Amidst the chronicle of lost tombs at Westminster Abbey is that of Queen Anne Neville, wife of King Richard III. Queen Anne’s invisibility in these terms underlines the purported neglect on behalf of Richard III; this lack of a memorial was rectified however when a bronze plaque was placed to Queen Anne’s memory at Westminster Abbey, in an attempt to redress this act of historical forgetting. The fact though that no memorial existed to Queen Anne Neville up until the 20th century meant that whatever hope there had been in establishing the exact location of where she was buried, was slim, given the fact that her tomb is generally described as ‘lost’. This also added to the sense of mystery which already surrounded Queen Anne’s death.
Instead of Richard III, it is Henry VII – who won victory over the former at the great Battle of Bosworth in 1485 and is remembered at Westminster Abbey. His legacy to it is most apparent in the magnificent Henry VII Chapel. All of Henry VIII’s (legitimate) children are also buried in the Abbey, thus as branches of the Tudor rose, which the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York helped to create through the union of the two hitherto warring dynasties. Henry VII’s spouse, Queen Elizabeth of York – who Richard III seems to have regarded as a possible wife after Queen Anne’s death, no doubt in an effort to neutralise the threat his niece represented to him as the undoubted Yorkist heir – lies in glory, in the tomb created for her and Henry VII by the great sculptor Pietro Torrigiano. Queen Anne Neville by contrast, lay technically ‘forgotten’ at Westminster Abbey until 1960.Queen Anne Neville also does not share a tomb with King Richard III, whose skeleton was, of course, discovered under a car park in Leicester, once the site of the Grey Friars church where his body, ‘pierced with numerous and deadly wounds’, was buried after Bosworth and – subsequently reburied at Leicester Cathedral in 2015. This was done, however, due to Leicester’s proximity to Market Bosworth, as opposed to any statement on the royal marriage; Richard III was simply buried alone because of the battle. By the time of Bosworth, he had not remarried after the death of Queen Anne. The tomb that was erected for King Richard in the church’s choir was paid for by Henry VII; posthumous respect for a King who had fought ‘like a most brave and valiant prince’, as even those who were not sympathetic to Richard acknowledged. The body of Richard III was of huge importance to Henry VII because it underlined his victory at Bosworth, proclaimed his new dynasty and proved that the last Plantagenet King was indeed, dead.
Henry’s own claim to the throne was understandably one about which he was extremely sensitive, as we can see from his attitude towards both the young Earl of Warwick and pretenders such as Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck; he was, however, keen to stress that his own right to the Crown rested on a divine right won at Bosworth, as opposed to simply through the Yorkist heiress, Princess Elizabeth. Elizabeth, of course, had a far stronger claim to the English throne than his own, for which reason she had to be rendered submissive to his authority; she could have been his greatest threat – instead, she became his wife – but that fact was obviously never forgotten by King Henry.
Some short time before Queen Anne Neville’s death, she and King Richard lost their only son. Indeed, this was a strange turn of events, given the fact that Richard III was widely supposed to have had Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, the historical ‘Princes in the Tower’, murdered, and now had lost his own ‘heir male’, for which reason it was easy to understand why a superstitious age might have ascribed this to God’s will, to avenge Queen Elizabeth Woodville, their mother. Queen Anne’s son, Edward of Middleham, died on 9 April 1484; cutting off Richard III’s direct line like this, meant that Elizabeth of York remained the true heiress in many minds, despite Richard’s Act of 1484, the Titulus Regius, which had declared her illegitimate. We may believe though, the descriptions of the Croyland Chronicle when it described Queen Anne and Richard III ‘almost bordering on madness by reason of their sudden grief’; it was alluded to in Richard’s reburial service in 2015. In parallel, we might be reminded of the scene when the news that the two Princes were thought to have been killed by order of the King, was broken to their mother, Queen Elizabeth Woodville, who ‘shriek[ed]… struck her breast, tore and pulled out her hair’ (Alison Weir, Elizabeth of York, Pg 105, 2013).
Perhaps it was the death of her son, which weakened Queen Anne Neville; we simply do not know. It is possible that grief may have debilitated her nervous system, making her more susceptible to a medieval infection. The grief could have brought a closeness between the King and Queen – instead, we read in the Croyland Chronicle, that the King ‘shunned her bed’ (Ibid, Pg 127). The ‘Chronicler’ further reported that Queen Anne fell ‘extremely sick’ several days after Christmas; common opinion had it that the cause was tuberculosis. Croyland emphasises the ‘wound in the Queen’s breast for the loss of her son’ when referring to Christmas, 1484 (Ibid, Pg 121).We know little about Queen Anne Neville, even her appearance is elusive – but then, Richard III’s reign was of course, short. She features in the famous Rous Roll, illustrated on several occasions. Richard III’s marriage to Anne – the widow of Prince Edward of Lancaster – was likely to have been one borne out of political strategy because of the mighty Warwick lands which she brought with her as a daughter of the great Richard Neville, Warwick the Kingmaker. However, Anne was also Richard’s cousin, so perhaps he chose a girl he knew, as well as understanding what she would bring with her. A papal dispensation had been granted for Anne Neville’s marriage to her Yorkist cousin, Richard. Their wedding took place – fittingly, in the light of Anne’s missing tomb – at Westminster. Anne was crowned with Richard on 6 July 1483; the King and Queen walked on red cloth from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey. Lady Margaret Beaufort – mother of the future Henry VII – carried the Queen’s train (Ibid, Pg 102).
Queen Anne died on 16 March 1485 – five months before the massively decisive Battle of Bosworth; she died ‘upon the day of a great eclipse of the sun’ (Ibid, Pg 128). On 22 March, less than ten days later, Richard III had sent an envoy to begin negotiations for a Portuguese marriage; this again was not a comment on his own personal feelings for Queen Anne Neville. Richard III would have been desperately aware of the fact that he had to maintain a tight grip on his throne and replace the son that had so recently died because his direct branch of the Plantagenet dynasty could die after him. After the Queen’s death, vicious rumour bussed about that the King had had her poisoned, but historically, there is no evidence for this. More importantly, these rumours show that the King was thought capable of such a thing, as he had been believed to have murdered the two Princes, so the attestation is valuable for how Richard may have been regarded by recent posterity. Although admittedly, this was a posterity in which Tudor propaganda was a powerful tool, as subsequent portraits of Richard which have been later tampered with, have shown. Any physical ‘deformity’ of Richard III would have been viewed significantly in an age when this was thought to be reflective of character; Richard III – as his skeleton shows – suffered from scoliosis, but apparently no – Shakespearean – withered arm.
It was indeed a far cry from another Queen Anne by another King Richard; Queen Anne of Bohemia was greatly loved by Richard II, who was utterly distraught by her death from plague in 1394. They share a tomb at Westminster Abbey with clasping hands. There is nothing like this for Queen Anne Neville and Richard III.
Queen Anne was believed to have been buried on the south side of the altar, according to the Victorian cataloguer of the Abbey’s monuments, A. P Stanley, Dean of Westminster, in his book Historical Memorials of Westminster Abbey. The grave is unmarked, and the plaque instead commemorates the Queen herself. Westminster Abbey states that she was buried in this location, in front of the ‘Sedilia’, or chairs for the priests. It may have been exposed when Sir George Gilbert Scott was making preparations for his new High Altar in the late 19th century.
A stained glass window exists in Cardiff Castle, depicting Anne Neville next to one of Richard III.
The bronze plaque in the south ambulatory to Queen Anne Neville was erected at the behest of the Richard III Society, bearing a quotation from the Rous Roll (‘full gracious’) and her heraldic shield is topped by a crown. It is the primary memorial that exists to an – almost – forgotten queen.