In the aftermath of the Battle of Barnet in 1471 the Earl of Warwick’s estates were divided up. The Warwick Inheritance which included Beauchamp lands and Despenser lands legally belonged to the Countess of Warwick but this problem was negated by having her declared legally dead. Her daughters then inherited and Edward IV’s brothers took control of sizeable chunks of land by right of their respective wives. The Neville Inheritance was trickier to deal with – setting aside the fact that the Earl of Warwick had rebelled against King Edward IV, who by May 1471 was secure on the throne.
The Neville estates were entailed. An entail limits by law who can inherit property. Medieval entails could be quite complicated. When John of Gaunt made his will he ensured that his Beaufort children were well provided for by issuing some very specific instructions in his will. More usually, an entail ensured that only male heirs could inherit.
The Earl of Warwick’s Neville inheritance was entailed to a male heir. The earl’s heir presumptive was his brother John Neville, Lord Montagu. John like his brother died at Barnet in the thick of the fighting rather than in the rout that followed if the chroniclers are to be believed. John’s ten-year old son, George Neville was the next male heir. Whilst the Nevilles supported the Yorkist regime George was likely to inherit vast estates and in 1470 he was elevated to the Dukedom of Bedford to make him an appropriate husband for King Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth of York. However, when George’s uncle and father rebelled the following year George’s potential inheritance declined rather steeply.
The king could have passed an Act of Attainder against Richard and John Neville. A commission of Oyer and Terminer found them guilty of treason in 1472 – without an act of attainder to follow George Neville still stood to inherit the Neville estates. Instead an Act of Parliament of 1475 decreed that the Neville inheritance in the North of England including Middleham, Sheriff Hutton and Penrith Castle should pass to Richard, Duke of Gloucester whilst George and his heirs survived. Edward IV, according to Michael Hicks, preferred not to use an attainder or to divide the lands equally between his two brothers as George, Duke of Clarence was not known for his reliability whereas Richard of Gloucester, young as he was, had demonstrate his loyalty to his brother and was just the man to help keep all those troublesome northerners in line. The wording of the act proved unfortunate.
In the meantime George Neville was deprived of his titles and his wardship was passed to Richard of Gloucester after the death of George’s mother in 1476. By 1480, George was being raised in one of the Yorkshire castles which rightfully, since there was no attainder, belonged to him.
But then on the 4 May 1483 the young man died. He was unmarried so his sisters became co-heiresses and Richard of Gloucester who might reasonably have expected to leave his father-in-law’s northern power base to his own son Edward of Middleham was left as the tenant of the Neville inheritance of this life time only, thanks to the wording of the 1475 Act of Parliament. Even worse, King Edward IV was only recently dead and Gloucester was involved in a power struggle with the Woodvilles.
Hicks, Michael, ‘Descent, Partition and Extinction: The ‘Warwick Inheritance’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research lii (1979