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The House of Neville

Genealogical table showing the principal members of the Neville family
This genealogical chart is greatly simplified for clarity of descent.

Neville, or Nevill, the family name of a famous English noble house, descended from Dolfin son of Uchtred, who had a grant from the prior of Durham in 1131 of "Staindropshire," co. Durham, a territory which remained in the hands of his descendants for over four centuries, and in which stood Raby castle, their chief seat.

His grandson, Robert, son of Meldred, married the heiress of Geoffrey de Neville (d. 1192-1193), who inherited from her mother the Bulmer lordship of Brancepeth near Durham. Henceforth Brancepeth castle became the other seat of the house, of which the bull's head crest commemorates the Bulmers; but it adopted the Norman surname of Neville (Neuville). Robert's grandson, another Robert, (d. 1282) held high position in Northumbria, and sided with Henry III in the Barons' War, as did his younger brother Geoffrey (d. 1285), ancestor of the Nevills of Hornby. This Robert's son Robert (d. 1271) extended the great possessions of the family into Yorkshire by his marriage with the heiress of Middleham, of which the powerful Norman castle still stands. The summons of their son Ranulf (d. 1331) to parliament as a baron (1294) did but recognize the position of the Nevills as mighty in the north country.

Ralph (d.1367) the second baron — whose elder brother "the Peacock of the North" was slain by the Douglas in 1318 — was employed by Edward III as a commander against the Scots and had a leading part in the victory of Nevill's Cross (1346), where David Bruce was captured, and by which Durham was saved. His active career as head of his house (1331-1367) did much to advance its fortunes and to make the name of Nevill a power on the Scottish march. Of his younger sons, Alexander became Archbishop of York (1374-1388) and was a prominent supporter of Richard II, attending him closely and encouraging his absolutist policy; in consequence of which he was one of those "appealed of treason" by the opposition in 1388 [see Lords Appellant] and being found guilty was outlawed, and died abroad in 1392. His younger brother William, a naval commander, took the opposite side, was a leading Lollard and a friend of Wiclif, and in 1388-1389 acted with the Lords Appellant.

John, the 3rd baron (d. 1388), a warden of the Scottish marches and lieutenant of Aquitaine, a follower of John of Gaunt and a famous soldier in the French wars of Edward III, continued the policy of strengthening the family's position by marriage; his sisters and daughters became the wives of great northern lords; his first wife was a Percy, and his second Lord Latimer's heiress; and his younger son, Thomas, became Lord Furnival in right of his wife, while his son by his second wife became Lord Latimer. His eldest son Ralph (1364-1425), 1st Earl of Westmorland, carried the policy further, marrying for his second wife a daughter of John of Gaunt and securing heiresses for five of his sons, four of the younger ones becoming peers, while a fifth, Robert, was made Bishop of Durham (1438-1457). Among his daughters were the Duchesses of Norfolk, Buckingham and York (Cicely Neville, mother of Edward IV and Richard III) and an Abbess of Barking. The Nevills were thus closely connected with the houses of Lancaster and York, and had themselves become the most important family in the realm. Of the earl's sons by his second marriage, Richard, Earl of Salisbury (and three of his sons) and William, Earl of Kent, are the subjects of separate notices.

The greatness of the Nevills centred in the "Kingmaker" (Richard's son) and the heads of his house, after the 1st Earl, were of small account in history, till Charles, the 6th earl, at the instigation of his wife, Surrey's daughter, joined Northumberland in the fatal northern rising of 1569 to the ruin of his house. His estates, with the noble castles of Brancepeth and Raby, were forfeited; Middleham, with the Yorkshire lands, had been settled by the 1st Earl on the heirs of his second marriage.

Although the senior line became extinct on the earl's death abroad (1601), there were male descendants of the 1st earl remaining, sprung from George and Edward, sons of his second marriage. George, who was Lord Latimer, was father of Sir Henry, slain at Edgcote fight, and grandfather of Richard, 2nd Lord (1469-1530), a soldier who distinguished himself in the north, especially at Flodden Field. His grandson (d. 1577) was the last lord, but there were male descendants of his younger sons, one of whom, Edmund, claimed the barony, and after 1601 the earldom of Westmorland, but vainly, owing to its attainder. In this line may still exist a male heir of this mighty house. The heirs male of Edward, Lord "Bergavenny" (now "Abergavenny" co. Monmouth), who died in 1476, have retained their place in the peerage under that style to the present day by a special and anomalous devolution. His wife, the only child of Richard (Beauchamp), Earl of Worcester (d. 1422), brought him the great estates which had come to her line with FitzAlan and Despencer heiresses, and in 1450 he was summoned as Lord Bergavenny, though not seized of that castle. Their grandson, George (c. 1471-1535) the 3rd lord, was in favour with Henry VII and Henry VIII, and recovered from the latter in 1512 the castle and lands of Abergavenny. He was prominent in the French campaigns of 1513-14 and 1523. On the death of his son, Henry, the 4th lord, in 1587, a long-famous contest ensued between his daughter, Lady Fane, and his heir-male, Edward Nevill, which was eventually ended by James I, in 1604, assigning the barony of Abergavenny to Edward's son and that of Despencer to Lady Fane. The former subsequently descended (on uncertain grounds) to the heirs-male with the old Beauchamp estates under special entails. In 1784 the then Lord Abergavenny received an earldom, and the next lord erected at Eridge, Sussex, the present seat of the family, on which the marquisate of Abergavenny and earldom of Lewes were conferred in 1876. Its Sussex estates are mainly derived through the Beauchamps, from the Fitz-Alans, heirs of the Warennes.

The Nevills of Billingbear, Berks, were a junior line, of whom xix. 15 a was Sir Henry Nevill (d. 1615), courtier and diplomatist, who became a leading figure in parliament under James I. His grandson, another Sir Henry (d. 1694), was an author of some note and a Republican opponent of Cromwell, by whom he was banished from London in 1654. The family became extinct in 1740, and in 1762 Richard Aldworth (1717-1793), on inheriting Billingbear, took the name of Nevill. From him descend the Lords Braybrooke.

Neuville is a common French name, and it is not clear whether all the Nevills who occur in the 12th and 13th centuries were of the same stock as the lords of Raby. The baronial line of Nevill of "Essex" was founded by the marriage, temp. Richard I, of a Hugh de Nevill to the heiress of Henry de Cornhill, a wealthy Londoner. He went on crusade with Richard I and was afterwards an active supporter of John, who names him in the Great Charter (1215). His descendant, Hugh de Nevill, was summoned as a baron in 1311, as was his son John, who served in the French and Flemish campaigns, and died, the last of his line, in 1358.

(J. H. Round)

      Excerpted from:

      Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Ed. Vol XVIII.
      Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910. 340.

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This page was created on May 2, 2007. Last updated May 3, 2023.

Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland Richard Neville Earl of Warwick, the Kingmaker Richard of York Richard III George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence Edward IV Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury George Neville, Archbishop of York John Neville, Marquis of Montagu George Duke of Clarence Richard III John of Gaunt Thomas Montacute, Earl of Salisbury