George Neville

NEVILLE, GEORGE (1433?–1476), bishop of Exeter, archbishop of York and chancellor of England, fourth and youngest son of Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury [q. v.], and Alice, only legitimate child of Thomas de Montacute, fourth earl of Salisbury [q. v.], was born in 1432 or 1433 (Gascoigne, Loci e Libro Veritatum, p. 16, ed. Thorold Rogers). He was early designed for a clerical career, in which, as the brother of Warwick the ‘Kingmaker’ and the nephew of the Duke of York, he was assured of rapid promotion. When he was barely fourteen years old at the outside, George Neville was invested (9 March 1446) with the ‘golden prebend’ of Masham in York Cathedral (Drake, Eboracum, p. 444). Masham lay but a few miles from his father’s castle of Middleham, in Wensleydale. As he was already styled clericus, he had no doubt begun his studies at Balliol College, Oxford, a foundation closely connected with Barnard Castle, then in the possession of Neville’s brother Warwick. The college devoted itself almost exclusively to secular studies, and among George Neville’s contemporaries were the humanists John Phreas or Free [q. v.] and John Tiptoft, earl of Worcester [q. v.], who married his sister Cecily (Colleges of Oxford, ed. Clark, p. 38). The university requirements were now frequently relaxed, especially in favour of rich men, and on his supplication (15 June 1450) the ‘prænobilis vir Georgius Nevill’ was admitted by special grace to the degree of B.A., without having completed the full course, and those incepting under him as masters of arts were allowed as a particular favour to complete their regency in arts in one instead of two years (Anstey, Munimenta Academica, p. 730; Boase, Register of the University of Oxford, p. vii). He secured the same privilege for his friends when on 12 May 1452 permission was given him to incept as master of arts, only twelve months after ‘determining’ as bachelor, and he was excused from the teaching and administrative duties of a regent master (ib. pp. ix. 10). A year later, 9 June 1453, when barely twenty-one at most, Neville succeeded Gilbert Kymer [q. v.], the court physician, as chancellor of the university, and, being twice re-elected, retained this position until 6 July 1457, when he resigned it (Anstey, pp. 660–661, 748; Le Neve, Fasti Eccl. Angl. iii. 467). The prodigal feast which he is generally supposed to have given on this occasion seems to be due to a confusion with his installation feast at York twelve years later (Savage, Balliofergus, p. 105; Colleges of Oxford, ed. Clark, p. 38).

But with such brilliant prospects of church advancement as the growing power of his family held out, Neville was content to perform his academical duties for the most part by deputy (Anstey, p. 742). No sooner had his father become chancellor of England under York as protector in April 1454 than he seems to have claimed one of the vacant bishoprics for his son, but the council would only consent to recommend the youth to the pope for the next vacancy, ‘considered the blood virtue and cunning he is of’ (Ord. Privy Council, vi. 168). In the meantime he was made archdeacon of Northampton, and prebendary of Tame, in the diocese of Lincoln (17 Aug. 1454), canon and prebendary of Thorpe at Ripon (21 Aug.), and on 21 Dec. 1454 ordained priest (Le Neve, ii. 58, 221; Ripon Chapter Acts, Surtees Soc., p. 209; Godwin, De Præsulibus, ed. Richardson). The first see that fell vacant after the Yorkists had recovered at St. Albans in May 1455 the power they had lost by the king’s recovery a few months before was that of Exeter, Edmund Lacy dying in September of this year. But the promise made to Salisbury for his son was either forgotten or ignored, and John Hales, archdeacon of Norwich, was at once promoted by Pope Calixtus III on the recommendation of the council. Probably they were desirous of avoiding the scandal of foisting a mere youth like Neville into high spiritual office. Matters had gone so far when the Nevilles insisted on the performance of the promise made to them, secured a renunciation by Hales, George Neville’s election by the chapter (November), and royal letters calling upon the pope to undo his promotion of Hales and substitute Neville (Ord. Privy Council, vi. 265; Fœdera, xi. 367). He was declared to be a suitable person for a remote and disturbed see, as a member of a powerful noble family. Calixtus consented to stultify himself, though no doubt with reluctance, for he insisted that Neville’s consecration should be delayed until he reached his twenty-seventh year (Gascoigne, p. 16). In the meantime he was to enjoy the title of bishop-elect and the revenues of the see. Gascoigne inveighs bitterly against his dissociation of the temporal advantages and spiritual duties of a bishopric as one of the worst clerical abuses of his time. The temporalities were restored to Neville on 21 March 1456, and he was summoned as bishop to councils (Fœdera, xi. 376; Le Neve, i. 376; Ord. Privy Council, vi. 291, 295). Two months earlier (24 Jan.) he had been given the mastership of the rich hospital of St. Leonard at York (ib. p. 285). He also became archdeacon of Carlisle at some date prior to May 1463 (Le Neve, iii. 249). Neville took a prominent part in the proceedings for heresy against Bishop Reginald Pecock [q. v.], who was favoured by the Lancastrian prelates. During Pecock’s examination by the bishops in November 1457, the bishop-elect hotly reproached him with impeaching the truth of the writings of St. Jerome and other saints (Gascoigne, p. 211).

Neville cannot have more than entered upon his twenty-seventh year when he was consecrated on 3 Dec. 1458 (Stubbs, Registrum Sacrum, p. 69). His political career may be said to begin in the following year, when he managed to avoid being fatally compromised in the rebellion of his father and brothers, and, after their flight and attainder in October, ‘declared himself full worshipfully to the king’s pleasure’ (Paston Letters, i. 500). But when Warwick and Salisbury came over in force from Calais in June 1460, Neville, with William Grey, bishop of Ely, like himself a Balliol man, took an armed force on 2 July to meet them in Southwark, and next day assisted the Archbishop of Canterbury in receiving their oaths of allegiance to the absent Henry in St. Paul’s (Worcester, pp. 772–3). He accompanied Warwick and the Earl of March to the battle of Northampton (10 July), and on their return to London with the captive king, the great seal resigned by the Archbishop of Canterbury was given to him on 25 July (Fœdera, xi. 458). The new chancellor was now living in the parish of St. Clement Danes, ‘without the bar of the New Temple’ (ib.) The chronicler known as ‘Gregory’ (p. 212) makes him share Warwick’s defeat in the second battle of St. Albans (17 Feb. 1461); but Worcester (p. 776) says that he awaited the result at Canterbury with the archbishop. He was present in the council of Yorkist peers which, at Baynard’s Castle on 3 March, declared Edward of York king, and the next day at Paul’s Cross, in the presence of the king, expounded and defended his title in an ‘eximius sermo,’ which is still extant (Archœologia, xxix, 128; Three Fifteenth-Century Chronicles, p. 173; Worcester, p. 777). On 10 March the great seal was regranted to him in the name of the new king (Fœdera, xi. 473). A week after Towton (7 April) he wrote a long Latin letter to the papal legate Coppini in Flanders, giving him a most interesting account of the campaign, and moralising on the civil strife: ‘O luckless race!

    …… populumque potentem
In sua victrici conversum viscera dextra,

to use the words of Lucan. Alas! we are a race deserving of pity, even from the French.’ He concludes, however, with the expression of a hope that such storms will be succeeded by halcyon days (State Papers, Venetian, i. 370). When Edward opened his first parliament, on 4 Nov. following, Chancellor Nevill delivered an address on the text from Jeremiah vii. 3: ‘Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place’ (Rot. Parl. v. 461).

On 29 April 1463 Neville opened the second parliament of the reign with a discourse on the theme ‘Qui judicatis terram diligite justiciam’ (ib. v. 496). Having proved himself a man of ability and ‘moult facondieux,’ as Chastellain says, the chancellor was entrusted, in the absence of Warwick in the north, with an important foreign mission in the summer of this year. The king saw him off, and took charge of the great seal at Dover, on 21 Aug.; and Neville, with his companions, the Earl of Essex, Lord Wenlock, and others, made his way to St. Omer, where a joint conference had been arranged with France and Burgundy. At the end of September the conference was transferred to Hesdin, where both Louis XI and Duke Philip were present in person; and Neville succeeded in detaching the former from the Lancastrians by a truce for a year (8 Oct.), and in obtaining an extension of the commercial truce with Flanders from the duke. He left Hesdin on the 10th of the month, and on the 25th retook possession of the great seal (Worcester, p. 71; Chastellain, iv. 338; Fœdera, xi. 504, 506–7, 513).

Early in April 1464 he was sent into the north of England to assist his brothers Warwick and Montagu in arranging a definite peace with Scottish commissioners at York, and after some delay a truce for fifteen years was concluded there on 3 June (ib. xi. 514–515, 524; Three Fifteenth-Century Chronicles, p. 178). The king’s marriage with Elizabeth Wydeville in May was very distasteful to Warwick, but Edward was not in a position to ignore Neville’s claims to the archbishopric of York, which fell vacant on 12 Sept. by the death of William Booth. He was given custody of the temporalities four days later, and a congé d’élire issued on 27 Sept.; but the bull of translation was not granted by the new pope, Paul II, until 15 March 1465 (Fœdera, xi. 533; Le Neve, iii. 111). It was published in York Minster on 4 June, the temporalities were fully restored to him on the 17th, and on 22 or 23 Sept. he was enthroned in the minster. The occasion was seized to display the wealth and power of the Neville clan by a great family gathering and an installation feast whose extravagant prodigality has preserved its details for posterity (Godwin, p. 695; cf. Hearne, Collections, ii. 341; Oxford Hist. Soc.; Drake, p. 444). But the absence of the king and queen was noted as significant (Worcester, p. 785). The only member of the royal family present was the Duke of Gloucester, who sat at the same table as his future wife, Anne Neville, Warwick’s younger daughter. There is reason to believe that this extravagance somewhat crippled Neville’s resources (cf. Paston Letters, ii. 346, iii. 313). It is not surprising that he took an active part against the London friars, who this year revived the old demand for the evangelical poverty of the clergy (Gregory, p. 230).

In November and December he was again employed, with Warwick and Montagu, in negotiations with the Scots, and the truce was prolonged at Newcastle (Fœdera, xi. 556, 569). In April 1466 he held a provincial synod in the minster, and made new constitutions, in the preamble of which he is described as primate of England and legate of the apostolic see (Drake, p. 445). But Edward IV had now resolved to make himself independent of the Nevilles. The first open blow was delivered at the chancellor during Warwick’s absence in France in the summer of 1467. Neville was not asked to open the parliament, which met on 3 June, and five days later (8 June) the king went in person to the chancellor’s inn, ‘without the bars of Westminster,’ where he was lying sick, and took from him the great seal, which he put into the hands of keepers until a new chancellor was appointed (Warkworth, p. 3; Worcester, p. 786; Gregory, p. 236). In the later months of this year the breach between the king and the Nevilles seemed likely to take a dangerous turn, but shortly after Epiphany 1468 an apparent reconciliation was effected as the result of an interview between the archbishop and Anthony Wydeville, earl Rivers [q. v.], the queen’s brother, at Nottingham. The ex-chancellor was again in attendance on the king. It was expected that the great seal would be restored to him. He and Warwick had high words with the Duke of Norfolk in the king’s chamber regarding the duke’s treatment of the Pastons, whom the archbishop and his brother had taken under their protection. The archbishop declared that ‘rather than the land should go so [i.e. to the duke] he would come and dwell there himself’ (Worcester, p. 789; Paston Letters, ii. 324–6). In February 1469 he received a grant from the king of the manor of Penley and other lands in Buckinghamshire (Fœdera, xi. 640).

But the Nevilles were not really reconciled to the king, and while Edward was drawn northwards by the rising of Robin of Redesdale [q. v.], which they had stirred up, the archbishop crossed to Calais, where Warwick was residing, and on 11 July performed the marriage between Warwick’s elder daughter Isabel and the Duke of Clarence, which threw down the gage to the king (Warkworth, p. 6). He signed the manifesto issued from Calais next day, and crossed with Warwick and Clarence into Kent (ib. p. 46). After the defeat of the king’s forces by Redesdale at Edgecote, on 26 July, the archbishop found Edward deserted by his followers at Honily, near Coventry, and took him to Warwick Castle, whence he was presently removed to Middleham Castle, in Yorkshire, for safer keeping. Public opinion in the north compelled Warwick to relax the restraint upon Edward’s liberty; but, according to Warkworth’s account, he only got clear away to London by the connivance of the archbishop, whom he had talked over by fair speech and promises (ib. p. 7; Continuation of Croyland Chronicle, pp. 551–2; State Papers, Venetian, i. 421; cf. Paston Letters, ii. 368). Neville accompanied the king from York towards London, but, with the Earl of Oxford, did not go beyond the Moor, his house at Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire, which he had ‘builded right commodiously and pleasantly’ on an estate formerly belonging to Cardinal Beaufort (Warkworth, pp. 24, 70). When Neville and Oxford ventured to leave the Moor and ride Londonwards, they received a peremptory message from the king to wait until he sent for them (Paston Letters, ii. 389), Edward took precautions to prevent the archbishop giving assistance to Warwick when an open breach once more occurred in the spring of 1470. Warwick and Clarence being driven out of the country, he had to take a solemn oath to be faithful to Edward against them, and in August was living at the Moor with ‘divers of the king’s servants and license to tarry there till he be sent for’ (ib. ii. 406).

But on Warwick’s return in September, and Edward’s flight to Holland, Neville once more became chancellor, this time in the name of Henry VI, and he opened parliament on 26 Nov. with a discourse on the text ‘Revertimini ad me filii revertentes, ego enim vir vester’ (Warkworth, p. 12). He obtained a grant of Woodstock and three adjoining manors, and compelled the Duke of Norfolk to surrender Caister Castle to John Paston (Fœdera, xi. 670; Rot. Parl. vi. 588; Paston Letters, ii. 417). He remained in London with the helpless King Henry when, on Edward’s return in March 1471, Warwick went into the midlands to intercept him. After Warwick had been foiled in this attempt, he is said to have written to his brother, urging him to provoke the city against Edward and keep him out for two or three days (Arrival of Edward IV, p. 15). The archbishop held a Lancastrian council at St. Paul’s on 9 April, and next day took King Henry in procession through Cheapside to Walbrook and back to the bishop’s palace by St. Paul’s. But the fighting men of the party were either with Warwick or on the south coast awaiting the arrival of Queen Margaret from France, and the citizens thought it prudent to come to terms with Edward, who had now reached St. Albans in force. Thereupon the archbishop, as the official account put forth by King Edward asserts, sent secretly to the king, desiring to be admitted to his grace, and the king, for ‘good causes and considerations,’ agreed (ib. pp. 16, 17). The Lancastrian Warkworth (p. 26), who professes to believe that Neville could have prevented Edward from entering London if he had pleased, accuses him of treacherously refusing to allow Henry to take sanctuary at Westminster. However this may be, Neville surrendered King Henry and himself to Edward when he entered the city on 11 April, and, though placed in the Tower, received a pardon on 19 April, was released on 4 June, and a month later swore allegiance to the young son of Edward (Fœdera, xi. 709, 710, 714; Stow, p. 425; Paston Letters, iii. 3).

The following Christmas he spent at the Moor, entertaining John Paston, who had just obtained his own pardon, and wrote that he had as great cheer and had been as welcome as he could devise (ib. iii. 33). Neville is said to have thought himself quite restored to favour when Edward asked him to Windsor to hunt, and invited himself to return the visit at the Moor. The archbishop preceded him, and made great preparations, ‘bringing out all the plate he had hidden after Barnet and Tewkesbury.’ But the day before the king was to come, he was summoned to Windsor and put under arrest on a charge of corresponding with the exiled Earl of Oxford (Warkworth, p. 25). On Saturday, 25 April 1472, he was brought to the Tower by night, and on the Monday following was at midnight taken over to Calais and immured either at Ham or Guisnes (ib.; Paston Letters, iii. 39; Ramsay, ii. 389). The king seized the manor of the Moor, with goods worth, it is said, 20,000l., and all his other lands and possessions, broke up his jewelled mitre and made a crown of the stones, and placed the revenues of his see in sequestration. The hostile Warkworth, to whom we owe the details of the story, draws the moral that ‘such goods as were gathered with sin were lost with sorrow.’ His removal had been effected with such secrecy that for a time it was rumoured that he was dead (Paston Letters, iii. 45). In November 1473 the Duke of Gloucester was reported to be using his influence to obtain his return, but it was not until the king was in France in the summer of 1475 that Neville’s friends secured his liberation (ib. iii. 102; Ramsay, ii. 415). He was back in England by 6 Nov., when he confirmed an abbot at Westminster (ib.) But, though still young in years, his health had broken down under the strain he had recently experienced, and he died at Blyth, in Northumberland, on 8 June 1476 (York Register, quoted by Godwin, p. 694; cf. Fœdera, xii. 28; but his obit seems to have been kept at Balliol in 1560 on 7 June (Paravicini, Early Hist. of Balliol, p. 296).

Though his university career had been made easier for him than for the ordinary student, Neville had more learning than many noble prelates of his age. John Paston, in speaking of the ‘disparbling of his meny’ in 1472, remarked that ‘some that are great clerks and famous doctors of his go now again to Cambridge to school’ (Paston Letters, iii. 39). Two treatises printed by Ashmole in his ‘Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum,’ 1652—the ‘Medulla’ of George Ripley [q. v.], canon of Bridlington, and Thomas Norton’s ‘Ordinal of Alchemy’—were dedicated or presented to him (Corser, Collectanea Anglo-Poetica, Chetham Soc. pp. 65–6). At Oxford he was a benefactor both of the university and of his own college. His gifts to Balliol are commemorated by a window on the north side of the library (Savage, pp. 60, 72, 83; Paravicini, p. 337; Wood, Colleges and Halls of Oxford, ed. Gutch). He was elected chancellor of the university for the fourth time in May 1461, and at the beginning of 1462 saved Lincoln College, incorporated by Henry VI, from confiscation by Edward IV at the instance of some who coveted its property. The grateful rector and fellows executed a solemn instrument (20 Aug. 1462), assigning him the same place in their prayers as their founder (ib.; Colleges of Oxford, ed. Clark, p. 175).

Neville and his brother Warwick obtained letters patent, dated 11 May 1461, from Edward IV for the foundation of a college dedicated to St. William, the patron saint of York minster, in the close opposite the east end as a residence for the twenty-three chantry priests of the cathedral. They had hitherto lived in the town, which had sometimes led to scandals, and letters patent for the foundation of this college had already been granted by Henry VI in 1454 or 1455 (Monasticon Anglicanum, vi. 1184, 1475; Drake, p. 570; Raine, York, p. 154). Neville is said by Godwin to have protested against the bull by which Pope Sixtus IV finally excluded the occasional vague pretensions of the archbishops of York to jurisdiction in Scotland by making the see of St. Andrews primatial. But, if so, his opposition must have been made from prison, for the date of the bull is 17 Aug. 1472 (Theiner, Vetera Monumenta Hibernorum et Scotorum Historiam illustrantia, pp. 465–8; Walcott, Scoto-Monasticon, p. 87, who dates the bull 25 Aug.)

[Rotuli Parliamentorum; Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council, ed. Nicolas; Rymer’s Fœdera (original edition); State Papers (Venetian Ser.), ed. Rawdon Brown; William Worcester, in Stevenson’s Wars in France, ii. 2, and Munimenta Academica, both in Rolls Ser.; Gregory’s Chronicle, Three Fifteenth-Century Chronicles, Warkworth’s Chronicle, and the Arrivall of Edward IV, in the Camden’s Society’s publications; Chastellain, ed. Kervyn de Lettenhove; Paston Letters, ed. Gairdner; Boase’s Register of the University of Oxford, published by the Oxford Historical Society; Gascoigne’s Loci e Libro Veritatum, ed. Thorold Rogers; Savage’s Balliofergus, 1668; Le Neve’s Fasti Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ, ed. Hardy; Godwin’s De Præsulibus Angliæ, ed. Richardson, 1743; Ramsay’s Lancaster and York, 1892.]

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 40
Neville, George (1433?-1476) by James Tait

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