Isabel Neville was born on 5 September 1451 at Warwick Castle as the elder daughter of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick (the Kingmaker), and Anne de Beauchamp, 16th Countess of Warwick in her own right. She was joined in the nursery by a younger sister named Anne (later Queen as the wife of King Richard III) on 11 June 1456. The girls had a mini-establishment, away from their parents, headed by a governess.
The family relocated to Calais in 1457 as Isabel’s father had been appointed as Captain of Calais. Her father was deeply involved in the Wars of the Roses, and it would change the sisters’ 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, Isabel’s base was Middleham Castle, and she and her sister may have attended key events at court. Anne and Isabel received a traditional upbringing for girls of that time. Isabel and her family were certainly present for the christening of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville’s first child, Elizabeth of York, in 1466.
On 12 July 1469, Isabel married the younger brother of King Edward IV – George, Duke of Clarence – at Calais. The wedding was undoubtedly also attended by the bride’s parents, and possibly even the groom’s mother, Cecily. This meant that Isabel was now a royal Duchess, but her father and her new husband planned to remove King Edward IV from the throne, but it all went belly up. Isabel had fallen pregnant shortly after the wedding, and she went into labour as they fled to Calais, but their ship was denied entry to the harbour. Tragically, the child was stillborn on 17 April 1470 as Isabel was denied the help of a midwife and had only her mother to help her. Sources differ on the sex of the child and it was either taken ashore at Calais or was buried at sea. They were finally able to disembark at Normandy on 1 May. The Duke of Clarence managed to reconcile with the King and Isabel took up her place at court as the second lady of the land.
However, her father was still not ready to concede and sided with Queen Margaret, the wife of King Henry VI who had been deposed by King Edward IV. She and her son Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, were in France, waiting for their chance. Isabel’s sister Anne was duly betrothed to Edward on 25 July 1470 before finally being married sometime in December. The invading forces returned to England the following April, having been held back by storms. Isabel’s father was killed in battle that same April and her mother fled into sanctuary. Edward of Westminster was killed in battle as well, making Anne a widow at the age of 14. Anne was eventually released into the custody of her sister and the Duke of Clarence.
It soon became apparent that Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, Edward and George’s younger brother, was interested in marrying Anne 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.
The Duke of Clarence was granted Isabel’s part of the Warwick inheritance in return for his defection back to King Edward. They would have preferred not to see Anne marry again, in order to keep the entire inheritance. Conveniently, their mother – still in sanctuary – was declared legally dead in order to divide the inheritance. On 14 August 1473, Isabel gave birth to her second child, a daughter named Margaret. On 25 February 1475, she gave birth to her third child, a son named Edward. It wasn’t long before she was pregnant with her fourth child, and on 6 October 1476, she gave birth to a second son, named Richard. Tragically, little Richard would die just three months later.
Isabel herself would not see the new year. Though it is unclear what she died of exactly, Isabel died on 22 December 1476. Her husband accused one of her ladies-in-waiting of her murder the following April. Ankarette Twynho was suspected of poisening Isabel by giving her “a venomous drink of ale mixed with poison.”1 In a single day, Ankarette was tried, indicted and hanged. She was pardoned by King Edward IV, though poor Ankarette was no less dead by it.
Isabel, Duchess of Clarence, was buried behind the high altar of Tewkesbury Abbey, where she would be joined not much later by her husband, after his execution for treason. Their children were taken into the household of Isabel’s sister Anne. Tragically, their father’s fate would be their own. Both eventually ended up on the scaffold.2