Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, Was the Original “Kingmaker”
The term “Kingmaker” was coined to refer to Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick (1428 – 1471), the wealthiest and most powerful nobleman of his era. He was also a capable military commander during the Wars of the Roses between the Yorkist and Lancastrian branches of the royal Plantagenet family. Warwick began the conflict on the Yorkist side, but then switched his support to the Lancastrians, and his role in deposing two kings earned him the epithet “Warwick the Kingmaker”.
The conflict began when Richard, Duke of York, with backing from the Nevilles, made a bid to seize the crown from his cousin, the mentally incapacitated king Henry VI. However, the Duke of York, along with Warwick’s father, were slain in battle, so the struggle passed on to the next generation of Yorkists, Warwick, and the Duke of York’s son, Edward.
Warwick played a key role in securing victory for the Yorkists, who broke the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton in 1461. Henry VI was deposed and imprisoned, and his place was taken by York’s son, who was crowned as Edward IV. The new king was a formidable warrior and military genius, but had little interest in governance, so Warwick effectively ran England on his behalf.
Things soured when Edward’s impulsive marriage to a commoner ruined years of painstaking negotiations by Warwick for a treaty between England and France, that was to have been sealed by Edward’s marriage to a French princess. Things eventually came to a head in 1470, when Warwick, with the help of king Edward’s younger brother, George, Duke of Clarence, deposed Edward. The Yorkist king was forced to flee England, while the deposed Lancastrian Henry VI was dusted off and restored to the English throne.
Warwick’s triumph was short lived, however: Edward returned to England in 1471, and raised a counter rebellion. At a critical moment, Warwick was betrayed by George, Duke of Clarence, who had a change of heart and defected back to his brother, Edward. The two sides met in the Battle of Barnet in April of 1471, a Lancastrian defeat in which the Kingmaker was killed.