George Neville, Archbishop of York

georgenevillearms2George Neville was the younger brother of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (a.k.a the Kingmaker) and also John Neville who was briefly the Earl of Northumberland.

 

He was only fourteen years old when the Pope made him a canon not only of York Minster but also of Salisbury. It can be no surprise that his meteoric rise in the church was followed by the Bishopric of Exeter – though he wasn’t legally old enough to run things (he received a dispensation to take the profits though) and in 1465 he was translated to the Archbishopric of York. This later move was by way of a reward given by King Edward IV to the Neville family.

George did study at Balliol College, Oxford in the 1440s so although his role within the spiritual estate reflects the politics of the time he did at least take the job seriously. Prior to become one of the ‘great men’ of the country he had time for a youthful fling with Elizabeth de Beauchamp and had a daughter called Alice.  He was chancellor of the college for a period and also fulfilled the role of chancellor in Edward IV’s government.  He went on diplomatic missions to Scotland. He even  found time to open two of Edward IV’s parliaments.

 

However, things were not going smoothly between the Nevilles and their royal cousin in the 1460s. All Europe – well the Scots and the French- agreed that Edward would not have become king without the support of his cousin the Earl of Warwick. But by 1465 Edward was expressing his own opinions. He wanted a treaty with Philip of Burgundy rather than with Louis XI of France. Warwick favoured France. There was also the unfortunate issue of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville to take into account. Warwick had been negotiating for the hand of a French princess at the time. It made him look a tad foolish and contributed to the cousins’ relationship deteriorating into open rebellion.

 

George appeared to broker a peace between Edward and Warwick but in reality he was providing his brother with a smokescreen while he planned the marriage of his eldest daughter, Isobel, to George, Duke of Clarence and then when he felt that his power had been eroded too far into rebellion. It should be added that George played a key role in the marriage; not only did he perform the nuptial service for the happy couple in Calais, he was also instrumental in applying for the papal dispensation that permitted George to marry Isobel – they were both descended from John of Gaunt after all. George’s mother (Cecily Neville) was the Earl of Warwick and the archbishop’s aunt.

 

Edward appeared tolerant of his archbishop though – he had a reputation for letting bygones be bygones. After the Battles of Tewkesbury George found himself in prison for a few months and then returned to his offices – business as usual so as to speak.

Then things went badly wrong for the archbishop.  Edward  said he would visit George at his palace in Hertfordshire to go hunting but the day before his intended arrival the king had the bishop arrested and his property confiscated.

Why?  Perhaps Edward remembered that it was the bishop who captured him at Olney near Coventry when the Earl of Warwick made his bid for power in 1469.  Perhaps he remembered all those occasions when George’s words were cast like oil upon troubled waters to disguise Warwick’s machinations.  Perhaps it was because the king remembered that it was also the archbishop who’d been responsible for defending London against Edward when Edward returned to claim his crown in 1471. The bishop summoned Lancastrian sympathisers to St. Pauls -600-700 armed men turned up. In fact when George paraded Lancastrian King Henry VI through the streets of London in a bid to raise support he’d had to hold Henry’s hand. It could have reasonably been either of those reasons that led to the archbishop’s re arrest –  Except of course, George Neville Archbishop of York wasn’t an innocent victim of a king’s mental accounting for past events. The last remaining son of the Earl of Salisbury should have learned not to rebel against Edward. It hadn’t got Warwick very far in the end but for all his learning George got himself entangled in a new plot against the king. Once again Northerners were involved just as they had been in 1469- then Edward had dawdled, had trusted his Neville cousins…now, he was older and wiser and George found himself languishing in a prison in Calais.

George Neville, last of the four Neville boys born to the Earl of Salisbury and his duchess died soon after his release from Calais four long years later – presumably chastened by the whole sorry experience.  He was on his way back to York but died in Staffordshire.

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Filed under Fifteenth Century, Wars of the Roses

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