Sir John Neville, 1st Lord Neville was born in the first decade of the fifteenth century. His father, conveniently for memory, was John Neville and his grandfather was the first Earl of Westmorland. John Neville senior had been the keeper of Roxburghe Castle and had been a warden of the West March – based in Carlisle. Lord Neville’s mother was Elizabeth Holland the daughter of the Earl of Kent – so ultimately descended from King Edward I. The reason for the Neville’s links with the royal family came from the fact that Ralph Neville, First Earl of Westmorland had been married twice. His second wife was Joan Beaufort – the only daughter of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt.
Aside from an introduction to the royal household for the relatively new member of the aristocracy the marriage to Joan Beaufort sewed discord in the Neville family. Ralph favoured his second crop of children rather than those by his first wife (Lady Margaret Stafford). John Neville and his son were descended from Margaret Stafford. John’s older brother Ralph became the Second Earl of Westmorland – but a rather impoverished one. It was Joan Beaufort’s family who got their hands on the money – which did not make for a very happy family at all -a fact that the Duke of York should have remembered as should his half uncle, the Earl of Salisbury (a son of Joan Beaufort, otherwise known as the side of the family that got the cash.)
Just as an aside, brother Ralph pictured at the start of this post, didn’t become actively involved in the Cousins war although his only son died at the First Battle of St Albans in 1455 which meant that it was John’s son Ralph (not the most imaginative family when it came to naming their off-spring) who eventually became the third Earl of Westmorland.
Anyway, back to the story – Richard, Duke of York and the Earl of Salisbury spent Christmas 1460 in Sandal Castle near Wakefield. It was slightly foolish as the castle was surrounded by Lancastrian loyalists but had Richard sat tight he might have been safe enough. In one version of events he and his men were running low on their supplies, in another version he accepted the terms offered by the Duke of Somerset, which offered peace throughout the festive season but Somerset reneged on his word. For whatever reason York found himself engaged in battle thinking that Sir John Neville would arrive to reinforce him.
Instead of coming to his half uncle and the duke’s aid Neville promptly changed sides and became a Lancastrian. His reward was to become Constable of Middleham Castle and Sheriff Hutton. Unfortunately Neville didn’t have long to enjoy his newfound favour. He was one of the Lancastrian commanders at the Battle of Ferrybridge but was killed the following day at Towton. King Edward IV had Sir John declared a traitor and his estate confiscated by act of attainder…another happy fifteenth century family story.