Anne Neville was born on 11 June 1456 as the daughter of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, also known as the Kingmaker, and Anne de Beauchamp, 16th Countess of Warwick at Warwick Castle. She was born into one of the leading aristocratic families of the time, but wealth would not isolate her from the dangers of childhood mortality. She had an elder sister named Isabel, who was five years older than her. Before her first birthday, the family relocated to Calais as her father had been appointed as Captain of Calais. Her father was deeply involved in the Wars of the Roses, and it would change Anne’s life forever. Around 1464, the Neville family packed up their bags and planned to return to England permanently with the Yorkist King Edward IV in power.
For the next few years, Anne’s base was Middleham Castle, and she and her sister may have attended key events at court. Anne’s future husband and brother of King Edward IV, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, probably joined their household around 1464. Anne and Isabel received a traditional upbringing for girls of that time. Anne and her family were certainly present for the christening of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville’s first child, Elizabeth of York, in 1466. Her sister Isabel married the King’s brother, George, Duke of Clarence on 12 July 1469. However, Edward was certainly not stable on the throne, and during the following years, Anne and her father ended up on the Lancastrian side of the battle. Ever the Kingmaker, her father had been instrumental in placing Edward IV on the throne, and now he saw someone easier to manage – the deposed and mentally unstable King Henry VI. His wife was the formidable Margaret of Anjou, and they also happened to have a son around Anne’s age. We don’t know whose idea the marriage was, but Anne was probably not consulted.
On 25 July 1470, Anne and Edward of Westminster, the Prince of Wales, were formally betrothed in the cathedral at Angers. The subsequent marriage and consummation were conditional upon her father proving himself in the battle against King Edward IV. Anne’s feelings about her fiance are not left to us. It appeared that her father was successful but Margaret, Edward and Anne did not depart for England immediately. In November, Margaret was received in Paris as a Queen. However, Margaret kept delaying her return and in December Anne and Edward finally went through a wedding ceremony, shortly after the last of their three dispensations arrived. The match was probably consummated around that time, giving it the final legitimacy. They finally returned to England the following April, having been held back by storms. Anne’s father was killed in battle that same April and her mother fled into sanctuary. Margaret and Anne ended up at Tewkesbury where their fate was decided.
As Anne’s husband went into battle, Anne and Margaret did not stay behind to watch. He was killed in the battle, and so Anne became a widow at the age of 14. Anne and Margaret were now at the mercy of King Edward IV. The Duke of Clarence had fought with his brother, and now Anne and her sister were enemies. Anne and Margaret were taken to the King at Coventry, and they appeared before him on 11 May. Margaret was sent to the Tower where her husband was also still being held. Anne was released into the custody of her sister and the Duke of Clarence. Just a short while later, King Henry VI was killed in the Tower. Margaret had now lost both her husband and her son. She would eventually be ransomed by her French relatives and lived out her life in France.
It soon became clear that Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, her old childhood friend, was interested in marrying her but the Duke of Clarence would have none of it. Their courtship may have been romantic, or it was all calculated, we simply don’t know. On 16 February 1472, Anne fled from her sister’s household and into sanctuary at the London collegiate church of St Martin-le-Grand. She remained there until July waiting for the dispensation to arrive. Their wedding was probably celebrated that summer, but we don’t have an exact date. Anne – perhaps finally at peace – lived at Middleham Castle where their first and only child was born by at least April 1477. It was a son named Edward. She may have suffered the loss of other children, but they were not recorded. During the years ahead, Richard was often away for sessions of parliament while Anne ran their homes. At the end of 1476, Anne’s sister died aged only 25 and her two young children, 3-year-old Margaret and almost 2-year-old Edward came into Anne’s household not much later. The strange behaviour of their father probably sped up the process. George, Duke of Clarence, was convinced that Isabel had been poisoned and that he was going to be poisoned also and that his brother the King was going to do it. George was arrested and was executed in the Tower of London the following February.1