3 November 2014

Researching Warwick: The Man behind The Wars of the Roses


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Little is known about the early life of Sir Richard Neville,  Earl of Warwick, also known of as the 'kingmaker'. Even the chroniclers who wrote of events during his lifetime are likely to have embellished their accounts, according to their political perspective. These stories eventually found their way into popular ballads and poetry, so many myths and legends developed about him.

Richard Neville’s importance also meant others learned of his exploits through newsletters and handbills, pinned on church doors, used as source material by later chroniclers, who in turn will have been writing from a particular point of view. Even accounts of his life by modern historians and biographers fail to agree on key issues.

What is clear is that Richard Neville was one of the most important men in fifteenth century England. He owned extensive lands in Wales, including Cardiff Castle, and was responsible for many years for controlling the border with Scotland. A key figure in what have become known as ‘The Wars of the Roses,’ he fought in most of the important battles.

Writers from Shakespeare to Michael Hicks and Philippa Gregory have tried to show what sort of man Richard Neville must have been, with quite different results. Sometimes he is portrayed as the skilled political manipulator behind the throne, shaping events for his own advantage. Others describe him as the ‘last of the Barons’, ruling his fiefdom like an uncrowned king. Whatever the truth, his story is one of adventure, power and influence at the heart of one of the most dangerous times in the history of England.

It can be a challenge for the reader of historical fiction to understand which events are based on fact and which are pure fiction. I have tried through my extensive research to ensure that all the events, people and places named in this novel are based on historical facts, verifiable from several sources.

The only exceptions are the two people who play important roles in Richard’s life, his loyal squire and his mistress. Richard Neville had several squires throughout his life yet their names are lost. There are many accounts of how he surrounded himself with men who would lay down their lives to protect him, so Luke Tully represents them all. I thought I had discovered the name of the mother of Richard’s illegitimate daughter Margaret, then found it couldn’t be verified, so unlike the biographies where she vanishes into the background, I have been able to suggest the part she may have played in Richard’s early life.

In the course of the research for this book I enjoyed learning about the lives of people in the fifteenth century and the chance discoveries that bring it all to life. One such ‘find’ was the exploration of the life of Richard’s daughter Margaret. I read that one of her ancestors was the anti-hero of the mutiny on the Bounty, Fletcher Christian. With a little digging I managed to find what may be the line of descent:

Richard Nevill. By an unknown woman he had issue:
Margaret Neville, She married Sir John Huddleston of Teesdale and had issue:
Joan Huddleston married Antony Fleming and had issue:
Antony Fleming of Rydel, d.1537. He had issue:
William Fleming of Rydel, d.1598. He had issue:
Eleanor Fleming married John Lowther d.1637 and had issue:
Agnes Lowther married Roger Kirkby and had issue:
William Kirkby of Aslack married unknown and had issue:
Eleanor Kirky married Humphrey Senhouse and had issue:
Bridget Senhouse, b.1696 in Deerham and died 1744. She married John
Christian (b.1688) and had issue:
Charles Christian, b.1729 and d.1768. He married Anne Dixon (b.1730) and had
issue:
Fletcher Christian, b.SEP 25 1764 and d.OCT 3 1793.

(I like to think that some of Richard Neville’s character shines through in Fletcher Christian’s actions)


Tony Riches 

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