Since we’re all still recovering from the Red Wedding and what not, let me share with you one of my favorite medieval stories (that is, this is about a historical event, not a fictional tale). George R. R. Martin’s works are based, in part, on fifteenth century England’s War of the Roses, which is my favorite time period. And so this story.
Like Westeros, medieval England was full of noble families constantly shifting alliances. These alliances were often glued, sewn, and patched together through marriage. In the 1460s, the most powerful man in England was not the king, but Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. Holder of various northern lands worth an income of nearly 4,000 pounds, married to a rich heiress, he was known as The Kingmaker. His support helped place Edward IV of York on the throne and depose Henry VI of Lancaster.
But Warwick lacked one asset: sons. His heirs were two daughters, Isabel (or Isobel) and Anne. They (and their husbands) each stood to inherit half of their father’s lands and fortunes. Edward IV, whom Warwick had helped place on the throne, had already married, so no further alliance could be made there. French or Spanish grooms could strengthen alliances, but could also bring too much foreign control into England. Unfortunately, Warwick lost one of his pawns when the king’s younger brother, George, Duke of Clarence, secretly married Isabel in 1469. It’s clear that George did this in a bid to gain money and power, but the Yorks and Nevilles were cousins, and George and Isabel had probably known each other as children. One hopes they at least liked each other a little.
Warwick grew dissatisfied with the king’s policies. George, Duke of Clarence, also grew estranged from his brother, wanting more power for himself. Warwick found himself able to put another king on the throne: he’d lead a rebellion that’d lead to the re-instatement of deposed king Henry VI. George joined his side, turning against his brother.
To seal this new alliance, Warwick agreed to marry his daughter Anne to Henry VI’s son, Edward. Both were teenagers; Anne was married at age 14 in 1470 and (spoiler alert) widowed at 15 a year later. George, however, felt slighted in these proceedings: for helping to depose his brother, his only reward would be to be made king if Edward and Anne had no children. (Though at least he could console himself with his lands and wealth.)
In 1470, rebellion broke out against Edward IV (who just a decade earlier had led a rebellion against Henry VI), led by Warwick and George. In 1471, both Warwick and Edward (Henry VI’s son and Anne’s husband) were killed in battle. George decided to back his brother after all. And one of Edward IV’s most capable military leaders turned out to be his brother, 19-year-old Richard. (Spoiler alert: Richard eventually becomes hunchbacked child-murderer Richard III.) As thanks, Edward bequeathed a number of titles and lands on his brother.
In the meantime, Richard began showing interest in Anne, now George’s ward. George did not want Anne to remarry, as he wanted the entire inheritance for himself. Richard probably did want some of that wealth and power, but we do know Richard and Anne had known each other as children. Once married, they always shared a bed, quite unusual for upper class couples of the time. At her death, Richard ordered a mass for “his dearest consort, Anne” (as cited in Ashdown-Hill, 2010, p. 19).
But here is my favorite story, which comes from the Croyland Chronicle. This is a history recorded at the Abbey of Croyland. It’s not unbiased, but it is contemporary. While we can’t be certain this story is 100% true, I’d like to think so. (And in terms of propaganda, most of the later stuff about Richard III is quite negative, unlike this story.)
At Michaelmas (late September) 1471, Richard discussed marrying Anne with his brother George. George tried to put him off, finally saying he didn’t know where Anne was. In fact, George had hidden Anne from Richard. He had sent her to London disguised as a cookmaid (another version of the tale suggests she escaped and disguised herself). Richard, however, would not be deterred and investigated the matter. He eventually found Anne and took her to sanctuary. In the meantime, the brothers continued to argue about the marriage. Finally, their older brother, King Edward, stepped in. He declared that Richard could marry Anne. As a consequence, though, Anne would receive a smaller portion of the inheritance. Anne and Richard married in 1472, and it seems to have been a happy one, though they suffered the loss of a son (and possibly other children) and Anne herself died at the age of 30 in 1485.
Very little is known about Anne; the few descriptions and images of her are in the generic, contemporary terms that one would apply to any highborn lady: she was lovely and fair. Her portrait shows a woman with golden hair, a high forehead, and shapely eyebrows. During her reign, the writer of the Croyland Chronicle describes her at Christmas time: “vain changes of dress ““ similar in color and design ““ of Queen Anne and of the Lady Elizabeth, daughter of the late king” (as cited in Ashdown-Hill, 2010, p. 17).
Still, she must have had an amazing strength of character: married and widowed so young, passed between both sides of a long civil war, forced to endure a greedy brother-in-law. Whether she was hidden or she escaped herself, enduring the kitchen in a London house must have been difficult for a high-born lady. She never wielded a sword, but her bravery is admirable. More Sansa than Arya, she is a historical figure I’ve always loved, and one I wish I could know more about.
Works Cited and Further Reading
Ashdown-Hill, J. (2010). The last days of Richard III. London: The History Press.
Croyland Abbey. (n.d.) The Croyland Chronicle. (Henry T. Riley, trans.) Richard III Society– American branch. Retrieved from:http://newr3.dreamhosters.com/?page_id=514
Hallam, E, Ed. (1997). The chronicles of the Wars of the Roses. Wayne, NH: CLB.
Murph, R. C. (1984). “Richard III: The making of a legend.” Richard III Society– American branch. Retrieved from: http://www.r3.org/on-line-library-text-essays/roxane-c-murph-richard-iii-the-making-of-a-legend/
Orr, D. (2011, August 12). Dragons ascendant: George R. R. Martin and the rise of fantasy. The New York times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/14/books/review/george-r-r-martin-and-the-rise-of-fantasy.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0