House of Neville
House of Neville
Armorial of Neville
Country Kingdom of England, United Kingdom Titles Founder Uhtred Current head Christopher Nevill, 6th Marquess of Abergavenny
The House of Neville (also the House of Nevill) is a noble house of early medieval origin, which was a leading force in English politics in the later middle ages. The family became one of the two major powers in northern England along with the House of Percy and played a central role in the Wars of the Roses.
The Neville family is first attested after the Norman conquest of England, during which most of the existing aristocracy of England were dispossessed and replaced by a new Norman ruling elite. However, despite the French surname they later assumed, the family's male line was of native origin, and they had probably been part of the pre-conquest aristocracy of Northumbria. The survival of such native landowning families was considerably more common in the more northerly parts of England than further south.
The family can be traced back to one Uhtred, whose son Dolfin is first attested in 1129, holding the estate of Staindrop in County Durham. This locality remained the principal seat of the family until 1569, their chief residence being at Raby, just north of the village of Staindrop, where in the 14th century they built the present Raby Castle. Dolfin was succeeded by his son Meldred and he in turn by his son Robert, who married the Norman heiress Isabel de Néville. Their son Geoffrey inherited the estates of his mother's family as well as his father's, and adopted their surname, which was borne by his descendants thereafter. In Norman-ruled England a French surname was more prestigious and socially advantageous than an English one. Already before the Néville marriage the family was a major power in the area: "In the extent of their landed possessions this family, holding on obdurately to native names for a full hundred years after 1066, was pre-eminent among the lay proprietors within the bishopric of Durham during the twelfth century".
In the 16th century the Nevilles claimed that their ancestor Uhtred was descended from Crinan of Dunkeld, ancestor of the Scottish royal House of Dunkeld. As well as prestigious ancient connections with the royal families of both England and Scotland, this claim entailed a line of descent from the Bamburgh dynasty of Earls of Northumbria, attaching the Nevilles' later power in the north to a pedigree of pre-eminence in the region stretching back at least as far as the early 10th century. Modern genealogists have put forward a variety of different speculative theories to connect Uhtred with his purported forebears, but none of these is supported by any direct evidence.
Rise to power
The family's wealth and power grew steadily over the following centuries. Their regional power benefited greatly from frequent appointment to royal offices such as sheriff, castellan, justice of the forest and justice of the peace in various parts of northern England. This prominent office-holding began with Geoffrey de Neville's son Robert, in the reign of Henry III, whom Robert supported against the barons under Simon de Montfort. The Nevilles also held administrative office under the prince-bishops of Durham. Robert's grandson Ralph Neville was one of the founding members of the Peerage of England, being summoned to sit in the House of Lords at its establishment in 1295 and thus initiating the line of Barons Neville de Raby. Service in the wars of the late 13th and 14th centuries against Scotland and later in the Hundred Years War in France was of key importance in further magnifying the family's standing. In 1334 Ralph Neville, Lord of Raby was appointed one of the wardens of the marches, the chief officers for frontier defence, and the Nevilles habitually occupied these posts thereafter. Ralph commanded the force that crushed an invading Scottish army at the Battle of Neville's Cross outside Durham and captured King David II in 1346. In the mid-14th century the Nevilles became involved in naval defence as well, holding the post of Admiral of the North. This period also saw them begin to hold high office at court and in the Church: the victor of Neville's Cross served as Steward of the Royal Household and on his death was succeeded in the office by his eldest son John, while John's brother Alexander became Archbishop of York and a close advisor of Richard II.
Earls of Westmorland
By the late 14th century the family had acquired an extensive array of estates across northern England. Besides their original powerbase in County Durham, they possessed another very large, coherent block of land in the North Riding of Yorkshire and major holdings in Cumberland and Northumberland. They also held scattered estates in Lancashire and further south in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Essex. In addition to Raby, they owned important castles at Brancepeth near Durham and Sheriff Hutton, Middleham and Snape in northern Yorkshire. The potential of these lands as a source of political power was increased by the unusually dense concentration of the family's northern estates, creating a large expanse of country in which the Nevilles enjoyed overwhelming, uncontested dominance.
The Nevilles' emergence into the highest echelon of the aristocracy received formal recognition in 1397 when the then Lord of Raby Ralph Neville was created Earl of Westmorland by Richard II. By this time the Nevilles' power in the north was matched only by the Percy Earls of Northumberland, with whom they developed an acrimonious rivalry. These competing northern magnates enjoyed an exceptional degree of autonomy from royal authority, owing to the remoteness and insecurity of the region where they were established. The king, whose court was based in the south, had to rely on powerful lords from both houses to protect the border from Scottish invasion, counterbalance each other's influence, and help with general governance.
While the family had previously been close to Richard II, and suffered at the hands of the Lords Appellant as a result, Earl Ralph was quick to join Henry Bolingbroke when he landed in England to overthrow Richard in 1399. Shortly after Bolingbroke's successful seizure of power and accession to the throne as Henry IV, Westmorland was rewarded with a royal bride, the new king's sister Joan Beaufort. Henry extended Richard II's policy of bolstering the strength of the Nevilles as a check to the troublesome Percies, and the family gained from the weakening of Percy power after the failure of the revolt of Henry "Hotspur" Percy in 1403.
The Wars of the Roses
While increasing the political standing of the Nevilles, the royal marriage also led to a serious split in the family. Earl Ralph had previously been married to Margaret de Stafford, and the earldom of Westmorland descended through his son by this marriage. However, he favoured his sons by his second marriage, who received the bulk of the family lands on his death, leading to bitter disputes over the inheritance and lasting estrangement between the Nevilles of Raby, descended from Margaret Stafford, and the Nevilles of Middleham, descended from Joan Beaufort. In addition to this rich inheritance, Ralph's eldest son by Joan, Richard Neville, acquired the earldom of Salisbury by marriage to its heiress, while Salisbury's own eldest son Richard became Earl of Warwick by the same means.
Salisbury and Warwick became the most important supporters of the Yorkist pretender to the throne Richard, Duke of York during the early stages of the Wars of the Roses. Salisbury's sister Cecily had married York and was the mother of the future kings Edward IV and Richard III. York and Salisbury were both killed at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460, but Warwick helped York's son Edward, Earl of March, to oust Henry VI and gain the throne as Edward IV a few months later. The Percies were among the principal supporters of the Lancastrian cause, and after the death of Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland in the decisive Lancastrian defeat at the Battle of Towton in 1461 the Nevilles secured their greatest triumph over their rivals, acquiring the earldom of Northumberland for Warwick's brother John in 1465. However, in 1469 the Percy heir was reconciled with Edward and regained the family inheritance the following year; John Neville was compensated with titular elevation as Marquess of Montagu.
Warwick, now by far the richest man in England after the king, was the power behind the throne in Edward's regime during its early years, but the two men later fell out. This was due in large part to the king's secret marriage in 1464 to Elizabeth Woodville, humiliating Warwick who had negotiated an agreement with Louis XI of France for Edward to marry the French king's sister-in-law, and to the subsequent influence of the Woodvilles, who successfully opposed Warwick over foreign policy. In 1469 Warwick seized control of government in conjunction with his brother George Neville, Archbishop of York and Edward's own brother George, Duke of Clarence. They imprisoned the king and sought to rule in his name, but the new regime was unable to impose its authority and Edward was released. After the failure of a second rebellion, which aimed to put Clarence on the throne, Warwick and his allies were forced to flee abroad, where they made common cause with the exiled Lancastrians. This alliance between old Lancastrians and disaffected Yorkists briefly restored Henry VI to the throne in 1470, but Edward IV soon counter-attacked successfully and Warwick and Montagu were killed at the Battle of Barnet in 1471. Their estates were confiscated and formed the core of the colossal agglomeration of northern lands acquired by Edward's brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the future Richard III.
Reflecting the estrangement between the two branches of the family, the Raby Nevilles led by Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland had sided with the Lancastrians from the outset; Westmorland's brother John Neville, Lord of Raby was killed in the defeat at Towton. The earl himself emerged from the wars unscathed, but the loss of most of the ancestral estates through their inheritance by the Middleham Nevilles and the subsequent downfall of that branch of the family left the Nevilles a much diminished force.
The regional power of the northern magnates, already severely weakened by the losses suffered in the Wars of the Roses, was sharply curtailed by the increasing strength of central government in the late 15th and 16th centuries. In 1569 the Nevilles and Percies buried their traditional rivalry to undertake the Revolt of the Northern Earls, an attempt to overthrow Elizabeth I and replace her with the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots. The rebellion was a fiasco, and the Earl of Westmorland, Charles Neville, fled into exile abroad. He was attainted in his absence, losing his title and lands, and left no male heir, thus extinguishing the senior Neville line.
However, a junior branch of the family survived, descended from one of the first Earl's sons by Joan Beaufort and holding the title Baron Bergavenny. Mary Neville the daughter of Henry Nevill, 6th Baron Bergavenny fought a long legal battle to be recognised as heiress to all the Neville inheritance but in the end the lands of the family were split between herself and her cousin Sir Edward Neville. Her son Francis Fane, 1st Earl of Westmorland inherited through her the titles of Baron Bergavenny and Baron le Despencer; through him, the Neville family's senior title Earl of Westmorland passed to the Fane family, where it remains today.
Sir Edward Neville's descendants went on to be raised to the status of Earls and then Marquesses of Abergavenny. This line still continues; the present head of the family is Christopher Nevill, 6th Marquess of Abergavenny.
Title Held Designation and details Baron Neville de Raby 1295–1571 Created by writ in the Peerage of England in 1295 when Ralph Neville was summoned to Parliament. Attainted in 1571. Earl of Westmorland 1397–1571 Created in the Peerage of England in 1397 for Ralph Neville, 4th Baron Neville de Raby. Attainted in 1571. Earl of Salisbury 1428–1471 Richard Neville the son of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, married Alice Montacute the heiress of Thomas Montacute, 4th Earl of Salisbury and inherited the title. Attainted in 1471 Baron Fauconberg 1429–1463 William Neville, the son of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, married Joan Fauconberg, daughter of Thomas de Fauconberg, 5th Baron Fauconberg, and became Baron Fauconberg jure uxoris. Abeyant on his death in 1463. Baron Latymer 1432–1577 Created in the Peerage of England by writ in 1432 when George Nevill, the son of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland was summoned to Parliament. Abeyant in 1577. Baron Bergavenny 1447–1938 Created in the Peerage of England by writ in 1447 when Edward Nevill, the son of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland was summoned to Parliament. Abeyant in 1938. Earl of Warwick 1449–1471 Richard Neville, the son of Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury, married Anne Beauchamp, the heiress of Richard de Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick and became Earl of Warwick jure uxoris. Attainted in 1471. Baron Montagu 1461–1471 Created in the Peerage of England by writ in 1461 when John Neville, the son of Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury was summoned to Parliament. Attainted in 1471. Earl of Kent 1461–1463 William Neville, 6th Baron Fauconberg created Earl of Kent in the Peerage of England in 1461. Extinct on his death in 1463. Earl of Northumberland 1465–1470 John Neville, 1st Baron Montagu created Earl of Northumberland in the Peerage of England in 1465, following the death and attainder of Henry Percy, 3rd Earl of Northumberland. Deprived in 1470, for the title to be restored to Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland. Marquess of Montagu 1470–1471 Created in the Peerage of England in 1470 for John Neville, 1st Earl of Northumberland. Attainted in 1471. Duke of Bedford 1470–1478 George Neville, son of John Neville, 1st Marquess of Montagu created Duke of Bedford in the Peerage of England in 1470. Deprived by Act of Parliament in 1478. Earl of Abergavenny 1784–1938 Created in the Peerage of Great Britain in 1784 for George Neville, 17th Baron Bergavenny. Abeyant in 1938. Marquess of Abergavenny 1876–1938 Created in the Peerage of Great Britain in 1876 for William Neville, 5th Earl of Abergavenny. Abeyant in 1938. Earl of Lewes 1876–1938 Created in the Peerage of Great Britain in 1876 for William Neville, 5th Earl of Abergavenny. Abeyant in 1938.
Members in the male line
- 1. Ralph de Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, 1364 - 1425
- A. John Neville, Lord Neville (d. 1420)
- B. Sir Ralph Neville (d. 1458)
- C. Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury, 1400 - 1460
- D. Robert Neville, d. 1457, Bishop of Durham
- E. William Neville, 1st Earl of Kent, 1410 - 1463
- I. Anthony Neville, Lord Grey
- F. Edward Nevill, 3rd Baron Bergavenny, 1414 - 1476
- I. Richard Nevill, 1439 - 1476
- II. George Nevill, 4th Baron Bergavenny, 1440 - 1492
- a. George Nevill, 5th Baron Bergavenny, 1469 - 1535
- i. Henry Nevill, 6th Baron Bergavenny, 1527 - 1587
- b. Edward Neville, 1471 - 1538
- i. Edward Nevill, 7th Baron Bergavenny, 1526 - 1588
- a. George Nevill, 5th Baron Bergavenny, 1469 - 1535
- ^ Offler, Charters, 122 (no. 29)
- ^ Round, Feudal England, 370-2
- ^ Offler, 'FitzMeldred, Neville and Hansard', 3
- ^ Wagner, English Ancestry, 16-17
- ^ Round, Feudal England, 370-2; Offler, 'FitzMeldred, Neville and Hansard', 2-3; Wagner, English Ancestry, 16-17; Wagner, Pedigree and Progress, 51, 210
- ^ Young, Making of the Neville Family, 82-6
- ^ Young, Making of the Neville Family, 100
- ^ Young, Making of the Neville Family, 100-2, 112-24
- ^ Young, Making of the Neville Family, 114
- ^ Young, Making of the Neville Family, 119-24
- ^ Young, Making of the Neville Family, 125-35
- ^ Young, Making of the Neville Family, 130, 137
- ^ Young, Making of the Neville Family, 137
- ^ Young, Making of the Neville Family, 137-9
- ^ Young, Making of the Neville Family, 143, 145-7
- ^ Young, Making of the Neville Family, 145-7
- Collins, Arthur (1982). Peerage of England, Volume 5. F. C. and J. Rivington. http://books.google.com/books?id=x1I5AAAAMAAJ&pg=PA151&dq=crinan+neville.
- Offler, Hilary S., Durham Episcopal Charters 1071-1152 (Gateshead 1968)
- Offler, Hilary S., 'FitzMeldred, Neville and Hansard', North of the Tees - studies in medieval British history (Aldershot 1996), XIII
- Round, John H., Feudal England - historical studies on the eleventh and twelfth centuries (London 1895, 3rd ed. London 1964)
- Wagner, Anthony (1961). English Ancestry. Oxford University Press. http://books.google.com/books?id=xv0cAAAAYAAJ&q=crinan+neville&dq=crinan+neville&pgis=1.
- Wagner, Anthony, Pedigree and Progress - essays in the genealogical interpretation of history (London and Chichester 1975)
- Wagner, Anthony (2001). Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. ABC CLIO. ISBN 1851093583. http://books.google.com/books?id=ubXnWRMt6uoC&dq=neville+percy+%22northern+england%22.
- Young, Charles R., The Making of the Neville Family in England 1166-1400 (Woodbridge 1996)
- 1. Ralph de Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, 1364 - 1425
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