Isabel (sometimes called Isabella) was born and spent most of her youth at Warwick Castle. In 1469 though, her power-hungry father, Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, defected from King Edward IV after his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville and, instead of ruling England through Edward, planned a marriage for Isabel to Edward’s brother George Duke of Clarence.
George also saw benefit in the union, as the Neville family was extremely wealthy. The marriage took place in secret in Calais, as part of the rebellion of George and Warwick against Edward IV.
Isabel gave birth to a stillborn child on a boat at sea, off Calais. Her second child, Margaret, was healthy and survived. Her third child Edward also survived, but may have had learning difficulties. Isabel gave birth to another child by George, but died soon after labour. Her child, named Richard, survived only days before following her to the grave.
At the time, George was convinced Isabel had been poisoned and accused one of her ladies-in-waiting of having murdered her. He had the lady, Ankarette Twynyho, tried, found guilty and hanged, and alleged that King Edward’s wife Elizabeth Woodville was guilty of witchcraft.
‘Well, I don’t think she’s very queenly,’ she says, trying to sound like our mother at her most disdainful. ‘I don’t know how she will manage at her coronation and at the joust and the tournament – she was just the wife of a country squire, and the daughter of a nobody. How will she ever know how to behave?’
‘Why? How would you behave?’ I ask, trying to prolong the conversation. Isabel always knows so much more than me, she is five years older than me, our parents’ favourite, a brilliant marriage ahead of her, almost a woman while I am still nothing but a child. She even looks down on the queen!
‘I would carry myself with much more dignity than her. I wouldn’t whisper with the king and demean myself as she did. I wouldn’t send out dishes and wave to people like she did. I wouldn’t trail all my brothers and sisters into court like she did. I would be much more reserved and cold. I wouldn’t smile at anyone, I wouldn’t bow to anyone. I would be a true queen, a queen of ice, without family or friends.’
I am so attracted by this picture that I am halfway out of my bed again. I pull off the fur cover from our bed and hold it up to her. ‘Like what? How would you be? Show me, Izzy!’
She arranges it like a cape around her shoulders, throws her head back, draws herself up to her four feet six inches and strides around the little chamber with her head very high, nodding distantly to imaginary courtiers. ‘Like this,’ she says. ‘Comme ça, elegant, and unfriendly.’
Image: Stained glass at Cardiff Castle depicting Isabel Neville, 19th century. Detail of photograph by Wolfgang Sauber [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.