Margaret of Anjou - Jacob Abbott

The Story Of Lady Neville

In reading the history of the English monarchy in these early times, you will often hear of the court intrigues  which mingled with, and sometimes greatly complicated, the movement of public affairs. Margaret of Anjou found herself, on her arrival in England, involved in many such intrigues. Indeed, she was admirably qualified, by her sagacity and quickness of apprehension, and by the great ascendency which these and other qualities which she possessed gave her over the minds of all about her, to take a very active and successful part in the management of manœuverings of all sorts. The nature of these court intrigues is very well illustrated by the narration which the most celebrated of Margaret's biographers gives of one in which he says that Margaret herself became involved while on her way from France to England. The story seems much more like romance than like reality. Indeed, it doubtless is a romance, but it nevertheless illustrates well the manner in which the private passions and personal and family quarrels of the great became involved with, and sometimes entirely controlled, the most important events in the national history, and therefore it will not be amiss to relate it.

The first connection which Queen Margaret, as we are henceforth to call her, had with the affair of Lady Neville, took place at Abbeville, a town in France not very far from Calais, when the queen was advancing toward the sea-coast on her way to England. While she was at Abbeville, there suddenly appeared a young and beautiful lady who asked an audience of Margaret, announcing herself simply as one of the ladies who had been attached to the service of the dauphiness, who was the wife of the oldest son of the king, and who had recently died. She was admitted. She remained in private conversation with Margaret two hours, and when this mysterious interview was concluded she was introduced to the other ladies of Margaret's court as Miss Sanders, an English lady who had been attached to the court of the dauphiness, but who now, since the death of her mistress, wished to return to England in Margaret's train. Margaret informed the other ladies that she had received her into her household, and gave directions that she should be treated with the utmost consideration.

The other ladies were very curious to solve the mystery of this case, but they could not obtain any clew to it. The stranger was very reserved; mingled very little with her new companions, and evinced a constant desire to avoid observation. There was something, however, in her beauty, and in the expression of deep and constant grief which her countenance wore, which made her an object of great interest to all the household of the queen, but they could not learn any particulars of her history. The facts, however, were these.

Her real name was Anne Neville. She was the daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, one of the leading and most highly-connected noblemen in England. When she was about fifteen years old she was married to a relative of the family. The marriage, however, proved a very unhappy one. Her husband was very jealous of her. From her subsequent conduct it would seem probable that he might have had good reason to be so. At any rate, he was extremely jealous; and as he was of a harsh and cruel temper, he made his young wife very miserable by the exactions and privations which he enforced upon her, and by the violent invectives with which he continually assailed her.

The incessant anxiety and suffering which these troubles occasioned soon began to prey upon the lady's health, and, at length, her father, observing that she was growing pale and thin, began to inquire into the cause. He soon learned what a dreadful life his daughter was leading. Like most of the other great nobles of those days, he was a man of violent character, and he immediately determined on rescuing his daughter from her husband's power, for he considered her husband as the party chiefly, if not wholly, to blame.

He ascertained, or pretended to ascertain, that there had been some informalities connected with the marriage. His daughter was distantly related to her husband, and there were certain steps which it was necessary to take in such cases to obtain a dispensation from the Church, in order to render such marriage legal. These steps he now alleged had not been properly taken, and he immediately instituted proceedings to have the marriage annulled. Whether there was really any sufficient ground for such annulling, or whether he obtained the decree through influences which his high position enabled him to bring to bear upon the court, I do not know. He, however, succeeded in his purpose. The marriage was annulled, and his daughter returned home; and, in order to obliterate as far as possible all traces of the unhappy union into which she had been drawn, she dropped the name which she had received from her husband and resumed again her own maiden name.

She now began soon to appear at court, where she almost immediately attracted great attention. On account of the peculiar circumstances in which she was placed, she enjoyed all the privileges of a widow, combined with the attractiveness and the charms of a lovely girl. Almost every body was ready to fall in love with her.

Among her other admirers was the Duke of Somerset. He was a man of high rank and of great accomplishments, but he was married, and he could not, therefore, innocently make her the object of his love. He was not, however, deterred by this consideration, and he soon succeeded in making a strong impression upon Lady Neville's heart. They soon contrived means of meeting each other in private, resorting to all sorts of manœuvres and inventions to aid them in keeping their guilty attachment to each other from the knowledge of those around them.

In the mean while, the Duke of Gloucester himself, who was now, however, considerably advanced in life, lost his wife, she dying about this time, and he almost immediately conceived the idea of making Lady Neville her successor. He thought it not proper to say any thing to Lady Neville herself on this subject until some little time should have elapsed, but he spoke to her father, the Earl of Salisbury, who readily approved of the plan. Gloucester was at this time prime minister of England, and the lady whom he should choose for his wife would be elevated by her marriage to the highest pinnacle of grandeur. Of course, the importance and influence of her father also, and of all the members of her family, would be greatly increased by so splendid an alliance.

So it was agreed that the match should be made, but the arrangement was to be kept secret, not only from the public, but from the intended bride herself; until a suitable time should have elapsed for the widower to recover from the grief which the death of his former wife was supposed to have occasioned him.

At length, when the proper time for mourning had expired, Gloucester made his declaration of love. Lady Neville listened to it, thinking all the time what Somerset would say when she came to communicate the news to him. She did communicate it to him on the first opportunity.

Great was the distress and the perplexity which the lovers felt while consulting together and determining what was to be done in such an emergency. They could not endure the thought of a separation. They could not be married to each other, for Somerset was married already. For Lady Neville to remain single all her life in order to be at liberty to indulge a guilty passion was an idea not to be entertained. They knew, too, that their present relations to each other could not long be continued. A thousand circumstances might happen at any time to interrupt or to terminate it, and it could not be long, in any event, before it must come to an end. So it was agreed between them that Lady Neville should accede to the great minister's proposal and become his wife. In the mean time, until the period should arrive for the consummation of the marriage, they were to renew and redouble their intimacy with each other, taking, however, every possible precaution to conceal their movements from the eyes of others.

So the duke's offer was accepted, and it was soon made known to all the court that Lady Neville was his affianced bride.

Thus far Lady Neville had treated the duke with great reserve in her accidental intercourse with him at the reunions of the court, but now, since he was her accepted lover, he thought he might reasonably expect a greater degree of cordiality in her demeanor toward him. But he found no change. She continued as formal and reserved as ever. Moreover, when he went to visit her, which he did sometimes several times a day, she was very often not at home—much too often, he thought. He went to the place where her domestics said she had gone in such cases, but she was very seldom to be found. He soon came to the conclusion that there was some strange mystery involved in the affair, and he determined to adopt effectual measures for unraveling it.

So he employed certain trusty persons who were in his service to watch and see where Lady Neville went, and how she passed her time during these unaccountable absences from home. For many days this watch was continued, but no discoveries were made, The spies reported that they could not keep upon the lady's track. In spite of their best exertions she would contrive to elude them, and for several hours every day they lost sight of her altogether. They saw enough, however, to satisfy them that there was something wrong going on. What it was, however, they could not discover, so shrewd and complete were the precautions which Somerset and Lady Neville had taken to prevent detection.

The Duke of Gloucester was for a time much perplexed to know what to do, whether openly to quarrel with Lady Neville and refuse to consummate the marriage, or to banish his suspicions and take her for his wife. His love for her finally triumphed, and he resolved to proceed with the marriage. He had no positive evidence against her, he said to himself and then, besides, even if there were some secret attachment on her part, to account for these mysterious appearances, she might, after, all, when once married to him, make him a faithful and affectionate wife. Some lingering remains of a former affection must often necessarily dwell, he thought, in the heart of a bride, even when truly and honestly giving herself to the one on whom her choice is finally made. Especially is this true in cases where the lady is young, accomplished, and lovely, while her husband can only offer wealth or high position instead of youth and personal attractions as a means of winning her favor.

So it was decided that the marriage should take place, and the day for the wedding was appointed.

When the time for the wedding drew nigh, and the lovers found that the period of their enjoyments was drawing to a close, they determined on having a farewell interview with each other on the day before the wedding, and in order to be safe from interruption, it was arranged that they should spend the day together in a village on the banks of the Thames, at some little distance from London.

When the day came, Lady Neville left her home to repair to the place of rendezvous. She was followed by Gloucester's spies. She was received at the village by Somerset. Somerset was, however, so disguised that the spies did not know and could not discover who he was. They were satisfied, however, from his demeanor toward Lady Neville, that he was her lover, and they at once reported the facts to Gloucester in London.

Gloucester was of course in a great rage. He swore terrible vengeance against both Lady Neville herself and her lover, whoever he might be. He at once armed a troop of his followers and rode off at the head of them, guided by one of the spies, to the village of rendezvous. It was dark before he arrived there. Some peasants of whom he made inquiry informed him that a lady answering to the description which he gave them had gone on board the boat to return to London some time before. Gloucester immediately turned, and made all haste back to London again, in hopes to reach the landing before the boat should arrive, with a full determination to kill both the lady herself and her paramour the moment they should touch the shore.

He was mistaken, however, in supposing that the paramour, whoever he might be, was with the lady. Somerset, in the excess of his precaution, had returned to London by land, leaving Lady Neville to return by herself in the boat with the other passengers; for the boat was a sort of packet which plied regularly between the village and London. He, however, had stationed trusty persons not far from the landing in London, who were to receive Lady Neville on her arrival and convey her home.

Gloucester arrived at the landing before the boat reached the shore. It was, however, now so dark that he despaired of being able to recognize the persons he was in pursuit of, especially under the disguise which he did not doubt that they would wear. So, in the recklessness of his rage, he resolved to kill every body in the boat, and thus to make sure of his revenge.

Accordingly, the moment that the boat touched the shore, he and his followers rushed on board and a dreadful scene of consternation and terror ensued. Gloucester himself made his way directly toward the figure of a lady, whose air, and manner, and style of dress indicated, so far as he could discern them in the darkness, that she was probably the object of his fury. He plunged his dagger into her breast. She, in an agony of terror, leaped into the river. She was buoyed up by her dress, and floated down the stream.

In the mean time, the work of murder on board the boat went on. The duke and his men continued stabbing and striking down all around them, until the passengers and the boat-men were every one killed. The bodies were then all thrown into the river, stones having been previously tied to them to make them sink.

The people in the houses of the neighborhood, on the banks of the river, heard the cries, and raised their heads a moment from their pillows, or paused as they were walking along the silent streets to listen. But the cries were soon suppressed, for the massacre was the work of a few moments only, and such sounds were far too common in those days in the streets of London, and especially on the river, to attract much regard.

The boat was of course covered with blood. The duke ordered his men to take it out into the middle of the river and sink it, that being the easiest and the quickest way of covering up all traces and proofs of the crime.

The writer who relates this story says that Gloucester's reason for wishing to have his agency in this transaction concealed was not that he feared any punishment, for the laws in those days were wholly powerless to punish deeds of violence like this, committed by men of Gloucester's rank and station. He only thought that if it were known that he had murdered in this way so many innocent people, in order merely to make sure of killing an object of his own private jealousy and hate, it would injure his popularity!

In the mean tithe, Lady Neville, for it was really Lady Neville whom Gloucester had stabbed, and who had leaped into the river, floated on down the stream, borne up by her dress, which was made, according to the fashion of the times, in a manner to give it great buoyancy in the water, by means of the hoops with which the sleeves of the robe were distended, and also from the form of the head-dress, which was very large and light, and well adapted to serve as a float to keep the head from sinking.

[Illustration] from Margaret of Anjou by Jacob Abbott


She floated on in this manner down the river until she had passed London Bridge, being carried through by the current under on of the arches. On emerging from the bridge, she came to the part of the river where the ships and other vessels bound down the river were moored. It happened that among other vessels lying at anchor in the stream was one bound to Normandy. The captain of this vessel had been on shore, but he was now coming off in his boat to go on board again. As the captain was looking out over the water by the light of a lantern which he held in his hand, to discern the way to his vessel, he saw something floating at a short distance from him which resembled the dress of a woman. He urged the boat forward in that direction. He succeeded, with great difficulty, after arriving at the spot, in getting the now almost lifeless form of Lady Neville on board his boat, and then rowed on as fast as possible to the vessel.

Here every thing was done which the case required to restore the drowning lady to life. She soon recovered her senses, and looked about her wild with excitement and terror. She had the presence of mind, however, not to say a word that could betray her secret, though her dress, and her air and manner, convinced the captain that she was no ordinary personage. The wound was examined and found not to be serious. She had been protected by some portions of her dress which had turned the poniard aside. When she found that the immediate danger had passed she became more composed, and began to inquire in regard to the persons and scenes around her. When she found that the vessel which had received her was bound to Normandy, she determined to escape to that country; so she contrived means to induce the captain to conceal her on board until the time should arrive for setting sail, and then to take her with him down the river and across the Channel.

On her arrival in France she repaired at once to the court of the dauphiness, who, being an English princess, was predisposed to take compassion upon her and to receive her kindly. She remained at this court, as we have seen, under the assumed name of Miss Sanders, until the death of the dauphiness. She was thus suddenly deprived of her protector in France, but almost at the same time the marriage of Margaret of Anjou seemed to open to her the means of returning to England.

So long as the Duke of Gloucester lived and retained his power, she knew very well that she could not return in safety to the English court; but she thought that Margaret's going to England, would probably be the precursor of Gloucester's downfall.

"She  must hate him," said she to herself, "almost as much as I do, for he has opposed her marriage from the beginning, and has done all in his power to prevent it. Margaret will never be satisfied until she has deposed him from his power and put some friend of hers in his place. I can help her in this work, if she will receive me under her protection and allow me to accompany her to England."

So she proceeded to Abbeville to intercept the queen on her way to the coast, as we have already seen. At the long and secret interview which she had with her there she related to Margaret the story of her connection with Somerset and with Gloucester, and of her almost miraculous escape from death at Gloucester's hands. She now wished for revenge; and if Queen Margaret would receive her into her service and take her to England, she would concert measures with Somerset, her lover, which would greatly aid Margaret in the plans which she might form for effecting the downfall of Gloucester.

Margaret at once and very gladly acceded to this request, and took Lady Neville with her to England. She treated her with great consideration and honor; but still Lady Neville maintained a strict reserve in all her intercourse with the other ladies of the court, and kept herself in great seclusion, especially after the arrival of the bridal party in England. Her pretext for this was her deep affliction at the loss of her friend and patroness the Dauphiness of France. But the other ladies of the court were not wholly satisfied with this explanation. They were fully convinced that there was more in the case than met the view, especially when they found that on the arrival of the party in England the stranger seemed to take special pains to avoid meeting the Duke of Gloucester. They exerted all their powers of watchfulness and scrutiny to unravel the mystery, but in vain.