Like many of my generation my first encounter with many of the great characters of history was through the Ladybird series of historical books from the 1960s. Richard Neville Earl of Warwick was the subject of one of the series which I avidly collected and which are still up in the attic. Childhood visits to Warwick and Middleham Castles kept the flame of interest alive until in the VIth form I read Paul Murray Kendall's biography of Warwick as part of my study of 15th century England. Thereafter I have been unable to resist reading anything that I come across about the man and indeed the period of the Wars of the Roses.
Professor Pollard's book is one of two biographies of Warwick which have been published in the last decade. The other is by Professor Michael Hicks. Professor Hicks' book already has a couple of reviews from Amazon customers. So I thought I would provide a little information about this book to even the balance. I will add a link to the Hicks volume at the end.
Professor Pollard's book is subtitled "Politics, Power and Fame". Not surprisingly the book is divided in three sections dealing with each in turn.
The first section on the politics is a considered and accurate account of Warwick's role in the politics of England. The book does not concern itself with Warwick's childhood. There is a brief description of the dynastic background that leads to Warwick emerging on to the political scene as the premiere Earl of the realm. He does this as heir to the Beauchamp estates and titles when Anne Beauchamp (not the Anne Beauchamp who Warwick married but the little daughter of Henry Beauchamp last male heir of the family) dies in 1449. In this first chapter we see Warwick and his father (Earl of Salisbury) move away from the traditional Neville allegiance to the House of Lancaster and become the main supporters of the Yorkist faction. Then we deal with the early phases of the wars of the Roses from 1455 to 1460. Then on to the zenith of Warwick power between 1460 and 1465. Then his fall from favour with King Edward IVth whom Warwick has been at least partially instrumental in putting on the throne. Then we get an account of the positively Byzantine twists and turns of the years from 1465 to 1471 when the wheels of fortune are turning as if driven by hamsters on speed. The story ends on the field of Barnet on Easter Sunday 1471 with Warwick and his brother John dead on the field. All this is taken a good pace . The story of Warwick's political life is dealt with in 66 pages but there is nothing of essential importance that is left out. The trajectory of Warwick's meteoric passage through 15th Century history is all here. The twists and turns of the campaigns of 1459 through to 1461 are adequately covered here although the military cut and thrust of the civil war is not the main theme here. If you are looking for a book with principal focus on the military aspect of Warwick's career look elsewhere. Hicks is better on the military details although his book is also not brilliant on the military history of the multiple phases of the Wars of the Roses.
Then we come on to what for me is the meat of the book. This is the section on Warwick's power and power for a 15th century nobleman meant his landed estates and the wealth he derived from them and also how he exercised his lordship. Usually lordship was exercised in two ways through the retention of men of knightly or gentry rank and through influence in the local governance of a county or region. Professor Pollard is exemplary in examining this crucial aspect of Warwick's position as lord of what after 1462 were the lands and lordship of what had been four Earldoms and of course with that came the concept of his "worship". This word sits ill to 21st century ears which thinks of worship in terms of religion.It meant something quite different in the 15th century. When men spoke of a man's worship they meant his reputation, how he was valued by his peers, followers and social inferiors.
Professor Pollard gives us a careful assessment of Warwick's wealth (£7,000 a year at its height after 1462 when the last of his mother's inheritance comes to him). We are given a thorough analysis of his exercise of Lordship in key areas where he had substantial holdings (North Yorkshire, Warwickshire and the West Midlands and in East Anglia). We review the extent of Warwick's retaining of men of knightly and Esquire rank (200 at its height).
This leads Professor Pollard neatly on to an assessment of Warwick's reputation with his contemporaries, with historians down the centuries after his death and indeed how he is viewed today. Pollard concludes that Warwick should not be seen as just another of the nobleman involved in the dynastic conflict between York and Lancaster. At his height he was a quasi autonomous operator. He could raise 8,000 fighting men to serve under his banner. This with his wealth as well as his affinity (his retained following of men of consequence) made him quite exceptional in England at the time. No British private individual since has possessed anything like the power or resources exercised by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. This alone makes a study of the man worthwhile. This book makes that study a pleasure.