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Earl Ralph, surpassing all his keen and prolific ancestors not only in the success with which he pushed his fortunes, but in the enormous family which he reared, had become the father of no less than twenty-three children by his two wives. Nine were the offspring of Margaret of Stafford, fourteen of Joan of Beaufort. John, the heir of Westmoreland, had died a few years before his father, and the earldom passed to his son, Ralph the second, now a lad of about eighteen. But the greater number of the other twenty-two children still survived, and their fortunes influenced the after history both of the house of Neville and the kingdom of England to such an extent that they need careful statement.

The old Earl had turned all his energies into negotiating the marriages of his children, and partly by the favour of the two Henries, partly by judicious buying up of wardships in accordance with the practice of the fifteenth century, partly by playing on the desire of his neighbours to be allied to the greatest house of the North Country, he had succeeded in establishing a compact family group, which was already by 1425 one of the factors to be reckoned with in English politics. The most important of these[Pg 20] connections by far was the wedding of his youngest daughter Cecily to Richard Duke of York—a marriage brought about by royal favour shortly before the Earl's death, while both the contracting parties were mere children; the Duke some eleven years old, the little bride about nine.[1] By this union Ralph of Westmoreland was destined to become the ancestor of a score of kings and queens of England. It bound the house of Neville to the Yorkist cause, and led away the children of Ralph from that loyalty to Lancaster which had been the cause of their father's greatness. But at the time when the marriage was brought about no one could well have foreseen the Wars of the Roses, and we may acquit the Earl of any design greater than that of increasing the prosperity of his house by another marriage with a younger branch of the royal stock. His own union with Joan of Beaufort had served him so well, that he could desire nothing better for the next generation. The elder brothers and sisters of Cecily of York, if their alliances were less exalted than hers, were yet wedded, almost without exception, to the most important members of the baronage.

Of the elder family, the offspring of Earl Ralph by Margaret of Stafford, the second son Ralph Neville of Biwell married the co-heiress of Ferrers. One sister died young, another became a nun, but four of the remaining five were married to the heirs of the houses of Mauley, Dacre, Scrope of Bolton, and Kyme. The[Pg 21] younger family, the children of Joan of Beaufort, made even more fortunate marriages. Of the daughters, the youngest, as we have stated above, wedded Richard of York. Her elder sisters were united respectively to John Mowbray Duke of Norfolk, Humphrey Stafford Duke of Buckingham, and Henry Percy Earl of Northumberland—the grandson of Earl Ralph's old enemy and the son of Hotspur. Of the six sons of Joan of Beaufort, Richard the eldest married Alice Montacute, heiress of the earldom of Salisbury, and became by her the father of the Kingmaker; with him we shall have much to do. William, the second son, won the heiress of Fauconbridge. George, the third son, was made the heir of his half-uncle John Lord Latimer, and by special grant succeeded to his uncle's barony. Robert entered the Church, and by judicious family backing became Bishop of Salisbury before he had reached his twenty-fifth year, only to be transplanted ten years later to Durham, the most powerful of the English bishoprics, whose palatine rights he could thus turn to the use of his numerous kindred. Finally, Edward, the youngest brother, secured Elizabeth Beauchamp, heiress of Abergavenny.

The numbers of the English baronage had been rapidly decreasing since the reign of the third Edward, and in the early years of Henry the Sixth the total number of peers summoned to a Parliament never exceeded thirty-five. Among this small muster could be counted one grandson, three sons, and five sons-in-law of Earl Ralph.[2] A little later, one son and one grandson more[Pg 22] were added to the peers of the Neville kindred, and it seemed probable that by the marriages of the next generation half the English House of Lords would be found to descend from the prolific stock of Raby.

In the first twenty years of the reign of Henry of Windsor, while the young King's personal weakness was not yet known, while his uncle of Bedford and his great-uncle of Winchester stood beside the throne, and while the war in France—though the balance had long turned against England—was still far from its disastrous end, the confederacies of the great baronial houses were of comparatively little importance. The fatal question of the succession to the Crown was still asleep, for the young King was only just nearing manhood, and might, for all that men knew, be the parent of as many war-like sons as his grandfather. It was not till Henry's nine years of barren wedlock, from 1445 to 1454, set the minds of his nobles running on the problem of the succession, that the peace of England was really endangered.

Richard Neville, the eldest of the sons of Earl Ralph's second marriage, was born in 1399. He was too young to follow King Henry to the siege of Harfleur and the fight of Agincourt, but a few years later he accompanied his half-brother John, the heir of Westmoreland, to the wars of France. It was not in France, however, that the years of his early manhood were to be spent, but on the Scotch Border in the company of his father. When[Pg 23] he came of age and was knighted in 1420 he was made the colleague of the old Earl in the wardenship of the Western Marches. This office he retained for several years, and was in consequence much mixed up with Scotch affairs, twice acting as commissioner to treat with the Regent of Scotland, and escorting James the First to the border of his kingdom when the English Council released him from his long captivity. We hear of him occasionally at Court, as when, for example, he acted as carver at the Coronation Banquet of the newly-wed Queen Catherine, a ceremony which, according to Monstrelet, "was performed with such splendid magnificence that the like had never been seen since the time of that noble knight Arthur, King of the English and Bretons."

Richard had reached the age of twenty-six when, in 1425, he married Alice, the only child of Thomas Montacute Earl of Salisbury, who had just reached her eighteenth year. The Montacutes were not among the wealthiest of the English earls—for his faithful adherence to Richard the Second the last head of the house had lost his life and his estates; and although his son had been restored in blood, and had received back many of the Montacute lands, yet the list of his manors in the Escheats Roll reads poorly enough beside those of the Earls of Norfolk and Devon, March and Arundell. Earl Thomas, in spite of his father's fate, had consented to serve the house of Lancaster.

In 1425, as we have already mentioned, the old Earl, Ralph of Westmoreland, died. In his will, which has been preserved, we find that he left his son Richard little enough—"two chargers, twelve dishes, and a great[Pg 24] ewer and basin of silver, a bed of Arras, with red, white, and green hangings, and four untrained horses, the best that should be found in his stable." Evidently he thought that he need do nothing for this son on whom the earldom of Salisbury was bound to devolve. It was only to Ralph and Edward, the two among his surviving sons who had not yet inherited land from their wives, that the old Earl demised the baronies of Biwell and Winlayton, two of his outlying estates.

But in another respect the will of Earl Ralph was destined to prove a source of many heart-burnings in the house of Neville, and fated to break up the strict family alliance which made its strength. While he left the Durham lands of Neville, round his ancestral castle of Raby, to his grandson and heir, Ralph the second, he made over the larger part of his Yorkshire possessions not to the young Earl, but as jointure to his widow, Joan of Beaufort, the mother of Richard and the other thirteen children of his second family. The Countess, once mistress of Sherif Hoton Castle and the other North-Riding lands of Neville, had no thought of letting them pass away from her own sons to the descendants of her husband's first wife. They were destined to be diverted from the elder to the younger family. Here lay the source of many future troubles, but while the young Earl Ralph was still a minor the matter did not come to a head.

Three years after he lost his father, Richard Neville heard of the death of his father-in-law. The Earl of Salisbury had been appointed by John of Bedford Captain-General of all the English forces in France, and gathering together ten thousand men, all that the[Pg 25] Regent could spare, had marched to the fatal siege of Orleans. There in the early days of the leaguer, six months before Joan the Maid came to the rescue of the garrison, he had met his death. As he watched the walls from the tower on the bridge over the Loire, a stone shot had torn away half his face; he died in a few days, exhorting his officers with his last breath to persevere in the attack.

Thus Richard Neville became by the death of his father-in-law Earl of Salisbury and master of the lands of Montacute. They lay, for the most part, on the borders of Wiltshire and Hampshire, between Ringwood and Amesbury, in the valleys of the Bourn and Avon. The castles of Christchurch and Trowbridge were the most important part of the heritage from the military point of view. Some scattered manors in Berkshire, Dorset, and Somerset served to swell its value. Richard, now become a considerable South Country baron, at once did homage for his wife's lands, and was summoned as Earl of Salisbury to the next Parliament, that of 1429. At the same meeting at which he took his seat his nephew, Ralph the younger of Westmoreland, also appeared for the first time, having now passed his minority and entered into possession of such of the Neville lands as had not been left to his step-mother.

It was beyond doubt the alienation of these lands which led to the estrangement between the younger and the elder Nevilles which we soon after find taking visible form in troubles in the North. Ralph, marrying a sister of Henry Earl of Northumberland, became the firm friend and ally of that house of Percy which his grandfather had done so much to humble. Richard kept up[Pg 26] the old feud, and was always found on the opposite side from his nephew. Presently (the exact year of the commencement of the quarrel is uncertain, but it was at its height in 1435) we find them at actual blows in a manner which brings out the fact that the "good and strong governance," which Parliament after Parliament sighed for in the reign of Henry the Sixth, had already become a hopeless dream. Plaints come down from the North to the Lord Chancellor that "owing to the grievous differences which have arisen between Ralph Earl of Westmoreland, and his brothers John and Thomas on the one hand, and Joan Dowager-Countess of Westmoreland and her son Richard Earl of Salisbury, on the other hand, have of late assembled, by manner of war and insurrection, great routs and companies upon the field, which have done all manner of great offences as well in slaughter and destruction of the King's lieges as otherwise, which things are greatly against the estate and weal and peace of this Royaume of England."

Of the details of this local war in Yorkshire we know nothing. Some sort of accommodation was patched up, by three arbitrators named by the Privy Council, for the moment between uncle and nephew; but the grudge rankled, and if ever England should be rent by civil war, it took no prophet to foretell that the two Neville earls would be found in opposite camps.

The old Countess Joan of Westmoreland died in 1440, and left, as was natural, Middleham, Sherif Hoton, and all the other lands of her jointure to her eldest son. Richard of Salisbury thus became a much greater landholder in the North than he already was in the South. His Hampshire and Wiltshire fiefs are for the future the[Pg 27] less important centre of his strength. Sherif Hoton becomes his favourite residence, and it is always as a power in Yorkshire, not in Wessex, that he is mentioned by the chroniclers of the day.

Neither of the Neville earls took any prominent part in the never-ending French War. Ralph of Westmoreland seems to have been wanting both in the appetite for war and the keen eye for the main chance which had hitherto distinguished the lords of Raby. It was his younger brother John who was the fighting man of the older branch of Neville. Earl Richard, on the other hand, was energetic enough, but seems to have preferred to push his fortunes at home, rather than to risk his reputation in the unlucky wars where Somerset and Suffolk and so many more earned ill-fame and unpopularity. We hear of him most often on the Scottish Border, where he seems to have succeeded to the commanding position that had once been held by his father. He was Captain of Berwick, and served as Warden both of the Eastern and Western Marches, till at the end of 1435 he was sent as ambassador extraordinary to Edinburgh. James the First, with whom he had to settle some matters of Border feud, was his own connection, for Salisbury's mother was aunt of Joan Beaufort, the young Queen of Scots. After quitting King James, only a few months before his cruel murder at Perth, Earl Richard went on an embassy of far greater importance, being sent to France, along with his young brother-in-law the Duke of York, to endeavour to patch up some agreement that might end the series of disasters which had commenced with the death of the Duke of Bedford in the previous year. His mission failed, as indeed all missions[Pg 28] were bound to do that made after the treaty of Arras the same demands which the French had refused before it. Nevertheless, on his return, in 1437, Salisbury was made a member of the Privy Council, and took his seat in the body which ever since 1422 had been directing the fortunes of England.

This appointment fixed Salisbury in London for the greater part of the next ten years. We find from the records of the Privy Council that he was almost as regular an attendant at its meetings as was Cardinal Beaufort himself, the practical Prime Minister of the realm. His signature appears at the foot of countless documents, and his activity and appetite for business seem to have been most exemplary. So far as we can judge of his action, he appears to have sided with the great Cardinal, and not with the Opposition which centred round Humphrey Duke of Gloucester; but factions had not fully developed themselves as yet in the Council, and the definite parties which existed a few years later were only just beginning to sketch themselves out.


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