of Warwick, who was also known as Warwick 'The Kingmaker'. Neville had the ability to sway the course of the conflict, serving the House of York initially, and then defecting to Lancaster. As he altered his course, the kings he backed ended up on the throne, until his death in 1471 at the Battle of Barnet. Following this, Edward IV re-established control and the Lancastrian king, Henry VI, was likely quietly murdered at the Tower of London. Neville was an exuberant character and generally well-liked. He was a generous host, with the sixteenth-century historian John Stow stating that when the earl came to London 'every tavern was full of his meat, for who that had any acquaintance in that house he should have had as much sodden and roast as he might carry upon a long dagger'.

Warwick Castle in 1752, Met Museum, Public Domain.

During the wars, Edward IV was held as a prisoner at Warwick Castle after he had been brought there from Wolvey, in Coventry. Warwick was a large and secure fortress and would have safely held the royal prisoner. He was moved to Middleham Castle in Yorkshire and later fled the realm, gaining support from his brother-in-law in Burgundy.

Many of the wars' characters walked through the castle's corridors. Richard III was said to have visited in 1483, in the first year of his reign, and again in 1484. Anne Beauchamp, Richard Neville's wife and Countess of Warwick (the earl actually held the title in her right), would have known the site well, along with their daughters Isabel and Anne. Anne, later crowned Richard III's queen, was born inside the castle in 1456. Today, these women are remembered in a genealogy painted on one of the inner walls of the castle

Margaret Beauchamp, a half-sister of the Kingmaker's countess, married her husband here. He was John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury and the couple would play a central role in the early Wars of the Roses, especially through their feuds with the Berkeley family. It is likely too, that Alice Montacute Countess of Salisbury and her husband Richard Neville visited the castle during the early years of the wars. They were the Kingmaker's parents, and were staunch supporters of the Yorkist cause. Both were attainted in the Devil's Parliament by Henry VI in 1460.

In 1470 the castle witnessed a serious allegation levelled at Jacquetta Woodville, Duchess of Bedford and the mother of Edward IV's queen, Elizabeth Woodville. Thomas Wake arrived at the castle gates in that year, carrying 'an image of lead made like a man of arms of the length of a man's finger broken in the middle and made fast with wire'. Insisting that it had been made by Jacquetta, it was used to try and discredit the noblewoman and blacken the Yorkist royal family by implying her use of witchcraft. The matter was resolved in 1471 by Edward IV, who dismissed the charges and cleared his mother in law's name. 

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick - seen at Warwick Castle (Jo Romero)

George Duke of Clarence, the changeable and volatile younger brother of Edward IV also lived at the castle with his wife Isabel Neville, daughter of the Earl of Warwick. She was here after the birth of her son in the winter of 1476 and was waited upon by a substantial and disciplined household. One of the gentlewomen providing the duchess with companionship and household support was Ankarette Twynhoe. After Isabel's early and sudden death soon after the birth, the widowed grandmother based in Somerset was accused by Clarence of poisoning his wife without evidence. She was bustled onto a horse to Warwick where she was tried, Clarence staring down the jurors, and executed in the nearby town. Clarence soon afterwards was executed, as legend states, by being drowned in a barrel of malmsey wine.

Enjoyed this? You can find out more about these women of Warwick Castle and other women of the period in my book, Forgotten Women of the Wars of the Roses, published by Pen and Sword Books. Order your copy here.

Want to see more posts like this? Sign up to my newsletter!

Notes: Own research, explained in more detail in Forgotten Women of the Wars of the Roses by Jo Romero, above. Also Windle, Shakespeare's Country, 1899.