NEVILLE, WILLIAM, Baron Fauconberg and afterwards Earl of Kent (d. 1463), was the second son of Ralph Neville, first earl of Westmorland (d. 1425) [q. v.], by his second wife, Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt. Westmorland left him by will the barony of Bywell and Styford in Northumberland (Wills and Inventories, ed. Surtees Soc. i. 71). His brothers, Richard, earl of Salisbury [q. v.], Edward, baron Bergavenny [q. v.], and Robert, bishop of Salisbury [q. v.], are separately noticed. Knighted by the seven-year-old Henry VI at Leicester on Whit Sunday (19 May) 1426, Neville is said, though this rests only on the authority of Polydore Vergil, to have won his first military laurels under his elder brother’s father-in-law, the Earl of Salisbury, at the siege of Orleans in 1428 (Leland, Collectanea, ii. 490; Polydore Vergil, ed. Camden Soc. p. 23). His father married him before 1424 to Joan; the heiress of the last Baron Fauconberg (also spelt Fauconbrygge) of Skelton Castle, in Cleveland, at the mouth of the Tees, which the Fauconbergs had inherited from the Bruces along with the patronage of the neighbouring Augustinian priory at Guisborough. Her father had died in 1407, when she must have been only a few months old (Dugdale, Baronage, i. 308). In her right, though till 1455 under his own name, her husband was summoned to parliament on 3 Aug. 1429 (Nicolas, Historic Peerage; Lords’ Report on Dignity of a Peer, v. 236). After having been employed for some time in Scottish affairs, Fauconberg, with his elder brother, Salisbury, joined the Duke of York’s expedition to France in the spring of 1436, in consideration of which he was allowed to temporarily enfeoff his brothers, Lord Latimer of Danby, in Cleveland, and Robert Neville, bishop of Salisbury, with his wife’s manor of Marske in Cleveland (Ord. Privy Council, iv. 174, 336).
He was prominent in the campaign against the Duke of Burgundy in that year, and appears in 1439 in charge of an important post in Normandy, captain of Verneuil, Evreux, and Le Neufbourg, captain-general in the marches of the Chartrain, and governor of the vicomtés of Auge, Orbec, and Pont Audemer (ib. v. 386; D’Escouchy, ii. 543; Monstrelet, v. 264, 310). He was at the siege of Meaux in August (Ord. Privy Council, v. 386). In the following year he assisted his cousin Edmund Beaufort, earl of Dorset, to capture Harfleur (Wavrin, iv. 274). His services were rewarded with the garter, vacated by the death (1439) of Richard de Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, and now or later by the Norman lordship of Rugles, near Breteuil (Beltz, Stevenson, Wars in France, ii. 623). He served under the Duke of York in 1441–2, and in the autumn of the latter year was joined with him and others as commissioner for some proposed peace negotiations (Beaucourt, iii. 183; Ord. Privy Council, v. 212; cf. Fœdera, xi. 4). But in March 1443 he was appointed captain of Roxburgh Castle for five years, and was present in the privy council in the summer (ib. pp. 249, 276; Stevenson, i. 519). At the end of that year his brother Robert, now bishop of Durham, appointed him steward of the bishopric, a position which he continued to fill until 1453 (Doyle, Official Baronage). In 1448 Fauconberg was again in France acting as one of the English commissioners in the conferences held at Louviers and Rouen during the winter (Beaucourt, iv. 319, 330). But on 16 May 1449, in a sudden attack made by the French on Pont de l’Arche, he was taken prisoner and had nearly been slain by the archer who seized him (ib.; D’Escouches, i. 166). ‘The Fisher has lost his angle hook’ (Fauconberg’s badge), lamented a contemporary bewailer of England’s misfortunes (Paston Letters, i. p. 1). He was liberated in the course of 1450, and served on an embassy to Charles VII appointed in September of that year (ib. i. 101; Doyle).
Two years later Fauconberg was given security for over four thousand pounds arrears of pay (Dugdale). This and his reappointment at the same time as keeper of Roxburgh Castle for twelve years, in association with Sir Ralph Grey, may perhaps be connected with the abstention of the Nevilles from York’s recent armed demonstration (ib.) During York’s first protectorship in 1454, Fauconberg, whose elder brother, Salisbury, was chancellor, sat with the other chiefs of the family in the privy council. He was not present at the first battle of St. Albans, being then in France on an embassy to Charles VII; but in the distribution of rewards among York’s Neville supporters, he was made joint constable of Windsor Castle, and sat regularly at the council board (Doyle; Beaucourt, v. 410). In 1457 he was serving at Calais under his nephew Warwick, and in the February of the following year commanded a fleet at Southampton, a French fleet being in the Channel (Dugdale; Paston Letters, i. 425). When Warwick went over in the summer of 1459 to join in the general Yorkist rising that had been arranged, Fauconberg remained behind as his lieutenant at Calais, to which he readmitted his nephew, who was accompanied by his father, Salisbury, and the Earl of March, on their being driven out of England in October (Fabyan, p. 635; Whethamstede, i. 368). He was not included in their attainder. But at the end of June 1460 he and Sir John Dynham secured a landing-place for the earls at Calais by the sudden capture of Sandwich. Fauconberg sent Osbert Mundeford [q. v.], whom he had taken prisoner, to Calais, and remained at Sandwich until the arrival of Warwick and the rest on 26 June (ib. pp. 370–1; Chron., ed. Davies, p. 91). A fortnight later (10 July) he assisted Warwick and March in gaining the victory of Northampton, when the king fell into their hands (ib. p. 95). His presence is not mentioned either at Wakefield (14 Dec. 1460) or at the second St. Albans (17 Feb. 1461); but in March 1461 he joined Edward IV on his march into the north and fought at Towton. Hall ascribes a very prominent part in it to Fauconberg. When Lord Clifford, during the night of 27–8 March, recovered the passage of the Aire at Ferrybridge, which the Yorkists had seized, Fauconberg, with Edward’s vanguard, was detached to cross the river at Castleford, three miles higher up the river. This movement caused Clifford to fall back from Ferrybridge upon the main body of the Lancastrian forces at Towton; but Fauconberg suddenly fell upon him before he could reach it and cut his detachment to pieces, Clifford himself being slain. In the battle next day at Towton, Fauconberg, ‘a man of great policy and much experience of martial feats,’ is credited with a manœuvre which apparently went far to decide the battle. Commanding the Yorkist left, he ordered his archers to pour a flight of arrows into the opposing ranks and then fall back a little space. With the wind in their favour they did great execution, while the return flight fell short of them by ‘forty tailor’s yards.’ Advancing a little, they discharged another flight into the ranks of the Lancastrians, who then pressed forward to attack them at close quarters, and thereby lost their advantage of position and fell into disorder (see Engl. Hist. Review, iv. 463; Archæologia, ix. 253). It should be noted, however, with regard to what took place at Ferrybridge, that Fauconberg’s nephew, the chancellor George Neville [q. v.], in the report which he sent from London to the legate Coppini a week after the battle, states that the passage was carried ‘sword in hand’ at Ferrybridge, and makes no mention of a detour by Castleford (State Papers, Venetian, i. 370). It is possible, of course, that he wrote on early and imperfect information.
Edward left Fauconberg to assist his nephews Warwick and Montagu in completing the reduction of the north when he went south for his coronation. His services were recognised in the distribution of honours on that occasion, or a little later by his elevation to the earldom of Kent, which had become extinct on the death of Edmund Holland in 1408. The date of the creation has been fixed, on no very convincing grounds, as 30 June, two days after the coronation (Polydore Vergil, p. 113; Nicolas, p. 271). Kent also became lord-steward of the household and privy councillor (1461), was licensed to export a hundred sacks of wool duty-free, and received (1462) a grant of the manor of Crewkerne, Somerset (ib.; Dugdale). In July 1462 Queen Margaret having taken refuge with Louis XI, who was preparing to assist her return, Kent was appointed admiral of England (30 July), and, taking a fleet down the Channel, made descents in Brittany and on the Isle of Rhé, which he pillaged (Chastellain, iv. 270; Fœdera, xi. 490; Stow, p. 416). He failed, however, to intercept Margaret when she sailed from Normandy in September. His last public appointment, that of special commissioner and justice of oyer and terminer in Northumberland and Newcastle, bears date 21 Nov. 1462, and on 9 Jan. 1463 he died and was buried in Guisborough priory (Doyle; Nicolas, p. 271). In the anonymous Yorkist ballad fastened to the gates of Canterbury shortly before the landing of the exiles from Calais, in 1460, he was described as ‘Lytelle Fauconbrege, a Knyghte of grete reverence’ (Chron., ed. Davies).
As he left no son, the earldom of Kent became extinct, and was revived in 1465 in favour of Edmund Grey, fourth baron Grey de Ruthyn [q. v.] The barony of Fauconberg fell into abeyance between his three daughters—Joane, wife of Sir Edward Bedhowing; Elizabeth, wife of Sir Richard Strangeways of Harlesey, in Cleveland; and Alice, wife of Sir John Conyers of Hornby Castle, Yorkshire, chief leader in the Neville rising of 1469, called the revolt of Robin of Redesdale [q. v.]; the chronicler Warkworth, indeed, identifies that mysterious personage with Conyers. Among the descendants of these three daughters, Fauconberg’s barony remained in abeyance till 1903, when the title of Marcia, eldest daughter of the twelfth baron Conyers, was established. The barony of Fauconberg of Yarm (near Stockton) held by the family of Belasyse, 1627–1815, was a new creation.[For a natural son, called the Bastard of Fauconberg, see Fauconberg.] [Monstrelet, ed. Douët-d’Arcq, and Mathieu d’Escouchy, ed. Beaucourt, for the Société de l’Histoire de France; Beaucourt’s Histoire de Charles VII; Swallow, De Nova Villa, p. 138. For other authorities, see under Neville, John, Marquis of Montagu, and Neville, Richard, Earl of Warwick.]
Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 40
Neville, William (d.1463) by James Tait