|Earl of Kent|
|Spouse||Joan Fauconberge, Baroness Fauconberge|
|Sir Thomas Faucomberge
Anthony Neville, Lord Grey
Lady Alice Neville
Lady Elizabeth Neville
Lady Joan Neville
|Noble family||House of Neville|
|Father||Ralph de Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland|
|Died||9 January 1463|
His mother was the legitimised daughter of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster and Katherine Swynford. John of Gaunt was the third surviving son of Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault. William was therefore a great-grandson of Edward III. However, the terms of the legitimisation of the Beaufort family specifically excluded them or their descendants from succession to the throne.
William was one of a number of the Neville sons to make a good match, marrying the Fauconberg heiress and taking the title Lord Fauconberg — just as his nephew Richard Neville (Warwick the Kingmaker) married the Warwick heiress and became Earl of Warwick. William's marriage took place at some point before 1422. His wife Joan was 4 years older than him, and was described as an idiot from birth. The Fauconberg estates were in North Yorkshire, a centre of power for other members of the Neville family.
He seemingly had a conventional military career during the earlier part of Henry VI's reign. Knighted in May 1426, he was serving on the Scottish Borders in 1435. In 1436 he was serving with Richard, Duke of York, in France — his first contact with a man who was later to receive his allegiance. By 1439 he was a field commander in France, with Lords Talbot and Scales. In 1440 he was made a Knight of the Garter.
By 1443 he was back in England, and on the 7 March he took custody of Roxburgh castle. He was granted £1,000 per annum (around £1,000,000 at 2005 prices) during peace, twice this if at war with Scotland, and until 1448, satisfactory payment was made. However, in 1449 he returned to France as part of a diplomatic mission, and in May 1449 he was captured at Pont l'Arche in Normandy. While in captivity in France, he spent 2 years of his own income supporting the upkeep of the castle. In spite of a grant from Parliament in 1449, by 1451 he was owed £4,109. He was forced to settle for less.
In 1453 he was ransomed (for 8,000 French ecus) and freed from captivity. He still had the custody of Roxburgh castle, but was impoverished by maintaining this and by his captivity in France. By now he was owed £1,000 by the government. He settled this by accepting a grant of 1,000 marks from the customs at Newcastle. Not only was this only worth about two-thirds of the original amount, there was no guarantee that he would ever get the money. As Griffths says
"What is so remarkable about his tale is that the Lancastrian crown could command [his] loyalty"
Until this point, he can be seen as a loyal member of the supporters of the House of Lancaster. However, at some time during the next two years, his allegiance began to change. He was a member of Richard, Duke of York's council during Henry VI's second period of madness. Although he was with the Lancastrian nobility at the first battle of St Albans (1455), after the battle he was appointed by York to be joint Constable of Windsor Castle.
We cannot know why he changed sides. Did York (short of support among the nobility) try to gain Fauconberg's allegiance? As a member of the Neville clan, Fauconberg had good family reasons for siding with York, who was after all, his brother-in-law. Warwick (Fauconberg's nephew) begins his rise to fame after 1455, and Fauconberg would be associated with Warwick for the next five years. His treatment over the custody of Roxburgh Castle must have rankled.
In the years 1455–1460, Fauconberg consolidated his position as a member of the Yorkist camp, and strengthened his position as an ally of Warwick. In 1457 he joined Warwick (appointed Captain of Calais) as his deputy. Warwick used Calais as a base for what was essentially piracy, and Fauconberg seems to have been happy to assist. He was in England in 1458, and in May he was briefly imprisoned in London — but he was bailed by Warwick and returned to Calais.
After the Yorkist disaster at Ludford, he helped Warwick regain control of Calais. In June 1460 he provided the springboard for the Yorkist invasion of England by capturing and holding Sandwich. This port was to be used as a bridgehead, and on 26 June he was joined there by Edward of March (eldest son of Richard of York, and the future Edward IV of England), Salisbury (his elder brother) and Warwick. By early July they were in London, and on 3 July the Yorkist forces, led by Fauconberg and numbering as many as 10,000 men, headed north, meeting Henry VI's army at Northampton on the 10th. As was traditional, the Yorkist army split into 3 “battles,” commanded by Fauconberg, Edward of March and Warwick. Fauconberg led the van (the leading army) and formed the right wing during the attack. Both his bravery and small stature were recorded in a Yorkist ballad — “little Lord Fauconberg, a knight of great reverence”.
After the victory at Northampton, and with Warwick remaining in England, Fauconberg returned to Calais as Lieutenant, thus missing the Yorkist disasters at Wakefield and the second battle of St Albans. Early in 1461 he returned to England, joining the newly crowned Edward IV in London. On 11 March he led the vanguard of the Yorkist army north, and as at Northampton was in the van at the battle of Towton on the 29th. Victory there established the Yorkist supremacy.
The rewards of victory followed. He was made a member of the King's Council, and appointed Lieutenant of the North. On the 1st November he was created Earl of Kent, and appointed Steward of the Royal Household. In July 1462 he was appointed Lord Admiral, and in August that year he was granted 46 manors in the west country.
Edward IV relied on him for both land and naval warfare. Following the victory at Towton, he took part in the gradual establishment of royal control in Northumberland, heading a garrison of 120 men at Newcastle in the summer of 1461, and taking part in the siege of Alnwick in November 1462. Between these dates he was back in Calais, raiding the Breton coast in August 1462, then burning le Conquet near Brest, and raiding the Ile de Re.
He died on 9 January 1463, and was buried at Guisborough Priory, in the heart of his Fauconberg lands. He was survived by his wife, who died in 1490 at the age of 84 (thus living through the reigns of all the kings of the 15th century). He had 3 daughters from his marriage, and one acknowledged illegitimate son, Thomas Neville. Known as the Bastard of Fauconberg, he was to lead a revolt later in Edward IV's reign.
William Nevill is an under-rated figure in the rise to power of the Yorkist regime. More successful as a military leader than the more famous Warwick, his reputation is summed up in Goodman's words:
"No other veteran of the Anglo-French Wars won such distinction in the Wars of the Roses"
The Duke of Exeter
The Duke of Gloucester